Connecting the dots backwards

Photo credit David DeHetre // Flickr Creative Commons “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – Steve Jobs

Hindsight is a weird yet wonderful thing. Do you ever have moments when you feel an overwhelming gratitude towards your past hardships? When you’re actually thankful you went through a shitty situation because it’s added value to your life in some way?

I find these moments both infuriating and inspiring. Infuriating, because they challenge my perception of the past. Inspiring, because they offer an alternative story to the doom & gloom I’ve built up in my mind.

I had a moment like this recently. I realised one of my closest friends wouldn’t be in my life if we hadn’t both been in the same challenging job. I used to think of my time in this job with regret and frustration – it was a tough role – and see it in purely negative terms.

But this way of thinking gets you nowhere. Negativity wins. When you allow yourself to get bogged down in the negative details, you miss the silver lining.

There’s a difference between being aware that a situation is less-than-ideal and allowing it to consume you. I think I’m finally beginning to understand what it means to make the most of opportunities, no matter how far-from-perfect they may seem on the surface.

Most experiences will lead to greater self-knowledge and a better understanding of the world. You never know when you might need the knowledge you acquire today, but you can almost guarantee you’ll use it at some point in your life.

The trick is knowing when to accept a challenging situation, and when to make a change.

Trust in momentum

A mantra I often repeat to myself is “something is better than nothing”. I tell myself this when I only have a 20-minute window to exercise, or half an hour to catch up with a friend.

Small efforts can reap big rewards, if only you trust in momentum. In putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward, not backwards.

Like everyone, I often romanticise the past, especially times when life seemed simpler and easier. But when I ask myself, would you really like to rewind the clock? The answer is always no.

Look beyond the present moment

Sometimes I find myself looking at life through a black and white lens. Labelling situations as ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. Focusing on what I do or don’t like about something and failing to see the bigger picture.

But I am at my best when I live life in the grey areas. When I am able to take a step back and examine my present situation from all angles. This allows me to appreciate life for the complicated, layered, messy wonder that it is.

It also helps me to feel less tied to my choices. All you can do is make the best decision with the information you have available at the time. There is no right or wrong; only forward. It is better to take a step in any direction than let time stand still.

Celebrate at every chance you get

What does hindsight teach me, again and again? To celebrate the small wins. To pay attention to the silver linings. These are the moments you will remember later on.

There’s a part of me that craves perfection; the perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect relationship. But one thing I am realising is that I am always going to be exposed to less-than-ideal situations, no matter how hard I try to create harmony.

If we wait for everything to be perfect, we’ll be waiting a long time. So here’s to the present moment, and having faith that everything will turn out as it should.

We can always connect the dots backwards.

Bittersweet homecoming: what it’s like to come back to NZ after living abroad

Travel changes you in ways you don’t expect. It opens your mind and your heart and your soul to new ways of living and being. It finds beauty in unexpected places and sees pain surface in others. You are the same you, but forever altered by what you have seen and felt. Coming home is often by choice, but sometimes it is the biggest challenge. My time in Europe feels like a dream now that I am back in New Zealand. It’s easy to forget everything as you fall back into familiar routines. Most of the people that I met were slightly older than me, and doing an exchange in their final semester of university, so many of them stayed overseas and kept travelling, or came back to new jobs and new adventures.

But I went overseas in the middle of my degree, so I have come back to finish it. I have more or less come back to exactly the same life I left behind – which is by no means a bad thing – but it is strangely disorienting.

When I left for France, I couldn’t imagine my future. I had no idea what the next day would bring. I was like an open book and the sense of freedom and adventure was intoxicating. Even though I knew I was coming back, I felt like I never would. Homecoming was always far away on the horizon. This sense of freedom was empowering and dizzying. I did things before I left that were out of character, daring, a little crazy – because I felt as if I would never return.

But six months isn’t actually very long. It felt like eternity at times, while at others it was whizzing past and I felt suffocated by the fixed time frame – the return date hung over me like a shadow. Then in January, I was overwhelmed by inescapable homesickness. I couldn’t wait to hug my mum, my little brother, my family. I wanted to laugh and talk with the girls, hear all of their stories. I was craving NZ food, coffee, my bed, my hometown.

I was completely consumed by the idea of getting home, but I never once let my mind wander to what it would be like. I wanted to get home so bad that every time my mum raised the question, I would brush her off, saying that I would be so happy to see everyone I wouldn’t worry about how it felt.

And coming home was amazing. Touching down in Auckland is a memory that will be with me forever. Seeing the familiar landmarks from my plane window, I felt safe and secure once again, kissing goodbye the feelings of vulnerability and adventure that are both thrilling and exhausting. It was time to recharge and revive.

But as everyone who has travelled has said: it is hard coming home. You don’t believe them through bouts of homesickness because homesickness is so consuming. Its nostalgia and longing at its height. But when you get home, the mind being the tricky thing it is, simply reverses that nostalgia and longing and pins it on what you left behind – Europe. How unfair is that?

Because I’d completely unprepared myself for settling in back home, within a few days I had fallen back into exactly the same routine as before I left. I touched down on the tarmac, confused and jetlagged, but woke up the next morning and went about my business as usual. I didn’t reflect; I didn’t have time to. It was only a week later (and in a very hungover state, which always heightens emotions) that I began to try to process just how big coming back home really is. It’s such a challenge. You fall back into old habits that you thought six months in France would break, with such ease that it makes you feel like a little bit of a failure. You think to yourself, “Hey, I’ve been halfway around the world, I’ve seen sights that give me goosebumps to remember, so why I am still acting like this?

I think it takes effort to keep the momentum, energy and appreciation you have while travelling present in your everyday life. I would actually even go as far as to say that it is intellectually more challenging coming back home to the same, than it is branching out and visiting the different. Because at least with the different, you are constantly learning, soaking everything up. It’s amazing.

But with the same, the familiar, you can get stuck in a rut if you’re not constantly working to keep your life fresh and fun. The familiar is easy, but it is much less rewarding –and once you’ve had the high of constantly being rewarded as you travel, by the people you meet and the places you see, it feels like a real drop coming home to nothing new. It is a huge challenge trying to fit yourself into your ‘old’ world. On one hand, the old routines come like second-nature, on the other you feel like you are wandering around aimlessly, not sure what to do next, now that the big adventure is over.

I guess that’s the place where I am at, at the moment. A huge part of my life has finished. I lived a completely different life for six months, in another city that became my home, and now I am at a loss for what comes next. I need a new challenge, something to aim for, but at the same time I don’t want to move on from the last challenge. France still lingers within me, but as each day goes by the experience seems more and more distant. It’s like I’m holding tightly to the tail of a fish as it tries ferociously to swim away. I know that the memories I have aren’t going anywhere, but memory is often evasive and I am yearning for something more concrete. Sometimes nostalgia and melancholy aren’t welcome guests when you are trying to figure out what your next move is. I have no idea what the universe has in store for me now; when I find out I’ll let you know.