I read somewhere that most people over the age of thirty never buy music by a new artist. I don’t ever want to stop trying new things.
I’m at an age where many of my friends have begun reflecting on their lives, as changes in circumstances affect their understanding of mortality. For some the onset of a middle age is unbearably significant, forty is so much more of a hurdle than thirty. Others watch the decay of their most solid relationships, too scared of what might lay beyond to end them with any sensible haste. And some simply find that their careers had been chosen to fulfil a society’s ambitions rather than their own, and it dawns on them that upgrading their BMW generates feelings of smugness rather than happiness. This is where I begin to understand how much my hodge-podge approach to personal development has helped me to transcend the fear of change. I still become broken down by the ending of beautiful relationships, and I wobble a little when I see a work position coming to an end. But I have frequently taken opportunities to purposefully make big changes in my life and this ability to drive my existence in new directions has built a belief in my ability to endure.
Over this first half (ever hopeful) of my life I have drawn myself into other cultures, dwelt in foreign lands and passed through jobs as varied as chainsaw sculpting and mushy-pea making. I’ve chased any opportunity to widen my understanding of the world, and no doubt my progress through life has looked somewhat haphazard to others. But I’m now beginning to realise the advantages of being so open to new ideas. One of the most significant of these is that I understand at a very deep level that mine is not the only world view. I am far less likely now to deride someone for their beliefs, no matter how incompatible they may appear with my own. I’ll voice a counter opinion, but I’m quite happy to have that opinion modified or undone. I cringe when others use blanket statements like ‘men always’ or ‘women never’, because I’ve talked to so many of each, often with such varied personal and cultural stories. Open mindedness is a great counter to prejudice and stereotyping.
So often it is the challenging conversations with others that draw me on to new adventures. I made one of my greatest ever friendships last year with a woman who explained that after growing up in California, and then living in Germany and the Netherlands, she had found her true home in a trailer park in Colorado. So I flew to Boulder and experienced a small slice of this existence with her, and then we went and lived in a castle in Ireland because there’s an excitement that comes with stark comparison. And of those two living spaces it is the cluster of static caravans at the base of the Rocky Mountains that I miss and hope to emulate. Without acting on my curiosity I’d never have discovered just how small a living space I needed to be happy, as long as I could step outside into nature rather than concrete. Then at the end of last year I met a new friend, and her life decisions have led me to confront my understanding of vegan and vegetarianism as reasonable choices. I still don’t think I’ll ever give up oysters or cheese, but I’m building a better understanding of why some people do, and how destructive and disruptive it is to be dismissive of their ideas.
And so I begin another year wondering what new twists will be inspired by my reading, my encounters with others and my restless spirit. I frequently fail to consider how fortunate I am to be able to consider options out of want rather than need. I get to dabble in a thousand pastimes, a dozen careers, a hundred hobbies. The offset though is that I’ve become competent at a number of tasks and yet masterful at none. And in typing that sentence I realise that I’ve just gone against the advice I gave to someone recently. She talked of having no real singular talent, and learning to be ok with that. I pointed out that it might be our somewhat tight Western definition of talent that was at fault, as she has an ability to draw forth deeper thoughts and intensity from people. She’s a magnifying receptor for people’s hidden emotions and I see that being at least as important as nailing guitar intricate solos or being one of Mexico’s foremost free runners. So maybe I too just haven’t yet recognised my truest talent.
Another issue born of a constantly evolving life is that I’m over-aware of impending ruts. This leaves me less capable of gently slipping into contentment, to relaxing into a year or two of simple repetitive rhythms. For my sanity I need to continue learning, for my creativity I need to continue expressing. I find stretches of days spent in offices on repetitive tasks whittles away at my creative drive, and even my self belief. I need to counter this by plotting new goals and reminding myself of just how much pleasure can be drawn from the little things. That being said I’m finishing a contract and boarding a plane for Bhutan in a couple of weeks and when I get back from the Land of the Thunder Dragon I’m going to be investigating getting council permission to build a yurt. Leopards, spots, etc.
I see great value in continuing to learn for life. To consider each hope or dream as a real option is to be on the look out for improvement. I think it is when we run short of ideas that we can become trapped. Ideas are hope, they are the path to continued emancipation. If we’re caught up in an environment which limits or causes us to limit our ability to implement ideas, that’s where we can become buried under life. I found the United States to be a nation in which dreams were still a viable currency, there was still enough pioneer spirit in that enormous land to enable (or at least fail to interfere with) creative living ideas. I returned home to New Zealand with a head full of goals and found a country which has allowed itself to be choked by an ever-evolving colonial bureaucracy. Our government has become many of the things that Americans fear theirs is becoming, the most interfering of states. I’ll need to work hard to find others here who have learnt to circumvent boundaries, to gather support in order to further my ideas.
A few months ago I spent a morning in the Buffalo Bill museum reading of all that this adventurer had accomplished. At first I was embattled by feelings of inadequacy, of having never achieved greatness in any one field let alone a dozen. But then the self-flagellation gave way to my desire to advance, and I wondered how long it would take to learn to use a lasso. I love taking those feelings of doubt and converting them into inspiration. Maybe there is something in that, perhaps my talent lies in turning feelings of inadequacy into fierce inspiration, and in helping others do the same.