I leave Dubai for Kathmandu on the 18th of March, where I’ll be volunteering for a few months. That means I have less than four weeks left here. It also means that at times I’m so full of excitement, I cannot concentrate on all the things I have to do at the moment – you know, like work, write my book, cross more things off my to-do list.
So while I should be proofreading/writing copy/doing something of use, I’m either opening a new tab on Chrome and Googling things relating to Nepal, or I’m opening Instagram and searching through the Kathmandu hashtag, cooing over all the cute cafés that I’ll soon be hanging out in. I’m also now a member of various ‘expats in Nepal’ groups on Facebook, which invariably means that I get distracted by all the posts. Just an hour ago, thanks to one of these aforementioned posts, I decided that I will definitely be trying my hand at painting while I’m there.
Why the hell not?
There is something about life in a new city and the infinite opportunities that it presents me with that fills me with so much excitement that I feel I could actually burst. I felt the exact same way before I visited Berlin for a month last year, for example. I even feel it when I’m only visiting a place for a short while. In short, I get high from being on the move – from experiencing new cultures, new places, new opportunities.
I feel this so strongly, that recently I started wondering whether there’s a problem with being this way. I love to be on the move and I hate to be constrained by a full-time, office-based job. Don’t even talk to me about a mortgage or a loan – the mere thought brings me out in a sweat. It got me thinking: will I ever be happy settling in one place? Do I have some sort of commitment issues I need to work through? Is it wrong not to want stability and security in some form? Am I running from something?
We’re all taught by society that there should be a certain sequence to our lives: birth, school, college/university, get a job, buy a house, meet someone and get married, have some kids, work until you retire, retire, die. The sequence can vary slightly according to the country you live in, but it’s pretty much the same everywhere – we value certainty, stability and routine over everything. We’re told that we need to become ‘secure’ – in both our careers and love lives as well as our finances. This ‘security’ is cemented even further when we buy a house and a car. All these things are supposed to somehow indicate that we’re now ‘set’ in life – we’ve made it. We’ve attained ‘security.’
But what if you don’t? Does that mean you’re not secure? And is that bad?
I’ve learnt a lot over the last two years, but one lesson that stands out the most is this: security is an illusion. Any which way that you look at it, whether it’s through the prism of Buddhism, or whether you simply want to look at it in a logical manner – everything ends. This is not pessimistic, it is realistic. That house you live in can collapse at any given moment. That job that you value so much can be taken away from you. Your relationship can fail. You can lose all your money overnight. Your loved ones – and you – will die.
Let me repeat that: security is an illusion.
So this thing that we all dearly value and aspire to is actually fake. And I say ‘we’ because I realise that despite my slightly less conventional lifestyle, I find myself wondering whether I should also be aspiring to what the masses want. But I realised that when I start adding the words maybe I should to the equation that I’m no longer listening to what I personally want and I’m giving in to what has been drip fed to me by society.
I’m not saying it’s bad to want the house, the partner, the stable job. If those things make you happy then by all means, pursue them with all your heart and get them. But I think it’s important for all of us to make a distinction between what each and every one of us wants in life and what we do because we feel it’s what we ought to be doing – because it’s secure, it’s right. Again: security is an illusion, so don’t do these things in the name of it. Do them because you actually want to do them.
I ought to be working as an editor for a decent magazine by now and living in my own apartment. And I find myself wondering if by not doing these things, I’m somehow setting myself up for some sort of massive failure. But a massive failure according to who? Yes, I don’t have ‘things’ to show how great my life has been – I don’t have the apartment, all the latest gadgets, a wardrobe full of designer clothes, a fancy car. But I have the passport stamps and a mind full of experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I often find myself looking at all the photos I’ve taken over the last few years and thinking to myself “wow, I’ve done all that?!” And I’m on course to achieve one thing in my life: having a damn good story to tell the grandchildren someday.
It makes me happy to be on the move and I’m starting to accept that that is who I am right now. It doesn’t mean I’ll always feel this way – I don’t believe in the adage “people don’t change…” People don’t change if they don’t want to; we can constantly evolve throughout our lives if we choose to. I never thought I’d be who I am today, for example, but I got here by doing a lot of hard work. And the person who I am today wants to challenge herself: that means quitting a well-paid freelance gig and heading to Nepal to volunteer for two months. To hell with security.
That means not knowing what I’ll be doing from day to day, but knowing that the experience is pushing me to evolve even further. That means not tying myself down to a specific job/place but giving myself the freedom to head to a whole new city and live out a whole new set of experiences. That means not having a bookshelf to display my massive collection of books on, but having the opportunity to live out a whole new set of experiences that will become amazing memories that I’ll cherish. That means not getting the dog I’ve wanted for the longest time but instead meeting loads of new people who will further expand my perspective on life and make me see things in ways that I’ve never looked at them before.
Is this wrong? No, I’m realising, it’s not. This is what I both need and want right now, so I’m throwing caution to the wind, ignoring the voice that’s repeatedly telling me what I should be doing instead, and following my heart. Because I have the freedom to do so.
I’m writing this post because I think it’s important for each and every one of us to regularly take a step back from our lives and see whether they’re the lives we want or the lives that are expected of us. Is that job fulfilling you, or do you stay in the name of security? Remember, that job can be taken away at any given point. Do you love your partner or do you stay with him/her because you’re worried about being alone? Remember, that relationship can fail at any point. Do you do the work you do because it challenges you and makes your soul sing in some way, or just for the money? Remember, you can lose all your money in an instant. Do you have that house because you need all that space, or because you’re expected to have the massive house to show how far you’ve come? Remember, all it takes is for an earthquake to reduce that to rubble.
Don’t do things in the name of security. Do them because you want to do them. Security, I repeat once more, is just an illusion. So do things in the name of creativity, passion, love, curiosity. Do things because they make you want to leap out of bed in the morning. Do things because they excite you so much they keep you up all night. Be with someone who helps you to be a better person. Have a home that makes you happy, not one that impresses the neighbours.
Life may not be secure, but it can be damn beautiful if we choose to pursue it in a way in which we stay true to ourselves.