I learned at a very young age that life doesn’t go according to plan. At least not your own plan. (I don’t know if I believe in fate, though.)
At the age of 11 my biggest goal was attending the high school my brother went to. It was the ‘coolest’ high school in our area, and I always thought my big brother was cool. Right to this day, of course. I had achieved my goal, and my new life at high school was waiting for me. I enjoyed it for about six weeks, and then my family and I moved to South Africa.
That is a massive change for a 12 year old. I am not all too familiar with children, since I do not have any. I have also never really been surrounded by children outside of school life and what a person comes across on a daily basis. But I remember that life at the age of 12 still ended and started again every minute. Maybe every hour by that time. But all of that changed rapidly when the entire world I knew was replaced by a different reality. One that those around me were familiar with but I was not. It was a confusing time; it was many things.
13 years later, I am so grateful for that change and the lesson I learned from this experience. When it was announced we were moving to a new country, it became so clear to me that the only constant thing in life is change. I starting taking note of all the things that did not go according to plan, and the things that did not follow my desires. And I only observed. It didn’t make me feel upset or afraid. I became so comfortable with change, and change became my normal. Sure I was upset if I didn’t get something I wanted for my birthday, or if other desires weren’t fulfilled in some way. But the unknown made me excited and I realised that when a plan changes, my previous expectations suddenly wouldn’t play a role in the new experience. This only fuelled my excitement every time. I learned that if I go into an experience with little to no expectations, I am so much more present in the moment. I take note of the little things I would have otherwise missed looking forward; only looking forward. The way I made choices started to change, leaving room for unexpected but at times necessary side roads. I wasn’t consciously building that into my plan, but I generally felt less attached to what I wanted and had in mind.
That doesn’t mean I always weigh out my options in the best way, though. Perhaps at times I have been too lax when it comes to decision making. But something I am trying to work on is being present all the time. That includes being present when planning for something that will take place in the future. I think setting goals is still important. But I think that it is through being present in every moment of your life that the idea of what you truly want and need will be more clearer than ever.
I am at these cross roads now. Last month I graduated from a master’s degree in Chinese Philosophy. I had no idea what I wanted or where I wanted to be the most. As I’m writing this I still cannot answer these questions clearly. As I’m writing this, I am reminding myself that that is okay. Like all the unknown situations before, I now find myself there again. Only on a slightly bigger and more intimidating scale. Wanting to make my own money but doing what job, choosing a place to settle for a while, all these choices…
Four months ago I had three criteria: 1) Not staying in China, 2) If I would stay in China (because that decision would give me many options) I would not stay in Shanghai, 3) If I would look for a job in China, I would definitely not become another one of those English teachers.
Here I am. In China, in Shanghai, teaching English (and maths). Did I fail? I felt like I did for a while. I still feel like I have failed sometimes. But what I didn’t know and didn’t include in my criteria is that I actually enjoy the work I do. I am tutoring, not teaching a whole class and I enjoy working with kids. I have discovered they are really funny, and their questions inspire a sense of creativity within me. I am earning my rent and extra money for other ideas I have, which are obviously subject to change. I am in the country where Chinese philosophy is likely to be most present. And I am seeing new opportunities for in my future that I could have missed out on had I not stayed here. Things that make me excited and feel happy, things that challenge me and help me grow. I now see being in China as the biggest part of my process of self-cultivation, living in and with a culture that is so different from my own. But it is through this idea of accepting and going along with change, (and the poster I have in my room reminding me to ‘make life interesting, not perfect’), that I am making the most of everything I am going through every day and doing the best that I can with the resources I have. And I think that is pretty cool.
A quick Thank You to my friend Augi, who inspired me to write. What came out was definitely helpful for myself. Maybe even helpful for you.