Why 2

Over ten months ago (is that really all?), I began my blog with an entry entitled Why, in which I (sort of) discussed my reasons for going to New Zealand.

Now it’s time for the sequel. As most of you already know, I’m coming back to the UK at the end of September. Also, as most of you already know, this wasn’t an easy decision.

I tried to use this table to work it out, but unfortunately it resulted in a tie:

All the reasons for staying in NZ All the reasons for returning to the UK
You get to watch the whole of Germany transition from puberty to adulthood

You can listen to the Maori accent all day

You’re allowed to walk on the grass

Having been here for ten months, I now know everyone in the country

You don’t have to remember what to do in an earthquake

There are more than three types of cheese

No surprise golliwogs*

It’s closer to places, places like Everywhere and No Seriously Everywhere

*Surprise golliwogs in an Auckland mall

*Surprise golliwogs in an Auckland mall 😐

It’s true. I have never seen a Keep Off The Grass sign in New Zealand. No matter how perfectly manicured their lawns and parks may be, you’re entirely welcome to trample your shoes all over them. Despite this, I’m coming back to the UK, where – just off the top of my head – I can name three separate occurrences of being shouted at for stepping on grass.

It’s hard to explain how and why I made this decision, so I’m going to cheat and not even try. What I’m going to do instead is briefly discuss two different thoughts that helped me and I reckon are generally useful in making tough decisions.

Going back is not the same as going backwards

We have a tendency to confuse instances of literal, geographical, physical retreat with its narrative counterpart. As a society, we are very concerned with moving forwards. To move backwards is Very Bad, and even staying still is Frowned Upon. Everything must be an advancement to the next level of life. We are so paranoid by the idea of going backwards that we try to avoid it at all costs.

There is some wisdom here certainly. One can easily imagine the dangers of returning to an old job or relationship, for example, but I suspect that our aversion even to these examples is unnecessarily extreme. There is nothing categorically wrong with situational returns; the danger is that they catalyse a corresponding mental regression. If we are enamoured by this idea of moving forwards, then we should be talking about a progression of thought and mindset and personality. If we can maintain this, then returning to specific locations and situations is less definitively bad.

To put it plainly and specifically: the risk is that, in coming back to the UK, I will collapse into the thought processes I had when I left. Familiar places and people may trigger associations that will cause my current tranquil mindset to revert to its early-2014 setting of GR@$RRRGH (to use a technical term). But the problem here is the head journey, not the geographical one.

The Southend half-marathon (which tried to kill me) makes you run back the way you’ve already come. (Twice, in fact. Goddamn you, Southend half-marathon.) So what are you going to do when you reach the furthest point? Insist that to move forwards is to literally keep running the same way? Jog the length of Essex to prove your point? Obviously not. If your goal is behind you, then you turn around.

It is entirely possible to go somewhere old and find somewhere new. To have new relationships with old friends. To discover fresh meaning in a past and familiar place. To separate back from backwards. To turn around and still be going the right way.

There are no wrong directions, only wrong reasons

Everyone thinks they know the future. If you ever ask anyone for advice about what to do in any given situation, you know what you get? Advice. Everyone always gives advice. No-one ever says: Life is so unbelievably complex that it’s impossible to have any idea about the actual outcome of anything you choose to do.

A man hates his job. His friends advise him to quit, and he ends up unemployed. He can’t find another job. His marriage is struggling. His friends advise him to get a divorce, and he does. He’s miserable and alone. He wants to save the rare blue robin that lives only at the end of his garden. His friends advise him to build a sanctuary, and he spends the last of his savings making it perfect. A cat eats all the robins that night. The next day, the man falls in a hole. His friends advise him to climb out. “Fuck you all,” he says, and he sits in the hole forever. People bring him pizza and he’s kinda okay.

You know what, maybe quitting your shitty but comfortable job and following your dreams won’t work out and you’ll end up penniless and miserable. Maybe leaving an easy but boring relationship to pursue true love will result in you being alone forever. Maybe you’ll sacrifice your own happiness for an important cause and see it hopelessly fail. Maybe you’ll quit smoking and eat nothing but vegetables and still die of cancer. There are no guarantees. The universe owes you nothing and will never pay out. You can replicate someone else’s choices perfectly and end up with an entirely different life. Everything you think is a pattern is just confirmation bias. Everything you think is narrative is an illusion.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think about the directions you choose. Your reasons are important, much more important than the direction itself.

To illustrate what I mean, behold my newly invented Non-Facetious Table:

Potential Good Reasons Potential Bad Reasons
Staying in NZ I like the geography and natural beauty of the country

I think the lifestyle is more balanced and quality of life comes more cheaply

I’m scared of the stress and loneliness involved in moving yet again

I want to put off having to find a ‘proper’ job

Returning to the UK There are lots of people in the UK who are important to me

I can find a job that matches my career interests

It’s difficult and expensive to extend my stay in NZ

I want my life to go back to the way it was before

It’s easy to populate all four sections of this table. What this tells me is that neither decision is good or bad, but it would be possible to make either decision well or badly. The important thing is not to get the decision right, but to get the reasons right.

After that, go for it. Make a decision and follow it through. The two most dangerous words in the English Language are undoubtedly Superpowered Arachnids but they’re closely followed by What If. It is so so easy to live a life in regret, to always be worried that the other path was the one that led to happiness. That you chose what was to be avoided, and let go of that which should have been squeezed tight.

Well, balls to that. You’ll never know. Perhaps down that other path you were trampled by a hippo. The worst thing you can possibly do is live a different path in your head to the one that you’re treading with your feet. Regret is completely pointless and utterly destructive.

The truth is, I’m excited about coming back to the UK, and really looking forward to seeing so many of you again. I’ve missed you! However, I can see another very tangible future in a universe very similar to this one. In this universe, I extend my visa for another year, get sponsored into a permanent job and gain residency status. I settle down in Wellington and eventually become a New Zealand citizen. I visit the UK, of course, and stay in touch with many of you. But really I build an entirely new life.

It’s absolutely possible that I would be happy in this life, but I’m letting it go now. To the guy who lives this life in whatever multiverses are out there, I wish him all the luck in the world.

And as he sits on his bed in Wellington Prime, typing out his near identical blog entry, he bloody better be wishing me luck too.

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