Discover more from Bits of Wonder
the box you draw around yourself can be redrawn
Last night was different. Or not that different: it was another addition to the small handful of experiences that leave an indelible image in your mind, an image that takes on an unusually strong sense of significance as you get older. Like the night S and I were in the California desert and I looked up and saw the milky way directly for the first time. Or the night my mom had her head resting on my shoulder as we sat in the shuttle to a hotel, after a long night of not being able to get home because our flight kept getting delayed and then cancelled, and her older sister had died that day, and all I remember is thinking I love you, I love you, I love you in a lullabic whisper.
I had that feeling last night as I was looking out the window of the van, mom and dad driving me out of the airport in Puerto Rico. Surprisingly long drive, and perhaps unsurprisingly humid weather. I was thinking as we made this drive—looking at the dampness outside, the particular shade of blue-green that large leaves have when it’s dark and there’s just a little bit of light from the moon—I was thinking about all the adventure I don’t have in my life. On my list of “things to prioritize” adventure tends to lie at the very bottom. Usually there are more important things like “knowledge” and “working hard” and “getting people to pay attention to me”. So I optimize my life for consistency and routine and having lots of time to consume and expel words from my mind, with just enough social interaction to make sure my basic needs are met.
But something has felt out of place lately. I’m not sure whether to call it “boredom”, but on the ground it’s some combination of feeling restless, less inspired and less focused than before. A mild underlying loneliness and dissatisfaction. Does this mean that I need a big change, or is this just another plateau that I push through with more effort and diligence?
What I often tell people is that I know how to decide for a day, but I don't know how to decide for a year. Even deciding what to do on a given day isn’t trivial, but I would say it's solved, I basically know the right attitude to be taking. I think of it as the visakan-v + ava-bookbear approach of: try a bunch of different things, and keep doing whatever feels the most interesting among them. This is how I landed on read neuroscience books and papers; write and journal a lot; repeat.
But I struggle with the bigger stuff; or I avoid thinking about it altogether. Should I move to a new city? Find a new job? Go to grad school? Start a relationship? Travel more? Spend six months in a cabin with books and pen and paper? Spend three years at a monastery?
With a single day the decisions seem inconsequential enough. But the big decisions—when to leave and when to stay—these are heavy. The main resolution I’ve taken is: leave the big stuff as is, unless there’s a deadline around which to pivot (lease ending, application due, exploding job offer)—at that point, try to intuit what you lean towards and quickly go ahead with that decision. Maybe get advice from one person, but honestly probably don’t, just go with what feels right and get the indecisive sleepless haze over with, so that you can get back to doing the things you know you need to do every day.
This approach has, for a while, left me wondering whether I should be more proactively contemplating big changes to my life. And last night as we were taking the long drive out to our airbnb, I realized that of course this is something that comes intuitively as well. The desire to leave is something you feel out over time, it’s something that gradually wells up in you, percolating into various corners of your mind, until some day, the dam breaks open you feel a sturdier (though never certain) sense of conviction that yes I want to leave, yes there are better things for me out there. As the saying goes, it happens slowly, and then all at once.
Percolating within my mind is some sort of yearning for adventure, for spontaneity: evenings spent dancing in the streets, meeting a stranger who becomes your best friend for just the night, saying yes to the things you’ve grown used to saying no to. I can see that this yearning is starting to build up. I took this current trip because my family asked me to, but it’s been a while since I’ve sought out such a trip myself.
This all begs the question: what now? This is where I’m gonna do something differently this time. Rather than making a task on my todo list that says, “list all the possible life changes I could make and rank them”, I’m gonna let this desire grow and evolve. The seeds have been planted, and I’m coming to believe that all I need to do is let them sprout, just give them the time and the quiet to make their voice heard. Maybe it will blossom in the form of yes M, I do want to go to Colorado with you for the summer or maybe it will take the form of going back to Lisbon to teach or finding a hobby and community that pushes me past my comfort zone. What I need to build is not more meticulous plans and routines, but more conviction, more self-trust.
That’s the question I was coming away with on this drive last night: do you trust yourself? Do you believe you can let yourself feel the discomfort, see what’s out there, and take the right course of action when the time comes? It’s not something you can design with a pencil and paper. It’s something that will only really happen on its own accord, without much more than playful nudging and an openness to experience on your part. I’m learning to trust myself to make it happen.