What We Gain By Being ‘Lazy’

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In Georgetown, Malaysia we met a couple at our hostel. They had already been on the road for three months and still had months and months of travel ahead of them. As we were eager to hear their story we sat down at the same table to eat breakfast and drink coffee.

Up until May, the couple had been living their life in the UK, working and saving up money for their own house. But then they had realized that the kind of life they were building for, they weren’t ready for it. Not yet.

So, they quit their jobs, took the money they had saved and hit the road.

At some point, however, they intend to return to their home country and start working again. And this was clearly something they had been thinking about because the woman said:

“I hope that the employers don’t see our travels as being lazy.”

This got me thinking because what she said really is something worth hoping for.

Study-Work Continuum

In many western countries, both education and work are seen as something incredibly valuable, something worth focusing on. Many grow up learning that either you study or you work but there’s no option in-between which means that after you’ve finished your education you continue to the work life and stay there until you’re ready to retire. We are encouraged to fall into the school-work continuum.

The decision to sell your belongings (or store them somewhere), leave everything you have behind and hit the road is, however, the complete opposite of the school-work continuum of a western modern society. Because being on the road, traveling, is neither studying or working.

At least from the society’s point of view – because taking a year or more off to travel leaves a big gaping hole in your CV. I can only imagine the job interview where the leap year is noticed:

“What did you do during this year?”
“I was abroad.”
“Hmph, and where did you go on holiday?”
“Southeast Asia, mostly – I traveled around. It was really wonderful! Affordable, the people were so friendly and the nature amazing.”
“I see.”

The employer might very well think you spent the last year chillaxing on the beach or riding a motorcycle without a helmet on. And he probably thinks that you, during that time, didn’t so much as lift as a finger.

But the thing is, traveling and especially backpacking isn’t being lazy.

It’s a lot of work. Almost like a full-time job, really.

Gaining Knowledge

During these six weeks on the road, we’ve slowly but surely gotten into the groove of traveling. Currently, we are in our third country in Southeast Asia, Vietnam, and plan to be here three weeks before flying to our next destination.

During these six weeks, we’ve familiarized ourselves and adapted to three different cultures: Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese. We’ve learnt the basics of their social norms and etiquette, we’ve learned some of the key phrases of their language and figured out how their monetary system work. We have gained understanding of their culture, their cuisine, religion, and infrastructure.

At the same time, we have gained perspective on our own country, our infrastructure, the western culture and social norms. We have seen how things can be done, how they shouldn’t be done and how different the people in Southeast Asia see their world, life and future compared to the western cultures.

This, for instance, is extremely valuable in the ever more globalized and multicultural world.

In addition to this, we’ve also become pro at planning and executing the plans. Every few days we sit down, take out the computer and connect it to the best wi-fi we can find. We research our travel options, figure out when and where the bus or the train will go, where we will end up in and where we are going to stay.

In a new place, we learn where the ATMs are, where the best local food is served, where we can find the nearest convenience store for water (and ice cream) and learn to know other backpackers and travelers staying in the same place.

We try to find out where we can do our laundry, where we can find proper, vitamin-rich food (believe me, it’s a struggle) and where’s the pharmacy when you get sick (just did this in Hanoi) or how to deal with bedbug bites (unfortunately, it did happen).

The ability to adapt is a good skill to have in the modern society – and something not all people have.

Learning New Skills

Being on the road, carrying all our belongings with us, is a rollercoaster ride of new skills, constant adapting and evolving, conflicts, success and learning to be social with so many people from so many different cultures.

In other words, being on the road is far from being lazy. The couple we spoke to during that breakfast knew it and we know it.

Being on the road gives you competences that staying at home never can give: you gain unique perspective on your own culture, social norms and the structure of your society; you become a thinker and a doer, and you are more okay with adapting to new situations and new people. You are constantly kicked out from your comfort zone which forces you to self-development.

People who have been on the road are actually golden in modern societies that are constantly changing and becoming more multicultural than ever before.

And if the employer doesn’t understand this when you tell him/her about your year on the road – maybe you’re applying for the wrong job (or the right job but with the wrong boss).

Reconnecting

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The past seven days have gone by in a whiff. I’ve done the hours of two work weeks in just one, which means that I’m quite tired and, most of all, out of sensible things to say.

In Finland, whenever there’s an election, the actual voting day is preceded by an advanced voting which lasts a week. During that time, one can vote anywhere in Finland. This year, up to 36,1 percent of all entitled voters decided to vote in advance – and I was there to register their votes during those seven days.

(Not all of them, of course, but several thousand of them)

So, at the moment, after doing 12-hour days many days in a row, I’m just trying to rebuild my thoughts and return to my own daily routines of writing and working on my thesis. I’m reconnecting to my usual life, so to speak. That means that today, I don’t have that much to share, except maybe this one thought:

When there’s a line of voters waiting to put a number on a ballot, and that line goes on for 11 hours straight, the person registering all those votes slowly realizes how everything loses its value.

A vote so precious for the ideals of democracy becomes just a folded paper with a number on it.

The number written on that ballot, the one so precious for the candidate because it means someone is supporting him or her, becomes only a compilation of straight and curved lines, meaningless in its simplified existence.

And a signature, so valued and influential throughout history, becomes a scribble, only blue ink on paper without a beginning or an ending, meaning nothing (especially because most of the people don’t even know why they are signing the paper).

In summary: when an act is repeated over and over again, it loses its symbolic value. This holds for not only elections but anything that bears a symbolic value – from a signature to an act of kindness to a single word such as thank you.

But how to preserve that symbolic value?

See you next Thursday, readers, with some new thoughts and a reconnected, refreshed mind.

The Banana Peel and Other Observations

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The Unfortunate Notions From An Almost-Monthly Commute

1 One Angry Man

It’s Monday, 9.50 AM. I stand in the white snow waiting for the bus that will take me to another city further up North.

I hear a yell. It’s an angry, loud yell that turns into a furious, on-going rant. The person ranting is a middle-aged man with a hanging belly, built slowly during the years of heavy drinking. He’s mad at everyone and everything he sees and hears and most of all, he is angry at the world and the way the world has decided to organize itself.

I turn away and try to let his voice blend into the monotonous sounds of the traffic.

2 One Banana Peel

Fifteen minutes later, at 10.05 AM, I have taken my seat on the bus and begun my five-hour journey along the coast to a town I used to live in. Twenty-or-so minutes in, I notice a banana peel squeezed between the window and the seat in front of me. I’m amused and appalled at the same time. I wonder if it’s my duty to do something about the sad yellow thing that is categorized as bio waste: should I pick it up and take it to the trash can a few seats away from me? Or should I let it be but mention the peel to driver when I leave the bus?

Then I get curious and wonder why the banana peel is there in the first place. In my mind, I can see the chain of actions that led to this particular moment right here. How the previous passenger got hungry, ate the banana and then wondered where to put the peel. And how it clearly wasn’t a very rational thought to put it there, in-between the window and the seat where the driver wouldn’t find it and instead, it would stay there until it would begin to decompose and stink. Simply because a trash can wasn’t at the previous passenger’s arms reach.

I sigh. I sigh because of the stupidity of people, the laziness, the thoughtlessness of a human mind. And I think that it isn’t up to me to pick up the banana peel and throw it in the trash. I’m done pleasing other people, tired of being the doormat or the wallflower who does the chores no one else wants to do.

I consider myself lucky that the banana peel still seems to be pretty fresh and was  left there earlier today or yesterday.

3 One Visit to the Toilet

One-and-a-half hours into the ride and I need to pee. I stand up from my seat, walk down the stairs to the tiny toilet and do my business. After I’m finished I look around me. There’s no disinfectant to apply on my hands and neither does the water run so that I could wash my hands.

A few seconds of quick thinking and then: what else can a girl do than suck it up and be okay with germs for the rest of the ride?

I walk back up and return to my seat. During the next twenty minutes, I notice two others using the bathroom as well. As I observe them returning to their seats, I can’t help but think that I know for a fact that they haven’t washed their hands or applied any disinfectant. And because I know and I know that they know about this issue with germs, it’s as if we’re all in on the same, uncomfortable secret. Riding this bus isn’t the same anymore.

I wonder how long I should wait before finding the apple I have in my bag. I’m starting to get hungry. But the germs in my hands will then transfer to that apple which I will take a bite of and then the germs will get inside me.

Well. Maybe that’ll help me build up a better immune system?

Let’s hope for that.

4 Two Thoughts on Food

With 193 kilometers or 2 hours and 23 minutes left of my journey, I finally eat my apple, already forgetting about the germs. Funny, how priorities reorganize my mind. The sun is shining, finally, and the whiteness of the snow reflects the light back in a way that makes the world seem fresh.

In my own ears, the crunchy but juicy bites I take from my apple sound loud. But I know this to be an illusion: it is only I who thinks it’s loud but to the outside, it’s just the normal sound of chewing. A few years back, the fear of loud unboxing of sandwiches and noisy chewing kept me from eating while commuting but today I know better and don’t care anymore. Not after I realized that everyone else eats just as loudly as I do and I never hear them. So that’s that, and I reach to grab my sandwich packed in a noisy plastic wrapper.

I notice the man sitting in front of me. He’s eating a banana. It would be funny if he would try the same hiding trick as the previous passenger did and hide the peel in the same spot. Slowly but surely, a banana peel pile would have been created.

(By the way, try saying banana peel pile many times in a row. It’s fun and not at all difficult and might make you smile.)

5 Some End Notes

Suddenly, there’s only less than an hour left of the journey. Fifty minutes, to be precise. As we’ve moved more up the North, the clouds have taken over the sky and a grey heavy upper atmosphere promises snow for the night.

The good thing with this oh-so-long journey is that I’ve progressed in my reading. I listened to a few chapters of The Fountainhead, which was a pleasure, and continued to read The Secret History for an hour, digging myself deep into the crime-solving scenes of the second half of the book. I even listened to an episode of a podcast, which was an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. Her bestseller Eat, Pray, Love never made a lasting impression on me, but after listening to that episode I was really impressed by her positive attitude to life and how she devotes herself to every book that she writes.

The journey is coming to its end. I still have 49 minutes for my thoughts, a few moments to look out from the window and let my mind wander. I notice the amount of snow: there’s more here than in the South which isn’t really surprising. I wonder if the people who live here actually like living here, the long dark winters and the short Summers with almost never-ending sunshine. I would like to know what these people do and what they believe in.

Because, although I lived in this city for a year I wouldn’t want to move back. The city is too isolated, the winter too dark and cold, and the place in all its hopefulness doesn’t offer enough alternatives for me.

In this city I feel caged in with only a limited amount of possibilities. And I don’t like that.

Luckily, I will be sitting in this bus again tomorrow, now riding it in the reversed direction. I’m already looking forward to getting home.

What Happens After 30 Days?

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This Monday was the 1st of October which means that for four days now challenges such as #inktober (thirty-one days and thirty-one ink drawings) and #preptober (thirty-one days of prepping for the thirty-day writing challenge in November) have begun.

It seems to be a pattern: new challenges kick in as a new month begins.

September was spent doing the #whole30 (resetting your nutrition for thirty days) or challenging oneself to live free from waste for the whole month. And in November one gets to challenge his or her writing habits with NaNoWriMo or let their body hair grow as a way of participating in Movember.

The monthly challenges give a rhythm to our year in the same way as Church Holidays did especially in the times before industrialization. Months fly by so quickly if we don’t pay attention to them, and by challenging ourselves with something new each month, the year gets twelve new meanings and time becomes more memorable.

Or does it?

For me it feels like there’s almost a compulsive need in the society to give a different meaning, a new theme for every month. We humans seem to have a need to find something to do with our time, with our energy, and the best way to do it is to challenge ourselves in a new way every thirty days.

(Or, actually, we have gone so far that almost every day of the week needs a theme: Taco Tuesdays, Throwback Thursdays, Pizza Fridays, Screenless Saturdays and so on, but let’s not go there, not now.)

As I’ve been observing this thirty-day life cycle of the society, I’ve asked myself: what is the main reason behind all these challenges? And maybe most of all: when it comes to 30-day challenges, what are we trying to achieve?

Why We Participate

I wrote about the pros and cons about participating in NaNoWrimo on Tuesday and came to the conclusion that depending on the reason you’re participating, you are aiming for different things. The same logic goes for the monthly challenges as well.

I see two main paths that could explain why people take part in the 30-day challenges:

  1. The challenges are a way of discovering new things about yourself: you learn new things or skills, you create new habits and try things that help you find your path, your conviction in life.or
  2. The challenges are a way of making your life more interesting: every new month brings a new challenge which makes your life more challenging and exciting. The time goes by and you get to try the same things that others are doing at the same time (this way you get the inspiration, motivation and support while doing the challenge, you get to be a part of a community).

So, you try new things to learn something new and spice up your life. But why do you do it? Why do you put your time and energy into these challenges?

Are the thirty-day challenges a way for us to become better persons? Do the challenges lead to some kind of progress, development? Or are we just trying to spice up our lives, pass the time so that we get from one weekend to the other, this vacation to the next, from birthday to birthday or Christmas to Christmas, whatever it is that gets you going?

Because: what happens after those thirty days of zero waste/ink drawings/writing/squat challenges are over? What’s the outcome? And what happens next?

Big Change Equals A Shock

Matt Cutts gave a short but highly informative and entertaining Ted-talk in 2011 about how anyone can do anything for thirty days. In his presentation he talked about all the different things he had tried for thirty days – from participating in NaNoWriMo and ’becoming a novelist’ to biking to work and eating sugar-free foods for a month.

His message is clear: you can do anything for a time period of thirty days. You can do small things, such as drink more water every day for thirty days, or big things, like climb Mount Kilimanjaro. But he also said this:

”I learned that when I made small, sustainable changes, things I could keep doing, they were more likely to stick. There’s nothing wrong with big, crazy challenges. In fact, they’re a ton of fun. But they’re less likely to stick.”

And this made me think about the nature of the monthly thirty-day challenges: most of them are pretty big challenges, especially those that require a great deal of time and energy in order to make them happen.

Living a life of zero waste for a month can be a big shock for someone who isn’t used to thinking about his or her consumption. Suddenly you have to plan your grocery shopping and how you spend your time.

Aiming to write 1,667 words per day will get exhausting in the long run if you’re not used to dedicating an hour or two every day for writing (because it’s a good deal of time away from other things).

And going cold-turkey on meat for a month probably leaves you hungry for meat until October is over and you are, once again, ’allowed’ to be a carnivore (fun fact: in Finland the challenge for October is Meatless October, and in January the challenge is to eat only vegan food for a month).

These big, crazy challenges – as Matt Cutts put it – can be fun, and even make you a more confident person. But if what you managed to accomplish during that 30-day challenge vanishes into thin air when the month changes – what was the point in doing the challenge in the first place?

And this comes back to the two paths I presented earlier. Why do people participate in these monthly challenges? Are they aiming for self-development, trying to find out what they enjoy in life or could consider doing for the rest of their lives? Or are they just having fun while trying different things, simply trying to make their every-day life more exciting?

Does A 30-Day Life Cycle Get Us Anywhere?

Once again, it comes down to the ’why’. Why do we decide to try something for thirty days? Is our aim to find long-term habits that help us get where we want to be in one, five or ten years? Do these thirty-day challenges help us get to that thing we consider being the meaning of life? Or – –

Do they actually hinder us from getting there?

I feel strongly that many of the big thirty-day challenges actually distract us from what’s really important in our lives. Especially if you try out every single on of them, and if you enter them just for fun, instead of wanting to find out something about yourself (I mean – isn’t it the reason why we do these challenges, to learn more about ourselves?).

These challenges require a whole lot of energy, time and thinking capacity – and that’s time away from something else. Is your investment in these challenges worth your personal resources?

However, if you participate in these challenges with the aim of actually improving your life – living healthier or environment-friendlier, lowering the threshold for drawing and publishing them online – then I think the thirty-day challenges can actually be helpful. Then all those minutes and hours you put to the challenge can be useful and help you develop and get where you want to be in one to ten years.

Seen in this light, participating in a challenge for thirty days is a great way of trying out something, then cherry-picking the best parts of it and hopefully making them a part of your life.

(And, of course, it’s also good to remember that you are allowed to fail. You are allowed to try something and after thirty days decide that it wasn’t your thing. The thought was presented well in the Ground Up Show, a podcast hosted by Matt D’avella, where he had T.K. Coleman as his guest. Coleman said this:

”Conduct experiments instead of life-long commitments. Try something for thirty days – it’s not marriage, it’s not a new religion. It’s just thirty days.”)

The True Challenge

But as I wrote on Tuesday, simply because you try something for thirty days doesn’t automatically mean you become a pro at it or manage to create a habit that sticks. Challenges like NaNoWriMo can make one exhausted. Meatless October can make you more hungry for meat than you’ve ever been before. And a squat challenge works out as long as you have that thirty-day schedule to follow.

But the true challenge comes when the month dedicated to that challenge is over. Only then you’ll be able to see if the changes you made during that month were small enough to stick or if they vanish into thin air when the next month begins. So – the next time think about participating in a challenge that sounds exciting, I’d say this: ask yourself why do you participate, what do you wish to be the outcome at the end of the month?

Have you participated in any thirty-day challenges? Why did you participate and how did you feel about them in the end, did any of the habits created during the challenge stick? In your opinion, did the thirty-day challenge make your life better?

 

The Difficulty of Accepting Change

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It has become clear to me in a completely new way that we people aren’t really that good at accepting and adjusting to changes in our near environment. Sure, we are okay with brand new buildings and cafés popping up in the neighborhood or when new traffic lights are installed in one of the crossings – but when it comes to personal change… Boy, don’t we struggle.

We are usually fine with the changes happening in us, within ourselves – after all, it’s something we aim for: personal growth, self-development. But when it happens to other people, change suddenly becomes harder to accept. Why is that? And especially, why do we find it so challenging to be happy for someone else’s progress?

How We Define Each Other

We are defined by what we do. For many people, our profession defines who we are – a journalist, a teacher, a baker, a broker. It is probably one of the most asked questions when meeting a new person – what’s your name and what do you do.

In social situations, when we are finding out who the other person is by asking his or her profession, we are trying to categorize them in our internal system – is this person a maker, a thinker, a creative or a practical person? And when we have that person categorized, we can relax. We know now where we have this new person, in what category, with what kind of emotional tags. We know where we can place this person in our personal hierarchy.

But then something changes. The person we knew as a broker decides to become an entrepreneur, open a bakery and instead of having a normal nine-to-five job, he now works from 3AM to 3PM. The practical thinker becomes a creative maker. And suddenly you notice you have a hard time realizing that this person has (in what seems like an overnight) changed his place in your hierarchy and  doesn’t fit to any of the old categories anymore. That is when it becomes tough to accept the change. Questions arise: Is this a good change or a bad change – is this person completely nuts or actually a genius? Who is this person now compared to before? And where do I stand in relation to this now-changed person?

When we are forced to define our friends and family members anew, i.e. sort them into a different category and find a new place for them in our personal social hierarchy, it easily leads to a conflict. It can be a silent conflict in one’s mind or it can become a conflict talked out loud. Accepting and readjusting is always about dealing with a conflict – and some people handle it better or worse than others.

It’s About Comparisons

Why people most probably have difficulties in being happy for the changes that happen in their friends is that they quickly compare the efforts and results of this person to themselves. The fact that a friend has lost weight – where does it put me in the hierarchy of fitness and health? Or the fact that another friend seems to follow his or her career dreams bravely and actually succeeds in them – how am I doing with my own career plans? Am I doing what I want to do? Am I as happy as my friend seems to be?

Personal growth and self-development tends to lead to some sort of increased happiness in the person doing the changes. Sometimes the happiness lasts longer, sometimes a shorter period of time, but still, it’s extremely valuable. We all want to be happy with our lives. However, we aren’t, not at least all the time. And when a friend suddenly seems happier than usual, happier than we are – we find ourselves wanting the same thing, the same happiness.

Depending on how happy we are at the moment or how easy it is to reach that same state of happiness, we react to the changes in our friends in different ways.

What We Need Is Confrontation

There are so many questions that arise when a change occurs. The questions are about the change, about the person, the environment, about oneself, and they never seem to end. That’s part of the process of accepting and adjusting to a change in our social environment.

However, the process gets twisted if none of those questions are asked out loud. And it isn’t even enough that these questions are asked – they also need to be answered. That is  what I call a confrontation. And I know, confrontation sounds like something negative, even violent but it doesn’t have to be that. As Merriam-Webster defines it: a face-to-face meeting or the clashing of — ideas. In my opinion, that’s what confrontation is: an opportunity for a face-to-face conversation about the ideas of two persons that have clashed.

After I came back to the city where now I live, I hoped for a confrontation about the changes that had happened. About my weight, about my career plans and about my behavior. And there were questions asked out loud – but no one wanted to hear the answer, the questions being questions without actual question marks.

When this happens, the processing of the changes and the efforts to re-categorize the changed person becomes twisted. It’s as if having a trial for a suspect without asking the suspect or his/hers defenders any questions – sounds wrong, doesn’t it? By confronting and asking the questions one gives an opportunity for the changed person to tell and explain what has happened, what kind of process has taken place.

So, confrontation is needed but unfortunately only few of us have the guts to do it.

After The Change

If a change is never discussed, then processed and, in a way, accepted, it will have other consequences. Because, as I was left un-confronted and, therefore, without the support I had really hoped for, it left me thinking.

I haven’t really had the opportunity to show and tell who I am today because I’m still waiting for some sort of confrontation to happen. I am hoping that these people would ask me the questions that actually end with a question mark but instead, I keep on getting quizzically creased eyebrows or confused looks that go from the top of my head to my toes. I see the thought processes going through their heads but no questions are asked.

Of course, I need to be realistic and remember that even other people need time to adjust to the changes I’ve made because my changes have led to changes in them and in their personal hierarchies. But what I also know is that the longer we postpone asking those questions, the harder it’ll become to ask them.

The things is that after a change is made and Time goes by, one looks at life from a new perspective. And a question arises: in this new life, this post-change phase, what do I wish to hold on to – and to whom?

(P.S. I’m no saint when it comes to accepting changes in other people. However, I do feel that I reflect upon my own reactions more than many others do which, in the long run, makes it easier for me to accept the changes other people make in their lives.)

Personal Growth – Pride Mixed With Confusion and Regret

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Me and my partner spent the last year (from August 2017 to May 2018) in a city further up north. It was a smaller place with greater distances to big cities, almost always at least a three-hour bus ride away, which meant that we were pretty stuck in that place.

I was quite busy that year with my journalism studies that were very practical instead of theoretical, and spent nearly eight hours every day at school doing tv, radio or writing.

However, in addition to all that time I spent in school, I had a great deal of time on my hands. Probably even more than I have now. I’ve talked about having too much time on one’s hands before but in that city, Time was given to me and my partner in handfuls.

All that time we had – what did we do with it?

We did the basic stuff: went on walks, watched tv-series (Mindhunters being one of the best ones we saw) and movies, read books and cooked food. However, we still had time to spend. So, we got some painting supplies and created our own paintings that we hung on the walls. We came up with a proper workout routine and started going to the gym. We both did some changes to our diets (which always requires time and energy for the change to become routine). My partner got into creating his art and soon after that, I started writing on a daily basis.

These things we did had a huge effect on my life:

During that year I lost almost a quarter of my weight. I also decided to change and challenge my career plans and started to realize that my people-pleasing behavior wasn’t benefitting me in any way.

In a way, it was a crazy year. But it was also one of the best years from the perspective of personal growth and development (the picture I used for this blog post shows me on a day I was super proud of myself).

As long as we lived in that smaller city up north, I had time to get used to the physical and mental changes that were happening in me. For instance, I was able to take in and process the confusing comments from sales persons in two different clothing stores who guessed and complimented my size and my body as if I had always been that way.

No one asked me any questions (because almost no one seemed to notice the changes, funny enough). Instead, I was the one asking myself all kinds of things: How had I been able to do all these changes? Was I on the right path? Was this what I wanted? Who was I now, compared to who I was before?

(I haven’t quite yet answered all those questions but I’m getting there, slowly and surely.)

However, when we returned back to the city we had left from a year before, the changes became real – now through the reflections of everyone else.

Especially the weight I had lost seemed to get many people’s attention. My mother came to me and patted my stomach, wondering how I had become so thin. My grandmother asked me how I had lost so much weight, and a guest at a party commented in a loud voice how much I had changed since she last saw me.

All these comments were compliments – in one way. But at the same time, not all of them were genuine happy-for-you kind of comments. Many of the compliments were mixed with confusion or had a hint of jealousy or frustration in them. It was as if people became unsure of who I was and how they should be in my company.

In the same way, as I tried to explain to friends why I was thinking of changing my career plans, many of them had a hard time understanding my decision. They had always thought of me in one way (someone who wanted to become a journalist), and now I was saying I wanted to do something else? Instead of being supportive they kept on asking how come I was changing my mind now.

I’ve written about changing my people-pleasing behavior in previous blog posts. It hasn’t been conflict-free, either.

The past months have been eye-opening when it comes to personal changes.

I was pretty happy and confident with the changes I had made and reached, and still am. However, as I saw how other people reacted to the changes I had made or was making, reacted to their reactions. The pride I felt about the major life changes got mixed with confusion, sometimes even regret.

I couldn’t help but wonder: were all my changes worth this emotional rollercoaster? It became clear to me that my personal growth and development seemed to come at the expense of my social relations.

I also thought this: why does it feel like no one talks about these aspects of change? As if every article I’ve read is about making a change and getting there – but so few of them, if any, talk about the things that follow when a change has been made.

Why do we want change, but when it comes, we aren’t that willing to accept and adjust to it?

It’s been a rollercoaster, these past four months. And let me tell you: it will continue for a while.

Still Life Sunday: Theory of Absence

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9 Theory of Absence

They sat in a circle, all in chairs of hard, red fabric, sitting on the same chairs they had sat on in Spring, on the last day of school. It was the beginning of Fall and the first day of school.

It had been twelve weeks since they last saw each other. The summer months had flown by as quickly as they always did but somehow the days and weeks had still left their mark on almost everyone.

Those who adored the sun weren’t shy to show their tan or the freckles on their skin. Someone’s legs were colored with bruises, telling the tales of adventures in the mountains or at sea. And a few had an air of growth, sitting more straight than usual, as if the summer had made them somewhat wiser.

But one chair was empty. Everyone knew who was missing but no one asked any questions. Not yet – it could be that the person was running late. Then the door handle was pushed down, catching everyone’s attention. The eyes followed the door that opened, but quickly the gaze was turned back to the circle. It was only their teacher who arrived.

“It’s so nice to see everyone again”, the teacher said, walking to the desk and looking around the classroom. Her gaze went from one face to the other. “But there’s one of you missing. Where’s Peter?”

Silence took over the room. They all looked at each other, then at the empty chair, the gaze moving from the chair to the floor and from there up the ceiling. No one seemed to have an answer to the question. Until – –

“I heard a rumor that he moved to the North”, someone said. She didn’t meet anyone’s gaze, keeping her own fixed on the floor.

“The North?” the teacher asked suspiciously, lifting from her bag a blue folder heavy with paperwork. “I haven’t received any information of that kind. Where did you hear that?”

The girl shrugged, clearly wanting to take a step back from the conversation.

“How wasn’t I informed?” the teacher asked, pointing her question at no one. “That’s unheard of. No message of any kind. As if he was swallowed by the Earth…”

And so the first hour of their first day went – the lecture that was planned for the day was put on hold, at least until their teacher managed to find answers to her questions about Peter’s absence. In the meantime, they all waited in silence, only sometimes breaking the quiet with a comment or a question.

Although no one seemed to have the answer to Peter’s disappearance, everyone had their own theory about it. Someone was sure the rumor was true, that Peter actually lived in the North. Another one thought dramatically that he might have killed himself, the news simply not reaching their school. And the third thought Peter had become an artist, a writer or a painter, maybe a carpenter. Who knew?

And that’s the question, isn’t it? Do we ever know anything about each other? Because when someone changes, almost no one seems to understand what happens or how to react to the change.

When the teacher came back to the classroom, everyone waited excitedly to hear whose theory about Peter’s absence was correct. But they were left with nothing –

“No one has no clue what has happened”, the teacher said, sounding disappointed. “We’ll just have to do without him.”

And maybe that was exactly what Peter had wanted.

What did it tell about him?