When I was 18 I wanted to travel the world. I also wanted a career, friends, and influence. I wanted to do everything and see everything. I remember “rego day” at university – it was a sickly hot week, I had no friends, I had no idea what I wanted to do in life, and some dude shovelled a white piece of paper under my nose. “Pick a course,” he said. Me, my T-shirt, shorts, flip-flops and smudged make-up from the night before stared at him blankly. “Huh?” I looked at the paper. Law – I would make a great lawyer. Psychology – my mom’s a psychologist, I would kind of like to do that. Media – that’s a good option, but then again I could just do art? Hey, but what about English literature? I love reading… that could work too.
It was overwhelming; there was so much pressure. How can they tell you to tick a box and hand back a paper like it was a survey from Nestlé on chocolate milk when it affects your whole life? Did nobody realise I had no clue? Well, my 18-year-old self ticked a box. To this day I don’t know what I based my decision on – maybe I got hungry; maybe I copied my neighbour’s answer; maybe I heard there were hot boys in a certain class; maybe I fell asleep and my pen slipped…
For three industrious years I braved sweaty summers, lectures at 8 am, and scatty professors, and finally emerged with a degree. But for me this wasn’t enough – I wanted everything, remember? So I left my text books and noodles and scatty professors and packed a backpack. I did almost any job. I went to the USA; I lived in Thailand, Vietnam, Italy, Spain, and then London. I loved London – the history, the crowded mish-mash of people, culture and story which, when thrown together, make one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. London is a city which offers you almost everything. I made friends in London – I made friends with everyone. My life involved late nights on the red bus going from one side of the city to the next, church, theatre, shops, faces, and conversations.
By the time I reached the age of 26 something changed. I still wanted everything, but I didn’t want to be so tired. I didn’t want to build new friendships, establish myself in a new city, do a job I didn’t love. I wanted to enjoy my friends and be able to keep them. I wanted to find a job where I could focus and grow. I wanted a greater sense of stability.
“The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials” – Lin Yutang.
Either maturity or the calming work of the Holy Spirit in my life caused a shift inside me. All my discovery, all my searching and pressing has left me with the realisation that, although we think we want everything, we don’t. We have one short life and if we jam pack everything into it, we create a cheap imitation shirt instead of a finely crafted design; a painstakingly laboured, honed and shaped work of art. I ask you, friend, what do you want to look back on your life and see? Do you want to see thousands of friends, but nobody who really knows you? Do you want to see thousands of cities but never know one so well its backstreets are as familiar to you as the lyrics of your favourite song?
There is a time and season for everything under the sun. I have lived in one city for four years. I have a job I have been at for three years. I don’t regret it a second.
Looking back on my younger self I wish I knew then what I know now: never trade everything for the specific things God has for you.