I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes me who I am, in particular what determines my behaviour. I’ve been through quite a lot, with both a lot of opportunities and just as many disappointments, and often the two are connected. The lesson I learned from my challenges was that while you should try and recognise your problems, you shouldn’t dwell on them. I’ve done a lot of feeling sorry for myself, and some of it is warranted, but sooner or later you have to choose to stand up and get on with things. No one else will. You have to seek out and find what brings you joy, but it has to be a choice and it has to be you. No one can make that decision for you.
I also choose not to dwell on regrets. I believe that the person you are when you make certain decisions makes them determined by all the factors in play at the time: what you knew, how you felt, if you were tired, anything. You can learn and make better decisions by knowing more, but there’s no point in actual regret because you are not the person you were when you made that choice.
I’ve been interested to discover how different friends learn different lessons from some of the same problems. Heartbreak, for example, can really destroy some people. I had a few rough ones, but the lesson I learned is that you can fall in and out of love. There’s no destiny to it. It can still be an emotionally heavy experience and should be, but there are billions of people out there and it’s a little self-centred to believe that none of them would be just as amazing as the last. And you, the different person who got to learn from that experience, can do better for yourself next time.
I had the good fortune to have a few transformative experiences. One was having a great roommate back in 2010. He taught me to ask “Why not?” to any outgoing activity and realise that most reasons you give yourself not to do it don’t really hold up. You’re allowed to be lazy and that’s fine, but you should choose that to be your good reason, or recognise it to be a bad one. This has made me seem really extroverted and outgoing since then, but I assure you it was not always the case.
I’ve been told all this adds up to a relentless optimism which seems in contrast with the sad state of other aspects of my life.
This is a preamble to me wondering about a question a good friend asked me at one point. When I got it confirmed that I was leaving Zürich, it was the latest of a long series of disappointments in my life. All the big things people say that you’re supposed to do, like university, career and family, are all things I have not been successful at. Of course, that doesn’t have to be everyone’s path, but I wasn’t actually against any of it and I tried. And failed a lot. So my friend asked me if I’m dealing with all of it well, because most people would be a lot more affected than I seemed to be. It’s not unheard of to hide these things, after all.
I won’t pretend that I didn’t still dwell on them and that I didn’t have some rough days. I prefer to sleep with white noise, like an audiobook or podcast, because nothing is worse for my sleep than being alone with my worries.
But like I said above: you have to seek out the things that bring you joy. For me, they offset the challenges and disappointments.
Still, her question made me think a lot about my path in life. One reason it was so difficult to leave Zürich was that I’d built such a network and lived there for so long that it was hard to imagine not being a part of their lives anymore. Most of my life since graduating high school has been mobile, so my friends were temporary. Being in touch with them by social media helps, but hard experience has taught me that you’re lucky to see most of them even once or twice ever again. I have had an inconsistent relationship with my family, too. So I try to make the most of the time I have with people that bring me joy.
My ex used to tell me that nostalgia was a useless emotion. This was a mild point of contention between us because I am a rather nostalgic person and she knew it. We looked at things differently. I have never dealt well with leaving a place and people I love. Even when it came to places I didn’t love that much, I still struggled somewhat with leaving.
And I love telling stories. I’ve met many people in my life who are not storytellers, and you can see the difference in conversation. A story is an artificial construct based on your experience, and some people just don’t frame their lives in that way. I’ve always loved telling stories about friends, family, and aspects of my life. I even made a life compilation video, and I did wonder if the act of making it was saying “This was my life, remember me when I’m gone” which is a little morbid, but it came from a place of joy. My nostalgia isn’t motivated by “Look how much better things were back then” but rather “That was a good time and I remember it.”
I realised recently that it’s because it bothers me on some fundamental level that no one else will remember it but me. My ex moved around in her life but always had her family as the centre of it. She doesn’t need to tell stories about friends long past, because her family was there. This isn’t a critique on my family, because every family is different and our dynamic is very much its own complicated thing.
It’s more that just like how no one else can bring you out of a low slump but yourself deciding to, no one else will see all the things you have, do all the things you’ve done, or encounter all the people you have. I think, on some fundamental level, that that is a tragedy.
I’ve been fortunate enough to move countries or cities multiple times in my life, and while it’s an opportunity every time to reinvent yourself for the new environment you’ll be in, you also leave a lot behind. Even if you didn’t like that person you were or that place you lived in, it’s a part of how you became you today. Others may not think that’s important but I do.
I suppose it’s a little existential of me. We only have the time we have here and now in our lives. Each of us is one in billions of other human beings, and we are on a rock floating in a stupendously large universe. Our lives are, in a cosmic sense, infinitesimally small, but they are our lives and that makes them important to us.
It makes them worth remembering because no one else will.