7 Things Learned In 34 Years

Last week I officially rolled in into my mid-thirties. Self-reflection (a.k.a vague rumination on such mundane topics as my place in the world and the meaning of life) is something I do rather often, somewhat to the annoyance of my partner who has to play the part of a soundboard. Here are my 7 things I have discovered in my 34th year on this planet.

  1. Self-discipline is unnecessary

“I wish I had willpower like you!” and “I am not as disciplined as you are” – comments that I get quite often. I try to explain that I don’t have any willpower. That’s quite true actually. I am not very good at making myself do things I don’t want to do. If I had to evoke my inner strength every time I encounter a cupcake I would fail miserably, sooner or later. The secret for me is to actually LIKE things that are also good for me. I don’t go to the gym to do cardio on a treadmill because that would bore me silly (even if you told me that it is very good for me, it isn’t of course). I do weight training because I enjoy the sensation of being strong. It is easy for me to turn down a piece of cake celebrating somebody’s birthday/promotion/goodbye/baking experiment because I eat 3 filling nutritious meals a day. No willpower necessary.

View of Aoraki/Mt Cook from Mueller Glacier Lake
View of Aoraki/Mt Cook from Mueller Glacier Lake
  1. People don’t care about the same things

I wish everybody cared about health, environment, social responsibility, nature, cycling, sci-fi movies and kittens. But they don’t. When people complain about some aspect of their life (a thoroughly futile exercise, in my view) I don’t rush into giving advice anymore. I ask them what is important for them. Sometimes the answers surprise me. I try not to judge. I fail sometimes too. But there are plenty of people out there who would judge my own lifestyle as totally outrageous and irresponsible. Each to their own.

Sometimes you are the one in the cage. Orana Park, Christchurch
Sometimes you are the one in the cage. Orana Park, Christchurch
  1. Justice is important

We can all put our blinkers on and pretend there is nothing bad in the world as long as it does not threaten our wallets, our possessions or our way of life. But things don’t work like that. The principle of fairness is vital, not just in relation to other people, but other species, and environment as a whole. What we are collectively doing at the moment is not just. What we are individually doing is only up to us. So if you open your eyes to injustice, no matter how big or small, you can’t help but want to fight it. Doing something, however small, is better than doing nothing. I find that speaking out helps others to speak out too.

The remains of residential houses on the clifftop at Sumner, Christchurch
The remains of residential houses on the clifftop at Sumner, Christchurch
  1. Experiences matter more than stuff

Many people (my parents and ex-husband included) would find my way of handling money irresponsible. I don’t save, I hate shopping, and, above all, I do not plan to “invest in property”, a.k.a. sign up for a deal where I owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to the bank (the arrangement known as “a mortgage”) at any point in my near future. Yeah, yeah, rent money is dead money. But I love the freedom that comes with that dead money. I live in a small apartment with shabby furniture purchased more than 10 years ago, mish-mash crockery, and no knick-knacks. I spend my money on travel, cycling, going out, and clothes/possessions that enable all of those activities. I don’t put my life on hold in anticipation that I will be happy at some point (when the mortgage is paid off, when I get a promotion, when I buy a new gadget). I prefer to feel happy every day.

The light sets on the last day on 2014 over Lyttleton Harbour, Christchurch
The light sets on the last day on 2014 over Lyttleton Harbour, Christchurch
  1. Systems make me want to break them

I am not very good at following “the rules of the game”. Having recently read Gretchen Rubin’s ‘Better than Before’ I discovered, not surprisingly perhaps, than I fit into Rebel tendency. Rebels have trouble meeting expectations, both external and internal. While the word “rebel” sounds particularly romantic, this tendency has cost me. Meetings, deadlines, expected social gatherings, career game plan, and filling out forms are particularly abhorrent to me. Every notable achievement in my life has been the result of my contrarian nature. I learned English after a school teacher told me it was impossible to become fluent in a foreign language at the age of 11. I went to medical school after well-wishers around told me it was too hard and I was too selfish doing it as a single mother. The prospect of giving someone, who told me I couldn’t do something, the middle finger is motivation enough for me. But day to day functioning in the world of systems can be challenging. I am learning how to work around this tendency. For now, if you want me to do something tell me I have no hope in hell in succeeding.

Diggers lined up on the painted pile of rubble in the middle of Christchurch city
Diggers lined up on the painted pile of rubble in the middle of Christchurch city
  1. Challenges are fun to overcome

I guess it feeds into the previous point. Some everyday challenges are more fun than others. Cold weather – love it. Mostly because everybody else doesn’t. Whenever ladies at work start the usual woe-is-me-it’s-so-cold-outside exchange I tell them with relish that I am looking forward to real winter with snow on the ground in Christchurch. They normally shriek and run away. But seriously, does nobody else experience pleasure in temporary discomfort of cold air (full knowing that you will be in a heated indoor environment shortly) or the ache of forearm muscles as you carry ALL the bags at once from the car because you can or the sensation of hunger as you look forward to the next meal? “Why would you want to move to a half-ruined city that gets hit with frequent earthquakes?” I guess because I can.

Cherry blossoms over Otago University in Dunedin
Cherry blossoms over Otago University in Dunedin
  1. Everything is connected

This is rather scary to contemplate. Hence why it is easy to believe that the only thing that matters is MY life, MY job, MY career, MY lifestyle, MY body. Bullshit. Your decisions are not just your own. Like the  secondhand smoking effect, every decision you make may have unpredictable consequences for the people around you through unseen influences. But it goes beyond human interactions. Maori understand this. The concept of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) stems from acknowledgement that humans are not separate from the natural order, and most certainly not superior to it. The health of one person is inextricably linked to the health of their whanau (family), iwi (tribe) and the environment. A sick polluted river will reflect and in turn affect the health of the iwi.

Too “ancestral” for you? How about this: the city you live in, will reflect the will of its residents to shape its development and, in turn, will affect their health and wellbeing. The cigarette you threw away in the forest started a bushfire. The plastic you tossed in the garbage made its way to the ocean and suffocated a marine creature you didn’t know existed.  The chocolate you bought supports slave labour in Africa. The processed snack you are enjoying for your morning tea contains palm oil, the primary reason why there are less than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, victims of deforestation and poaching.

You know why there is a feeling that nobody cares? Because caring is hard. It means that you need to take responsibility for everything you do.

Giving a shit is a revolutionary act in the world of cynical self-promotion.

Lake Tekapo from Mt John
Lake Tekapo from Mt John

Header image: Fiery red sunset over Otago

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