“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell
I’ve held onto that quote for years now, bringing it out every time life doesn’t go my way, when the plan I’ve devised goes askew and leaves me feeling out of sorts. It’s amazing the swiftness with which plans can change. I came to New Zealand expecting to spend my year here in Christchurch, with the hopes of finding a close group of friends like I’d had in London. A few weeks in, though, I started to realize maybe I’d rather move around instead, getting to know and see as many cities as possible. But as things would go, it seems the pendulum has swung back again.
On Monday, a colleague at the office brought in an article she’d clipped from The Press titled, “Job-seekers find resort work hard to come by.” It outlined the difficulty many people are having in Queenstown right now when it comes to finding a seasonal job. The story, categorized under the subject of “Winter Employment,” could equally have said, “Or lack thereof.” The picture it paints isn’t exactly one I’m wanting to rush into – hostels brimming over with backpackers like me, jobless, and with no prospects as restaurants, shops, and bars are no longer accepting CVs and applications.
I’m not an alarmist by nature, by any means, but what the article had to say certainly wasn’t encouraging. Suddenly Queenstown for the winter doesn’t seem like the most viable option come July. At the same time, both my office and restaurant have asked me to stay on longer. Well…the office hasn’t officially extended the offer yet, as apparently I’m quite expensive to employ being hired through a temp agency and all, but there’s a good chance they will since I’m quite familiar with their system. The restaurant, however, has asked – and I’ve been told there’s even a pay rise involved if I agree to stay longer. Can I really give that up?
Give up two jobs to move to a town of 10,000 people where I could very well have zero luck in finding employment? On one hand, there’s no question. In the ever-continuing series of choices between security and risk, the decision should be obvious. Even though Queenstown might be a hard place to get set up in, who am I to turn down a challenge? I hate doing the easy thing. I’ve got to go, right?
But would staying in Christchurch be the easy thing, or just the smart thing to do at the moment? With the recession taking its toll on the economy (just to throw in a couple nightly news buzzwords), perhaps I should take the next few months to work the jobs provided for me and save up what I can until summer rolls around.
This time around, though, financial considerations aren’t the only thing pulling at me, as is usually the case. Despite the rough start here, working through disappointments and disillusions, I am happy here, crazily enough, and all because of the friends I’ve made. Whether getting to know my flatmates, going out with workmates, or meeting people a hundred other random ways, I’m beginning to make my way in Christchurch.
There’s something I love, something comforting, about walking into a place and being known. Despite working four or five nights a week at the restaurant, I love it. I love walking through the front door, saying hi to the managers standing at the maître’di, swinging by the bar, heading upstairs to stash my purse and coat before getting on the floor for the night. I never have a bad night there. While I found it difficult to make friends at first in Christchurch, largely because people are already settled into their own groups and circles, many of my colleagues at the restaurant are transient like myself, travelers and backpackers who make for an awesome group to work with. Even those from Christchurch or other cities in New Zealand are the same. Once we finish our shifts, we often go out on the weekends, exploring Sol Square or other bars and clubs, with the standard 3am McDonald’s run, of course.
Over the last three months, I’ve found I often alternate between moments of “What am I doing here again?” and “I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now.” You wouldn’t believe how thin the line between the two can be. I can have identical days in terms of work at the office followed by a shift at the restaurant, yet come home one night feeling down and out, the next night content and excited to be here.
Last Friday night, one of my tables was a party of ten, out to celebrate the birthdays of Claire and Alistair, a 20-somethings couple. They and their friends were one of those tables you just click with as a waitress – they quieted down enough to hear the drink specials of the month, asked questions about me and my travels, and loved the slices of cake I brought out with candles burning brightly on top. They hung around long after they finished eating and as I wiped down a nearby table, kept asking me questions and told me to have a drink with them once I got off work. When I finished earlier than expected, I figured, why not? and took my staff drink over to their table. Claire’s brother, also named Alistair, had traveled Europe extensively the summer before and we swapped stories and shared about our favorite spots and cities. Another friend, a financier who has never lived outside Christchurch and has been only as far as Thailand for a beachside holiday, remarked that he could never up and leave and move somewhere completely new on his own, much like I have. And of course I understand what he’s saying, especially with the incredibly daunting idea of starting over, but it was moments like this that make it worth it. When I connect with a group of people that I would never have met otherwise, that’s when I remember why I’m here and, indeed, why I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
In Born to Travel: Sixty Years in Thirty Countries, Frank Korbl discusses the concept of fernweh, which literally means “an ache for the distance,” one he describes as “that melancholic anguish which constricts the heart when one is moved by an indescribable longing for faraway places.” This isn’t an easy urge to fight, to be always on the move, especially when one is as susceptible to wanderlust as I am. But as much as I want to move and keep moving, sometimes, maybe there’s also a time to stay put. It’s just about officially winter here and maybe the best thing to do is to put a hold on the next step in “the plan.” To be grateful for a time to work and grow the savings account, to be grateful for the friends I’ve made so far – in a way, to hibernate and make it through the winter surrounded by people I know and who know me.
This certainly wouldn’t be the first plan I’ve scrapped. And maybe that’s the point…flexibility, willingness, being open to anything life throws your way. You never know who you’re going to meet and what kind of shape your life will take.
After all, there’s a lot to be said for happiness.