15 October 2016
Taking Chances and Navigating our Way through Life
It is often useful in life to have different types of people advise us when we embark on an adventure: those who believe in us, encourage us, have faith in us and point out the great things and opportunities that await us, and those who voice their concerns, raise their doubts or point out the risks and dangers that we may have to face.
I received many messages from family and friends when I was about to relocate to Australia two years ago: some who were sad that I moved to the other end of the world, others who were excited for me. I pick out two of the funniest messages (pictured below) to illustrate my point humorously.
The first picture is a caricature that was commissioned by my fantastic Deputy and the staff and girls in the international girls’ boarding house I was responsible for in the UK before relocating. It depicts me striding out into the world with some of my trademark accessories: the Afro wig in German national colours, which I always wore in the TV room of the boarding house, whenever Germany played a match in the 2014 FIFA world cup, and the key ingredients of our famous “Peanuts, Pringles and Prosecco” socials. It also shows all the positive things that awaited me in my new host country: the famous landmarks (Sydney Opera House!), the wildlife (kangaroos!) and a boss to welcome me with open arms. It was a fabulous farewell present.
The second picture shows the Christmas card I got two weeks later from one of my little nieces. It lists all the risks that I would have to expose myself to: the heat (illustrated by the picture of the glaring sun with its menacing caption “40 degrees”), and the dangerous rather than cute wildlife. The German words, in which my niece summarises her expectations of my Australian adventures, translate into: “boxing kangaroos, deadly spiders, snapping crocodiles, poisonous snakes: AUSTRALIA”. It was certainly a ‘different’ type of Christmas card, and very much in line with my then 10-year-old niece’s quirkiness. Sugar-coated Christmas wishes are not her thing.
While the first picture was aimed at getting me excited for the future, the second one (metaphorically speaking) kept me grounded. Boxing kangaroos, snapping crocodiles, deadly spiders and poisonous snakes have so far, thankfully, spared me, but moving halfway across the world and away from family and friends does come with risks.
When we venture out and try new things, we need both types of advisers: those who encourage us and give us wings to fly, and those who advise caution and keep us grounded, so that we don’t end up like Icarus, naively flying too close to the sun and crashing and burning with our wings melted.
Most importantly, however, we need to follow our own gut feeling. The ancient philosopher Socrates famously had an inner voice (he called it his ‘daimonion’, his good-natured little demon), which always spoke to him and warned him whenever he was about to make a wrong decision. No such ‘daimonion’ warned me before I relocated; instead my inner voice advised me strongly to grab the opportunity, which seemed too good to miss.
I have not regretted it: I have indeed adjusted to this upside down version of the world as I knew it before, where people put their heaters on as soon as temperatures plummet to under 20 degrees and where they give each other snow-themed Christmas cards in temperatures of 40 degrees. The warm welcome from those people in this country who have become steadfast friends and remained unwavering in their loyalty and support has been a tonic for my expat soul and helped me gain fresh and enriching perspectives on a different country and culture.
Nonetheless life’s paths, especially when we are living outside our comfort zone and away from places and people we are familiar with, are not necessarily always as tranquil or straightforward as the idyllic stretch of one of my favourite Sydney bush walks that is pictured below.
The good thing is: if we miss a turn, encounter obstacles, face diversions or lose direction, we can always tune in again to our inner GPS and listen to its advice, trying to avoid road rage and enjoying the scenery along the way, while recalculating our route.
And where better to do this than in this beautiful city, where the cultural offerings are rich, the kangaroos mainly box in Taronga Zoo and harmless water dragons and kookaburras are more frequently encountered than deadly snakes and spiders!