There is something inherent in us all that pines for another life.
We long for what we haven’t got, yearn for what we had, envy burrows deep into our hearts, cursing those who have it all while we suffer in the mire of the mundane. We build extravagant dreams on anonymous places, images bordering fantasy that we anoint as our ‘if only’s. There are a thousand places we’d rather be and a thousand lives we’d rather live. In fact, no matter what we have, it will never be good enough.
I guess it’s human nature. Good is never good enough, the kid next door will always have a better bike, the wave you missed will always be the best, and so the list goes on.
A year of living in foreign places, quite literally the stuff of postcards and dreams come true, has taught me two valuable lessons:
Live for yourself and Love what you have
I have lived on a tropical beach, accessible only by boat, azure oceans lapping a coastline that was created on God’s best and most inspired day. I have lived in places of year-round swells and warm waters, dirt cheap food you’d pay a fortune for back home. I’ve lived in the choicest spots around Australia’s coast, and each time, I have left one of these spectacular destinations in favour of another, never content with the mind-blowing fortune that has laid my feet in these places about which others may only fantasise.
But why, when given these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, might I choose to turn my back on them? Why, when given the offer of a good job, a steady income and a view from my front balcony that would fit seamlessly into a scene from The Beach, would I ever consider chucking it in?
We are prescribed our false ideas of perfection in everything we do. From the clothes we wear to the boards we ride, our choices are not ours but the reflections of an indoctrinated mind. We have become accustomed to living the life we feel we should and wonder why we are unhappy or have tendencies of ingratitude when we accomplish it. These places I have been make for great holiday destinations, and when there for your two weeks of annual leave, you may dream of being able to never return home.
But holidaying and living are very different things, and when the logistics of day-to-day life come into play, they cast a whole different sheen on the reality. Simple things, like your favourite foods or cosmetic needs, need re-evaluation, but so too do the more important values of a life well lived.
Amongst the myriad miracle moments that will echo to my last breath, there has been suffering. Insect bites that could have brought about any number of exotic ailments, traffic accidents that could have been catastrophic and lung-burning hold-downs that might have lasted five seconds too long have all imposed a sense of fragility, a fragility heightened by poor healthcare systems, absent travel insurance and the unquestionable helplessness of spontaneous incidents that, had they amounted to much more, would have been desperately exacerbated in a land so far from home.
It doesn’t matter the extent to which we are blessed in one particular circumstance – it will almost always cause us to sacrifice blessings of some other kind. Life on a tropical beach in Thailand, for example, may seem like the stuff of dreams and bad Leo DiCaprio movies, but after a while, you miss the things that seem so mundane when always present. You miss cinemas and sushi, being able to jump into a car and simply take off wherever and whenever you choose, you miss the peace of mind of modern healthcare and clean water, the respite from heat offered by re-circulated, refrigerated, conditioned air, wifi in every café and a consistent phone signal. Ridiculous pining enters your mind, like riding push bikes on bitumen, wandering the abundant aisles of Coles and spending an entire day sweat-free.
Because, when it comes to it, paradise has its drawbacks too and, given a long enough timeframe, they become significant. What we are lead to believe are ideal circumstances are the dreams come true of a stranger’s narration. These dreams come only from the vantage point from which they are viewed. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, and though you may crave change in your daily life, would you, could you really give it all up in favour of the image of perfection you have sculpted in your mind’s eye?
That isn’t to say that, for some, these circumstances aren’t perfection personified, but that what may be one person’s heaven will be another’s hell. For some, a life lived out of a backpack, with no place called ‘home’, a new horizon with every dawn, is a life utterly fulfilled. But for some, days as a housewife, a steady nine-to-five, mortgage, kids, and all that conventional baggage is a life-long dream. You see, it’s not about achieving what you are told is perfect, it is about finding the ‘perfect’ that works for you, crafted by your own hands and heart, your own green pastures, sown, nurtured, watered and harvested all by yourself.
Sorry to say it, but there can never be a perfect place, an ideal life, a world free from complaints, challenges or a desire for change and escape. A perfect life is full of contradictions – you want to be rich, but you have to earn it somehow. Even if you win the lotto and never have to work another day, would you really enjoy it? Would you get bored, find stress in maintaining or conscientiously spending that wealth, have a thousand hangers-on reaching begging hands for undeserving donations? And if you lived on a pristine point break far from society, how would you fix your dinged board, your dinged body, your dinged bank account or dinged home?
Perfection is not about the best of everything, it is about the balance. Hot summer days with the respite of winter, consistent swells, but only on your days off or with enough lulls to recuperate, enough work to sustain you and help you save, but not too much to drain you and leave you without purpose.
Surfboards are a perfect metaphor for this balance. To get the right board, you must forego as much as you gain. Enough rocker for lift, but not so much as to push water or negate trim; long enough to paddle nice and easy, but short enough to be maneuverable; thick enough to float, but thin enough to drive and carve. Surfboard design, like life, is a constant trade-off.
The challenge for us all is not to find the perfect life, not to gain the envy of everyone by our fortune of life or finance, not to find that paradise that pours from every printed surface as the ideal of perfection, but to find our own ideals.
Perfection lies in the balance, not in the extreme. It is in the perfect equilibrium of your life that true happiness lies, not the moments of high excitement or exotic destinations, not in the thrills or miracles, but in the day-to-day, in your job, in the mundane and average. We need those dynamic experiences to expand our lives, to throw a little tinsel on the tree, but these are not where happiness ultimately lies. The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but all grass dries out, turns brown, wilts and loses its vibrant hue with enough time spent rolling around in it.
If you stare at something long enough, it begins to disappear, it becomes so familiar that you fail to recognise it any longer. All the exceptional aspects of any life will fade in time, still cherished perhaps, but lacking their spark. So what we must do is not seek out or crave the exceptional, but find the exceptional in the simplicities, to realise that, if we can find balance across all aspects of life, it will be far more fulfilling and far more sustainable than the juggle of highs and lows.
The year I have lead has been exceptional, a thousand memories and happy recollections will constantly stay with me and cause me to pine for those halcyon days with consummate gratitude when things turn grey and overcast. But, whether you can believe it or not, clear, blue skies, tropical islands, perfect waves, carefree living, all that has been such an enviable positive in my travels, does have a shelf life, and though I may be just a little crazy, I long for a life more ‘normal’…at least for now.
All photos: @kelibow