A few weeks ago, I showed my thought-process to two of my friends on how I organize my headspace and decision-making. Drawing a circle, similar to a pie chart, I add the “big topics” I’m working on at the moment. The percentages don’t really matter, but it’s a way to visualize the potential sources of stress and extra work. Here’s mine at the moment:
Then I work backwards from the end-goal: for example, for the sessions, I have to write the copy about The Next Step Sessions, so I add on a new circle: “build sales page”. I was trying to help my friends to do this as well, to work out what the next steps are in each section of their lives (like building a business, working on their creativity, applying to grad school and jobs, etc.). Prior to understanding what sections they should create, I asked them first to do a brain dump of worries and things they’d like to do in the future; then I grouped them into sections and crossed the things that can’t be solved during this year.
A word that was crossed off on both their brain dumps was “location”. They were both thinking about where to move next – to stay in their home country, to move to grad school, to say goodbye to the expat life… We concluded that there was no way to answer these questions now, so we closed that.
Personally, the word location has been haunting me since then, and although I’ve tried to push it under the carpet for 2021, the truth is that I have to decide if I’m staying in Copenhagen or spending a semester in Lisbon, now that I won’t be going to Rio for my internship because of Covid-19.
Maybe with this lock-down, many of us have had the opportunity to reconsider the place we’re in. For example, my life-long dream is to work remotely, and this pandemic showed me that all my streams of income – from my part-time job to The Next Step Sessions – can be done online. As I’m heading into the last year of my bachelor’s in Copenhagen, I can now start asking myself: “Do I want to stay?”, “Where would I like to live?” (I also think that this is especially tricky for foreigners that have no plans for going back to their home country, like in my case).
Going back to an old vision
In a recent podcast (which unfortunately I can’t track down!), one interviewee explained how when she was a kid, she made a drawing of Manhattan, with an illustration of tall buildings, and even a truck with something similar to the brand “Lay’s”, for whom she would later work for. She considered that drawing kind of like a vision board, and since that realization she’s been supporting people imagining their ideal life, recommending people to write at least ten pages about it. She then concluded that sometimes, the right way to decide what to do in the future is to first look at the place you want to live, and then go from there. Manhattan was always her first choice, and the rest of her life just unfolded from there.
That made a lot of sense to me, especially after visiting a friend of mine this summer, who moved to Algarve from Copenhagen, a beach area in the South of Portugal. I still remember when she decided she wanted to live by the beach and showed me a picture of a black girl, like this minimalist-styled Lisa Bonet, and said “I’m gonna look like her one day”. Mind you, at that the time, my friend was known for turning heads with her high-heels, showy clothes and afro; but this year, when she came to pick me at the bus stop, she was that girl – hair down, beige, long dress and tanned.
She was so proud to show me around the village she was in! I don’t feel that way about Copenhagen – I feel disconnected, especially now with no classes and everything going online. So that makes me think about why I’m here. Before, every time I thought about it, I could answer that by saying “school, my job, my boyfriend” even “not living with my parents” – but now, what is it that keeps me here?
After the podcast, I reminded myself of this dream vision that I held on to during my teenage years. I had it so clear in my head what I was going to do at the age that I have now that it’s almost creepy – after moving to London to study journalism, I’d continue living there, get a cute apartment that would accommodate a whole wall full of books and I’d spend my days writing and going to events and walking a lot because god knows why I always imagined myself walking home right on time for dinner with my boyfriend, who would oddly be the same guy I had a crush on since 6th grade.
A few of these things actually came true, but not exactly London, or studying journalism – and definitely with a different boyfriend by that time.
So, I wondered: should I return to that old vision of studying in the U.K.?
Wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing
Or do I prefer to take a gap year and “shut up and go”? It’s again like that Sylvia Plath’s metaphor of the Fig Tree – you might want all of them, but eventually, you have to decide on one before they go black.
I spent a couple of days pondering this. I don’t have to decide right now, and I can delay my decision until next year, but it was on my mind. The days that I was inclined to apply for a masters, I’d hear someone talking about the benefits of taking a gap year; and when I thought I was convinced that that was the right solution, I’d meet up with a friend talking about her life plans and their concern for their finances and the pursuit for a real job, and I’d immediately erase any ideas of taking a year off.
A couple of days later, however, I was listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast episode with Elizabeth Gilbert, in which she said the following about making life decisions:
“And that often means you have to unlearn every single thing you were ever taught by your family and by your culture about what is right and wrong. And you have to become a completely natural, wild, intuitive being. And you have to guide yourself purely based on (…) what your body tells you.”
I’m not really good at listening to my intuition, but I later thought that there are more tangible ways to follow her advice. The first one is: “Don’t make decisions out of fear” (which is something that YouTuber Damon Dominique talks about in this great episode of the “Red Wine Talks”). In my own life, this would translate into: Are you staying in Denmark out of fear?
And then, like Steven Pressfield writes on “The War of Art”, distinguish between working territorially – meaning you do the work for its own sake – and hierarchically – you do it to seek external validation. He asks the reader: “if you were the last person on earth, would you still do it?”. Again, this could translate into something like: Are you going for a masters in the U.K. for the diploma and prestige or for the education?
But the podcast episode with Elizabeth Gilbert, as she shared this excerpt from a poem called East Coker by T.S. Eliot, made me realize that even clinging to this old vision might be absurd:
What she was trying to convey is that in periods of uncertainty, like a break-up or a loss, we have to give up because we don’t “have the wisdom to have the correct thoughts” – we don’t know what we don’t know, so we have to be patient and let things unfold naturally. I could do that!
But as my therapist pointed out later, maybe I was just hungry
“Have you thought that maybe you’re aching to move abroad because you feel alone in Copenhagen? Perhaps if you had a better half, someone with whom to share your days with, you wouldn’t be thinking about this like that”, said my therapist.
Hmm – well, good point.
I wanted to include this bit of information here because the points above might spark some inspiration to take some difficult decisions that are draining you, but it might also be that you’re actually just suffering from something else much more mundane, masked around complex decisions that should be made with a clear state-of-mind.
And so, undermining the inner peace T.S. Eliot’s poem had given me for a couple of days, and returning to the fig tree metaphor, I wrote in my journal the day after my therapy session:
“As I read in an article, the key of the fig tree metaphor isn’t in the metaphor itself, but in what Sylvia Plath writes later:
“I don’t know what I ate, but I felt immensely better after the first mouthful. It occurred to me that my vision of the fig tree and all the fat figs that withered and fell to earth might well have arisen from the profound void of an empty stomach.”
That is, she was just hungry, which would be the same for me to conclude: “maybe I’m just confused about where to move next because I’m single”.”
*This text was written with the help of three cappuccinos with oat milk. If you’d like to support my writing, please buy me a coffee and I’ll thank you in the next post*