+ Add: A Step into the Unknown
It was 2011 and I was coaching soccer at a small Christian school in South Carolina that I had attended myself from kindergarten to eighth grade. I was engaged to be married, and enjoying what I thought was a healthy mix of consistency and challenge. Sure I got drinks at the same bar every Monday with the same few friends. Sure, I played basketball every Tuesday in the same gym where I learned to skate twenty years earlier. Sure, I was working side by side at a daycare with the same woman who had actually changed my diapers many years earlier.
But I had gone away for college, a long ten hours from the heart of the Bible Belt into the relative frozen tundra of Pennsylvania. I had driven into the land of unsweet tea and “pop”, where I spent a year layering sweatshirts against the impartial wind until a friend loaned me a true winter coat. The kind southerners just don’t know about. Truth be told, I had spent more time away from home by the time I turned 20 than many people back home had in their entire lives.
It was a couple years later when my fianceé got a job offer in Hiroshima, Japan. The same wanderlust that drove my college search farther and farther from home lit up my eyes at the chance of going as far away as possible without becoming an astronaut.
I had my step into the Unknown.
Subtract: The Known You Can Take With You
In June of 2012 we touched down in an airport where we didn’t even know how to say “I don’t know”. It would be a few days before I even learned to say my own name properly. But within a few weeks, despite our curiosity, we had been drawn to the known; an English church, McDonalds, the few restaurants that catered to English speakers, and the ex-pat’s community within a community.
Cell phones were replaced, western friends were made and before long our cupboards and fridge looked a lot like the ones we thought were 7,000 miles away. Life was becoming easy again.
I had found the Known in the Unknown. Dang it. Good thing this was more than a two week vacation.
/ Divide: Yourself into a Million Pieces
It took time (a lot of time) to understand that I couldn’t take the Me I knew so well around with me anymore. I had to leave him at home, and take away control of the GPS. I had to give stage time to the toddler in me who didn’t know any better than to just walk into that restaurant with the weird statue outside. The Me who couldn’t read a thing on the menu and preferred surprises to ten minutes with a Japanese-English Dictionary.
Knowledge is power, and knowledge is also powerFUL. Knowledge is about synthesizing a consistent identity and a reliable truth from a thousand experiences. Curiosity is about creating a thousand experiences out of a single opportunity. Knowledge sees patterns, Curiosity sees possibilities.
It felt like driving down the road looking at alternative routes on my GPS. All the roads disappeared beyond the edge of the screen, and the only way to find out where they went was to follow them. And while experience said keep my hands at 10 and 2, Curiosity crawled into my lap, grabbed the wheel and made for the nearest exit. I could angrily snatch control back and scold her about how dangerous that is, or I could simply adjust the wheel to avoid smashing into the guardrail, then gently keep our wheels between the dotted lines as she led us into uncharted territory.
It took a while, but I finally made the choice…the conscious, constant choice…to be in the moment. This meant not acting from habit, not ordering what I knew I would like, not gravitating to comfort, but experiencing things as they happened. AKA, being a new me as often and as eagerly as possible.
X Multiply: The New Joys
I hear people say a lot that you can’t just stop bad habits; you have to replace them with something good. The fight to walk past McDonalds was a fight I lost for the first few months. The fight disappeared altogether when the golden arches became nothing more than a landmark to help me remember the way to my favorite new okonomiyaki spot.
The temptation to spend conversations reminiscing about what I missed in America was completely overshadowed when I was buzzing because of a local festival I had attended last weekend.
The comfort of an English menu paled in comparison to the joy of being able to find my favorite dish on the Japanese menu because a new friend had taught me its name in Japanese characters when I first tried it homemade from her kitchen.
The beauty of this equation is that if you do it right, you never really see it solved. And that you don’t need to change hemispheres to set it in motion.
Fast-forward to 2015, and I am stateside again, setting up shop in Dallas, Texas. Ice tea? Check. McDonalds? Check. English menus? Unless I want tacos, check. What has changed is my approach.
I’m no longer a scared kid looking for comfort; I’m an adventurer looking for a challenge.
I’m no longer a closed-minded loyalist eager to prove how great what I have is; I’m an bi-lingual traveler eager to adapt and grow.
I’m no longer a constant; I am an essence that molds and adapts, grows and becomes unrecognizable from time to time.
I’m no longer a helpless nostalgic; I know the grass isn’t always greener, but I know that a sandbox is better for sandcastles than a meadow.