This morning, I met up for breakfast with two women whom I met through my internship at Ministry of Awesome. Nic is Kiwi, 24, and possibly one of the most involved people I have ever met. In a week, she is moving to Auckland to get involved in the performing arts scene and for a change of pace. Hai Sue is originally from Korea and in her late 20’s, and pursuing her Master’s in the health field.
At breakfast, the conversation turned to careers and life plans, as most of my conversations do. I talked about how inspired and at peace I feel in Christchurch. Here, people take life at a slower pace. Leisure is important. Relationships are important. People volunteer their time and work with a million start-ups and nonprofits, not because it will look good on a resume, but because it will genuinely impact their community in a positive way. There is a sense of everyone pitching in, and a sense of ease with taking life slowly.
Hai Sue nodded. “It’s a New Zealand thing.” She’s lived in Korea, Melbourne, and the States, and feels the most balanced in Christchurch.
I can say the same. Before coming to New Zealand, I was very much invested in the East Coast Career Culture. I felt like a failure for not knowing what I wanted to do and having to waste the time I could have been spending building my resume trying to to figure it out. I compensated for my insecurity with my lack of direction by juggling two internships, a job, 6 classes, and volunteer work, not because I felt fulfilled by engaging in them but because I figured they’d look good on my CV. People assumed I had it all figured out, but doing a million things was my way of trying to avoid facing the fact that I had no idea what I was doing.
I love being busy, but not for the wrong reasons. I didn’t realize I needed to take a step back from the aforementioned Career Culture until I took one. Christchurch and New Zealand was just what I needed at this point in my life. I know now that my choice to study here wasn’t as arbitrary as I told myself it was — I desperately needed to get away, and New Zealand was not only physically farthest, but had a culture that was stereotypically the opposite of the East Coast. I latched on.
At home, it’s fall semester of junior year for most of my friends. In other words, it’s Buckle Down and Get Your Life Together Time. Start Climbing the Ladder Time. I feel insanely proud watching from across the world as my friends achieve the things I always knew they could and get closer and closer to their goals. And I feel left behind, because I don’t have a goal to work towards.
A semester ago, this would have stressed me out to no end and made me feel incredibly inadequate. Why can’t I find a goal? Why don’t I know what I want? I am falling behind. I am running out of time. But now, a step back, I feel strangely at ease with being left behind. I am not going to develop my ultimate goal before I return to the States. I am not going to discover my life’s passion. But, finally, I feel at peace with my own pace in life. There is no rush. For now, I feel fulfilled supporting the people around me and cheering them on as they achieve.
At breakfast, Nic suggested her own version of the Climbing the Ladder metaphor. “Instead of climbing the ladder,” she said, “look for swing ropes.” We’re all climbing the same ladder, essentially. Instead of rushing as fast as I can, I can do more good by looking for the ropes I have in common with people, and working together to swing to the next level. Bring as many people up with you as you can.
For me at least, I will try to retain this sense of balance and ease when I go home. Instead of desperately scaling my own nonexistent ladder, I’ll focus on trying to help other people swing up theirs. By doing so, I have confidence I’ll figure out a lot of things for myself as well.
It’s a New Zealand thing, maybe. But it doesn’t have to be.