I’ve been back in New Zealand for nearly 1.5 months. It’s been a period of “adjustment”. I’ve gotten slowly used to using light switches and other creature comforts I had all but forgotten about. A few people have asked me, “What is it like to be back?” and I guess in my usual roundabout way this is my summary of it….
As children we learn nouns faster than any other word type. That is a chair, this is a lego, over there is a duck. A chair can’t be a chair and a man, a man can’t be a chair. Children use language as a way of figuring out the world around them. However, I think even as adults we cling to this longing to make sense of life with labels. I am a runner. You are a skier. They are artists. We are engineers. We want everything and everyone to fit into a nicely labeled box. Even ourselves.
I am very guilty of trying to box things and while I learnt some years ago to not label others as they might surprise you. I have only just recently realised that I don’t need to pigeonhole myself. I learnt that in trying to be singular, I lost what makes me, me. I had to come back home to pick up all those pieces of myself I had left behind while trying to force myself to fit into one “tribe”.
I love so many different things, mountains, green hills, still lakes, and rough waves. New Zealand is a land of contrasts. We might not have the “biggest” or the “best” of all these things but the fact that we have such variety makes us, from all that I have found in the world, unique. I feel like some of that uniqueness is stitched into my soul. It is what I love about this place and what I love about myself.
I love the fact that I have so many different interests, hobbies, and friend groups. I love music. I love farming. I love my family. I love to create. I love to learn. I love to debate. I love to be stimulated by as many different things as possible. And most of all I love people and their stories. That’s why I have the interests I do, because I get to move in beautiful landscapes with people that make me laugh and help me learn things about the world and myself.
I am a bit obsessed with a video called Life Coach. It’s a short film about Renan Ozturk and the much more widely known Alex Honnold (“that crazy free solo guy”). The film is meant to show Alex as the “ultimate life coach” because he is so singular. He reduces or blocks out all life’s uncertainty and existential angst by climbing, and climbing, and more climbing.
But for me, Renan is the hero of the story. He’s the guy with so many balls in the air he can’t keep up his elite level of climbing. He’s the one who cares so much about telling other people’s stories, shedding light on gold mining in the Congo, and some sketchy as heck honey collecting in Nepal. He has a talent and a drive to make art that is so much more broadly impacting than just climbing another new line. I think that’s magic.
It also touched a point that has been dwelling in the recesses of my mind for some time now. The importance of creativity. For a long time I have bought into the fact that science and math are the most important fields. That it is what smart people should do. That it is what I should be passionate about. But I more and more I see being creative: writing, drawing, singing, making art can have such a significant impact across a range of different individuals. You can directly affect people’s happiness by creating something. In many ways it is so selfless, it is the act of giving a piece of yourself to the world and saying “here I made this for you, I hope you find something of yourself in it”. I love that moment when Renan says “somewhere along the way I got lucky enough to tell someone else’s story, not just my own”.
I started to sketch sitting in Unwin lodge at Mt Cook Village before I had even watched “Life Coach”. I don’t really know how to draw but it brought me some peace to sit in the sunshine watching the Nor’West clouds roll in over the main divide. I allowed me to be still and appreciate all the little details of the the view in front of me. The others in the group had all gone off to do something much more adventurous, running and hiking, while we waited for a weather window to get on to the Tasman Glacier. When I compared myself to them, I felt extremely lazy and, of course, the dreaded FOMO(fear of missing out) was high. But a lack of drive to really push myself is something I have been missing for awhile now.
I think “burnout” can come in so many different forms than what we are expecting. I have read articles about people so exhausted their life comes to a complete stand still. Those people are diagnosed with “burning out”. Not me. But after wasting so much of my energy in a stressful and unfulfilling work environment and then driving myself into scary and draining recreational environments, I realised I had never given myself a break. I was always seconds away from disaster, living on adrenaline, and this desperate desire “to achieve”. It wrecked me. I never really acknowledged how exhausted I was by the end of this European summer.
Coming home as allowed me to recover a little. I was finally away from the toxic environment I had self-created where my self esteem depended on what I was “accomplishing” in the outdoors. I stopped having to define myself as a climber/skier/runner/mountain person. I stopped listening to that nagging voice in the back of my head that told me I was nothing. I was nobody. If I did not run/ski/climb harder and further than I had before.
I often have a great whinge about not being “good enough”. Not having the genetic makeup that is required to be a top 5% athlete. But the truth I discovered through all of this, is that I don’t want to be a top 5% athlete. Hell, I don’t even want to be a top 20% athlete because to achieve that I would have to narrow myself to just one thing, one pigeonhole, one “tribe” for longer than I am ever patient enough to be.
So stretch me thin. I’ll be all enthusiasm and no ability in a 100 different things. I’ll become really obsessed with that one for five minutes before jumping to the next. I’ll throw as many balls in the air as I can and as long as I still enjoy to catch them when they fall, I’ll throw them back up again. “Life is mostly an exercise in being something other than what we used to be while remaining fundamentally — and sometimes maddeningly — who we are.” ~ Megan Daum
Note: “A New Name for Everything” is a reference to a The Weatherthans song by the same name. John K Samson is possibly my favourite human I have never met.