I went to a job networking event a few weeks ago. I’m constantly scouring the interwebs for inspiring graduation speeches and quotes by people who have figured out the answers to some of life’s questions, and I wasn’t expecting anything to register.
It was one of those rare perfect warm Spring days in London, and all I could think about was how much I wanted to be outdoors enjoying the weather. I’ve turned into a sunflower since I’ve moved to London and nothing breaks my heart like a sunny day spent indoors. But it only took three small words for my attention to snap into focus, as if I knew exactly what I needed to hear and why it mattered so much:
Surf the wave.
I’m a dreamer and a hopeless romantic, so my expectations for everything from a night out to a weekend getaway are always sky high. I think a lot, so I know what I want, what I like, what I need. (Or so I thought.) I’m stubborn and determined – once I’ve set a goal for myself, I will see it through. Nothing usually deters me. I like surprises, but overall I’ve never expected people or life to have anything in store that I couldn’t predict myself.
But that lovely speaker told this group of people randomly assembled on an impossibly hot Monday that whenever life throws anything at us, we should learn to surf the wave and embrace change, whether external or internal. He told us to surf the wave and we would be surprised at what could happen if we did.
And you know what? His advice rang more true with me than any of those fancy graduation speeches.
My life has undergone major sea changes in the last two years. I can now say with certainty that I was wrong in my insistence that life could not surprise me. I was wrong about people, about myself, about the world and what it has in store for me. I thought I knew what career I wanted, which country I wanted to live in, whether I wanted a relationship or not, how to judge if I could be friends with someone, or how I liked spending my free time.
I was wrong about everything.
Well, actually, l take that back: everything I thought to be set in stone in my life changed, and so did I in the process.
Choices are fickle creatures anyways, and you have to keep making them every day. So when opportunities arise and a door appears out of thin air, you have to open your eyes and step through it. Safety not guaranteed, but you can’t stand still forever. It takes more courage to try something new than to keep to the path you thought made more sense. So down the rabbit hole you go, but who knows what wonders you’ll encounter along the way?
I’ve always been a bit scared of people. When I start thinking that every single person I meet is as complex an individual as I am, my brain short-circuits. Everyone is a world of feelings, experiences, cultures, insecurities, wants, needs, joy, pain, ecstasy. It’s overwhelming. So I put people in boxes. I make up my mind fairly quickly and make an assessment so I can decide what kind of person someone is, whether they can be my friend and whether I like them or not. I need to break people down to two dimensions just so my brain and heart can process who they are. If I saw everyone as three-dimensional beings like in my favorite books and shows, I’m pretty sure I would curl up in a ball like Buffy in the empathy episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
I met someone I thought I might not like last year. We were often at odds and I always felt on edge around them. I thought we could not be more different. My journal knows all about what’s happened to change my mind since, but I don’t plan on broadcasting the details online, so you get the short version of this: this person is now one of my best friends. Someone who’s changed me and how I see myself and the kind of life I want. I want to go back in time and shake myself into reason sooner, but then I guess I would miss out on the amazing journey this friendship has taken me on.
The best surprise for me has been that through this person, I’ve discovered more about myself. Seeing your defense mechanism reflected in someone else will wholly transform how you see yourself. I thought I would never be a relationship girl, but I’m only now coming to terms that I want one just as much as everyone else, and that’s okay.
My longest relationship to date has been with a country. I fell in love at 15 and the affair lasted until the summer of my 24th year, when I came home with my entire life packed up in three suitcases and my heart torn into a million pieces. I didn’t think I could be happy anywhere else. I was wrong about that too. I’ve fallen utterly, completely, ridiculously in love with London and England, and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than I am today. This city makes my heart swell. The fact that I never saw this coming? It makes it even better. I revel in this love because it’s the best kind – the one that takes you by surprise, changes you for the better and still allows you to be yourself.
And so now I want to surf. I feel ready for whatever life throws at me because I’ve been through so much and come out stronger, better — different but happier.
So, yes, surf the wave – you’ll have to come up from underwater to catch your breath, you’ll be knocked off the surfboard a few times and struggle under the weight of an endless body of water… but ultimately, the only way to keep going will be try again until you ride that freaking wave to your happy place.