In many ways, easing back into city life after over five months living and traveling in a van felt easy. While I missed the vanlife, the freedom that came with it and just being out in nature, I also liked being settled again for a while, being closer to my friends and being back in the office more often. I still had a lot of flexibility around work, I still got out surfing and kitesurfing whenever the conditions where right, I still did more or less what I had been doing the past five months (minus the travel). For the last four weeks, I didn’t feel like being back made much of a difference. It’s only now that I’m back in the van, out of the city and on my own again, that I’m starting to realise how much of a difference it has actually made – and how easily and quietly I got pulled back into some of the old thinking and habits. Suddenly, I’m finding myself thinking and doing things again because people around me and society ‘expect’ me to – or at least I think they do.
Suddenly, staying true to myself and doing life my way has become a whole lot harder again. And I didn’t even really realise it was happening.
This whole past summer I was proud of telling my vanlife story. Whether it was people I met on the road or ones I connected with through work, whenever someone would ask where I’m from and or where I live I would happily and excitedly share the story of how I don’t really have a home right now and how I’m just living the gypsy life. I would proudly tell people that I’m living in a van and cruise around New Zealand without a real destination or plan. I felt proud of what I was doing and I excited about sharing it with others. Now all the sudden I feel self-conscious about it. Suddenly I find myself worrying again about being judged and people not getting it - especially in a work context. I worry about people putting me in a box (“oh, she’s one of those dreamers who has lost touch with the real world”…) and not taking me seriously anymore in a professional sense. I know I’m good at what I do. I know I can be a free-spirt, and smart, and successful. I know that my lifestyle does not make me any less good at my work – if anything it’s probably made me better at it because I’ve got a clearer head and am more focused and balanced. But even though I know all of that, I suddenly worry again that other people won’t see it.
In theory, I know that it doesn’t matter what other people think.
That I just need to follow my heart and go my own way. It was easy to do that while I was traveling around the country, surrounded by other travellers, gypsies and free spirts, people who were taking a similar approach to life – or dreamed of doing what I was doing. But turns out, being back in the city, being surrounded by people who are all doing life the ‘normal way’, is making it a whole lot harder to follow my own path.
All the sudden I feel pressure again to be a certain way, to fit in, to do the sensible and responsible thing.
While I was gone, my friends bought and built houses, got promotions and new jobs, got pregnant (again), bought investment properties, set up retirement savings plans and generally ‘got ahead’ in life in the traditional sense. Without even realizing it, I found myself thinking more in that way again as well. Maybe I should find a full-time job and work hard for a few years to save money? Maybe I should buy property? Maybe I should settle down?...
None of that is me. I know that. And yet it’s so easy to quietly slip back into this kind of thinking when you’re surrounded by it all the time.
I’m back on Tinder. I HATE Tinder! For those who don’t know, Tinder is a dating App where you basically look at a few photos of someone and then decide if you like them or not. If you both like each other you’re connected and can start chatting. I know a number of awesome couples that have met that way so it must work for some people. But I hate it. I hate how people judge each other based on a few photos, I hate endless text conversations with people I don’t know (and don’t even suggest phone calls with strangers), I hate how you meet someone for the first time with totally over the top expectations and the pressure to know basically right away if you’re attracted to them or not. It’s superficial but it’s the way people meet today. And like I said, I know several Tinder success stories. But I hate it and it doesn’t work for me. The entire summer I didn’t even think about being on there once. It didn’t even cross my mind. But here I am, after four weeks back in the city and I’m giving it another go – even though I know better. Why? I don’t really know. Maybe because being back and being surrounded by all my couple friends again made we feel like I should? Maybe because my best friend constantly vets every guy who walks by as a potential boyfriend for me because in her mind, finding a partner would make me happy? Maybe because the few single girlfriends I have left are on it and tell me I should give it another go?
For whatever reason, I suddenly found myself following everyone else’s ideals again instead of my own.
Looking back now, I realise how easy it was to do my own thing when it was just me, when I had stepped out of ‘normal life’ for a while and removed myself from the society that sets all these expectations for us. It has given me a new appreciation for how hard it is to really do life your own way – especially for those people who don’t have the opportunities to get away from it all like I do. It’s really no surprise that so many people feel stuck in their lives and struggle to find their true selves and their own path given we’re constantly pulled in the one direction that’s called ‘normal’.
I realised how lucky I am that I had a chance to break free from normal and get away for a while and how important it will be for me to continue to create these opportunities to get away, reset and refocus on who I am and what matters to me. For the last two days I’ve been parked up at the campground in Muriwai Beach, just outside of Auckland. It’s incredible peaceful and quite out here now that it’s winter and it’s been cold and rainy – in other words, the perfect opportunity to just sit and think, reflect and refocus and remind myself that this is my life and I have to do it in whatever way is right for me.
I hope this experience and the reflections over the past few days have given me a new sense of awareness that will help me not to get pulled back into things quite so easily again in the future.