Life’s Turning Points: When One Moment Changes All
"Sometimes the course of our lives depends on what we do or don't do in a few seconds, a heartbeat, when we either seize the opportunity, or just miss it. Miss the moment and you never get a chance again." Aidan Chambers
If you're like me, you probably had a fair share of turning points on your journey so far.
Some are thrust upon us from outside events beyond our control, some are internally motivated and others maybe a mixture of the two.
It might not even a big thing from the outside looking in, just enough to make you think more about where you've been going and what might happen next.
Dreaming of Distant Lands
The purpose of this blog post is to clarify to myself (and explain to those who are curious), some recent events that have put me onto a different path than I had in mind for the last few years.
Just to give you a bit of a background, since 2010 I've been a committed student of the Open University.
At the time, I decided to start an environmental course, partly because I felt the subject was very much in line with my values and also because I dreamt about moving to New Zealand at some point. The main reasoning was because the structure of the country seems the most sustainable and realistic from a western living standard viewpoint, and also because the degree I was aiming for was (and still is) on their long term skills shortage list.
Somewhere along the way, however, the whole idea of New Zealand became more of a blur than a concrete goal, and while some other interests started to creep into my awareness, the university course became a hobby and somewhat of a personal development project.
I was also told on numerous occasions that it's extremely hard to break into the field, and although there are jobs out there, competition is fierce and employers are generally expecting graduates armoured with skills and experience.
And the way to do that usually is to volunteer. Which is probably fine for a young graduate, living at home with their parents, but not so much a possibility for a mature student, already working full time in a completely unrelated area, and having to keep a roof over her head.
Besides which, finding the right opportunity locally can be equally a challenge.
You'd be right in saying at this point, that I hadn't thought this through before embarking on such a long commitment. Sometimes we take on projects on a vague emotion and some distant dream of happiness without fully considering the full implications and the sweat required to get there.
And I think I was sensing some kind of betrayal from my heart when occasionally the idea of quitting crossed my mind.
This was evident for example from yearning to write and share my contemplations with the world. To this end, I started several websites, many of them ended in the black cavity of the web archives, never to see daylight again. Regardless, writing is something I enjoy and hoping to do more of soon.
Here's a link to a collection of my writings: Articles I've written for other blogs
The Recent Past
By the time the final stretch of the last module come round, I was physically and emotionally drained. To some degree it could be reasoned, that as the finishing line was looming, my mind was already thinking of it as a past event, even before starting. And so it was a fight every day to keep on track with my studies.
Around this time my health suffered greatly. I developed some kind of fatigue that I put down to eating the wrong foods and anaemia, but since then I suspect it was more of a combination of lack of exercise and the psychological barriers I created by wrestling so hard to accept that I just had to do the hard work to gain the degree.
For the past couple of years I was also invested in developing an online resource to help people with chronic worrying, which also taken a considerable amount of effort, not to mention time. And I still planned to continue this after the course has ended, so I just couldn't wait to complete the final paper and get on with my life.
The Home Stretch
Alas, it was not to be.
Even though the final module was a hellish struggle, the good marks kept coming in. For one of my big issues you see, is 'perfectionism'. Which probably throws some people when hearing it in this light. Because on the one hand this trait is a blessing for performance, on the other it comes with a lot of pressure and can harm ones self-worth if it's used as an internal measuring device.
The finale to the module was a 4500 word 'wiki' on an environmental subject of our choosing. The most dreaded period of the module, because the deadline was set in stone and there was a lot to consider in a mere 4 weeks that was available.
For some reason I was strongly drawn to exploring the energy use of ecovillages versus modern housing estates, and given the contention and vastness of the topic I did wonder a few times if I'd bitten too much off. But I ploughed on and poured all my resources into it. 3 days before the deadline it was handed in, the day marking a very important milestone in both my studying and life journey. A huge sigh of relief.
I thought that was the end of it. From time to time it popped into my mind whether I made a pass, because in my usual fashion, I would often doubt my abilities. Each time this thought surfaced, however, I quickly hushed it away. Just be patient I told myself, and wait until the email arrives. There's nothing can be done now about it. And with that, I pretty much left the coursework behind.
As a 'reward' of completing the course and 5 years of study, I went on a 7 day retreat in Wales. This was a much needed time out to rewind and introspect – away from the familiar –, and perhaps the insights from it influenced some of my later decisions.
And this brings me to learning about the outcome of my coursework and my degree. On a dull December evening my phone's notification bar signalled the arrival of the aforementioned email. I felt my heart beat suddenly increase and with that pump of adrenaline I quickly tapped on the link to see my fate.
I could not believe my eyes: Distinction. My first reaction was that I somehow was looking at the previous module's results. I couldn't have been that fortunate twice on my finals! The next few minutes I kept checking and re-checking I was looking at the right thing – because if this was true, that would mean I did very wall overall for my honours degree.
It was true.
Which meant that mysterious turning point which I'd been eluding to throughout this post. Suddenly the inner guide nudged me; this is it. That's where I should be heading. To re-awaken my affair with nature and all the fulfilment it brings me. It has always been such a natural affinity for me since I was a child, that I just dismissed as not important.
Curiously enough, while I've been going through a life purpose course, a way to recognise the right path for us was that it comes so easily, we do not give it a second glance. The more I thought about this phenomenon, the more I could see how true it was for me.
It's hard to explain, but the best analogy maybe is like coming home after being on a foreign holiday. And like T. S. Eliot remarked; “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” We do go on exploring in search of something grand, but eventually have to realise what's authentic to us and pursue that.
I'm right now at a point where I feel content with my choice of the environmental field.
Gaining the degree is only the first step, however, and the difficulty of 'getting a foot in the door' has not gone away.
To this end, I have a long-term vision which gives me the patience and calm that is needed to develop skills to see me through making the career change.
As regards to this blog, I'd like to use it as a record of my journey from now on, both from a personal and a career standpoint. Because one cannot be without the other.
If I'd taken one thing away from studying about the environment, it was that everything is interconnected. Not just people to other people and places, but we're so dependent on our home, the planet Earth and many of its workings we are yet to understand.
So dear reader, I'm coming to you from the thread of this interconnectedness; our place in the world as humans, and also what makes us capable of navigating life's rapids.
I hope you join me in the discovery of this wonderful place both within and between us.
Image credit: Austin Schmid