Plans vs Choices – A Meditation

Not long ago, I met two colleagues for a drink. There we were; three women, two twenty-somethings and a fifty-something living in a foreign country, and far too many bottles of wine. Before long, and helped along by copious glasses, conversation turned to the question that hovers above one’s head when one lives abroad; will you, could you, do you want to stay here forever? That question, along with ‘when are you coming home’ haunts me like a particularly zealous poltergeist, constantly reminding me I am suspended between two homes. Suspended between a country that is home to my family, my friends and by birth and blood, me and a country that is home to the one I love and, by wanderlust and circumstance, also me.

As conversation flowed that night, from health care to having children, Rose, the fifty-something Briton became more and more insistent about something. The tiny, former ballerina who has stared down cancer and won and raised three children in two foreign countries, kept thrusting her wine glass in the air and saying, ‘girls! Do not plan. Nothing ever goes to plan.’

At the time, it sounded romantic and liberating. Now, it sounds like the best advice I have ever received. If I can be candid for a moment; I am not where I thought I would be. I didn’t plan any of this. I planned right up until the moment I realised I was in love with a German whose job binds him to this country. I didn’t plan on winding up in a small Bavarian town where finding work is proving to be a nerve-strumming, disheartening process. I didn’t plan on being completely and utterly caught between two countries.

When I set off for Europe, I planned on spending some time in Germany and then moving on, sampling life and work in another country. I planned on finally making my way towards a stint in London. I planned on wending my way home, eventually. Because, something I realised whilst living away from Australia, was Australia was where I planned to, ultimately, settle down.

I planned, I planned, I planned. I had it, for the most part, sort of figured out.

But then – because, like it or not, life happens – I had to stop making plans and start making choices. And here’s something I’ve learnt; choices are scarier than plans, choices have more imminent consequences. Choices are active. I had to make choices because things happened that I didn’t plan on. Like, falling in love. Him moving across the country for work. Him having to stay there for three years, minimum. And so I chose to move from the north-western city I was living in, where I had a good job and friends, where I understood the dialect, to a south-eastern town where finding work is proving extremely difficult, where I have no friends and where I have no idea what anyone is saying. My choice, not my plan. And, if I can’t find work, I will soon have to make another choice, one that may send me home, to a place where hugging my Mum and Dad and having coffee with the girls is a daily possibility, but leaves the one I love on the other side of the world. And that, when the time comes, will be my choice alone to make.

So, here’s another thing I’ve learnt. We have to be bold when we make plans, audacious, hopeful. We have to be honest and ambitious and driven. But when we make choices we have to be brave. And we have to have faith that the decisions we make when the time comes, will be the right ones. We have to have faith that we know what we’re doing and know that, if it all comes crashing down, we have only ourselves to blame.

I used to think making plans made me an adult. Made me responsible, meant I had foresight. But, from where I am sitting in this tiny town with the weather too unpredictable to plan for, I’m finding that it is my choices that make me a grown up. It is choices, not plans, that reveal my morals and my mettle. Plans are what I want but choices are what I am capable of.

Plans are what we could be, choices are what we are.

22 thoughts on “Plans vs Choices – A Meditation

  1. Hey Olivia, great article again! Thanks for sharing.
    As someone who has traveled and set up shop ‘elsewhere’ time and again as well I can empathise with the weariness you must be feeling at this stage at having to go through with it all again… Yes, it’s all exciting and all new and hence invigorating as a result but after the second, third or fourth time of settling in somewhere (a phrase way too small for what it actually all encompasses!) one can’t help but feel a sense of tiredness and longing for something familiar and easily accessible, too. All the things we have at home have grown organically around us throughout the years (friends, acquaintances, ‘places-to-go-to’, simply knowing your way around) and are now in the new surroundings suddenly all things that have to be painstakingly sought, learnt and built. And since the ‘settled’ people around you are not necessarily looking for another addition to slot into their lives it’s you who has to be the main driver to achieve all this, to fit in somewhere and become part of some sort of social scaffold in the new area and do all the initial hard grafting… However, as I don’t need to tell you the hard work does pay off somewhere down the road with amazing new friends made, formerly new landscapes becoming very familiar parts of your own personal history and the knowledge that no matter where you end up ‘geographically’ years down the line – you will always remain that small part of those carefully built social scaffolds (however shaky they might have gotten in the years past) in various, loved corners of the world that you could slot right back into should you ever choose to do so 🙂
    I don’t think there could be a thought more liberating than that for my 80 year old self in a rocking chair – whichever country will end up hosting said chair and 80 year old, saggy bum 😉
    So hang in there! You will crack the Bavarian accent too in time (however, having said that: I’m a native German and I still can’t understand them most of the time!! I have a very dear friend in Munich however, who lived in Dublin for a while, so let me know if you want me to get you two in touch for girly weekends and introduction in her friend’s circle perhaps? I know Munich is a bit far off but maybe for some weekend distraction?)
    Jayne

  2. So wonderful written, Liv. I am forever in this seesaw of making choices in life and then planning what’s to come. I am not yet sure what’s in for me for the next eight months, Perhaps a country relocation, but i’m running away from “planning” it all and “choosing” to ignore it. Not wise, i know.

    All the best, anyway, with it all. I hope you find your comfort zone in your new town with your partner soon enough. Ironically, destiny has its plans for us – we only have to wait for them (and also work a little for them) to happen.

    x S.

  3. @Jayne. So, so spot on. I love the idea of scaffolding and this is just spot on: ‘Yes, it’s all exciting and all new and hence invigorating as a result but after the second, third or fourth time of settling in somewhere (a phrase way too small for what it actually all encompasses!) one can’t help but feel a sense of tiredness and longing for something familiar and easily accessible, too.’ It could be that down here will take longer, because it is an entirely different move to the one I made to Münster. So we will see. But that accent, my GOD, that accent.

    @Shitika. I hope you come to some conclusion and make a decision that is right – it will be, as long as it is made for the right reasons. And keep me posted on what happens!

  4. I think I’m feeling at home here … hope to catch up with you in more detail later, but loved your analysis of planning vs. choice, and the choices you’ve taken so far. When I left Oz in ’72 I had an open return ticket, but I had no plan as to when I would return, it was just a given, I suppose. When, almost a year later, I cashed in the return leg to fund my travelling, I had made a choice that has led to the wonderful life I’ve had to date. So you see, I couldn’t agree with your friend more …

  5. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, much appreciated. And I think you’re right … from where I’m sitting, it’s choices all round.

  6. Thanks for sharing! Even though I’m just a short flight from home I can relate to your story. I am loving my life abroad for now but I also realise that the urge to settle ‘back home’ one day might prove to be an issue. Again, we’re both from Europe but in practice that can still be quite unhandy!

  7. I stumbled upon your blog today, and (as an unemployed, “getting to grips with quieter, new hometown” love immigrant) I am very glad I did. You write acutely and very humanely about the experience of living between countries, the nature of choices, the process of writing/creativity, settling in another culture, etc.. and you examine both the uplifting and the difficult parts of those processes in a lovely way. Wishing you the best in future choices and in discovering Weiden/Bavaria, and thank you for sharing!

  8. I’m absolutely in love with your blog – it really speaks to me. Coming from a rather conservative asian country, we spend our whole lives planning for what remains of our lives. I grew up planning for my future, and upon graduation, I sort of lost all my plans. For the past 12 months, nothing has gone according to plan. And I like it. I like not knowing what my future holds, I like knowing I could be anywhere this time next year. And you’re right, not planning has somehow made me feel more adult than all those years of planning.

    Here’s to the adventures of life.

  9. @inasaurus – it is a big adjustment, isn’t it? Thank you for your kind comments and it makes me really happy you can find something in my ramblings to relate to and identify with. Wishing you all the best (in Finland??) May it be a wonderful experience.

    @shteo89 It’s funny, isn’t it, how we feel we MUSTplan. Even today, I had yet another encounter that made me realise most often you have to DO to find out if something works or doesn’t and whatever the result, is almost always regardless of planning.

  10. I couldn’t agree with you more! How often have I found myself planning every detail of my future and then seeing things take a completely different course. For instance who could have imagined that I would move to Munich, when I and my husband first started planning to move abroad (from Italy). I had excluded Munich from the start and had said to myself “Anywhere but Munich!”. Because a part of my family actually comes from and still lives in Munich, I already knew this city and wanted to move to some NEW place. But one night I stumbled into a job advert for a position in Municha dn thought: “Why not just try?”. Two years later here I am, leading the most amazing of lives!

  11. I can very much relate. My family keeps asking when I “plan” to come home – but it’s already been 4.5 years in China and I don’t see the end. Found your blog from expatially Mexico. Thanks for the post.

  12. “girls! Do not plan. Nothing ever goes to plan.”

    That line really offers such a heave of relief, and makes me laugh when i think none of my plans have ever gone to plan. At the same time, having dreams makes it all the more sane, and the choices all the more wise : )

  13. I’m just wrapping up a post about trying to plan my life. I feel like planning things out is what you’re supposed to do here in the States. Wish we’d get a little less pressure on that front. I want to ask those people who demand a plan from me, “Well, did YOUR plans work out just the way they were supposed to??”

  14. I love how this has been written, a wise an insightful description of the differences. I have never succeeded in planning much, although I have only tried due to the strange compulsion or obligation that exists. Planning is over-rated! Someone very clever once asked me, rhetorically, has planning ever worked for you? The answer was obvious.

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