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.