12 Sep 2012

An Acute Case of the Wanderlust (Part 1)

One day I had a revelation, an epiphany. It had taken me years to come to the realisation that no matter what, I was never gonna be that stereotype woman that media and society define as the embodiement of success: a whippersnapper version of The Devil Wears Prada, with a marriage to boot and 2.1 kids in tow, with the glamorous suburban home, the neat lawn and the picket fence. The settled woman with all her needs met. Once upon a time I might have caressed the thought, especially the one about prince charming. Then I decided who was I to fool, apart from my 'well-wishing' parents and some 'well-meaning' friends?

'Whooper Swans, Japan', photo by Stefano Unterthiner, via National Geographic

Personal events gradually took me away from the shadow of that ideal life idea. For starters a miserable marriage that eroded the concept of that perfect family setting. I divorced. A few years later the economic recession further shook up our career woman. These were to be blessings in disguise as I would find out later. Such events give you wings to think on your feet and take charge of your direction in life in a bolder more assertive way. Because if you are not the master of your own destiny, at least be sure to be the actor, play an active part and get involved in your own life rather than be the victim.

I am a free spirit, there is no denying. You can't tin it, cage it, clone it. Like wordsmith William Wordsworth would put in verse, 'I wandered lonely as a cloud' over a field of golden daffodils, free and fancy-free, untroubled... As a child I used to revel in adventure books and in the Kuoni travel brochures that promised you Heaven on Earth twenty thousand miles away from home. American Far West period dramas and films like Out of Africa had me hooked. It was clear to me that one day I would unshackle from the obligatory rat race, travel the world and shack up with like-minded people. After deciding at a young age that air hostessing could be the way forward in order to satisfy my wanderlust, I ambitioned to become a photo journalist/ travel writer for the likes of National Geographic. I even imagined the possibility of becoming an actress, in fact combining innate creativity outlets with travel.

'Limestone Towers, Madagascar', photo by Stephen Alvarez, via National Geographic

I never became any of the above. I tamed up for a while. I played the career game. I tried to believe in home and marriage. I yearned stability and normality. Occasionally I did get itchy feet though. I remember vividly those British newspaper adverts from New Zealand authorities inviting emigration candidates to the New World. I saw emigration to faraway places as the answer to happiness. I wanted to make the move but got scared and just backed off. I needed that nudge to tilt me forward, that back-up. Or was that just an excuse to stay put and nurture regrets instead?

For the last year or so, I have been mingling with a crowd of world travellers and free spirits, some of whom with a guitar as weapon of mass seduction, who will never tick any of the boxes of our first paragraph and don't give a monkeys about it. These guys made me understand that you shouldn't base your self-worth on your salary figure and that no business, no company will set you up for life. You need enough money to get by and you need to make things and think outside the box. You need a job that is meaningful, where you give back to society and the world at large.

'Quiver Trees, Namibia', photo by Franz Lanting, via National Geographic

Scale back the volume of your belongings. Maybe home ownership is not your solution after all. Maybe being a no-strings-attached nomad is meant for you. You need to understand what motivates you, what gives you a kick, what makes you tick, and then act accordingly. Have an open mind and a smile to conquer the world, be tolerant of differences and be acceptant. You need to seek happiness always and encourage exchange with others. Contribute a difference to that world, no matter how modest. Substantiate your life with personal growth experiences from ethics to travel to charity, via ecology and sustainability. Now this talks my language as an 'armchair' ecologist. Giving a meaningful meaning to your life is what this is all about. This is part of my quest. My quest for wisdom. (to be continued)

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