Life Is Uncertain, Embrace It

Tom Stevenson Robert Anasch/Unsplash

Towards the end of my one-year stay in Australia, I came to the realisation that I wasn’t ready to go home. It hit me hard one day when I visualised what life would be like when I returned.

Instead of heading out into the warm weather to visit the beach, I would be returning home to a country gripped by cold weather. The relationship I was in at the time would be strained due to the distance, and I’d be saying goodbye to some great friends.

I was in a dilemma because the impending reality was that my visa was a month from expiring and I hadn’t decided what to do. I tried to extend my visa by three months but that failed.

At that moment, I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I go home and call it a day, taking the memories I had made with me, or should I do something else?

On a whim, I decided to apply for a year-long visa in New Zealand. Despite travelling to the other side of the world, I had never considered hopping over the Tasman Sea to visit New Zealand, let alone live there for a year.

I filled out the visa application, paid the small fee and went out to the beach. The next day, I checked my emails and saw that my visa had been granted. I could go and live and work in New Zealand for a year.

Suddenly, I felt much freer than before. Where I only saw the inevitability of my return home, I now had the option of travelling and living in another country.

In the end, my relationship did fall apart and I did go home for Christmas but I left for New Zealand afterwards. The year that followed was one of the best of my life. I made some incredible friends, who I’m still in contact with to this day, and I got the chance to explore, what I believe is, the most beautiful place on the planet.

Had I not decided to apply for that visa, I’m not sure what I would have done. Maybe I would have visited New Zealand at a later date anyway. Had I done so, I wouldn’t have met the people that I did and had the experiences that I did.

It was a sliding doors moment. One that we all experience in life without realising their significance at the time. At the time I filled in that visa application, my life was uncertain. I’m glad it was.

The Uncertainty Principle

Life is inherently uncertain. The decisions we take every day are based on nothing more than intuition, desire and a little bit of thought. None of us knows what’s going to happen but we have expectations of what might happen.

When I filled out that visa application, I was doing so more out of desperation than anything else. I wasn’t finished travelling and the option of living in New Zealand was a way of extending that.

At the time, I remember not being that fussed on going to New Zealand. I’d had a great time in Australia and the idea that life in New Zealand would be better didn’t seem possible.

But it was.

In a way, my lack of expectations made my time in New Zealand. This may sound ridiculous but I had no idea how beautiful the country was. I’d never heard of places like Milford Sound, Wanaka and Franz Josef before I went there.

All I knew about the country was that it was where Lord of The Rings had been filmed, the national Rugby team, the All Blacks, were very, very good and that the city where I was based, Christchurch, had suffered a devastating earthquake in 2011.

That was it. Three things! I was clueless but it worked in my favour. I was blown away when I got there. Travelling around the country was a pleasure, the friends I made were fantastic and the people in New Zealand are some of the friendliest on the planet.

It’s a year I cherish and I can’t wait to visit the country again. Even now, I can’t believe that I decided to go there for no other reason than my Australian visa was expiring. It’s ridiculous. One of the best years of my life came about because of a spur of the moment decision.

It’s easy to look back at your life and apply the narrative fallacy to make you think that everything that happened was planned to perfection. But it’s not true. Life is an accumulation of chance encounters, moments and opportunities that need to be grasped before they slip out of view.

It can be scary to think of life this way. We are control freaks by nature, we like to think that we have a plan and we’re acting on it. More often than not, we’re just winging it and hoping for the best.

My philosophy lies somewhere in the middle. It’s good to have an outline of where you want to go and what you want to do, but if that plan is rigid you miss out on the opportunities that appear along the way.

Take a chance

We live in a chaotic and uncertain world. Anyone who disputes this hasn’t been paying attention to what’s been going on in 2020!

While a little uncertainty can be healthy it can also be deadly as this post by Morgan Housel illustrates. The decisions we make have consequences beyond what we can comprehend at the moment we made them.

It may sound cliche, but listening to your gut in these situations is often a good idea. Your intuition is a good starting point for any decision, especially one where the outcome isn’t clear.

If it feels right, do it, if it doesn’t, take a step back and ask yourself why. The key is not to become overwhelmed by how uncertain life is. I’ve fallen into this trap before and it can paralyse you.

Suddenly, making a decision becomes much more fraught as you weigh what may and may not happen. The danger is that you cease living and merely exist. Embracing uncertainty is about accepting that there are things beyond your control and you have to make the most of whatever happens. What will be will be.

This was what my decision to live in New Zealand was. A toss-up between two different outcomes. I leaned into the uncertainty and took a chance. Today, I still consider it one of the best decisions I ever made. It was one I hardly thought about.

Now, if I think about what might have happened if I hadn’t applied for that visa, I shudder at the thought. That year was one of the best of my life. Not only getting the visa but going back home and then going to New Zealand meant I met some of my dearest friends.

Had I visited the country sooner, I may never have met them. It’s something I think about from time to time. How life is a struggle through the fog trying to find your way towards the light.

Sometimes you misstep and sometimes you strike upon a pot of gold. Life is chaotic, it’s uncertain and, often, pure chance. But that’s what makes it worth living.

How boring would it be to live a life where everything is laid out for you? It sounds hellish. That’s not the life I want to live. Embrace those moments of uncertainty, for one day, they could change your life forever.

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