Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Conjuring Stability from Chaos

Would you believe that in the five months since I graduated college, I haven't stayed in any one place for more than three weeks at a time? At the beginning, it was easy. I was traveling around Europe with friends or bouncing around between a few of the places I consider home, places that I have solid friends and family to visit and enjoy. Africa has been its own challenge. This post is my attempt to tackle one of the great challenges I face in this chaotic, ever-changing life: the lack of permanence, the lack of any routine, fundamentally, the lack of stability.

This life I've chosen has been fascinating. I get to solve new, interesting problems every week. No one week is like the next, and no one day quite like another. I'm gifted to work with brilliant, determined people who believe deeply in the difference they're making in Africa. And the people I meet outside work are almost all uniformly bright, friendly, and captivating. What more could I ask for, right?

The first factor that brought this absence to my attention was how quickly the people I've been meeting here turnover. There are very few expats who are here for the long-haul, and everyone's on their own schedule. People regularly disappear for weeks or forever. One of my first friends here, for instance, someone who is responsible for many of my current friends, left just a couple weeks after I met him. That's a pattern that's emerged even more since. When I meet people today, I begin the interaction with the awareness that there's a 50-50 chance I'll never see them again. It's a strange way to live: liberating but also very difficult.

And what's more, I'm also aware that I'm certainly part of the problem. This Sunday I'll leave Ghana for two to three weeks before traveling to Singapore with a brief visit back in Ghana. This life is dynamic, fast-paced, and exciting, but it can also be jarring and uncomfortable. I have been able to meet others who seem to do it though. My colleague, Bridgette, for example, travels even more than I do and yet manages to run nearly every day and has a social life wherever she goes. I don't know how she does it, but I'm shooting to learn, how to conjure stability from chaos.

They say that life doesn't come with an instruction manual. Never in my life have I felt more like I've needed one than I do now. This lifestyle is so fundamentally different from anything I've ever lived, and it's definitely going to take some time to master. But don't you worry. This mastery may not come tomorrow, next week, or next month, but it will. I won't accept anything less.


Julian C. Gray said...

Dear Ben,
All that has occurred in your outer world is depicted in your inner world. This not only includes events of a physical nature but also emotional and intellectual experiences as well. What you are building now is a close and lasting view of your inner world. Many people gain tremendous life-long insight of SELF from periods of isolation where there is what you call a lack of stability. I am one of those people. This knowledge and view of our inner life is the most valuable because we will spend the most time with our selves. Remember the Pythagorean admonition: "Above All else, Know Thyself". I spent 4 years in a very similar way in the US Navy, Submarine Force. Away from everyone with no familiar family or friends to remind me of who they thought I was. As a result, I discovered more about myself! You have chosen "the Road Less Traveled" and you have therefore joined a smallish and somewhat elite group.
Robert Frost (1874–1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

But you will develop as a true individual and the world desperately needs original thinkers with fresh ideas and perspective. I can almost guarantee that the path you are on now will afford you life-long gifts that are ONLY possible through this someone chaotic and lonely path you currently experience.
Much Love,

Unknown said...

Thanks for the very kind and thoughtful comment, Julian. I'm often reminded of my experiences at IBM during this experience, and what I learned has certainly stayed with me in these interim years. Hope you're doing well!