A thought process I’ve had a fair bit of late, and discussed with various others (mostly expats like myself) is how easy it is to get wrapped up in the pursuit of security.
I had a conversation with a fellow Australian-in-Amsterdam expat recently, who was anxiously awaiting the outcome of his residence permit. Amidst navigating Dutch visa requirements, we’d both been on the job hunt in recent months and couldn’t help but compare the pay and what we were eligible for with what we knew in Australia. And in that hot pursuit for a “career-move” job, we agreed we’d both found it difficult to embrace the moment and the wonder of where we were – living in the heart of Europe with access to countries to explore left, right and centre. Not to mention the fact that we’d achieved something just by relocating to the other side of the world.
We got all deep and rant-y. I said things like, “I’m finding it hard to be grateful that I’m here because I’m so caught up in trying to get back into the ‘daily grind’.”
I looked upon myself from afar:
“I am always full of adventurous dreams and ideas, but even in the midst of fulfilling one, I am at times so anxious I can’t see the beauty or feel it properly because I’m trying to take back what I just made a serious and conscious effort to let go of.”
I compared myself (the worst!) to friends that seemed so ‘settled’, a life I am drawn to, but not right now. I don’t feel ready to enter that lifestyle completely, and yet, ironically, I seem to be putting a lot of energy into promptly slotting back into that system in The Netherlands.
This is a time for my expat friend and I to feel and be free to explore in a way we couldn’t back home in our 9-5’s. We should literally be smelling the roses and taking advantage of where we are, in a city so colourful, welcoming and accepting. But we worry about whether our jobs here reflect well on our career or whether they are a step “backwards” (whatever that even means). We worry about security, which feels so ingrained in us.
Eventually, our conversation took on a kind of revelatory tone. We both knew we were caught up in all the “stuff” and talking about it reminded us both how absurd it was. Especially because, well, we were both so damn lucky.
And so, while cathartic, I also felt a little…disgusted. A worthy conversation nonetheless, wasn’t this all just first-world anxiety? Growing pains, I told myself.
This got me questioning further why we feel the need to be “secure”, and really what security means – and of course, how my version of security is focused at the level of “which country will I choose to have a roof over my head in?”, and “what sort of work will I pursue?”, versus “will I have a roof over my head tomorrow?” or “can I pay rent next week?” Enter Eve Ensler’s powerful TED talk.
Though Eve’s talk diverges into a far more important topic, her opening words ring true in a more general sense of the pursuit of security.
“In fact, I think that security is elusive. It’s impossible. We all die. We all get old. We all get sick. People leave us. People change us. Nothing is secure. And that’s actually the good news.”
“This is, of course, unless your whole life is about being secure. I think that when that is the focus of your life, these are the things that happen. You can’t travel very far or venture too far outside a certain circle. You can’t allow too many conflicting ideas into your mind at one time, as they might confuse you or challenge you.
“You can’t open yourself to new experiences, new people, new ways of doing things – they might take you off course.”
yourself far more insecure.”
“Real security is not only being able to tolerate mystery, complexity, ambiguity, buthungering for them and only trusting a situation when they are present.”
Perhaps then, this conversation, considering and reconsidering security, has also been a lesson in gratitude. For me, a reminder to practice mindfulness each day: of the simple pleasures, but also the privileges I have been afforded.
Even coming from a place of extreme hardship (which I, in every sense of the word, have not, but which Eve tells the story of), we can still choose to see the positive and opportunity in a situation and do good.