I’ve been living by myself a bit over the past few weeks. My flatmate, high-flying financial whiz that he is, has been off in various places around the world, working and romancing, so I’ve found myself living alone for the longest period I ever have, and while it hasn’t been that long, it’s had quite an impact. My mother has always been reluctant to live alone, and hasn’t really done so for more than a week, I would guess. I never quite understood this fear, as I’m someone who’s always enjoyed my own company and liked to spend time on my own. I’m an introvert, so spending time alone is how I recharge.
However, even the short period of time I’ve been living alone (probably three weeks would be the longest single stretch over the past two months), has opened my eyes to the good and bad of it. There’s nowhere to hide when it’s just you. It creates a lot of space for introspection and analysis, which is good for creativity and self-awareness, and it’s allowed me room to really start thinking about what it is I want from my life, something maybe I would not have done if I was surrounded by other people.
Of course, it also opens up too much space at times. That analysis can start to overwhelm you, and you can become very isolated if you’re not a natural socialiser. There were days when I’d realise that I hadn’t used my voice at all. I’d cook a great meal and find myself saying, ‘Great meal, Ingrid’ just because there was no one else to say it, or I would start complaining to the TV when there some particularly ridiculous news item. It was like I had prematurely turned into a crazy cat lady, minus the cats.
The time alone also made me keenly aware of the mundane nature of life. So much of our life seems to be taken up by personal admin or work. When you don’t have anyone else to break that routine or do those tasks with, it can all become rather mind-numbing. You go to the supermarket, cook meals, take out the recyling, you wash clothes, you fold the washing, make the bed, vacuum, go to work, come home from work, go to the supermarket, cook dinner. On and on the routine seemed to stretch. It just felt like what was the point in all this? I would go to work so I could earn more money to buy more stuff that I didn’t need and on and on.
I wasn’t sure if this was all the result of me not being in a relationship, or maybe it was some weird biological impulse to make me desperate to procreate so that my family could give my life meaning. What is possibly more likely is that it’s caused by the age and stage I’m at in life. In my my mid-to-late 20s (although I’m definitely more late than mid these days) it seems there’s the biggest variety of lifestyles among my peers. Some people are already married with children, some are single, others are engaged, some are living at home with parents, others live in their own home, some are doing well professionally, others are back at university, others are unemployed. There’s such a range of options at the moment, it can be hard to work out where you fit in and where you want to fit in.
Another part of it is that having come to London, I’ve felt a little lost as to what exactly I’m doing with my life. What is it I want out of life and where to from here? I had always envisaged myself moving overseas, most likely to London. Now I’m here. So then what? I hadn’t really thought beyond that.
A large part of that ‘now what?’ is my career. Which I actually feel needs to be referred to as ‘my career’, with the quote marks, because it still feels like a distant, fanciful concept. I don’t really have a career like a lot of my friends do. A lot of them are professionals and have a specific vocation. That’s not to say they’re necessarily any happier, but sometimes limited choices can make life easier, or it appears that way from the outside. When I go to a job website, I don’t know what section to look under. I don’t even know what my keyword is. I haven’t got many hits from ‘really awesome well-paying job that is fun, not too strenuous, fulfilling, in workplace with lots of cute boys’.
I think I’ve come to the realisation that I don’t even know if I want the traditional career. Instead, a patchwork of interests to satisfy everything I want seems a better way to go about it. The job I’m doing at the moment is quite flexible, so I have time to do other things if I want to and I can work from home a lot. It’s created space for me to do other things, like writing this blog, or possibly doing some volunteer work, that I may not have in a typical career-oriented position, but it’s so far affording me a decent lifestyle.
In fact, my current job has opened my eyes to a side of life that while I intellectually knew existed, I never really had to confront. It’s made me realise how lucky I have been to have the upbringing and lifestyle I have. It’s an incredible privilege that I can sit here and ruminate over the meaning of life and complain about the mundane nature of supermarket shopping.
So my year of living consciously is really about being more aware of how lucky I am to have good friends and family and a place to call home, in London and in NZ; it’s about being more conscious of my feelings, and accepting them, good and bad, and trying to take pleasure in simple things; most of all, it’s about trying to find a way to inject more meaning in my life by finding some way to effect change, to help people. And while this all sounds very hippy-dippy and like I’m about to start singing kumbaya around the campfire, I’m hoping that this year I find a way to make a contribution.