I am afraid of a lot of things. Birds. Moths. All things that flap at me, actually. (Butterflies flutter and so don’t count). Perfect men. Eyebrow hair. Death. You know, the usual. But the thing that probably tops the list of things I fear is change. For reasons I know and reasons I don’t, change terrifies me.
So when I began asking the Universe to turn my world upside down and help me move to another city, I knew it was a big ask. To put this in perspective, I grew up in South African city X, where I lived in the same house from birth until I left home (and city X) 18 years later to move to another city (let’s call it city P: I, too, can walk on the wilder side) to start university. Eighteen years later, I am still living and working in this same city, at the very same university.
Yes. Change is hard.
Over time, this dear little city P has become smaller. Friends have moved away; others have settled into marriage and family life. Life is Consistent here; things trickle along in the same predictable ways and I have derived great comfort from this. But in recent years an unfamiliar restlessness began to creep up on me and I started daring to look at the world beyond the familiar city boundaries. City Y beckoned. And so I set my heart on moving there.
First, the Universe decided to screw with me a bit. I got offered a job, not in city Y, but in Geneva. My friends (a.k.a normal people) reacted to the news like this*. Being aversive to change and to travel outside a 10km radius of my house, I reacted to the offer like this.* Oh, the crisis. Happily, being South African occasionally comes in handy. With the controversial recent history of my generation (read: White South Africans) leaving the country in droves, I played the proudly South African card. I couldn’t possibly leave my country, I said. I shall stay and fight the good fight, I said. At home. From my bed. And so, crisis averted, I pleaded with the Universe once again to get me to city Y.
To be fair, the Universe put in a good effort. It sent me little messages. It overwhelmed me with the beauty of this city Y. It threw amazing friends from city Y into my life. It even pointed me in the direction of a few men living there. (And let’s face it, if anything is going to get me to leave my couch, house, city, it’s probably going to be the prospect of interesting men, so few and far between in city P. Clever, this Universe). But we should never underestimate fear of change (or birds, or eyebrow hairs), or the remarkable capacity of one human being to rationalise, in quite brilliant and convincing ways, why, at this opportunity or that, it just wasn’t the Right Time.
Then, the Universe decided if it couldn’t make the destination attractive enough, it would make the departure lounge pretty unpleasant. Less of a pull and more of a push strategy, if you will. It worked. So motivated was I to alleviate my discomfort, I made a deal with the Universe. Change: bring. it. on. But, please make it the kind of change that will keep the inevitable panic attacks to a mild two to three a day. In other words: change my life, Universe. But also, don’t. Apparently, the Universe takes such requests quite literally.
Yesterday, I said goodbye to my colleagues and, having deleted all incriminating emails about the boss, closed my inbox for the last time. I changed my profile on Twitter, to make it really official. Next week, I will begin my new job. Now, in an evenly balanced world, that would mark the end of this post. You could all go away thinking, “Oh good! She embraced the change. She is now a regular human being. The Universe is indeed a magnanimous being.”
Well, apparently not. My new job is indeed in a different city, about an hour down the road from where I live now. One might say, then, that the Universe decided to go with the Baby Steps approach. But it neglected to work on disarming my motivation to avoid change at all costs. My previous job was a virtual one: my colleagues were all online, scattered around the world. My office was, mostly, my bed and, occasionally, an office at the aforementioned local university. And so, naturally, I negotiated with my lovely new employer to let me work virtually, in the same office(s). Not only do I not have to move to this new city, I have bargained down how often I will need to commute to this new work place (not very often) and, therefore, how much I might actually be exposed to a wonderfully new city (not very much), with potentially interesting people and experiences. So, yesterday I waved goodbye to my old colleagues online, pretended to pack my stapler and pot plant into a box, and laid out a fresh pair of pyjamas for my first day at work next week.
My life is changing. But it is also staying exactly the same. Universe: 1, Universallysingle: 0
(* Artwork from the hyperbole and a half blog of the brilliant Allie Brosh)