The Kalu Yala Blog

Life is Still Hard

March 12, 2013

by Austin Tunnell
Posted In: Wandering Thoughts

After almost 6 weeks in Panama I am finally settling into myself.  Though I have certainly had a lot of fun since I arrived, and accomplished a fair amount at work, I have been stuck in an awkward funk that I just recently climbed out of.  I have been mulling over the reasons for the past month and am finally ready to put it in words.

Of course there is the obvious factor: I just made a massive life change, leaving the world of corporate business for a job in a foreign country that doesn’t pay (see blog post 1: I’m Going on an Adventure!).  I think most big changes, even good ones, can be unsettling at first.  It takes time to adapt to a new life without any of the familiarities of home like family, friends or hobbies. Cultural barriers, such as the inability to communicate effectively in another language, simply add to the restlessness.  It is amazing how many insecurities and fears are revealed in such life changes.  But if I am to be honest, one of the most powerful causes is my rampant imagination.  I have been looking forward to this life change for quite a while now.  From the moment I started work as an accountant I was thinking about leaving, and began taking steps, such as applying for the Peace Corps, almost a year ago.  And though I tried to be realistic about it all I couldn’t help but aggrandize the idea.  It was just so much fun imagining the moment when I would leave the life I knew for a new adventure.  Of course, the image it cultivated didn’t hurt either : Big 4 accountant leaves for the Peace Corps.  Yes, just what I was thinking, what a badass.

But now I am living the adventure, and guess what?  It feels like life.  I still wake up in bad moods and get annoyed with people.  I still have to struggle through work some days, do laundry, work out and be mindful of my health.  I could go on, but my point is that life always encompasses the mundane and imposes its limitations on me.  My job is not to fight those limitations, or think them unfair, but to identify those that are self-imposed, and then live creatively within life’s real limitations.  Not that any of this is revolutionary.  I would have admitted this to anyone before coming to Panama.  Heck, I had a very similar experience while backpacking through Europe a couple of years ago, and wrote a very similar blog post.  Yet I still seem to end up a little surprised and disappointed when what I know to be true proves true in experience.  It’s like my conscious mind has submitted to the idea, but there is something else within me that fights it and secretly hopes I can escape from the struggle.  It’s like I have yet to fully embrace that life is not easy, and that I have to fight for what is good and worthwhile; I want it to simply be given to me.  I find it so interesting that knowing something consciously doesn’t dictate how I will experience that thing.  It is such an annoying reminder that knowing is not being.

I do not mean to paint too bleak of a picture.  I am so glad I left my corporate job to come to Panama for a few months, and can’t wait to leave for Uganda in April.  It is one of the best decisions I have made in my life.  My point is simply to say that I am now on a new path, following my dreams, and am still having to deal with life.  People say the grass isn’t greener on the other side.  I say it very well can be—it just may not be as green as one might hope, and takes work to keep it so.  I need fertile ground if I want the potential to flourish (aka my new job), but potential means nothing without the work to actualize that potential.  I hope it is clear that I am not using the ‘term’ work in the conventional sense as in ‘one must work at a job,’ though it certainly includes that.  I am applying it to life in general: the spiritual, the physical, the intellect.

It is always painful to be confronted with my illusions about life, but I am usually thankful when I am.  Every ‘de-illusioning’ experience presents an opportunity to learn about myself and this world.  It gives me the opportunity to grow into someone more solid, more secure, more real.  But of course that takes work, and that is what makes it so difficult.

Since it took me a whole page to express vaguely that life is still hard but that I don’t regret my decision, I will save the rest, such as what I have struggled with most and how I am working through those struggles, for another blog post.  Until then!

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