A good friend and I recently got onto the topic of choosing whether to stick with an unsatisfactory situation or to confront the unknown. The conversation was triggered by a young relative’s decision to stay in a relationship that after a year or two doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and that causes her significant stress from time to time ; the reason she gives is that it falls in her comfort zone and doesn’t require her to face the unknown.
Two or three acquaintances are currently inhibited by a fear that unknown someone/s might not like a decision and so they’ve decided not to go ahead with a project on the offchance.
Kimberley is in her her Matric year and faces a period of concentrated decision-making. While I expect to fully support whatever choices she makes about her future, my biggest hope is that she will gain confidence from my life experience. This is the lesson I would like her to learn :
very little in life cannot be redeemed and the unknown can bring rewards that are frequently out of reach in our comfort zones.
Admittedly that lesson was hard-earned and followed thirty-seven years of towing the line and doing what I thought “someone/s” required of me. After finally accepting that my efforts were actually making no-one happy, least of all myself, I made the decision to call it quits on a marriage of almost fifteen years. Having a child who was four years old at the time made the decision a weighty one but I reached a point where the decision pretty much made itself. I had left the job market weeks before Kimberley’s birth and spent about six hours a week working in a local private school’s media centre – not ideal circumstances to launch my independence.
But, decision made, I needed to find us a home and myself fulltime employment. Friends offered accommodation and we landed up spending a year living with my folks – which must have shaken their comfort zone to its roots. Within two and a half weeks I had another two part-time jobs which, in a matter as mathematically confusing as any of my exposure to that subject, added up to fulltime employment. It was all hourly paid with no benefits that I can recall, in the way of pension, medical aid. Two years later one of the jobs turned into a fulltime position that I really enjoyed.
At the time our marriage finally imploded there was no way of knowing what work would be available, if any, and my future was anything but mapped out after years of assuming that my life course would plod its way along as most people’s seems to.
As it happens, I have had not a second’s regret. We have lived in a series of four garden flats over the last thirteen years ; we have had a number of pets ; Kimberley has attended some great schools ; friends that we didn’t know about have come out of the woodwork.
It’s the last thought in particular that has regularly surprised me since 1997. Divorces inevitably put mutual friends in a difficult position. I never expected anyone to take sides as it isn’t really anyone else’s business but more companionship and support came from people we’d only known a short time, considering that I’ve lived in Pietermaritzburg since 1972 and had a vast number of acquaintances and longstanding ‘friends’. It was some of the latter that turned out to be the most critical, without having a clue of what led to my decision – nor will they. Ironically, my life-changing and mind-numbingly hard choice also became a test of my friendships.
There are a lot fewer people now that I am close to and choose to share my life with. The interesting point is that some of these valued companions I met through the workplace, some I know as email correspondents and some of these have developed into realspace friends.
All in all, many blessings have come our way and I’ve learned life-changing lessons that we wouldn’t have been exposed to had I not taken an (admittedly huge) step into the unknown. I can never go back and accept mediocre as long as the potential for something better lies ahead.
Bean, may the force be with you. Mine will always be behind you.