Too short at Twenty-two

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Today was just another day for many; the birthday for someone I know; and the 5 year anniversary of the day that someone I used to know, lost his life.

At 22 years old, Andy was gone before life gave him the chance – or rather unfortunately, there is reason to believe it was the other way around. Who knows what was behind  those passing clouds… if he just waited in the rain.

Instead of brighter days, he’s getting flowers laid.
Instead of creating new memories, he’s fading in ours.
To someone I could have saved, I apologise with a visit to his grave.
We already know this: nothing is promised.
So don’t just live life as if it’s a gift..
be one, so you’ll be missed.  

 

Somethings To Say, Before the Sun Sets

Last sunset

So, I’m home. My one year work assignment in Tonga has come to an end. I made several monthly posts during my experience, but feel I should do one last post to properly see this chapter of my life closed. (You can read all the posts I wrote while away here)

If you haven’t been following my story, here is the gist of it: I moved into a new place, started a new job, hated it, but I went through the motions of working and saving. I booked a 1 month holiday to the USA, but eventually got fired first. I tried finding a job I’d actually enjoy, came very close in a few interviews, discovered an international development / capacity building program, thought why not, applied, got accepted, refunded my planned holiday, moved out, and then spent 2014 overseas.

I was as shocked as everyone else. Having spent my whole life in the one city, it’s something I never considered or saw coming… which was why I believed it was so important to ‘just go with it’ before it got away.

Since leaving childhood, I’ve learned that card tricks, control, and certainty are all illusions.

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It turned out that what appeared to be a sunny tropical island was actually the furtherest from my comfort zone that I’ve ever been.

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I’ve heard it before; you’ve heard it before: sometimes, you’ve got to get uncomfortable. I get it now, I really do. Once we’re past puberty, the only growth we get is voluntary (with the exception of toenails and unwanted hairs.) It’s also excluding physical workouts. I’ve done a lot of those. Lifting twice your bodyweight is uncomfortable, but there is still an element of control: we know we’ll either be successful in the lift or we won’t – and we’re familiar with both outcomes either way.

Real growth is more than just physical; it’s a deeper change than that. And really being uncomfortable means giving up all perceived control and certainty over the situation. Simply put, it means not knowing.

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There was a lot I didn’t know: Where I’d live, what work would be like, who my friends would be, what I’d eat, and what I’d spend my spare time doing. These are all common questions to which I now know the answers; but what really makes going away such an experience is the things that you learn … that you didn’t expect or know you needed to learn.

There was a lot that happened over the year; there is a lot to write about, and there is a lot I already did write about.  Looking back, here are the main things I want you to know… and that I want myself to remember.


1) HAPPINESS IS AN OUTLOOK

I arrived in Tonga feeling sorry for people, but I returned home feeling sorry for myself. I realised I had been sold a dream. I had been told by a combination of my peers, upbringing, and culture – that there were set requirements for being happy. There aren’t. Despite being classed as a ‘developing country,’ people in Tonga smiled, laughed and seemed openly happier. How? Isn’t that the point of all the luxuries and privileges of the the western world? Well, I learned that it’s all about perception.

You can’t enjoy the taste of what you’ve got when you’re sniffing the fumes of what you don’t have.

I coined the above term, but I’m just as guilty of the offence as anyone else. With less disparity between wealth and status, and hardly any mass advertising, people in Tonga can devote their full attention to what they do have – and tend to be happier as the result.

I’d be lying to claim I’ve dropped all my desires since coming back to the western world. Desire and ambition definitely has its place. But given what I’ve learned, I’m definitely trying to remember that

there’s satisfaction in simplicity, and a blessing behind every breath.


2) THE SLOWER YOU GO, THE MORE YOU SEE

Tonga has Tonga Time, Fiji has Fiji Time, and so on. It’s a fact; time moves slower in the South Pacific. As a ‘city rat,’ getting used to a slower pace of life definitely required some adjusting. There were also withdrawals from what I call ‘stimulation addiction,’ to which mobile phones and modern technology are the most common perpetrating paraphernalia. With less internet access, less happening in my environment, and overall, less urgency – I eventually found myself slowing down. And that’s when it happened.

I started to notice more things – rather peculiar things: the positions of the stars, the sound of the sea, the weight of the breeze, the variations of trees and flowers, the way animals behaved, and many other minute details. Of course, in the west, this approach would result in a lot of missed busses, pissed of people, and possibly accusations of staring in public. It’s also not humanly possible or healthy to consciously process everything; but it is worth paying a little bit more attention every now and then. You never know what you may notice.


3) FAITH HAS ITS PLACE

I’ve never been religious. Sure, kinda Buddhist and strangely spiritual; but not religious.  I’ve always respected peoples’ rights to make their own decisions; but it wasn’t until going to Tonga that I actually began to understand why some people choose to believe.

I met people who lived in tin sheds and without access to basic necessities – yet they clutched their bibles as if it was their most vital resource. I met youths who were surround by bad influences and dangerous temptations – yet God was an authority figure they wouldn’t dare to disobey. I met people who made massive sacrifices in their own lives in order to help others – yet they were modest in their contributions and efforts, acknowledging Jesus as their inspiration and mentor.

Across these different circumstances, there was the one how – and the one why: God.

I’ve read The God Delusion, find Sam Harris fascinating, and am aware of the ways religion is exploited as a tool of manipulation – but I can’t disregard the way that religion and faith has proved to be a solid foundation in lives that are otherwise crumbling; the way way it provides clarity to those conflicted between choices; and they way it widely opens the hearts of those in the position to help others.

Religion doesn’t have a place in my life, and it may not have one in yours; but there’s no doubting it has its place in the world. 


4) TALENT CAN FLOURISH ANYWHERE

I had the privilege of meeting some amazingly talented individuals. At 17yrs of age, Paul is a perfect example. This video showcases his talent as a self-taught dancer and choreographer. And he certainly isn’t the only example. It seemed that Tongans had the natural ability to dance, sing, draw, and play sport. This is without the many learning opportunities and resources available in the west. I mean, despite having access to dance schools, video tutorials, and large body-sized mirrors, I definitely got put in my place by the dancers I met in Tonga. Here is a recent video of all of them in action.

Another example is a young woman who went from driving around in a car without windows to modelling in Europe, living a life she didn’t even dream about before. I’m sure there are similar stories emerging from other parts of the world. I’ve also seen similar things on Youtube, but there was something different about encountering this phenomenon in person.

Needless to say, as a person who tends to be quick to place limitations on himself, I left feeling inspired, now knowing what can be achieved with not much more than just passion and dedication.


5) WE’RE ALL UNDER THE SAME STARS

As this was my first extended period of time spent in another culture, I noticed a lot of differences. After enough time, I noticed many underlying similarities: Children cry when they fall over, people smile when they see each other, women like dressing up, and guys give each other crap because they care.

On a deeper level, I realised how we all just want to feel safe, to belong, to care for those close to us, and to feel loved ourselves.  We go about it in different ways, but our motives are the same, as with the emotions we feel. Different continents, countries and cultures don’t change the fact that we’re all people, trying to get by on the sample planet, under the same stars.

This is a great video on the topic.


6) TIME FLIES

I was packing my suitcase to leave, and then unpacking it – what felt like – shortly after. In reality, a whole year had passed. Just like that. I regret the time I initially wasted on deliberating on wether my decision to come to Tonga was the right thing to do because…

time doesn’t cease or slow for our uncertainty; it goes on, taking with it, another opportunity.

We all worry and wonder at times, but it’s important to remember that we won’t be where we are for long, and that we won’t be around for long either.  This fact will motive us all in different ways, but..

we all stand to miss something by standing around.

I was on a tiny island where I felt time moved so slowly, but eventually, it was up. I’ve come home to find people getting married and having children, and myself, once again, at a crossroads. I don’t know what’s next, but I know it will be over before I know it.


I’ve got one years worth of daily journal entries, so I’m sure there is more I could add, but I’m happy to close it off here. The experience taught me a lot, I saw another country but also another side to myself. It stretched my imagination and also made me that much more sturdy, mentally. It’s given me a lot to think about, write about, and share.

To you, the reader: I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my adventure. Maybe you’ll look at your own life differently… or like I did, have the courage to change yours drasictally.

To Tonga:  malo (thank you) and hopefully toki sio (see you later).

A View of Vuna (GoPro Video)

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I’m excited to present my first ever video project!

Having spent several months in Tonga, riding my bike down the same major road each day, I really wanted to make a video to capture the trip (and a few other things). Of course, this was no more than an idea. Which means, it was  post-it note stuck on my bedroom wall…

Then, I was pushed by a gust of inspiration after attending a local film festival and seeing some of the work done by several new film makers. I hadn’t used a GoPro before, done any video editing, or even know what I would film – but I just went for it.

Once I started, the pieces seemed to fall into place as what was once a vision, started to take place in front of me – looking far better than I imagined it. There was minimal sleep, eating, and doing of anything else until I was done. But I absolutely enjoyed putting it together, and I hope you feel the same about watching it.

Enjoy.

Boy

 

Lessons from Louie

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Louis CK is undoubtedly my favourite comedian.

Given today’s talent, that’s quite an accomplishment, as the size of a crowd trying to get on stage can be just as large as the one that’s in the audience. However, there are still a few ways for an individual comedian stand out from the rest.

Most commonly, it’s through their unique delivery, facial expressions, or the relatable nature of the jokes they make — things related to comedy. But how Louie particularly wins me over is through his honesty, rawness, and bravery.

In his self-titled TV series, “Louie”, he plays himself living his actual personal life as a comedian, single parent, and a decent guy just trying to get by and navigate his way through the franticness of New York. And no matter what’s going on or what he’s going through, he manages to be exceptionally funny through all of it.

This concept has sustained three enjoyable seasons. So it was unexpected to find that the latest fourth season of Louie wasn’t as funny — and even more unexpected when I found it to my favourite season yet.

It was because Louie did something, which for a comedian, is definitely different. He changed his winning formula. He fixed what wasn’t broken; he tried being less funny.

There were several episodes presented with little to no humour. I felt that this approach made the show more serious and confronting at times, but also more demanding of my attention and deliberation because it was easier to relate to Louie. As a result, I became more invested and interested in seeing this particular season through.

As I reached the final episode, I felt that, despite being a comedy, the season was surprisingly deeply moving. There were also a few issues brought up, that I’d definitely consider important, if not, life lessons. So if you’re not a Louie fan, here is what you missed:

1) Sex Doesn’t Mean Seriousness

Louie meets Amia, a Hungarian women who’s temporarily visiting the US. She can’t speak English, but through their own methods of communication — chemistry develops. After a few dates, Louie starts to feel strongly about her, but is convinced by others that his feelings are not valid unless they’re having sex. So they do. Rather than bringing them closer, it only creates more distance and confusion.

This plot reminded me of the first time I had sex without any similar pre-established conditions. Particularly about how naive I was at the time — and disappointed afterwards. I thought it meant far more than she did. Actions don’t always speak louder than words, because there are some words that just have to be said. This is what Louie and Amia eventually do through a translator, and the outcome is far more meaningful.

2) Love is Pain

Once Amia leaves, Louie finds himself depressed. He knew the hurt was inevitable. He knew the company wasn’t going to last, but he still wanted it so badly. Why? I know because I was in a similar position earlier this year. Except, I was the one leaving.

As the date of my departure neared, the girl of my interest became less and less willing to spend time with me. Maybe she knew something that I didn’t — or that I just didn’t want to think about — which was the risk of getting attached and therefore, hurt. In his show, Louie is a lonely guy. In real life, I’m that guy too. So speaking for myself, I know how it feels to just want someone’s company — regardless of the conditions, such as that it’s not for long.

When Louie consults the unwelcoming-but-wise doctor that lives in his apartment block, he gets the following advice: “Love is the pain. It’s when you’re apart from someone, and you’re hurting, that you know how truly deeply you really were in love. You know that what you had was real.” The doctor goes on, “You lucky son of a b****, I haven’t had my heart broken in years.” It’s something to think about. It helped Louie, and there’s certainly times, we can all feel as low or lonely.

3) With Parenting, Less can be More

There is one episode where Louie catches his eldest daughter smoking a joint. When she asks about the “big lecture” she is going to get, the extent of his response is, “Just know that I’m here for you.” Relating to my own experiences as a teenager, feeling constantly confronted and criticised definitely doesn’t help a young person understand the things they need to. But knowing that their parents are someone they can just talk to — does.

4) Responsibility is Important

In a flash-back episode, a younger Louie steals $2000 worth of equipment from his school. A younger me did that same amount worth in damage to my own school during a mindless act of vandalism. Like Louie, I also thought I was safely protected by my age. I learned that once you cross “the line” — you aren’t. Sure, age limits expectations, but more importantly, actions still carry consequences.

Being responsible also isn’t just a matter of being caught; it’s owning what you did. The investigation gets dropped but Louie still chooses to confesses to his teacher. It’s clear that decisions like these helped mold Louie’s main character into the respectable adult that he is. This episode is a reminder that being a good person is part of the process of being committed to becoming a better one as we work through our mistakes.

5) Success isn’t about being Special

When Louie finds himself envious of his friend’s recent success and doubting his own abilities, his girlfriend Pamela offers this advice: “None of you guys are special or magical. Some of you are luckier, and some of you work harder than others. But you’re all just guys.” Things don’t get much more truthful than that.

And that’s it.

TV shows make for great escapism and entertainment, but Louie proves that even through a comedy based on another person’s experiences, you can learn things too: about life, and about yourself. Even if you’re not a Louis CK fan, I hope this post encourages you to at least think about what you’re getting out of your favourite show (not to devalue the broadsword training Game of Thrones provides).

Finding Purpose

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On this screen it looks like an easy equation. But in my head, there is chalk dust, crunched up pieces paper, and deserted rough drafts everywhere. Finding purpose isn’t easy. There is no computerised device to answer the question with definite accuracy, or can you sneak the answers from someone else. It gets lonely too. A feeling similar be being held in detention, watching as the other kids who completed the task at hand play outside, enjoying the sunshine and the feeling of optimism that comes from knowing what you want to do with your life.

I haven’t got the answer yet, but what I needed more than anything, was a break from trying to figure it out. Hence why I was so keen on getting out of the country on the volunteer assignment that I am on.

Here in Tonga, I’ve learned how large and expanding the areas of non-profit, welfare, development etc are. ‘Helping people’ isn’t just something you do on the weekend or between jobs, if it is something you are motivated to pursue and personally find rewarding, then there are endless opportunities. Makes me wonder why I spent a year working in the soul leaching automotive industry. Now I’ve got the awareness, knowledge and what I’d love to call a ‘foot in the door’, I’m determined to stay in the non-commercial / profit industry.

Talents. Hmmm.

I used to find self-praise very difficult. Since recently writing my first ebook, I’ve been grateful to have other people to come forward, and with their help, I’ve been learning to take pride in my accomplishments.  While writing my story about my discovery various hobbies & talents, I also had the obvious realisation that while my story doesn’t have the grand ending that  a biography of someone famous would have, it still has the very humble beginnings.  In addition to hard work, talents take time to prosper and develop.

So this is where I’m up to in solving the puzzle. I’m sorry I can’t provide the answers you’re after, but in all fairness, I’m not asking you for them either. It’s ok not to have the answers, it certainly doesn’t mean a life is void of purpose. For me, my current purpose is to discover my purpose, my interests, my skills, and the opportunities available to use them in a rewarding way. And hopefully, to stop banging my head against my desk so hard.

3 Months Update

DSC00532Three months

In addition to my first feelings of home sickness, my third month away saw the inventible decline in the novelty of my experience. Situations such as when I found myself far from home at midnight with a flat tyre, or bed ridden and immobile for three days due to a virus, certainly didn’t slow things down. But it was once this novelty had started the wear off, that I got to see things for what they really are. Not what Google Images and the tourist brochures showed.

Doing something like this, sure, there are inconveniences and challenges, but there are also people willing to help every step of the way. Having my boss call to check on me every morning, another volunteer cooking me dinner and others always offering a hand, the concern shown was genuinely touching. My Host Organisation / co-workers made me realise that my assignment objectives are secondary to my wellbeing, and I should hold nothing in greater importance of theirs.

In my other twenty seven days of better health, there were some great times. Including the incident which led to my illness. It started with an early dawn Anzac Service followed by breakfast at the NZ High Commission residence. Then to celebrate the birthday of one of the Tongan teachers I work with, the night was spent camping on an isolated beach, by a fire and under the stars.

The scenery was beautiful, but my personal highlight was joining another volunteer on a walk to check out the surrounding areas, only to take a seat in the sand and have a conversation that saw five hours pass seamlessly. The others were relieved that we had not gone missing, I was relieved that even miles away from home, there were still people I could really relate to.  It’s just a matter of being open and welcoming. Since then I’ve met more Tongans ( including a group that rap and sing)  and even volunteers from other countries such as American Peace Core Unit.

Through technology, I also got the chance to talk to those I am miles away from. Two separate videos calls made a difference to this month that is pretty hard to capture with words. But I’ll say that the contrast of having people in your life and then suddenly removed, makes you realise a lot of things you otherwise would not notice. It’s true, every experience exists through contrast. There is also that saying about only knowing what you got when it’s gone, so I can’t help but sometimes  wonder about the kind of difference that people notice since I’ve been gone.

Either way, life goes on. One mate heads overseas to Europe for 5 weeks today, another moved into a new place, another is busy studying. Had things gone to my original plan, I would have gone on a contiki tour of the USA instead. Spending and consuming, rather than volunteering and giving here in Tonga. As upsetting as it was to cancel my trip, I was hoping I would one day get the chance to say this – “I’m glad it didn’t work out” I can also say that while I was originally hoping to land an assignment in a more prestegious or larger country, “I’m glad I’m here” 

Spending the hours that I do by the waves and the water, you learn things. Not just from my books – such as,  sometimes you just got to go with it. This applies to the times I find myself trying to decide on my next move, will I head to Asia for another assignment, will I return home to work, another state, or will I look to further my education and return to study. Just going with it for now.

 

Sail Away

I set sail to see you again

asking you to stay while I left.

I bartered being close and oblivious

to feel far and missed.

Ungratefulness fuels the ambitious

who never slow in sought of the their prize.

If they slow their decision

they would know they have already arrived.

The Teacher Life Is

 

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“Please do not make Tonga a means to an end, a sentence of sorts until its all over with and you can return to your homeland. Australia felt like a prison before and now it seems like a comfortable prison you want to go back too. Enjoy Tonga , its people for as “under privileged” as it may seem. It is now your teacher, a life teacher. Australia is now more beautiful than ever. Tonga has shown you this. Give thanks and gratitude for all new perceptions. “

A message from my older brother in of sorts from Hawaii. Jay’s advice rang true. Stronger than the church bells which woke me at 4.30 am, adding to the list of reasons of why I was wishing I was still at home.

Hearing the term ‘life  teacher’ invited me to reflect on the periods in my life where I actually had teachers, and how the different types would change how lessons were learnt, if at all.

I was terrible student at times but an excellent clown, unable to resist distractions, or becoming one myself. The times where I learned the most, and reformed my act, was due to the  strictness and discipline of certain teachers. If I felt the consequences were real, then so would be my response.

Thus, this is the teacher life has become. Watching me journey from primary to university education, it has had the time to prepare a curriculum destined to lead me over the rift in one’s development that the end of scheduled education creates, and towards my full potential.

The destain I once expressed towards my teachers eventually turned to gratitude as the value of their lessons was realised.  However, as an older student off ‘life’,  certain expectations are a prerequisite of the class. Specifically an appreciation of any discomfort and challenge that is realistically within my capabilities to overcome. These circumstances are reflective of a well devised lesson and an even accomplished teacher.

For some life is too easy, or too hard. Both prevent what is referred to as the only progress that counts. That of the  internal, our self-esteem. The acceptance, confidence and understanding in one’s abilities. Without it, even if your external progress is a high paying job or  a celebrity lifestyle, it’s almost impossible to be satisfied and happy.

So here I am, thankful. Thankful for the perception on my life back home that the harsh contrasts has given me. Thankful that while working in a unfamiliar market may prove challenging, I have an excellent support network to provide me with resources and confidence.

Thankful for all the challenges I’ve overcome in the past, and the lessons I’ve learned from them. Also of course,  thankful for the lessons I know I’m going to learn.

 

 

 

 

The Rain & Shine of Week 1

DSC00044It’s been one week since I’ve been overseas and I’ve seen fluctuations in my environment, and experienced them in myself.

A combination of brighter and darker, warmer and colder moments. Any experience that we go through, better or worse, can be leveraged into a position of insight if we pay due attention to how we are experiencing the situation, as well as the situation itself.

An  example being the afternoon heat. Where I feel lethargic and uncomfortable, others here feel quite lucky to have such pleasant weather as they go about their day. I could draw from this that it is simply too hot, or perhaps acknowledge I have a poor tolerance towards heat and don’t take adequate steps to keep myself hydrated.

Better examples include;

On a tightly run schedule with limited alone time, I’ve got to see how I can get frustrated and impatient at times. Growing up in such a privilege country, I’ve got to see how unknowingly accustomed I have become to certain benefits such as hot showers and types of food. Certain routines such as my fitness, medtiation, time spent with certain types of people, have become a tight clutch, limiting my ability to adjust and survive without those comforts and conditions.

I’ve learned that when faced with an unknown territory, it’s almost a natural instinct for me to advance slowly ,if not run completely. If it’s a unknown task , then I may doubt my ability and anticipate my failure before trying.

Previously aware, these were a few of the issues I wanted to address by taking this journey and plunge in the first place.

Being amongst those who are already here has also been immensely beneficial.

Their passion exhibited by overcoming their own obstacles and working towards the task at hand  has taught me how to shine brighter. Even if it is raining, I’m learning to see past the clouds.

Simply, yet beautifully said by another volunteer tonight “Embrace the change and the chance to be out of your comfort zone while it lasts”

 

The Last Time

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This morning would normally be considered pretty ordinary. Having only been awake for about sixty minutes , there is certainly no reason to be writing as I haven’t even ventured beyond the familiar path I’ve taken daily for the last year.

Worn through routine, and paved through repetition, I know the steps. Wake, brush, stretch, tea, meditate,smile. Even if I forgot them, like footprints, evidence is everywhere to jog my memory.

We all  tend to follow our own footprints. Unfortunately, almost sleepwalking at times with a lack of awareness and appreciation.

Today I took the same steps but with a different purpose in my stride.

As my last day in this house, what was part of every other day, was now part of my last day.

I can’t capture it fully through words, but simply acknowledging this fact makes a difference and enriches any moment. Try it. Even something like the everyday chore of taking out the trash, will eventually become a last privilege. Imagine that.

Then apply this though to the things you really care about. Kissing your partner, telling your family you care, going for a jog, eating your favourite dish, watching the sunset etc.

For better or worse, good or bad, there is a last time for everything. The countdown could start at any moment which is a frightening truth. But rather living in fear, live with appreciation, passion and awareness. There is a saying “live everyday like it’s your last” , and I would like to add, “and do everything like it’s for the last time”

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