Written by Noha Amer
Hypothetical: A stranger hands you a set of keys and tells you, “These keys will unlock a new life for you. There, you have no responsibilities, no work, no to-dos. You can just be.”
I’ve had the privilege of doing just that in Bali for 30 days. I’m on sabbatical from my job. I don’t have an address to call home. I’m unattached and, basically, as free as the realm of possibility for a responsible adult will allow (I still have bills to pay and no one has offered to do that for me).
Despite what one may think, there’s a lot of anxiety in having this much freedom. There’s no schedule, no deadlines, no obligations. I could lounge at the beach all day, every day, just as much as I could Netflix binge all night long. Truthfully, the better part of me had to fight against the urge to vegetate and watch TV until my mind turned numb because I’ve spent years working and traveling non-stop with no time to myself, but who’s judging?
Me. I’m judging.
You get this much free time and your mind starts reeling.
I’ll take two yoga classes a day and become an Ashtanga goddess.
I’ll finally finish those online courses I’ve been meaning to take.
I’m going to go on a 30-day, no sugar diet.
I’m going to train for a half marathon.
I’m going to be a new me.
When your time frees up this much, you start to lose sense of what time actually is and how much or how little you have of it. And that’s exactly what I did on day 1. I made a list of all the places I wanted to see in Bali, I wrote out the diet I planned to follow, and I created a bunch of deadlines I’d meet. I told myself no social media, no TV, and that my bed was only for sleeping, etc., etc. You know how it goes…
It didn’t take very long for me to see how unrealistic my aspirations were. I was jet-lagged for my entire first week, waking up well past 10am, already a joke to my visions of sunrise meditation by the pool. I got the flu during my second week, succumbing to hours in bed with nothing else to do but watch Season 2 of Master of None (obviously). By my third week, I had roughed up my legs pretty badly from a fall (while double fisting a corn on the cob and ice cream), and yoga hurt too much, so I stopped going. Life literally got in the way, and I had to eat sidewalk to realize I couldn’t do it all. I could cry about it, I could stress over the lost time and lost dollars, I could run home, but I decided to forgive myself for where I was because I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
There isn’t a better version of you floating in a parallel universe living a better life.
Instead, my late rises gave me better open windows to connect with family and friends back home that I hadn’t spoken to in months. My time sick indoors lent itself to lots of good reads, self-reflection, and meditation. And my injury forced me to explore more sedentary activities, like silversmithing, which turned into one of the greatest creative outlets I could ask for. The seeming roadblocks in my plans actually detoured me to new experiences I didn’t even know I needed. Despite myself, I chose to welcome the circumstances with open arms and when you’re not spending all your mental energy on what ifs and brooding over all the things that couldn’t be, the universe just expands and life doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming anymore.
Our lives are not all or nothing. We are not just one thing or just another. Nor are there strangers handing us keys to an alternate life where the better version of ourselves gets to live a life of beauty, health, and success. I’ve had the rarest of opportunities to try that out and I assure you, old habits die hard, failures still occur, and challenges continue to unexpectedly present themselves. There isn’t a better version of you floating in a parallel universe living a better life. You are it. This is it. We are an amalgamation of our experiences and our environments and there’s a fluidity in that. The time you spend wishing things were different is time that can be spent making things different.
Be kind to yourself. Set reasonable goals. Make small, incremental changes that are for you and no one else. Allow yourself to fail and forgive yourself when you do so you aren’t paralyzed with discouragement to try again. My scraped knees may not have taken me to yoga prowess, but they took me far beyond Bali.
You can follow Noha’s journey at nohaamer.com and @findingnoha.