Why the Summer of 2018 was the best one of my life and what a bunch of chickens had to do with that
Close your eyes for a second and answer the question for yourself: What was the best summer of your life like? A beach holiday in California? A hiking trip through the Scottish Highlands? Two weeks at a resort in Ibiza? Or just a fleeting summer romance? All these things sound lovely.
To me, it was something entirely different. The summer of 2018 was not so much about the places I went or the people I saw but rather the things I did not visit and the people I did not see. It was an unexpected journey full of new events and experiences that are a lot less spectacular than you might imagine something which would rank at the pole position of the 22 summers I had the pleasure of experiencing throughout my young adult life.
At the beginning of June, I had the honor of being accepted for a year abroad at the University of Eastern Finland. This involved numerous preparations, a few of which I´m going to list below. Let me quickly summarize the things I experienced all at the same time beginning in June up until this point: An unpleasant break-up, having to study for a bachelor´s exam which would involve all the material from the previous four semesters, having to cancel my lease, moving our of my apartment, getting rid of most of my stuff to be able to travel with as little as possible and finding a place to stay in my soon to be home in Finland.
Now, you could ask the simple question, which I did myself: “Why? Why carry so many loads at the same time? You can always take the bachelor´s exam next year. And why even go to Finland? There´s nothing there. Stop complaining about these few tasks, you chose to do it that way.”
And you are 100% correct. I could have chosen differently. At any moment.
And I considered it. Time and time again. Drop it and do the minimum to get over the break-up. In the end, that is/was painful enough on its own. But for some reason, it felt wrong. Not only did it feel wrong, but it felt like I was lying to myself and if I would have gone through with dropping everything, I would be on the best way towards my greatest fear: Regret. Ever since I consciously experienced it for the first time when in 2013 I decided to stay at home instead of going to the what my friends would to this day call the most epic concert they have ever been to, I´m desperately fighting to never have to feel this gut-wrenching feeling again. For me, the best way to make a decision, is to imagine a scenario where I went through with the decision I was considering to make. In this case, it would be a scenario where I would sit on a bench with a future Erasmus classmate on a cold winter day, telling them about how I decided to skip this exam and all the other obligations because it was too hard. But even thinking about giving in to something like these thoughts had me cringe. Not because the break-up didn´t mean anything or something like that, that is not what I mean.
But rather because there are millions, billions of people who have or had it a lot worse than I did. People compared to whom my problems are as insignificant as they can get. And so I decided to pick up the tasks I knew I had to do. I made the decision to face the struggle instead of running from it. And that is what ironically would herald the start of what would now be known as the best summer of my life.
Now to be clear, I do not wanna appear as the knight in shining gear who ascended from the darkness without a chink in his armor, nothing could be further from that. But if this article provides you with any value, it should be the one of asking yourself the following question: “Is the way I´m looking at my life really the only way to look at it? Can I maybe approach this problem from a different angle?”
The magic word I´m referring to is perspective. It´s the single most important word which helped me stand my ground and endure this period of numerous trials. Before that, I actively contributed to increasing my suffering by dimming the good things going on in the present moment because of the painful break-up I was experiencing at every second. Mind that I´m not a victim or anything in that scenario. We both made the decisions to call it quits for the sake of being too far apart due to the year abroad. But that´s the issue with the victim role. It´s easy to slide down into this hole of portraying yourself as someone who is overwhelmed by everything life throws at him or her. I had to realize that I´m responsible for what has happened, is happening and is going to happen to me.
In this case, in any case for that matter, the best thing I told to myself and the best thing I can tell you is that, no matter the question you´re in control of the response.
I thought for a long time about whether or not I should implement this quote by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky because it is in all aspects a fairly extreme view to look at life. Yet in my opinion, this makes it the more crucial to talk about it, for it gives us a whole new take on the term of perspective: How you handle yourself in any situation is not only an indicator for how you treat yourself but also the people around you, the people for whom you very well know you carry a great responsibility. For instance, how you act after a break-up says a lot about your level of integrity and self-respect. How you act in the face of the Unknown, whether you take responsibility for how you let it influence you does not only have an effect on you but also the people around you. You either lead as a good example or choose the easy road, in the end you are in control of how the world is looking at you, you are responsible for how they remember and perceive you.
“But what in God´s name does all of this have to do with a chicken?” Great question.
On the 3rd of August I moved all my furniture and possessions to a storage unit in a nearby town. That in itself was one hell of a thing to do and without the help of my good friend Julius, I would not have managed it so smoothly. That dude knows how to drive a truck. It took me 10 minutes alone to get off the parking lot. So for all it is worth, he saved the whole process.
After the moving, I had to wait for another two weeks to take the bachelor´s exam and that meant I was gonna live on a mattress for two weeks with nothing but that in my apartment. And man, was it a humbling two weeks, I´m glad I got to go through it. In the process of living like this for a few weeks, and with all the thoughts about the break-up messing with your head on the side, I needed a valve, and I resorted to the same one I had been making use of for ages: Exercise. If you are in a similar situation as I am right now and you haven´t tried exercising yet, do it. Believe me, it will serve you a thousand times better than any amount of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs ever will.
Since I had already gotten rid of my bike, I had the pleasure of walking to the gym every single morning. I turned it into a short half hour run every morning which felt very good. These early mornings have a certain charm of their own, one nowhere else to be found. On the way back from the work out, I would always take the same route and that was for a reason: One of the neighbors had a chicken coop where he kept six chickens for private usage. I´m telling you, if you ever get the chance to have eggs from somewhere else than the super market, try it out. It´s as different as night and day. Every time I´d walk by, the chickens would come running to the fence to cluck their Hellos in hope of something to eat. The picture at the top is one a friend took why I fed them some almonds I had left over. And to my great surprise, they ate them.
And there is exactly where it hit me. I had forgotten about the tasks and the trouble, the pain and the suffering for a second. I was so overjoyed every time these chickens would come up to me and see if I had something for them that this became the highlight of every day when I returned from the gym. I could have worried about so many things: Will the exam go well? Will I make it to Finland without getting lost somewhere? Will I see my ex girlfriend again? Will my landlord accept my amateur paint job I applied to the walls of my apartment (an believe me, it was horrible)? Questions, questions, questions. And no answers whatsoever at that time to any of them. And I had to learn, that that is okay. In fact, it´s even desirable. What does an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent being lack?
Limitations are what make us human. We do not know everything. Hell, we often do not know anything. And that´s okay. The good thing is, if you don´t like the way a situation is, you are in control, and you can change it. You can actually actively influence the outcome of the contemporary chaos surrounding you. And to me, all of this started with the simple word of PERSPECTIVE. “There is always someone who has it worse than you do, so stop complaining.” I pinned this sentence into every room of my apartment, I made it my phone background and I made it the central dictum of these last two weeks between the 3rd and the 16th August, the day of the exam, the culmination, the trial everything would lead up to, the day I had dreaded and anticipated for so long.
I crushed the exam with a straight A. All the worries wear for nothing.
To give you an even deeper insight, here´s what I wrote in my journal that say:
Thursday 16th August 2018 11:21am
It´s over. The fight is fought. The weapons have clashed. I fought, with everything I had. And I won. I triumphed over my mind and myself. I proved to myself that I am stronger than I think. I have seen and felt the total darkness. And now, that it is over, I have won. I did not give up, despite all the suffering. I went in there, with all the heavy weight, and I bore it. The pain was, at times, unbearable and I thought I would break. But, I did not.
This is what one day, I will remember from this story. It is the fact that I fought and that I won. Much love.
It sounds pretty dramatic and exaggerated. And it probably is, I tend to do that in such situations. But it perfectly summarizes why I did what I did.
NOTHING beats the feeling of relief and joy after you have overcome something you did not think you were able to combat. And though what I had to face is a piece of cake compared to what other people face on a daily basis. And it´s nothing compared to what I probably will face in the future. But that is exactly what I mean by being in control. The only thing you can control is the present moment. The past is already dead and the future has not even been born yet. The present moment either flourishes or withers, you can decide to nurture it or let it dry out. It´s up to you.
I decided to flourish it by doing the hard thing, the thing that I knew I was supposed to do which was making friends with the Unknown. Do that. And be as strong as you possibly can. Not only because you´re responsible for yourself. But also for your friends, for your team and for your family.
You are in control of all of it. And as scary and intimidating as it may seem to realize this at first, it will enable you with abilities and a whole new perspective you had never dreamed about.
And for me, it made the Summer of 2018, despite all the suffering, the best one of my entire life.