The airplane door opened and we grabbed our bags from the overhead bins and with an excitement that fought back our tiredness, we worked our way towards the front exit. It was already late afternoon and we had been traveling for a full day, not counting all the eight time lines we had crossed as we flew across the globe.
This was the furthest away I had ever been from where I grew up. As a matter of fact, this was the furthest away that any friend or family member I knew of had ever traveled. Growing up in Europe one mostly stayed in Europe in those days. Just like in America where people mostly stayed stateside with the occasional celebratory weekend trip to Vegas, Mexico, or the non-French speaking Caribbean.
When I stepped out of the plane and onto the mobile stairway to ascend the stairs to the tarmac that late August afternoon, the heat washed over me like an unexpected warm and welcoming tight embrace. Inside I could feel how my adventurous spirit was finally moving to the beat of my own drum. Happy tears were flowing down my soul and my mind was exploding in possibilities. I hadn't just dreamt, I had dreamt big and then taken all the steps needed to make that special dream my new living reality.
I had been trained and educated to survive and thrive in one culture and was now, voluntarily but unknowingly, thrown into a new culture, somewhat familiar from all those TV-shows but still very new with plenty of secrets to be revealed. At first I played tourist, bought surf shirts and enjoyed the weekend pool parties. It felt like vacation, like I was just a temporary guest peaking into this new brave world and then the door would close and I’d be on the next flight “home”, just like a magic dream being rudely abrupt by the emergence of early morning daylight. But that never happened, at least not then and there.
After about a month the everyday knocked on the door, the novelty had worn off, all the tourists had gone home but I was still left on my own to figure things out. Here I was, carrying around a bunch of thoughts, beliefs, and emotions that really belonged in another world, maybe even another era. Stuff that had been useful to know and think as part of a long generation of peasant farmers in the flatlands of Scania but here, in the new melting pot of the last earthly physical frontier, an achilles heal.
I vehemently resisted, I told everybody that “this is not the way we do things back home” every time I ran into a different solution to a similar and shared human problem. One of my first new friends at school, whom I still hang out with today, many decades later, responded to my ignorance with a big warm laughter and said: “Yes, but that’s how we do things here.” Fine, I grumbled, still desperately holding on to the past.
I slowly realized the futility in resisting inevitable change and began to opening up, first to the known unknown and then later to the unknown unknown. Once I let the guard down, once I accepted that, what I at first had perceived as an upside-down world, was now actually just a parallel world offering new beliefs, perspectives, and ways of being (as legitimate as any); I started to expand, grow, and get closer to myself.
I dove passionately into the daily curriculum of Southern California and lived like there was no tomorrow. I signed up for everything, accepted every invitation, always showing up with a big fat stoke face. I only declined the relentless invites to all the Scandinavian holiday parties, organized by expats still feeling exiled and filled with plans to one day return to the motherland, a thought that never occurred to me.
Why would anyone want to live anywhere else than here, I thought? Instead of joining in the celebrations I just wanted to let go of all the old and bring in all the new. It just became too confusing to constantly having to juggle two identities: the guy that doesn't belong and the guy that feels like he finally is belonging. I’m not here to bond with other countrymen, I proclaimed rather arrogantly, said no and kept my distance.
Now, of course, today, I’ve realized, that even expats can have (and do have) very interesting perspectives to contribute with, standing with one foot in each experience, allowing them to bounce off each other to create new reflections and learnings. That said, I’ve never seen myself as an expat, not even during my corporate years. Maybe cause I’ve never felt like a patriot, the never-ending and futile game of defending one nation state’s actions against another’s when I’d rather just pick the best from every place and create my own culture of meaning and happiness.
I learned a lot from that year, and I changed a lot, much more than I understood at the time. My two biggest learning from then are to create space for awareness of the reigning belief systems but also to freely participate on my own terms. It’s the very difficult capability of holding two, sometime, opposing ideas in my head without the sometime uncontrollable need of casting quick judgements or create fictionalized assumptions. I don’t have to adopt any idea, just accept them and let them go.
I’m now, several decades later, back in California and have been for the past 20 years but it’s not until recently that I’ve been reconnecting with the young guy that stepped off that plane and had his whole life in front of him (which I, a bit naively, still feel that I do today). Many of the dreams I had then, all the discoveries I made, the life that I then dreamt of continuing, I picked up and dusted off when the pandemic began.
The choice I made, based on those very dreams, to design an 18-months activity plan, which expired last week, worked out beyond my imagination. I learned to turn off the world and dig a bit deeper on my own for myself. The idea of becoming a little bit better every day reconnected with the drive I’ve always had but kind of lost over the past few years. Instead of crossing the Venetian Bridge of Sighs and joining the choirs of despair and doomsday, I made the conscious decision to change myself from who I thought I was to who I imagined I could become in all aspects of life. I’m sure my future self will agree that it worked.
My first California experience was also my first adolescent experience in personal transformation. It opened up my mind to the importance of being present, to be here now (as that first year was gone in a New York minute), and to the unlimited possibilities that lies ahead if I merge my dreams with everyday action. I’ve learned that society imposes certain limitations to ensure that the center holds but it’s at the fringe where all the wild things are, where I need to be to grow.
I believe that only listening to the nonstop stream of what society wants will drive me as crazy as locking myself up in a shack and only listening to my own thoughts. There needs to be something that pulls me into the future without leaving the present to create a life that feels really well lived in every moment. And all those things of real essence live on the fringe of my own imagination, just like one day living in California did for a teenager who dared to venture beyond his wildest imagination and touch the sun, our at least feel the warmth of it’s beautiful reflection.
Driving the Band: I recently watched the Netflix music documentary “Count Me In” and was pleasantly surprised that they also included the female drummers who have smashed rock’s glass ceiling and made their names in the pantheon of modern music.
Sustainable Partnership: My pay-as-you-go car insurance Metromile (just enter my above email to get a referral quote) is now partnering with my new bank Aspiration (also with referral benefits) so that all my driving can be offset financially.
Mind on Plants: Michael Pollan hasn’t just inspired me to "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" but also to explore how to change my mind. In his excellent latest book “This is Your Mind on Plants” he’s exploring his experiences from using opium, caffeine, and mescaline, and how they have equally contributed and challenged the world and our perception of how we can and should alter our own consciousness.
Watch On: Visible (by Verizon) now offers Apple Watch plans for $5 per month. Use this Bring a Friend code [39s88G] to sign up to the service to get the first month for $5 (plus $5 for the Apple watch plan) or join the Fewer Better Things Party Pay group (only two spots left) to get Apple Watch plus regular cell plan for as low as $30 per month.
Warm August vibes,