I have to be somewhere

I don’t think there has been any point in my life when I had open-ended time to myself. That is to say, a period where I could have gone and done anything without eventually violating somebody’s expectation that I would be in a particular place at a particular time.

As a child, nobody is in a position to determine the shape of their life (those who are forced to do so early are forced early into adulthood). In high school and university, there are breaks with defined endings. While working, I have applied for and received defined periods of vacation. I accepted a university position before finishing high school, accepted a grad school position before finishing my undergraduate degree, and accepted a job before finishing grad school. Now, I expect to accept a new job before reaching the defined endpoint of my current one. My calendars – literal or figurative – have always included a “first day at X” entry, somewhere out in the future.

I suppose the logical opposite of all that structure is the life of the aimless wanderer: the protagonist from On The Road or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In addition to lacking obligations to appear at such-a-place and such-a-time, such characters tend to be unencumbered by burdensome possessions. Making the transition from one of those states to the other – in either direction – seems daunting. Both transitions highlight the limits of human freedom. Going from an unscheduled life to one filled with obligations involves accepting the restrictions that the expectations and actions of other place upon each of us, as individuals. The universe simply will not provide for us to do whatever we wish indefinitely. More grimly, the transition from structure to an open-ended existence seems inevitably bound to the idea of mortality, and the certainty that there will be a definite end to freedom as some unknown time in the future. Being cast into that expanse, without the benefit of near-term signposts to distract from the dire conclusion, seems likely to be frightening and macabre. Perhaps that perspective shows how I am more concerned about risk than excited about opportunity.

All told, certainty is a valuable thing. Similarly, if one wishes to influence the world, it seems promising when there are expectations about where one will be in the future, and what one will be doing. Still, it could be an interesting experience to face the unknown span of all of one’s remaining life without seeing significant set markers.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

4 thoughts on “I have to be somewhere”

  1. You might consider becoming a contract employee when looking for work in Toronto. I don’t know what your current debt situation is, but if you are in a position of fiscal freedom, that can be translated into real freedom not by “taking time off”, but by being flexible on the issue of regular income.

    It seems to me that you should be qualified to do some kind of environmental consulting work, which might be the kind of thing that you could do on contract.

  2. When you look back, you don’t want to have spent your whole life according to someone else’s agenda. Consider it an exercise in finding your own path.

    Anyways, I think you’ll be surprised at how resourceful and energetic you are, if you make the leap.

    I absolutely believe in your capabilities to land on your feet in uncertain situations. You’ll be fine!

  3. I have always told myself something simple.

    “Mica, you have to take chances, to make chances.”

    It’s done me pretty well. I think in a way, I will always a wandering soul, but I would hardly call it “aimless.” As long as you are moving, you don’t necessarily have to know the direction.

  4. There may be opportunity to do both. Like you most of my life, I have been on defined paths, especially in career and school. Generally that seems necessary for me to accomplish goals.

    I do find it relaxing to have some unstructured time. About half of the time on the weekends are like that and about half of my holiday time. On those occasions I sometimes increase the level of relaxation by taking my watch off. I have noticed that when I do that I am more relaxed (which feels good) but also that I get less done (which does not feel so good). I do think I would enjoy too much of that unstructured time.

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