In June, we stayed for a month in an apartment in Paisley’s Espedair Street. We booked the place when we were still in Thailand, staying at our friend Gary’s place, who was born and bred in Paisley. Familiar with the neighbourhood, as he had worked (years ago) in a supermarket a few streets away, he painted a pretty grim picture of my time ahead. And not only of the weather.
Of course it was mainly meant to tease me as well as to express his incomprehension of our wish to spend time in the place he had so eagerly left. But I can’t deny it, it did influence my expectations for our month in Paisley. While I normally try to travel to a new place with as few expectations as possible (as far as that is possible), I started to fantasise, based on Gary’s stories and my previous visits to Paisley, about our time to come in our new place.
With Gary’s help, I slowly created an image of how it would be, what we would do and who we would meet. Somehow I was a bit worried by the comments and observations the neighbours might make while hanging out the washing in the communal garden. I was daunted by the prospect of the noise during the night of drunken teenagers shouting and fighting on their way home. And, based on an assessment of the neighbourhood, using Google maps and reinforced by another cliché of Paisley Gary willingly pointed out, I was prepared for the possible bother we could experience at night as a result of the drunks visiting the many pubs, off sales, chippies, Chinese takeaways and kebab shops in the vicinity of the flat.
And then, on the first of June, a warm and sunny day, it was time to settle into our new place. And we instantly loved it. The apartment was so much bigger, lighter and better equipped than the pictures had suggested. The only disappointment was the communal garden, as it was only used to store the rubbish bins. Also the nuisance of the youngsters, noise and those frequenting the pubs and chippies wasn’t a problem at all. Instead it turned out to be a nice and quiet street.
And it just seemed to be the perfect choice. A pleasant place and very well located for all the things we had planned to do. Such as meeting Jim’s mum in the city centre, go for a walk or a run, take the bus to see Jim’s family or the train into Glasgow and go for drinks with family and friends on a sunny afternoon, on one of the best terraces in town, a stone’s throw away. There could have hardly been a better place for our first month of staying in Scotland. Everything we needed was at our fingertips, and we were lucky to stay in such a nice flat.
The only thing that kept me puzzled was how it was possible that I had been so misled, even so that my expectations were so very different from how it was. And it was during our last night in Paisley, when we saw the Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss (well worth seeing if you have a chance) that all the pieces fell together.
Interestingly, while trying out material for his new show, he used the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle as guidance for organising his life. Like most people, he would start by setting out the borders of the puzzle. And then slowly continue, bit by bit, to fill the middle. And with the borders set, and the middle slowly filling up, he figured out that not all the new pieces – such as business opportunities, new people he would meet on the road, or a new girlfriend – would fit into the framework of the life he had set out to live. And he came to the conclusion that, in some cases, while you can see it doesn’t fit, instead of trying to force it in, you can either leave it or start all over again and choose to make a different jigsaw.
And that was when I realised that when we stick to the boundaries we imagine, set or impose on ourselves, we have the risk, if we don’t change our perspective or playing field, of being misled or of missing out on the unexpected or the things that don’t really fit.
So what about constructing our life from the inside out instead, and live a life guided by our values, and with less set borders and expectations? Would that be a good alternative and enable our selfs to be more open for the unexpected, without having to start all over again? Does it work when you don’t have any framework to guide you, or will there be the risk of drifting off and missing the the goals you were trying to achieve?
As usual, I don’t think there is one single or simple answer to the question, and that it also depends on the issue at stake.
I don’t know how it is for you, but what I have come to conclude for myself, and what matters most, is that I am aware of my mindset at the departing point, so that while on the way, I have the flexibility to recognise whether I am being misled or missing out on opportunities, and am able to adapt more easily on the way.