I’m a big fan of TedTalks. When I tire of trash TV and don’t have a new drama series lined up yet on Netflix, I flip to www.ted.com for a bit of inspiration. I’m always able to find something interesting, whether it’s from their home page of new talks, or from my archive of saved talks that I didn’t have time for in the past. Sometimes when I’m cleaning my room or doing some other mindless task, I throw on a playlist in the background. Often I’m looking for interesting technology, but I also love funny stories, inspiring creativity, wonderful speakers, or even just a bit of humanity on display.
Last week, I happened upon this talk (Tim Harford: How messy problems can inspire creativity). The title had the word “creativity”, which spoke to my designer side. When I first turned it on, I was like “meh”… but about 5 minutes in I heard this quote and it really spoke to me.
“We need to gain a bit more appreciation for the unexpected advantages of having to cope with a little mess.”
Wow – that’s so true. It didn’t even remind me of design school anymore. Y’know what? That just sounds like real life. In fact, it really sound like life in development! Since I now work in the world of international development, I have lived and traveled in a few places that would severely challenge a lot of the people I know. Some friends think I’m crazy, or dumb, or giving up my life for making these types of choices, for living in these types of places. But in my heart or hearts I never felt that way. Of course, I’ve had my bad days where I just want to go home to a warm bed and eat grilled cheese while binge watching TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress, but for the most part I really love this new life I’m creating. I love the challenges, because overcoming them is such a feeling of accomplishment. The first time you successfully cross the street on your own in a new city without being hit by a car feels like a minor miracle. Even these small experiences (dealing with some chaos/mess) can contribute to a happy and meaningful life (unexpected advantages).
People always hear stories about my life and feel all this sympathy. Like “OMG you don’t have hot water for showers – I would die!” or “Wow, I don’t know what I would do with constant power outages, how would I use Instagram?”, or (after seeing me type on my computer with only one finger of my left hand, but still much faster than they can type or walk down the street with a slight limp), “But you’re from Canada, so they can like fix you there right?”. These thoughts are all coming from a good place. These people care about me and want what’s best for me. In their minds, this includes every luxury in the world. However, I am really not looking for sympathy. If I’m not sad about something, you shouldn’t be either!
Living in a new country, especially a “developing country”*** has it’s challenges. Things are not going to be all rosy and sunshine all the time. Even if you live somewhere with a lot of great infrastructure and amenities (like moving to London or New York), you’re going to find something you can complain about, like the weather or the smells, respectively. But that little quote puts a whole new perspective on things. What if those types of challenges that you have to live through aren’t ruining your life? What if, instead, they are allowing you to thrive, and be creative, and innovate, and have a new perspective on life? Well I, for one, think that’s exactly true. It’s why I love traveling to new places, meeting new people, and understanding new cultures – even if I don’t have access to all the same creature comforts I’ve become accustomed to!
***I am currently looking for a new term to replace “developing country” in my vocabulary. I don’t like anything about this term. For my thesis, I used the term “underserved community”, which I really like, however I don’t think it’s popular enough for people to not be confused when reading my blogs. So, please give me a shout out if you know some more realistic and nuanced terms that I could use in my everyday speech.
What’s the motto of the story? Challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Try new things. You probably won’t like them all – but you may never be the best version of you without a few unexpected bumps in the road. And when something bad happens to you, don’t dwell and complain and feel sorry for yourself (okay maybe for a little bit – because everyone needs to vent!). But once you’re over the initial shock of the bad event – you must overcome it. And that bridge you build in yourself to overcome all of those challenges in life, well those bridges will more than make up for all of the hardships you’ve had to endure. You’ll be a better version of yourself – with a lot more character!
So, when you’re having a bad day, just remember….
“Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t helping you.”