Wherever You Go, There You Are

I have declared that 2014 was the year Sam made many, many questionable decisions despite her outstanding sense of self-awareness. I received several worried comments in response to my spontaneous and altogether unpredictable actions this year. “Are you, of all people, sure you want to move to a city you’ve never visited and stay there for an entire year?” “Do you, Sam, craver of physical affection, really want to dive into a long distance relationship?” The answers I shot right back were, at the time, filled with what I thought was maturity, clarity and only a smidgen of doubt. Clearly, I was in a space where testing my boundaries was exhilarating and necessary. But all along, I knew where each of these experiences would lead me in the end. I was aware of the possible outcome. Yet, I still leapt into them head first. How strange it is when we lead with our mind and not with our heart.

I’ve been aching for months to write a piece based on my time living on the East coast. I remember the moment I decided I wanted to move to Halifax. I was in the mall with my mom and we were passing by the H&M. I had been chatting with her endlessly about what my next steps would be. I knew I wanted to experience something new, something radical, but it hadn’t quite hit me yet. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the idea dawned on me, so clear and precise in that moment. “I want to move to the East coast and buy a dog!” I was very, very adamant about the dog. I remember thinking how fancy and grown-up it would look on my future biography:

World renowned Documentary Photographer Samantha Polzin took a year of her life at age 20 and moved to the East coast.

It all sounded so glamorous in my mind. I jumped up and down, giddy with excitement as my mom told me, “why not?” Happy with the prospect of a new goal, I took the necessary steps to make it happen and never looked back.

There is something that still seems admirable to me about that moment where I put my faith and trust in a tiny thought. Whether or not it was my heart telling me to go for it, something certainly pushed me to take that chance. To this day, I will never regret making the decision to move here. I have toyed with the word “mistake” one too many times and I refuse to say that I made the wrong decision. Moving to Halifax was the right thing to do until it wasn’t. What I would have spent years regretting would be my refusal to take that leap. Living a life of “what ifs” has always seemed really unappealing to me.

I would love more than anything to tell you that my time here has been spectacular and full of experience. I would love to tell you that I did get that dog I always wanted, that I’ve grown with my art and met too many friends to count and that I just couldn’t imagine being anywhere else, but if I did, I would be lying. These past 8 months have, quite frankly, pushed me backwards. I could absolutely pin a few reasons as to why. The slow and calm pace of the environment, my lack of focus, the tending of a relationship built upon “wish you were here’s” and dropped Skype calls. It all makes so much sense. But the most important factor that comes to mind is my high expectations. I think it is a beautiful thing to dream and set the bar as high as you wish for any new experience but you should never completely count on it. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that life changes very quickly. Maybe your dream experience will take on a different form but still reach the same level of awesome that you expected. Perhaps you will be dealt cards that show you a slight detour but are still super necessary to face. Expectations box you in and train your mind to reject opportunities and outcomes outside their realm. The words of the infamous Mau from The Hospital for the Soul on The Camino come to mind right away, “keep open.” This is something I preach about quite a bit. It’s important to stay open to what the world will bring you. The good, the bad and the ugly. Since moving here, I’ve struggled to put this notion into action. The second I noticed my life was taking on a chapter I hadn’t anticipated, I froze and then proceeded to shut down. I think 2014 should also be called the year Sam felt out of body and never took her own advice.

There’s a beautiful theory that Oprah has about a whisper. I’ve heard it described as a voice or more commonly, an instinct. It just feels right to make it seem a little more human because its power never fails to astound me.  This whisper tells her the exact moment she is ready to move on from an experience and go forth to the next. I relate to this immensely because I’ve always felt that I have one myself. More than a whisper, it’s a scream. I can hear it loud and clear. It never fails to tell me when I need to move on, what people I need to surround myself with, how to truly continue feeling happy. Of course, this whisper can so easily be ignored. I think we all do this from time to time. We fail to acknowledge that “banging on the side of our head”, as O’ likes to say. Then, when the wall falls down around us, we tell ourselves and all our friends, “I think I always knew…” It’s a part of being human, it’s a part of growing older and it’s a huge part of learning how to trust your intuition. That strong and mighty and down right annoying intuition. I will fully admit that I had several of those little nudges throughout this past year. Some of them I listened to positively and others I told politely to fuck off. Coming away from this experience, I am taking with me a few lessons, one of which is  my ability to strongly recognize this voice and side with it right away. I have put it to the test and concluded that the little bugger knows what’s best for me every single time.

The main reason I felt compelled to post this was to let you know that life isn’t always extraordinary and that is absolutely okay. I think I spend so much time worrying about making every minute of my life count toward the bigger picture and obsess over the “wasted” time if it doesn’t hit those expectations I spoke about earlier. Yes, I absolutely could have made this move to the coast the best experience of my life. I could have gone to every open mic night, every Dalhousie event, partied at every bar in town but I didn’t. I could have photographed every single day and made millions of friends but the truth of my situation is drastically different. I stopped feeling the desire to create a life for myself here because I very quickly became sure it wasn’t my place anymore. Do I wish I had done things differently? Sometimes I do. More times than I could count, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Sam, what would you be telling any one of your friends to do if they were in this exact situation?” It was always so difficult to know that I was aware of how this situation could be turned around but have zero energy and motivation to take action. I felt extremely stuck and now that I’m un-stuck and can see a light at the end of the Halifax tunnel, of course I look at all the opportunities I could have taken and wonder what the hell stopped me. Every time I sat down to write this, I was sure there wouldn’t be a happy ending. Looking at it now, in a much better head space than I’ve been in over the past few months, I see that I can take away several very important life lessons from being here. Despite spending countless days bawling over the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy and dipping cheesy’s in a tub of icing, I have learned so much more about taking care of myself. I’ve learned to take care of my health (post cheesy obsession), I’ve learned how to create art and write for the most important person in the world (me) and I’ve learned how to be comfortable in my own company. I’ve eaten blueberries on the harbour, enjoyed some spectacular live music, had people I care about come to visit, traveled to almost every province surrounding me, worked at an amazing job that has literally saved my sanity and made me feel respected and valued every step of the way. I’ve learned even more about what I want and deserve in a relationship and how to manage my money (all the dos and definitely all the don’ts).

It has been enlightening in ways I didn’t expect. Maybe it didn’t catapult me into a flurry of success and consisted of more tears and confusion than any time of my life has before but once again, there is nothing wrong with this and I have to keep reminding myself that this year was here to teach me something big. As my dear friend Emily always tells me,

“an arrow needs to be pulled backward in order to be shot even further forward.”

I share this because maybe you need to hear it too. Maybe you’re feeling plain ol’ stuck. Try not to let the uncertainty of life drown you. Up until around September, the steps I was taking in my life just made sense. Everything until that point seemed so obviously right in my eyes. Suddenly, I didn’t know what to do next. I panicked at my lack of plan, I fretted over not moving forward and became suffocated with the bigger picture. It became stressful finding a place to begin. The two most influential things that pulled me out of this were taking baby steps and setting goals. If you focus on one thing at a time, the rest will fall gently into place. Your motivation will sky rocket with the success of that first goal and lead you to make the next, and the next, until you’re magically living again on a path you’re happy with.

Wherever you go, there you are.

This has continued to pop into my brain a lot over the past few weeks. I’ve struggled to grasp its intended meaning but I think it’s shining light on the fact that you are responsible for how you use a space, a place, and an opportunity. You brought yourself there to begin with and it is you that needs to deal with what it brings. There is no escaping yourself or looking for an external source for rescue. Wherever you go, there you are. It’s okay if you discover it isn’t right for you. It’s okay if it didn’t work out as planned and it’s okay if it isn’t what you wanted it to be but the point is, you’re there. So what will you do to change that? There are no right answers but listening to that whisper is a start. Staying open is key and knowing that you are in charge is almost mandatory for change. Don’t beat yourself up about it and do not harbour thoughts about what it could have been. Dust off your blue jeans with a new sense of wisdom and move on. I promise, it will all be okay.

Authors note: * I have plans. Big plans. Plans bigger than any I’ve ever held in the past. They started as small maybe’s and grew into something extremely possible. I am leaving Halifax in March. This story does have a happy ending after all but I can’t share those details yet. Just know that dreams can become a reality if you let them. Thoughts become things.

*The title of this post comes from the book Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn.