Life: As Simple as You Make It

My boss Andy has this constant refrain: that life can be as simple as you make it. I love this idea, this philosophy, because despite my best efforts to make things extremely complicated, some of the biggest decisions of my life were the result of simple choices- including coming to Vietnam.

After months of planning my job and move to China to teach English at a university in Xinyu City, Jiangxi Province, I had saved up quite a bit of money waiting tables at the local Thai restaurant. Now, at this point, I’d traveled a total of 1,666 miles (2037 kilometers for the rest of the sane world) back and forth to the Chinese embassy in Houston to get documents approved, collected, re-approved, and mostly rejected.

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Me, slowly going insane.

When Things Don’t Seem That Simple

It was, as you can imagine, an infuriating process, made even less pleasant because of the intermediary organization that was supposed to help me, but did absolutely nothing at all. I won’t name drop here, but if you want to know more, email me directly. So, finally I made it to the point where I had to get a comprehensive health inspection.

If you know anything about the American Healthcare system, you might guess that an inspection that involved everything from full-body x-rays to HIV tests costs a LOT of money. So, I had a choice: spend all the money I had earned waiting tables on a medical examination and then figure out some way of buying a ticket to China, or try something else. Guess what I picked?

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My mother, the calculating, logical woman she is, supported me through all of this, and I’m eternally grateful for the calm she managed to instill in me. After months of planning, traveling, and hoping, I did something simple: I made an account on Workaway, which in my opinion, is probably your best bet if you want to drop everything and try out traveling the world on a whim, and found a flight that would take me to anywhere in Asia with what I had made.

“Just Do ‘The Thing’!”

To put this in simple terms, I made my decision, set up a host in Vietnam, applied for a Visa on Arrival (VOA), and was off on a plane in a little more than two weeks. The decision was simple, and the solution was simple. If there’s one thing to take away from this post, it’s that Workaway is one of the best things to happen to world travel (in my experience).

I met some of the best people where I was hosted (an English center in Hai Phong called Big Hero- I highly recommend it, because James, who essentially runs it, is just the best) and gave me the warmest welcome to the most foreign country I’ve ever traveled to.

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The Philosophy That Led Me Here

Life, and the choices I made, became simple. As I thought about this post tonight during the excellent seminar on Camus (hosted by John and the incredible Hanoi Philosophy Forum), Andy’s own philosophy kept running through my mind, and I started to wonder not only how I got here but what led me here, psychologically speaking.

I think I believe in two things:

  1. There is chaos, the unfiltered mass of information and matter of the universe, and the Ancient Greek idea of χάος, the infinite, sometimes empty, formless state of the original universe. These ideas, infinite, unprocessed, unfiltered “data,” are constantly at war in our heads. Some of us can deal with these contradictions better than others, which leads me to my second belief:
  2. We humans all have the ability to filter both chaos and χάος, organize, parse, and maybe even understand these concepts. Returning to Ancient Greek, we have the ability to filter the unfiltered mass into something resembling καιρός, or states of more comprehensible fitness and comprehensibility.

Based on this mantra I’ve been saying (The chaos is around me, but not within me), I believe in a universe filled with chaos, neutral, unparsed data and matter, but that we have all the tools at our disposal to filter it, comb it, and organize it. Make it simple. In turn, our lives, our decisions, and their outcomes become simpler.

So make that decision. Make it simple. And as Andy warns, don’t try to complicate the matter in order to reward yourself for making the decision. Just make it.

If you’re a fan of Camus like me, think about this: when asked if he valued his theatrical endeavors or his love for playing football, he answered, without hesitation, football. Sure, he became one of the most renowned and well-regarded philosophers of all time, but think about the answer he gave. Tell me your thoughts- comment and let’s figure out how to make this life a bit simpler.