“Making unexpected choices generates interesting projects. Only when you take chances can you grow.”
Not sure who said this, but it’s definitely one of my favourite quotes. It sums up the story of my life.
Not even two years ago, I let a wild cat adopt me. It was an unexpected choice, which led me to being a published writer. I blame it on the cat.
I live alone in a remote place. I like to travel, to be free, and to be able to go whenever I want for as long as I like. As much as I love animals, I didn’t want a pet for the simple reason that it would give me a responsibility that could potentially tie me down and rope in my total freedom.
But when this emaciated, scruffy old cat sat in my garden, I just had to give him some food. Then he ran away.
When he came back a few days later, it felt natural to offer him some more. He wouldn’t let me stand close when he was eating. He seemed scared, skittish, and ready to run. He was full of scars, had few teeth left, and had a problem with his hips it seemed.
The next thing I know, a week later, he spent half a day lazing around in my yoga studio, as I had left it completely open after class in the morning. I was working in the garden—and when I looked up, all of a sudden, he was lounging there and seemed extremely comfortable and at home.
My yoga studio is a little sanctuary for me and for everyone who steps in there. The fact that this wild cat—still so scared and on guard all the time—seemed to feel so safe and relaxed there made me hold my breath. It felt like magic.
A few days later, when he sat on my balcony, I felt resistance. This was going somewhere that was taking me out of my comfort zone of total freedom and no ties. Still, I didn’t reject him—and again, I gave him some food and water. Afterward, he just walked off. Not a chance of a little cuddle.
I couldn’t forget the sight of him feeling totally at home in my “karma shack.”
Reluctantly, I let him come onto my deck daily to get his meal. He started to hang around a bit longer every time.
Reluctantly, he let me scratch him behind his ears—but just that.
Reluctantly, I let him hang out on the mat inside my always-open door.
Reluctantly, he started to relax a bit—I could stroke his head now. But, if I let my hand gently explore his shoulders and back, I would be rewarded with a fiery scratch. No touching there, please!
Reluctantly, I decided that I could offer him some comfort and safety in his old age, until he would perish (he didn’t seem to be in good shape, and I didn’t think he would live long).
Over time, both he and I slowly adjusted in synchronicity: he to the idea that he could be a companion, I to the idea of having a pet. He slowly learned that it is okay to be petted, that he could even show affection in return, and that a human lap is a great place to hang. I slowly learned that it is okay to commit and be there for him.
Observing his hesitant process of domestication, I became aware of my own reciprocal process of change. Watching the two of us do our slow love-dance, synchronising to the rhythm of growth, I learned lesson after lesson about myself:
It is okay to be loved.
It is okay to be loving.
It is okay to say no.
It is okay to say what you need.
It is okay to show that you’re scared.
It is okay to trust.
It is okay to be vulnerable.
It is okay to receive help.
It is okay to take your time.
Even late in life, you can find love.
It can get better every day.
We never stop growing and learning.
We can change our minds about ourselves being unlovable, always rejected, and doomed to be alone.
And the list is still getting longer.
Next thing I knew, I was making a website (another unexpected choice for this digital dinosaur), and I started a blog about these cat lessons, intending to make it into a book. I loved writing, and I remembered a long-forgotten time of inspired fun in school whenever we got assigned an essay or paper.
When nobody read my blog, because I had zero social media skills, I started to doubt myself and my writing ability.
Then I saw the ad for the Elephant Academy online apprenticeship, that promised to teach me everything about “rocking it on social media, writing better, and about (self-)editing”—all with a mindful approach, in three months. This was exactly what I needed.
I enrolled, worked hard, had a lot of fun (sometimes not), learned a lot, and became part of this awesome community of mindful and like-minded people—lots of them with writing ambitions just like me.
If there is such a thing as an unexpected choice, then there are also expected choices—the choices we make because it is what we always would do, or what we are expected to do by partners, parents, friends, or colleagues.
They are the conventional choices, like taking the safe path that most people would take in our situation. It’s the kind of choice that keeps us inside our comfort zone. There’s not much to fear, things will be familiar, we can keep our routines, and we won’t need to change much or learn a lot of new things.
This last part is a deal-breaker for me.
I always want to learn new things—it’s the unknown stuff that makes us grow. Growth is what makes life tick; in nature, everything always grows. That is why change is the only constant. You can never step into the same river twice, as they say.
When an organism stops growing and stops changing, it dies. When I stop expanding my mind, not learning new things, my mind will start dying. That’s the last thing I want to experience.
For me, continuous growth is the essence of a life well lived.
As the above quote states: “We can grow only when we take chances. Taking chances is when we make unexpected choices.”
Unexpected choices don’t take the safe and well-trodden path. They take the road less travelled that may not lead straight to a well-known destination. It’s the kind of choice that our parents and partners don’t really understand and appreciate, and maybe even disagree with.
It’s the kind of choice that demands letting go of our fear of the unknown and of failure, forcing us to take a leap out of our comfort zone, away from everything familiar and routine. It makes us go beyond our resistance to change. It’s the kind of choice that forces us to learn new skills, new life lessons, go to new places, meet new people. It’s the challenging choice.
And it generates interesting projects.
By the end of the three-month apprenticeship, I had multiple articles published on Elephant Journal. I had made a ton of very supportive friends all over the world, and most importantly: I had gained the confidence that my words were interesting, and fun to read, and publishable. I had recovered my motivation to resuscitate my blog and work on my social media presence. Watch out, here I come!
All that, thanks to the unexpected choice to let a cat adopt me. Don’t you love surprises?
Author: Leontien Reedijk
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social editor: Travis May