The Allure and Trap of Routines
Our brains naturally gravitate toward routines. We like patterns. It makes life easier, which leaves more energy for non-routine things, like navigating to a new destination or solving a complex problem.
When Martin and I decided to embark on a traveling adventure, I desperately wanted to break out of my routines, some of which I had been using most of my life! I smashed through them. Their shards glittered around me as I swiftly created a new mosaic of routines on the road. By the time we arrived in Malaysia, 21 months after smashing my routines, my new traveling routines no longer enchanted me. My traveling routines had lost their sparkle.
Now, I’ve been in Shenzhen, China for one month. Time feels so completely different when I’m not traveling. One month in China is nothing. Just today I finally felt confident enough to speak Chinese instead of awkwardly flashing my translator app.
I’m slowly falling into a new routine. I crave this new routine.
After not caring about the day of the week for 2 years, I’m finding it surprisingly difficult to remember it. I work evenings and weekends; some days I have to be at work at 1:30 p.m., other days at 11:00 a.m., other days at 6:00 p.m. I’m thoroughly confused about what I’m supposed to be doing.
To make my schedule more complicated, I’m teaching a reduced schedule while I learn the curriculum. Instead of teaching six classes every shift, I teach 3-5 classes. While I have a regular prep period and meal period, the other six hours vary so much I have to constantly look at my notes to be sure what I should be doing! Next week, I have a shift at a different teaching center, which adds to my delirium.
While my schedule is dizzying, once I get to know the entire curriculum, my job will be quite routine. I have a wide variety of students (all adults), but they all have similar struggles. Already, I find myself having similar conversations throughout the day. “What do you like?” “I like to watching TV.” Cue mini lesson on infinitives vs. present continuous (Can you use -ing after to? No!).
My expectations of myself now are much different from my expectations when I was traveling. I live here. I should know stuff.
I know nothing.
Even simple things like making the bed took me nearly two weeks to figure out. OK. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true! Fitted sheets are not used here. Instead, a flat sheet and hospital corners are used. But, the flat sheet we bought was too small to properly tuck under the mattress. Simple solution: buy a big enough flat sheet.
A volcano of questions ensued:
How big is our bed? Are beds called queens here? How many centimeters is the queen bed? Where can I buy sheets? How do I get there? Where are the numbers on this Chinese label? Is this sheet going to be really thin? How much is it? Is that a good price? Does it match the other sheets we already have? Why is this sales woman hovering over me? How do I make hospital corners? How do I use a VPN so YouTube will work?
So, yes. It took nearly two weeks to properly make our bed.
Slowly, the volcano of questions are turning into just a small bubble. Slowly, my shiny new routines are making daily tasks a little bit easier. Although, I still haven’t figured out how to buy dress pants that fit me and aren’t too expensive. I do have a lead on a tailor…
I keep reminding myself that one of the reasons I moved to China is because I wanted to learn how to live in a foreign country. I wanted to learn another language. I wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone. I didn’t want to live on autopilot.
Despite the magnetizing nature of routines, I’m also terrified of being trapped in one.
I’m not sure how I will avoid being stymied in a routine, but I do plan to keep questioning my reasonings for my actions, to keep my curiosity sparked, to keep infusing new experiences into my life, like the Cute Cat Carnival.
Finding a balance between the allure and trap of routines is not easy. Nevertheless, I intend to try.