This blogpost will be a little bit different and probably quite introspective. I was born and raised in Venezuela, a Caribbean country, with undoubtedly perfect weather and easy going joyful people. My early life was not necessarily easy, but I had it better than most people. I had high quality education, a family that supported me and never lacked food in the fridge.
Although on a personal level I was not doing particularly bad, a sinking ship pulls everyone down. and that is precisely what happened to the country where I come from. In a span of a decade, little by little stuff that you take for granted started to become luxuries. A few examples are running water at home, a stable internet connection, the ability to find anything from toilet paper, sugar, flour to car batteries and tires. Whatever you ask, it was probably hard to find (6 hours queues for getting these products were pretty common). The crisis was not only affecting utilities and availability of products, storing the value of your work in the form of currency was impossible due hyperinflation, and the crime rate, for stuff as petty theft, robbery, and kidnaping skyrocketed, which meant that walking the streets was accompanied by high level of stress and alertness at all time.
This is a small picture of everyday life, it was a struggle, that within time, little by little, you internalized and got used to handling. Although it might be daunting, there is a huge drive that comes from within to overcome obstacles and problems, and when obstacles are everywhere you look, it is easier to find the challenges to overcome. There is hardly ever “too much free time” in your hands to be a pray of idleness. Although it might be counter-intuitive, such a situation feeds you with purpose, something to accomplish. When there is no food on the table, what you have to do becomes self-evident.
The moment I finished my masters back in Venezuela, perfect conditions for a motivational push happened. I was looking for Ph.D. positions in Europe, and was seeing all the possibilities and research capabilities. In my mind, I was thinking, “these are the places where the science I read about actually happened, the reactions are not only part of papers and theory, but things you can actually do, as an everyday thing”. I not only had a situation to surpass, a home country riddled with problems (something to run from), but also something to aspire (something to pursue). And then it happened, I was selected for a prestigious Ph.D. position in Aarhus University, in a cutting edge field. It was this moment that I felt not only happy but also highly fulfilled. It was the beginning of a new life, where I had all the possibilities I could aspire to, and get a grasp of what is considered a normal life.
Denmark is a lovely and calm country, filled with pretty relaxed but efficient people. It is a windy place with unpredictable weather, and great summer (although far from great winter). I arrived at a land without struggles. The country has a tax-supported safety net that pretty much covers you in any major event, good salaries and high level of personal safety, where stuff like armed robbery or kidnappings are unheard of. When I arrived it felt great, I could walk on the streets at night carefree, and buy groceries without going through hassles. In the professional sense, I had to get used to having resources, and how a laboratory is run in this part of the world. It took a few weeks, but getting used to good conditions occurs quite fast.
And then it comes the habituation to normalcy. Everything that I knew I could not take for granted, became granted. I had barely any worry, besides making sure my family was well covered back home. I had a dream-life, but now, what to pursue became foggy. The mysticism surrounding Europe and the so-called “first world” was dissipating. Don’t get me wrong, I am having a nice life and I could not ask for anything better. The country that received me has been great and fair to me, but finding fulfillment becomes less apparent, it is not self evident anymore.
I hope this blog entry doesn’t go tone deaf, given the world wide pandemic situation. It can sound like “great problems to have”, and in a way it’s because they are, but they are still there. These weird times in history had given me time to think and get a hold of the abstractions as purpose and fulfillment. I personally think that life gets better when one assumes as much responsibility as one can carry, working on things at your reach, and surpassing small goals and challenges, little by little. Finally focus on friends, family and relationships, where love and support is garnered, and in the end, it is probably what really matters.