Shoulda Woulda Coulda - NZ edition


If life went according to plan, I’d be a dual citizen of New Zealand and the USA by now. It was a good plan, but one that I doubt will fit into this life of mine.

Ever since I first heard of this new mystical land of Zea, I wanted to go there. No reason. Just…drawn.

When I finally did get there in 2008, I was by myself with not a single known contact in country. That didn’t last long. I quickly made some lifelong friends as I got to know the place.

When I left, I knew I would be coming back. No particular reason. Just…drawn.

For the next 5 years, I spent more and more time each year in New Zealand. Deepening friendships, making music, and forming this plan. At the time, you could be admitted on a year-long Student Visa until age 35 — without even needed to be enrolled as a student. I jumped through the bureaucratic hurdles just in time. Two days before my 35th birthday (a decade ago now), I got my precious visa.

I started looking for work there. But it wasn’t so easy. The kinds of jobs I was applying for were corporate ones, not manual labor. I did eventually try to apply for a few jobs as a waiter again too, but coming in at the end of their fall season there weren’t really new openings to get.

Also while there, I did some math I should have done before I arrived. I was in debt. More debt than I’d ever been in before. Though I’d worked myself out of debt several times already and was confident in my ability to do so again, I’d always done it in American Dollars. And my debt was in American Dollars. But if I were to earn only New Zealand dollars, I’d have to work twice as hard for twice as long just to get to break even.

Reluctantly, I realized I needed to get back to the San Francisco Bay Area where my skills would command the highest rate, and where I could live cheap on my sailboat in the Emeryville Marina. I would work like hell, skimp and save, pay off the debt (or at least work it down to a couple grand), then get myself back to New Zealand and hope to work out a continued stay under the sponsorship of an employer. I had stirred up a few promising leads, and was considering a business venture with a Kiwi friend that wanted reciprocal visa privileges in the US.

None of this came to pass. I didn’t make it back there before my visa ran out. In fact, I didn’t make it back at all until 2017, when I was able to bring my partner with me. Falling in love with her was the best possible reason for my detour from the Kiwi path. Living in the middle of Utah to care for her mother is the right thing to do, and it’s working out.

But especially during this time of COVID, I look to my outdated plan and think “Yeah, that was a really good idea.” New Zealand was one of the few pandemic success stories in the western world. It is someplace that is friendly to business and innovation at a time when the US is systematically cracking down. It is a place that simply can’t get away with the kinds of massive miscalculations that my country can, and that has to take action when things go awry. (See their response to their Christchurch shooting as opposed to, well, any of ours!) They are very much smaller, but also very much easier to run well. I don’t think we will be able to return to anything like that again here in the US in my lifetime. I would rather be in a place like that than a place like this.

Emigrating to New Zealand was a good plan. But ultimately, it wasn’t in the cards, something (or rather someone!) even better was…

Funny how life works, isn’t it?

So here’s to things turning out differently than we’ve planned, in spite of our intuitions and desires and efforts. Better to let go of these sunk costs in favor of what we truly value when it appears before us, I think.

It’s good to remember this as we plan for tomorrow. Remaining flexible and responsive will only become more important as the pace of change and the rate of chaos both increase. Let us plan like we mean it, and be ready to ditch that former projection of the future whenever the present turns out even better.

If you have such a story to share, please do so in the comments.

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