Wicked problems: A less predictable (van)life

As my last piece indicated, the path to #vanlife hasn’t been an easy one. But, since then, good news has followed, and I’m making what feels like progress toward a tiny life. Altogether, one of the most important things I’ve learned throughout this process is a need to be comfortable with a little uncertainty and unpredictability. That will be, in many ways, what a #vanlife will be about.

Despite perhaps some dissembling here, where I’ve feigned acceptance of the fact that I don’t have a van yet and don’t know where I’ll live come August (or, say, April), I don’t like not having everything perfectly planned. Planning is more than a skill set for me – it is a way to deal with anxiety. Planning is the only way I have been able pursue big dreams, travel the world, to think beyond possible. Like a dissertation or a fastest known time (FKT) attempt, if I can break something down into smaller pieces and measure them against a timeline, it all feels more manageable. If I focus on each milestone, milestones I know I can accomplish, I won’t focus on the big impossible thing but the smaller, somewhat more possible thing instead. Usually those smaller goals are things I know I can do, and so neglecting them forest for the trees is both a planning and a coping mechanism. I only think big, about the forest, when planning and then again after accomplishing each milestone to make sure I’m still tracking.

I’m following a similar approach in the pursuit of vanlife, but there are two critical differences: 1) The forest, or vanlife in Alabama, is as of yet an ill-defined picture; and 2) the milestones to get to vanlife are ill-defined problems, too. As a result, I can’t plan what I’d like, and I can’t visualize the outcome. These are, they say, the two components of effective goal setting. The reality, however, is that this is a wicked problem, ill-defined, unpredictable, and uncertain.

Indeed, however, this is sort of what I wanted. Becoming more comfortable with uncertainty, learning how to adapt and respond to wicked problems is a skill set I’d like to develop. Adaptability, problem-solving, and living with discomfort is a skill that will translate to every area of my life. But, on the micro level, dealing with the uncertainty that I am facing on the ground is still a challenge.

Since the last update, I’ve found someone to take over my lease, and I have a revised (and final) move-out date of March 22. Despite my best attempts, I still have four 45-gallon storage totes with things I either haven’t been willing to part with (my race t-shirts that I plan to have made into a quilt, my baby blanket, and samples of schoolwork from all 20+ years of education). Two of the totes are full of things I anticipate needing when I’m in my van – my coffee maker, vitamix, reusable plates and utensils). Since I will use these things, it seems prudent to keep them, but it does mean that I’ll have to pay $45 monthly to store them. Otherwise, I’m down to only clothes that fit and give me joy, most of my furniture is sold and waiting to be picked up, and now I’m just luxuriating in my last two weeks in a permanent home. I also had to give in and replace my trusty and loyal, but very tired, four-door sedan. Since I couldn’t afford the van right away, I needed something that was reliable, could carry my remaining belongings, and navigate more technical terrain. It felt a bit like a failure to get a vehicle that wasn’t a van, but I need reliable transportation. Best part, my new trusty steed will be able to tow, which expands my future living options.

The ill-defined problems, however, loom. I don’t have a place to live while I finish the semester out in Alabama, and I don’t relish camping in southern humidity, although I might have to. I also don’t know where I’ll live come August, although I’m researching solutions. But with a professional milestone and other big things coming between now and them, I’m just tackling things as they come. I’m not taking this approach in every area of my life, especially not professionally, but for now, I learning to live with uncertainty and trust that whatever comes, I’ll be able to handle it. Like an ultramarathon, I have got to trust that my training – my entire life until now, moving 20+ times, grad school, ultra training – has prepared me for whatever comes next in this crazy transition to a tiny life.

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