I am now in my second year living in Beijing (again). More importantly, I am in my second year living in this particular apartment/neighbourhood. I’ve wandered our neighbourhood this Spring soaking in sunshine and enjoying beautiful flowers. And as I’ve done this, I’ve had a strange but wonderful feeling. I’ve thought to myself – “oh, I’ve done this before!” I enjoyed a particular blossom tree in a particular spot – and remember enjoying it last year. I stopped to look at a magnolia tree on the way to the shops – and remembered doing that last year.
Those feelings I’ve had are, in a nutshell, the power of the second year.
People often ask me how long it takes to adjust to a new place – how long will the transition last? Obviously there’s no hard and fast rule, and there are different stages of transition. But I usually say it takes a year and a half, and that at the start of the third year you find yourself feeling much more your normal self again. This is because of the power of the second year.
So – what do I mean by “the power of the second year”? Well, it’s the beauty of what I’ve been feeling lately – the wonderful sense of “oh, I’ve done this before!”
When you are adjusting to a change – whether you’ve started in a new school, moved into a new house, said goodbye to close friends, or experienced a change in your health – you will encounter a lot of newness.
Perhaps the space you live in, or work in, is new.
Perhaps the people around you are new.
Perhaps the foods you eat are new.
Perhaps your daily routine is new.
Perhaps the way you unwind is new.
The first day, week, and month are full of firsts. In fact, through the whole first year there will be firsts. The first time you celebrate Eid, Christmas, Diwali, New Year, or numerous other holidays that are important to you, in this new place or routine. The first time you mark your birthday in this new life. Even the first last day of school is a first!
It’s only in the second year that everything becomes familiar – everything has been done before.
Now, obviously there are many things you will have done multiple times during your first year. That’s why transition is a gradual process. The power of the second year is that nothing is new. You’ve been through it all before. You can see what’s coming because you’ve done it before. You start to get a feel for the rhythm of the year – you’ve been through the whole cycle so now you can begin to predict it.
The power of the second year is that you start to feel comfortable.
You start to find people who are comfortable, place that are comfortable, routines that are comfortable.
Instead of being hit by wave after wave of newness, you can see the waves coming. You might even start to surf them.
The power of the second year also explains why frequent transition (moving every 2-3 years) can be exhausting, frustrating – or even appealing.
Starting again takes time, energy, and effort. Some people find this absolutely exhausting. Some are totally frustrated by having to go through the process over and over. Perhaps you’ve felt both of those. (In either case, my six tips for a good transition may be helpful!)
When you transition frequently, you don’t have time to hit your stride before you have to leave again. You are never at your best because you’re always coping with a new routine – or preparing to leave and start again.
Some people, on the other hand, find all this new information, all the new experiences, all the newness of starting again with people and places, quite exciting! For them, the newness is interesting. For some, however, all that newness also means not having to learn how to connect deeply, with places or with people.
There are things to learn from and enjoy in our transitions.
There are things to learn from and enjoy about staying and settling into routine.
The power of the second year is that you have been around the block already. There are things you know, things you recognise. You don’t need to think so much about what to do in different circumstances because you already know!
Familiarity is a wonderful thing; it’s one of the elements that makes a place feel like home. So wherever you are in your transitions – whether first year, second year, twentieth year, or even your last year – it’s worth taking time to savour those moments of recognition and familiarity.