It’s that time of year again, that awkward five-day space in between Christmas and new years where some people have to work, some people just keep the party going, and I have my birthday. Tomorrow I will be 24 years old.
One of the ways I make my birthday feel a little special amidst all the other holiday commitments is by reflecting on my year a little earlier and I work on setting goals for myself based on my birthday, not based on the new year (the two just happen to very closely coincide).
Last week I listed out a bunch of accomplishments I had this year (link here) and while all those are great and I’m super proud of them, 2018 honestly wasn’t my best year. This year felt like one long uphill battle, mostly with myself, in which I would try so so hard to make things work out, only to have those same efforts backfire or crumble. I spent a lot of time feeling resentful, ungrateful, fearful, anxious, and panicked. Consequently, I spent a lot of time crying, venting, or snapping at those around me.
I struggled a lot with moving to Canada, adjusting, making new friends, picking up new hobbies, and changing my perspectives.
I struggled a lot with the demands of my job, the intense travel schedule, unwieldy clients, and what I perceived to be a lack of recognition.
I struggled a lot with my relationships, maintaining old friendships, striking up new ones, moving in with my boyfriend but traveling all the time, making sure I spent enough time with my own family.
I struggled a lot with my goals. The whole world feels so large and limitless that it’s overwhelming to think about my place in it and what I could be doing to make the biggest impact and bring me the most joy.
This whole year I just haven’t felt good enough. And most of that feeling is on me, I realize that, but that almost makes me feel worse? I can look at that laundry list of things I accomplished this year and still feel like I wasn’t able to keep it together, that I disappointed so many people, and that I wasn’t happy enough.
So something’s gotta give, right? Right. In 2018, the root of a lot of my issues was my own insecurity, my own tendency to over think and analyze an issue half to death until it’s so distorted and unrecognizable and I completely freak out over any decision regarding it. I have more specific goals for this year, but the overarching theme is going to be jumping into things feet first. I want to spend a little less time overanalyzing my choices, and more time committing to them and making the best out of the situations I find myself in no matter what. And as I stare down the barrel of turning 24, I have to think, it can’t be any worse than 23 was, right?
With about a dozen days left in the year, the time for reflection, albeit cliché, is inevitable. It’s natural to want to linger in the present and even the past when the future is looming overhead. Even though the new year doesn’t necessarily mean anything for most of us other than changing the year column for our dates, it still feels like something is ending, and something new is beginning.
This time of year can actually be pretty hard for a lot of people so I wanted to talk about how to best leverage this period for your peace of mind and reflecting more on the good than the bad.
In the age of social media, it is almost impossible not to find your self comparing yourself to other people at some point. But what if we harnessed this need to compare for good, for once? Because this time of year can be so special, it is easier to remember it from year to year, so why not compare your 2018 holiday self, with your 2017 holiday self?
A year can feel super long, or super short depending on what you’ve filled it with, but I guarantee that no matter how miserable or great it was for you, you’re in a different place now than you were last year. At most you might’ve gotten married, had a kid, had a loved one die, got a new job, or moved countries. At the very least, you learned, saw, or went somewhere new. And all of those are important!
Sometimes, it’s so easy to get bogged down in all the tough stuff, or the stuff that doesn’t go right, or the menial tasks that make up the day to day. That sounds cliché (again) but it’s terrifyingly true. Nobody appreciates when things are going ok, they only notice when things go wrong. But all it takes is a few minutes to pull yourself out of whatever is currently bothering you and revisit your former self.
I’ll go first. 2018 was not the best year for me, but compared to last year, I have grown a TON. Here are all the things the 2017 version of me hadn’t accomplished – I didn’t know how to cope with living in Canada, I hadn’t made a single new friend in Canada on my own yet, I hadn’t asked for a promotion, I had never run a Spartan race (or any road race), I hadn’t come into my own as a fully fledged project manager, I hadn’t been to Mexico, Milan, or Crete, I couldn’t speak as much Greek, I didn’t know anything about Canadian immigration laws, Canadian politics, or Canadian economics – I could go ON and ON, about all the tiny things I did that I had never done, new restaurants I went to, new events, new people I met, books and movies I saw, and things I learned over the course of the year.
So if you’re looking back on 2018 as a shit year (like I was), please take another step back and make sure you recognize all the things that you DID accomplish and that made you HAPPY this year. No matter how bad your year was, somebody made you laugh, something interested you, and you did something new – cherish all of those because those are the things that make each year different from the last.
Next Monday I will take my last flight of 2018 home to Chicago for the holidays. That flight will be flight number 70 for me this year. SEVEN ZERO. Seventy flights, seventy different planes. I traveled 30 weeks out of this year for work, 4 weeks out of this year for planned vacation, and 4 weeks for family/friend visits in between it all. That is nearly 38 out 52 weeks spent away from home. I know some people travel way more than this, but this is the first year I’ve had to cope with a schedule like this.
I thought about writing about travel tips or airport routines but I wanted to focus on something more important. What I actually want to talk about is the toll this travel has taken on me this year. I never thought that I would be on a plane this much, and if I did, I’m sure I thought it would be infinitely more glamorous. In the past, traveling was always an exciting event. Airports were fun to explore, and the rush I would get when the plane would take off would last me until my destination. Unfortunately, only a small percent of my trips this year invoked those feelings – my vacations. The rest of my trips were for work and decidedly un-glamorous.
My work travel is slowly killing me. In the past, I would travel once or twice a month which I think is my ideal. I get a chance to go and visit new clients, explore a couple of new cities, great. But for most of this year, I have been shuttling back and forth every single week. A lot of San Francisco with some Denver, Seattle, LA, and Salt Lake City sprinkled in. Monday morning fly in, work, work, work, Thursday night fly back. This is pretty typical for consultants, but because the first year or so at this job I didn’t travel this much, I didn’t realize how much this type of schedule would drain me.
I don’t want this to be a depressing post, but I do want to be honest about what it feels like to travel for work all the time. The first issue I have is physical. It’s much harder to get into a good routine of working out when your schedule is never consistent. I can’t join a gym or commit to new types of training since I would never be able to participate. Eating well is a nightmare since while I’m traveling, I can’t cook for myself so I have to spend increasing amounts of time getting my hands on foods that are actually good for me. Just the plane ride itself can be hazardous since they are known incubators of disease and can also do a number on your skin and hair since the air is so cold and dry.
The second, and far more damaging issue with this way of life, is the emotional part. It is lonely, living this way. The actual traveling part is always done alone. I go through security alone, I sit at the gate alone, I fly alone, I uber alone, I eat alone. Then when I get to the client, that’s obviously all work. I get some social interaction, but being a consultant is having a lot of either work conversations, or small talk conversations that don’t really mean anything and are more draining to participate in than refreshing. Evenings are usually, once again, spent alone. There are occasions where I’m able to meet friends that are in that city, or there are work dinners, but nine times out of ten – I spend the night alone.
Doing this every once in a while wasn’t so bad. But every week? It starts to wear you down. I grow more and more resentful of my trips because they take me away from spending time with people I love. Earlier this week my Monday morning flight ended up getting delayed by two and half hours and I broke down in tears in the bathroom because if I had known this before I left my apartment, I could have spent those two precious hours in bed with my boyfriend instead of wasting away at the airport yet again.
There are, of course, two sides to every story. Travel really wears me down, but I do have an insane amount of air miles, credit card points, and hotel status that I can take advantage of now. I’ve barely paid for any of my vacations out of pocket because I have so much status to use up. I also have my airport routine down pat and most of the time it only takes me ten minutes or less from the curb to the gate area. Sometimes, I even get upgrades and then I really feel fancy. But all of that feels hollow compared with what I’m sacrificing.
I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way, and I can only imagine how much more guilty and awful I would feel if I had kids or something that I was leaving behind each week, but I also have met a ton of people that cope with this lifestyle just fine. They leave every week, are home on the weekends, and that’s just their life. Part of me knows that eventually, I too, would get used to this, it would just become my norm and I would figure out how to feel less lonely. But part of me also doesn’t want to. I don’t think I want to be one of those people that is everywhere but lives nowhere. Maybe this lifestyle is easier for people who already have an amazing community built up at their hometown, but I feel travel pains ever more acutely as my social life in Calgary hangs by a thread since I’m never there to nurture it. When I travel, I feel like I’m missing out, and when I return, it’s obvious that I have and that feeling is killing me. And it’s not missing out on parties, or dinners that gets to me, it’s missing all the small moments – watching a movie with a friend on a weeknight, laughing with my boyfriend while we cook dinner together, going to a gym class where I see the same people every Tuesday. None of those things can happen for me with this life, and THAT is what is killing me. THOSE are the things I’m becoming more and more attached to, and I’m coming to the realization that I don’t want to live a life that means giving those up all the time.
I’ve been slowly coming to terms with the fact that I will never be the ‘fun’ friend. I love to laugh, tease, go out, and try new things. But I’m not the catalyst for ‘fun’ events. I’m not the friend you call when you want to get the party started. I’m not the friend you call when you want to do spontaneous events. And I’m not the friend with funny stories about that one time I got lost/was at a party/etc. I’m just not.
I’m the serious friend. The reliable friend. I’m the friend you call when you want to just go for coffee and talk about heavy shit. Or politics. Or business. I’m the practical friend. I’m the friend at the party that is sober to make sure everyone gets home ok. I’m the friend that will check on you when you’re not feeling well. I’m the friend that you can make plans with and who will be on time and who will never flake. I’m dependable.
This distinction used to bother me to no end. I would watch jealously while some of my other friends exuded this capability to infect others with spontaneity and charm. They attracted people to them and they knew how to just let loose, and perhaps more importantly, how to get others to let loose. I was jealous that they were so well liked. I was jealous that people always wanted to be around them, and they were the leaders of group social events. No matter how hard I tried, I could not emulate that carefree attitude.
I tried for years. But I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m not the fun friend, and that’s ok. Because I know from personal relationships that the fun friend isn’t always fun. They have bad days, they need alone time, they don’t always want to be out on adventures. They need to relax, and they need to process too. Everyone does. But that’s where someone like me comes in.
I get the most out of relationships where I can just have real, frank, one on one conversations with people. My friendships are built on coffee dates, and visits to new places, not parties, concerts, or nights out. Nothing against those kinds of evenings, I like to let loose (as much as my control freak persona allows), as much as the next person, but they don’t solidify friendships for me. So I realized I don’t HAVE to be the fun friend because I don’t need to have crazy times to build relationships. Plus if I think about it, I actually get a sense of pleasure from helping out my ‘fun’ friends. I don’t enjoy losing control, but I like making sure my friends are safe if they do.
So I think I’m finding my spot. I may not ever be the center of a social circle, but if the social butterfly needs to discuss some deeper stuff, I’m a great sounding board for whatever they want to talk about. And then that’s how I bond with them. Everyone needs to just talk sometimes, and that’s what the serious friend is for. My strengths lie in the smaller events. I’m a good listener. I don’t judge and I don’t shy away from serious topics. I will always go above and beyond to help a friend out and make sure they have what they need and that they’re ok.
So I’m slowly getting to the point where I’m glad I’m the serious friend. Not everyone is dependable and prefers conversation, just like not everyone can be the social butterfly. But that’s the point of having different kinds of friends anyways, everyone brings something to the table.