Reading 52 Books In A Year

It’s been a goal of mine for a couple years now to read 52 books in a year. Yes, that’s an average of a book a week. In 2018, I got close – I read 50 books. But in 2019, I read only 18. I attribute much of that 2019 number to the fact that my life felt like an out of control dumpster fire for most of the year and reading wasn’t a good enough escape (this may explain how I got into anime in 2019), so my reading habit really took a hit. 

But towards the end of 2019, I started thinking that I’d like to give it a better shot again in 2020. 

The problem was – I didn’t really feel like reading. I was now addicted to reading quick snippets and articles on my phone, smashing through different TV shows, and watching movies. Sitting down to read only sounded enjoyable in theory. 

Maybe this is something that a lot of people experience but for me it was troubling. I had been a voracious reader ever since I was young so the fact that I had gone through a long period of such low reading volume was definitely atypical. 

So how to get back into it?

Start a new book. I had fallen off the reading wagon mid-book. That book would have normally been a brisk read for me but since I wasn’t feeling reading – it turned into a slog. I wasn’t motivated by that particular story. So if I’m looking to restart my habit I look for a book I’m excited about. Maybe something popped up on amazon, or I got a rec from a friend. The prospect of starting something new is always exciting. 

Pick something FUN. The books that are the most fun for me to read are usually YA fiction books. Yes, it’s a little embarrassing but YA is written to keep TEENAGERS engaged so to say that they are page turners would be an understatement. Luckily I had a rec in this genre from a friend on the backburner so I knew exactly what to get. The thing to note here is that you almost want to pick something almost easy that will keep your interest. For me – that’s YA Fantasy.

Habit. Reading is a habit like anything else. So like anything else, it’ll take a little bit of time to take. This is why the second point is so important. If I pick something fun, I’ll WANT to read because I’ll WANT to know what’s next. Another reason YA fantasy works for this purpose? It almost always comes in series format. Which means I already have a built in mechanism to keep my attention. 

Reading is an activity that can sometimes feels out of reach because there is a certain elitism that pervades around the literary canon. People wills say if you haven’t read certain things then you don’t really read and so on. But if you read at all, you’re a reader. And although many books have stood the test of time or offer truly great examples of writing/literature, reading any book can improve your vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and empathy skills. Yes, even YA can help with those, and as a result, there’s really nothing to lose. So far I’ve read five books this year which means I am on track! Wish me luck!

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A bomb book store in Portugal

 

What I Learned from 30 Days of No Alcohol

I participated in Dry January this past month. It’s actually the first time I’ve done any type of goal or challenge for myself regarding alcohol since I started drinking regularly. But the reasoning for it is simple – I found myself drinking too much.

But let me give you some context here: 

Before I left for college, I had a couple sips of alcohol here and there. It still tasted nasty.

In college but before the age of 21, I drank probably less than twenty times and most of that took place during my year abroad. I was too scared to lose my wits in public most of the time so I just didn’t drink at all.

After the age of 21, I drank less than a dozen times while still in college. Additionally, I dated a guy that really made me not like alcohol.

Then my so called ‘adult life’ started. My philosophy around drinking was still pretty minimal. I would have a drink maybe three times a month on average and I would get drunk maybe once or twice a year. On vacations, I was more lenient, often having an average of one or two drinks per day during a trip. That pattern continued all the way up until seven months ago when I moved to Chicago. 

Chicago’s scene is much more focused around drinking than my previous environments. There’s a much bigger sports culture = drinking. Limited activities other than restaurants and bars = drinking. Plus, I joined a very social company which accompanies every single event they throw (and there are a lot) with free alcohol. 

My point is – I have had more alcohol in the past seven months of living here than I have probably in my ENTIRE adult life before moving. You heard me. More alcohol in seven months than in seven years.

I realized there were so many instances where I had just automatically picked up a drink or ordered a drink or gone out just for drinks. It was everywhere. And I don’t like alcohol enough for the calories or the dollars to be worth it to me. I wanted to break myself out of the automated alcohol grab so that if I do want to drink, I could be a little more intentional about it. 

It wasn’t hard per say but I did learn some things.

  1. Cities are alcoholic. Maybe I never noticed but every restaurant is constantly shoving the special drink menu in your face. Promotions focus on cheap alcohol. Large firms and events entice attendees with alcohol passes and tickets. There seems to always be a reason to drink with every activity.
  2. Especially if you’re in a pair or small group – many times the other people want you to drink so they feel more comfortable drinking. 
  3. However, if you tell people upfront you’re doing dry January they laugh and say oh good for you, let’s go out in February! There is notable relief when you offer this explanation.
  4. Buying alcohol at restaurants is like getting robbed. The markups are insane. The bill almost doubles when alcohol is involved. 

Ultimately, the social thing was way weirder than the alcohol thing. I barely missed alcohol itself. There were a couple dinners where I really wanted a nice glass of red, but other than that, I didn’t actually crave it the substance itself. 

For me, it was a social crutch. It’s comforting to have something in my hand in a networking or party setting and on top of that, once I’ve had two or three, I’m definitely feeling more talkative, thus making the experience less stressful.

 I made a lot of people feel uncomfortable or guilty when I said I wasn’t drinking this month and the relief on their faces when I said it was only for one month was evident. I had never really noticed the peer pressure before, but alcohol weirdly enough is the only drug where people expect an explanation if you’re not partaking. Simply declining isn’t good enough – there has to be a cleanse or event or (god forbid) alcoholism to justify your lack of consumption.

There’s a learned reliance people have on alcohol in certain situations, something I was developing as well – but I don’t want to be that person that NEEDS alcohol to participate in events.

Something that makes me nervous now that the month is over, is the all or nothing mentality surrounding drinking. If you tell someone you don’t drink – they might ask for an explanation but that’s about it. Otherwise, the expectation is that you will drink and keep on drinking. It seems much harder to say you only want one than to say you don’t want any at all.

But for me, after going thirty days without it, this moderate to low point of consumption is where I am sure my sweet spot is. I like a glass of wine or a cocktail every now and then and I see little point in me consuming more than one or two drinks but it’s the stopping and declining when you’ve already started that seems more difficult socially.

But we’ll see. So far I actually haven’t had more than one glass of wine in February so maybe my mentality will hold. In any case, the exercise served its purpose – I am painfully aware of every drop of alcohol in my space and whether or not I actually want to consume it and that’s all I need right now.

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Malibu Wine Safari – the alcohol industry will truly insert itself anywhere

Don’t Bother Trying to ‘Hack’ Your Life

Self Help is everywhere. Books are churned out a mile a minute on the subject, google searches for ‘how to___’ are higher than ever and everybody has a piece of advice to offer. There’s nothing wrong with this phenomenon on the surface — people are simply looking to better themselves. The problem as I see it, is that most people are getting caught up in the wrong methods. 

There are thousands of tips and tricks, that people recommend for better health, relationships and productivity. And we eat those small tips up like candy – take cold showers to be more productive, drink celery juice for clear skin, spend fifteen minutes in the sauna to increase endurance. 

People love these tricks because they are easy. They are fast, simple things that are marketed to make your life disproportionately better. And who doesn’t love a quick fix?

The problem is that these tips cause us to think about our routines backwards. We end up carving out time to sit in the sauna instead of actually doing cardio regularly. We focus on the celery juice when maybe we’re not drinking enough water. And cold showers? Fuck off. 

The problem is that these tips don’t work on their own. They work in addition to a strong foundation. These little tips only work if they are extras to a system you would have already built. If you’re a regular runner and you add sauna time on top of that, it may really make you a better runner – but doing the sauna all by itself will do you little to no good. And yet we think that if we string together enough of these little tricks we really can be better. We want to believe in it so badly because it is so much more palatable than the alternative — 

Work. Consistency. Discipline. BO-RING- yes I know. 

But building a strong foundation for your fitness, productivity, or clarity are the only ways to truly improve. It’s consistent workouts, daily focus time, and disciplined habits that produce real results. The problem is that this part isn’t as glamorous or fun or as marketable. It’s a long term game. 

You may say – well Jack Dorsey takes an ice bath in the morning and he founded Twitter! Yeah well he also spends twelve hours a day working on their business and only eats one meal a day so I don’t think it’s the ice bath, buddy. He is doing the work day in and day out and progress at first was probably slow slow but over time it built – it wasn’t magic by taking ice baths – but we see someone’s full picture of results and like to attribute success to the easiest to control variables. Because then, our own success doesn’t feel quite as far off. 

My point here is not to ignore all tips, tricks, or hacks. Some can be extremely useful. My point is that you must be careful that you don’t put too much stock in any of them. Real change, and real improvement can only happen through improvement of the foundation so don’t let yourself get caught up in every new thing that promises amazing results. Chances are you’ll be the same as before, only with less money because half of these are just marketing pure and simple. 

Focus on yourself and the things you can do every day to reach a state that resonates with you, and if a cold shower really does help – then who am I to stop you?

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LA Light

Sex Things No One Talks About

I had some amazing parents when it came to the sex talk. They gave me a whole bunch of literature and if I had questions – they were pretty open about their experiences. I felt comfortable and safe in my knowledge of how the act worked, what parts were involved, and the general purpose. 

Fast forward a few years – I have some experience of my own and have talked about sex a few times in this forum, but recently, I have been thinking about all the small parts of sex that no one talks about. The things that go unmentioned or create massive cognitive dissonance when compared to media portrayals.*

  1. It’s messy. In the movies, the couple finishes and they usually immediately detach and lie next to each other. If that scenario were real life, somebody is lying in a wet spot. I’ve never read a book or article about great sex that mentions the clean up effort. The only time there is almost no cleanup is if the guy is wearing a condom and can just slip it off into the trash or if no one was really into it in the first place. But if it’s a good time and he’s not wearing one – body fluids are just everywhere. Sexy right? If a guy comes inside, then it has to drip out when you finally get up, or maybe it’s in your mouth, and if he doesn’t, well then it’s on you or him or somewhere else. Ugh….Even laying a towel down doesn’t do much for this since there is so much movement involved. There’s just no getting around it and yet nobody tells you the best way to deal with it. 
  2. Bedding=obstacle. Movies have to use sheets to cover everyone’s bits, but in real life, they are an obstacle. Plus, oral sex hardly ever occurs under the sheets per movies because the person giving literally CAN’T BREATHE so it doesn’t make any sense. Sex with sheets is kinda cumbersome and can end up being too hot, so sex without them safely covering everything seems to be more common place even if it does feel exposed.
  3. Talking. Media alternates between heavy breathing during sex in movies and overdone moans on the porn end. I’m also not talking about extensive dirty talk. I’m talking about simple things. If it’s a new partner – the conversations about birth control and sexual health should happen. If it’s any partner you should at least feel comfortable enough to say yes to the things you like and no to the things you don’t. No one is a mind reader and you don’t have to suck it up. Everyone likes doing well and staying healthy but we’ve made these conversations out to be awkward because no one ever tells us how to have them.
  4. Way less orgasms. Not in a bad way, just in the not-every-single-fucking-time way. This goes for guys and girls. Porn and media, even including books, usually portrays sex as either mindblowing or comically bad. Reality is that most of it falls in the middle. For guys this may not apply as much, but for women, oftentimes a lot has to line up for us to get to orgasm and not all those factors are present a lot of the time in real life. Media also depicts couples having simultaneous orgasms much of the time which is actually very difficult to pull off. However, that doesn’t mean sex wasn’t worth it. You can still have a really good time without putting pressure on anyone to climax. 

There is no real point to this post. I have no extra advice on the above points other than the fact that I hope you don’t feel awkward noticing these things in your own sex life. These happen all the time and yet media totally glosses over them – even in books and articles that claim to get down to the ‘nitty-gritty’ – so I’m just putting them out there into the universe so that you know you’re not alone when it comes to the realistic maybe-not-so-sexy parts of sex. 

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Crete, Greece PC: Kiki Moussetis

 

*Keep in mind all my thoughts here come from heterosexual media portrayals and my personal experiences since I have no experience with any other kind of sex. But I’m betting there are things no one talks about for those instances as well.

What To Do When You Get Off Track

Per last week, I am feeling a bit off track. For example, I’m releasing this on a Thursday afternoon instead of Wednesday morning like I normally do because I’m behind schedule. I’m barely keeping up with work, my personal projects are all taking a backseat, and my routine is messed up. PLUS my site decided to freak on me a bit yesterday so that was yet another unforeseen thing to throw me off track. 

It’s just a hectic week. I have more social, work, and project commitments than normal so I feel like I am all over the place. I feel like I don’t have enough focus time with any one thing so I end up behind on all of them. But if I step back for a second, I’m actually not doing too bad because of a few techniques I employ to get everything done relatively calmly, even if I’m feeling behind. 

  1. It’s not all or nothing. If you miss a couple things in your day, like a meeting runs long, or you oversleep and miss your morning workout class, you don’t have to give up. Get as much as possible as is reasonable done, and then move whatever you didn’t get done to the next day. Don’t let the sheer amount of things to do overwhelm you to the point where you don’t do any of it. For example – I missed my workout on Tuesday. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t let it ruin my whole week. I just worked out like normal today. 
  2. Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize. When you don’t have enough time in a day for everything, you need to be quick at figuring out what things absolutely must get done in a given time period. The task of prioritizing itself also needs to be done quickly so you don’t waste time figuring out what’s important as opposed to working on what’s important.  For me – I very easily determine what is important because I’ve been honing my list for years, check below if you want to see it*
  3. Small chunks.  When your to do list is a mile long it can feel overwhelming just to look at it. So chunk it out. Find small ways you can start, check little tasks off easily, or delegate as you go. For example, yesterday my to do list was so long so I started with making my waxing appointment. It was tiny but it was something small that was easily done and gave me the momentum to keep going. 
  4. Block your time. This is something I sometimes struggle with, but if you’re at work and you need some uninterrupted time to work on a document or problem, don’t feel bad putting your headphones in or going to a different space so you’re not distracted. If you need to isolate yourself, be proactive and tell your boss, your co workers, even your MOM, that you need some heads down time, and then get it done. Don’t be afraid to ask for your focus time if that’s what it takes. 
  5. Zoom out. Day to day might feel hectic, but if you zoom out and take a look at all the things you needed to do in a week, you may see that you’re actually not doing so bad even if you miss a couple things each day. In the grand scheme of things, there might only be a few things that have actually fallen off, and you’re doing a good job of getting the majority of it done. Don’t beat yourself up over the small picture. 
  6. Have a plan to get back ON track. It sucks to be off track and it’s not sustainable long term because eventually more and more things will be compromised. It’s important to figure out when you can get your plate cleared and start fresh. For me, I usually block a whole day on the weekend where I have no commitments except to myself, and just check off anything that had fallen by the wayside during the week. I feel so much better afterwards, and am usually able to regain my sense of routine. 

 

I don’t get overwhelmed easily. I literally made it my job to plan, so I love to structure and organize my life, but sometimes it just can’t be helped. Things happen at work, things happen in life, and sometimes (like this week for me), you simply bite off more than you can chew. The most important thing to remember is to not panic. Then you can break everything down, prioritize, and ultimately get back on track. 

 

*If I have planned on attending anything that affects others whether that’s a work event, or a dinner date with a friend, I’ve committed to them and I will do everything I can to keep that commitment. Next comes work stuff – like my actual job that pays the bills. I make sure all of that work gets done before working on anything else. Next comes health – I will make sure I get a workout and an adequate amount of food and water. Next comes personal projects. These don’t pay the bills, these don’t provide anything really other than a personal sense of accomplishment so in especially busy times, they often take the back burner and I just fit them in where I can. 

 

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PC: Marketa Benedetti

 

Why I can’t focus on anything right now

My brain is scrambled. I’ve started at least six different posts for today in the past week and wasn’t able to finish any of them. My mind is overrun with ideas about improving at work, classes I want to take, what I want to do next for a job potentially. I have a slew of changes I want to make to my workout routine and my hobbies. All of a sudden, I have all these things I desperately want to purchase. And despite all these thoughts, I can’t focus on any one task for long enough to even sift through them. What gives?

I have a crush. 

If you thought I had turned into a productivity monster, powerful enough to not be affected by romance, you were mistaken! But believe me, I tried. 

I had been playing the ‘I’m not looking for something serious’ game for a while now. Although I’d recovered from my last serious relationship, the pain isn’t something that I had necessarily forgotten or had interest in repeating right away. So instead, I kept pretty much all potential suitors at a distance. And this was working because I didn’t actually like any of the guys I was seeing that much, but then I accidentally stumbled across one that I did. Why do I even bother trying to plan anything anymore?

Luckily for me, my crush likes me back but that doesn’t change how consuming the feelings can be. 

The reason my brain is so overwhelmed with ideas is because liking someone can be inspiring. My mind races with possibilities, not just with this other person but for myself as well. I feel like I want to do more, be more, and I want to do it all now – which of course is not advisable. Not all these ideas should be pursued, and even if I wanted to I can’t focus on them.  On top of this, I also want to spend a much higher amount of time getting to know this someone rather than by myself accomplishing these tasks. 

I can only describe something brand new as intoxicating. I have a very distinct pattern in the beginning of a romantic relationship. I’m a bit cold and detached as I start to get to know someone. It’s safer and I’m good at it. But then something flips – and it flips quickly, usually over the course of two weeks or so where the other person does something or maybe a series of small things to increase my trust and then I fold. 

It’s like that old commercial about Tootsie Pop’s where the kid asks how many licks it takes to get to the tootsie roll center. I’m like the Tootsie Pop, hard shell, but inside it’s completely soft. 

I wish I had advice for how to mitigate this type of feeling because while you’re in it, you may overlook other things in your life in favor of this person. For example, my morning workouts are pretty much shot if he sleeps over, and my other routines get rearranged in order to see him more. I haven’t gone completely teenage girl – I still see my friends, family, and get all my normal stuff done, but I am more willing to flex on certain things if it involves seeing him. 

But really, I’m more inclined to tell you that if you’re in a feeling like this, relish it. I should take my own advice and work on doing more of this instead of constantly focusing on the future. Even if this ends up turning into a long term relationship for me – this infatuated, intoxicated feeling will fade. It will stabilize and it will never be recaptured. Something new – whether it ends or grows – is never something new for long so enjoy it while it lasts. 

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When was the last time you had a crush? PC: Marketa Benedetti

 

New Years Resolutions?

I don’t make resolutions for New Year’s. The chief reason being because I’m a firm believer in the fact that you don’t have to wait for a new calendar year to make changes or set goals for yourself. It is an arbitrary measurement of time. (I also hate them because many people’s resolutions have to do with getting fit which means the gym is super crowded in January until people start to drop off the wagon – yes I am a scrooge about my gym space.)

HOWEVER, despite my new year’s resolutions misgivings, recently I talked with my friend Jordan, who introduced me to the idea of having a ‘theme’ for the year rather than specific resolutions. In this method, I would pick a theme for myself whether it’s health, consistency, communication, etc, and spend the year devoted to that theme in whatever way I saw fit.

At first, I found this idea unappealing. It felt too broad, and I doubted anyone could use it to truly focus and accomplish anything tangible. But as I thought more about it – I realized that was also the biggest strength of this method. Your theme can be anything – and pursuing it does not have to be a regimented exercise. If your theme is health – that doesn’t mean you’re pursuing a workout routine – it could mean you are pursuing learning about health, or trying different foods, or paying attention to how different sleep patterns affect you. It leaves room for goals that aren’t quite so cut and dry. 

So while we keep that idea of themes in mind – the other thing I’d been marinating on recently was a piece of advice from Jeff Bezos for those in business. He says, “‘I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next ten years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next ten years?’ And I submit to you that the second question is actually the more important of the two – because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time…’”

From Amazon’s perspective, this appears simply. Customers will ALWAYS want their stuff faster, and for less money. That is something that hasn’t changed in ten years and is highly unlikely will change ever so Amazon has built an empire on that idea. 

But I think the sentiment can also be applied to life. I often get caught up in what’s next for myself. Where will I move next? What job will I have next? How can I grow? Improve? Change? It never stops. It’s even a common interview question: ‘Where do you see yourself in the next five years?’. And these are all important questions because it is important to know where you’re going – however, I also know that I have figured out a couple things in my short twenty-five years on earth. Things that I never regret doing, things that have consistently brought me joy for years and years already.

So I made a list – I call it my ‘never regret’ list. And I’ve decided my theme for the year will be to increase my focus on those things and to add to that list. Most of these things are not groundbreaking, and I already do a lot of them regularly, but I haven’t been giving them enough credit for how much joy they consistently bring into my life, and I haven’t focused on them in a long time. 

So what will this look like? I’m going to make this as easy for myself as possible. I’m going to keep my ‘never regret’ list on my phone and will only need to make sure I accomplish one thing from that list each day. If it’s more than that – great, but I’m not going to beat myself up over this. The second part is that every time I try something new that I enjoy I will write it down in a subsection and make sure I try it again within the same month so that I can start to assess whether the initial enjoyment was due purely to novelty or if I actually enjoyed it and want to incorporate more of it. 

We tend to always be looking for something new that will bring us happiness, we spend our hours and dollars on incorporating new objects and trying new methods – all in an effort to feel better day in and day out. But I encourage you to take one small step back and at least take stock of all the things that already bring you joy. The things that have brought you joy for as long as you can remember. Why aren’t we simply finding ways of doing more of those?

For reference: here is my ‘never regret’ list as it stands right now. 

I never regret spending time with my family

I never regret watching a movie with my sister

I never regret practicing my Greek

I never regret going for a workout

I never regret going to a workout class

I never regret drinking coffee in the morning

I never regret waking up early

I never regret writing

I never regret visiting a new country/city/neighborhood

I never regret trying a new food

I never regret cooking a new recipe

I never regret cooking for myself

I never regret cooking for others

I never regret buying gifts for others

I never regret reading a book

I never regret going for a walk outside

I never regret swimming in the ocean

I never regret going to bed early

I never regret 1×1 time with a friend

I never regret stretching

I never regret learning how to do something new

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PC: Kiki Moussetis

PC:

How I Survived Being 24

It’s that time of year again. You know, the time of year somebody somewhere decided we have to reflect on time past? This year is apparently even more special because it has us reflecting on the past whole decade. 

Though I try, I cannot escape this reflection activity (especially since I love thinking about myself), SO as I was reflecting on the 2010’s I realized it’s actually kind of crazy to do a decade reflection as someone who is (now!) the ripe old age of 25. I was 15 (!!) when the decade started. I was in the middle of my sophomore year of high school (gross). So in the past decade, I graduated high school, attended Pepperdine University in Malibu California, lived in Shanghai, China for a year and worked at an investment firm for part of that, I then graduated university in three years and started a software consulting job while living in LA. Following that, I moved to Calgary Canada for a relationship, said relationship ended, and now I live in Chicago doing a different consulting gig. 

In the past decade, I’ve lived in 4 cities. I’ve visited 13 countries and 15 states. I’ve had 2 graduations, 3 internships, 2 full-time jobs. I’ve had four boyfriends, been on numerous dates, and met countless amazing people.

Even this year by itself was a rollercoaster from start to finish – let’s recap real quick, shall we?

In January of 2019, I was living in Calgary while my long term relationship deteriorated under me. I was traveling to San Francisco every week for work, which was a double-edged sword because travel for work is exhausting but I did get to see some friends all the time which was so nice. I also crashed a ski trip to Big Bear with some of my best friends from University.

By February my relationship was over and I was still traveling all the time from Calgary. Spent some extra weekends in SF to avoid Calgary as much as possible while I figured out my move. 

In March, I moved out of Calgary, put all my stuff at my parent’s place in the suburbs of Chicago and effectively lived nowhere, mostly traveling for work and staying with friends on weekends. 

By April I had accepted a new job and had given notice at my old company. 

By May, I had ended my old job, did a leisurely trip visiting friends and family in LA, celebrated my sister’s 21st birthday and spent 3 weeks in Japan. 

In June, I started my new job, moved into a new apartment in downtown Chicago, and was dating again. 

In July, my LA friends came to visit me and I started making more connections while starting my first client at my new job. 

August brought a lot of strides for my personal projects, I finally got all my furniture delivered, and my wonderful friend Grace came to visit. 

September was all about work but I squeezed in a quick trip to NYC to repay Grace’s visit from the previous month. 

In October, I delivered a talk about adapting communication styles and did a huge girls trip to Spain and Portugal with my college friends. 

November was a lot of family time between my mom’s birthday and squeezing in a last weekend with my dad and sister before they departed for Europe, and then Thanksgiving’ of course. 

And now it’s December! And I’m 25!! PHEW – did you get all that? I sometimes get whiplash if I think about it all at once. 

A LOT changed this year. Let’s break it down —

2 jobs – went from traveling every week in an isolated culture, to a stable location surrounded by people all the time

3 living scenarios – went from living in Calgary mostly alone, to living nowhere, to living alone again in downtown Chicago

3 U.S Cities – Visited LA, San Francisco, and New York this year for fun and friends

3 Countries – Visited Japan, Spain, and Portugal for various vacations/trips

Because this year was kind of all over the pace – so was I. There were lots of ups and downs, not only emotionally, but also in my pursuits. Because breaking up, moving countries, and trying to build a new social life are so time-consuming, many of my other projects sometimes took a back seat to my emotional work. But then my emotional things would settle down for a moment and personal projects would ramp up again. I started formally dating which I had never really done so that’s been a different kind of constraint on my schedule. I changed my fitness routines, changed my skincare cycles, changed the types of media I consumed (hello anime, nice to meet you), did some of the best writing I’ve ever done, learned new recipes, drank way more alcohol than the rest of my prior years combined. I made a lot of new friends and learned more about which old friends I wanted to prioritize. This year, I’ve spent the most time alone, as well as the most time surrounded by people.

I feel like I went backward, stayed the same, and took giant leaps forward all at the same time. It was a weird year and an even weirder decade, but I think the most important thing I’ve learned in the past ten years (which was specially reinforced this past year), was how to analyze my life and make choices. I can look at myself and notice the things I want to keep the same, and the things I want to change. Not only that, but I know how to change them – and really what other skills do you need in life?

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PC: Marketa Benedetti

 

The Perfect Gift Isn’t That Hard to Find

The holiday season is in full swing which means every single company has abandoned all shame in an effort to snag that sweet end of year surge of sales. I enjoy presents like pretty much everyone on the planet, but I enjoy giving a great gift equally as much. 

It’s easier to buy for people you know well, but I also know that some people struggle no matter what. So if you’re still stuck on finding the perfect gifts for some of your loved ones – check out some of the rules I swear by in my shopping —

  1. Do a quick list of what this person’s ‘things’ are. Are they obsessed with working out? Coffee? A sports team? Organization? Reading? Beauty? Whatever those categories might be – use them as your guide. Remember, you are buying something for someone else, not for you so don’t buy someone else something just because you’d love it yourself (unless of course, you have the exact same level of interest in a topic)
  2. Gift Giving does not have to be too expensive, but people love thoughtful gifts. If you have $20 to spend on someone, think about the highest quality gift you could get for that money. Quality doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. It could mean the funniest, the most thoughtful, or the craziest. Something that will speak to that person. Don’t fall into the trap of buying a ton of little cheap things just because it feels like more. Keep the thoughtfulness despite the cost. Even something like baking cookies for a couple dollars shows more care than a bunch of nonspecific trinkets from a novelty shop. 
  3. Don’t fall for the gift lists. Every year – every blog and store release gift lists. Must-haves for the woman in your life blah blah blah. These can be great as inspiration but so often they are built merely to sell specific products so be careful putting too much stock into any of them. I recommend building your own for the people in your life using tip number 1. 
  4. Experiences almost always win. Experience gifts can be pricey and should be handled with care, but they almost never fail. A boyfriend loves a certain band? Concert tickets. Your dad loves a certain basketball team? Game tickets. Movie tickets. Massage voucher. Free ice skating. Your friend has always wanted to go paintballing? Make a reservation and take her. I’ve gone so far as to book plane tickets or spa treatments as gifts. These don’t have to be expensive, but it shows direct thought and experiences are so much more fun than things. 
  5. Lastly – if you’re really a planner, keep a running gift list throughout the year for the most important people in your life. Every time you’re out with them and their eyes light up about something, you can make a quick note and BAM, you know exactly what to get them when the holidays or their birthday rolls around. This can be hard to keep up but if you have a partner or close friends you see all the time, this can come in handy. 

Christmas is exactly one week away and I’m sure Amazon employees are being worked to the bone as we speak, but I wish you all the best of luck in your holiday shopping. I, of course, am insufferable and am already done with mine 🙂 

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Photo Cred: Marketa Benedetti

 

Present Me is Always Looking Out for Future Me

As I’ve been going through and writing these recent productivity articles, I realized that all of my ideas about personal effectiveness can be condensed down into one idea: Present me is always looking out for future me. 

This means that I am always planning for the future whether that is just this evening or a few years down the road. I plan as far in advance as I can and do everything in my power today, to make life easier for who I will be tomorrow, or in ten years. The reason I’m able to find the motivation to stay organized, disciplined, or try new things is because I want life to be easier and better for the person I’ll be later on. 

In small ways this manifests itself like this – I never procrastinate on homework or work assignments. If something comes up at work that would take me five min or less like walking to someone to get a question answered or responding to a quick email, I do it right away – less on my to-do list later. I put things back where they came from which makes them easier to find later. I plan my to-do list and outfit and meals the day before which means I don’t need to waste decision time on the day. By doing these little things – I make the following hours or days easier because I’m consistently organized. I rarely lose things or spend too much time deciding what to do or how to structure my day because I already thought ahead for myself. This habit is so strict that I literally make myself this little kit (actually fits in this bag) when I go on dates that has my contact solution, skincare, and makeup in it because I hate sleeping with my contacts in and makeup on so much that if there is even a TINY chance I don’t sleep in my own bed for the night, I need to be prepared. Future me is always thankful.

In larger ways it manifests itself like this – I work out and try to eat and sleep well every day so I can stay healthier for longer, don’t run into issues with new activities, and don’t get sick very often, I practice language so that I can improve brain function and for when I actually need them, I read to make connections to concepts or ideas in the future, I take classes and boot camps for future job opportunities. I travel to learn about new places and put myself outside my comfort zone. I study investing and have several accounts to plan for unexpected things and to aim for early retirement. Even though I may not know what the future five or ten years may hold. I already know I want to be healthy, and ready to accept any opportunities or incur any failures that may come my way in that time and I prepare as such. The larger actions prepare me for all the unknowns of life. 

I like this way of living. Very few things catch me off guard, I am almost never unprepared, and rarely take long to make decisions. However, it doesn’t come without its cons. Chiefly that living this way usually means I have trouble truly living in the moment. If I go out with friends I’m constantly thinking about how this will affect my sleep schedule and if I’m drinking too much to feel like working out the next day. If something doesn’t work out as planned (which to be fair, is pretty rare for me since I usually also plan for the unknown), it is quite possible my brain shorts out and I freak. In the past, I’ve also said no to opportunities that could have been great simply to comply with all of my own routines and habits. 

I realize there is a balance to be found somewhere in here but so far I still err on the side of planning and it’s gotten me pretty far. So if you’re ever wondering if you should do something, just ask yourself if future you would appreciate it. If the answer is yes, it’s probably a good idea.

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Photo Credit – Photography By Marketa