As I grow older the year seems to zip by. Someone has said, you live the second half of your life reliving the first half. I’m hopefully nowhere near that midlife milestone, yet I noticed that did look back more on the memories of the recent past and recalled those of the distant past. And I start wondering (typical me)- is there more to the first half of my life that I could do? Have I made the most of my existence on earth?
After handing in the much-dreaded dissertation (yeah, it’s so comforting that even the most horrible thing in life would come to an end), I temporarily packed away my life in London into boxes to go on a trip to the States. It was
probably the best trip of my life – which I never thought would (still) be possible at 30 years of age and 30+ countries (I used to count but stopped). No longer the eager 19-year-old backpacker staying at the hostel for the first time, yet I was very much excited discovering American cities I’ve grown to know and love thanks to … Gone with the wind, Bill Bryson, and American TV series. The loss of enthusiasm of the young traveller was made up with the relaxed attitude of the experienced wanderer – there’s no such thing as must-go/must-see/must-eat … but only whatever takes my fancy at that moment.
As I happily climbed into a bunk bed (bottom bed no less!) after being stranded in the rain by a friend’s (honest) mistake at 2am in San Francisco, I realised how far I had grown as a traveller – I don’t fret over things that used to annoy me anymore. That night also taught me something – sometimes a hot shower and a soft pillow are all that you need. When one really thinks things through, as long as one is clean and sheltered (and fed), seriously there’s not much one cannot overcome.
It was a wonderful trip because of the diversity of the States which I already know of. New York City overwhelmed me with its sheer size and gorgeous skyline (compared to the rather tiny features of London) but the Met, MoMA, Brooklyn, and Chelsea market impressed the heart out of me, on top of the nicely presented and touching Ellis & Liberty islands. The hospitality of the Southerners and their beautiful Savannah and Charleston charmed me more than I had expected. And Grand Canyon proved to be deservingly one of the best wonders of the world in my opinion. Yet above all, it was catching up with old friends (kind of in the footsteps and spirit of Jack Kerouac) that made #UStrip so sweet and memorable.
Travel has always been a big part of my life. Yet I don’t advocate quitting your job to travel the world to find your purpose. Despite what the travel industry has managed to brainwash people into believing, travelling per se won’t help you find yourself/your purpose/calling (anyone having a trouble with that, I do moonlight as a life coach now). While travel can teach you a lot, unless you turn it into a living and successfully sell the idea to others, it is like escaping the big question. I know this after years reading and sort of buying into such ideas and that moment in Paris (for the third time) when I had no wish to go out and discover the city I had been so much in love with before seeing it. At that point in my life, by my standard, I’d seen enough of the majestic, the exotic, the quirky of the world. Sure there are tons of other great places to see, but as with any five-star restaurant meal, there is so much you can eat before you cannot savour anything anymore. Then I asked myself the question: If there was only one place I could visit from now until I die, what would it be? The answer came so easily. Not Japan and all the wonderful things I’ve heard. Not some exotic African country to show off to my mates. Not even the trans-Siberian trip that I’ve thought about for years. It was the States, the country that I have loved all those years without knowing so.
The experience taught me the power of asking the right questions, giving oneself constraints, and being painfully honest with oneself that I can apply to my professional life. It sounds dramatic, but whatever you’re faced with in life, ask yourself, if you could just pick one thing and one thing only to do/see/… before you die, what would it be? Don’t be paralysed by options that everyone says you have plenty of. You really don’t. Me, I just want to be a writer, preferably regularly published AND not starving. Of course I also wanted to be some sort of life/career coach and help people, which I’ve done for free for years. And I also want to be a teacher, which I think I’ll excel at. But those are the extensions of my writer self – sharing what I learn and how I feel in the form of words is what I ‘have to’ do.
That’s why I made myself finish this not-even-close-to-my-greatest piece of writing – as part of my discipline training. For those who enjoyed the usual list format of previous annual reviews, I did travel a lot – Bruges, Bordeaux, St Emillion, Lisbon and less popular Greek islands are my favourite places. I finished my master degree in intercultural communication and was not tempted to do a PhD. I fell in love with someone unexpected though it went nowhere. I met wonderful people (as always). I went on a retreat in France. In March, I even started a book-review page/online bookstore with my sister out of frustration with my studies and lifelong wish to share more of myself. Simply put, 2017 was the most amazing year of my life – though not without its many low moments. On top of it, I got to spend most of that mostly -wonderful-sometimes-miserable time in the greatest city in the world – and eternally my favourite – London.
Many years ago, I shyly wrote on this blog about my dream to become a writer, and I’m glad in some way I have made it more of a reality than a dream, and kept on learning my craft. Yet there’s still so much more that I can write, and my wish for 2018 is to write as if I only had one year to offer my best to this world.
To 2018 (or whatever’s left of it)