It’s that time of year when we each reflect on the last 12 months and whether we feel we need to make plans and/or changes for the next year. It’s incredibly hard not to feel nostalgic at this time of year and it is always wonderful to look forward to what is to come.
But it is also a tough time of year for a lot of people and the expectations can be overwhelming. In general, I think the whole “New Year New Me” motto is detrimental; each of us is capable of change, but that change is a fluid process of, hopefully, growth and setting about becoming a “new person” by doing something like losing weight, taking up yoga, or whatever it is you feel pressured to do suggests that you are not good enough to begin with. Yes you are. But, on the flip side, stagnation is not a good thing either and can cause unhappiness.
To me, growing as a person is what I have been learning about most in 2017. I have spent more than 10 months travelling the world, solo. It is impossible not to change, to grow, in that amount of time and in facing the variety of circumstances one finds oneself in. I have learnt more about myself in those 321 days than ever before and I am finally finding some level of actual happiness.
Deciding to “not drink for a month” or “lose a stone” may make you superficially happier in the moment – but what is it beneath that is making you unhappy enough to feel like that is the solution? Address that first. The superficial changes may not be necessary. You don’t need to quit your job and travel the world (although I would advocate this highly), but if you are not happy with some part of your life do something drastic to change it – not eating biscuits for a month is not drastic. Most of you who are reading this are in an incredibly privileged position to be able to change your circumstances, whether you realise it or not. And if along the way you can help change someone else’s circumstances, then that is a massive bonus.
And if something in your life makes you happy, keep at it. Don’t let anyone or anything get in the way of whatever it is.
Enough of the preaching. Below is a list of “challenges” I set for myself almost 18 months ago, with the aim to complete them before I turn 30. This was part of a plan, or idea, to find new experiences, challenge myself and become more independent again. In turn, it has helped me to “grow” and today seemed a good time to mark where I find myself now.
I’ve got just over eight months to tick some more off my list, but I also want to re-evaluate some of them and change a few – as I said before, life is about change and growth, and in that way, my expectations of myself have also grown.
Here’s the original list with annotations on the current status of each. Bold ones are completed (I count 18).
1. Hold a BIG spider – nope. nope. nope. TBH, I thought I might come across more while travelling, but so far I’ve managed to avoid all of SE Asia’s and Australia’s arachnids. Kinda happy about that, but still think I would like to do this.
2. See the Northern Lights – unfortunately not, and I was hoping to cover this by seeing the Southern Lights while in NZ, but alas. This one is still staying though, because I’ve wanted to do it forever.
3. Get a tattoo – not yet. I still want to do this, but I’m not getting one until I am solid in my decision.
4. Speak fluent French (again) – lol, no. While living in France I got too nervous to speak to people, and since I’ve been travelling, almost every French person I’ve met just gets mad at me for not being fluent enough for them, or will only speak to other French people. I can still understand a lot of French, especially when I read it, but my confidence in speaking is very low. I’m combining this with the below task and making it just to “improving my French and my confidence in speaking it”.
5. Learn conversational Spanish – this is a must as South America is part of my plan for 2018. So far, though, my Spanish lessons are coming from Narcos and I’m now only fluent in swearing and drug lingo. If you find me as head of the Cali Cartel this time next year, that’s why.
6. Eat in a restaurant by myself – DONE. The first time was during my stay in Tallin, Estonia. But since then, this has become a favourite pastime. I pretty much always eat alone now.
7. Go to the cinema by myself – DONE. You can read about my first experience of this in this blog post. I’ve done this since, and I love it.
8. Eat in 5 Michelin Star restaurants – DONE. And I want MORE. I took my count up to five with two trips to different Michelin-starred Hawker stalls in Singapore – completing this task for less than £5. BOOM.
9. Go to 50 new places – cities, national parks, etc – DONE AND DONE SOME MORE. You can see where I’ve been in the last 10 months on this nifty little map. I’m still updating it but I think I’ve done this number almost five times over.
10. Visit 20 new countries – *almost*. I’m heading to Switzerland in a few days and that will take this tally up to 17.
11. Read another 30 books – *almost*. According to my Goodreads I’m on 21 so far, although I feel I have forgotten a couple. I’ve stagnated recently as I’m stuck in a book about Elon Musk and can’t read Nomad by Alan Partridge in public anymore because I laugh too much.
12. Travel solo – Errrrr, yes. This is the BEST THING IN THE WORLD. I’m not sure I can ever travel long-term with a companion ever again.
13. Start writing that book I’ve always planned – yep. But I’m still not telling you about it.
14. Skinny dip – YEA BABY! Sorry boys and girls, no pictures.
15. Run 10k – Ha, no. But that is mainly out of circumstance. Maybe when I find a job (anyone want to hire me?) this year and a place to settle temporarily, I will get there with this.
16. Catch a fish – no, but I did kill a chicken for my dinner. So, I’m counting that as some sort of ability to fend for myself in an apocalypse.
17. Learn to crochet – yep. Still pretty crap at it, but practice makes perfect.
18. Climb a mountain (taller than 2,000m) or Three Peaks – I’m counting this one as done. In NZ I did two mountain hikes, and each were *just* under 2,000m (Tongariro was literally just a few metres off). I’m sure I’m going to climb some more mountains in the next year.
19. Be an extra in a TV show or film – annoyingly I missed out on doing this by a few days during my time in Malaysia. But, I’ve also decided I don’t care about this one any more, so I’m scrapping it.
20. Grow a plant and not kill it – living a nomadic life has slightly scuppered this one. While I was in France I did plant some herbs and stuff and they were coming on so well, but I left them in my mum’s care and they are now dead. It turns out I have inherited this natural ability to kill plantlife. So, even though they died (after I left them in someone else’s care) I’m kinda counting this one. I found a surprising amount of pleasure in gardening. Perhaps when I get a job and something resembling a home (seriously, anyone wanna hire me?) then I can have a go at this properly again.
21. Go to the Grand Canyon – unfortunately on my trip to the US this year, we couldn’t fit this in. However, we did go to Yosemite and it was incredible, so I’m counting this as “going to a US national park”, because TBH they all look amazing in their own way
22. Visit Hobbiton and pretend to be a Hobbit – OMG YES AND IT WAS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE.
23. Go to a tennis grand slam tournament – not sure I give a shit about this any more. So I’m taking it off.
24. Volunteer – unfortunately I haven’t found myself in a position to do this yet, but I definitely will this year.
25. Do a hot-air balloon ride – DONE. This was one of the best things I have done this year.
26. Visit Auschwitz – read about this one here. I can’t really add anything more than that.
27. Spend at least a week without my phone (or any technology) – Also one of the best things I have done this year. I’m writing something about this at the moment as it was part of a much bigger experience, but it was one of the most rewarding periods of the year. TURN YOUR PHONE OFF. I can’t say I’m completely free of it, but it’s a process and my life is better when I’m disconnected.
28. Spend a week saying yes to everything – travelling is about saying yes. So, while there hasn’t been a specific week where I’ve done this one thing, most days of my life when I travel are about new experiences so I rarely turn down an opportunity to do something new or something out of my comfort zone.
29. Learn to play poker – people always tell me they will teach me this and never do, so I’m going to have to take it upon myself to teach myself.
30. Learn not to worry so much – when I first posted this list, this was one of the most commented on items. Most people thought it was a novel idea, but weren’t sure it was possible. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure it was too. My whole life was about worry but with the natural experience of travelling, plus some specific changes I’ve made to my mindset, I’m the most chilled I’ve ever been. I still worry, but it’s decreased by at least 50 per cent, which I count as a win.
If my maths is correct, I need to add three more items on to my list to account for those I’ve scrapped:
1. Take a professional cookery lesson/course – I’ve missed cooking more than anything while I have been travelling (no point cooking in Asia) and since I’ve been back almost everyone I’ve spoken to has asked me why I don’t cook in some kind of professional capacity seeing as I love it so much, so this might help make a decision for me. I also don’t count “cooking classes” in Asia as this – that’s about learning specific dishes, I want to learn and improve on my more general skills, which will benefit all types of cooking
2. Maintain my relationships – I’m ashamed to say that this year in my quest to “better” myself, I’ve neglected a lot of friends and family back home. Coming home for Christmas and reconnecting has shown me how many people I have in my life, so if you are an old friend or a new friend, I will do what I can to make sure our relationship continues to grow
3. JOURNAL EVERY DAY. I tried SO hard at this while at the beginning of my travels and was determined to write at least one thing a day, but a series of incidents, namely falling off a scooter and fucking up my right shoulder and therefore my ability to have the strength to even hold a pen, means I am about four months out of date on my journal. Reading back on my journal at the beginning of travels is so rewarding, so I’m going to focus on this habit (barring any future accidents that harm my writing hand). I guess this also goes for blogging, I’ve apparently disappointed quite a few people by being lax on my updates (kinda disappointed myself too), so I’m going to put more effort in to that.
My life now is about how I grow as a person and I think almost all of the items I have completed so far have contributed to the changes I feel in myself, and by developing myself further with the help of some of these, I will continue to grow and be even happier.
Happy 2018 ladies and gents, may it be filled with adventures, near and far, and accomplishments, big and small.