My lovely friend Karen Willis from Sharing Bali and Beyond (I met her when I did a writer’s retreat in Bali a couple of years ago) issued her end-of-year newsletter (you should subscribe because it’s gorgeous and full of inspiration about travel and health and wellness) and something she said struck me.
She said — and I agree — that we need to celebrate ourselves and our achievements:
We’re raising our glass to you in heartfelt thanks for all of the support, laughs, friendship and travel tales we’ve shared. You’ve been there for us in the virtual world as well as in real life on our travels.
As I look back over the year I’m asking these questions of myself…
The best thing I did for myself was…… The best thing I did for someone else was…… The best thing someone did for me was……
Try it. Fill in the blanks. I have no doubt you will have lots to celebrate.
I love this idea, and it’s the perfect theme for my 2018/Lunar New Year round-up. Taking stock is an important part of our growth and development. If we don’t examine our own lives, we never know how far we have come, or how far we have yet to go. We need to take time out to reappraise, recalibrate and regroup if necessary. We need to look honestly and what worked and what didn’t, what we got around to doing and what we didn’t. Can we live with the didn’t work or is there an adjustment that needs to be made? Will we regret the didn’t dos? What challenges did we overcome that we didn’t think ourselves capable of?
2018 was a messy, exhilarating, challenging year. I started it off with a break-up, not one but two sprained ankles (falling down stairs), and dear friends leaving Hanoi. In the middle of the year, I had visits from friends and family, I took a trip to Phu Quoc Island, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, and began and finished several jobs. I accidentally fell in love, lost a lot of weight, started a company and finished the year in hospital with a serious liver issue and a consolidated relationship. I have no idea what 2019 will bring, other than my freelance writing is really starting to take off…
My Best Things for 2018
The Best Thing I did for myself was…
Ending relationships that were personally and professionally unfulfilling or toxic or unsatisfying, for whatever reason.
No one likes to say good-bye or — worse (so we think) quitting — because there’s a certain amount of shame that comes with a good-bye. We think we have failed, on some level at least, to gauge the true nature of a situation or a person when we signed up to it or them. We kick ourselves for not noticing all the hidden terms and conditions. That we didn’t read the fine print. That things that are obvious now weren’t then.
But life is an unfolding, a peeling back of layers and it takes time to work out what’s going on.
Some people are blessed with the gift of cut through — they can see immediately what someone or something is about. I am not so lucky and I envy that insight. It takes me a while to put two and two together. I err on the side of once is never, twice is always, betting that people invariably show their true nature at some point. And I have to remind myself that it’s actions, not words that count. And as a person who loves words, that’s incredibly hard to do.
Usually, I am right about someone — once I work it out. And I do, because people cannot hide forever. And generally, I let people or situations go because their values do not align with mine. They may be false leaders, false friends, or false work or job opportunities. It is necessary to quit — as disappointing and devastating as it sometimes is — to keep myself centred and true.
The Best Thing I did for someone else was…
This is difficult. If I think about it — really think about it — the Best Thing I did was not for one person, but a group of people…
When I came to Hanoi, I decided I did NOT want to teach. I taught high school in my 30s and while I enjoyed it to a certain extent and loved shaping young minds and changing their perceptions of what a teacher is/was, I felt that it had a shelf life. I’m a rolling stone in the job department — I change careers every few years so I don’t get bored. I need to grow and learn and experiment, and I can’t do that if I do the same thing all the time.
Back to Hanoi. Teaching English is lucrative here: one can make USD$2000 per month — easily. But it’s generally working with children, and that’s not something I wanted to do. However, I was approached by a friend of a friend to teach English to expat adults, (mostly) women who had time on their hands because their husbands were working, their children were at school and they had many hours to fill. They were (mostly) Japanese and Korean and they were keen to learn. And they were lonely. And the job was cash in hand.
So I taught English. I helped my students with pronunciation and vocabulary and some (but not a lot of) grammar. I watched them from go from shy, halting users of English to confident conversationalists, able to hold their own. I saw them develop friendships, arranging coffee and lunches and excursions. I listened to their secrets and wishes and regrets, and helped them vocalise and make sense of their world, in English. But most importantly — and this is the Best Thing — in my class, there was a sense of community and belonging and solidarity that was missing in their lives in Hanoi…
The Best Thing someone did for me was…
Step up when I most needed it. Actually, it was a few people.
In October, I had visa issues. I was stuck in Bangkok for almost exactly four weeks, returning to Hanoi at the beginning of November — actually, I didn’t think I’d get back to Vietnam, and was planning my exit strategy. I won’t get into why these visa issues occurred other than to say I trusted someone who proved to be untrustworthy (it’s a whole other story for another day) and he screwed me over. It happens. C’est la vie.
It was a very stressful time that involved a roller coaster of emotions as I figured out what I needed to do — and tried to manage my re-entry into the country from outside Vietnam. The Australian Embassies in Hanoi and Thailand were absolutely useless (I would have got more help if I was arrested and jailed, or died). While the Embassy was no help, other people were.
I gave the keys to my apartment to a man I had been seeing for a short time, asking him to check on Bella Kitteh for a few days, not knowing it would be for a month. One friend would phone or text everyday to make sure I was alright and offer emotional support, distracting me with the always fascinating stories of his love and work life. Others were trying to sort things out for me in Hanoi by visiting lawyers and calling in favours. And another got to the bottom of my visa issue so I knew what I was dealing with and, therefore, how to play it. An organisation that I was volunteering for — I had only been with them for a couple of months — generously stepped up to be my work sponsor, no questions asked.
I have never had people rally around like they did at this time. I needed them and they were there — and I didn’t even ask for help. It was just given. They saved my life, and I will be forever grateful.
At the end of the day (or the year), all we can do — as humans — is place one foot in front of the other and keep on going. We want to live a life of meaning, of richness and depth — otherwise, what is the point? We need to connect with others, experience and deal with different situations, and the full range of emotions.
Climb that goddamn mountain! That’s what it’s there for.
Photo courtesy of Visual hunt