Life Personal

Things I’ve learned in 2018

2018 is pretty much coming to an end. Given that I’m a sucker for lists and reflecting on things, I’ll gladly take an opportunity to reflect on the things that have happened in this past year. One thing is for sure: it has been a hell of a journey. Of course, every year always has its ups and downs. Yet there are always those “landmark” years that have involved some major changes and altered the course of your life in quite radical ways. Usually, you can sum these years up into a simple headline.

For example, 2012 was “The Year I Did Yoga In India, Moved To Amsterdam And Did Something Really Stupid”. And 2014 was another one of those years: “The Year I Saw Magic In Everything And Traveled To Japan”. Now, to add to that list, 2018 was “The Year I Quit My PhD, Dusted Off My Yoga Mat And Came Out As A Spiritual Person.” Unironically looking up astrology memes and stuff. The real deal.

But that was just the main event. Because throughout this year-long journey from studying plant-based meat to studying yoga, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I will take with me in the years ahead.

1. It’s okay to change your mind

The year kicked off with my indecision about whether or not to quit my PhD. Intuitively, I knew for some time already that it was time to let go and do something new. But it was difficult to let go of the vision I had for myself for years. I had always wanted to do a PhD, so why give up on that idea just because the going got tough?

Yet as I was going through that identity crisis, I realised that my desire to become an academic was a dream that no longer fitted with my current life. That I had changed as a person, and wanted something else. Although I struggled to listen to that feeling at first, I came to the conclusion that it is okay to change your mind.

As straightforward as this realisation may sound, it was something I had never truly believed in, or even thought of. I’d always been the kind of goal-setting go-getter, keeping my eyes on the prize. But life is not a lineair path and people are not static beings. You are allowed to change directions and make new decisions. What a liberating thought that was.

2. You will attract the people that fit in your life

Over the past years, my friendships have been quite steady. Unlike many people, I’ve never been part of a group of friends, but instead have had individuals around me whom I can call loyal and true friends. But, as I’ve mentioned above, people also change. Some of my close friends have become people I hardly ever see anymore, either because of distance, diverging interests, or simply because life happens.

In 2017 I was having somewhat of an internal crisis as I realised that some of my older friendships had either changed in nature or died out altogether. And ever since I’d moved to Utrecht, I felt that I lacked a social life there. There weren’t that many people close to me who shared my values or interest. I felt quite lonely, from time to time.

But this year, as I became more true to myself and made radical life decisions, I also attracted new people who fit my current life. People like my new bestie in Utrecht, who shares my passion for veganism, social justice and sharing stupid memes. Or my new vegan yoga friend, with whom I can spend hours talking about life and catching autumn leaves. Or the girl I met through my ex, who doesn’t live close but is an absolute delight to be around. I even met someone who shares the same interests as me through this very blog. Sure, maybe I’ve lost touch with some people in my life, but I’m getting awesome new friends in return.

3. Rest is an essential activity…

2018 was the year I truly discovered the power of yin. Not only yin yoga, which is truly healing and amazing, but also yin as the other side of yang. In my previous post, I wrote about my pitta nature and my tendency to never take a break. I’m afraid that this is one of those character flaws that take a lifetime to fully unlearn. But that’s okay. I’m aware of it now. That’s a first step.

With this awareness, I’ve come to accept rest as an important part of my daily routine. This year, I’ve made a conscious effort to schedule days of rest in my agenda. I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t do a lot of socialising multiple days in a row, so I need to plan my rest days carefully. And on the days where I did end up socialising or doing other things, I tried to take a mindful break to relax. To do absolutely nothing and nourish my body with the things that it craves.

It’s usually in these moments of pause and reflection, that I can tune in to how I really feel. If I don’t take a moment to stop and think, I just shut myself off from feeling fully, and I will have to pay the price for it later. My stress, anxiety, and panic attacks will all happily present themselves if I don’t take enough rest. So yes, rest is important. It is an activity in itself, that deserves at least as much space in my agenda as all the other activities do.

4. …but sometimes, you also need to take action

The other side of the coin is that you’ll need to balance rest with action, in due course. During the first half of the year, I needed a long ass break from the stressful PhD life and the massive anxiety that came with it. Luckily, I only had to work a scant two days a week, meaning I was able to do a lot of chilling in my free time. And so I did. It was great.

For most of the year I wasn’t doing a lot of productive things. Although that was amazing at first, at some point it made me feel pretty shitty. The days were passing by and I felt like hardly anything happened. For context, it’s useful to know that I have always had a lot of freedom within my job. I wasn’t expected to be in the office every day and could decide for myself when I wanted to do work. Which sounds like heaven. But I realised that all this freedom wasn’t good for me. It was time to do something again. Something new.

Things definitely picked up for me when I had more of a routine in the second half of the year. Yoga teacher training, making an effort to go to the office often, and looking for a new job gave me the energy and willpower I had lacked before. I felt useful again.

Lesson learned: as much as I value my freedom and as much as I crave a lot of downtime, I do not thrive with too much of a good thing.

5. The body knows what it is doing

In 2018 I discovered that I’m somewhat of a hypochondriac. And boy, do my anxious habits die hard. Throughout the year I’ve felt sensations in pretty much every part of my body. More than once, these sensations have caused me excessive worry. I have gone to the doctor countless times, only to be sent back home as soon as the doctor noted that I have anxiety.

I have to give it to them: most of the time not much was going on. And even in the rare case that there was something I had to pay attention to, my body usually healed itself. In all my worry, terror, and dread, I had forgotten the one single thing that people should know about their body: that is is a self-healing system.

Sure, you may catch the occasional bacteria, viruses, and infections. But if you’re a healthy person, things will sort themselves out eventually. And there is no need to meddle or intervene.

I still feel things in my body, but I also happen to be a very sensitive individual who feels everything. And, taking a very rational approach, I really am a relatively healthy person. I hardly ever get sick, have an almost perfect digestion (thank you, vegan diet) and have never broken a bone in my body. Yes, these things might change someday. But for now, it’s important for me to stop agonising and just let my body do its thing. It knows what’s up.

Life is an ongoing journey

The lessons I have learned are lessons that pretty much sum up this entire year: quitting my PhD, making new friends, chilling lots, working hard, and asking my boyfriend to Google my symptoms because I’m too anxious to do it myself. And if I have truly taken these lessons to heart, life will give me different challenges in the new year. But one of the main things I have learned in my adult life, is that life is an ongoing journey. Chances are you will probably face similar challenges. Over and over again.

And that’s okay. I have taken note of the things that came up this year and we’ll see what sticks. Next year will bring different lessons and that is exciting. And if not, I’ll just copy this blog for the new year. Also fun.

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