One Year Later.

A year ago, I flew to Vienna.

It was the beginning of a great experiment: to see if I could sustain myself through freelance copywriting while living for two months in Europe. It worked, mostly. I made enough to keep going, but not enough to do so indefinitely. I wanted to bring my German back up to the proficiency level I’d achieved during the year I spent as an au pair after high school, and it certainly improved but not as much as I wanted. I traveled more than I expected, but was less productive than I imagined I would be. (I blame my imagination for that.)

Nevertheless, a lot of that trip went super well. I had a friend living with me my first month, which probably helped to get me up in the morning and kept me motivated to work through the day. It was summer, which left plenty of daylight in the evening for me to wander around and enjoy the city after work finished. I knew the language and had a good reference point for the culture, so a lot of the experience felt familiar and comforting. The entire trip left me full of inspiration and a sense of possibility. I came home bursting with ideas and motivation.

Most of that didn’t pan out. But more of it has than I give myself credit for. From June 1st, 2016 to June 1st, today, it’s been an intense year. I spent four months of it living abroad, I learned new career skills, I met some great people, pushed my boundaries, regretted pushing my boundaries, learned some really useful things about the boundaries that I pushed and later regretted pushing, changed my mind about some things, disassembled some of my Islands of Personality and started reconstructing them, found focus, lost focus, re-found focus. All-in-all, a bit of a rollercoaster for someone who doesn’t really like rollercoasters.

But I’m glad the whole thing started from Vienna. When I think back, I feel grateful for the sunshine in the park, for the waiters who left me be while I wrote, for the long walks at night, for the vaulted ceilings and marble tables and coffee served on silver trays, and for the pianist playing Für Elise while I nursed an Aperol spritz and listened. I wrote when I left that I could see myself going back one day. I still think that ways sometimes, much to my surprise. Whether it’s nostalgia or the beginning of something bigger, I don’t know.

Maybe I’ll know more this time next year.

 

Keep on keeping on.

Well that was short-lived.

I’ve given up on the whole night owl thing. It’s impossible, and it makes me miserable. I like seeing the city by daylight, but seeing as it’s still winter here, the sun sets about 7pm, which isn’t horribly early, but it’s still before I’m done with work. So I feel like I’m not getting to see the city as much as I’d like, except when it’s already dark. On the other hand, it made me feel for all those night owl folk who have to live according to early bird schedules. The good news is, I have a solution for you guys: move to Europe, but work for Americans.

Actually, I’ve discovered the hardest part of this particular working abroad experience has to do with syncing my schedule to my colleagues back home. I don’t intend to. I keep meaning to get up early, start my day at a reasonable time, and get several hours of work in before my stateside coworkers are out of bed. But instead, I keep putting off the start of my work day. No one’s asking for anything yet, so I may as well slip in a bit more reading, right?

Only slipping into this habit means I don’t start work till early afternoon, and then to get in a full day I’m working well into the evening. And after 9 or 10:00, I’m too tired to study Spanish. Which means that if it didn’t happen in the morning, it won’t happen at all. And most days, I’m not up to blogging, either, or anything but talking, or reading, or Netflix.

All this to say that: 3 weeks in to being in Madrid, I’ve spent 1 week jet lagged, 1 week reasonably productive, and 1 week crashing and burning. I feel like I should disclose this because I saw something on social media today talking about how easy it is to make life seem awesome when sometimes it’s not all as awesome as it seems. And there’s a lot of pressure, weirdly, to make working abroad in Spain for a couple months seem like the absolute dream.

And it is! Don’t get me wrong. I am super happy to have worked out a way to live my life this way. And I feel like I’m whining when I say but this is HARD, you guys! Like somehow admitting that while in the middle of this cool thing means I’m unable to appreciate the joys of life.

But it’s also the truth. I had a bad week last week, simply as a result of being massively underproductive. This week has been a slow but steady recovery. It’s hard not to panic a little when I spent time earlier this week booking various weekend trips and realized that I only have two more weekends left in Madrid. The time! It flies! What if I don’t make the most of it!

Well, for starters, I’m pretty sure the time is flying by because I actually have made good use of quite a bit of it: I spent a weekend in New York, checked out the Prado, popped over to Toledo for a weekend, and have generally done a good job getting used to the everyday life of living here. I’m getting better at ordering food in restaurants, and I’ve even found a few places that I would like to go back to and settle into for a while.

So things don’t go perfectly. And because of all the expectations, the bumps in the road jolt more than otherwise. But you recover, and you do your morning exercise, and you read your book, and you take your walk, and you work your full day, and you write your blog. And after all that doing, you realize you actually are accomplishing the things you set out to do.

I’d like to think I’m getting better at balancing, as well. That I work to get all my things done in a day, but when I get to the end and I realize I’m not going to make it through all of them, I accept it. “I’ll do it tomorrow” isn’t always procrastination. Not if tomorrow comes, and you get up and do that thing.

Not every day is going to be a perfect, 5-star day of productivity. I won’t get in Spanish practice today. I’ve only put in 8,000 steps. And neither of those will change, because it’s nearly 11:00, and if I don’t settle down with a book I won’t get the sleep I need to be productive tomorrow.

But today was really good. And even though I didn’t get everything in, it’s helping me get back on track. I’ll do those other things tomorrow, and it will be good.

Until then, goodnight.

Perseverance in the face of mild inconvenience.

This is the story of a mild setback.

Or really, a week of mild setbacks, each of them so inconsequential that to share them all in turn would be unutterably dull.

But in spite of how small and stupid they are, they add up. We all know this. We all have bad days and bad weeks where everything makes us glum and irascible, and because we know we’re out of sorts we feel intensely guilty about almost every interaction we have with the people around us, and that makes us feel unpleasant to be around, so we avoid people and end up more glum than before. And because we feel that way, doing the good things we intended to do that day or that week feel somehow insurmountable, which makes us especially less likely to do them, and then the bad feeling of having been lazy and lethargic makes us even more pissy, and the whole thing turns into this massive downward spiral from which usually the only escape is talking some hard sense into yourself about how you’re letting dumb things make you depressed, which is in truth only partially successful and only in the short term, because the reality is that a significant portion of these small things are important, even when they are little, and by dismissing them and beating yourself up about how “dumb” and “stupid” you’re being rather than addressing it, you’re actually letting that little thing fester and infect otherwise healthy areas of your life.

I’m trying to work on this, but the truth is that only perfect people never suffer from this problem. Which, at the same time, isn’t to say I’m helpless or without choice in these scenarios. Instead, I’d like to become better at recognizing the spiral early, of short-circuiting the gloom not by dismissing it or shoving it aside, but by confronting it head-on.

I’m writing this at the train station in Madrid. I came here this morning to make a day trip to Toledo, which is only about a half-hour away. I was tired this morning, as I have been all week, so I got out the door late and missed the train I’d meant to take. They leave every hour, so I simply bought the next available ticket and went to grab a coffee. It wasn’t till I’d gone through security and went to board the train that I realized the ticket I’d bought wasn’t for yet another hour: the current train had already been sold out when I’d purchased my ticket.

Unlike many other train stations, the one here in Madrid doesn’t feel very welcoming. The outside is nice, but the inside feels more like an airport, with a security check point, and check-in desks, and little departure screens that you have to keep in sight as you wait for them to finally announce your platform number. If I could pick a place to spend an hour, I’d much rather do so outside, where the weather is fine and the city beautiful. But now that I’ve gone through security I feel I can’t leave.

I went back to the waiting area and sat down. The bright green linoleum irritated me. I wanted to be sure of my departure platform, so that I could stay close to it, but it hadn’t been announced. I wanted to relax, but everything was just so slightly off that I couldn’t. Gloom. Doom.

I checked Facebook: a post of mine from a year ago popped up. I had written:

I had a moment this evening where I thought “I could do that aspirational thing that will make me happy in the long run.

But I bet I could also find a way to waste time on the Internet.”

I succeeded.

Guess I’ll have to live with that for today.

I have choices. Sometimes I make the ones I’m not proud of.

Environment is important. It does impact your mood, your ability to concentrate, your productivity. It’s also true that an increased sense of anxiety impairs your memory, making it more difficult to recall information and to retain whatever it is you’re studying. It’s why I rarely work when I travel.

Those factors are real, but at the end of the day, making the most of your situation means finding a way to deal with them. Today, my solution was to write this blog.

There is no lesson here—or at least not one I’ve learned. Bad feelings are hard to shake, and I will still have days when I can’t focus, when I’m tired, when some minor problem is nagging at the back of my mind, when I make the choice I’m not proud of.

And I’ll likely still feel guilty for allowing these things to throw me off when so many other people struggle with much greater problems and somehow still keep going. This is just a small reminder that even when you can’t control everything, you don’t have to be helpless.

And things do turn around, sometimes quite quickly. I made a choice I’m proud of today. And I’m in Spain, on a train bound for Toledo.

It’s a fine day. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.

I’m going to Madrid.

Last summer, I spent a couple months in Vienna.

I’d always wanted to try traveling and working abroad, and after looking in to a few options, I realized it was way more doable than I’d previously imagined. I booked a flat off AirBnB, bought a plane ticket, and headed to Europe for two months of work-travel.

Not gonna lie: it was pretty excellent.

A few weeks in, I started planning my next trip. Well, “planning” is the wrong word. I knew where I wanted to go, and I knew I didn’t have much actual planning to do yet. So really, I began to mentally prepare myself for my next trip. Shortly after that, I started telling people about my plan, just to get it out there in the open. I notice that when I don’t say things out loud, I tend not to follow through on them.

This week, I finally made the commitment. After a few days of browsing apartments, and then a few more days of flipping between my top picks in my browser tabs, and then making an ordered list of the top three I wanted to go for, and then waiting at least another twenty-four hours out of sheer anxiety, I sent in my request.

The last time I did this, I swear I applied three or four places to people who kept coming back to tell me that they’d forgotten to update their listing. This time, the owner got back it me in less than three hours.

So, that’s that.

If you’re looking for me about February and March, I’ll be in Madrid.

I’ll let you know how it goes.