I still struggle to define how bad or good 2019 was. It was a very challenging year full of uneasy and disappointing moments but also, I won’t lie, – I was quite happy throughout it and gathered a great amount of fantastic memories and joyful bits. As everything in life, it is not just black and white 😊
2019 started as a hangover from 2018. Last year was so insane, full of new experiences and crazy adventures; by the end of it, my head was spinning. As any proper party which lasts till 4 AM – you don’t want it to stop but your feet are covered in blisters, stomach doesn’t feel too well, and you surely know you will regret your choices in the morning. The beginning of 2019 was my 2018’s next morning.
My energy levels were down, my resource was completely exhausted. Good holiday break which I spent in Thailand and Russia made the matter even worse, if that’s possible. After a long-needed period of winding down, I had to come back to a very stressful and draining environment while not being fully restored yet but with a fresh sensation of how amazing doing nothing can be.
In February I had 3 business trips / long meetings with a wider team all in the same space. I’m a lucky girl as I absolutely love and adore people I work with, I’m always excited to see them and never miss an opportunity to catch up as usually we all sit in different parts of the world. So, don’t get me wrong – I always look forward to big get-togethers when we all end up in the same space.
But this intense February was the worst month out of the whole year. At the time I couldn’t figure out what was going on – I cried a bunch, didn’t want to go to work, felt like I lost the spark of interest towards what I was doing, I was defensive, easily irritated and very tired. Now looking back, I realized something which I always knew but never truly understood the extension and gravity of it.
Ever since I studied Psychology at the university, I knew that I’m an introvert. People usually laugh when I say that about myself as my behavior is very sociable. I’m talkative, quite loud and overall full of life; I easily establish connections with people, can keep up with almost any small talk and deal well with groups, presenting and entertaining people with stories and jokes, and will almost never skip a good party. Any profiling test will define me as an extrovert.
Truth is – all of it doesn’t give me energy. It drains the hell out of me. I can charge people with enthusiasm, I can share energy with others but all of that I’m doing at the expense of myself. I don’t get energy from people, big social gatherings of any kind leave me completely exhausted, parties make amazing memories but recovery from them takes a long time.
My social behavior is a learned thing, something I adopted at a very young age as you need it to succeed in many areas of life (or at least it works well for me). But it comes at a cost. When my resource is on a lower side, being in a big group becomes a very tough experience. It is true for many introverted people but as I have a very sociable persona for the outer world, it requires even more energy to keep that up and not just stay in the corner.
I need a lot of personal time, I need to have space to cocoon myself in vacuum, to unwind, restore and reflect. Usually, one business trip comes with a weekend afterward and then a couple of weeks of just stable working rhythm. On those weekends, I never plan anything except for staying at home and doing some yoga/nails/therapy. Surely no social occasions. If that pattern is getting disrupted – I’m screwed, and long-term effects can be drastic.
Also, it may sound weird, but I love to do nothing and just think my thoughts. Feel my feelings. Reflect on things, process them. All people do that, I’m sure, but if I don’t have enough space for my inner processes – I start to feel suffocated and become a miserable anxious mess. Together with some other things, this happened in February and ended up being the darkest period of this year.
All of that somehow made the topic of self-care much more important than it has ever been. Self-care in the most routine, tedious sense of it. Often when people talk about self-care it mostly consists of nice moments of indulgence: eating ice cream, taking a bath with candles, going to SPA and drinking a nice glass of wine while seating on the couch in your PJs. While all of it is good ways to deal with stress, it didn’t quite do the trick for me. I read somewhere that self-care is something that refuels you, rather than takes from you, it is knowing what you need to do to take care of yourself to then be able to take care of others. And that’s how I see it as well.
Self-care for me should start from the place of ultimate positivity. Somehow when it comes to nutritional choices, physical well being and other things related to what you need to do to feel good, majority of motivational impulses in our society come from very negative space, from almost punishment-like restrictions and often fueled by hate (e.g. towards one’s appearance, weight or weakness) or fear of consequences rather than by love and care.
In May I decided to start to approach differently my diet. I haven’t put any restrictions apart from not drinking Coca-Cola and Red Bull I identified as choices that are not making me feel good in a long-term (while bringing ice-cream-type of indulging feeling in the moment). For the rest of my nutritional choices, I just decided to be mindful about what I eat & drink, why and when.
Walk more. Exercise. Wash your face. Don’t forget to floss. Get enough sleep. Clean your space. Drink more water. Eat clean and healthy to fuel your body. Don’t check e-mails on the weekend. Put healthy boundaries in your relationships – with people, with work, with the world. Create enough space for yourself to restore. Take yourself out of toxic situations.
We all know all of that. We hear it all the time.
What I constantly tend to underestimate is how much resource I need for this. It all sounds simple, but it is not. It takes so much effort to keep up the routine and make healthy choices! Even small things that always bring me joy I tend to skip the moment I get overwhelmed with life. This whole idea of self-care goes out of the window when I hit an overly stressful period – I always manage to get things done, to hit the deadlines, to not let anybody down. But by doing so I usually let down myself.
Accepting that self-care routine I need to plan, that I need to remember about it and spend this resource to establish it properly and keep it up helped me to bring me forward on this journey. I still feel disappointment and annoyance at myself every time I slip and break it in favor of circumstances but at least I know now some things which work me. For example, I never do work or unpleasant errands on Saturdays. It’s a sacred day of joyful activities or me being in a ‘sleeping coma’. A couple of years ago I would say that a day which was spent in bed is a ‘wasted time’ and ‘not productive’ but now I know that sometimes the most productive thing you can do for yourself is to do nothing.
Routine is great but it helps to maintain the level of energy and restore it a bit but not to boost it. I’m still on a hunt of what will truly fill me with energy apart from quality time with my husband, tons of sleep, and nice relaxing traveling somewhere far away from the people. This summer we spent two weeks in Scotland driving around empty Highlands, hanging out with alpacas, horses, reindeers, rabbits, and guinea pigs, listening to our favorite music, talking to each other and enjoying fresh air, emptiness of our surroundings and slow pace. That was phenomenal. Considering that all our travels are usually crazy packed with new impressions, changing places every day, and desire to see more and do more, that was a very unusual but very satisfying experience.
Overall, I realized that the greatest source of energy from within I can unlock is doing activities which a kid in me would enjoy. Watching animated movies. Playing computer games (Overcooked 2 brought so much joy to me and so much stress to my poor husband!). Going to water parks or other thrilling places. Listening to favorite music on constant repeat. Singing on the top of your lungs and dancing like nobody is watching (even though I’m not any good in either!).
Another big thing which I re-established in my mind this year is my love for musical theatre. It’s a format that a lot of my friends struggle with. I’m not sure why but breaking into song and dance on the highest and lowest emotional points of the plot somehow doesn’t seem to be a comfortable and enjoyable way of expression for many people but I LIVE FOR IT. I loved the TV show Glee, still believe that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the best show ever made, often listen to the soundtrack of The Greatest Showman and can’t wait for In the Heights to hit theaters.
This year, I realized my long-time dream and went to see my first Broadway show while I was in NYC – Tootsie. Then I saw Chicago (left in the intermission as it was horrible). We flew to the UK to see a couple of West End shows and Hamilton was absolute and ultimate highlight of it. I’d wanted to know what the hype is all about for 3.5 years (ever since it premiered on Broadway) and now I’m borderline obsessed and would go to see it again in a heartbeat. Also, we went to see lighthearted & uplifting Everybody is Talking About Jamie and enjoyed the sarcastic Book of Mormon in Amsterdam with our friends.
Same weekend I saw Hamilton in London, I also got to see Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s creator and main lead Rachel Bloom together with a couple of her co-stars in concert and in person and it was as mind-blowing as it gets. I’m not going to rave about it here anymore but just trust me that this was the most outstanding weekend of the year or maybe even the whole decade!
In 2019 I had 39 flights. I visited 8 countries excluding Russia and the Netherlands (US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, UAE, Croatia, Thailand). 21 flights out of these were for personal and not business reasons so vs 2018 it became a winning balance!
This year wasn’t full of new beginnings. It was mostly a continuation of things that started in 2018 as it was all about new beginnings. 2019 was a year of patience, of trying to be firm about what I want and need my pathway to be. Of trying to plan ahead and deal with uncertainty of all potential changes without an opportunity to actually have anything planned. I always look at obstacles I’m facing in 2 different ways – do I face them to be provoked to find a way to deal with them and push a bit harder to make sure I want what I ask for OR the universe just shows me that I need to stop butting my head against the wall and find another path. I wish I knew which one of these ways of thinking to apply to the experience of this year but, I guess, we shall see.
My company launched an internal RB focused campaign called #FreedomToSucceed and the more I see it around the office or RB social media platforms, the more I think that what I really wish is to have an internal freedom to fail.
I know that is coming from the place of extreme privilege as, in fact, I had the freedom to succeed and build myself in a way I did – thanks to my upbringing, parents, and different opportunities, I had along the way. What I’m trying to say is that ‘failure is not an option’ and constant pressure to be the best, to rise to the top, to outperform, overachieve, and get what is a universal idea of success is not leaving me too much space to breathe. To try and fail. To learn from your mistakes and find out what works for you and what doesn’t.
My dad to this day tells me when I leave my parents’ home – ‘Be a good girl. Behave. Get straight “A”s’ (In Russian it sounds more authentic and smooth 😊). Last time I was getting academic grades was almost 8 years ago but as he was saying this every morning for 15 years when I was leaving for school & university, it is hard to get out of habit, I guess. He obviously means well and it’s quite understandable and common message from a parent to a kid, even when a kid is almost 30 years old.
I remember the first time I got a C+ in a term for ‘Russian language’ in the 7th grade (it was my first mark below B in a term and all the rest were straight A’s). Apart from the fact it was an unfair grade (teacher calculated absolute average of all grades within the term and it was 3.66 out of 5.00 which I still think should be considered B- based both on Math and common sense 😊) I vividly remember how I was feeling. I felt as if the world was ending. I felt like the absolute definition of a failure like I let my parents down and can never recover from that. I was crying the whole commute from school and by the time I got home my mom was terrified that something utterly horrible happened to me. She couldn’t even imagine that a grade in school would make me this inconsolable.
Granted, I was a kid. But I’d lie if I said that I never felt like this again when external measurements mismatched with my idea of what I should strive to be and how I should perform. This soul-crushing, deeply destroying feeling of not meeting expectations, of not excelling, of not being the best they want you to be or just simply good enough is something I know all too well.
Fear of feeling this again is what usually pushes me to my limits when I feel like I have nothing left to give, what drives me forward no matter what, what squeezes every bit of my soul into everything I do. What usually makes me leverage this freedom to succeed they talk about and rise to the top.
This year I worked a lot on how to be brave. Brave to suck at something new. Brave to not strive to be the best at everything and just focus on process and/or progress. Brave to deal with my own limitations. Brave to choose not to give my all and leave something for myself.
It’s a journey. I still collapse sometimes and feel like utter failure but what I’m proud of is how fast I’m bouncing back from it and recover my sense of self-worth – something which would take months in the past now usually happen in 1-2 days. And it is a progress well worth celebrating!
This year I started to learn again how to drive a car – something completely out of my comfort zone. It requires different learning approach vs my academic years and my job, different skill set and I’m pretty sure it uses parts of my brain which I usually prefer not to rely on (like spatial thinking, constant alertness, etc.). The majority of adult people is excelling at it, but I never really needed it.
The first time I tried to learn how to drive it was quite clear – I won’t be the best or maybe even truly decent at it. Practice makes perfect as they all say but I have a gut feeling that while I’m sure I’ll be able to do it skillfully I will never truly enjoy it. It is not my area of excellence and strength. And that’s okay. You can’t always be the best.
Brainpower. Hard work. Practice. Dedication. Perseverance. Resilience. All these components of getting excellent results and objective achievement are well-known and highly praised. This way of approaching everything works great for me in a professional area. But somehow for years now I struggle with other areas.
I wanted to develop some Arts & Crafts hobbies. To paint in watercolors. To do calligraphy. To tap dance! I’m objectively very-very bad at it. I was never a creative kid, I never had a ‘talent’ for arts & crafts. My mind and my body are not that well connected which affects my ability to do things with my hands, and the left hemisphere of my brain is so obviously dominant it is not even funny.
Granted, with all the things listed above I’d achieve some results. Hard work, practice, and perseverance triumph over a lot of obstacles, even sometimes the lack of talent. But as I’m a prisoner of overachieving and excellency and always judge my work based on results and not the process, this doesn’t quite work here as I will never be satisfied with myself. At the end of the day, it is not a job but a hobby.
More than anything, I want to learn how not to focus on objective achievements, not to set smart goals, not to be in a mental prison of results and allow myself to suck at something new without underlying desire to progress… but just to enjoy the process and see where it goes.
Enjoy learning something new. Enjoy not being the best in what I do.
And have the freedom to fail. And try again.