I know a lot of people are happy to see the back of 2016. But honestly, it’s been the best year of my life.
In my mind, every year builds upon the last. So short of an unexpected tragedy or a particularly bad life decision, I don’t see any reason why the next year shouldn’t be better, fuller, more robust than the 12 months that preceded it.
I didn’t have a dictum for 2016, but in retrospect, it could have been ‘work hard, play hard’. 2015 was all about difficult decisions, downsizing and coming to grips with a new lifestyle. In 2016, I started reaping the rewards and managed to achieve a good balance between work and play – ‘work’ being volunteering, and ‘play’ being travel. Building a career while pursuing a semi-nomadic lifestyle that allows me to travel as much as possible is what currently drives all my decisions. After six months of relative uncertainty last year, 2016 showed me that the life I aspire to is well within my reach.
Apart from career and travel achievements, 2016 was important in other ways. I didn’t expect this at all, but my worldview (and especially my political outlook) has changed dramatically. I put this down to a combination of recent world events, living where I’m living, and being free from my usual influences (especially the Australian media). I’ve also pursued a conscious process of testing my beliefs and challenging my values. I’ve done a 180 on some issues while other things have become more clear and concrete as I’ve learned to look deeper and consider the ‘why’, which always means examining the alternative argument, however difficult that might be. Ross and I have been on this journey together, and I have him to thank for pushing me in new directions.
Cambodia has had a huge impact on me, and I’m just now realising that I will probably have a relationship with this country for the rest of my life. Travel opens the world up, but living in a foreign country for an extended period forces you to go deep. There are things I will never understand about Cambodia, its culture or its people. Recognising that – and being the odd one out all the time – has been a humbling experience.
All in all, 2016 has been a great year in itself, and an awesome set-up for 2017. I have high expectations for the next 12 months!
Reflection and goal setting
Last December I attempted Chris Guillebeau’s ‘Annual Review’ for the first time. I didn’t complete the template, but I did set down a basic framework for what I wanted my 2016 to look like. Returning to the document today, I realised that I didn’t reach any of the goals I set out to. This is kind of surprising. Like I said, I had a positive, fulfilling 2016 – yet I didn’t actually achieve anything?
I have big, crazy, long-term goals for the next five to 10 years, and I have small, incremental goals for the next month or so (aka, lots of to-do lists). I’m not so good at the mid-sized goals that bridge what I’m doing today with what I want for the future.
This year I’ve noticed some resistance to the process of goal setting. Since the Annual Review didn’t really work for me, in 2017 I’m focusing on good habits, clear intentions and systems that will hopefully improve my everyday quality of life while guiding me gently in the general direction of my loftier ambitions. I’m not setting up goal posts for the new year, but I’m placing a few slalom poles; something to guide me as I rocket down the slippery slope that will be 2017.
The Rosebud Method
For the sake of this exercise, I’m trying the ‘Rosebud Method’ developed by Jason and Travis of Location Indie. I like this technique because it’s a lot shorter and more focused, with less emphasis on goals and more of a holistic approach that considers the past, present and future. It has three components: Roses (big achievements from the previous year), thorns (things that fell short of your expectations), and buds, the things you want to cultivate and develop in the new year. I have three of each.
Rose #1 – Work
My biggest achievement by far this year was work-related. I technically got my current position at the end of last year – the result of a long, stressful application process. Well, it turns out that was the easy part. Without going into too much detail, work has been hugely challenging, but also very rewarding. Importantly, I’m now part of the volunteer program I always wanted to join (one of my major goals to achieve before turning 30), and I know that being inside the system will open up a lot of future opportunities.
Rose #2 – Travel
Being settled in Phnom Penh with responsibilities at work is a departure from the nomadic lifestyle I started building in 2015, but financial stability and the opportunity to get to know Cambodia on a deeper level has been worth the sacrifice.
Travel was still a major priority for me this year, and we managed to squeeze a lot in. Our biggest trip was a 10-day driving holiday around Oman. Not only was it our first time in Oman, it was also our first time in the Middle East. I loved it.
We started 2015 in Penang – a place I didn’t exactly fall in love with – but we decided to give Malaysia another try when we visited Borneo and KL for my birthday this year. All I can say about that is, I want to move to Kuching! Our third overseas trip was a five-day jaunt in Bangkok, which has confirmed its place as one of my favourite cities in the world.
My biggest travel achievement was travelling the length and breadth of Cambodia. We visited 12 provinces in total. A highlight was my dad’s visit to Phnom Penh and the weekend trip we took together to Kratie.
Rose #3 – Blogging
Another huge achievement has been maintaining this blog. I’ve grown my readership quite considerably thanks to a few popular posts; but more importantly, I’ve kept up my motivation to keep writing. I have no desire to be a full-time blogger or a full-time travel writer, so for me, blogging is a passion project.
But I’m facing something of a conundrum. The posts I most enjoy putting together (usually about textiles or some cultural experience) apparently aren’t the posts people enjoy reading. So I have a decision to make: Keep writing about the things I love and sacrifice readership, or write more strategic posts about topics I’m not necessarily passionate about. I’m planning to think and write more about this – and do a bit of a blog re-launch – in the coming months.
Thorn #1 – Exercise
During our last few months in Chiang Mai, Ross and I got involved with Crossfit. I loved it. When we arrived in Phnom Penh, I enthusiastically enrolled at Crossfit at a gym a few blocks from our apartment. I attended my first class one morning before work and when I got home afterwards, I burst into tears. Nothing particular had happened to upset me; but it was another sharp reminder that we weren’t in Chiang Mai anymore, and things would never be quite the same again.
I abandoned Crossfit and joined Ross’ boxing gym – but I never really got into it. In fact, I dreaded going. After 10 months of this, I decided to stop forcing myself to go. I haven’t found an alternative, which means zero exercise for me – apart from the 8kms of commuter bike riding I do daily.
Thorn #2 – Mental overloading
I have a lot of different interests and a lot of different skills – and I love getting involved in different projects, working on multiple things at once. But this year, I’ve taken on too much. Worse, my motivation for getting involved with new things is now coming less from a place of passion and interest, and more from a fear of missing out or being left behind. This is turning out to be toxic.
My approach of reaching out to people blindly has opened up some incredible opportunities for me, but now that I have a clearer idea of what I want to do with my life, it’s time to tune it down. I need to focus on what’s already on my plate and stop trying to pile it higher. I need to reduce and refine. Less is more. Applying this to my possessions is probably the single most valuable thing I did last year. Now it’s time to apply that philosophy to my work.
Thorn #3 – Language
I’m really disappointed with myself for not learning more Khmer. It’s not unusual – I have friends who have lived and worked here for two years, five years, eight years and still can’t converse – but that’s no excuse. Learning conversational Khmer was a personal goal for me, and I started the week I found out we were moving to Cambodia. But that’s where it ended. Sad, I know.
As well as general laziness and a lack of time, there was another factor at play. Not long after we arrived in Phnom Penh, I was already planning what we would do when we left. I knew I would only be here for 12 months and I lost all incentive to learn the language. I couldn’t convince myself that it was worth the effort. This attitude and my reflex to look forward instead of living in the moment is something I need to work on in 2017.
Bud #1 – Living in the moment
…This has always been a challenge for me. In 2017 I want to build confidence and trust in my own abilities to reduce my anxiety about future events. I want to incorporate more of the things that make me happy into my daily life –writing, reading, music, and dancing – without feeling guilty about wasting time. I want to practice meditation and gratitude, and I want to slow down and smell those roses.
In stressful situations, Ross tells me I go from zero to 11. In truth, I probably go from eight to 11 – because I’m always at eight. I find it hard to de-stress and relax, and that’s something I need to work on.
Bud #2 – Making my body work for me
Something else I have never paid much attention to is my physical health. I’m lucky that I have very few health complaints, but stress migraines have been a problem for me in 2016. I can recall many days this year when my body stopped me from doing something I wanted to do. That’s a problem. This year, I want to take control of my body and make it work better for me.
Bud #3 – Photography
This bud is a bit more specific. Photography is something I’m really passionate about and I’ve grown to love it almost as much as writing. I’m not sure where it could take me, but in 2017 I want to focus on improving my photography skills.
What’s in store for 2017?
I’ll be ringing in 2017 in Phnom Penh. Ross is in Vietnam for another fortnight, and when he gets home, we start the one-month countdown to our departure from Cambodia. We have a few more weekend trips to take, lots more to do in the city, and for me, a few more goals to kick at work.
February 17 is my last day in the office and three days later, we fly back to Brisbane for a 10-day visit. We will both stay with our families and take the opportunity to catch up with friends – including two new humans we haven’t yet met. We’ll do some life administration and swap our summer clothes for winter woollies.
On March 2, we fly to Singapore, Istanbul, then our final destination: Tbilisi, Georgia. We’ve been dreaming of this trip for at least six months and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am. We have an Airbnb apartment booked for our first month, and we’ll use that time to acclimatise and explore the city. Long mornings at cute cafes will feature prominently on our itinerary as I plan to get stuck into some freelance work. I have an exciting project lined up for the new year, and I look forward to picking up where I left off in 2015 and pursuing other contracts. I also have plans to do an online course in copywriting, and Ross is considering an online diploma.
Our return flight to Brisbane is booked for the end of May, which means we have eight more weeks to explore the region. We’ll probably do another long stay in Tbilisi, but we also want to travel around Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
By the time we leave Georgia, we will know what comes next. But right now I’m not sure. I want to pursue another contract through my current employer, which means spending the last six months of 2017 somewhere in the Asia Pacific. I’d love to live in Vietnam, Mongolia, Bali, or maybe even Vanuatu. But I have to be patient and see what opportunities come up.
My aunt and uncle are spending the year in Japan, and we have an open invitation to stay with them, probably in Hokkaido in August. In November, we hope to travel to New Delhi for the WFTO Annual Conference. We had such a ball meeting everyone this year in Bangkok, we want to volunteer again and catch up with our new friends. We could also visit Ross’ friend who’s living in Bangalore, or another friend who’s working as a tour guide in North Korea. I have a strong desire to return to Chiang Mai, and Bali, Sri Lanka and Taiwan are three destinations at the top of my wish list for 2017.
Wherever we end up this year, I will certainly keep creating content for this blog. I look forward to sharing more stories and photographs with you in 2017!