Goodbye holidays, hello real life

“I can’t say hello to you and risk another goodbye.”
Taylor Swift wrote that. I wish I had.
I flew back to Sydney last weekend after 2.5 weeks in New Zealand. It was a holiday full of connection, closure and rejuvenation. There were moments of peace that lifted me and moments of conflict that challenged me. Inevitably, it was a holiday full of goodbyes. Every time I return the farewells are harder. There’s more lost ground to cover and I feel the distance acutely. But I also feel closer to being me – the me that I was supposed to be all along. These things are not mutually exclusive, of course. It’s when I align my feet with old footprints that I can see how much distance I’ve covered. This has nothing to do with geography.
We’re not very good at goodbyes, as a species. 

We fear there might not be another hello. We don’t like to let go of what we have, even if it’s shit, because we’re attuned to the familiar. We recoil from new hellos because we suspect they will not be as good as the good we thought we had. We are scared of the spaces in between.
Saying goodbye creates space for new hellos. This is an act of faith, trusting that the Universe will deliver us something better. We think we know what better looks like. Nearly always, we are wrong. The Universe has a better imagination than any of us. We are slow to trust.
When I was a teenager there was a TV ad for a travel agency with a tagline that went something like this: “Holidays restore what everyday life steals from you.” Instead of feeling inspired, this ad made me feel vaguely depressed. Who on earth hates their life that much, I wondered, that the only good they can imagine is escaping it? If you think your job is taking from you more than what you’re getting (in terms of reward, satisfaction and challenge), you’re probably in the wrong job. Or perhaps you need a project to bring meaning to your evenings and weekends. If the goodbye you said to your summer self when you trudged into the office on the first working day of 2016 made you feel a sharp sense of loss, maybe you need to strive for a better hello. What would *that* look like? Your imagination might not be as good as the Universe’s, but you have magic in your fingertips and a wistful heart. You CAN conjure up something, anything, that doesn’t equate to a life that you 92 per cent hate.
Perhaps some people believe that their happiness only happens for four weeks of the year – i.e. during their annual leave – and that the remaining 92 per cent (excluding long weekends) are a murky wasteland of monotony and futility. Sure, I’d rather be doing crosswords in the hammock right now, as I was last week, a G&T within reach, than I would hunched in front of a computer with printer deadlines looming and only a mildly bitter green tea on hand, as I am right now. But our holiday selves are the evening gowns we borrow, not the pyjamas we settle in. We don’t grow and expand when our lives are on pause – the good stuff, the gritty and the pretty, happens when we hit play. Holidays are still very important, however.
If your everyday is not all you hoped it would be, what could you do to change that? And if you are not able to change it, are you willing to change the way you think about it? Letting go of what is no longer serving you is a brave and important goodbye.
The more we let go, the more room we have to grow and gain. Get ready to say hello from the other side. 

Help – I’ve forgotten how to relax!

Girl in meadow looking bored
There’s an old saying that doing nothing is never so satisfying as when there’s something else you’re supposed to be doing. These summer holidays I’ve found that to be true.
The idea of relaxing in the sun, chowing down on berries, doing crosswords and napping every afternoon seemed so appealing to me last December, as I scrambled to get my work projects completed on deadline and board that plane. My body told me in no uncertain terms that it really really really needed rest. How delicious! Except...

After Christmas, with the presents unwrapped and the family obligations wrapped, I found myself unable to switch off. I couldn’t prize my phone from my hands. I spent hours every day on my personal Instagram account, which I usually check only once a week (side note: did you know that Instagram emails you ‘what you missed’ messages if you go more than a week without checking it – needy much?!). I turned on TV, knowing there was nothing on. I kept checking my work emails.
My new books remained barely touched. I took so long cracking into crosswords that my sister jumped in and finished them for me. I took no naps.
Girl with remote on couch, looking bored

I am so used to being connected and juggling multiple tasks that I do not know how to do nothing. When you’re self-employed, work never fits within a neat nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday framework – messages that need responses can come in at any hour. But really, that’s just an excuse I make to justify my reliance on my phone. The reality is, there is no need for me to know what everyone else is doing and saying at any given moment. I am on holiday and the best use of my time right now is doing nothing, to recharge my batteries and allow my body to rest. That involves disconnecting from the outside world and being fully present where I am right now. This is something I’ve had to retrain myself to do.
I have started put my phone on the bench, instead of next to me, and only checking it when I get an SMS. I have got stuck into my novel. I even went for a walk outside. I have got my daily meditation practice, which had fallen by the wayside sometime around November, back on track. It has felt weird to do nothing, but it also felt… right.
I’ve got a lot of arse to kick in 2016. But for now, I need to rest.

It’s just a case of reminding myself how to do that… 

Things I learned about myself while travelling

Woman reading map

I’ve recently returned from a holiday overseas, which was absolutely everything I needed it to be. Not only did the trip do the world of good for my health and wellbeing, but it also gave me plenty of opportunities for self-reflection. Here is some of what came to light.

I am better at dealing with unfamiliar situations than I used to be. I remember five years ago when I was visiting Vancouver, I got hopelessly lost and became so worked up about it that I couldn’t decipher my map. Embarrassingly, I started crying. I did become lost several ttimes on this trip (it’s inevitable) and although it was frustrating I noticed it no longer sends me into panic mode. Which meant I was therefore more open to the opportunities it would open up. And that’s because…
Woman with suitcase on railway tracks
Being in another country forces you to relinquish control. If you’ve ever been to Venice, a labyrinthine city in which maps are useless, you’ll have experienced that liberation of deciding to simply go with the flow. This happens to me almost every time I travel, regardless of language or navigational difficulties. When you can’t find that Yelp-recommended restaurant and you’re so hungry you could chew your arm off, you have to go with the eatery that is right in front of you. And even though the place is empty (which might be a bad sign) and you don’t speak Korean (and Google Translate won’t work without WiFi), you have to take a punt and hope what you're eating is edible and gluten-free. It will be fine, it always is.
I am better at talking to strangers than I used to be. I will never be entirely comfortable at meeting new people, but I have noticed that over the past year I am less likely to freeze and stammer awkwardly than I used to be. This sounds like a minor thing but what it shows me is that I am more comfortable within myself than ever before.
Nice people are everywhere. They really are. Without me asking (I have never been good at asking for help), people will detect that you need assistance. I had people grab hold of one end of my suitcase when I was struggling with it on the subway stairs. People approach me and offer guidance when I was trying to work out which side of the avenue I needed to be on. People walk up to me and start chatting when they saw me drinking alone. And that was in New York – which I’d been led to believe was full of hard, aggressive people.
More than being in a new location, it’s being out of your normal routine that benefits you the most. In the absence of concerns about work, relationship conflicts, household chores and general life admin, it’s easier to be fully present in the moment. You soak in sights, smells and energies that you don’t notice in your everyday world. You’re transported back to a child-like state of wonder and life feels like an adventure again. Every day I was away felt like it lasted at least two days, and it was glorious. Of course it’s not possible for this to shape every day of your life, but I’d like to find ways to bring back more wonder into my daily life and be more cognisant of the beauty that makes up my world.
Me, Brooklyn Heights,  Manhattan behind me.
It also created space for a lot negative self-talk that’s been going on in the background to come to the fore, which has affirmed some areas I need to work on.

I am essentially a good person. I noticed that whenever customer service clerks were rude to me, which was often, I would always endeavour to counter that with an overdose of politeness. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t partially to draw attention to their rudeness. But mostly it was because I could tell they really needed someone to be nice to them. I’m being overly simplistic here because I don’t think there’s a need to dress this up: if you can spend time among rude people and not become rude yourself, you’re probably a good person.

Other people might take your holiday personally. I don’t mean that literally, as in, other people will come along for the ride, but I have found that many people processed my holiday stories and photos in relation to their own lives, even though my trip had nothing to do with anyone else. When I posted holiday photos (and I did limit them to two or three pictures a day), some people would rush in and comment how they’d already been there and seen that, as if this made them somehow superior. Some would openly say: ‘I’m so jealous!’ Which I find baffling. (If you want a holiday, why don’t you just book one? Its not like I have something you cant have.) And then when I returned, some people apparently thought I needed to be brought down a peg or two, so without me even speaking they would make smirking comments like: ‘I bet you feel like you never even left!’ and ‘you're not on holiday now!’ I’m not sure why some people are resistant to other people having a good time. People are weird.