I know from personal experience how easy it is to overlook positive moments.
Before I forced myself to think about the good things that happened in 2013, I thought that I was a total failure, and accordingly, I was doing a good job of beating myself up. All I could think about were the areas of disappointment.
However, when I finally sat down and reflected on EVERYTHING, I started to realize that 2013 was an amazing year. It was a year that I will never forget where I experienced some great moments and learned a lot about myself.
My Biggest Accomplishments
Leaving My Job
Not an accomplishment in the traditional sense, but for me, it was a big deal. For 5 years, I was required to stay at my job by a contract to the Navy, even though I knew it wasn’t the right job for me. The end of my contract was a fork in the road: was I going to waste away, doing something I didn’t believe in, in return for material success, or was I going to throw it away, start fresh, follow my dreams, and look for deeper meaning in life?
While I might be exaggerating the actual gravity of the decision, to me, it felt like everything. Deciding to leave was a statement about the direction my life would take and an emphatic victory over my fears and doubts. I chose to trust in myself and blaze my own trail, and for that I’m thankful because in just 7 months, I’ve grown more as a person and learned more about myself than I would have in 10 years at that job.
So yeah, it’s not an accomplishment in the traditional sense, but turning your back on a six figure job and guaranteed life of comfort is not an easy thing to do, and I’m proud that I was able to do it.
Success With Airbnb/Investing
I left my job without a plan for making money and no intention on getting a job. I was expecting to live off my savings, at least in the short term. I’d saved up enough money while working that I was okay with that.
However, resourcefulness and good fortune kicked in, and I was able to pay for my living expenses and actually save money, without having a job for the past 7 months. I feel incredibly fortunate. I worked hard to put myself in this position, but I also recognize how lucky I am to be here.
So how did I make the money to support myself? Well, it was a variety of things. I made several hundred dollars from various online projects. I did some tutoring on instaedu.com. I rented out our spare bedroom as a vacation rental on Airbnb. Michelle sold her artwork on etsy.com. I sold a lot of my old books, furniture, and other possessions that I really didn’t need. And finally, I did a combination of investing in the stock market and speculating on bitcoin. You can read more about how I made money without a job here.
Foundations in Spanish
Of all the interests I pursued this year, Spanish is the one that stuck the most. I think it had to do with the fact that, for the first time in my life, I was in a position to benefit from learning a second language. We are about to enter a world that exists in Spanish and I have a deep desire to be a part of that world for the next year and to be able to effectively communicate with the people in the countries we’ll be visiting. That desire has helped me stay motivated and dedicated, even when it feels like I’m beating my head off a wall.
Over the past 3 months, each day, I’ve spent anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours studying Spanish. While I still don’t speak good Spanish at a conversational speed, I understand the language enough and have developed a good enough vocabulary, such that, given enough time, I can communicate most messages. My biggest challenge when I get to Latin America is going to be taking all this latent knowledge and transforming it into knowledge that I can recall and use fast enough to be conversational.
What I have noticed is that after a certain point of understanding, my progress has slowed significantly. I think that’s because I’m not forced to actually use the language on a regular basis outside of studying and communicating with my language buddy. I’m excited to challenge myself beyond this point and become comfortable with using the language. Either way, I’m glad that I put in the hours of study and I know that it will pay off when I get to Latin America and can immerse myself in the language.
Starting This Blog
Starting this blog was another symbolic victory for me, much like leaving my job. I’ve always wanted to start a blog, but the idea of opening myself up to the world has been intimidating. I think it’s hard because sharing your ideas and personal struggles makes you vulnerable, and being vulnerable is scary because it’s a lot easier to get hurt.
The problem is compounded because it’s impossible for me to fully represent myself on this blog. I hold so many beliefs on different issues, many of which are extremely important, that I just don’t have the time to share here. Also, certain issues are so complex, that I always worry about being misunderstood. These problems are especially true when you are getting started because your first post is your ONLY post. It’s the only representation of you for people visiting your site. The third post is 33%! Still huge. Thankfully though, the more you write, the more you share, the more you open yourself up to others, the more they will understand you, and each additional post becomes less defining, less daunting.
I’m glad I’ve been able to begin to overcome this fear, and I’m glad I’ve started to share with the world. It’s help me to learn more about myself, and it’s allowed me to connect with quite a few like-minded people and help a few of those people out with their own problems. I hope to continue to share my journey on this blog and connect with even more people. If you are out there and interested in what I’m doing, don’t hesitate to reach out. It will make my day.
Wilmington was a transitionary period in my life as I moved from being someone with an established residence and rooms full of stuff to someone who lives out of a backpack and whose home was the road. To most people, the idea of being nomadic is unappealing, maybe even scary. But to me, it’s a dream to have simplified my life and created the freedom I needed to be able to explore this great planet and all the wonders, beauty, nature, culture, history, and people it contains.
Becoming nomadic was not easy. To become nomadic, you have to find a place for all of your stuff. I was never a packrat, but over the years the stuff piles up without even realizing it’s happening. We moved to Wilmington in April with a 17 foot U-Haul packed to the brim, several thousand pounds of matter, enough stuff to fill a 1100 square-foot apartment. We left Wilmington in December with about a carload of stuff worth keeping and another car full of art supplies and inventory for Michelle’s Etsy store. Needless to say, we had to get rid of a lot of stuff.
At this point, you may wonder why we didn’t just put our stuff in storage. There are a few reasons. First, most of our stuff wasn’t very valuable (second-hand furniture), so it wasn’t worth the cost of storage and the eventual cost to move it where-ever we decide to live. Second, we had a lot of excess stuff and wanted to create a clean slate for ourselves. The process of getting rid of stuff allowed us to see what was necessary and simplify accordingly.
The key difficulty was not getting rid of the stuff. We could have put everything in a dumpster in one afternoon and been done with it. The challenge was finding a home for everything and reducing the amount of waste. Just because we wanted to get rid of our stuff doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value or that we were okay with wasting it.
High value items, we sold. Things like TVs, furniture, books, and appliances. When the dust settled, we probably sold 50-60 items through craigslist, amazon, and ebay, and pulled in about $2500 for our efforts. While that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, you must also keep in mind that every piece of furniture we owned was second-hand and well-used, and that the books we sold were ones that collected dust for years. All told, I was happy with the money we made.
Everything else was donated. Most of our excess clothes we took to a Goodwill/Salvation Army equivalent, and our furniture and household goods were donated to Habitat For Humanity.
The process was a learning experience that I’d like to talk more about in the future. I learned more about what’s necessary and what’s not, and I realize that in many ways, we’d be better off if we focused on simplicity and function, and gave up the accumulation of new and improved material goods just for the sake of accumulation.
Learning To Slow Down and Appreciate Life
I don’t fully understand how it happened, but my eyes have been opened and I see the world around me through a new lens. I’ve slowed down and learned what it means to be mindful and to live in the present. I’m no longer in a rush to see what’s next, to achieve my next goal, to cross things off my todo list. I’m not perfect with this and I still find myself rushing on occasion, but the changes have been drastic enough that I feel as thought I have a new perspective on the world around me.
When I walk outside, I find myself mesmerized by the simple beauty of the sky. Sometimes it’s crystal clear, in vibrant blue. Other times, the clouds seem haphazardly painted in wisps as a compliment to the vivid blue. I love the color, variety, and brilliance of the sun setting when I’m lucky enough to see it. And at night, there’s the stars and the moon.
It’s not just the sky either. It’s the birds, the trees, the squirrels, the people. It’s everything.
I really can’t explain it, but I’ve never looked at the sky or birds the way I do now. The sky seems more striking, more real than before. The birds, even the simple everyday ones, seem more interesting. Their actions intrigue me. I don’t know if something has changed with my perception or if I’m just finally taking the time to appreciate it. I think it’s because I’ve slowed down, and when you slow down and pay attention, the simple things get a lot more complex. You begin to see what you didn’t see before. Whatever it is, I’m glad it happened to me.
I’m happy to look back on the things I’ve accomplished this year, the things I’ve learned about myself, and the changes I’ve made to how I approach the world. I live a more simple life now and I have fewer needs, and that’s what I wanted. I’m excited to take this new perspective on the road in 2014.
The picture at the top is a sunset in Austin, Texas, taken from the bridge where all the bats live (can’t remember the name). I hope you’ve had a fantastic holiday season. I’d love to hear about your accomplishments. Leave me a note in the comments and feel free to link to your own blog if you’ve written about it. Que te vaya bien!