Dealing with your own inadequacy

I was never as confident in my English speaking abilities as I was prior to living in Glasgow. Language came easily to me. In school, I was the obnoxious one, ahead without even trying.

Moving to a country where English* is the native language means you’ll improve your speaking skills quickly. The flip side is that you simultaneously face reality, where you’re actually not as good as you thought you were. As a matter of fact, you kinda do sound like the Swedish chef.

Now, with the self-imposed pressure of publishing a post per day, no excuses, I’m at the same point with my writing. I have to face how far I have to go before I’m even close to where I want to be. I cringe when I read what I published the day before.

I cringe, maybe facepalm a little, then I suck it up and move on.

What fascinates me about this challenge is how I thought it would be about improving my writing and edit faster, but after almost a month, that’s not been the toughest part. Sure, I can get a post written and published in a couple of hours, significantly faster than before. Is it what I want it to be, though? Nope. Nein. Nej. Not even close.

The most important lesson has been to accept yesterday wasn’t what I wanted it to be, to let go, and focus on today. It’s a blog. It’s practice. And it’s okay for it to be cringe-worthy because I know it can be better. That’s progress even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Also, for anyone else in the same position, I always recommend these words of encouragement from Ira Glass.


*Yes, Scottish is English, it just has some character, ok.

With great powers comes great responsibility

Smartphones. These magical little devices. Bring it back a few hundred years and you’d be burned for witchcraft. More powerful than we imagined when cellphones came into our lives, and even those were a shift.

It’s a foundational part of my daily life. It’s not just about wasting time on social media. I write lists, I take photos, I navigate, I look up things, I communicate, I edit, I take notes. I’m beginning the draft of this post on my phone while waiting for breakfast. It is a great little device and it improves my life in many aspects.

At the same time, it is an addiction. Maybe not for you, but for me. Even when I leave it in another room, I’m always aware of it. The thought pops up frequently. Maybe someone has called me. Maybe I have gotten an interesting message. Or just the urge to scroll and get updated on the world.

I don’t like that dependency. And I’ve shared before of how I’m trying to reclaim my mind and not be as prone to distractions, where my phone plays a big part. Doing what James Altucher do, not taking it with you outside your house, is intriguing and would be a fun experiment. Especially with my sense of direction, without access to Google Maps, erhm.

But long-term, that’s too radical for me. It should be possible to use your smartphone without feeling used by it. If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to share.

Maybe a little less stupid

You know this popular saying: “stupidity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result”. It’s hard to argue against the logic of it. Yet, we all do it. Even when we should know better, we fall into the same traps, like we’re nothing but puppets of our own habits.

Habits are hard to break. Especially those we are not fully conscious of.

A year ago I started a new practice. When I find myself in a familiar situation, when I have this feeling of history repeating itself, I feel strongly what I want to do, a clear gut reaction. This is my cue to stop and go through other potential ways to act. I'm not trying to figure out the best decision – what feels best to me will likely be what I’ve done before, because, a) habits, and b) I started behaving that way for a reason in the first case. Trying to make the best decision also adds a lot of pressure, which is not always the best ingredient for smart moves.

What I do is just picking something different. Not the best option (but obviously not the dumbest either, a level of equal insanity is probably worth striving for). Just something that is not my default.

I can’t guarantee it will yield any spectacular results, but I can promise it will make life a little more interesting. If nothing else, you’ll learn a thing or two.

About meditation

Some people I know have a daily meditation routine. The others say things like “I know I should, buuut …”, while doing the mental equivalent of slowly walking backward and disappear behind the corner.

I mean, at this point, everyone knows meditation is good for you. Just practicing for as little as ten minutes per day will new beneficial. Still, a lot of us don’t. Then we feel guilty for not doing it. Which makes us even less inclined to actually do it. It's a clusterfuck of not being zen at all.

I'm definitely not sitting on a high horse here. It wasn't until January 2017 I got serious about it. (And true to my nature of taking things to the extreme did the most rigid meditation retreat known to man six months later. But you already know that story.) What made me finally commit was being in a city where I didn't know anyone, had a ton of work and wasn't able to walk around freely by myself. Meditation felt like a hobby as good as any. 

With this post, I'm hoping to maybe inspire you to not wait until such extreme circumstances before you get started. What I've learned since is that it really doesn't have to be that complicated. Take this post with my answers to three questions I just totally made up as a not so subtle hint.

1. Why should I even waste my precious time with meditation?*

“Hey, I managed life for like 20, 30, 40 years without meditation, and I’M DOING FINE. JUST FINE.” Maybe that’s you. Fine is good. Congratz. 

But if you could do me a favor and listen to this interview, with Dan Harris, which I think describes the value of meditating better than I ever could, I'd appreciate it.

2. Is there an app for this? 

The logical follow-up questions for anyone attempting a new habit. Of course there is.

Headspace

I started my practice with Headspace, which is what I recommend if you’re new and need to establish a routine. Its strength lies in simplicity and encouraging consistency. Zero woo-woo, more pragmatic, and after the initial courses, you can pick them based on your current focus.

Insight Timer

Insight Timer is the app I prefer when I'm not practicing Vipassana. It has guided meditations from a wide range of teachers, you’re bound to find one that suits you. But all the options can also feel overwhelming, so, my personal recommendations are Tara Brach and MindSpace (Julien Lacaille), both have nice voices and usually a fair amount of silence (I'm not a fan of too much talking). Joseph Goldstein has a few short ones I like as well.

The other thing I love about this app is the timer function. Set a timer, pick a background sound (rain, birds, rivers, drums, you name it), add interval bells, and enjoy. Sometimes I set the timer for an hour, with an interval bell after 50 minutes, at which point I switch from Vipassana to Metta, to finish my practice.

Vipassana

If you’re practicing Vipassana, you know there’s no need for an app. But if you miss Goenka’s unique singing, Dhamma.org do have an app with recordings you can make available offline. 

3. Like, how do you actually do it?

Exactly in whatever way works for you. Sitting on a chair, standing up, laying down, whatever floats your zen-boat.**

Sometimes people have this idea that meditation should be practiced sitting uncomfortably on a cold, wet floor. But meditation is challenging enough, you don’t need to go out of your way to make it even harder. Unless that as your thing, in which case, be my guest. 

I don't have a fancy meditation cushion, I just bundle up two pillows on my bed, sit with my legs crossed, back straight. Getting your hips a bit higher helps to find a good posture. Then I sit in silence, maybe set a timer, or do a guided sitting. 

Sometimes I practice in the morning, sometimes during the day, mostly in the evenings. Ideally, I'd like to practice longer around sunrise and wrap up the day with a shorter sitting. Maybe that'll be a project this autumn.

What is worth keeping in mind, is to not make it difficult for yourself. Pick an easy starting point. Maybe it's in the morning when you're the only one up. Maybe it's the quiet room at work before lunch. Maybe during the commute to work (yes, it's doable).

Just focus on the habit first, ten minutes a day. After a month you can start playing around with it. Try different teachers, see if 20 minutes works better, practice in complete silence, there's no one size fits all here. 

Happy meditating!

Or whatever kids say these days.


*An even better question would be why you're reading this post if your time is so precious, but this just turned into me having lengthy conversations with myself on my blog, sooo, I'm done here.

**Sorry, "float your zen-boat" sounds too ridiculous to edit out.

Valid reason or plain excuse?

As I shared yesterday, my habit of putting words after each other into somewhat understandable sentences feels established. I can do it for my journaling, and for this blog.

That’s not currently the case for my other writing project. Instead of doing the word by word thing, I’ve been struggling with the structure for a week now. As I had my daily morning meeting with Heather, where we share what we’re working on today, I noticed myself feeling the need to explain why I didn’t want to write anything new.

I’ve heard all the excuses and I’ve made most of them myself as well, one time or another. So saying “I need to work on the structure before I can write” sounds like an excuse. it makes me feel guilty saying it out loud. As if I’m calling in sick to school, but in fact just want to don’t feel like going. 

Of course, I know it’s not an excuse in this case. Just as important as it is to treat your creative project with the respect it deserves and work on it, it’s equally important to sometimes step away and let it breathe. Get some perspective. 

It’s not so much that I’m stuck in the actual writing. I can happily churn out characters. The problem is a feeling of slowly writing myself into a maze I’ll never be able to find my way out of. Every word I add is getting me further in, adding to the frustration. What makes the most sense to me right now is to take a step back and see it from another angle.

I’m feeling pretty confident that this is the best way forward, but honestly, we humans are pretty damn good at lying to ourselves. How do you know if you’re making a strategic choice or just an excuse, really?

I can't say I have an answer for this. I do, however, have a few questions I ask myself to sort out if I’m succumbing to old habits or making a conscious decision. 

  1. Look at the past, is this what I usually say in this situation? If my actions feels familiar, I need to dig a little bit deeper into why.
  2. Look at my current situation, are there other factors contributing to making this decision? Is the problem really what I think it is? 
  3. Do I have an actual plan for how get over the obstacle I’m facing? 

Not exactly bullet proof, but maybe helpful. In this case, I have definitely used this as an excuse before, but there are no other factors causing trouble for me, and I did have a plan to move forward. Which included walking, looking at similar structures and just thinking through it properly, without being attached to what I've already produced.

And, fun fact! Between starting to write this post, and publishing it, I’ve actually settled in on a structure that makes sense to me. So, tomorrow, it’s back to my regular program of, well, writing more.

Writer's block doesn’t exist, writing habits do

First of all, if you follow this blog via RSS, sorry for the sudden cascade of content that has come your way since August 22. I know it's not what you're used to. 

When I didn't get a spot at the Vipassana retreat starting that date, I realized I’ve been subconsciously holding back, waiting for it.  Falling into a classic mental trap, thinking that after Vipassana, my mind will be clear and creating will be easier. Total delusion, of course. I still did my work, but I hardly pushed myself the way I could have.

Waiting has its purpose at times. Not the case here. It was clearly an excuse. Which I thankfully understood the same day it was supposed to start. Not getting to do my ten days in silence was exactly the lesson I needed. 

Since that day I’ve published a post per day. It’s far from as good as I want it to be. Sometimes it pains me to hit that publish button. Not much to do when you're out of time and it has to go out. It’s a muscle you have to work with, build up, make it stronger.

In this episode, Cal Fussman interviews Seth Godin. I’ve heard him talk about how there’s no such thing as writer's block before, and just having that idea in your head is helpful. One of his additional stories here, is that if you type every day, some is going to be good, some is going to be bad, but eventually, the brain will get tired of the bad stuff and give you some good stuff. 

That connected a few dots for me. I started practicing morning journaling a year ago. Some days it’s pure nonsense. A list of things I did the day before, perhaps. Other days, I dive into a problem I’m struggling with, and just by putting it into words on a page, it flips my perspective. It’s for my eyes only. No prestige, no censorship, no shame. Just put it all out all out there. 

The habit of writing has been there, publishing it for others to read, however, that’s a whole different type of work. Sharing it publicly creates a threshold. If you do it frequently enough, that threshold will be easy to step over. If you are like me and share two posts per year, that threshold is equal to climbing K2. It’s a lotta work, man. 

The funny thing though, is how that process only took two weeks to feel easier. Sure, the gap between the quality I aspire to be and where I actually am is far wider than I'd like it to be. It still takes me a fair amount of time to write and edit. But, I can tell I'm gaining from it. This habit makes me pay attention, ask more questions, forcing me to dig deeper into how I think. 

I blog every day. I don’t blog because I have something to say, I have something to say because I have a blog.
— Seth Godin

To wrap this up, I would like to recommend this short post from Derek Sivers, which I’ve reread several times since he published it. It’s a good reminder - you don’t need confidence, just contribution.

When to self-improve yourself

I read this article earlier today, reflections on the consequences of the modern self-help culture. If self-improvement is a topic you follow, you might find it interesting.

As you all know, this is something I’m curious about. I like trying new habits, playing with how I structure my days, and I want to understand more about how my mind works. This summer my sister, somewhat tired of weird habits, told me that “if someone posted a study of how eating breakfast upside down was good for you, you’d try it”

Sounds like more hassle than I’d want for my breakfast routine, but sure, if the evidence was convincing enough, I might. But, here’s what I consider the key: I would try it if it made sense to me, and without being attached to the result. 

That means:

  • It has to be something I’m curious about right now. You can’t do everything at once, I usually experiment with 1-2 new things at a time. 
  • It has to work with my current priorities. I wouldn’t try a 5-day fast if I’m starting a new assignment, for example.
  • I commit to giving it a couple of weeks, but if it takes more than it gives, I’m fine with letting it go. At least for the time being - I can always pick it up again when it works better for me.

It’s a fine line between trying to be a better version of yourself and chasing a fantasy ideal, impossible to reach, bound to create discontent. The intention, your why, matters.

Some thoughts on digital nomadism

When I started out on my journey of location independence, I did so with more security than most have. I had a corporate job I mostly enjoyed back in Sweden, working remotely was for a limited time, and I never fully associated myself with being a digital nomad. Which might be why it didn’t take me long to grow uneasy with the term.

There was something that just didn’t taste right. Then this video was shared in my network last year and felt like a parody of what’s been bothering me: the way digital nomadism often is portrayed as a superior lifestyle choice, oblivious to the effect it might have on the places "off the beaten path", we're so excited to explore. 

On the other extreme, this article paints a picture of digital nomads as selfish privileged brats, whos only concern with the local community is if they can supply cheap food and cleaning services. 

I'd say the reality is a bit more complex than that (I know, shocker). 

I’ve met people who seem to fit well into that stereotype. Honestly, I’ve been that stereotype (although not all that extreme). That’s usually how it starts. A craving for something different, often based on a personal need or curiosity. But I don’t think that’s how it ends.

Maybe some people never really grow from their experiences, and travel with a selfish mindset. But I think more of us will get a wider perspective and understand the world a little bit better. What we then do with those lessons matter. There are plenty of inspiring role models, from people building businesses with social impact, to influencers using their voice for the environment or other causes they care about.

Which brings me to think that when sharing how much richer this way of life has made us, we might also want to take a look at how we invest that wealth.

Space to connect the dots

There are so many guides. A framework for everything. HOW TO DO LIFE and BE SUCCESSFUL HAPPY AND ALL THE THINGS, in 10 easy steps. Quick and easy! 

If only it was that simple. Looking at my life from a perspective of Sanna 20 years-old, I’m more successful than I could have hoped for, albeit in another way. I could give you a recipe for how I got here. I can backtrack and organize it into a neat story. Tweetable and all. If you just do this and that, then you can also reach your goals.

It rarely works. Because life is forever messier than we can conceive when we’re entering the world of adulthood. One day you think you have it figured out, the next your girlfriend breaks up with you and all your plans fall apart. Your book reaches the best-seller list, you find out you have a brain tumor. You get everything you dreamed of, and you realize this was not at all what you wanted. There is no escape from uncertainty. Trying to avoid it makes for a boring life, and even then it’ll find you. 

The most useful skill I’ve cultivated is the ability to roll with the punches. I think most successful people have this. One door closes, I sit in chock for a minute, then I get up and find another one. When I was fired from a job once, I started reaching out to my contacts ten minutes later. It’s about constantly learning from what happens and try other ways. Pay attention. Notice what goes on around you. 

Things will happen, but they always happen for a reason. No, I’m not talking mystical driving forces of the universe (please). I’m talking about finding your own reasons. Use a scientific mindset. If you get fired, what can you learn? What happened, leading up to that event? What can you do next time to avoid the same situation? Or, maybe this was not the right job for you, because it would not make sense for you to act differently? You’re not likely to find all the answers, but reflecting on it will help you acquire some useful insights in that brain of yours.

That, and not a new bullet point article, will help you get somewhere. 

I think many of us need more solitude. Meditation helps, but creating more space in your life for reflection will support the internal work you need to do, that’s how you connect the dots. See what got you to this point and where you want to go next. We all have our unique paths. And while we can learn from others stories, we need to work on our own. It can be as easy as taking regular walks, without listening to a podcast. Try airplane mode every once in a while. Go completely offline for a weekend. 

It doesn't matter how, but strive for a state of mind where you're inspired by your own thoughts. It will pay off.

Running for perspective

“You can’t run away from your problems.” 

You've heard that one before. Maybe from your parents when you were ten years old and tried to run away in the literal sense when they wouldn't let you eat candy every day. Or from a good friend, trying to talk some sense into you when you needed it. 

They were not wrong, of course. Being on the run is tiring and no matter how fast you are, you’ll never be able to shake them off. Your problems are persistent chasers. Trust me, I’ve tried.

But, I’d still argue that physically running away can be a great strategic move. 

You can run from your problems without actually moving. Distractions are a form of running. Occupying yourself with work, gym, social activities, alcohol, without space to reflect on your priorities, to name a few. From the outside, it might look like you’re living the life you intend to, but only you know the real story. If you’re being honest with yourself, that is. 

When I started traveling, part of it was definitely running away. I was desperate for a change. When I asked my manager to work remotely for a period of time, that was part of how I explained my reasons. “I need to not be here, in Stockholm, at the office. I need perspective.”

Since making that decision a lot has changed. Not because I managed to shake off my commitment issues in a narrow alley in Bali or drown my anxiety among the jellyfishes in Koh Tao. But changing my environment did change my perspective. It draws the attention to those darker corners I wasn’t able to see when I was preoccupied with my daily routine of commute, work, gym, socializing and everything I did to keep myself busy.

I don't think everyone should be as dramatic as I was. But a little bit of running away, by yourself, would do most of us some good. 

The battle of sleep and creating

Sleep is great. I need it as much as the next person. The thing is, I don’t really want to sleep. Think about all the fun stuff you could do instead of sleeping. I could learn to speak Italian, write a sci-fi novel, maybe make my own pasta. Ok, I’ll likely never make my own pasta because cooking is boring, but you get the picture - you could get a lot of things done during eight hours if sleep wasn’t a prerequisite for being a functional human. 

So, before going to sleep, I read for a while. It’s a way of tricking myself to stop thinking about all the things I want to do and, well, calm the fork down. When I start feeling sleepy, I put my Kindle away and try to think about something positive that will not make me too excited about the future, because then sleep is out of the question for hours.

Lately, I’ve become more aware of how the process feels when I’m about to fall asleep. Even when I'm tired to the brink of exhaustion, I sometimes notice this intense urge to move, anything to stay awake. If I can control my mind enough, not move or get caught up the thoughts it triggers, then I relax into the sensation and fall asleep fairly quickly. 

Which brings me to the point of why I’m sharing this - I have a similar experience with writing. I’m currently working on a project I've committed to in a way I haven't before. To not make progress is simply not an option. 

Getting words out is easy enough, but making them sing, creating that rhythm, that I can only manage when I get into the flow. And the process of getting into that flow, that elusive state of mind, is a constant challenge. As anyone doing something creative will testify.

So. I sit down. I write my words, to get into it. After a while I’ll usually feel that sensation creeping up, similar to the when I’m about to fall asleep. An urge to move. 

“I’ve been here for an hour, I should take a walk, clear my head.”
“Maybe it’s time for some coffee now, I haven’t had any in like five minutes.”
“Did my phone blink? No? Well, maybe I have some notification if I open every app I could possibly think of, over and over again for five hours.”

But, if I just can sit with this for a little while longer, not listen to that little voice of sabotage, flow often waits on the other side. That panic is a signal I’m getting close to the juicy stuff, the stuff that matters. 

I don’t know what the end result will look like. I don’t know if it'll be good or if anyone will care. But just being able to create and, as Steven Pressfield would put it, “Beat the Resistance”, it’s a victory in itself.

The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.
— Steven Pressfield - War of Art

Curiosity is more fun than fear

When I did my first 10 days of silence and meditation last year, it was an experience that made me reassess who I was and want to be. When people asked what I gained from it, I wanna say “dude, like, EVERYTHING” but while it’s true, it’s a) not very useful, and b) I really need to stop talking like a stoned American teenager.

I’ve talked at length about how I’m better at distancing myself from my thoughts and emotions, and how my anxiety has almost disappeared. But there’s another important shift I want to share - what drives me.

See, when anxiety was your main driving force, and that goes away, what comes instead?

Once, a colleague told me he was hesitant about going to the gym because he was afraid he would feel so satisfied after, he would lose his edge, the thing that was driving him to create. I’ve heard others share how they don’t want to deal with their fear of being inadequate because that’s what’s pushing them to grow and develop.

This was on my mind both during and after Vipassana. When you accept everything as it is, what will drive you to accomplish things in life? Push through struggles and challenges? And not just give up, and spend your life smiling by the ocean?

I wouldn’t say I was worried about it, it was more about being curious. If I don’t have to be the person I so strongly identified with, who will I be instead? A happy vegetable with no aspirations?

Then I realized therein lies the answer - curiosity.

The world is fascinating. It’s easy to forget when you get caught up in routines and everyday life. Being human is random, and weird, and I want to experience as much of it as possible. I want to be challenged, I want to grow, I want to pursue every crazy idea I have. 

Just to see what happens.

From an outward perspective, it might not look like much have changed. But my experience sure has. And let me tell you, being driven by curiosity is a hell of a lot more fun than being driven by fear.

A name origin story

If you know me, this is a familiar story. When there’s a different name in your passport than people know you by, they tend to notice. It's also slightly embarrassing, so I figure that might appeal to some of you.

You could say it all started with Scotland. I only lived there for a few months, but wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me what place feels most like home, I’ll answer Glasgow, even before questioning how dare you talk to me before coffee. 

When I started traveling, I always introduced myself with the Swedish way of pronouncing my name, which was surprisingly difficult for my Scottish friends. They over-accentuated the vowels and whenever they called on me, it sounded like a general yelling order. “SAH-NAH!”

The obvious solution to this problem is to just say it softer, like how you usually say Anna in English. I, being me and taking things too far, went another direction. I changed the name in my passport. Possibly inspired by my cousin who made a big debacle during her baptism ceremony at age 15 by throwing in a new middle-name, Sol, Swedish for sun.*

Since I’ve always wanted to live somewhere else, I naturally wanted a name which did not feel connected to Sweden. It also had to be easy to pronounce in both English and Spanish. And, let’s be honest, something that sounded a bit cooler than the one I already had. I don’t remember which names I disregarded in the process but landed pretty quickly on Angelina. 

At this point, I want to remind you that I was about 18 years old. 

Picking a name clearly inspired by a famous icon and movie star might not have been the most strategic decision for someone who preferred standing on the sidelines, far from the center. Whenever people first heard the name they would respond with an impressed nod, as if they appreciated my parent’s unusual name choice for their time. When I felt obliged to explain I had chosen it myself, I got the look saying “really hun, you’re comparing yourself to her?”. But that might also have been my wallflower self speaking. 

 That hair though. Mirror selfie, Edinburgh, 2006.

That hair though. Mirror selfie, Edinburgh, 2006.

When I moved to Scotland I introduced myself with Angelina. Maybe it was more about shedding who I was, my Swedish way of being, into someone completely different. Angelina lived in West End, Glasgow. Worked in a pub, had favorite regulars, knew their preferred whiskey. Shared an apartment with a Scottish woman who was obsessed with crystals, a German brain surgeon, and a friend from Sweden. She could pronounce garage like she was born and raised in the Highlands. She could be whoever she wanted to be.

Then I went back to Sweden. It’s been twelve years and I never introduced myself as Angelina again. But it still says Angelina Sanna Stefansson in my passport. It reminds me of how much I wanted to be someone else and how much I now enjoy being me.

Also, the initials A.S.S. are just too good to give up.

*It’s a family thing, apparently. It can be traced back to my ancestor who founded the last name I carry, Stefanus Jonsson. I’m forever grateful he settled on Stefansson and not Stefanusson. 
 

Long-term traveling and friendships

If you travel frequently, you probably agree that the people you meet are what makes it an experience to remember. But you might also get questions like "isn't it lonely?" or my personal favorite "isn't it frustrating to get to know people when you'll never see them again?". The short answer is nein. But if you want the longer version, read on. 

I was at a meet-up last week and one guy shared a comment from a girl he had met here in Berlin. “If she doesn't think someone will stay at least six months, she won’t bother getting to know them”. An interesting take on which relationships are worth pursuing. Another guy fully agreed: “That’s the worst about traveling, it’s pointless to waste energy on getting to know someone you’ll never see again.”

This attitude is not uncommon. If you’re traveling long-term, the lack of consistent community will likely affect you eventually. Some people manage it by slowing down, staying longer in each place. Some, like me, decide it’s time for a home base. A place where I not only can indulge in expensive linen sheets (after three nomadic years, this is my definition of luxury), but more importantly (yes, more than linen sheets), a space I can share with friends from all over the world, as they’ve done so generously for me.

Now, I know I don't live the most traditional life. Despite having a home with linen sheets*, I still have places I want to see, people I want to visit, and that remains part of how I plan my life. Not everyone has that privilege or priority. But here's how I approach this travelers dilemma of meaningful relationships: 

Expectations do more harm than good. 

I rarely have any expectations when I get to know someone. If we connect at a conference and decide to have a coffee later, I don’t think we’re gonna be best friends and start planning weekend getaways. If I go on a Tinder date, I don’t think we’re gonna get married, or even necessarily spend more time together than it takes to finish one beer. If I go to a meet-up like the one where this conversation started, I don't expect I want to grab a burger with someone afterward. 

I'm just curious. Curious about other people, who they are, where they come from. You can find something interesting about anyone, given enough time and energy. Then we'll see where it goes.

If you struggle with relationships on the road, it’s likely you have unrealistic expectations of what these relationships should be. If you enjoy spending a week getting to know someone, is it really a waste of time, just because you don’t live in the same country? Is a meaningful friendship characterized by how close you live to each other and how frequently you see each other face to face? 

That might have been a reality a century ago, but as we all know, distance matter less than now it ever has. You still need to put in some effort though. 

 December 2012. Embracing the stereotype of backpacking in the Australian outback with Ching and Viriya, who I had met a week earlier. A few years later I visited them in Thailand where we did another road trip outside Bangkok (hey, isn’t it time for the third edition of Yumcha trip soon?!).  Also, #foreverawkwardposer. 

December 2012. Embracing the stereotype of backpacking in the Australian outback with Ching and Viriya, who I had met a week earlier. A few years later I visited them in Thailand where we did another road trip outside Bangkok (hey, isn’t it time for the third edition of Yumcha trip soon?!).

Also, #foreverawkwardposer. 

 January 2016. Went scuba diving with the Philippines with Jeremiah, who I met three months earlier in Bali, here not yet suspecting how insane our dive master was. In September he's finally coming to visit in Berlin!

January 2016. Went scuba diving with the Philippines with Jeremiah, who I met three months earlier in Bali, here not yet suspecting how insane our dive master was. In September he's finally coming to visit in Berlin!

 May 2016. I blame all three of you for tricking me into drinking beer instead of doing yoga for two weeks. Also, meeting these guys who live in Munich is the reason I ended up going to Oktoberfest, which has since turned into a tradition.

May 2016. I blame all three of you for tricking me into drinking beer instead of doing yoga for two weeks. Also, meeting these guys who live in Munich is the reason I ended up going to Oktoberfest, which has since turned into a tradition.

 July 2018. In 2015 I spent a couple of days in Ubud with Ronja, and since moving to Berlin, we've managed to survive two festivals together. 

July 2018. In 2015 I spent a couple of days in Ubud with Ronja, and since moving to Berlin, we've managed to survive two festivals together. 

There's no way I ever could have predicted the trajectory of these friendships when we first met. That's the beauty of it.

Then there are people I liked, but haven't stayed in touch with. I still have fond memories of the guy I hung out with for a week in Bali, getting lost in the rice paddies, even though I’ll likely never see him again. Or the girl I shared a dorm with in Thailand, who felt like a sister in spirit and made me laugh till I cried five minutes after we met. Or the guy I sat next to on a long bus trip, who kept hitting on me and talked about how he loved Sweden and wanted ten kids - I could not have been more in the wrong target group for that pitch, but I still enjoyed our conversations. 

Maybe that's the most important lesson traveling has given me. Meet people, be open for genuine connections, and appreciate the time you have with them, no matter how short or infrequent it is. Maybe you meet once a year. Maybe you only got to hang out for a week in South Africa. Maybe you end up in a relationship lasting a decade. You can never tell, and that makes the world so much more interesting than picking your friends based on zip codes.

*Sorry, not sorry, for my obsession with linen.

2017: A year in review

2017 was in many ways the culmination of three years hard work. What was before, I remember most as constantly longing for something else. I didn't know what it was, and how to figure it out, so I waited.

And waited, and waited. I obsessed over different questions but hesitated to commit to anything. Maybe I should start studying again? Look for a new job? Maybe move to the U.S.? Or just travel more? I made half-ass decisions on a daily basis. Spent weeks researching options. Till I reached a point where I decided that sitting on my ass in Stockholm, year after year, would not bring me closer to an answer. 

So 2015 I stopped waiting.

2016 was about slowly learning about things I didn't want. 

Which brings us to 2017: the year when I started to figure out what I actually do want. I know my values and priorities in a way I haven't before. Life is not all sunshine and mangos, but knowing what mangos you actually want sure as hell makes it easier to pick them.

Not my greatest analogy, but you get what I'm saying.

This has been an incredible year, and I'm so grateful for everyone that has been part of it in any way, positive as well as negative. 

So, what was 2017 all about?

Let's dive into the details! 

Cape Town life

I decided to live in Cape Town for two months. The city is gorgeous, the people are just the sweetest you can imagine, and OMG the wine and food are to die for. It was an incredible experience, but for someone who enjoys walking around solo, it was also challenging. You have to pay attention to your surroundings in a way I’ve never had to. It’s not an unsafe city, but as a friend there said: “99% of the time nothing happens. But where you come from it’s 99,9%. There’s a difference.“

 Cape Town sunsets never disappoints. 

Cape Town sunsets never disappoints. 

Embracing meditation

I started practicing meditation in January, first with Headspace and then moved onto Insight Timer, which is my preferred meditation app when I'm not practicing Vipassana. 

The fasting thing

In February, I decided to try intermittent fasting, after a friend pointed out that it was basically the way I was unintentionally eating in Bali. It didn't take long to notice that it works really well for my body (my stomach has never been happier), although getting used to not eating in the mornings was a struggle for the first months. 

Bonus: Every day is brunch day!

Finally visiting Colombia

I’ve dreamed of Colombia for years, and I was not disappointed with the country. I was however disappointed with myself, who got sick as soon as I got there and was not able to enjoy it the way I wanted to. I’ll be back one day and do it right.

Crossing the Atlantic

I joined the Nomad Cruise, two weeks crossing the Atlantic from Colombia to Portugal. Here I had a few of my most miserable moments of the year, but also some of my happiest.

Did anyone say tequila-infused emotional rollercoaster?

 Sunset selfies with some of my favorite people on the boat.

Sunset selfies with some of my favorite people on the boat.

 More favorites! Hiking in Madeira. Or, if we're being honest, more like leisure strolling on a comfortable path.

More favorites! Hiking in Madeira. Or, if we're being honest, more like leisure strolling on a comfortable path.

Besides new friends, I also picked up a new understanding of myself - I have a strong extroverted part, too. I’ve had this idea of myself as a typical introvert who would feel the happiest living as a hermit with books as companions. 

Yeah, no. 

This type of experience, where you get thrown into a mix of people, spending every waken hour together for a limited amount of time, works as an energy boost for my brain. Going forward, I aspire to have one or two of these types of experiences yearly. 

Oh, Lisbon

After the cruise, a group of us stayed for almost a week. These days were magical. Drinking wine by the ocean, eating all the food, having great conversations. Lisbon didn’t quite win my heart as a home base, but I'll always come back for the vibe and (obviously) pastel de nata. 

Vipassana silent retreat

I was talking to a friend who has done Vipassana several times, and she looked at me and said, “there’s a before and an after”. It really is. It was a mental boot camp where I had to face my mind in a way I’ve never done before, and it was unbelievably tough. 

But I’m so damn grateful for staying and pushing through the pain. Six months later and I'm still growing from this experience.

 During the retreat, this little piece of art slowly emerged by the walking area. 

During the retreat, this little piece of art slowly emerged by the walking area. 

Defining my priorities

One of the many things Vipassana brought clarity to is what really matters to me. It comes down to three things: health, creating and community. For every decision I make, I try to choose the alternative that most supports this.

Las Palmas life

For six weeks this summer I stayed in Las Palmas and worked on my writing and collaborating with Heather, practiced pole and processed my Vipassana experience. We also managed to have some epic tequila Fridays. If that's not balance, I don't know what is.

 Hello, pretty houses!

Hello, pretty houses!

Freelancing and AB

Since quitting my job I’ve been freelancing and invoiced through a service, but this summer I finally committed to starting my own business. 

So if you hear me talking about something like a proud mother would of her child, it’s about my business. I even take pleasure in reporting my time, sending invoices and making calculations.

I know, my excitement for this is way out of proportion.

Back to Scotland

I went to a magical wedding in Scotland and got the chance to swing by Glasgow for a few days - for the first time since leaving eleven years ago. This city will always feel like home and I'd love to spend a longer period of time there at some point.

Ass crew member getting married

Watching two of my favorite people get married is clearly in the highlights column. LOOK AT HOW PRETTY THEY ARE!

 The excitement was through the roof.

The excitement was through the roof.

 Selfies are in order when the first ass crew member gets hitched.

Selfies are in order when the first ass crew member gets hitched.

Berlin, Berlin

In line with my priorities, I decided it was time to start making plans for getting myself a home base. As most of you know, Berlin has been in the cards for a while, and after spending September there, I have no hesitations. A city with that number of hipster cafes and weird bars is clearly where I belong. 

Berlin, I'll be seeing you soon. 

 Two and Two in Berlin: cozy, good wifi, decent coffee.

Two and Two in Berlin: cozy, good wifi, decent coffee.

 Will never not love this photo.

Will never not love this photo.

Kept the Oktoberfest tradition going

Drinking beer with friends is something you can do anywhere, but there’s something about Oktoberfest in Munich that makes it magical.

Also, somebody plz stop me from buying a new dirndl next year. This habit is wrecking my budget.

learning to let go 

Another theme of the year has been working on letting go. It will never be easy, but practice makes ... well, better.

The tricky part is when we're not even aware that we are attached to something. It can be an idea of who you are. Or how someone else is. It’s easy to cling to illusions when letting go means facing what we are without them. If I’m not an introvert, what’s my excuse for hiding? If I bought into a lie, what does that say about me?

You get the picture. 

Pole pole pole

This year started with a strong focus on yoga, Ashtanga in particular, but it has been different since the silent retreat. What I used to get from yoga, I now get from meditation. Instead, I want to focus all my attention on dancing.

Being in Stockholm for a while has the upside of training at my home studio which happens to be THE BEST. Not that I'm partial or anything. Lucky for me, Berlin has some kickass studios too.

Also, I started exotic pole! As many other things in pole it doesn't come naturally to me, but putting on 7inch heels and do hair flips has been a highlight of my weeks this winter.

Tequila Friday Newsletter

Oh, and I started a newsletter! I read a lot of interesting things I want to share, and tequila goes really well with smart 3,500 words articles, in case you didn't know. Subscribe here if you're interested!

Places visited

I did intend to travel less, but still managed to jump across the world. Several places for the first time, but also a few favorites I keep coming back to.

Hello 2018

2017, you were spectacular in so many ways. Challenges and happiness in equal measures, a lot of personal growth, new friends, and as always, not quite enough tequila. So grateful for this year.

2018, bring it on.

 Finishing 2017 in the best way possible - tequila drinks with this amazeballs person.

Finishing 2017 in the best way possible - tequila drinks with this amazeballs person.

 

 

Being uncomfortable

I finished watching Marie's interview with Tim this morning (recommended!), and she asked viewers to share their story on one of Tim’s staple questions: In the last five years — what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life?

For me, it’s embrace being uncomfortable. Some years ago I realized I was always waiting for the perfect timing, with, in hindsight, absurd excuses to avoid discomfort. I was awkward in many situations and that awkwardness would paralyze me and if I could avoid it, I would. No matter the reward it would hold.

My increasing death anxiety was one of the triggers that made me rethink how I approached experiences. In my mid-twenties, I felt more and more like life was passing me by, and I was just sitting in my corporate office, reading about things other people did while getting closer to my grave with no fun stories to put on my tombstone. 

My pivotal moment in this change was actually starting pole dance. I wanted to try it for years, but instead of doing it, I told myself I needed to get into better shape first. Get stronger, thinner, more flexible. Finally, with the feeling that I was soon going to to die anyway, I decided, fuck it. It's one embarrassing hour of my life, I can survive this.

And yes, it was awkward. And hard. I felt like a T-rex with their tiny arms, trying to move a huge body around the pole. It was challenging as hell. It sure wasn't pretty. I couldn't understand how I would ever be able to climb on the pole, even less how I would be able to hang upside down and do those pretty shapes I've seen on Instagram. But, at the same time, it was intriguing and fun. Fun enough to make me embrace the discomfort and sign up for a course. 

My pole journey is a separate story, but the point is that I chose to accept feeling uncomfortable and not run away from it. I decided to focus on being proud of myself for every little progress I made, no matter that it was slower than anyone else's and it literally took me three years to learn how to properly invert*.

Australia was another big thing. My first longer trip by myself, a month traveling the east coast. Colleagues would comment on how “brave I was to travel that far alone”, but traveling with only myself as company never scared me. Just give me a book, some sunshine and a glass of wine and I’ll be happy. What I used as an excuse here was money, and again, me being uncomfortable in my own skin. “I’ll better wait till I have money saved up, so I can do everything I want to do there” and “I’ll better wait till I look good in a bikini before I go to a dreamy beach place and learn to surf”. Yes, I’m well aware of how absurd it sounds, I also know I’m not alone in thinking like this. 

“I’m too stiff to do yoga.”
“I’m too poor to travel.”
“I’m too fat for pole.” 

With that bit of energy I got from pushing my comfort zone with pole dance, I booked my ticket six months in advance. Then I managed to save a little bit of money, but I was not exactly the fitness amazon I had envisioned. But I went. I didn’t get to try surfing that time, but I did spend plenty of time at the beach. I met awesome people, some of which I still keep in touch with. I learned that you can have an epic experience without staying in fancy hotels and have visible abs. Who knew, right.

This is where I decided that life for me is about embracing the awkwardness, be able to laugh at yourself and learn from all the experiences. Which is why I love trying new things. If something feels exciting, I'll have to do it at some point, no matter how much it scares me. It might not be tomorrow. Maybe not this year. But it will happen. 

Skydiving is one of those things. Imagining it makes me nauseous and the idea of me voluntarily jumping out of an airplane is absurd. Someone will have to push me, and I won’t scream, because when I’m truly scared, I go mute. But, eventually, I will do it. Because no matter how much of cliche it is, life is just too fucking short not to.

*This is an invert and most people learn it in a few months. 😬

What kills my motivation

We all have our triggers. The things that motivate us, and the things that do the opposite. Where we cross our arms, put our heels down and refuse to take another step in that direction.

Motivation as a teenager

One day in high school, I stayed after class. 

“I’d like to talk to you about the way you teach”, I said to the teacher. I was not her favorite before, and with those words, I earned myself a permanent seat to her F category.

To give an example of a typical class, we would get a book to read as our homework. Later, in the classroom, we got a questionnaire to fill out - while she wrote down the answers on the whiteboard. Our job as students was to copy her words.

This would, of course, make it easy for anyone looking to make the least amount of effort. For someone looking to learn, and actually enjoyed reflecting on what I was reading, it did not resonate.

I told the teacher that we needed to be challenged and asked her to at least let us write in our own words. Her reply was to give me an F for the whole course. (Though to be fair that also included me refusing to do to any assignment consisting of mindless copy-pasting. I was not an easy teenager to deal with.)

Motivating employees

In this episode of Marie TV, she talks about motivating employees. One thing that particularly struck a chord with me was the part about challenging your employees to grow. It’s one thing to letting them do a course every year, but another to challenge them on a daily basis. 

I’ve noticed it’s not uncommon to present a task or a project to an employee with the description “this will be super easy, you barely have to do anything”. The intention is good, of course, but for a lot of us, it has the opposite effect. Instead of feeling “great, I can do this easily”, I'm left with a feeling that I want to look for a job where they believe in me enough to push me forward.

If it’s not challenging, and I don’t have room to make it challenging, it’s not likely to motivate me.

And let’s be honest, not everything can - and should - be challenging at work. Sometimes you do things because it has to be done. But if you want excited employees, you better make sure you have enough challenges in their daily lives to keep them growing. Otherwise, they will get bored. And bored people will a) do a shitty job, and 2) leave - or worse, stay.

My kind of mantra

The world is your oyster! You're awesome! You can do anything! Life is all sunshine and rainbows and unicorns! And if you tell yourself you're a unique and special snowflake, you are!

I don't know about you, but I feel like everyone is practicing personal affirmations these days. If you don't have have a mantra you say to yourself every morning, you're never gonna reach your full potential. It might also be a sign that I'm following way too many yogis from LA. Either way, this has never been my thing and I have yet to start writing “YOU ARE A CONFIDENT YOUNG WOMAN” on bathroom mirrors*. 

And then I caved

Despite my hesitation, since Vipassana, there is one phrase that seems to frequently pop up in my mind. The teacher said it a thousand times in the meditations and discourses, and somehow it made its way into whatever brain space mantras usually occupy. I've noticed I use it throughout the day, not only as a reminder when I get distracted during meditation, but in everything I do. 

It’s not the classic inspirational message. It doesn’t have the upbeat spirit like “I am brimming with energy and overflowing with joy” or the poetic vibe of “A river of compassion washes away my anger and replaces it with love”.**

It's slightly more to the point.

Do the work.

Yes, that's about it. What I came to understand during ten days of silence was how easy it is to get caught up in the stories we tell ourselves. Stories that we then get attached to, and keep repeating, even when they no longer benefit us. To me, the phrase "do the work" basically means:

Get your head out of your ass, stop telling yourself another rendition of the same old story and focus on the shit you need to do this very moment.

That, to me, is liberating. 

Also, can someone put that on a t-shirt?

The risk of thinking positive 

If we step away from the specifics of mantras and onto the larger picture, I'd like to acknowledge what this article covers: Thinking positive is a surprisingly risky manoeuvre on Aeon. It's worth a few minutes of your time.

When you set out to achieve something, let’s say building a company. You have an idea you believe in, you have the skill, and you get to work. Except you don’t, because you’re busy dreaming about how great it’s gonna be when it’s all built and successful. You think about the interviews you’re gonna make, the talks you’re gonna give, the validation from people you admire, although they currently have no idea you exist. 

Fills you with a warm and fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it? 

As the article explains, thinking vividly about the scenario, makes you feel like you’ve already accomplished it. It feels good, but actually has the opposite effect - it doesn’t motivate you to take action, it gives you the illusion of reward and makes you relax. 

 My project management style: Motivational Memes. 

My project management style: Motivational Memes. 

I’ve done this plenty times, which is why I've now taken a different role in my collaborations. Which has earned me the charming nickname Sergeant Sanna. Several of my friends like to paint scenarios of how perfect everything is going to be, in that magical future when success is fact and not an abstract idea. My response is “sure, sounds nice, but let’s get back to what needs to get done now”. 

It doesn't make me the most charming person at all times, and I'm not expecting any motivational speech prizes to fall in my lap any time soon, but it's important. We all need to do the work. For business. For writing. For exercising. Visualize where you want to go, it's a great practice, but be realistic about your obstacles. Then get to work. 


*Though it would make an interesting experiment since I regularly share apartments with strangers through Airbnb.
** If this is your thing, feel free to keep exploring them in this list