New year, new(ish) me

The holiday season is over and the air is rife with hope and promises and goals set for 2016. We are no strangers to making (and subsequently breaking) New Year’s Resolutions as the advent of a new year provides the perceived fresh start we crave as the jumping off point for self-improvement. I have gripes with the “new year, new me” attitude, particularly after this past year; 2015 was fantastic and gave me so much to celebrate and learn from. Maybe I don’t want a new me, just a me with a few tweaks. In that spirit, I’ve been reflecting on the past year a lot this week, evaluating significant moments and revelations I’ve had about myself in order to better understand how I’d like to approach the new year.

This past year was undoubtedly one of the most significant I’ll ever have. It’s included resume-altering developments like graduating from college in May and being awarded a Fulbright to teach English in Laos. I spent just over half of the year abroad, finishing up winter break in India, exploring Peru with an awesome group of Illini right after graduating, and then moving to Southeast Asia, which has taken me through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and (of course) Laos. There’s been more goodbyes than any year before – from being sent off by my family to leaving a fantastic group of friends that might as well be family to ending a relationship because dating someone when you’re on different hemispheres is really, really hard. Yet at the same time, 2015 balanced these farewells with a host of introductions – both to awesome people and new experiences. The group of Fulbrighters I’ve meet are some of the most interesting and thought-provoking people I’ve had the fortune to meet and the community in Savannakhet has brought with it all sorts of different friendships, coworker dynamics, and connections built upon simply smiling at one another in the market. I’ve been thrown into teaching with limited prior experience and have been learning a lot along the way. Between classes, I’ve also had more free time than ever before, meaning more time to explore artsy things that didn’t quite fit into my engineering undergrad lifestyle and more time to commit to exercising (which can actually be fun, did you guys know that?!). 2015 also introduced me to podcasts and rock climbing, both of which I have rapidly fallen in love with (though I usually don’t suggest doing the two at once).

Most strikingly, though, this was the first year in a while that I’ve been more happy than not with who I am as a person. Like so many Millennials, I struggled (let’s be honest, still struggle) with a deep-seated anxiety of identity and purpose that encompasses everything from impostor syndrome to status anxiety. Yet this year, I’ve legitimately had a self esteem. For the first extended period of time, more often than not I’ve felt secure in what I’m doing, how I look, what I’ve accomplished (or not accomplished), and how I manage relationships. A lot of this just feels like a baseline of self actualization and not some deeply profound understanding of the meaning of life that I can pass on to others, but hey, getting to square 1 is an accomplishment if a few years ago, you weren’t even on the board. Hell, I couldn’t even imagine writing about this a year ago, and now look at me – shoving down the anxiety that makes me want to delete this paragraph and pretend I never wrote it.

So, acknowledging that 2015 was for the most part full of positive experiences, there are ways that 2016 can be even better. While I do have a few concrete goals for the year, I’m wary of setting goals without laying the groundwork for how to accomplish them. Instead, I hope to establish better habits, letting the goals I have be checkpoints rather than my primary intentions. Most of said habits involve taking something I’m already doing and doing it more or more effectively, but I’ll try and go into detail as to how I hope to do that. Here we go.

In 2016 I will… 

Get more in shape.

Partially for reasons of vanity and partially in order to be a better climber (less weight to haul/being stronger = climbing faster and conquering more difficult routes), I’d like to continue to lose fat and build muscle. I did a decent job of shedding the pounds that being a social college senior had added, but there is yet work to be done. I’ll keep going to the gym most days and spending days at the crag whenever my schedule permits, but in order to combat the plateau I’m currently experiencing, I’ll step up my game and focus on altering my diet as well. I’m half a week into Tim Ferriss’s Slow Carb Diet and I’l likely adopt that seriously at the beginning of February (I’m traveling for a bit starting next week and will practice moderation rather than abstention). More on that when it happens.

Concrete Goals: 
  • Top rope a 6c by the end of the year (I’ve currently only barely climbed a 5c, so not sure if this is too ambitious, but we’ll see)
  • Hold a 5 minute plank (my current record is 3)
  • Have killer abs (ok, this is pretty subjective, but since I’m more concerned with fat loss than hitting a target weight, let’s just roll with it)
Continue to work on anxiety management. 

This aim is especially nebulous and tricky to set concrete goals for, but no less important than the other habits I hope to form. Most of my recent anxiety has been related to money, but I’m sure as I transition back to living in the States and start working full time, other anxieties will pop up along the way. My primary technique has been to write down what I’m anxious about and then write down a list of the reasons that support and refute the argument in my mind. Usually, this helps point out the absurdity of my mental argument and helps me point to concrete evidence as to why it is false. For example, when I get anxious about spending money, sitting down and comparing my expenses and budget usually reminds me that this anxiety is misplaced. (It really is, to the point that I feel absurd even writing about it, but hey, my brain likes to play tricks on me sometimes.)

Concrete Goals:
  • Meditate regularly (people I admire say good things about this; I haven’t had much luck before, but I haven’t given it a proper shot either)
  • Five Minute Journal daily (I’m horrible at long-form journaling, but I think I can stick to this; I’ve incorporated this with my Bullet Journal, and can expand upon the format of both if anyone is interested)
Make time for artistic pursuits.  

I didn’t realize how bad I was about having a creative outlet during college until moving to Laos and having more free time. I’m hoping to read more, knit more, paint more, write more, etc. This won’t be too difficult while I’m in Laos and am only working part time, but the real challenge will be when I move back to Chicago and start my “real” job. Seeing how much my emotional well-being has been improved thanks to these activities definitely makes finding time for them when I get back a priority.

Concrete Goals:
  • Knit at least 6 sweaters/scarves and 6 pairs of socks
  • Read 30 books
  • Write weekly (I’m doing a year-long challenge with a few friends to help me stay accountable with this one 🙂 )
  • Set up a personal website featuring a blog and photography

If you’re still reading this incredibly solipsistic post, thanks for sticking with me. I’m immensely grateful to everyone that helped make 2015 such a fantastic year and excited for all that 2016 has in store. Cheers to another great year, friends.




*Shout out to Paul Christiansen, Vietnam Fulbright ETA, for the cover image (and for generally having an on point Snapchat game) .


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