My year essentially started with me standing in my sister’s living room, with her arms around me as I sobbed — and it ended the same way.
It should be noted, crying uncontrollably (especially in public) is quite possibly my 7th circle of hell.
Yet in 2017, I found myself unable to get through an entire day without welling up a bit, if not curling into full fetal position, sobbing and eating Nutella, straight from the jar, with a spoon.
Which was odd, as 2017 was “my most successful” year-to-date on many professional and forward-trajectory life fulfillment fronts.
But that seemed to be a huge part of the problem. The more I accomplished and succeeded, the more I pulled myself into analyzing the failures that fell between the peaks. I would be standing in a grocery store, looking at a package of green olives, and burst out crying that my life should feel so much…better.
The happier I should have been, the harder it got to knock the feeling that I wasn’t.
The Curse of the 7’s
I’ve long said that 27 was the worst year of my adult life, then 37 seemed to come in and bitch-slap 27 down to the ground like the foolish young imp that it was.
Which really shouldn’t have surprised me.
I was feeling a little lost, a lot adrift, and basically going through motions as far back as when I was turning 35. And probably a little before that.
That’s what I started the new year sobbing about in my sister’s living room.
I was leaving to board a plane to Oaxaca, Mexico for the winter, and I absolutely didn’t want to.
But I didn’t know what else to do.
I wasn’t really pulled anywhere else, I had a friend there that promised to bring me to all the best taco places in town, it was warm…yep, those were my reasons.
So needless to say, deep down I knew that I had hit a point in my personal life where I was just on some sort of weird nomadic cruise control; getting on planes and going places because I didn’t really have anything else going on.
The Year of….
I joked to a couple friends at the beginning of 2017 that my Word of the Year was going to be Survival.
Mental note, folks. Don’t joke about shit like that, or you’ll manifest it.
Or maybe I just knew what the next 12 months held for me.
For readers unfamiliar, there’s a practice among a number of high-profile, very important thinkers and success stories, that suggests you choose a word (or three words, by some other disciplines) to guide you through your year.
Some of my words in the past have been: Gumption, Surrender, Fun, Intention, and Love. I kinda half-assed a plan for a Year of Creativity in 2015, but again, once I turned 35 I started this weird “What am I doing with my life?” struggle that made big picture thinking a near impossibility.
As much as Hollywood and some of our favorite personality brands would like us to believe that you can magically fix all that in 120 minutes or with some deep soul-searched journaling, it isn’t that easy for everyone.
At least it wasn’t for me.
So there I was joking that I just wanted to survive through 2017, and while it feels like it helps to laugh off such strife sometimes, it’s usually just a defense mechanism.
It was late 2017, after I began reflecting on the previous eleven months to wrap-up the year with a nice little bow and kick it violently into the abyss, that I realized what the real theme to my year was.
The Year of Unanticipated Vulnerability
Vulnerability is something that everyone talks about wanting more of in their lives.
We watch Brene Brown’s TED Talk on it, we journal our deepest fears and insecurities, we write blog posts about ripping off our hardened exteriors and sharing that juicy-squishy pokey-proddy bloody mess that lies beneath, we wax poetic about how much better life is now that we are emotionally intelligent and enlightened.
And that’s all well and good, when you realize that you are exposed and decide to be intentional about your vulnerabilities.
It’s a lot harder when you are laying in the aforementioned fetal position, sobbing and deep throating a Nutella covered spoon, and you suddenly realize that you are not only vulnerable — you are broken open and nearly destroyed.
I’m sure that my complete inability to accept and process this brutal self-exposed person has mostly to do with the fact that I do not enjoy being a vulnerable person.
In my experience, I am not one of those vulnerable people that others rally around and want to help back up. I am one of those people who, in moments of vulnerability, is lectured by person after person to tell me how I let them down or what I did wrong or why I’m being foolish and emotional (which is not something I like to do often, so it usually throws people and they don’t know how to process it.)
Eventually, I learned to bury the feelings deep-inside and pick myself up and forge on. A friend once commented that she didn’t understand how people could say such cruel things so nonchalantly to me, and I just shrugged. That’s been my life as long as I’ve known it.
Apparently, that catches up with you after doing it for three-to-four decades. Who knew?
Now here we are, at the end of a year (well, reflecting on the end of one year from the beginning of the next) in which I spent a lot of time figuring out how to be vulnerable, when most of the time I didn’t even anticipate having to be so.
There were times that the lessons were liberating and I was the happiest I’ve been in years; then there were other times when the lessons crushed me so deeply I didn’t know how to get out of bed and face the day.
So it goes, so they say.
My 2017 Year in Review
I figure the easiest way to break this down is into the categories I tend to track most carefully in my day-to-day, since I didn’t set some brilliant focus at the beginning of the year to come back to. (By track carefully, I mean there is generally at least a fleeting thought that passes across the brain cells on a fairly regular basis.)
Business – Craft Your Content
CYC continues to take up probably 60-70% of my waking time and mental energy. When I’m not working on CYC, I’m thinking about CYC.
Which, you know, probably isn’t good or healthy.
In 2017, I promoted one of our team members to be the official Managing Editor for daily operations and overseeing the team assignments.
And for the first time in three years, I took time to breathe.
We set up systems and made decisions that finally worked me out of the rigamarole and into a place where I could start focusing on growth, new projects, and getting back to the networking and sales I’d been neglecting as I shifted cards around a Trello board.
The secret to my online reading is to make it a part of my routine. Sharing great articles and ideas is something that has always been important to me, so I make specific time for it. Throughout the week I save interesting links and collect newsletters, then on Sunday morning head to a cafe for a delicious bit of weekly indulgence (here, a fresh-out-of-the-oven cheese scone with homemade strawberry jam and flat white from @the_cult_of_coffee in #Aberdeen #Scotland). There, I sort through everything, read while savouring, and schedule the best to my feeds while saving to Pocket for our brilliant Content Producer to further curate and share with CYC. #dayinthelife
Of course it wasn’t perfect, nothing is, especially at the beginning. I struggled letting go of things I used to control, I wasn’t able to deliver on client projects the way I used to when I was focused on that and nothing else, and when I stepped away things either worked immensely well (possibly even better) or fell terribly apart.
This year was our most successful to date, and even though I reinvested a majority of the revenue back into the business rather than taking a large personal draw, I have no regrets.
Health and Wellness
My time in Mexico, aside from being an ill-advised avoidance of any real decisions, was marked by sickness. In March, I suffered a flare-up that I’ve only matched once before, when I couldn’t even feed myself for days straight in the winter of 2015.
This was likely caused by the 15 hour days I put in for about three weeks straight, getting the CYC website relaunched.
Needless to say, when I got sick again in April, I figured the flare had simply continued.
Lemme tell you…having lived through the experience, I can tell you how and why people died from that on the Oregon Trail!
Unexpectedly, after Mexico, I took a 2-month spot on an island at a retreat resort in Greece, mostly rehabilitating myself. Eating a healthy Mediterranean diet (olives, so many olives!), walking a couple miles into town a few times a week, laying by the pool and letting the sun warm my strained muscles and joints, doing yoga on my balcony while gazing out at the Aegean Sea, the list goes on.
By the time I got to Scotland in July, I was finally feeling like myself again. At least where my body was concerned. I continued with the relatively healthy eating (there were a lot more beer, whisky, and Highland Cheddar scones in my life), walking all over the city and in the park behind my house, and getting in as much yoga as I could from home.
Heck, I even took a few rock climbing classes my first weekend there! I don’t see K2 climbing in my future, but the experience was fun and I made a few new friends, so wins all around.
It’s no secret to me, or pretty much anyone who knows me, that I’ve been longing for a home for a few years now.
The problem has been, I could not find where that place was. Hence the getting on planes because I didn’t know what else to do.
It isn’t that I don’t love my family and the friends I’ve stayed in touch with back in the States, it’s just that living in New England doesn’t bring out the best in me. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’m someone else when I’m there, unless I’m with those closest to me.
That’s probably the biggest reason I’ve traveled so much for the better part of a decade — looking for a place I felt like I belonged.
When I booked my flat and flight to Aberdeen, Scotland, I had no idea I’d find it.
I thought I was finding a place to stay for a couple months, between Schengen visa stays on the European continent. My process for choosing it was something similar to the digital version of spinning a globe and dropping my finger on a spot. I had never been there before but wanted to go, and I knew that it had its own visitor rules, so I randomly loaded up Airbnb and did a search for the ENTIRE UK. Yes, a small(ish) country, but still an entire country.
I found a few flats that were available and in my price range for the dates I planned to be there, and researched the cities and towns they were located in. There was something about Aberdeen, even in research, that spoke to me. A city trying to find its place in this new world, beautiful in its granite mass, with easy access to water and mountains.
There’s so much more I could write about Aberdeen. About how my first experience with my eventual friends at the local pub involved me crashing in with all my luggage, after 18 hours of travel from Greece, going up to the bar and meekly asking “If I buy a beer, can I get your wifi to make a call to my landlord who was supposed to meet me here 20 minutes ago?” About the conversations I had with other transient oil and gas folks, who had somehow found themselves in the city as well, figuring it all out. About the whisky tours and British game & humor shows and business conferences and shopping my local stores (butcher, fish monger, cheese, and flowers) and pub quizzes that made the experience so amazing.
But it was while I was walking down the street, talking to my parents and staring up at a looming row of granite tenement buildings, that it hit me. It was what people warned me about, that I would get to Aberdeen and find it cold and grey and sharp. But that is what I love.
People told me that Aberdeen would feel cold and grey with all the granite buildings…but I love it. There’s this beautiful crisp structured architecture of square blocks running the length of street – then, when you stop to look closer, you notice all the unique details like chimney tops and lace curtains and pubs with fireplaces tucked in corners. This city is filled with surprises, creativity, and small gestures of sweetness for one to discover. I identify with that, more than many other places I’ve visited in the past few years.
Cold and grey and sharp is what the world sees. When I was walking down that street, I saw the lace curtains in the windows, the cat on the fire escape, the way the pipes clutter along the top of each chimney…I saw the glimpses of humanity and warmth and living that most miss as they rush past. Only when you stop, to take the time to look and really see what the city offers, do you get that special connection. The sweetness and creativity and depth that lies inside that granite shell.
It was what I’ve felt, and known, about myself for years.
I teared up and interrupted my parents: “You guys should start looking at coming to Scotland sometime in the next couple years; I’m going to be coming back here. I think I’ve found my home.”
Barely six weeks into my stay, and I ended up extending three months to the full six I was allowed to visit.
Not sure what the future holds here for me. There’s a lot to figure out. But you’ll be seeing a lot more from this space going forward.
Aside from feeling listless and without-a-home, personal relationships were the other piece of 2017 that hit my unanticipated vulnerabilities the hardest.
In terms of friendship, I spent a fair amount of time really thinking about the people I invited into my life, and how those invitations were reciprocated. I’ve been a person who always attempted to keep in touch with the people who’ve mattered to me the most. I’m not always the best, but it isn’t unusual to see my name pop-up in an inbox with a random but genuine “Hey, how’s life?” query.
This year, I weeded those lists down a fair bit.
I tried to step back from people who only seemed to come to me when they needed someone to snark with or swirl in negativity (to be fair, I was the common denominator here, so I was obviously inviting that in.) I took a more careful notice of the people who were sending me those random but genuine “Hey, how’s life?” queries, and who wasn’t. I paid attention to friends who seemed to make time to comment on everyone else’s online media & content, but rarely engaged with mine.
I didn’t cut anyone from my life, because I’m not in 4th grade, and we don’t “unfriend” people we used to be quite friendly with in real life. We just sort of fade away.
But I definitely stepped back. While this may seem like the antithesis of being more vulnerable, I saw it instead as a chance to choose who to share these deep inner glimpses of my best and worst self, my most extreme vulnerabilities. I could be more vulnerable with these people, and reciprocate that support and love when they needed to be vulnerable with me.
Then there were the friends I’ve made in Aberdeen, they were friends who had no idea who “I was.” Not that I am anywhere near any sort of “kind-of-a-big-deal”, though others seem to often assume so. I’ve spent the past decade meeting people who found out the communities I managed or what publications I wrote for or my travel lifestyle and they all seemed to eventually want something. Whether it was a connection or a free press article or telling them how to create a life like mine (cause it was just so easy?), I became very apprehensive with new people.
But in Scotland, I’d mention these things, and people would kinda shrug and ask who was getting the next round of pints. Or comment on how admirable that was, then set up plans to go hill-walking next the next weekend. I’d sit with groups of people discussing the local football club then our favorite international travel destinations then how Don Quixote might just be basis for all modern fantasy writing all in a 60 minute period…and it was again everything I’ve been looking for.
The biggest shift in my personal relationships last year was that I managed to fall madly in love. It is something I’ve consciously avoided while I traveled, and a bit more unconsciously before that. With him, I was the sweet loving vulnerable compassionate girl that hides within that hard grey granite exterior, and I am forever grateful that he gave me the space to be that person.
Alas, it didn’t work out, for a plethora of reasons. Seems we were both more in love with the idea of being in love with each other than we were actually in love with each other. Losing that, after waiting so long to find it, nearly broke me again at the end of the year. It will take a while to get to that place with someone again, and that’s probably not a bad thing. As I said above, it is important to be intentional in choosing who we expose that depth of ourselves to.
But I know what it’s like now, and that even though I am (usually) quite happy with my own life, I want something like it, for a long time to come.
On Going It Alone
As I sat with a friend in my flat one December morning, eating the bacon sandwiches on softies with brown sauce I had made for us, I recounted the past year to her, while she listened wide-eyed and mouth slightly agape.
By the end, she managed to stammer out “Why? Why didn’t you tell any of us you were going through all this? We could have helped. When you were in Portugal in September, you were so together and so…happy.”
I explained about my previous experiences in the year, reaching out to people and being shamed for my perceived weakness, quickly acknowledged as friends moved on to their own problems, or blown off with a quick quippy reply to check the conversation off their to-do list. I was sick of listening to myself talk about it all, let alone to put others through it.
“That’s the thing with people like you, Elisa,” she explained. “You are someone who always seems so put together. Even when you’re not, we all know you’re strong, so we assume you’ll figure it out. When things are that bad, you need to be honest with the people closest to you, let us know that things really aren’t ok. Otherwise, we’ll go on with our lives, never knowing how much you need someone in yours.”
I’ve thought on that a lot in this review as well. I found the commentary interesting (if not hilarious, in a twisted sort of way), as I felt like the least put together and strong person I know.
Again, the cold grey granite exterior, the strength that we sometimes think someone has in huge towering magnitudes – that is something that may possibly be crumbling before our very eyes, as they desperately struggle to mortar the cracks and catch the falling debris.
Fall Down Six Times, Rise Up Seven
So that’s my 2017.
Yes, I managed to survive it. (Huzzah!)
I ended the year with a yin yoga class from one of my favourite people in Maine, Chris Byrne, who recently chased his dream (as a 6’5” hiking mountain man who has likened himself to a Sasquatch more times than I can count) to become a certified yoga teacher.
As I laid in savasana, relishing the calm I’d somehow managed to find over twelve months of gut-wrenching searching, he offered this quote as a closing meditation, not knowing my journey to this mat:
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.
Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us most vulnerable.
Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. – Brene Brown
Unanticipated vulnerability. It found me, no matter where I was or what I was doing.
I’ll be getting 2018 plans up soon, for myself as much as for others. I’m excited about what the year holds, and look forward to navigating my aggressive goals and hopes with the lessons from this year.
And especially about sharing more of the journey with you all again.