The first day of the year also marks my birthday, which makes for a more powerful review of the past year. Inspired by Nate’s article, I decided to write a personal retrospective of 2018 and a few thoughts that run through my mind now that I’m 31.
One year ago, I was writing about how I won’t set any resolutions or big, audacious goals for 2018. Instead, I planned to focus on daily habits and incremental improvement.
Here are the fundamentals of my routine:
1. Sleep: I always make sure I get the quantity and quality of zzz hours that my body needs, and I never use an alarm clock to wake up. This one’s a non-negotiable. I also try to take afternoon naps as often as possible. Long gone are the years when I went to bed at sunrise and thought I didn’t need more than 4 hours of sleep. By the way, if you want a great book on the damages done by lack of sleep, this one’s the best.
2. Food: This one’s equally important. As long as I listen to my body and notice how it reacts to what I eat, instead of what’s recommended by “best practices”, I’m fine. When I don’t stay on track, I start feeling sluggish and unproductive. My meals are mostly composed of veggies and I stay away from foods with ingredients that I have no idea what they mean. Last summer I wrote about following a vegetarian diet for 7 years, not much else to add, go read that if you want details. I’ve also been tracking everything I eat using MyFitnessPal app for more than 1,000 days in a row, which helped me avoid biases or nutrients deficiencies.
3. Hydration: Another boring one, but I’ll immediately feel the effects when I’m on the road and I don’t properly hydrate. I limit my coffee intake to two cups per day (half milk), and I started drinking more matcha and rooibos tea lately. 2018 was my first year when I didn’t touch alcohol at all, and only had a sip of sugary juice (one glass of Coke during one of the mountain races). After so many years of drinking beer and Coca-Cola in excess, I just felt the need to take a temporary break.
4. Sports: I tried to stay active at least six days per week, mainly through running, attending spinning classes, and walking crazy long distances. I honestly have no idea how many kilometers I ran in 2018, in how many races I competed or what’s my PB, and my Strava activities are kept private. As I do with online traffic, I’ll check the stats just to make sure that the direction is right, but won’t load my memory with numbers. Running’s the meta-habit that positively influenced every other area of my life, the domino piece that will force me to stay on track with my sleep, food and drinks.
5. Brain food: I don’t let a day pass without reading books and extremely long / well documented newsletters or articles that help me improve my skills. I’m paying for subscriptions to information management apps and access to quality knowledge or learning communities. I read 59 books in 2018 and started 10 others – not that I want to play the numbers game, it can only lead to reading shorter books, or fiction, which beats the purpose – who am I fooling?
As a side note, in the past year a lot of people unsubscribed from the newsletters I sent, complaining they’re “too long”. Maybe what we need is long reads that are harder to read, instead of the shallow approach that seems to be the norm. Why does everything have to be easy? We’ve gotten so used to keeping our brain entertained, reading short social media updates or news, taking shortcuts and never getting too deep into a subject. This affected our memory, ability to learn, focus and do deep, quality work. Let’s see where that takes us.
6. Digital mindfulness: After 10 years of being a heavy Facebook user, I closed my personal account at the end of 2017 and drastically reduced my time spent on other social networks. At first it was meant to be a one-week experiment, but I decided to continue indefinitely. My phone’s always on silent mode and I disabled all notifications – this way, I’m only checking it when I feel like, instead of allowing to be interrupted by random chatter. I also stopped consuming daily news. I’ll still find out about the important stuff (and sometimes junk information that I don’t want my mind to be occupied with will slip through as well). I stopped multitasking, as it’s the enemy of deep and quality work, and I’ll focus on a single task at a time.
I’ll occasionally get sucked back into a vortex of noise, but at least now I’m more aware when that happens and able to get back on track fast.
All these led to lots of results and work that I’m proud of – I’ll follow up with a dedicated article.
WHAT DIDN’T GO SO WELL IN 2018?
I’ve been drowning in fear.
“Oh, Cristina’s such a brave woman!”
No, I’m not. I can’t shake any of the ever-present fears.
Fear of failure.
Fear of injury.
Fear of death.
Fear of disappointing those I love most.
Fear of not keeping up to expectations or accomplishing anything worthy.
Fear that I’ll only be remembered for and defined by what I accomplished 10 years ago.
Fear that I’m an impostor.
Fear that nobody else really cares about me and everyone will forget that I exist once I fall off the social media grid.
Fear of being perceived as bitchy or cold.
Fear that I’m worthless.
Fear that I’m always contradicting myself.
This led to frustrations, being overly self-critical, and sometimes paralysis.
I started, publicly announced and shamefully abandoned mid-way tons of projects and dreams. I’ve wasted energy over-explaining myself, arguing every action or thought that I have. I’m in this constant fight for survival, just to keep my head above the water, and increasingly afraid of taking risks.
A few factors are at play here:
My inability to handle public pressure. 10 years ago, I was renowned at a national level thanks to my work. I had started, ran and sold the most popular music blog in my country, had a huge contribution to the digital marketing strategy of the top musicians, had multiple media appearances and public talks, and I was the most followed Romanian woman on social media.
This brought tens of hate messages thrown my way every day. Websites were created with the sole purpose of publicly humiliating me. My social and email accounts were hacked.
I know it sounds like a “first-world” kind of problem – I should be grateful that other people cared enough about me to bother doing all these, right? But it happened when I was way too young and mentally unprepared to handle the pressure.
It’s the reason why I question every thought or opinion that I have, and try to anticipate opposing views or look for blind spots. I’m wasting most of my energy on preventive measures and over-explaining my decisions. Maybe even self-sabotaging, by never promoting what I do. If nobody hears about my work, there’s no more criticism.
When I’m writing, I always try to provide as many external arguments or links that will support my actions or opinions, and disguise them as “great research and journalistic skills”.
It’s also why I started and abandoned writing a book, doing a podcast, several online and offline courses, and I have hundreds of drafts that will never see the light of the day. When I already know all the counter-arguments, or when other people already said the same things, why even bother anymore?
Gender reasons are probably also worth mentioning. As a woman, I’ll carefully balance how I’m seen. I don’t want to show too much empathy, cause it might appear as a sign of weakness and used against me, and I also don’t want to be seen as too cold, bossy… or bitchy – something that in men is interpreted as a sign of strong leadership.
I “must not” brag about my accomplishments or post photos of myself online, cause I “must” be seen as humble, not intimidate others, nor feed my ego.
It’s why I can’t say no to requests. This got me into trouble, led to taking on too much, doing work that I’m overqualified for, free business consulting, accepting unwanted coffee invitations, and wasting time loading myself with other people’s problems.
I’ll take accountability for everything that goes wrong. When something goes well, I’ll credit external factors, such as luck, timing or lack of competition.
And, obviously, I don’t want to appear too sensitive or emotional, so I’ll try to act as an independent, powerful and successful woman, who doesn’t care about what other people think.
I’m a walking contradiction. I’m my own biggest enemy.
My country’s social and political situation also got worse in the past year. We’re the frog that’s slowly being boiled to death. In a dictatorship.
Many friends have fled the country in the past year, and I can’t blame them.
This instability has affected my mental sanity and work quality. I feel caught in the middle between the urgency of building myself a safety net, in case shit hits the fan real bad (and defining what does “shit the fan” even mean anymore, since there are so many bad things happening), and owning up to the decision to stay.
I’m trying to build an online project that knows no borders, while I also feel the need of supporting people I interact with in real life, where I can see them transform and change is immediate.
Combined with the many recent deaths around me, that I didn’t allow myself to grief for one second, I probably internalized all the stress and forgot to build myself a valve to let the pressure out.
And now that I’m in my thirties, I’ve had the revelation that grownups don’t actually master adulthood. They’re still just teens who have no idea what they’re doing.
MY APPROACH FOR 2019?
I need to get better at saying No, as most of my problems stem from this inability.
I know I can do anything I set my mind to, but I can’t do everything. Neither should I. I have to decide what I want to do – the things that only I am capable of doing, because of my unique combination of skills.
So this means saying NO to anything else, from wasting time with coffee meetings, Skype calls, long email replies, shiny projects, and so on. No to what others want me to do, or what my conscience dictates just because I feel like I owe them.
And I also want to stop taking myself so darn seriously.
[the b&w photo was taken by @Fratele_Alex]