Rome wasn’t built in a day

“Plans are totally pointless. But planning is indispensable.”

I’ve heard this somewhere not long ago and it rang true. Whatever plans you make, life is almost certainly going to get in the way. And when our plans don’t work out the way we envisioned it, we feel disappointed, sometimes even angry and question why we bothered in the first place.

But planning is still an important part of the process. You can’t go in blind whatever your endeavor. As is often the case, it is more about the journey than the destination.

So, where am I going with this?

Well, I set out on the quest to change my ways, to get out of this rut and use my time more wisely, get off social media more, write more, and gain more financial stability.

That’s a lot to deal with, but ultimately, these things actually all tie in together. I may not be setting out to build a complete city, but I am building something that is supposed to have a solid foundation and many different layers.

That needs planning. It needs a strategy, a sensible approach. I can’t go in blind. That would just mean I’d be traipsing around clueless, putting down a brick here, and maybe adding a door where I don’t need it or a window that has no frame.

Does this make sense?

With everything I want to achieve, things can feel overwhelming. By planning my journey out to some degree, things feel more manageable.

For instance, I would like to write a blog once a day. I have set time aside for that, which is part of the daily planning. But my daily schedule is not set in stone. It is an ideal version of a fairly productive day, but I can’t plan for everything, and things sometimes just crop up that need to be dealt with regardless of what my plan might have been.

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, I won’t achieve my goals in a day either. There will be setbacks. I will have days when I won’t write another blog, simply because I might be tired, have no ideas, don’t feel like it, or whatever.

Right now, the idea is to build a habit of writing a blog every day. If it turns out to be unsustainable, I can always cut back to writing one every other day.

Considering the different goals that I have, I also don’t expect to get going on everything at once. I have to start somewhere, and this is what I choose to start with. I can take action on this one item and continue planning for everything else I want to achieve, taking action whenever the opportunity arises.

And making room for failure as well. Setbacks are unavoidable, perhaps even necessary. They are part of the process. They are opportunities to learn. And they can’t stop me from continuing.

I feel as if I’ve been rambling somewhat, but when you just sort through your thoughts and ideas this is what happens. I’m still in the stage of figuring things out. I’m only taking the first steps. But they are important, so here we are.

Getting started

Let’s keep the momentum going. I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to keep following through, but it is my intention to do just that.

So, when you’re fed up or dissatisfied with your status quo, where do you get started changing things? Often, we try to go cold turkey (so to speak) by attempting to change things in an unsustainable way. You want to quit smoking? Throwing out all cigarettes is going to work for about as long as the craving kicks in and you’re heading out to buy a new pack.

You want to cut down on alcohol, sugar, junk food? Throwing all related food items out or pouring your liquor down the drain is also only a temporary fix. What is going to stop you from having a beer when you go out with friends? And that side of fries your friends want to share? And afterward, a piece of cake because why not?

Clearly, none of that works because it isn’t sustainable.

So, here is what I am going to do. First, I take stock. What is my status quo?

  • I have a part-time job that I truly like. It’s beneficial for several reasons as it pays a steady income, and it covers my medical insurance and comes with some social insurance and retirement benefits.
  • I have also my freelance work, which pays well but the main challenge here is that I don’t enjoy the subject matter I write about. I stick with it because it pays well. Do I feel secure in this income? Not always. Assignments can be steady, but they can also be so sporadic that I am unsure whether I will make enough to get to my desired income for my next invoice.
  • I’m not writing for myself nearly as much as I want to.
  • On a personal level, I’m dissatisfied with my current shape. I cycle to work at least three times a week and the job is quite physical in that I walk around a lot. I get plenty of movement this way, but my strength and flexibility are not where I want and need it to be. I do feel flabby in places and I’m not happy with that. That said, this is a question of comfort and health rather than one of looks or beauty standards (which I care nothing for).
  • I spent too much time on social media, reading the news four times a day, browsing YouTube for the latest videos that may interest me and just do the equivalent of online window shopping (looking through my favourite online shops without every buying anything, which is good, but it is still a waste of time).
  • Finally, my financial situation. I have a little bit of credit card debt, but that is in hand and I’m paying that off every month. It does keep me from putting that extra money towards my savings. Also, whilst I don’t have a shopping problem as such, I need to cut down on that.

This is a bit of a conundrum, to be honest. I’ve been putting a capsule wardrobe together with only sustainable clothing during the past year. I spent some money on that every month in order to have the wardrobe that will keep me going for years to come. I’m almost done with that, which is good, but it has been somewhat expensive. It’s also one of the things that have had me falling into YouTube spirals about minimalism and anything else on the subject. And I’ve done extensive research about materials and whatnot. You name it, it’s been taking up a lot of time and it’s been cutting into my funds.

I’ve made some mistakes along the way and purchased items that I ultimately decided not to keep. This is certainly one of those things that get me a quick dopamine fix when I make a purchase, but it is leaving me with some regret when I realize that maybe I should have returned the item I initially liked because it doesn’t quite work for me.

Anyway, I’m looking at my status quo with brutal honesty, which may mean that I don’t like what I’m seeing. There is no way around that, though.

So, once I have looked at where I am at, the next step is to look at where I want to be:

  • I’m happy with my part-time job, but a raise is in order. So, I that’s the next goal here.
  • I’m not happy with my freelance work. I want to find new clients and potentially diversify my streams of income.
  • I want to be stronger and more flexible.
  • I want to waste less time on social media or just doing things that don’t serve me.
  • I want all my debts paid off.
  • I want greater financial freedom.
  • I want to write for myself.

It’s not too difficult to look at where you are at and then to summarise where you want to be. Next, I’m going to have to come up with a plan of getting from where I am to where I want to be.

Stay tuned 😊

Out of excuses

It is quite obvious just how much I have been neglecting this blog. And I find myself out of excuses as to why I have not been writing. Putting procrastination aside (which is clearly the main reason), my job has also taken up much of my time and afterward, simply resting from work.

And since I have my freelance work, I can still claim that I write every day. Or most days anyway.

But it is not the writing I want to do. In fact, it is quite tedious at times as I am not engaged in the topics I write about.

The discovery that I feel most inspired to write when I am traveling is somewhat helpful. But it would kind of mean that I should take trains more often to places I’ve not been before. As lovely as that sounds, it is currently not feasible. I have a commitment to my job, which I actually enjoy doing as well.

But I do know that once I’m done with it, I will move on – quite literally.

If I have no reason to stay, it will be time again to leave.

Until then, I can’t wait for the next trip to happen and to feel in the mood for writing. It’s not as if I feel that I have nothing to say when I’m sitting at home. Quite the contrary. I always have something to say.

I watched this video on YouTube yesterday, where this guy talked about his Dopamine detox experience for the past year. He didn’t just do it for a day or a week. He went for an entire year on this journey, and it was very interesting. He was incredibly blunt, and I am not exactly his target audience (young guys are), but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get something out of it.

I know I’ve fallen into the same trap as so many others when it comes to instant gratification. Scrolling through Instagram to read yet another uplifting post, cliché, or watching the umpteenth video of a cute parrot or parakeet.

Or deep-diving into YouTube, watching videos about minimalism, financial stability, traveling, backpack reviews, and whatnot.

But all I do is watch. Or read. I kill time. I’m not doing anything. And I tell myself I deserve a break.

Sometimes that is even true. But who needs to spend hours on social media? Sure, I take some valuable lessons away and some things do stick. But beyond that, I am not moving at all. In any direction. Or with purpose.

Another video I watched talked about how fatal inaction can be. Letting everything happen to you and not taking action. Whether that is writing a journal, going for a walk, doing that work-out, paying off that debt, approaching someone new, or even just saying no to more work on your plate.

There are so many ways in which we can and should take action but never do. We feel powerless and let things happen. We let our lives happen to us instead of taking charge of it. How is that acceptable?

Sure, there is a time and place for social media. It can serve a purpose. But surely not for hours at a time.

And feeling like a slouch on your sofa and complaining about that flabby belly is not going to improve by eating more junk food and putting off yet another walk or work-out.

I’m officially out of excuses.

Let’s get going.

The travelling writer

I’m currently on a train to The Hague, though I am on my way to Rotterdam, which means I will change before the train arrives at its destination. This is not important, of course.

What is important is that I have not taken the time to write for this site in too long. I’m not short of things to write about. I am short of the drive to do so. There is always a reason to put it off. Work is chief amongst them.

But it is not an excuse I want to allow any longer. Whether it is my secondary job (which is actually my main job in terms of time invested) or whether it is my freelance writing. Neither should keep me from doing the writing I really want to do. This has never changed. But I let that work and the general lethargy that has held me in its grip stop me from pursuing my writing.

My mom said to me last year that I can do whatever I set my mind to. I always have been able to do just that. And it never cost me undue effort either, which is strange. That doesn’t mean it has always been easy. Far from it. But it was never a case of having to overcome an internal obstacle.

I just go and do the things I want to do. I go travelling. I get the jobs that I want. I start freelance writing. I get the apartment that I want.

It makes me wonder why I can’t sit down and write the book that I want. What’s the difference? Is there a difference? Is it not simply a question of my mindset, the attitude with which I approach this particular project?

Or is it a matter of timing?

Perhaps not. But it does seem to be a matter of circumstances.

For instance, as I am travelling today, I have already written a lot more than my usual daily quota of paid work. Actually, twice as many words than I would ordinarily write. I have little else to do on my trip, though I could simply read a book. In fact, I have done some reading in between as well. So, this feels like a very productive day already in every aspect.

Sitting at home with all the creature comforts that I can afford, writing seems to have less urgency. I manage to get the writing done that I assigned to myself, but no more.

If I were travelling every day, I would write every day like I have done today. Isn’t that strange?

Can I really just blame the comfort of my home? And the many distractions I so easily succumb to? Why is it so much easier to write sitting on some rumbling train?

I’m not sure I know the answer. Though I do know that I feel never more my true self than when I am travelling. I can get lost in a book, in the landscape, in thought. Or I can just write, glance outside occasionally and feel free from everything else.

Perhaps it is the absence of every-day chores as well as comforts that free me up to concentrate on what I truly want and enjoy. It’s not that I feel overly bogged down by daily life and obligations, but they are somewhat of a burden, whether we are always aware of it or not.

I’ve always known that I could travel for the rest of my life.

I love my home. I love Hamburg. I love my job as well. And everything that is connected to these three things. But the truth is that I have been a traveller since I first left home almost 16 years ago. Nothing has changed that. And if I am most myself when I am travelling, it seems less of a surprise that writing, which is also essential to me, is so much easier when I am on the road.

It’s hardly a coincidence that my last blog was also written as I was travelling on a train.

It takes a trip

At home, I am wrapped up in my life. There is work – freelance and part-time jobs -, there are chores at home, grocery shopping, the occasional outing with friends. All that and more. The daily stuff that we do unthinking.

Today I sit on a train. My brother gifted me a weekend in Prague for my birthday six months ago. What with the pandemic and all we only now managed to make a booking. Hence my being on a train. I could have taken a flight. Or perhaps not. Remember the pandemic. The train is, in any case, infinitely more comfortable.

And aside from the physical comfort, I get to enjoy the added benefit of time. After all, when do we ever get the luxury of sitting and spending our time not wrapped up in mindlessness whilst still going someplace?

Instead of browsing through social media, which I do too much of at home, I am reading a book. Yes, on my tablet, which is also where I’m writing this, but it still counts.

Especially since it not only reminded me why I want to write but because it also got me writing.

Later, I will take out my notebook and I’ll see what might emerge from the tip of my pen. For now, I shall return to my book and enjoy this luxury of taking a trip, away from everything else, and having time to spend on thinking thoughts.

Still lost somehow

Not a day goes by when I don’t think that I must write. This blog is lurking at the back of my mind and I know I really should get back to it. I’ve let this happen in the past. I start something and then I let it slide until it seems no longer relevant. Or too late. It’s been so long now, I might as well give up. Right?

I have had a busy two months with job changes, more responsibility, less time, and waiting for things to settle into a new rhythm. I’m getting there.

So, what brought me here today of all days?

Hurt.

And writing is the only thing that helps. It always has been.

Sometimes it seems people can only be relied upon to hurt you. Cheerful thought, huh? I’d like to say it’s not all that bad, but lately, it seems I am more vulnerable. I get hurt more easily. By friends, by circumstances. Whatever.

Why is that? Is my skin getting thinner? I’m a spread more thinly? Spread out too much and less resilient than I usually am? Too tired? Not enough time to recover?

Let’s just think about this year, how very long it has been. The first half of it spent in lockdown, hardly seeing anyone, mostly at home, stressed about money, lonely.

And then life kicks back into gear, the job picks up, overtime comes back, no real summer, no real holiday, everybody busy, a promotion, still not out of the woods where money is concerned, friends who make themselves scarce, too many people too soon, and still remaining lonely.

All in all, I’d say I’m coping remarkably well. But coping isn’t exactly healing and I feel lost some days. Unless I’m busy, which is just another coping mechanism.

Today I decided to go for more mindfulness. Not watching something mindless and distracting, but finishing a book I started a while back. Not scrolling through social media so much. What am I even looking for? Just something lighthearted, I suppose. Something to make me smile, take the edge away.

But I keep scrolling and eventually, it just doesn’t do it anymore. I put the phone away, not knowing what to do with myself. I even thought I should get a hobby that doesn’t involve screens or anything electronic. I think that’s actually a good idea.

The hurt has dissipated somewhat. I think others are just as thin-skinned as I am. I triggered someone and she lashed out at me. I don’t exactly know what I triggered, but her response hurt. I had no ill-intention. Not that that helps. It’s not a particularly good excuse, is it?

When you feel lost, you just want someone to find you, I suppose. It makes us feel less alone. But I guess it’s up to me to find myself.

Writing helps because it allows me to simply ramble and sort through my thoughts. It is probably not even worth publishing but getting this out is better than keeping it inside.

When we sit in silence

It is usually when we sit in silence that the weight of the world becomes noticeable. That all our worries, anxieties and fears can be felt most acutely. It is the time when we are closest to ourselves because we allow ourselves to hear our thoughts and feel those feelings that are always there but that we usually quiet down.

Life is an endless stream of distractions. We scroll through social media, play games, watch TV shows, meet friends, busy ourselves with the daily tasks live imposes upon us. And, of course, there’s work. All of it seems to be distraction. None of it seems to serve a purpose. Other than distracting us.

I mean, honestly, do you feel as if any of it serves a purpose? Is there any meaning to any of it? Do we feel fulfilled by playing a random somewhat addictive game on our mobile phones? Is the work you’re doing satisfying? Do you enjoy going to your job every day? Or even some of the time at least?

There are several problems here.

First, does anything have to have a purpose? And what purpose do we speak of? Do we want to change the world? Do we want to leave something meaningful behind? And what does it mean in the grand scheme of things anyway?

Come to think of it, there is a lot to unpack here.

Honestly, when you begin to think any of this, and you ask all these questions you will never get to the end of it. You can keep asking all these questions about the meaning of life and not find a satisfying answer. No answer that can possibly apply to everyone anyway. These are things we must figure out for ourselves. I believe that the purpose of the thing is whatever this thing is made for. The purpose of a violin is to play it. It doesn’t mean that we have to play it well or that we need an audience to play. It simply matters that we play.

Similarly, whatever idea you choose, whatever thing you look at, the purpose is right in front of you. You do not need to make more of it than there is. Just that we don’t need to search for meaning where there might not be one. Not everything we do is meaningless. Playing a game can be a means of rest and recreation. Watching a TV show is a way of shutting down our brains (somewhat). Simply doing nothing can have its own meaning or purpose. Not everything needs to revolve around saving the world. Or having a job that has an impact. Sometimes the purpose of a job is simply to earn enough money to have a roof above our heads. To pay the bills.

In the grand scheme of things none of it is going to matter anyway. Which means we might as well try and be happy with what we have, with what we can do, with the people in our lives and the work we do. Because we only get so much time and in 100 years from now nobody will remember us maybe not even in 10 years. And we have to be okay with that.

So, I guess the second aspect to consider is to stop asking these questions. What is the meaning of it? What is the purpose? It is what we make of it anyway. Asking these questions doesn’t help. It serves very little purpose actually. It only drives us mental. Every once in a while, it is useful to check in with ourselves. To ask whether we are happy with what we’re doing, whether we find meaning in what we’re doing. But we must always be aware that none of it truly matters in the end. So, no we don’t have to change the world. But we can contribute to making it a better place. At the very least, not making it worse. That counts too.

The thing is, we are much more aware of the world at large. We don’t just sit in our little villages never knowing more than a few dozen people and more than the patch of land we live on. Our world is simultaneously restricted to our immediate environment and as wide as the horizon. We see the stars and know how insignificant we are. That means suffering from an existential crisis or existential dread seems to be much more common among us today than it was even 100 years ago. If you are self-aware and aware of the world around you, there is a weight associated with that that is hard to shake and sometimes difficult to carry.

Oddly, it is by scrolling through social media that you will find that you’re not alone. That there are so many other people who feel exactly like that, who share their thoughts about their own existential dread, search for meaning, and feeling of insignificance.

We’re all alone. And it is when we sit in silence that we feel it most dreadfully. But we’re also all in this together. We can find purpose, if even just for ourselves and not the world at large. We can give meaning to everything we do, even though it might not matter to anyone else.

And yes, I’ve been feeling like this a lot lately. I haven’t found all the answers yet. I do feel like I am making some progress, though. Spiritual growth is a long journey as well.

Mantra

I don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder, but like all of us, there are situations that leave me feeling anxious. I can identify that feeling and its causes rationally. I can confront the thoughts, fears, or worries behind that anxiety at their deepest and most honest level. And that really is not always easy.

But I still can’t make the feeling stop. It’ll pass eventually. Usually thanks to some distraction or another, which might be a light-hearted comedy or simply work. Music or a walk can help as well.

Sometimes, when it feels most urgent, I sit and breathe. I’m just trying to let go of the feeling, the thoughts that caused it, the fears underneath it all.

And I tell myself these things:

I am okay. (Repeatedly)

I am here now.

I’m not in the past. And not in the future.

I am only here now.

Everything will be alright.

I’m here in this moment, which is all I have and nothing else matters.

I keep breathing. And repeating these things as a sort of mantra as much as necessary. It doesn’t really help with how I feel, but it stops my thoughts from running away, which is helpful.

What is important is that I look inside not outside. I can’t change how someone treats me, talks to me, or ignores me when I would hope for something different. I have very little influence on the outside world, especially beyond my immediate surroundings.

I can only look inside and figure out what is going on there. Thankfully, I do know myself very well and opt for complete honesty. Admittedly, there are times I’d rather lie to myself as it would just be easier. But easy doesn’t help.

Sometimes it would be nice to receive assurance and/or clarity from an outside source. Sometimes friends can provide that. But I try not to be reliant on that because friends can’t always be there.

Nobody said caring for ourselves would be easy. And I cannot imagine just how difficult it might be for someone suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Reaching for the wrong people

Every now and then I have an epiphany. It usually happens when I talk to myself, thinking out loud. That’s when I seem to have the best ideas.

I’m currently in a situation where one of my friends has retreated. I’m not entirely sure why. We had a miscommunication. We were exchanging messages when I was feeling a little down. In fact, I was feeling lonely. That doesn’t happen to me very often. I can usually deal with it, but I didn’t deal with it very well when we talked.

And that meant that what I said, which could have been meant in jest, weirded her out. the problem is that she didn’t say anything. Instead, she simply didn’t answer at all. And of course, that weirded me out. I knew I could have handled that situation better, could have chosen my words better, but for her to simply not reply sucked.

Ultimately, after two days or so, I wrote her again to defuse the situation. That’s when she confessed two having been weirded out. I admitted that I have been in a weird mood which affected my responses to her, and I apologised. The problem here is that she again simply did not reply.

That did not just suck, it hurt.

It’s completely unnecessary. Instead of reaching out, talking to me, or asking what might be wrong, she retreated, and I don’t see why.

Usually, I would have followed up and sent her another message, just to explain myself a little more. I have composed that message, but I decided not to send it. Because I always do that. And in the past, it never served me well.

My impulse is to reach out. I have a problem with letting go. Especially when I like somebody. But I have been the one to reach out more often than not. At some point, I’m gonna have to leave her to it. If she wants to reach out, she knows where to find me. But I don’t expect her to. In fact, I expect that she will send me a random message at some point and pretend nothing ever happened.

When I deal with situations like that, I think out loud to myself, essentially conversing with the other person without them actually being there. I can only go with what I would say myself, not how they would respond, but it helps me sort through my thoughts.

And there it was, this epiphany, as I was thinking that I keep reaching for the wrong people. Not because there’s anything wrong with them, but because they don’t reach back. And what is the point of reaching for someone who doesn’t reach back? I’ve been doing that so much in my life and I was always the one ending up hurt in the end.

Mind you, I have people in my life who do reach back. They ask how I am, they want to know. They are my friends. And I’m blessed for every single one of them.

The question is why I keep reaching for those unavailable ones. One of my friends would probably say that this is one of my projects to figure out. Maybe it is a lesson in letting go, which will repeat over and over again until I finally learn. Because it is very clear that I haven’t yet.

In German, we have a saying that hope dies last. And I am one of those people who seem to operate on that premise. As I said previously, always giving somebody the benefit of the doubt even when they have shown themselves to be undeserving.

Ultimately, to find the ones who will stay, those who reach back, we have to go through a lot of people who simply don’t care enough.

Repeating patterns

If you ever ask yourself what’s wrong with you, the answer is probably ‘a lot’. Though that’s not necessarily the best way to look at it. We shouldn’t think in terms of something being ‘wrong’ with us. Of course, the feeling that something is just not ‘right’ tempts us to think of the opposite as ‘wrong’.

The truth is, we’re all complex and complicated. We’re all damaged in some way. And much of that damage has been done to us by our parents. Even if we had happy childhoods with loving parents, they inevitably screwed us up in a way we’re probably not even aware of.

I had a good childhood. I was free, had friends, could play outside without worrying about predators. I had all I needed. But I also had an often-absent father, who barely had a hand in raising us, and a relatively strict mother, who had an introverted child at her hands and didn’t know how to connect to me emotionally.

Don’t get me wrong, I always had a good relationship with my parents, and still do. I love them dearly and they love me without question.

But that doesn’t mean that I got everything I needed when I was a child. Especially emotionally.

This isn’t anybody’s fault. My parents had their own burdens to carry and are probably not even aware in which ways they’ve been damaged by their parents. Every generation damages the next one, usually without intent or without really knowing any better.

We now know better. We know that parents influence their children in a fundamental way as they grow up, especially in their early years. Our adult attachments patterns are a repetition of our attachment to our parents, the way they loved us and connected with us.

We may grow older, turn into adults, but the child in us never truly disappears. It would be a tragedy if we lost our inner children, the part of us that never truly grows up.

But sometimes it is just as much of a tragedy how this child influences our behaviours and needs as adults. How we keep repeating patterns that are not good for us because this child is still desperately trying to find something that may not be there.

It helps to recognise this. It helps to be aware that this is happening. We can’t blame our parents for raising us one way or another, unless they are narcissists or abusers (or both), they usually tried their best. And we can’t blame ourselves for turning out the way we did, for forming certain attachment styles and having unmet needs.

But where do we go from here? Especially since everybody else is just as screwed up as we are.

It’s a lot of work.

My past relationships and many of my friendships have taught me what I need and want. That’s a good thing, though sometimes I paid a pretty steep price for a lesson.

This work we must do, the growth we must undertake, it’s painful. It can be heart-breaking.

I know my patterns. I know my unfulfilled needs. I know what I look for in people and I know that I somehow always land on those who can’t give me what I need. I also know that I keep hoping to be wrong about someone. That we just don’t know each other well enough yet and that things may not be as they seem.

But that hope is unsustainable because when people show you who they are, you really should believe them.

When I’m at a low point, this is very hard to accept. I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I am usually the one who ends up being hurt in the end.

Walking away from your own patterns—breaking out—is difficult. We grasp onto straws, which will inevitably break. Our inner children are pretty stubborn, especially when they potentially discover a kindred spirit.

The thing is, you can hold onto people all you like, if they don’t hold onto you as well, letting go really is the only option.

That sucks. And it hurts. And it never gets any easier either.

But it does teach you that the people who do hold onto you as well are the right ones for you. And they are the ones who will help you break your patterns.

You will likely only have a few such people in your life, but they matter more than all the ones who keep letting you go.