21-Day Writing Challenge Day 18 – Consumerism

Some people are seemingly oblivious that there is a world out there, and that far from everybody can afford the same kind of easy and comfortable life.

It sounds really obvious but it was made very clear to me when I went to see a friend this weekend. Not because of her, but because we went out to run some errands. On a Saturday. Right after Black Friday, in the month leading up to Christmas.

To see everybody just focused on buying things they don’t need without seemingly questioning any of it actually shocked me. And in a way made me envious. I wish I could turn my concern for the rest of the world off sometimes. Not wonder how my decisions are affecting other people.

They seemed to simply go along with their lives. The same routine they’ve had for years. Repeating the same habits they had seen growing up. I recognized my old self in them and I think that’s what shocked me the most. To see that I used to be exactly like this. I would go to the store on Saturdays and buy stuff I didn’t need. And then when Black Friday or Cyber Monday would come around, I would also be shopping for deals on things I didn’t even really need or want but managed to convince myself were essential.

I would follow the Christmas traditions and put up decorations, make fruitcake and buy gifts for people. I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with tradition, putting up decorations or making fruitcakes, but for a long time, I never questioned my motives for doing all of this. I would not even stop and ask myself why I was still buying into the whole Christmas things if I didn’t believe in religion.

I simply went with the flow, believing I needed something new to make me feel better. Trying to find the perfect gift for people who also happened to already have absolutely everything they could possibly need.

I find it fascinating, crazy and scary to see just how much we believe everything we are told. It doesn’t matter what country we are coming from or what religion was most present while growing up. We simply believe what we were told from the start. Rarely do we question why our parents held those belief and if there’s any truth to them.

Going with the flow is a lot easier than starting to objectively look into our habits.

For every single thing we buy, someone else had to be making it. Whether it’s fruits and vegetables, clothes or decorations, the fact that we can buy things means it was most likely made at someone else expense.

What does it actually matter that we wear the same clothes every few days? Does that make me less of a ”good” human if I do not have a closet full of fabric I never wear? In a house filled with plenty of things, I do not even like?

I’m still filled with that cultural default of always wanting more. Following the American Dream. Even when I’m packing my backpack, I find it really hard to limit myself to what I actually need to bring with me. What if I need a more formal dress? Or formal shoes? It’s like I forget that if I really need that particular thing there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be able to buy it, but there’s no reason at the moment for me to be carrying all of it with me.

I do not own much by Canadian standards, but I still fall for the same consumerism shit as everybody else at times. It’s very hard to be consciously making different choices. But mostly to be aware of my decision-making process. At times it feels like we are made to think we do not need our own opinion or our own preferences. If we listen, people and ads will tell us exactly what we need and when we need it.

21-Day Writing Challenge Day 17 – Anxiety

Talking to some friends lately, I’ve realized that a lot of people are dealing with anxiety on a daily basis. A lot more than I expected.

Most of my friends tend to look like they’ve got their shit together. Their ducks are in a row and they seemingly know where they are going with their lives.

But it seems that unlike on Instagram, it’s not all pink and pretty.

A few of my friends recently opened up about their anxiety and the fact that it affects them a lot in their daily life activities. And I don’t know if it’s just because I happen to be friend with a lot of perfectionists, but from my external point of view, it seems like they all suffer from performance anxiety.

They might not say it out loud very often, but some of them won’t go out if their clothes are not perfect. Or their hair. They might even become anxious when cooking, as they know they should eat healthily, and avoid certain types of food, so choosing the right recipe can quickly turn to disaster.

The stress accumulated can sometimes come out in a rather violent way. Either through words or physical violence.

I was like that too, and can sometimes still be. I’ve learned to recognize my triggers. I’ve also finally grasped the idea that perfection does not actually exist, and with that realization, I’ve come to see that no matter what I do it will never be perfect. Since perfection is unachievable, good enough will have to do.

That being said, it’s still far from being my natural reaction. I do still lose patience and get angry when things don’t work out how I want it to. Especially when it comes to silly things like my hair.

When I was a teenager, I was doing classical ballet. I took classes for about 10 years, so you’d think I would have learned how to put my hair in a bun without too much fuss but I did not. I wanted my bun to be perfect, smooth hair without bumps. My hair always has had a mind of its own and I have tufts that will simply not go anywhere. Especially not with the rest of the hair, stuck in an elastic band.

My hair would sometimes cooperate and there wouldn’t be anything to talk about. But other days, it would not.

I would try and try and it wouldn’t work at all.

Because it didn’t work quickly or smoothly enough, I would start losing patience, wanting to rip my own hair out of my scalp.

I would keep trying because I needed to get ready to go to class. By then I was agitated and couldn’t focus properly, so it made all my attempts a lot more difficult. I was getting anxious and frustrated and more often than I am proud of, I ended up throwing my hairbrush away in discouragement and rage at myself. And a few times, it was so violent, I even did a hole in the wall.

For anyone not used to performance anxiety, this would definitely sound trivial, but once you are stuck in your mind, it’s very hard to stop yourself, step back and relax as some people can.

So not only does it affects what you do at that moment, but it stays with you for a while after. And it makes you feel like shit for not even being able to comb your hair, pick your clothes etc.

Performance anxiety becomes a possibility when and wherever there is possible judgment.¹ It doesn’t have to mean that people will actually judge you, but once you start thinking they might, it plays with your mind. I don’t think any of my classmates would have even noticed that my hair wasn’t perfect. And if they did notice, they would have definitely not cared but it still took me years to understand how unreasonable that was and how miserable it was making me feel.

As usual, I’m not saying I’m perfect at this, but I’ve now learned to let it go. Most of the time that is. I will still get really angry when my hair doesn’t behave the way I want it too, but if I’m in Canada and it’s winter like a few days ago, I’ll simply grab my hat and move on with my day!

¹ https://www.social-anxiety.com/area-of-concerns/performance-anxiety

21-Day Writing Challenge Day 16 – Unfinished Business

Expectations when it comes to love or any relationship can make things very complicated. Especially if part of the relationship and discussion happens online. Words don’t convey quite the same meaning or can be interpreted very differently when they are written instead of spoken.

I had a story along those lines. We met and hung out for about a week. I developed a high school kind of crush on him. Nothing happened although we clearly had a connection. Clear enough for everybody else to see too. We both left but stayed in touch for the entire summer I was back in Canada. We messaged so much, sharing a lot about our personal lives.

It felt like an impossible relationship at the time, so it made it a lot easier since we had absolutely nothing to lose. We could totally open up to each other since there was not the risk of our difficulties to be brought back up with the involved person.

But then, as life can be surprising sometimes, we ended up living in the same city. We saw each other again. The anticipation, at least on my part was massive.

Like most people in similar situations, I had filled the blank with what worked for me. Adding a bit of fantasy to the scenario. But no one can live up to fantasy expectations. We reconnected and the vibe was still very much there. But I don’t think either of us was ready for compromises. Or a relationship. Not willing enough to give it a try anyway. In theory, it was something we both wanted, but the reality was quite different.

Everybody seems to have at least a story somewhat similar to this. You meet someone, it works. But it’s an impossible relationship for various reasons. You build this persona in your mind, and the person most likely is not quite like it but it doesn’t really matter. You keep dreaming about them. And if you are lucky and your timing is ok, you might attempt a relationship. It might work or it might fail but as long as you get to the end of it, you’ll be able to let it go eventually.

Some stories are different, however. Sometimes you do not get a proper end to a story, and you are left with the what-ifs. What if we actually gave this a shot? What if I didn’t leave the country?

And that makes it very hard to move on. At least from my experience. And the experience of some close friends of mine. It’s like reading a book but not getting to the conclusion of it. The possibilities are endless. And it makes it very difficult to say ”oh well…this is it”. You keep that hope that maybe if things were different it could have worked. Carrying unfinished business adds a decent amount on one’s shoulders. I know it’s the case for me anyway.

This does also apply to other areas of life like work or friendships. Unfinished business brings a lot of what-ifs. And it makes you reconsider your choices and decisions. Sometimes I find it very hard to step off from that mental hamster wheel and just let it go.

21-Day Writing Challenge Day 15 – Going Sober

Last year when I was living in a skydiving centre in Gatineau, Canada, I attempted to stop drinking. It was a lot more difficult than I expected. I clearly did not have as much self-control as I thought I did, especially when sitting around a fire with my friends.

I have attempted to be sober many times in the last few years. Last time I decided to be sober was when I moved to Dubai. I figured it would be easier in a Muslim country. Alcohol is widely available in tourist and expat areas of course, but I wanted to use this opportunity to be alcohol-free for a while.

My last non-drinking run kept going for about 6 months. And my first drink after such a long time went straight to my head! It was for a ladies’ night with my colleagues, and I sure didn’t have an expensive evening for the bar since I took about only half of my glass of wine before feeling too tipsy to keep going!

I have to admit it was a bit odd to go to pubs with my colleagues and order a lemon and mint drink, but not as weird as when I first tried my 30-day alcohol-free challenge back in Scotland. Going to a typical Scottish pub and asking for alcohol-free alternatives was strange. And it got me rather confused looks from the bartender.

Everybody has their own personal reasons not to drink. For some, it’s because they don’t actually like the taste. Or how they feel when they drink. Others chose not to drink for health or religious reasons.

I chose to go sober for a bit because I was no longer comfortable with my drinking habits. I knew full well I was trying to numb some pain by drinking. And it didn’t change anything in the end. When I am drinking, I do not actually feel better about things that are bothering me. But I have to admit that sometimes it does numb the feelings for a bit. They simply tend to come back full force the next morning.

Last time I decided to stop drinking, I had been drinking way too much for way too long. When we are traveling we are on holiday mode, so why not enjoy a drink?

For a two-week holiday it’s not a problem, however, when you leave for over a year, it can quickly become one.

Coming back to Canada means that I’ve been catching up with people. It also means that I’ve been catching up over many glasses of wine. It hasn’t been that bad by any mean. But I feel like it would be really easy to fall off the bandwagon once again.

So I’ve decided that my next challenge, after my 21-day writing challenge, will once again be a non-drinking challenge. I try not to pick too many challenges at the same time since I find it rather difficult to stick to them when there’s a few going on. Plus when I focus on one thing at a time, it allows me to see if it’s a habit I want to add to my routine. I can see more clearly the impact of the challenge on my life when there’s only one variable that changed.

With a funny twist of fate, this means that I’ll start my new challenge on the day I will be leaving Canada. To go to Portugal, where they have lovely wines and port. I could obviously wait until I leave Lisbon to get my new challenge started, but by then I’ll be in New Zealand, where they also produce great wines…

I find that if I wait to start my new challenge, I will be making excuses. And as I found out before, deciding not to drink is not that difficult. Especially once you’ve found out other things to drink than a simple glass of water!

I always have an interesting timing to decide to do my alcohol-free challenges anyway since last year it was for New Year’s Eve and the first one when I lived in the land of great Whiskies, so I should still be able to succeed with that new challenge of mine!

21-Day Writing Challenge Day 14 – Countdown started!

The countdown to my departure from Quebec City has started.

In exactly one week I’ll be heading out to the airport.

I’m excited for this new chapter in my life and at the same time, a bit stressed.

7 days is not a whole lot of time to see people and finish everything I wanted to do here.

I’m always like this though. I think I’ll have plenty of time to do things. And next thing you know it’s already time to leave. I don’t know if it’s because I have a strong tendency to procrastinate or because I don’t have a very strong sense of time but I seem to feel this surprised every time when the expiry date of an experience is approaching.

I wonder if I’ll find it hard to leave once again. I remember last time thinking that it was getting harder and harder with each passing time. And since I keep going further and further away, I also can’t really come back on a whim should I chose to.

When I lived in Europe I was only about a workday time away. About 7 or 8 hours flight to be back home. Once I moved to Dubai, it was more half a day. And now New Zealand. A full day away.

It feels so far yet not that far at the same time. I’m sure I’ll change my mind and decide on the fact that’s it’s fucking far once I’ll reach Auckland, but for now, it’s both close and far. Almost like Schrodinger’s cat. At the moment it’s still both states at the same time. But once I start heading that way and opening the box, I’ll be set. It’ll be far.

Until I reach that point though, I still have one week to spend en français, and then a week in Lisbon. I am looking forward to this little holiday within a holiday. It should be a good transition between Canadian winter and New Zealand summer!

This 21-Day Writing Challenge is proving to be quite difficult. As much as I like writing, I’ve come to realize that writing something when I do not feel inspired whatsoever is pushing my limits. Sitting down to write when you feel like you have something to say is easy. Or at least much easier than when I stay in one place, not doing anything extraordinary!

21-Day Writing Challenge Day 13 – Different you

It’s funny how timing can work sometimes. Yesterday I wrote about how I felt like I was always reverting to an old version of me every time I came back to Canada. And later on, that night, while wasting time on Facebook I came across a screenshot that really resonated home.

I, unfortunately, have no idea where it was coming from, but the post said: “A different version of you exists in the minds of everyone who knows you”.

It blew my mind.

And I was shocked as to how obvious that was.

It got me thinking, why did it never occur to me before?

Of course, no one will see you the same way. To your mother, you are a daughter or a son with particular qualities and weaknesses. And this version of you would be very different if you were to access your lover’s brain, your best friend’s or the grocery clerk’s mind.

How we see people also depends a lot on what we know about them and in what context we see them. When you see people at work, you most likely will keep a more ”professional” front. Whereas if you are with childhood friends or extended family, because of all the baggage and history, the picture will be made from a mosaic of moments.

The way we see ourselves is very different than how people see us. They see us with their own filters of experiences, beliefs, and feelings in that specific moment.

In the same way, my opinion of people is rather guaranteed to be different than how they consider themselves.

I find this fascinating.

And can’t get over the fact that this thought had never crossed my mind. Not in this obvious way anyway.

Of course, I always knew that people saw me differently than how I felt. But some things seem to transpire through.

Last night I went to an Adventure Film Festival organized by some students in the tourism course I did. It was very well organized and I was invited as a special guest since they were presenting the movie Sea Gypsies: the Far Side of the World. This movie was made by Nico during our experience sailing onboard Infinity, from New Zealand to Chile with the most unique stop in Antarctica.

I was a very low key special guest I have to admit, with only a few people sitting around me realizing it was even me. Towards the end of the evening, the lovely wife of one of the organizers came to talk to me, mentioning how interesting it was that I had done such a crazy thing yet I wasn’t really putting it out there for everybody to know.

And that is definitely a strong part of me. I love doing crazy amazing things. And I love sharing them but to a small public. I don’t feel comfortable being in the spotlight, even when it comes to talking about my adventures.

I’ve always been like this, and it might be why I don’t really understand people who can film themselves every day and share all of that on social media. I much prefer having deep or philosophical conversations than to talk about the weather. I have to admit that it’s weird that I struggle to share anything personal and being the centre of the attention when I’m physically with people, but find it a lot easier to open up and share things with words. Even though it ends up being a lot personal than something focusing only on my physique!

21-Day Writing Challenge Day 12 – Same Patterns

Falling back into the same patterns

Every time I come back to Canada or see people from a previous time in my life, it feels like I revert back to the person I was at that time.

And it fucks with my mind.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems to happen all the time.

It happened when I went back to my dad’s place, the town where I grew up and spent my teenage years. It felt like I was back to my old depressed teenage self.

It’s the same when I am in Quebec City. It’s like I can’t help it. I start complaining about everything and I have that feeling of never being able to make things work properly for me. Exactly how I was feeling when I lived here.

I find it works also with people from my past. I’ll revert to a child when I’m with my parents. Not really, but I do get a very weird child-like feeling, needing some kind of approval from everybody.

I went to see my ex a few days ago. We have stayed friends after spending over 10 years together, and it felt like I had just stepped right back into the same relationship. It felt comfortable of course since this was my life for so long. But I found myself going back to the old me. The one who wasn’t all that confident and repeating similar couple’s situations. Similar jokes, and comments.

This whole reverting back to who I was makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t know if it’s because I do not have the strength to be true to who I am now. But as I said earlier, it’s fucking with my mind.

I feel like I’ve changed, I’ve grown a lot in the last few years. Yet when I come back it’s like none of my experiences happened. Maybe it’s the city, but it’s most likely me who can’t seem to be able to be truly myself. It’s like I’m scared people won’t like and appreciate me anymore, so I revert back to what they seemed to like and appreciate before.

Nobody has been asking me to go back to who I was. They have followed me and most likely have noticed some changes. And since we are still in contact, they must have been okay with it.

So why can’t I be?

I know it’s most likely a confidence thing, and while I might look somewhat confident to people who don’t actually know me, my confidence levels are very low.

It’s better than it used to be, but I am still very much self-conscious when I speak. I’m still very anxious people might judge me. Knowing full well that everybody judges and that it doesn’t change anything to my worth or other people’s worth. But even though I know all of this in my brain, my heart apparently didn’t get the memo yet.

For most of my life, I have felt worthless, and I think that reverting back to my old self is a way to protect myself. It was somewhat working back then, so if I go back, it should stay the same right?

I’m very conscious these are some serious confidence issues I need to work on. But if I’m being honest I don’t really know how to be more confident. I always feel like I could have done better. My life will most likely never be up to my standards even though I can see that I have accomplished a lot more than I thought I ever would.

They usually say the first step towards recovery is to admit that one has a problem. So by seeing that I am reverting back because I’m scared, maybe the next step will be to try to be true to my new self. It works everywhere else, so there’s no reason people from my past wouldn’t be able to accept these changes. And if they don’t, it’s not a reason for me to try to be someone I no longer am.

21-Day Writing Challenge Day 11 – Staying Comfortable

Being comfortable is a great feeling.

As per its actual definition, what’s not to like about something ”providing physical ease and relaxation”?

Comfort is important, but it can also prevent us from moving on to even better things.

I have a lot of friends who are not really willing to try new food. They will sometimes, usually following some peer pressure, but they much rather stick to what they know. And funnily enough, I used to be quite similar. I would go to a select few restaurants, and try food that was likely to be within a certain taste range.

I was quite comfortable in my life for a long time. I had started reading and following people who were talking about personal growth. Inspiring people like Earl from Wandering Earl, Niall Doherty from Disrupting the Rabblement as well as Mark Manson well known now for his latest book: The subtle art of not giving a fuck. They all started with easy steps. Walking in new neighborhoods, ordering something new or even going to a new restaurant.

They were traveling the world and blogging about it. And of course from my couch in Fort St. John, BC it seemed like something impossible. I would never be brave enough to have that kind of lifestyle. I was afraid of so many things, I couldn’t see how I could even survive the insects I would meet or all the other challenges.

I was comfortable.

But I was also finally willing to step out of my comfort zone. Not in a massive way, but I followed some advice I found online and started to walk back home using different streets. I pushed myself slowly and eventually I discovered that it wasn’t all that scary after all. And that the worst thing that could happen was for me not to like something new I tried. And that it was okay. As long as I tried.

Being comfortable is not wrong in itself, but I know it tends to be the easiest choice. For me, anyway.

It’s the same when it comes to relationships. It’s a lot easier to stay in a comfortable relationship, even if it’s not what you want it to be than to leave and learn to be alone again.

Work can also be very comfortable. You know what to expect. You settle in tasks you feel confident about. You can sit at your desk and not even think consciously about what you are doing since it’s always the same. It’s automatic.

Maybe you teach. And because you know your subject and have been teaching it the same way for years, you keep going. That is one example that I experienced rather closely when I was working in a school teaching French. I had learned a new and very efficient method of learning and teaching a second language using gestures and wanted to share that with the teachers. Some of them were willing to give it a try. Some wanted nothing to do with anything taking them out of their normal schedule. And others went all in.

At first, I couldn’t understand why some teachers didn’t even want to give it a try, especially after months of seeing it used in other classes and seeing how good it was. But now, looking back, I see that they were afraid. It was very different than what they knew and didn’t know how to be comfortable with the change.

Just like I was with food before.

I’ve come a long way from the person I was a few years ago. I’m a lot more confident in trying new things in all aspects of my life, knowing full well that once I’ve tried it and find out I do not like it, I can move on to something else. I have no obligation to stick to everything I try. Except for the obligation of not simply accepting to be comfortable.

Being comfortable in certain aspects of one’s life is okay, as long as we are aware of it and not simply think that this is all that life has to offer.

21-Day Writing Challenge Day 10 – Longing for Adventure

Some people dream of owning a bigger house. Some dream of becoming the CEO of a business. And others dream of having a big family.

I don’t.

My dreams are a lot different. I dream of exploring the world and embarking on crazy adventures. Non-stop. Until I no longer want that lifestyle.

As some people sometimes remind me, I’ve already done a lot of insane things but it’s still not enough.

Every time I hear about people having gone on true though expeditions or experience, it reignites my passion. Not that it ever dies, but sometimes it does quiet down a bit.

In the last week, I’ve watched movies and YouTube films about a couple who traveled for 5 years around the world with their family, before attempting and succeeding at crossing the North West Passage. I’ve watched episodes about a guy doing what’s probably one of the longest road trips, from Chile all the way up to Alaska, in a VW combi.

Their images are all insane. The scenery of Alaska, among other places, has really made me want to add that destination to my never-ending list. But what struck to me the most as being inspiring is that they kept going. They didn’t quit.

Traveling for extended periods of time is challenging in itself, but in a small camper van or on a sailboat it’s a whole other level of challenge. There are always things that break, and usually, it’s when you are not ready for it and do not have spare parts. Or when you are in the middle of nowhere and when there’s no one around to come and help you. That’s the part I find particularly impressive. The fact that they didn’t let that deter them. They kept going. It most likely included a decent amount of cussing and swearing and of course they would have had to simply to get back to civilization eventually, but even when they had the opportunity of quitting, they made the decision to keep going.

I’ve done the same to a certain extent in my life, but since it’s not my strongest quality (I tend to be a quitter when things become difficult) I find this even more impressive. And it makes me want to keep working on developing that side of me too.

One day I would love to buy myself a sailboat, or get a small camper van and hit the road. Or the wild. As this is usually where adventure awaits.

I’m not sure what I’ll do when I’ll get to New Zealand, but if anybody hears of something epic to do, an amazing crew to join, or simply something unique, I’m all ears!

21-Day Writing Challenge Day 9 – Unbeliever

During my travels, at work and with friends in Dubai, and even within my extended family, I’ve been surrounded with people who believe. They obviously do not necessarily share the same beliefs or the same faith, but most people I know believe in something. Something bigger. Some call it God, others Allah, or the Light.

Every time it comes up, I find myself getting envious. Not because of what they do in life or their possessions, but because I too would like to believe in something.

But I guess I take after my grandfather after all. Although he ended up being a believer in something bigger, he was raised in Catholicism. He went to a Catholic boarding school, mostly because my great-grandmother was quite sick, but probably also because I can imagine he would have been quite argumentative. So having him only on weekends and school holidays was most likely more than enough!

Once he finished his schooling years, he married but it was always very clear religion was not something for him. He didn’t understand the need to go to mass, confess one’s sin, or anything else related to Christianity. He would let my grandmother go, of course, but didn’t put any pressure on my mother and her siblings to go.

My mother also grew up quite far from religion but found her own different faith. My father never talked about religion either, even though his parents still go to church to this day. So growing up with my parents, I was told religion was my own decision. I could decide whether I was doing my first communion or not. I didn’t feel any connection to Catholic religion at that point, so I decided not to do it. I knew I could always go back and do it later on should it become something I wanted.

This freedom of faith was great. I was not only allowed to make up my own opinion and find what suited me most but encouraged to do so.

I’m not sure at this point if my parents expected me to lose faith. Although losing would be a big word since I never really had faith. Do this day, I still struggle to figure out whether or not I believe in something bigger, or if we are just a happy accident after a series of somewhat unique events.

Having traveled a fair bit, met people from many different faiths, but mostly seen many different ways to live and struggle, I find it harder and harder to believe there would be a god out there.

If there is one, why is he inflicting so much pain on people who did nothing to deserve it?

Since I don’t believe in religions, I don’t buy in the Heaven vs Hell debate. And according to most religions, because of my nonbelief, I’ll most likely end up in Hell anyway.

At least I won’t be cold.

As I mentioned earlier, I am sometimes envious of people who believe. As a friend of mine told me one day I was having a hard time, god only puts the challenges he knows you can go through on your path.

Having this belief running in the background would be really helpful in trusting that one can make it. No matter what is happening to them.

But since I do not have those crutches to lean on, I find myself losing the faith that I can accomplish things at times.

Will I ever believe in a religion? It’s probably unlikely. I might, however, develop the belief in something bigger. Maybe one day I’ll connect to some beliefs, or maybe I won’t. And it’s fine either way, as long as I always stay true to my own values.

When I die, maybe I’ll be proven wrong. But until then I’ll keep on carrying on, and do my best every day. After all, as a human with a conscious mind, that’s pretty much all I can do.