The annual review is my favorite thing to write – not because I love goal setting (which I do!) and not because I love reflecting on the prior year (which I do!), but because I love spending November and December reflecting on the last 12 months and thinking about what I want the upcoming year to look like. Seriously, I start thinking about this post around Thanksgiving.
I mean, I am a total sucker for new year. I absolutely love Mondays – the idea that you get a fresh week to conquer and start over. If I love Mondays, you can imagine how much I love a new year.
Except this year.
This year, my 4th year writing an annual review, I’ve been resisting everything that has anything to do with writing this post. I’ve been procrastinating. Instead, I’ve been asking people about their annual reviews or reading the ones that are already posted without dedicating the time to work on mine.
This year has been rough.
This past year feels relatively mundane, like not too many special things happened. I feel like this year has been full of unknowns, self-doubt, laziness, heartbreak, and (self-diagnosed) mild depression.
So what happened?
To refresh your memory, when 2017 started, I had just come off of an incredible year. I mean, I had just spent a week in Iceland prior to starting the year. And, before Iceland, I traveled to 16 other countries in just one year as a digital nomad. I knew that this year, 2017, would have much less traveling, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I didn’t want to admit that the incredible year I had was behind me. So, I resisted. I resisted everything.
The biggest event of the year came just a few months ago when I hung up my hat as a digital nomad and moved back to the United States, specifically to the Kansas City area, where I grew up.
Now that I’m not traveling, I feel like I’ve lost my identity, my “why,” my ambition, and my devotion to personal development. Not good.
But the year didn’t start off like this. It started out spending time with my family after the holidays and my cousin’s wedding. I was hanging out at my sister’s, soaking up quality time with her and her family. But, something in me was telling me I needed to pack up and hit the road again. I mean, I’m a digital nomad right?! I need to be traveling. I felt obligated to buy a ticket and to create adventure. So I did.
I moved to Mexico. I knew I wanted to stay in a North American time zone, so I choose Mexico as my first stop: good weather, access to scuba diving, and all the guacamole I could ask for. I got there and started going through the motions: finding a coworking space, attending meetups, and finding a dive shop. It all seemed great, but it felt forced. Artificial.
After Mexico (and a quick diving trip in Costa Rica), I went back to my sister’s for the summer. It was great. I found a local coworking space in Columbia, MO, made a couple friends, found an entrepreneur group, and started seeing a guy I used to know. Most importantly, I loved being with my family. I loved being able to participate in family events, helping my nieces with school stuff, and cuddling with my nephew while we talk dump trucks and Daniel Tiger.
But, I’m a digital nomad, right. I should be traveling. The summer ended, and my sister and the kids went back to school. What was I going to do? Live with my sister forever?
I bought another plane ticket and headed to South America. I had big plans for South America: I would start with a one-way ticket to Medellin, Colombia and see what happened from there. I was open to exploring more countries on the continent (I had only been to Peru, Ecuador, and the Galápagos before this trip), moving to another country, and I debated moving back to Bali. Medellin didn’t work out for me (and, sadly, neither did the guy), so after a few weeks, I decided to head north to Cartagena for a diving trip. Once I got there, I realized I liked it much better than Medellin, so I never got on my return flight.
Cartagena had it all: beaches, scuba diving, tourism, decent (but not great) food, more English speakers, good Internet, and coworking opportunities. (And there was a Hard Rock. Don’t judge.)
Business was steady and going well, so I figured this would be a good place to land. I was simply a flight away from moving somewhere else, so everything was fine.
Until it wasn’t.
Everything started falling apart inside my head. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing there. Why did I move to South America again? Did I even want to be there? Where did I want to be? Is traveling still what I want?
I woke up one day in my AirBnB so…thirsty. I realized I hadn’t gotten out of bed for days, and I hadn’t had water in a long time. I was constantly crying, knowing I wasn’t where I should be but not knowing where to go.
What was I supposed to do? Everything was wrong, and nothing felt right.
I felt lost. Hopeless. Unloved. Unconfident. Scared. Stupid. Like I had been tricked.
All I knew is that I didn’t want to cry anymore.
On a tearful Sunday night, I bought my last plane ticket of 2017 – back to my hometown in Missouri. I moved away from my hometown in 2004 for a job, so while the city felt somewhat familiar, it had some mystery.
But, my family was there. People who loved me were there. Nothing else mattered. I needed to be around people who loved me.
I arrived in Kansas City on Thursday afternoon mentally exhausted. All I wanted to do was get to my grandparents’ house and crawl into bed for days.
But that’s not how it works when you get back from a trip – you have to talk about it. People have questions. They want to know why you left and what’s next. And, honestly, so did I.
Since I arrived in Kansas City in mid-October, I’ve been struggling with an identity crisis.
Who am I?
How do I self-identify?
What do I want?
Where do I want to be?
When will I be ready for something else?
Am I finished traveling?
What are my goals now?
Am I still a digital nomad – a label I worked so hard to carry proudly?
Writing this now, my life looks seemingly normal to outsiders. I got a full-time job that has put me on a “normal” schedule that, honestly, makes me feel suffocated. I go home at night to work on my side-hustle, you know…the work I used to do full-time. I read my book, and I go to bed. Rinse. Repeat.
While it seems like things are “normal” in the way most Westerners (read: privileged, white people) think an average day goes, this schedule is a far cry from the life I’ve built for myself these last 3 years.
I feel suffocated by the schedule. I feel overwhelmed by going “normal” places, like Target or the grocery store. I am pulled by the feeling of never leaving my grandmother’s side and feeling jealous of the adventurers out there pursuing exciting quests. I feel inadequate. I feel like I failed.
I feel like my life now fits into the mold I was desperately trying to avoid: suburban hell, a day-job, and mindless mediocrity. I feel average. Ordinary.
I feel jealous of the person I used to be, missing my old life, and feeling so drawn to the life I have.
It’s juxtaposition hell.
Saying all of this, I know how privileged I am; I realize that the traveling lifestyle is one that takes courage, gumption, and proper planning. I also know that great things did happen this year, and I’d like to properly give those events the justice they deserve.
Awesome things that happened in 2017
Spent a ton of time with my family – I moved away from my family in 2004 for a job, and I haven’t lived near them since then. That all changed this year. While the transition to live in America (Kansas City, specifically) has been terribly challenging, I love all of the quality family time I’ve had.
Went skiing in Breckenridge, Colorado – my first ski trip in years. The trip ended with practically ruining a friendship with a dear friend, but being in the snow and fresh air was magical. Plus, I saw my first moose, which did not happen when I climbed Mt. Washington in 2013.
Moved to Cancun, Mexico – at the beginning of April, I packed up and headed south. I knew that I wanted to stay in a North American time zone in 2017, and I wanted to be somewhere I could scuba dive, so Mexico was a great option. Plus, the food in Mexico is heavenly.
Did my first pro-bono writing project – one of my clients approached me and asked me to participate in a pro-bono project that she was working on. After speaking to the new client, I decided I loved her story and would take on Lindsey Cole’s website as a pro-bono client.
Diving trip to Costa Rica – I’ve been diving since December 2015, and I can’t get enough of it. It’s something I truly love and want to keep doing. After Mexico, my friend and I met in on the Pacific side of Costa Rica for a quick diving trip. It was on that trip where I decided the Pacific is my least favorite ocean.
Camping in Austin, Texas – In February 2016, I met Rob. Rob and I have practically been inseparable since we met, except for one, tiny detail: we don’t live on the same continent. Rob lives in London, and I, well, don’t. He planned on going to a foodie conference in Austin, TX, and I drove down to meet him. We went camping for a few days while we coworked, canoed, kayaked, and explored Austin.
Witnessed the total solar eclipse – I have to admit, I was skeptical about the eclipse. Would it be as interesting as people were making it out to be? After attending a lecture at a local planetarium + being in the path of totality, I was more excited, but still not convinced. Once the day was here, I was totally into it. I loved looking up in my silly glasses, creating a picnic with family on my sister’s property, and the euphoric moment of being able to take off the protective glasses to witness the moon fully blocking the sun for about 2 minutes. Truly awesome.
Moved to Colombia – when I first landed in South America in September, I tried to create a little place for myself in Medellin, Colombia. I was there for a few weeks before I made a quick trip to Cartagena for a diving trip. Once I was there, I decided I didn’t want to get on another plane and that I’d rather stay near the ocean. Colombia is country #40 and the 4th continent I’ve lived on.
Not great things that happened
No personal blogging – seriously I only blogged once on my personal website, the website you’re reading right now. I did, however, create 20 posts on The Amber Monaco | Creative Content Marketing, and I was featured on 6 times on other websites.
Opened my heart too soon to a relationship that left me crushed, humiliated, and broken. I started seeing a guy I used to know over the summer, and I was devastated when things didn’t work out like I hoped they would.
Not accomplishing my goals. I only accomplished 5/14 goals in the whole year. That’s a 33% success rate. Pathetic.
Not working on my personal development. My personal development has been such a big part of my life since 2013, and this year it’s taken a backseat. Yes, it’s still at the forefront of my mind, but it wasn’t as much in my action plan as it has been in the past.
Feeling jealous of major adventurers I’ve met who have done (and are doing) incredible things. I know I should be excited about my friends doing creative and inspiring work in the world, but it does make me feel like I’m doing nothing with my life.
Neutral things that happened
Moved back to the US after a bit of a mental breakdown. The mental breakdown wasn’t so great, but coming back to the US has been exactly what I needed. Now I just need more therapy.
Got a real job, like an 8-5. Within 8 days of moving back to the country, I found a full-time job. I’m still deciding how I feel about it.
GOALS FOR 2018
- Write a book
- Practice art (hand-lettering, doodles, painting, etc.) for 40 hours
- Write 50 articles
In true annual review tradition, I will push aside my resistance to create a theme for 2018.
Past themes include:
2014: finding my own way
My theme for 2018: DISCOVER.
I am only setting 3 goals for the year so I don’t get overwhelmed and feel like a failure after accomplishing practically nothing in 2017. But, there are still things I’d like to do and focus on in addition to my goals:
Earn my Hubspot Marketing Certification
Go on 10 scuba dives
Double my income from 2017
Learn something that has nothing to do with work
Visit 2 new countries
Study Joseph Campbell
Read 20 books, including the remaining Jane Austin books I haven’t read
Become more consistent with Morning Pages
Become completely independent again
Make this blog a bigger priority in my life
This year did not go as planned at all. In fact, it has been downright tough. Luckily, I have an amazing support system who is holding me up and encouraging me to stay true to myself and continue to figure it all out. I’ll be okay – I just need time. I’m hoping that I’ll soon be able to look back on that little mental breakdown and this (self-diagnosed) mild depression and see it as – what the poets call – “the dark night of the soul.”