Here we are, at the tail end of 2016. It’s inevitable to get in a reflective mood as a year draws to a close, to think back and try to make sense of the past twelve months, while thinking about the looming new year. During this time and the weeks to come, most of us will set (and hopefully adhere to) ambitious resolutions and goals for 2017. Rather than sharing my grand plans for the year ahead, I focus on taking stock of 2016 instead. I’ve named this piece The Rosebud Diaries* because it’s made up of three metaphorical roses (wins from 2016), three thorns (struggles faced in ‘16) and three buds (hopes for 2017). Here is to acknowledging the good and the bad of the year gone by, while maintaining a hopeful outlook for 2017.
*This article was inspired by a recent conversation with my good friend and fellow creative Matt, whom partook in this enlightening exercise, and urged me to do the same.
ROSES – WINS
1. S. Korea
Early into the year I traded my comfortable life in Chicago in favor of becoming an English teacher in S. Korea. A plethora of trials and tribulations awaited me, as well as rewarding and joyous experiences I’ve been able to share with the friends I’ve made. I quickly developed a challenging hot and cold relationship with my new host country but at the end of (almost) every day I go to bed feeling grateful and proud of myself for making this new life a reality. It’s taken patience and grit to adjust to a new country, culture, job and lifestyle, but here I am. I first envisioned doing what I’m doing now – living and working abroad – during my last years of university, but got settled and distracted by post-graduation life, so to have arrived at this goal feels pretty damn good.
In 2016, I truly tried to implement my long-held belief that the people we surround ourselves with should add value to our lives (and vice-versa). As they say: We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, so, we should choose very, very wisely. While I miss my friends dearly – especially the creative ones – I’ve been fortunate enough to meet like-minded, yet diverse, individuals that are keen to learn, grow and explore together here in Korea.
Thankfully, some of these friendships share creative aspirations and we’ve been able to collaborate creatively. I’ve also joined a badass community that connects, supports, and inspires women working in creative industries worldwide – The WW [Working Women] Club. This is merely the beginning in cultivating the dynamic, creative tribe I want to be part of.
3. Focus (productivity)
For a long time I felt a perennial sense of guilt as the weeks, months, or years went by and I took zero strides towards the things I told myself I would/should do. But something clicked in me exactly a year ago – my impending mortality. It dawned on me with ghastly clarity how short our lifetimes truly are. As a result, I said to myself, in my best loving, yet tough, inner voice: ‘Enough. No more bullshit. No more excuses. If we want to do things in life, we need to make them happen for ourselves. So START NOW.’ And I did.
I decided 2016 was the year I’d get strict about self-discipline and time management, the key ingredients for increased personal productivity.
I soon found out that exorbitant amounts of self-discipline are necessary to counter my natural inclinations towards endless procrastination. I knew that if I was truly serious about writing, I needed to throw myself entirely in it. This translates into scheduling daily, weekly, monthly tasks and reminders if I want anything to get done. Yes, seemingly excessive and anxiety inducing to most, but this kind of organization and structure work for me. This year, I’ve been able to finally write consistently, both for the blog and my first book, which will be published in the months to come.
Self-discipline + time management + structure = PERSONAL PRODUCTIVITY
At the same time, I learned to accept my own boundaries and limitations. Throughout the year, I tried to be less harsh with myself if I didn’t feel like writing in the evenings, after my full-time teaching job, and ended up binge-watching Netflix instead. I learned to be okay with myself if I missed a self-imposed deadline on publishing a post, so long as I eventually got it done. In 2016, I was able to produce more than ever before, but during this process, I learned to be gentle with myself, too.
My biggest takeaway about sustaining personal productivity is that it is fueled by a sense of well-being. To restore balance and continue hustling, it’s crucial we adopt self-care practices that address the needs of our body, mind and soul. Otherwise we will inevitably burn out and trust me, this sucks. For me, daily morning rituals in which I exercise, meditate and journal are a must for an effective day of getting shit done. To maintain a desire to produce and operate at our optimum, we need to take care of ourselves first.
THORNS – STRUGGLES
I hate to admit it but my health took a turn for the worst since moving to S. Korea. I have a weak immune system, but while living in Chicago, I was able to keep colds at bay through diet, exercise and supplements. None of that seems to work in the ROK. Shit air quality, coupled with germ-infested students that don’t stay at home while sick (to honor S. Korea’s rigorous academic culture), plus perpetually being cold AF indoors (S. Korea doesn’t keep the heat on in school buildings during the winter), is the perfect recipe for me to get sick on the regular. Add to this that I’ve developed a serious sugar addiction fueled by my teaching environment (Why do teachers eat so much freaking candy? Or is this a Korean thing?), the proliferation of convenience stores in every corner and the fact that too many of Korean foods and snacks have sugar in them. Much to my dismay, I have consumed unprecedented amounts of sugar – in the form of ice cream, chocolate, cake, cookies, sugary coffee, and so on – in the past ten months. Let’s not even get started on my out of control red meat consumption…
Battling self-doubts is an unavoidable component of following a creative path. If we let them, these nagging voices can be paralyzing and do severe damage to our goals and aspirations. I entertained mine more than I would have liked during 2016. Some of the recurring voices wondered if the work I put towards this blog will eventually lead anywhere, if I am simply wasting my time trying to make it as a writer (as my blog remains relatively small), doubted my abilities as an author by thinking that what I’ve written so far is rubbish, and so on to infinity. But, each time I tried to remember that these thoughts are normal and shouldn’t necessarily define me, and also that my faith and determination outweigh my fears.
I started taking Korean classes the first month I arrived in S. Korea, but it was too soon. Trying to learn the complex language at the same time as I adjusted to the lifestyle proved too overwhelming. Much to my disappointment, Korean seemed extremely difficult and truthfully a bit uninteresting, so I started to resent it. I’m not proud to admit it, but I completely gave up on the language, not even utilizing the bit I had learned. I used to gasp at the people that have lived more than one year in a specific country and fail to learn the local language, even conversationally. Well, I am that person now.
BUDS – HOPES FOR 2017
2017 is the year. I am announcing it here that I should publish my first book, a biographical narrative, in the first quarter of next year. This project has been in the works for a long time, but my love of procrastination got in the way of true progress. I’ll admit that I wanted to finish it this year but the fact that I’ve essentially written two books – one in English and the other in Spanish – has taken me twice as long. On top of that, working with freelancers takes a lot longer than I ever anticipated. The book is a tribute to my grandfather, Alejandro Cadena. He was a huge figure in my life. My beloved gramps was the first person that told me I could do anything I wanted to in life. He instilled in me a sense of wonder and taught me to seek knowledge and understanding. I am thrilled to share his life story with the world.
The main reasons behind moving to S. Korea are to focus on my writing and travel after my teaching contract ends. Although I’ll still be teaching next year, which limits my ability to travel, I’ll still fit in some healthy adventuring. Starting off 2017 with a bang, I’ll return to Chicago for a brief stint to visit my family and eat all the amazing food I’ve been deprived of while in Korea. Throughout the year, I hope to visit Japan (Osaka, Kyoto & Tokyo), China (Hong Kong, Beijing & The Great Wall), as well as travel within Korea. Perhaps, I am most excited about China because a close friend from the States will be joining (!!!!).
Next year, I want to focus my energies on fostering and cultivating a supportive creative community, in my own city and beyond. I want to be surrounded by musicians, writers, painters, entrepreneurs, filmmakers and so on. I want to feel constantly inspired and motivated to do more. And, I want to be able to reach out to people that have already done it, to help with my questions, doubts or hesitations. In 2016, I found great joy in collaborating on various projects. I want more of this in 2017.
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