2014 (A Look Back)

 At the risk of dooming myself to making one line summaries for every year of my life, I would call 2014, the Year of Letting Go.

As every put upon English teacher knows, this song was everywhere in 2014, especially in Korea, and perhaps not surprisingly it would also encapsulate the entire year. I jumped off the cliff in 2014. Gunned straight for my dreams. And in the process, I had to get rid of a lot of things so that my wings could take me places.

2014 Highlights and Lowlights:

  • I completed Landmark’s Communications Curriculum. I was only planning to take the first one, but I felt inspired and got myself to San Jose, CA to do it all. I don’t think I would have been able to do anything below without taking the program.
  • I kissed Seattle goodbye in style. With the help of my friends, I shed everything.
  • I visited my family in the Philippines.
  • I fulfilled a dream and moved to South Korea to teach English in Ulsan. I flailed around trying to navigate Korea, learn Korean, and figure out this whole teaching thing.
  • I learned how to use a squatting toilet. That’s an achievement right up there with “learned Korean.”
  • I visited Busan then spent Golden Week in Seoul.
  • I bought a guitar.
  • I raced dragon boats on the Taehwa River in Ulsan.
  • I tried jjimjilbang for the first time in Daegu.
  • I solo-traveled to mainland China for the first time in my life, taking in Shanghai and Beijing.
  • I ate whale.
  • I traveled with friends to Tokyo, Japan for the first time in my life, fulfilling a dream. I promise I will be back!
  • I opened a retirement fund.
  • I acted on stage for an audience for the first time in my life.
  • I started a healthy habit of swimming three times a week.
  • I paid off half of my remaining student debt.
  • I sold my guitar and bought a ukulele.
  • I registered into the Team, Management and Leadership Program (TMLP) for 2015.
  • I am now enjoying the end of the year on my Christmas vacation with my family. Again, in the Philippines.

Here are a few more things I learned in 2014:

  • Let It Go. First, it was all the crap in my apartment in the US. All my clothes, all the office supplies, all this other junk I don’t even know how to describe. It was dicey and angered my boyfriend at the time, but I got rid of all of it and discovered that I didn’t need it. I packed up all my remaining belongings in two bags and left the country.

    In South Korea, I lost more. I lost my language, my primary means of communication and the key, it seemed, to get anything done. Even buying groceries was a struggle. I lost my community who had supported me and could see me through anything.

    Traveling beyond South Korea, it felt like I was hemorrhaging. The repeat loss of language in China was a nightmarish deja vu. I lost money. I lost my sense of direction.  I had wanted to do all this travel and here it was shredding me to pieces. Why did I want to do this again? I remember days lying in that bunk bed in Shanghai feeling devastated, squeezing emails to my by-then ex-boyfriend through China’s Great Firewall.

    Then I lost him too. I suppose in retrospect that particular loss was overdue, really, but it still broke me. I still had my health, my friends, and my livelihood, but it felt like rock bottom.

    And in that rock bottom, strangely enough, I found a lot of space. I found freedom.

    I lost my clothes and made space for stylish new clothes from around Asia. I lost my language and learned a new one. I lost my community and created a new one with people from countries I haven’t even been to yet. I spent so much money and gained experiences of a lifetime. And I lost a boy to get myself.

    I found strangely enough, the freedom to lose more. I started to see, with greater clarity, ways of being that no longer served the person I was and wanted to be. They had served me in my youth and got me where I am. But now, they are insufficient for what I want in my life. I will shed those too, and with so little left to me, I’m ready to let it all go and fly even higher.

    I found that I already had everything I needed. I found that there is, in truth, nothing to hold on to at all.

  • Trust.As a child, being a know-it-all served me. My knowledge and intelligence was a safe place to retreat when the world felt threatening. It gave me the strength to stand up for myself and my opinions when so many others would try to convince me to live a life that had no integrity with who I am. But it also made me a hectoring idiot who had no respect for other people’s abilities to do anything. And I had great anxiety because the only person I felt I could trust was myself.

    This is a way of being that no longer serves me. In 2014, I saw it clearly. In 2015, I am committed to being loving and giving people the space to be who they are. I am committed to trusting myself, other people, and the universe.

  • We live in a world of abundance.Since my childhood in the Philippines, I’ve always been afraid of being poor. I’ve had the internal dialogue that I didn’t have enough money to afford things.

    That’s all bullshit, of course. Fact is, I have money. I have plenty. The actual number doesn’t matter (and won’t be getting me on any Forbes list any time soon), it’s just more than enough to do what I want.

    I did a funny thing when I signed up for the Communications Course in San Jose: I didn’t plan on being at the Thursday Evening session. And then I promised everyone at the course that I would come back anyway. I was hungry for a breakthrough in money and so I made a way. That way turned out to be buying a ridiculous $500 Seattle – San Francisco plane ticket but I got there. I was a few minutes late and irritated but I got there.

    This gave me the power to buy all the other plane tickets and create all my other trips for the year. (By the way, I’m never going to buy a $500 Seattle – San Francisco plane ticket. But I’m also never going to have to.) It would enable me to buy all my Heattech gear for the winter and anything else I needed or wanted. I also opened a retirement fund and paid off half my student loans this year.

    And it was just money that was coming up in abundance for me. There was plenty of food and persimmons. At one point I had an abundance of wine bottles (actual number: two) that were given to me as gifts. And for Christmas, I received an abundance of paper journals.

    I believe there is plenty of money and love and stuff in the world, more than enough for all of us to live satisfying lives. In 2015, I plan to continue taking on my fear of being poor.

  • Teaching is not for me. I honestly thought I was going to stay in South Korea for one more year. I’m not fluent in Korean yet (a major goal of mine) and I don’t feel like I’ve gotten the hang of teaching yet either. But in November, I just had this quiet moment where I admitted to myself that teaching was not for me and that I no longer wanted to do it. I’m grateful for the opportunity, I’ve enjoyed the experience and I love my kids (it’s funny how they become MY kids despite the fact that I am not a parent) but teaching was not for me. And knowing that, I gave myself the space to finish my contract and not feel like I failed. Because understanding that teaching isn’t for me is a win.To go along with that, I also learned that
  • I am good enough. I was talking to my friend Jen like I do almost every morning. I was stressing about my morning classes and how I didn’t feel prepared, how I was afraid the kids wouldn’t learn anything from the activities I had chosen or wouldn’t enjoy them. And then I realized I had this same conversation with Jen every single morning.

    I stopped right there and decided to let that all go. I decided I was good enough. Classes (as any teacher has experienced) are always a mixed bag. And I always got out of them all right and the kids no worse for wear. I had to trust that I knew what I was doing and if I didn’t, it was still going to be all right! Stressing before classes that I wasn’t good enough didn’t actually change any of that.

    This in turn, is giving me the strength to leave Korea for a greater unknown. I’ve lived my life up to now feeling like I needed training wheel jobs before I could go for what I really wanted to do with my life. That time is over. There are no training wheels anymore. I’m ready even if I’m not ready.

  • There is nothing to fear in solitude. I grew up in a family of six people where there was never any time or space for yourself. When I was left in the US to finish college, I had a hard time just being in myself. I always had to play music to make up for the lack of my parents and siblings.

    But what I was really hiding from what was there when I stood still and did nothing, and stopped drowning it in music. What I found in the solitude was a mountain of sorrow. I had stockpiled all the unhappiness I didn’t want to feel and it had accumulated, never having been processed. So now I sometimes go there to sit next to the mountain and just be. Because while the mountain is still there and I’m not sure it’ll ever go away, that’s all it is. A mountain of stuff that doesn’t need to live my life for me.

    It’s been an interesting experience to slow my life down and just be. I’m vacationing in the Philippines with my family right now and sometimes a wave of anxiety will try to pull me under. I have to keep reminding myself to be in the NOW and RIGHT NOW all I need to do is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I’ve let anxiety run so much of my life, it’s an interesting experience to try peace and quiet instead.

  • This is how I am. Teaching has run me rather ragged this year but one of the things I realized was that this is how I am. The world of teaching is such a Groundhog’s Day experience. Day in, day out, you’re teaching the exact same classes to different kids at a time. And as I struggled out there to keep motivated, to do things as they were meant to be done, to squeeze the hardest classes through the toughest of material, I realized that this was my life. This was how I was and all the things that made teaching hard and difficult were the things that made my life hard and difficult. I recognized that the challenges I found as a teacher will be there when I take on my next job. Teaching isn’t the end after all; it’s the beginning.
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