Extroverting Introvert

Travel, Uncategorized

Every once in a while, I’ll express stress or frustration about having to put myself out there in order to experience even slight success at what are sometimes the most mundane of challenges. My mother always reminds me to “get my extrovert on” and get it done.

The concept of extroverts and introverts is really not as clear cut as defined. My personality type requires time to myself to recharge and I am unlikely to throw myself into a conversation with someone I don’t know. However, life sometimes calls for being an extrovert. You may need to make new friends or ask a question or throw yourself at the mercy of an extrovert in order to survive your new surroundings. It can be overwhelming.

One of my favorite things about travel is meeting new people. That’s particularly challenging for me but oh-so rewarding on the tail end.

In order to successfully adventure as an introvert, I’ve collected goals for myself that allow me to get the most out of my travel experience.

Don’t sit down. The temptation after traveling somewhere new is to sit down on your bed and maybe take a little snooze. Don’t. Firstly, you’ll end up asleep and jet lagged. And secondly, you’ll miss out on meeting people. Especially if you’re in a study abroad program or in a hostel, people tend to be excited and open to meeting new folks from the second that arrive. Take advantage of that excitement and roll with it. You can sleep later.

Smile. I know it’s such an American thing to do, but it works. Maybe you’re sitting in your first day of class or hanging in the common space of your hostel – keep your head up and at least a mildly pleasant expression on your face and you’ve increased your chances of an extrovert taking pity on you.

Keep yourself disconnected. It’s really tempting to just sit on your phone with your head down and your headphones in, but that’s just closing yourself off. I’ve mentioned that disconnecting helps with easing homesickness before. If you’re not attached to your phone at all times, maybe someone or something will catch your eye.

Go to those awkward meet and greets. I know no one wants to partake in the horribly uncomfortable experience of sharing your name, hometown, and a fun fact about yourself. But sometimes that’s what you need to do. Most folks at that kind of event, whether it’s welcome drinks or board game night at the hostel, are looking to be social – seize the moment.

And lastly, accept that sometimes you’ve just gotta be an introvert. Traveling or moving or starting something new, all of these are great ways to learn about yourself and spend some time looking inward. Who are you? What makes you happy? Everyone (introverts included) would benefit from a couple of minutes of time alone to self-reflect. And that’s okay. Not everything about life has to be overwhelming.

Just Down the Block

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I started the New Year off with a bit of chaos – I moved apartments. I am still in the DC area and I’m not going very far at all. I literally moved two blocks down. The move was a bit of a mess. There was miscommunication with my old apartment and of course it rained. I had assistance from All Star Movers (they’re actually saints and the quickest movers in the DMV) and my lovely parents (though one half was sidelined with injuries). Bits and bobs were moved over the week and my plants got special treatment in their transportation and will now enjoy a sunny spot in my window.

I find moving stressful. Partially because there are so many “what-ifs” and partially because its the end of an era. I’ve moved every year (if not twice a year) for the past six years. Mostly it has been from my parent’s house to college and back or into a suitcase to Australia and back. Things have been accumulated (mostly plants) and things have been tossed (r.i.p. the black leather chair that was older than my parent’s marriage). And I try to prepare, but can never quite get it right.

But I found a few things helpful in making the moving process slightly less anxiety-inducing.

One: start packing before the moving truck arrives. This seems logical and yet you’d be surprised. I started putting non-essentials away about two months before I was set to move out. Then I stopped buying food about two weeks before my move. The week of my move, everything went into bags or boxes, one night at a time. The few days before my move, I did a capsule wardrobe challenge, using only ten items of clothing and packing everything else. And the night before, my loving mother and I broke down my bed and pushed everything the movers would be lugging about into the living room for easy access. It worked. There’s not a whole lot that was left to be dealt with after the movers left and things are packed in a semi-organized fashion.

Two: give yourself wiggle room. It’s tempting to move out the last possible day of your lease, but having a day or two or a week overlap to move helped me stress less about getting everything done in that deadline. I could spend three days moving my plants and my last bits over, rather than three hours. When it started snow/raining, I didn’t have to power through.

Three: cry in advance. I knew that I would end up crying (and I did!) but I figured getting some of those stressful emotions out of the way before the movers arrived would be helpful for all involved. So the night before, I watched a movie I knew would make me cry and I let it out. And then in the morning after picking up my apartment keys, but before meeting with my parents, I cried again. And voila! No tears during the actual move.

Four: let the professionals do their job. Other than bits and bobs and plants, we let the professional movers handle the tough stuff. They figured out how to get things into and out of the two apartment buildings and they carried the heavy things.

Five: know when to quit. There’s a certain point in my day when I have to acknowledge I need to rest. As an introvert, I know that too much socialization will eventually mean hitting a wall of exhaustion that can only be fixed by time alone. After a stressful day of moving, I needed to acknowledge that everything wasn’t going to be put away right then and there. I could rest and handle what was left over the next few days (see tip two).

Can I just say I’m happy I don’t have to do this again until next year?

That First Blank Page

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I’ve recently started a new journal – the most exciting and daunting step. There’s something terrifying about a blank page. What if I misspell something on the first line? What if I start with pens that bleed through? Do I want to do the same things I need in my last journal? Do I want to try something new?

I use my journals for a variety of things. This wave of journaling started in college when I wanted a place to put all my cards and notes and photobooth pictures. I bought a cheap journal and taped in each piece so that they weren’t floating around my dorm room. I repeated this habit my sophomore year. I bought a notebook and started to do the same process when I studied abroad in Australia (those bits and bobs are still in a bag somewhere waiting for me to tape and glue them in). I was more successful with the journal I used in Sweden – I organized it in order, placing all of the ticket stubs and plane tickets from each weekend trip together. My senior year of college it was a nice memento from school and I happily taped everything in.

It wasn’t until I moved to London for grad school that I expanded my use of journals from travel mementos to an actual journal. (This was around the time of the bullet journal fad so it’s not surprising I wanted to get in on that.) This journal was filled with cards and ticket stubs, grocery lists and rants. Taped and glued and highlighted together, this journal went beyond that experience, blending that year with the one following it.

I recently filled the last page and started a new one. I’ve used it less frequently because it’s still so fresh. There’s no mistakes so far, no bend in the spine. It sits closed nicely and doesn’t have pieces of paper sticking out in weird directions. This new notebook doesn’t hold the same memories as the last. At least not yet.

And like the beginning of anything new and exciting, I find myself overthinking. But with a new decade, maybe it’s time to dive in.

So I wrote a to do list on the first page, copied over from the end of my last journal. I taped in a ticket from a show I saw. I marked a page with a highlighter.

And suddenly, it’s a lot less daunting…

Starting Fresh

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It’s almost the new year and it’s almost a new decade. So it’s time to leave some baggage behind. I know everyone loves spring cleaning, but I find the end of the year to be an incredibly satisfying time of the year to kick anything that isn’t sparking joy to the curb.

First things first: emails. I hate having notifications for emails. So I’m clearing my inbox. Anything that needs responding to, gets a response. Any ads or coupon codes are get marked as read – if I need them, I can always search for the brand or store later. Anything that sends me hourly emails, unsubscribe. I will not start the year with a little red bubble next to my email app.

Then on to social media. Almost yearly, I go through my social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and clear out the people I just don’t care about. Maybe it’s someone who I was friendly with years and years ago or a comedian I followed and have regretted following ever since or a friend’s ex. Whoever it is, if I don’t love seeing their posts, they’re gone. If they aren’t sparking joy with their content, unfollowed. No more hate-liking or skipping through three hours worth of concert video posted to their stories. If I don’t know them, they’re gone. (And anyone I can’t avoid – i.e. coworkers, family members – gets muted. They don’t have to know.)

Next up, moving on to more physical things. My car becomes a dumping ground for bits and bobs. I’ll be starting the year off with no receipts waded up in my cup holders. Nothing in my trunk. And a full tank of gas. Because I’ll be moving in January, I’ll also be stealing my parents’ shop vac to clean up the evidence of many a fast food stop.

My apartment stays relatively uncluttered and will end up being cleaned and organized when I start packing, but I’ve got a couple of things that need sorting.

It’s so easy to fill a kitchen with half-eaten bits and bobs and then still have nothing to eat. So the last few meals of 2019 will be sourced from what I already have. That bag of chips from that party two months ago will be eaten (or tossed once I realize they’re stale). Anything in the fridge that’s past expiration date will be dealt with. The freezer will be explored and it will reveal whatever I’ve stuffed in there. Basically, I’ll have to come to terms with all my impulse Safeway purchases.

Like most proper adults, I receive mail. This mail usually relates to bills, information about my work benefits, catalogs I’ll never read, and cards from my mother that I never dealt with. Fortunately, I’ve only been adulting for about a year, so it hasn’t accumulated to an unreasonable pile. Yet. So I will be sitting down to sort through what can be recycled, what can be shredded, and what should be nicely filed. Because most of this paper lives on my bedside table, once it’s clear, I’ll actually be able to keep important things next to my bedside like my phone, my glasses, and a candle (or three!).

Speaking of candles, I’ve been burning candles for about a year now and I’ve gone through quite a few. At some point, I considered dealing with the empty candles, getting all the wax out, and reusing the containers. But I’m lazy and they’re in the way. So I will instead just be recycling the containers and moving on. Once those have been cleared of my shelf, I can justify my purchases of more candles!

If you’re like me, you went a little crazy during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales and you bought new clothes. Unfortunately, my closet isn’t big enough (and currently has a hole in the ceiling from my upstairs neighbors’ water leak! Yay adulting!). So I’ll be downsizing. I’ve done this many times before but I’m excited to clear out the things that don’t fit or that I haven’t worn in a year or that just aren’t my faves anymore. Don’t worry – they’ll be donated (first to friends and then to a local charity shop).

Lastly, I’ll be clearing my head. (Yes, I went there.) It’s one thing to get rid of physical clutter (the piles of unread mail) or the electronic clutter (the unfriendly “friends”), but emotional clutter is draining too. Especially in the middle of the most exhausting time of the year. An hour or two of journaling. A yoga class or a run in nature. A mediation session surrounded by candles. A hike in the wilderness. A mental reminder to let it go.

It’s a new year, a new decade. Why carry shit with you that you can leave behind?

Dark and Dreary Days

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The first time I experienced some form of seasonal depression was when I moved to Indianapolis. I think the onset was from a series of factors: suddenly experiencing “real winters”, stresses from being far from home and on my own, and a lack of structure in my day to day life. Whatever the causes, it hit me hard.

So when I went to Sweden and lived through only a few hours of cloudy sunshine a day, I had to start finding small ways to elevate the symptoms of my seasonal depression. With the days getting shorter and the nights getting longer and my toes now being permenantly frozen, I’ve started to reintegrate some of those seasonal cures into my daily life.

First thing: getting up. The hardest thing for me when facing long dark cold days was getting out of bed. Wrapped up in my warm blankets, tucked away from the world, I was (and am) happy to wallow. Up and out of bed, and I have a better chance at a good day.

Next thing: comfy and cozy. If I’m planning to leave the house for the day, I make sure I’m wearing my comfy and coziest clothing. It’s hard to be happy when you’re freezing and you can’t feel your toes. It’s time for all the warm sweaters and tights and scarfs. If I don’t need to leave the house, I pull on my fuzzy socks and a nice sweatshirt and grab a nice blanket to wrap around myself. (I can also recommend a humidifier and plenty of moisturizer – dry skin is no fun.)

Let there be light. The bridge between comfy and cozy and this next step is hygge. Maybe you were part of the craze a few years ago when everyone jumped on the idea, but the general gist of the Danish hygge is you wrap yourself in the comfiest thing you’ve got and plant yourself next to some candles or the fireplace and it makes everyone better. The Scandanavians know what they’re doing. Light a couple candles, stick your toes near a fire, and light up your space.

If the sun can’t do its job, artificial light will just have to do. My mom gave me a Happy Light last winter and in using it every morning while I put on my makeup, not only am I able to actually see all the wrinkles and zits on my face, but it wakes me up and genuinely puts me in a better mood. Rather than sitting in a dark room staring at a computer or phone screen, I’ve now got multiple string lights and lamps throughout the space and have become fond of mixing my candle scents. Basically, anything I can do to bring light into my room during the dark and dreary months, I do.

Seek the sun. I’ll admit there’s few things like sitting inside of a library or an office and seeing a beautiful day outside. Maybe you don’t have the ability to skip work and soak up the sun all day, but I like to force myself outside on sunny days, regardless of the chill. I treat myself to a purchased lunch if it means I get a few blocks worth of sunshine at its peak. I’m also trying (and sometimes failing) to catch those last few rays on my way home. Rather than racing towards my bed, I go to the next metro stop over or I go grocery shopping right away – essentially holding on to the sun for as long as I can.

Force some friendships. One of the hardest parts about living in Sweden those first few months was saying goodnight to everyone at 3 p.m. and then sitting alone in the dark for hours. The winter is a great time to visit museums (I tell myself and yet we shall see) or encourage friends (and/or your mother) to do silly seasonal activities for the ‘gram. Anything I can do to get out of bed and see other faces means I’m spending less time alone in my own head.

And lastly, acceptance. It is okay to not be okay. Some days are good. Some days suck. It’s okay to accept that not every day will be amazing. But I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad I’m here. And I’m glad summer is just around the corner, right?

(Disclaimer: I’m no doctor. Everyone is different and this is simply my approach. If you need help, talk to your doctor or call 1-800-662-4357.)

Homesick

Hometown, Travel

When I moved away for college, I didn’t have a whole lot of homesickness. Flying across the world didn’t spark constant sobbing sessions of wanting to return home.

I think there’s a couple reasons I avoid what for many can be a debilitating limitation to their exploration of the planet.

The first was that home, as in the physical location of my house, wasn’t that important to me. I love my bed and driving down the GW Parkway and I love my belongings, but I have very little attachment to my home of 20-something years.

Maybe I spent too much of my childhood driving to and from school or maybe location wasn’t as important as memories. Either way, it’s nice to go back but not something I crave.

Another reason I avoided homesickness was avoidance. If you’re too busy to be homesick, you won’t notice the time and distance from your home. From the second I arrived in Indy or Sydney or Stockholm or London, I was busy.

I had things to do and people to meet and bags to unpack. I had a couple of stress/frustration/fear/PMSing sobs, but never felt horribly homesick.

Yes, it was tough to go away – but I wanted to go. I wanted to go to college and I wanted to study abroad and I wanted to get my masters and I wanted to travel. Those plans and the excitement attached kept me going.

The third reason I avoided homesickness was that I digitally detached from home. Yes, I texted my mom to let her know I arrived at my destination and yes, I sent the occasional text to a high school joking about some song I heard playing, but I avoided phone calls and FaceTime sessions for the first six weeks. I also didn’t go home a week in. It gave me a distance that allowed me to skip the wallowing in leaving home and focus on the exciting part of being in new places and meeting new people and learning new things.

I love my home. And I love my family. And I love returning there (even if my nice bed is no longer there and I sometimes end up on the couch…). But I also love my new home and my found families and the experience of going far far away. It’s just as much an adventure to return home now as it was to leave. And when it’s time to leave again, the excitement returns all over again.

Creativity for Creativity’s Sake

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I’ve been thinking about the benefits I get from being creative in a variety of ways. I sang and played instruments for years; I tried cross-stitching and embroidery; I wrote prose and poems and blog posts; I spent hours making little watercolor roses. I have artsed and I have craftsed. And I was never amazing at any of it.

But I’m starting to realize that that is quite alright. If I find joy (regardless of the outcome), isn’t that enough?

I think I grew up placing a lot of pressure on myself to perform to high standards (set both by myself, as well as by my education and my upbringing near a city like Washington, DC). If I was going to do anything, I wanted to do it well and I wanted to do it with purpose. Because of my mentality, I struggled to be creative if I wasn’t “good”. Writing or painting or crafting seemed to only be worth it when I liked the outcome, regardless of whether I enjoyed the experience. I could never start a creative project if I was concerned about whether the outcome would be good.

(If you haven’t yet seen Set It Up, it’s a rom-com on Netflix with a scene where the main character’s roommate encourages her to write the worst article of all time in order to break her writer’s block. 10/10 recommend for any rom-com lovers out there.)

Now that I’m a little older, I’ve accepted that I will probably never be a professional artist or a professional crafter – and that’s okay. I like where I’m heading career-wise.

But I miss the feeling of creating. So the other day, I pulled out my paints and a mini canvas and started painting for the sake of painting. A layer would dry and I wouldn’t love the outcome so I would paint another layer. After a while, I felt comfortable with letting this cheap canvas sit. It won’t be on the walls of the Louvre any time soon but I enjoyed the feeling of a paintbrush in my hand.

A lot of this reflection is related to November being right around the corner. Each November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Nanowrimo is an online challenge where participants write throughout the month with a word count goal (usually 50,000 words). Fun fact: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen was a NaNoWriMo book. The idea is to get in the habit of writing everyday and in the habit of writing without self-editing. The challenging part is getting everything written without giving in to the urge to edit each paragraph – that’s what December and January are for. The organizers set up writing meetups around the world and have accounts designed to challenge you to write in different ways over different chunks of time. I’ve participated with various levels of success in the past and am debating trying this year.

But it fulfills my desire to creative without an expectation of perfection at the end. I don’t think I’ve looked back at what I’ve written during past Novembers, but that’s alright by me. (I may look back in ten years and die from laughter and/or embarrassment) but at the time those were the words I needed to form.

Will I succeed in writing a novel (with no edits) by the end of November? I don’t know. Will it spark my creative juices? Perhaps. Will I expect perfection? Hopefully not. Happy NaNoWriMo, y’all.

Let me know if you’re planning to participate or if you have in the past.

Happy Places

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I recently read a blog about places that make you happy. I could name a thousand times I smiled on a trip or places that took my breath away, but there’s those comforting spots that you always return to – those spots where you’re most at peace.

If we’re honest, I’ll always include my parents’ couch on this list. Even if it’s just for a moment, there’s something very calming about being sucked into a recliner with a blanket over my lap while I hear my parents go about their daily lives.

I also think about the top of Primrose Hill in London as one of those spots. Especially early morning or as the sun is setting, there’s something about being so close yet so far from everything and everyone. After I’ve managed to catch my breath from the hike up (it’s really not that high, I’m just lazy), there’s a peace there that I haven’t found in many other places.

I recently visited where my grandma grew up in West Virginia – there was no cell service, minimal noise, no light pollution, and just a slight chance of a bear wandering down the mountain to say hello. We paused one night and looked up at the stars. That’s one thing you don’t get in the city – stars.

In reflection, maybe I’m just chasing the stars that hung above my parents home when I was a child – like the stars above West Virginia or lining the sky over Uluru in Australia or imitated by the thousands of sparkling lights in London.

Maybe under the stars, I feel myself at peace. And happy.

Seasonal Transitions

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We’re at that strange point of the year where we’ve had one or two cool days and all of a sudden every bone in my body is ready for winter. And when I saw cool, I mean not a thousand degrees out and humid.

Maybe it was the first load of Halloween candy displayed at the beginning of September but I’m fully in an autumn mindset.

I’m dreaming of crunching fallen leaves beneath my feet and wearing a scarf everyday. I’m thinking about road trips to see the leaves change colors and switching out my summer clothes for warmer sweaters and tights. I’m looking forward to hands wrapped around cups of tea and that tingle that comes from being hit by a brisk wind.

I am officially over sweating and tourist season and sunburns.

So everyone grab a cozy sweater, light a candle, and lets all pretend it won’t be 90 on Sunday.

Not Quite Wanderlust

Travel, Uncategorized

I wouldn’t call it wanderlust – I think I just wanted to see how far I could get away before I had to bounce back. The first step had been the Midwest – would I come running back to the East Coast or would I want to go even further?

There’s a different mentality in the middle of the country. Folks from the Coasts would label it complacency or a lack of curiosity. The desire to explore far flung places wasn’t ingrained in every decision amongst the cornfields.

But I’d come this far. The next step should be easy. I’d done quick trips – vacations with supervision, first to France and Spain and second to Italy and Greece. Neither was particularly challenging – I knew that by the end of the two weeks I would be home; I knew that my lack of foreign language knowledge could be brushed away with a snarky comment about “American tourists”. It was all quite safe.

But then came the big leap. A twenty-something hour flight with layover that would take me from my East Coast home to the other side of the planet. The safety net had been pulled away, it was time to take a proper leap and not know when I was gonna hit the next ledge.

But I didn’t hit the bottom. Instead, I got my extrovert on (kinda) and met new people. I learned about a country so similar yet so different than mine. I saw fish swimming in a coral reef and stood in the middle of the desert staring in awe at the full Milky Way hanging above me in the sky. I shared my new life with my parents and explored two new countries with them while I was at – a “I must come back” trip to New Zealand and a “totally overwhelmed yet amazed” trip to Phuket in Thailand. As I boarded my plane away from Australia, I couldn’t help but think how quickly can I get back here?

The turn around was quick – a month or so to sit at home and realize I was ready to go far, far away yet again. This time the plane ride was much shorter, the stress was much less, but the destination would be much colder. It was a challenge – to fight against the seasonal depression of four hours of sunlight a day.

The cure was to move, jumping from plane to train to ferry over and over. Flights to France and Germany, Norway, the UK, and Denmark; trains and buses to Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic; the infamous booze cruises to Russia and Estonia, Finland and Latvia.

In the constant rush, I looked up and there was twenty-two hours of sunlight, not four. I had been everywhere except the “here” that I had traveled so far to see. I told myself I’ll be back, but it’ll never be the same. The people will have shifted, the places will have grown, and who will I be?

Once you’ve left a place, it’ll never be same.

So with a brief layover in Iceland, I returned home. My East Coast had shifted beneath my feet and the cornfields had grown while I was away.

People had drifted away and together. Buildings had been torn down and build.

So I kept going – forward momentum pushing me further and further. Until I paused. In my rush to get as far away as possible, I’d made a loop back to the start.