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Me at 26 – The Year Where Everything Turned Upside Down

Happy birthday candle on cake

Well Hello there! Long time no blog. My bad. I’d say I’ve been busy, but who would believe me? But no, really it’s been a crazy time recently and honestly, I just lost motivation to work on lil ol’ Suzy Stories recently. Sorry, blog! Another year has come around since my annual birthday reflections and boy, this was one a doozy. On the eve of my 27th birthday, this is what I’ve learned about Me at 26.

I moved… again

This annual ritual is really becoming tiresome!

Last year I was ecstatic to have moved to sunny Western Australia to live out my beachy dreams with my partner Kaz. Well, that had to come to an end earlier this year.

Let me explain.

Whilst living for a year in Perth we wanted to make sure we got to experience as much as possible. We tried living in 5 different suburbs and that meant moving… Quite a lot! It’s not all bad though, as we got to live 2 minutes from the beach, right in the heart of the city, and in some of the coolest parts of town.

Fast forward to March 2020 and we were nearing the end of our year in Perth when we unexpectedly had to leave and return to our home countries. You’ve probably guessed why, but I’ll continue.

We had BIG plans for 2020. Family and friend’s events to celebrate, big birthday milestones, and a hope to move back to New Zealand later in the year. But nah, a little known hiccup called Covid-19 put a stop to all that! Instead, Kaz and I said a tearful goodbye at Perth Airport as he flew to New Zealand and I flew to the UK. Plenty of tough conversations throughout yet another run of long distance and we finally settled on the plan that Kaz would come to join me here in London. Cue packing up once more from my mum’s home and moving into our cosy 1-bed here in South West London.

While I’ve become pretty used to moving, I’m excited to stay put a little and enjoy nesting together in this new life.

Things To Know When Moving To London - A London Underground sign, but it's better to walk or catch the bus to get the best transport in London!

I adjusted

With lots of moving in mind, Me at 26 did a lot of adjusting. I’m sure plenty of people can relate to that sentiment, in such a topsy turvy few months.

We faced changing plans, 180 flips on our expectations, you name it. This year brought it. We lived in Perth – loved it. Found out we might have to move to Townsville QLD – a new job meant we didn’t (that’s a story for another time). Applied for our partnership visa in New Zealand – Covid. Went separate ways across the world – how can we reunite? But we got there in the end. When there’s a will, there’s a way!

If this year has taught us anything, it’s that dodging curveballs requires flexibility to the point of being a contortionist. I’m proud of what these challenges have brought out of me. I felt confident in finding a solution and strength in my relationship to speak honestly together and communicate our feelings.

I worked on myself

You might remember that last year in my Me at 25 post I mentioned I’d been focussing on working out and physical fitness. Well, yeah that didn’t go so well this year. Our gym-going days ended along with everything else in March (and perhaps a little before…).

Instead, I’ve been working on my mind and personal growth. You know, being a better person and all that.

In April my good friend Alicia Kaye was looking for clients to launch her new coaching business, and I jumped at the chance. A coach was the perfect way to help me navigate careers and confidence to be the best me possible.

I will admit, I found it hard at first! It was my first experience of communicating any deep fears and exploring my wishes for my future with a stranger, and a professional at that. But Alicia is an amazing coach and after 3 months of sessions I couldn’t quite believe how far I’d come!

sailboat at sea during cloudy sunset

And looked inward

Living abroad for a lot of my 26th year meant I had a lot of time to myself. In this time, it was important to me to try and look inward.

I sometimes look at myself and question what on Earth makes me “me”. I don’t know what hobbies and traits define me. Am I good person? Am I doing enough as a global citizen? So many questions!

This is where the coaching took a huge role.

Know what I realised? Simplicity makes me happy. I am a chronic overthinking with doubts and anxieties, so a simple, clear life is what I crave.

That doesn’t mean I’m boring (I hope??). I love spontaneity, challenging myself, adventure. But in day to day life I enjoy finding an answer to the problem I’m trying to solve. I value the unpretentious things in life: nature, food, friendship, laughter, conversation. The things that feed your soul.

moon rising behind tree branch

I tried to find my “thing”

I’ve often felt that I lack a sense of self and identity (as I mentioned in my blogging existential crisis). I love travel, but how much? Is it really one of my most defining qualities or interests? What else am I passionate about?

I love travel. But recently, there’s just something… Off about it for me. I don’t know what exactly. Is it a result of 2020 and the year travel nosedived? I don’t think so. I might have been squashing some uncomfortable feelings about travel (the privilege it needs, the impact on the environment). Deep down I’m doubting myself and this aspect of my life. Do I still love travel? I think so. That desire to explore and discover and tell stories has never gone away. It’s simply dormant, for now.

Travel has always been a large part of my identity and calling that into question made me worried. What’s my “thing”? The hobby, interest, passion that people go “Oh yes, that’s Suzy!”. I don’t know! I have plenty of loves: performing arts, history, writing, photography, psychology, philosophy, nature… But are any of the enough to define me?

So I started to think: Who am I really? 

Not an easy question to answer, I know. But an important one for me in this pivotal part of life. This is one I’m still working on and figuring out. And who knows if I’ll ever find an answer! What’s important is that I want to keep learning, keep questioning, and keep finding what makes me tick. Who knows, maybe I’ll find myself in sewing or origami or some other as yet untouched activity… Any ideas?

a close up photo of a red tulip bud

I explored new options

With efforts to improve my mindset came a chance to explore what else is out there. And with challenging circumstances of moving back to the UK was an opportunity to rethink how life looked.

More recently I’ve reevaluated how I want my working and home life to look. I took a step and thought, “is this what I want my day to look like?”.

This leads me on to some exciting news… I got a new job! I came to the realisation that after 4 years in this role it was time to push myself further. I happened across a job that looked amazing, and was lucky enough to be offered the role very recently. Woohoo! Another reason to celebrate right?

I practised

I wish I could say I mastered the art of baking or crochet or calligraphy or something this year. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. However, I have been practising a few different activities that I’m pleased with (a big claim from the self-deprecation queen).

Photography

Creativity has always felt like an important part of my self expression. While living in Perth I decided to treat myself to a new camera lens, my first very rudimentary introduction to telephoto lenses. Since then, I had a reinvigorated love of playing and experimenting with the camera and what photos I could capture.

During the late summer weeks in Cottesloe Beach I made it my mission to perfect a long exposure shot capturing a smooth horizon. And I’m so glad that with endurance and repetition I managed to capture a few that I’m happy with!

sunset over the ocean with long exposure causes a smooth movement effect

Once I left the beach vibes of Perth, I started a couple of new photography projects. One to capture a sunset from my window every day, and the other my first attempt of self-portraits. This was a big step for me, as I usually hate photos of myself.

woman looks away from camera while sitting against a wall where the setting sun shines natural light

Lastly, my family and I did a fun daily photo challenge which resulted in lots of attempts at creativity. It’s not my usual style (not a landscape in sight!) but I actually had the best experience of flexing some photography muscles and seeing what I could create.

a wooden spoon with smiley face cut out is close to the camera with its shadow reflected on the wall behind

Yoga

A more recent practice has been through yoga. As I mentioned, my physical fitness efforts took a nosedive this year. However, when Kaz arrived in London we decided to motivate each other and use the Down Dog App on the recommendation of a friend.

So far we’ve found it perfect for stiff beginners like ourselves. It also takes as little or as much time as you like, and it can easily be done in the space of our living room.

Let’s see how we get on and if it’s still part of our routine next year…

Patience

I am not a patient person. It’s something I’m working on though (thanks to coaching!). A big part of this practice has been journalling. Building the habit and routine of expressing my thoughts in a dialogue with myself has been eye-opening. It’s such a simple activity, but I truly never realised how reflecting on my feelings of a day would impact me and teach me about myself.

sunset with glowing clouds

I reconnected

With Nature

Perth was heavenly. I fell in love with the outdoorsy lifestyle and gorgeous scenery that makes it a dream destination to live. I’m usually a real city kid, I’ve never lived far from amenities and convenience. We still had walking distance to everything we need in Perth, however, it was a chance to reconnect with one of the most centring and grounding aspects of nature for me: the beach.

“The ocean makes me feel really small and it makes me put my whole life into perspective… it humbles you and makes you feel almost like you’ve been baptized. I feel born again when I get out of the ocean.” – Beyoncé

On our weekend getaway to Esperance where we saw some of the most incredible coastline I’ve ever experienced I couldn’t help but feel immense gratitude for this beautiful Earth and for the chance to see and appreciate it.

Living in Cottesloe particularly was the reminder that the natural world is very, very important to me. We spent almost every day walking along the sand, perhaps swimming in the sea, or watching the sunset over the horizon. It was pure bliss.

I even wrote this short account of how I felt in that time:

I have rediscovered my love for swimming. As a kid I was a proper little water baby, “dolphin in a past life” as my parents said and I was actually quite good. But I sort of lost touch with it, like many of us do with childhood passions. 

I swam at uni but that was primarily to avoid getting a horrendous cider-related belly. And since I nearly strangled/piggybacked a random dude in the pool (one of my most embarrassing moments yet most popular anecdotes) I sort of went off it… 

But since living in Cottesloe I swam every day. At first I was complaining about seaweed and the salty water. I always found an excuse to run out as quick as possible. “I don’t want the fish to nibble me!” I claimed. HA. Look at me now. Did lengths to the shark net and everything. Actively chased the fishies. Kaz even went for a sunrise swim and saw freakin dolphins!!! That’ll teach me for choosing to sleep instead…

I like the crunchy salt in my hair. I like lying on my back and listening to the ripples. I like the ache in my arms and rewarding them with soothing sun cream afterwards. I like feeling nowhere and everywhere all at once. Insignificantly small and entirely whole. Yes, I think I like swimming again. 

woman stands at edge of water on beach

With Reading

I bought a kindle last year. On the recommendation of a new friend, I then downloaded a bunch of books. Reading after work while soaking in the sun became a ritual that motivated me through the day.

I used to love reading as a child and teen. Weirdly, I had a fondness for factual lists and books of trivia… I’d smash those TV game shows!

However, I’m not a very quick reader. I won’t pretend I’m the world’s best reader or a critic that can analyse a book’s every detail. But I love the escapism and chance to delve into another world. So I’m glad I’ve rediscovered this way to switch off. I especially enjoy reading outdoors, so my goal as we enter Northern Hemisphere autumn is to get more comfortable reading indoors and avoiding the distractions of laptops and phones!

With Old Friends

One of the few benefits of lockdown and Covid-19 has been how quickly I reconnected with friends. Catching up with friends who I had lost touch with was awesome. Even friends I would message on a semi-regular basis were keen for a video call or more regular conversation which I am SO grateful for.

Reconnecting with those important people from my younger years reminds me of who I was, who I am, and who I might be. Reminiscing on fun memories, important moments, and the network of people who have had an impact on my life in one way or another is an incredibly valuable experience for me. Thanks to all my awesome friends who haven’t yet given up on our friendship, and are there ready and waiting despite weeks, months, or years of time apart!

I made new friends

I’ve struggled with the fluidity of friendships in recent years. They come and go, ebb and flow and I perhaps overthink if I’m doing enough to sustain a friendship whilst also not being too needy or desperate.

When I moved to a new city in a new country where I knew a total of 3 people (my partner and 2 of his relatives!) I realised I needed to find new friends to surround myself with. Digital connections with friends and family back home are wonderful, but there was a lingering gap of spending time with someone in person.

So, I putt myself out there and BOY it felt like dating all over again. I literally used Bumble BFF so it truly felt like judging books by their covers and wondering why they weren’t messaging back. Making friends as an adult is hard! However, I met some awesome women and made what I hope will be a couple of friends for life. You guys rock.

pink rose flower up close

I continued

While writing this post I realised how easy it is to put pressure on myself to think of a bunch of new things I’ve done and achieved in the last year. But, Covid aside, that’s just not realistic. And anyway, there are lots of parts of my previous “Me At” posts I’m proud of and have continued.

This annual chance for reflection of Me at 26 is not meant to be comparing myself to Suzy of years past. It’s to see how I’ve grown, changed, and developed. Sometimes, that means taking a look at the things that define you and realigning with how they make you feel. I did that above with travel, and here I’d like to point out the parts of me that I’m so glad I get to continue!

  • I’m still part of an antipodean partnership, where we’ve faced the challenges and joys of long distance love – a topic that I’ve become passionate about this year. We took a big step forward with Kaz moving to London, and we’re thrilled to have closed the distance again.
  • I’m still a vegetarian! In fact, I’d say I’m proudly so now. I used to say “I don’t eat meat”, but now I say “I’m a vegetarian!”. A small difference, but one that’s important to me.
  • I also still explore and enjoy travel, albeit less so recently. It’s an industry that fascinates me, both in practise and academically!
  • I’ve been a bit slow, but I’m still blogging. I actually had my best year yet after working my butt off this year on this site. Yay!

I’m hopeful that as years pass by I become more “me”. Looking at the parts of Me that come and go, and the ones that stick around and grow with me is absolutely fascinating.

crescent moon at night

I slowed down

I think we can all relate to this one. This year’s post is a little more introspective than years past. The last 12 months were not filled with as much travel or exploration as I’d like, not physically anyway (mentally, absolutely!). I didn’t really mind. It was hard to return home to the UK after a wonderful experience of living in Perth, but it was made even harder by being apart from loved ones both near and far even longer than I’d have liked.

But, this time for independence and routine and spending far too much time at home actually had its benefits.

I actually quite like my own time, within reason. I also liked that it’s been an opportunity to save money, work on myself, think about the future… things I do anyway but only as a consequence rather than for a purpose.

Yes, living at a slower pace (and working at home!) has had plenty of good aspects. But also a few struggles…

I find the concepts of slow living really fascinating. I really appreciate the values it holds, but as a chronically impatient person slowness doesn’t come naturally. Instead, I’ve decided to apply those same practices but “consciously”. Conscious living to me is making decisions and life choices that have been thought through and with purpose. From choosing a sustainable brand of toiletries to considering my future career, living consciously has helped me understand myself better.

the sun sets behind a line of trees causing the sky and clouds to shine a deep orange colour

Me at 26 – how did it go?

I think we can all agree 2020 hasn’t really been THE year. Although it’s been all over the place with less than half the achievement I’d hoped for, I really can’t complain. I am so fortunate. I have a home that is safe and comfortable. I have a kind and loving partner who I’ve been reunited with. I have a steady income and the support of loved ones. I have my health and am thankful for the health of my family and friends.

So yes, in the grand scheme of things, Me at 26 had lots to be grateful for. Difficulties are all relative, but it is a good reminder that mine are objectively minor and can be overcome.

What do I want for 27?

Phew. That was a long one! Sorry about the rambles here, folks.

As I enter 27 I already know I have plenty of things to challenge me, achieve, and look forward to. A new home, a new lifestyle with Kaz, and a new job are right around the corner.

So, Happy Birthday Me!

 

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad
    10/17/2020 at 11:46 pm

    Happy birthday Suzy! It’s sure been a tough year for everyone, but you sound like you’re finding your feet and you’re in a good place as a whole which is lovely to hear. 🙂 So glad you and Kaz managed to be reunited too!

    • Reply
      suzystories
      10/18/2020 at 5:42 pm

      Thanks so much! Ahh yes it’s been a weird one hasn’t it? At least we’ve had some good news from it, and hopefully next year will be better!

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