Where did 2020 go? Well, we all know… it didn’t go anywhere, or, to be more precise, we didn’t go anywhere. It feels like 2020 slipped through my hands like a pit of jack fruit – the difference is: I don’t like jack fruit, but I love watching the time go by and looking back at what I’ve done with mine.
Then 2021 came, and just like the blink of an eye, it’s almost gone. As fast as a sneeze, 10 months have gone by and once again I missed, for the second year in a row, this blog’s anniversary.
The 5th went by without a note not because I forgot it, but because I was ran over by time and loss.
The loss of a very much loved one.
There are two things we can be certain in life. One is that time will pass. It won’t stop. It never stops.
We can run after time and try to catch up, but it keeps passing, and getting behind us, no matter what.
The second is that people we love will die. Nobody lives forever and one day, when you least expect, that loved one takes that turn on the road of time and never come back.
Still, we keep fighting time and pretending losses won’t happen. Until they do, and we find ourselves dealing with the weirdly unique mix of emotions like love, gratitude, sadness, and saudade.
How do we prepare ourselves for the passing of time and the absence of those who walked us through it? We don’t. Even when we think we do, there are always life aspects that surprise us, mesmerize us, terrify us, and despite everything we keep on living. We do that because we want to know what’s next, we want to decipher the uncertainties that lay ahead of us. Consciously or not we keep seeking answers for the things we don’t know, for the mysteries of life – of time and loss.
During the past year and a half, the idea of embracing uncertainty escalated to a whole new level. Those who love planning felt incredibly lost; those who hate it felt lost too: how one ‘does not plan’ what’s ‘impossible to plan’? Even though I’m pretty accepting of the unknown, this period showed me how hard it is to just be, observe, contemplate and wait.
While waiting, time slapped me in the face and took something away from me. Someone that won’t come back.
I have been avoiding writing this post for a while. After all, am I not the ‘best coach for matters of uncertainty’ whose friends call for advice on how to cope with the uncertain groundlessness of life?
The truth is that since I last wrote here, I’ve been struggling with not knowing ‘how’ and ‘when’; when I’ve learned about the ‘where’, I struggled with the ‘what now’ and ‘what’s next’.
You read it right. It’s me, trying to find the answers that would make me feel ‘safer’ and have the unreal, but comfortable, feeling that everything is under control, and that I would be then in a better position to deal with the unknown future.
The three months following the 2nd anniversary of this blog tested my nerves and my ability to embrace the uncertainty of my life. It was also a period full of uncertainties around the political future of my country, of human rights, social justice and inclusion. All I knew was that I wanted to have a more meaningful job given everything that is happening in the world, the rise of intolerance, hatred, fundamentalism. I was happy with my mobility, but felt like my purpose in life was skipping through my hands.
Then one day I received an email. Followed by a job offer. A volunteer position, in an international organization, working with population affected by years of conflict in their home countries.
I said yes, but the restlessness remained.
Since I moved to this new country, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs; another way to say that the past few months haven’t been easy. Not sure if it is the place, the job, the lack of intimacy. All I know is that I have been feeling a bit under the weather, more than I’d usually feel. I’d never thought I would have a hard time adapting to places and people – after all, I’m a water person with water signs, and water is the most adaptable of the 4 elements, isn’t it?
I wouldn’t qualify the city where I’m living as a hardship place, but there’s a combination of factors that turn it into a difficult place to be.
To start, work is not ideal. It’s hard for me to work alone – don’t people know that’s the reason why I’d rather have two Masters than a PhD? I’ve been craving teamwork for so long, and here I am, a team of one again, feeling stuck and procrastinating to make decisions and prioritize among the endless tasks I have to tackle daily. I oscillate between very productive hours to periods in which I sit in front of the computer and stare at the screen without being able to make any progress. I suffer with the endless changes I have to do to the project schedule, which made me realize how deep my private sector exposure got under my skin – how come we don’t meet the impossible deadlines?
I also struggle with the politics, the who knows who, who does what and when and how, and at the end of the day it makes me wonder if the problem is not the place or job, but the expectations I created around it, the false expectations that it would give me a sense of certainty after all these years. It makes me wonder if the problem isn’t me and my idealistic and stubborn self – by the way, thank you Myers Briggs for reminding me idealism is both one of my strengths and weaknesses. Should I be more (more???) flexible and understanding?
These thoughts and feelings feed into a loop that takes my self-confidence downhill, I find myself complaining too much, I feel exhausted, and my first impulse is to quit. It’s clear, though, that this is a trap, a trap that feeds into the loop of questioning the uncertainties of life and reinforces feelings like fear, anxiety, self-pity, and undermines self-confidence. Even though I know it’s a trap, I can’t help but walk towards it.
On top of all that, there’s the place where I live… I miss watching sunsets, I miss taking long walks without having to ignore what men say when I’m passing by (if only I couldn’t understand what they say…), I miss live music, I miss friendship, I miss intimacy, I miss so many things that I haven’t yet been able to find here that it makes me wonder if I had grown to be that type of person I always judged, the one that is picky, not resilient to difficult environments, that has a hard time being flexible and understanding. Have I become that person?
What happened to my “embracing uncertainty” and living life fully no matter how and where?
Was it only a phase? Was it some sort of fake news my brain came up with to trick me to walk into the trap? Was it something I made up in order to protect myself from the life I had to live in the past 3.5 years?
I like the idea of being a living example of resilience, as Professor William Moomaw once said to me. I like to think I can endure and adapt according to what life brings me, here and now, but I started wondering if what I’m going through means that we all have a line we are not willing to cross when it comes to dealing with discomfort, or with the uncertainty of where this discomfort will lead us to. All regardless of what/who/how we’d like to be.
The good thing is, and despite everything I’ve just shared, I do like my job and the challenges it entails. I certainly like the type of work I’m doing. I like the organization, most of my colleagues, and specially the smart and inspiring women with whom I live and/or work remotely with. I’m certain that there are plenty of people around me that are willing to help and show me how things work or don’t, to teach me new things and help me grow professionally, to show me which opportunities are out there. Most importantly, I’m sure that this experience, no matter where it takes me to, is the right one for me, right here, right now.
Even though I see the trap, only a few meters away, I have the strength to avoid falling into it, and having found a place where I can recharge, get my thoughts in order, before tackling another week, was an important part of surviving the ups and downs of the past few months.
Don’t be fooled by my Instagram posts, with beautiful sunsets, pristine blue water, and wide smiles from the boys that run to me crying ‘Maria!’. It all exists, but it’s not the full picture of what I’m currently living. It is, indeed, an essential part of my life here; it’s what I look forward after a long week at work.
Together with sharing my fears and vulnerabilities, it keeps me away from the trap, and reminds me that no matter what we do, where we are, how we live, there’s no such a thing as escaping uncertainty. So, if you have to embrace it, make sure you find your safe place, where you can watch the sunset, paint with the kids, and swim in blue and warm waters.
Below, one of my favorite sayings, one I always go back to in moments like this; because it’s all part of this journey called life: the joy, the frustrations, the pain, the happiness.
“Frustrations are life’s gestures
Through which we grow in knowledge,
And impermanence is the circular turning of our lives,
Experienced as a play in which meaning is unfolded as balance.”
Days before I start a new year of my life, I’m finally able to finish this post looking back at 2017 and the lessons I’ve learned from months of traveling, experiencing, settling, working, and getting to know me better – and feeling comfortable with it 🙂
2017 was the year I (re)opened my heart and allowed love to flow (in and out) again. After surviving 2016 (how tough it was!), and traveling east, 2017 surprised me with lovely encounters with places, people, and experiences.
It was January 11th when I felt it was going to be a different year.
It was raining and I had been awake since 5am to catch the first of 3 buses of that day. I was extremely lucky that my travel partner decided, last minute, to continue her trip with me. Because when crossing the border I realized we’d swapped passports by mistake. I had hers, she had mine, and despite the same nationality we don’t look anything alike [another lesson learned from the road].
I can’t imagine how 2017 would have been if I was not able to cross to Laos on that January 11th. I wouldn’t have met the Mekong, nor the weavers of Xamtai, nor started a new habit, nor improved my motorbike skills, nor enjoyed sunsets and the best hash browns at the border with Cambodia. I’d probably have had a different experience in Northern Thailand, skipped Songkran (the water festival), and most important not met all the incredible people along the way.
If 2015 was the year I was forced to embrace uncertainty and deal with it without time to think or breath, and 2016 was when I embraced it and tried to add some structure to it (at least in my thinking), 2017 was when I allowed myself to live it beautifully, to enjoy the uncertainty of the paths I chose, and to experiment without fear of failing.
I spent 3 months in Laos, visited Northern Thailand, spent almost one month back in the US – covering both coasts and a bit of Louisiana and Mississippi -, introduced my mother and brother to one of my favorite spots in the world – where he indulged himself with all kinds of bugs and weird food – and had a blast having them visit my Thai family, and flew back to Brazil for a work project.
Being back in Sao Paulo after 7 years away was an interesting experience, to say the least. I reconnected with old friends, made new ones, and was able to keep feeding my nomadic soul hopping from one house to the other, thanks to the generosity of friends who are more than family to me, until I found a perfect short-term place where I spent the last 5 months of the year.
2017 also taught me that sometimes the right people come into our lives at the wrong time, and there’s nothing we can do about it other than enjoy their company while it lasts. It also taught me that there are wrong people out there, and sometimes we have encounters with them right when we need to learn a few lessons.
It was also a year of love in terms of acceptance.
Acceptance of who and how I am. Of the fact that I don’t have a standard answer to the question “what do you do” or “where’s your home”. I understood that not having a standard answer to questions like these does not mean I don’t do the things I do with professionalism and passion, nor it means I don’t feel home in the places where I am. Regardless of what people might think (and judge), I know that I’m an excellent professional, daughter, sister, and friend who will always be there for the people I love and for the exciting and challenging projects that come along.
As I embrace uncertainty and live my life without trying to control the uncontrollable future, I’ve been trying to inspire friends and family to do the same, to leave their comfort zones, and allow themselves to see beauty in the unexpected.
I understand that we all have very different approaches to life, uncertainty, and change; that my level of comfort in not knowing what’s next is not the same as my friends, and I’m no better or worse for that.
Over the past couple of years I’ve learned that my comfort zone consists on being constantly on the move; that I don’t need more than a 50 liters backpack and less than 20 dollars a day to enjoy myself and be happy, to wake up every day feeling excited about life. I’ve also learned more about my sense of unease when it comes to knowing too much about where I’m supposed to be next or what I’m supposed or expected to be doing.
As I encouraged my friends to be more easygoing towards life, they also inspired and encouraged me to approach it in a more structured way, and to have the courage to chose a place and stay there for a while longer than two weeks – that would be way easier if that place was in Laos 🙂
Recently, reading a friend’s blog post, I realized I am brave enough to keep traveling on a budget from one country to another, but not to go back to my native country and stay there for a certain period of time. When sharing her courage to go home, she made me realize how much it takes for someone like me to say “ok, I’m going home, and I’m staying there for a while.” It takes tons of courage to be certain.
So far it’s been an interesting experience. Now I embrace the uncertainty of rediscovering a place where I spent ten years of my life; I embrace the novelty of familiar landscapes through the lenses of fresh traveled eyes. And whenever I feel uneasy about knowing where I’m supposed to be for the next six months, I think of Southeast Asia and the certainty I have that one day I’ll go back.
Antes de te encontrar me falaram que você era bacana, mas que eu não deveria gastar meu tempo tentando te conhecer melhor. Duas ou três semanas seriam mais do que suficientes; depois disso eu me cansaria e partiria para outra.
Eu tinha planos de voltar para algo que já tinha despertado meu interesse assim que me cansasse de você. Mas eis que aqui estou, ainda olhando para você, apreciando sua beleza. Completamente apaixonada.
Já se passaram dois meses e você ainda me impressiona e me diverte com suas cores, formas, cheiros e sabores. Você me mantém curiosa e cheia de vontade de aprender mais sobre sua história, suas pessoas, seus medos e desafios. Me diga: como eu posso te ajudar? Como podemos trabalhar juntos? O que eu preciso fazer para continuar perto de você?
Quem me conhece anda dizendo que estou mais bonita. Que meus olhos têm um brilho especial e que meu sorriso está ainda maior. Estão dizendo que irradio alegria e, embora não seja 100% por sua causa – estou alegre porque sinto que estou no lugar certo para meu corpo, mente e alma-, você tem sim um bocado a ver com isso.
Você me ajudou a reencontrar uma antiga paixão: tear; me mostrando trabalhos lindos e inspiradores, feitos for pessoas talentosas, em cantos remotos.
Você me ensinou a relaxar e seguir a energia de cada momento, inclusive me fez quebrar regras de vez em quando. Me fez provar coisas novas e experimentar mais.
Você me deu amantes e me trouxe um novo amor.
Você me fez sentir anos mais jovem, apesar de eu ficar um ano mais velha ao seu lado.
Nas montanhas, lá no norte, você me mostrou vistas de tirar o fôlego enquanto brincávamos de esconde-esconde durante o por do sol.
E quando seguíamos para o sul eu percebi quanta diversidade você carrega. As montanhas deram espaço a planícies, a brisa fresca a ondas de calor; e quando o ar ficou pesado de tão quente você me apontou águas frescas onde me banhar. E assim encontrei um outro amor: o rio Mekong ❤
Como não te amar?! Por suas redes, seu arroz grudento, suas cavernas, canoas, cachoeiras. Você me surpreendeu com sua diversidade cultural: comida indiana, café japonês, petanque & pastis.
E me surpreendeu ainda mais com suas estradas sinuosas que – apesar do meu histórico de enjôos em longas viagens – me mantiveram sã e salva.
Você também me fez chorar e me deu algumas cicatrizes novas. Ao aprender sobre suas bombas e medos eu não aguentei e não segurei as lágrimas.
Mas acima de tudo você me deu novos amigos, novas inspirações, novas histórias para contar.
Before meeting you, I was told you were nice but not worth the time to get to know you better. Two or three weeks should be enough before getting tired of you and moving on.
I had plans to go back to something else as soon as I was done with you. But here I am, still looking at you, appreciating your beauty. Completely in love.
It’s been two months and you still amaze – and amuse – me with your colors, shapes, smells, and flavors. You keep me curious and eager to learn more about your history, your people, your fears, and challenges. Tell me: how can I help you? How can we work together? What do I need to do to stay close to you?
People who know me are saying I look great. That my eyes are shining and my smile is wider. They say I irradiate happiness and although it’s not only your fault – I’m happy because I feel I’m in the right place for my body, mind and soul – you do have a lot to do with it.
You helped me reconnect with an old passion: weaving; showing me beautiful and inspiring work made in remote places by very talented people.
You also taught me to be more relaxed, go with the flow, and even break some rules once in a while. You made me try new things and experiment more.
You gave me lovers, and love.
You made me feel years younger, despite becoming a year older while with you.
Up in the mountains, in the North, you showed me breathtaking views, while playing hide and seek during the sunset.
Heading South, I realized how diverse you could be. The mountains gave space to plains, the cool breeze to heat waves, and when I thought I could no longer breath, you pointed me fresh waters to bath in. And then something else to love: the Mekong ❤
How not to love you?! – For your hammocks, khao niao, your caves, and canoes, and waterfalls. You surprised me with Indian food, Japanese Cafe, petanque & pastis.
You surprised me even more with your winding roads that – despite my lifelong history of car sickness – kept me sane and safe.
You also made me cry and gave me a few new scars. Learning about your bombs and fears was very touching; I couldn’t hold my tears.
But most importantly, you presented me with new friends, new inspirations, and new stories to tell.