Sometimes, saying no is stronger

We form a line. The seven of us are standing in a darkened hallway in our socks. We move at the rhythm our teacher is setting. Sometimes slow, at times fast. And I’m struggling to keep a straight face. 

Round and round in circles we go. Up and down the hall, trying to feel our breath as we walk. It feels surreal walking here. I’m trying my best to stick with the assignment and focus on my breathing, but I have to hide my face, so no one sees me giggle. 

I’m halfway through my mindfulness course, and I’m still not sure what to think. I love the idea of not feeding my negative thoughts and not giving the stress any power. But I have a hard time surrendering.

All those years, I have trained my mind to be in control. To be strong, to not let anything else win. And yet, I feel weaker than ever. I’m trying to quit my snacking habit and as soon as the impulse comes up to race to the chocolate. My mind has no control over that feeling whatsoever. So why do I insist this is ‘being strong’? 

All my life, I heard not to give up and to fight for my dreams. So when things get hard, I work harder and fight to make the things happen even if that means breaking myself.

At least I didn’t give up. Well, that’s the idea at least.

With a few extra years of life experience, I’m beginning to think saying no is stronger. If it’s based on well-considered thoughts and you made a real effort to make it work, it’s okay to give up. To let go of a dream that is making you miserable. 

Mindfulness is a hard lesson for me. Because again, it’s not about giving in or giving up. It’s about living in the moment and accepting how that moment is making you feel. Not to pass any judgement on that. And boy, am I good at passing judgement mostly when it comes to myself. 

That makes mindfulness also a valuable lesson for me to learn because I am struggling with it so much. 

I’m not sure if I’m going to get the hang of it during the lessons I still have left. It feels like something my mind is and isn’t ready for at the same time. And the trick is not to judge yourself about that…

Life lesson: Always be willing to prove yourself wrong

“We forgot to bring sunscreen”, I said. “Don’t worry, it’s Ireland, we’ll be grant”, my friend answered. It turned out, we weren’t, and we got extremely sunburnt. But this came after I cried on the side of a mountain. 

When I say mountain, I mean a little lump of rock with a rocky point. It’s the baby mountain ‘real mountains’ make fun of. But for me, back in 2013, it was a mountain. It was right around the time I started to dabble in running and fell in love with hiking. But the mountains? Those were still a foreign concept to me. 

Going up the mountain

The rocky top of the Sugarloaf went steep up, and I had to use my hands to pull myself up the last bit. Looking back, it was fun; at the moment, I was scared out of my wits. Mountains were still new to me, and at that time, I was still afraid of everything. But the view from the top made it all worth it. 

But then we had to go down… 

My friend, ever the adventurer, suggested taking another path down. Not the standard route everyone else took, but the one with loose rocks scattered on the slopes. It wasn’t long before I was so terrified I had tears in my eyes. 

I kept losing my footing and balance, slipping and wobbling on the rocks on the way down, always feeling like I had no grip. My friend had to coach me down. I may or may not have stayed up there if she didn’t. 

In the end, we got back down with a hideous sunburn. On top of that, we were utterly dehydrated because we ran out of water. 

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how far I’ve come. When I look at photos from that hike, I see a scared, insecure girl. Nowadays, I’m still insecure, but I also found a lust for adventure. I’ve run half marathons, triathlons and I’m bouldering a lot. If you had told me that day on the mountain what I would do someday, I wouldn’t have believed you. 

Sometimes I still don’t believe it. I look at all the things I do, all the sports things I want to do and I’m amazed. I still think like 14-year old me and say: ‘but I suck at sports’. 

I guess the bottom line here is don’t believe anything you hear. Especially when you say it to yourself, you will surprise yourself, and you will find a strength inside you, you didn’t know you had. You will do things you didn’t think you could, and you’ll develop a lust for adventure you never held possible. 

That is the one life-lessons you need to remember: Always be willing to prove yourself wrong. 

This year: I will travel

This year I want to travel. Travel a lot. Sure I’ve done that the past few years too, but this year it’s different. I am tired of being a tourist, of being some white girl who goes to fancy restaurants in some Asian country. I want to emerge myself in the culture.

When I think of travel this year, I see myself going on adventures. Climb outdoor, have a backpack on my back with everything I’m taking with me and camera in hand. I want to document cultures, invoke wanderlust in people and make them dream through my eyes and lens.

I was never an adventurous spirit. I am an introvert who’s perfect afternoon is on the sofa with a book with endless amounts of my favourite tea. Most of my comfort consists of having my favourite things around. The comfort of home is my woollen blanket under which I write this.

That’s precisely why I want to be uncomfortable this year. I tried the comfort zone, and it has gotten me as far as the end of the sofa. Ok, and to the UK and back. That’s where my love of the outdoors started. There I started running, started hiking and even climbed my first bit of rock. I got my hiking boots there and my beloved backpack. And then I went back home to the Netherlands.

The outdoors is different here. Flat. And my heart longs for the mountains. It wants rocks, forests so old it makes you feel small. Dramatic skies that feel like you’ve left earth and entered a place new to ever human imaginable. I long for outdoors that makes me feel like a new person who can do anything every single day.

For the past five years, I have let myself be ruled by fear. By ‘I can’t do this’, by fear of what others would say, and by financial fear. See that’s the thing about fear. It’s so goddamn easy. “Hey want to go and climb?” “Oh no, I don’t think I can do that, I’m not strong enough.” (true story by the way). It’s often the first response when asked to do something new. No, and some excuse. It’s time to call bullshit on this. Time to let go of the fear. Time to stop letting fear being the first reaction to anything and everything.

It will be hard. And I can tell you there won’t be a day that it will be easy. But I hope that it will get easier.

As I am writing this, I’m writing this I’m setting intentions for 2018. I want to be fearless, take risks and push outside of my comfort zone. I want things that 18 years old me never dreamed of doing. I want to write about my adventures and make an adventure to write about. I want to climb real mountains, hike a part of the Chinese wall, and never let fear stop me.

Why I write

I realised something today: I hate how-to posts. Sure, they are useful when you’re installing something or need to fix your hover. But when it comes to real life, you don’t need them.

Today I received a comment from a, to me, unknown reader and it moved me to tears. It wasn’t a comment on a post on how to get the most out of your marketing efforts or how to use light in a photo. It was a comment on an honest story about disliking your job and being burnt out. A story about how I decided I needed a change and personal to me. And my story resonated with someone else. The value of that is beyond words. I realised there and then: this is why I write, to inspire people.

Now don’t get me wrong. How-to posts are great. They have their place in the world. But they are not my cup of tea. I always favoured stories about passions. This comment made it clear I should stick with that.

The blog world

The problem with the blog world these dates is that everyone is trying to sell you something. Usually, that happens through ‘helpful content’. The how-to articles are recaps from someone else’s content and unoriginal. But most of all, it teaches you how to do things exactly like everyone else. Where is the inspiration to get people to act and think as only they can? All we hear these days is to think like everyone else. Especially since we have other people telling us what to do and how we should be doing them.

Blogs are no longer about inspiration, wonder or escapism. It’s only natural; our instinct is to do what everyone else does. I fell into that same trap. I stopped being true to who I was. I stopped telling stories and started writing how-to posts: I wanted to be helpful and relevant like everyone else.

It stops here. I’m not playing this game any longer.

From now on, I’ll focus on storytelling, spreading passion and sharing inspiring stories. How-to posts can quietly take the back door and leave the building. I want you to leave this space, feeling a little more inspired than when you came — inspired to take action and do it your way. Because I know you and I both have it in us to do great things.

That is why I write.

Mindfulness: feel your butt

We’re standing in a circle throwing a paper towel ball at each other. Then a second ball gets added, followed by a third. Suppressed giggles from everyone in the group. It looks like I’m not the only one who finds this both ridiculous and fun at the same time. 

On the sidelines, our instructor tells us to stop trying to catch the ball and feel our butt, legs and feet. It feels silly, and I’m very aware that I’m putting extra tension on my rear end. All I want to do at that moment is to throw the ball and keep laughing, which is not the point of the exercise. 

A couple of weeks ago, I started a mindfulness course. Burnt out, stressed out, out of a job and on the verge of a meltdown, I felt like it was time for a change. I heard so many good things about mindfulness I was ready to try it. Every week I sit cross-legged with strangers on a yoga mat trying to feel my pain. To me, that seems counter-intuitive. Naturally, I asked about it. 

Wanting it now

“So what you’re saying is that you already feel the pain all the time, but that you want it resolved, right? You want it to go away?” Our instructor asked me. Yes, I nod, yes, please. “Well”, he shrugs. “You didn’t sign up for a course to solve all your problems.” 

I can’t put into words exactly what I felt at that point. Anger, frustration, annoyance, sadness, perhaps all of it at the same time. Why? Because he was right. 

What I didn’t get is that mindfulness isn’t about finding a solution. It’s about everything but the solution. “Your mind is like a little child”, he says. “It wants it, and it wants it now. And if it can’t have it, it starts to whine until he either gets it or gets a lollipop until it’s resolved. It wants a distraction, a form of satisfaction, why do you think we’re all overweight?”

While I said I was not trying to distract myself from the pain, I remembered the brownies and ice cream I had earlier. I reminded myself I was heading to the gym later that evening to take my mind off everything. And I remembered the Netflix binge I indulged in. Everything to not be alone with my thoughts. But I shouldn’t be alone with my thoughts; I should be alone with my feelings. 

I should be trying to feel the pain and not think about it. Thinking about it only makes it bigger, feeds it. Feeling it doesn’t make it go away, but also doesn’t make it grow. I tried it this morning, and it was uncomfortable. It hurts, and it feels like something is rotting in my chest, pressing against my ribs and wanting to go deeper. I still want to resolve it, fix it and make it go away. But I like the idea of not making it grow. 

So if you see me with a blank expression on my face this week, don’t worry, I’m emerging myself in that ball in my chest. Or I’m trying to feel my butt and feet (and trying not to care how ridiculous that sounds.)

How to be a freelancer

When I first introduced the idea of becoming a freelancer, everyone around me said: “Uhm? That’s not a stable job, right? How are you going to get clients?” And I have to admit; I was a little surprised by my freelance aspirations too.

During journalism school, we were told freelance was the best way to go. The market was too cramped to get a good staff job. Be that as it may, it had no intention of becoming a freelancer. Just thinking about the hustle and trying to get clients made me tired.

Here I am, ten years later, and I’m gearing up to go freelance again. Yes, again.

My first attempt to go freelance as back in 2016. I moved in with my ex, and there were no jobs here. For a brief period, I made it work. I had clients, money flowing in and days filled with writing. I was happy.

But then the low season hit, no customers, clients and no money. By a stroke of luck, I found a staff job or two, and I dove into that. But I didn’t give me the satisfaction freelancing did. Sure I helped the companies complete lofty goals. And yes, the co-workers were a lot of fun, but I felt like something was missing. Something big.

How I got to this point…

Growing up, I was nothing special: an average student, a chubby kid not into sports and a quiet introvert. By any definition, I could disappear into the wallpaper.

That all changed when I started my book review website. I managed a team of 15 people for years as I build it up from the ground. From that moment on, I was hooked. This business thing was cool. Actually, it was awesome.

Now I’m at that point again, the crossroad between taking a staff job or becoming a freelancer again. A staff job will give more initial security and a solid body of work. While freelancing brings the thrill, hard work and opportunity to shape my job in a way that fits me.

Looking at the past few years, I discovered that I am more adventurous than I thought I was. I can work even harder than I thought I could, and I have a dose of determination that will make most people jealous. When talking to a friend she said: “I’m happy with my staff job, the hustle of freelancing scares me. But when I look at you, you thrive on adventure, and you’re so well organised you can juggle all the balls. You should go for it.”

And this is the basis of being a freelancer. Go for it. Maybe you have the right personality for it, and maybe you don’t. There is only one way to find out for sure: just go for it.

For me, it came with the idea of creating a website about books. It made me realise that I’m a person who starts things and that I’m not afraid of trying something new. Regardless of what other people think, say or do. Freelancing is the same for me. I will chip away at it until I find a way to make it successful for me.

So what about you? When will you go for it?

When you find yourself at a crossroad

Pembrokeshire coastal path, Wicklow Way, the entire coastal path, or the three peaks. I’ve never been much of an adventurer or a camper, so this came as a surprise: I want to go hiking for weeks or months. 

Ever since I lived in Wales right along the Pembrokeshire coastal path, I’ve been dying to hike it. To me, it seemed like the ultimate freedom. My, hiking boots and a cliff with the roaring sea below. This was before movies like ‘Wild’ or ‘Into the wild’ were even on my radar. This was also when I was still overweight and had little to no endurance. It seemed like a faraway dream. One I never forgot. 

Right now, I seem to find myself at a point in my life where I need to decide whether I’m going to do a trail like that. And if I am, it may be now or never. No, I’m not dramatic, just realistic. 

Being on my way to 32, there is pressure from all angles of life. Friends are getting married, popping babies and buying houses. And while I’m happy for them and a part of me longs for that too, I can feel adventure pulling. It’s tugging my sleeve and asking me to pay attention to that feeling of growing wanderlust. 

Lately, I’ve remembered the feelings of those first hikes in the UK. The ground under my feet, the landscape was flashing by when I was on the train. I remember the promise I made myself to hike that trail, the guidebook I bought now living on the bookshelf. 

One thing I keep asking myself is ‘how bad do I want it?’. Do I want to do that hike, go on that adventure and see where it leads me? I do, but part of me is terrified that it will change me and that I will not return the same person. Another part of me is excited to finally become a travel writer and photographer. To be an adventurer. Something 14-year old me never thought I could be. 

Maybe that’s why I took up climbing in September. Part of me longs for it so bad; it got hooked on something that started out as an extra exercise to support my runs. But the more I climb, the more I long for real rock under my hands. For the fresh mountain air, for the silence of nature that is never silent.

I’m at a crossroad I don’t want to be on. A crossroad where clear signs are telling me the way I should be going. And while my foot is turning towards the signs, my gaze is looking at that path less travelled by. I keep wondering ‘what if?’

What if?

Travel alone to find your writer’s voice

The plan was to hop bookshops, cafes and write. So far, I have a sore shoulder, a headache, no books and not a word was written.

There is something magical about writing. The magic of creating something that wasn’t there before. To shape something that takes readers away with tools that everyone uses every day. It makes you feel like a wizard. But in reality, writing is hard work. Creating magic puts pressure on you that is not easily lifted. In fact, drinking tea becomes more important than why you came to the cafe in the first place: to write. If you’re reading this, it means that I succeeded: I wrote. But here comes the funny part though: is it magic or not?

When I first started writing as a teenager, I wrote because I felt I saw the world differently. I had stories in my head, and I shared them unfiltered. I wasn’t afraid if it was good enough, or if other people would care. I just wrote. In many ways that feel got ruined not only by adulthood, but by social media, and peer pressure, I would even go as far as to say that it’s the reason why I stopped writing.

Ok. You got me, not really. I write for a living. I’m a content creator, a storyteller and a blogger. I write every day. I get paid with writing, and that helps me to keep the lights on. According to Stephen King, that makes me a writer: someone pays me to string words together. But that’s all I write. I know I can hear you gasp in horror: I only write during work time. There I said it, and I don’t like it.

See, I fear the blank page. I fear that no one gives an actual shit about what I have to say. I fear that I am not good enough and I fear that I just plain suck as a writer. I mean, dear stranger of the internet whom I have never met, we’re friends, right?

So in many ways, I long back to the uncensored 14-year-old who was always writing. How to get that girl back? Here comes the tricky part that we all already know: just write. Just sit your ass down in a chair and write. And that is why on a cold October afternoon in Dublin I find myself on a sofa that I’m afraid I’ll never get out of. And I’m writing. There is something magical about this city that makes me feel comfortable enough to take the gamble and write. I can borrow the magic of the city not to have to conjure it up on my own.

And while I’m swooning over the accent, hugging guys from Amnesty international that I’ll never see again and indulging in bookshops. I’m wondering: is travelling alone the way to get the magic back?

You’re never too old to travel

There is a scratch map above my desk. One of those where you scratch off countries you’ve been to. It’s looking very bare.

Up until three years ago, the furthest I’ve been from home was Ireland and a city trip to Prague. I hadn’t even been to France or Germany. That changed quickly when I met my boyfriend. For all the things we don’t have in common, our love for travelling connects us. We were only together for a few months when we took our first road trip to Germany. I always wanted to see the Black Forest, so it felt like a great idea to do that together.

Since then I’ve travelled to the US, Asia and several other European countries. I’ve spent the day with Elephants, cooked Thai food, drove around on motorbikes (tumbled off a scooter) and hiked down a sulphur crater in the middle of the night. To be honest, I still can’t believe half of the things I’ve done and seen.

Yet, there is so much I would love to see: the Chinese wall, the Mayan and Inca temples, the great pyramids, but also wild Elephants, Japan and rain forest.

I was 29 when I started travelling, and part of me regrets not doing that when I was younger. It feels like I missed a great part of my life, and it feels like I’m behind. Then again, how can you be behind when you’re following your own path?

This year I want to travel a lot. Go on hikes, maybe even wild camping. The idea of doing those things fills me with excitement, and I can’t wait to get out and go.

Right now, it doesn’t matter that I didn’t do this when I was younger. I wasn’t ready for this when I was younger, and that’s okay too. I am now, and that’s all that matters.

How to kick the bad habits as a freelancer

A storm rages outside. Winds knock over trees and rain slashes against the window. I had plans to go outside and work in a cafe, like a proper freelancer. Instead, I decided to stay at home, curled up under my blanket.

It’s been almost three weeks since I turned a fulltime freelancer and I noticed a few things:

My time outside has been dramatically reduced. I’ve hardly left the house. Storms, rain and ice have made me content staying indoors. I don’t feel the need to go for a lunch break walk around the block. I’ll go outside to do some food shopping or go for a run, but that’s about it.

I don’t see a lot of people. Being inside on my own makes it very easy to hermit. Being a natural introvert, I can go days without talking to people offline and be okay with that. As a result, it makes it hard to enter the ‘real world’ again, because there are so many people there.

I drink a lot of tea. My tea drinking has spiked. So has the consumption of mug cakes, bowls of yoghurt and anything hot and comforting. Just because.

Baggy clothes are my new favourite. Sitting down behind the laptop every day all day is not doing my clothing habits a lot of good. It’s so easy to pick the sweatpants and the baggy jumper. It’s nice and comfortable behind the desk, and it’s warm. But it’s not doing my productivity any good.

Are they things adding to my productivity? Nope.

So for next week, I’m going to try to create a few new habits.

Go outside every day. Not just to the shop and back. Go for a walk, a run, go work in a cafe. Get out of the door and amongst people. Sitting indoors is not doing the inspiration any good. I need real-life input to write, and my comfort zone is not going to cut it.

Meet up with people. Go and see friends, have coffee dates, organise a meet up (already doing that!). But also talk to clients on the phone and go to networking events. There is nothing like an inspiring conversation to get article ideas.

Keep drinking tea. But lose the mug cake. It’s not good for the muffin top. Tea is good for the soul, so you can keep that. But drink more water too.

Dress to impress for yourself. Dress for the job you want. Dress for how you want to feel. Make sure you feel and look ready to kick some freelance ass. If you’re cold, it’s still not a good idea to wear relax clothes (as you will start relaxing!), so move around (see the first point).

For next week I set the intention to listen to that small voice that wants to get a lot done. I will ignore the voice that is rooting for Netflix and junk. And I will start the week off with a stellar to-do-list that will be checked off at the end of the week.

What are your intentions for next week?