🔙 Letter 142: Looking back at five events that shaped my year
Sobriety, anxiety, rejections, job invention and backpacking
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Aloha fellow learn-it-all 👋
Greetings from my sensual journaling session at Diamond Head, O’ahu 🌺
Wowzers. I went sailing last night and had an epiphany. I’ve been coaching two friends in learning to sail and they both were impressed by how calm I was in the chaos of the Kona winds that were stirring around us with the breaking waves. I used to hate strong winds, but now I love channeling the power of the breeze and feeling it swoosh across my face. I tend to listen to my mind more than anything else. Especially being a knowledge worker, I’ve learned to trust my brain more than my body. Put me behind the helm of a sailboat and the tables turn. Somehow my reactivity to everything going on is in sync and I know what to do.
My Zen teacher Michael recently told me to listen to my belly button rather than layering more thoughts on top of my thoughts. I love having meta thoughts though. Instead, I ground my thoughts in the experience that is in the now. While sailing, I feel that vibrantly and closely.
Anywho, I went down memory lane again. I struggle to state “my favorite” of anything because it will likely change tomorrow and then I feel like a fraud with a lack of integrity. However, I am confident that the below anecdotes have significantly impacted who I am today.
Now, let’s dive into letter 142 from a learn-it-all. Enjoy!
❓Question to think about
What impactful events happened last year?
So last year in my 2021 Annual Review, I shared peak memories and troughs that happened throughout the year. They were seamless to come up with, ranging from my near-death experience (NDE) nearly drowning at the MakaPu’u tide pools, to joyous ones like the day that I randomly met my soul sister while surfing who then invited me to move in with her (and out of the hostel).
This time around I’m spicing things up, because why not?!
I tend to think of situations in terms of polar opposites. This event is either “good” or “bad”. If I want to change the way that I think, starting with the way I write is a baby step in that direction. So instead of using binary words like “peak” and “rose” or ”trough” and “thorn”, I’m experimenting with more descriptive words.
I acknowledge this may be a bit tricky for you to follow along with in the grey zone, but regardless, here we goooo.
5️⃣ Key impactful events from 2022
Inventing my own job
Breaking new ground with backpacking
Six-ish months of sobriety
❌ Job rejections
Well, there’s no easy way to put this, I was rejected multiple times last year. Specifically with jobs, when I ended my sabbatical and needed to start making money again at the start of this year. The three companies that I was dreaming about working for were Write of Passage, Building a Second Brain, and Shopify. I spent days, which added up to weeks, on those applications, thoughtfully reaching out for references, and prepping for interviews. They never came to anything.
At first glance, you could quickly think that all of that was a waste. In actuality, when I applied to these jobs, I was taking a snapshot of one part of myself, and trying to prove that that one small part of myself was the perfect-fitting piece of the puzzle they are trying to fill.
Rather than these experiences being sunk costs, I now view them as journeys where I learned what excited me, got introspective, and learned to creatively craft a story of why I’d fit the bill. In other words: how to effectively pitch myself.
Don’t get me wrong, it definitely is frustrating, and humiliating, and was a hit to my self-esteem as I moped around like a sad sack. These rejections definitely did a jab to my heart. It made me feel incompetent and worthless for a while. Like a hammer who didn’t have a home to build. But then I switched the script.
I figured it was their loss, it wasn’t meant to be. With time, that anger sizzled out into acceptance and peace. I still joined cohort 9 of Write of Passage and do not regret that at all. Seven cohorts in a row showing up for this intensive cohort-based course. Thanks to all that commitment, I’m coming up on three years of weekly writing in a couple of months. I’m so grateful for the connections and curiosity that the community has unleashed within me. It gave me confidence that I could find a job on the Internet if I really needed to. I even tried to invent my own project of creating a community yearbook for the course. Alas, that didn't work out either, as I made the scope too big, became overwhelmed with a lack of resources, and dropped the ball. But I'm still glad I gave it a shot and know I'll be better off because of it.
What did I learn from these rejections?
Shoot your shot. You never know what might come from it.
If I want to live a courageous life, then rejection will undoubtedly be a part of it. I need to get used to it. Since I’m a writer, all these feelings inspired My Letter to Rejection.
💼 Inventing my own job
On February 1, 2022, Bronson Chang reached out to me on Twitter. He knew a friend of mine that I met online during the summer of 2020. I met up with Bronson to connect at Foster Botanical Gardens in Honolulu, HI, and then again at Wa’ahila Ridge State park to meditate together.
We both valued the same things being gungho about the intersections of journaling, community, and education. It was serendipitous at the time that he was growing his team and saw a gap in his company. I was more than ready to jump in and run alongside him.
Upon reflection on my previous job rejections, I took them as a sign that instead of looking for a global Internet job, I can pivot my search.
I realized that if I was open to looking for something locally, the right job could find me. I was craving that human connection, learning more about where I lived, and giving back to the community I’ve learned to love. This led to my meeting the whole entire ohana (family) during my onboarding into the small business, HOPA (House of Pure Aloha), before I began my role wearing many hats across being a project manager, operator, and community lead.
🎒 Backpacking for the first time
On May 8, 2022, I flew from O’ahu to Big Island, Hawaii along with eight others from my Zen center in the Palalo Valley outside of Honolulu. It was for my first-ever silent meditation retreat called Hele Malie Sesshin, and my first time backpacking as well. It was also my first time taking a break from daily journaling since I started in 2019, so that I wouldn’t break the Zen protocol. A heck lot of first times.
I ended up crying in the circle the first night when I was among strangers about to go into the wilderness and sit silently with them. I cried every night of this trip too.
I was terrified. I already left my phone behind but I was so tempted to go find service somehow and book a flight to leave. I came head-on with my fear of forgetting. I was in a foreign place, without my typical way of processing life through writing or speech. I vividly remember witnessing the beauty of the stars lighting up the whole sky, the shock of my bee sting, the stabbing of my period cramps, and the magical feeling of bathing myself naked in the ocean.
Before this trip, I never realized how quiet I could get my mind by merely focusing my attention on counting my steps or my breath for hours a day. I didn’t have a watch, but my estimate is that about 40 hours of those five days were meditating. So a whole working week. Two hours after waking to the conch horn at 4:30 am, a session after lunch, walking meditation in the afternoon, and two hours each evening after dinner.
My past self would think this is so foolish to take an unpaid holiday to go be silent in the wilderness. My present self is in awe. This is definitely one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever lived. Physically with 35 lbs on my back, spiritually in silence, and emotionally feeling silently alone and in pain while on my period, this was wild.
I felt empowered knowing I could carry everything I needed to survive on my back. Despite my fear of getting lost, I led the group on the fourth day after having a giddy sense of peace during my morning zazen when I dreaded the chime that ended the sitting. I now choose to journal because I want to, not because I need to.
Oddly enough, I cannot wait to do it again this year and chip away at my practice as I find my way.
😓 Anxiety diagnosis
On June 30, 2022, I was diagnosed by a healthcare professional with anxiety. Two days prior, I had a panic attack. June 28 is a date that holds a bit more pressure for me as it’s the day I moved to Hawaii in 2021. On top of some covid hysteria, work pressure, and the story swirling in my head that no time had passed in the past year, I lost control.
It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. As if I was fainting my vision became pixelated with black and white cubes like I just drove off the road playing Mario Kart, except that this was no fun game at all. I emailed my boss about missing the next Zoom meeting, called my dad, took half a Benadryl, got an ice pack, and laid down. I was 99% sure that I must have asthma because my chest previously felt like it was imploding while paddling out on the surf.
After the doctor told me (and shocked me), I had no idea what to do with this new discovery. I already had a plane booked to fly 26 hours across the world to the Netherlands to see my cousin get married. I wasn’t missing that.
I’d already quit drinking coffee during my dry January apart from decaf Thursdays, and with this news, I became even more hyper-aware of how caffeine negatively affects me, even with earl grey tea.
Thankfully, I had chosen my main theme for the year to be patience, so I started to take things more slowly and be more thoughtful with experiments. I made sure to more consciously get sunlight, take my sleep more seriously, and journal more actively about what was going on in my body. One of my favorite prompts became: “what is worrying me right now?'“ I listened to 4000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman to navigate a healthier relationship with time. On Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, I sat at the Zen Center searching for peace. I shifted recording my daily vlogs to be more mindful moments where I checked in with myself.
It’s still all a work in progress.
It is a goal of mine to start seeing a therapist again this year to figure this out further.
🧃Six(ish) months of sobriety
For the past five years, I have completed a dry January. It started the year after college as a way to prove to myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic. I really was not sure. After lying to the doctor, due to shame about my drinking behavior a few too many times, I decided I needed to suss this out for myself.
This past year after January, I started to make rules for myself to be sober-curious and mindfully drink. For instance, I wouldn’t spontaneously drink anymore — only if I planned 24 hours beforehand. I’d bring a case of beer for the crew on the sailboat on Friday nights, but I’d also bring seltzers for myself to drink. I was sick of guys wanting to buy me drinks on dates, so I stopped dating and deleted Hinge. Instead, I focused on deepening the friendships I already had, specifically around friends with that I never felt pressure to drink. I learned to be my playful self and let my guard down without needing an inebriant.
Over the summer, I gave in and drank more regularly while I was in the Netherlands. I tend to do that as a chameleon shapeshifting to my environment. On my road trip across the Dutch roaming farmlands in a cobalt blue Mini cooper, I had my last stop with my cousin Joos in Amsterdam. I was too intrigued to say no to the drop shots (black licorice-flavored liquor that I oddly really enjoyed). I had 24 hours in one of my favorite cities in the world and I was semi-hungover. Huh?
This shame-filled feeling happened yet again as I could only have fun learning to Zydeco dance in New Orleans while drinking. I still thought that I would need alcohol to have fun. It was all in my head and fake signals from society of what I was expected to do.
After these experiences, I moved from being sober-curious when I wrote 🍹Letter 107: Thoughts from a Former Binge Drinker to someone who put up the self-imposed rule to say no to drinking every single time in 🚱 Letter 128: My Breakup with Booze. I’m proud that I went to five weddings with open bars this past year and was stone sober at four of them.
The lesson I learned from this?
Be aware of the environment you are in — it impacts your behavior whether you are consciously (or unconsciously) aware of it. I grant you permission to redefine what fun means for you. Be kind to yourself because changing your behaviors is shifting your identity, which comes with a shedding of who you used to be.
All in all, rather than addition, a lot of elimination happened this past year.
On a happier note…
🤪 Seven silly things that make me smile
Spending a weekend at a hippie festival called lunar vibes surrounded by nonstop fire spinning, acro yoga, eclectic dancing, sound awakenings, taro cards, yoni steaming, and yurts.
Drinking Shirley Temples at a wedding in Denver, Colorado with everyone thinking I was slammed drunk
Eating a heaping portion of poffertjes (small little pancakes) while sailing on a lake called Veerse Meer in the Netherlands and having so much fun even though the boat’s keel hit the bottom on a sandpile.
Timing myself on how fast I can speed walk through downtown Waikiki to the swell to surf. My high score is 18 minutes.
Discovering SoFar Sounds concerts and blowing bubbles to my heart’s content.
Singing Frank Sinatra in the streets of New York City (see goofy video here)
My solo photoshoot taken with my journals
📈 Some 2022 stats
Email List Growth: 173 in 2020 → 311 in 2021 → 493 in 2022 (75% → 58% increase)
New Articles Published: 28
Letter from a Learn-it-all Emails Sent: 51
Twitter Growth: 824 → 1,149 followers (314 gained)
Number of tweets in 2022: 2544
Unique Website Visitors: 4,822 Page Visitors (2022) → Unknown because I moved my website away from Squarespace to Ghost. Probably not many since the SEO is horrendous.
Most Observational Essay: I am a Triathlete
Most Popular and Proud Essay: My Breakup with Booze
Most Playful Essay: Friendzone your Phone
My Favorite Poem: Down in the Dumps
Most Viewed Youtube Video: Jen Vermet’s WOP Mentor Bio (cohort 8 Feb 2022)
Most Popular Tweet Thread: My favorite ways to live curation on Derek Sivers
Favorite Book: How to Live by Derek Sivers (2nd year in a row)
Some health stats
Avg resting heart rate: 55 bpm
Avg high heart rate: 135 bpm
Avg weight: I don’t own a scale but somewhere between 140 and 155lb
BMI: curious to calculate this
Steps in 2022: 2,851,864 steps
Miles walked: 1,360.8 mi (9,381 steps daily)
Miles run 2021: 208.2 mi (average 4 mi weekly)
Miles run 2022: 130.5 mi (avg 2.5 mi weekly)
The difference in miles run: 36.35% decrease
Fastest 5k: 30:12 mi (11/26/22)
Fastest 10K: 1:05:06 (11/6/21)
Longest and fastest (and only) half marathon: 2:20:50 (11/6/21)
Miles biked: 105.1 mi
Most steps in a day: 69,253 steps (11/3/22 for my 12-hour walk)
Most steps in a month: 522,539 steps (7/31/21 — interesting how my old job had me walking so much)
(All these stats from last year reflect from when I received my Garmin watch in July 2021)
I can buy myself flowers
Write my name in the sand
Talk to myself for hours
Say things you don't understand
I can take myself dancing
And I can hold my own hand
Yeah, I can love me better than you can
I forgot to mention last week that after going to the bluegrass concert Trampled by Turtles, Grandma Jen did something redonkulous.
I went line dancing at this place called Whiskey Dix. I was so out of my element. Sure, I lived the summer of 2019 in Dallas, Texas, but that place was a different breed. On the way there, Miley Cyrus was blasting on the speakers. Ever since I’ve been having this song as my go-to pump-up song. It does wonders to get me to make momentum.
🌟 Quote to inspire
"If you don't look at yourself and think, 'Wow how stupid I was a year ago,' then you must not have learned much in the last year." -Ray Dalio
📸 Photo of the Week
I had one of the best surf days of my life this past week. I lost track after the 20 waves I got up on. It was one helluva time. Here’s an up close and personal shot of my joy post-surf in this tweet.
Toon making his use of Figma look so easy and nudging me enough to (finally) update the logo of these letters. Watermark and cover image is next. Baby steps.
To Shubham writer offor learning snowboarding this winter and last week, he graduated from the easy bunny hills and is onto the steeper slopes now. Keep it up!
I appreciate you reading this!
Never stop learning 😁
PS - in case you missed last week’s Letter 141: My Letter to Nostalgia
If you’re reading this because someone shared this newsletter with you, welcome! I’d love it if you subscribed:
On a fun excerpt from my journal.
On booking my flight to Kuala Lumpur in April.
On my love for rice.
On being a baller in a towel poncho.