Experiment #17: A Year of Change

For me, Fall signals the close of a year and the beginning of a new one. Last year in September I defended my thesis, finished business in Michigan, and moved out to Seattle in late October to start a new job here. How do I begin to describe how much I have changed since then? This post is less the recap of a well planned and executed experiment and more an overview of the changes.

Not all of these are positive changes -- you all know how I work, I'm honest to the core.

Doing things alone doesn't make
you independent
Learning Independence

The hardest thing I had to tackle this year, without a doubt, is to really learn what independence means. Society (now) values independent women - they're revered and respected. Every guy wants an independent woman now, right? She can provide for herself, she doesn't need someone to follow her around as she shops at the mall, and she's probably a bomb-ass cook because she can cook for herself too. She can effortlessly raise the 2.5 kids, and she does her laundry and looks presentable. Sounds great, right?

That is not independence. 

 Independence is drilling a hole in the wall to hang up a book shelf after teaching yourself from a manual that's in Korean-English. Independence is signing contracts and making life altering decisions with just you in the spotlight - ones that are irrevocable and possibly extremely harmful for you. Independence is crying yourself to sleep and picking yourself up the next day to bring home that paycheck described in the paragraph above. Independence is, by definition, the ability to live alone and subsist entirely by oneself.

So last year if I had read the above paragraph, I would have answered (probably smugly) "of course, I have done ALL of those things. I am totally a badass independent woman!". In reality, I didn't have a clue. If you're in graduate school, you're not independent - the federal government is providing for you to study and educate yourself -- you are dependent on the university and taxpayers seeing your education as an investment. The university coddles you in ways you can't imagine, even when it feels like you're being smothered.

I'm not independent -- even now. In fact, I know very few truly independent people. Independence in the purest sense is terrifying. It means it's just you, day after day. It means if there is a problem, you have to fix it, not you *will* or (laughs) *will try to* - you must fix it.

You either put the fender on or you don't.
Not a lot of in between
So how did I learn independence? In moving out here, for the first few months, I don't think I had ever felt more alone in my life. There wasn't a lot of excitement in my days -- there was a lot of angst, frustration, and confusion. I was beyond happy not to be in graduate school anymore, but suddenly I found I had an immense amount of personal catching up to do. Things I had neglected in favor of my thesis suddenly came calling for their due. I had always leaned on family, friends, and boyfriends to help fill the gaps in my life - between my mom helping me getting stains out of my shirts or my boyfriends helping to fix my car or remind me to get an oil change (hey, I'm not perfect, I'm being honest here). Suddenly, I had stains in my shirts, bike and car problems galore, and it was just me trying to fix it all and failing.

Sure, I was used to failing; getting the wrong result or not explaining something clearly. But I wasn't used to failure that had thousands of dollars worth of consequences attached to it, over and over again and not just going "la-la-la I guess I don't need a car". I wasn't used to having friends betray me -- I had no time for drama in Graduate School and it had been years since I found myself playing he-said-she-said games. And here's my whiney first-world-problem statement: I wasn't used to not being surrounded by people who loved me.

One of many bike crash related injuries
At first, I completely mentally folded to this kind of failure. I found myself throwing adult temper tantrums (in private! kind of...) I just felt like my perfect ending I had worked so hard for was being thwarted by stupid like things like crashing my bike because it was wet and I missed the sidewalk. It rained every day, I missed my boyfriend and family, and although I genuinely loved my job, I was unhappy in an unfixable way because I was a fundamentally co-dependent person suddenly thrust into a world where she'd be stranded with a flat tire and a dead cell phone a 10 mile walk from home in the rain. It just sucked and I didn't want this life - like who signs up for that kind of abandonment willingly?

Eventually, I started to try. I wish I could say I had an epiphany, but this is still a work in progress. I would fail and instead of crying, I would take a breath, go for a walk, and come back, sit down, and try to fix things. I stopped pretending I lived in a world where I could call anyone for help; if I went for a bike ride, I made sure my phone was charged and in a plastic bag, and that I had everything I needed to fix or get help. If I went for a ride and gave myself such bad frostbite that my hands were numb for days, I wore better clothes next time. If it was a long ride, I only went in a group for safety -- it may seem 'dependent' to ride with others, but this was a survival move -- it was safer and more pleasant to travel in a group. This is what I mean by I learned independence - for every single thing I figured out about being a person living alone, I had to fail first and I had to really face the consequences.

Jamie and I getting out in the world
I wasn't any less lonely or less capable than when I started, I just learned to cope and, well, survive. I listened to audiobooks while working on bikes so it was like someone else was there (oh wow, that sounds so pathetic but I swear I actually like the audiobooks and the noise was pleasant). I stopped conceding my 6-8 PM time slot in the evenings to be a good girlfriend and instead started making friends and being out in the world. I have met some amazing people this way, and I have started to live here... to really be here and to live wholly day to day in Seattle rather than fake-living in Michigan still.

The most important thing I have learned about this independence is in terms of romantic relationships. Previously, my relationships were (objectively!) extremely co-dependent and the partnership thrived on finding and being someone that could lean and be leaned on. I carved out chunks of my life for my boyfriends and I saw happiness as being part of this dream partnership that could conquer the world.

My last relationship marks the end of this ideology. I rewrote this paragraph like six times -- I am no longer someone who needs a life partner to feel complete or like their home lacks shelving units because they can't use a drill. It's fine to not be truly independent - in fact, I think you're probably a happier person because you probably have a more optimistic world view and more trust in those close to you. You've been able to count on someone to mow the lawn, and in that trust, there is a real beauty. You've also been able to stick with what you are good at while bonding to someone who is good at things that you are awful at - together you're more efficient and there is so much happiness in giving to each other constantly and finding someone as willing to give as receive.

However, once you've learned how to mow the lawn, after you've failed and you've fucking cut your leg on the rotor because somehow you managed to do that (dude, you don't even know). Anyways, once you've learned and learned well... you just can't go back to letting someone mow the lawn. Because one day, you're going to want your lawn mowed (gosh this is a terrible metaphor and vaguely sexual but just bear with me) and your partner is going to be out of town, and you're going to go mow that lawn and you'll remember that you don't need your partner to mow the lawn. And I guess, as blaise as it sounds, if you don't need your partner for that, what do you need them for? What is the basis of your relationship? Are they providing something missing in your life? What is your life without them? Sure, I would still love to find my soul mate who will ride off into the sunset with me, but man, I won't settle anymore - there needs to be an irreplaceable joy there.

Side note: Fortunately, this year I got to see two of my best friends commit to their irreplaceable joys!

So I'm not independent but I've made huge headway. I didn't want to be independent and was totally content to have other people to lean on. But when they weren't there... I had to grow to fill the shoes. Would I recommend independence? Geez, I don't know. It's like a coming of age story - awful in progress but now I feel powerful and liberated in my abilities and competence. Most importantly though is that I feel like I'm in control of my happiness again. But there were so many times I wanted to really quit; and, honestly, I would have if I had a choice (I would have taken a ride home that day I had to walk home in the rain...). And of course, I couldn't have made the progress without the friends and family I have who had to gently nudge me forward with every setback and just offer the love they could when I made agonizingly terrible decisions.

One last thing - independence is not a mindset or an attitude. It's something earned. Through pain. Lots of pain. Think about it - do you really want to be independent anymore? In a really cynical point of view, independence is a callousness earned and a wisdom birthed from failure.

Changes in Passion

Wow, this is shaping up to be an enormous post. I'll try to keep this brief. I had to adjust from being obsessed with my thesis work. From thinking about it from the first thought of the day to as I did my evening plank. I went to a job where it would be pointless to apply this same degree of passion and intensity - geez, I didn't want to think about television ads all the time. But it was confusing because in some ways, my employer wanted me to keep being the diligent graduate student I had been and some of my co-workers worked like diligent (albeit better paid) graduate students.

I had a mini-identity crisis more than once over this. I found myself cancelling days off to handle "emergencies" at work. I was burned out, dealing with the shit in the paragraph above (i.e. not being able to get food when I was sick) and still trying to recover from my 3 years of living like a maniac at Michigan. There was no respite - I was trying to sort out too many things.

Finally, I said no. I stopped working more than I should. I ended up leaving iSpot.tv for Microsoft (another story at another time), where I still feel the pressure to work more than is reasonable. My life is not an indentured servitude to corporate America or academia -- my life is about having the time and energy to be able to pursue other things I feel passionate for. It's fine to love your job and want to do it all the time, great! But I personally just don't want to do that anymore - I don't love only my work.

That is the face of a girl who really feels alive after climbing > 5000 feet
Also, no replacement for family, ever
I do love biking. And hiking. And backpacking. And walking. And cooking. And reading. And (new passion!) riding Lime bikes in downtown Seattle. And having dance parties in my kitchen while I mop. I found myself embracing the world of cycling as many of you have seen from Facebook and this blog. Why do I love it? Because I feel so alive when I do some of these group rides and races -- it is, by far, one of the most liberating and joyful feelings I have ever experienced to bike up a mountain and look out at the world around you or to race down a trail in the forest, jumping over roots and creek beds, or to bike out to a coffee shop 50 miles away just to have a coffee and a doughnut. It's a reason to wake up every day with a smile, to know that I can do that and feel those things.

And I connect with people who have this same degree of love for the same thing. We come from all different backgrounds, different political beliefs (even in Seattle!), different socio-economic backgrounds, different ages and we all get on a bike and what matters is who can make it to the hill the fastest.

I'm ready this year
In the past year, I've gotten to push myself so far beyond my limits physically while biking, I can't believe it's only been a year. I've biked 200 miles in a day, I've climbed mountains, I've been on roads that I don't think another woman has ridden a bike on, I've built a bike up from a frame (post to be soon), and I've learned to love my body for what it can do. It has brought me so much joy in such a confusing mess of a year. Maybe I'm a person who has like 1000 passion units to give out, and in the past year, I've learned to give those passion units to the things that bring me the most joy (OK a lot go to biking but definitely a good chunk still to work!) instead of all of them to work.

A change in goals

Gahhh I have so over-written this post at this point. OK last thing - my goals have changed. Before I had all these ambitions of greatness - being a professor, starting a company, becoming a CEO, etc. Now... I have ambitions of happiness. If being a CEO brings me happiness or allows me to impact the world around me in a way that helps me find fulfillment... then it will happen. Right now, I have biking goals and ambiguous work goals, but... expect this section to change. With the stabilization of independence, things that bring happiness are better scoped... I am ready for another year of changes. But this year, I will drive them and I think now, I'm ready to embrace them again. Bring it on 2018.

PS Hope the Violet went dormant in ~May of this past year. I think she's ready for a new year too, she started to bloom again about 2 weeks ago :D

Hope is ready too!

Addressing Comments after posting:
(1) Some of you vehemently disagreed with my definition of independence and I think may have felt somewhat personally attacked. The former is fine and for the latter, I am sorry!! That was not the intention!
The point of the first section was to say that independence is a spectrum we all fall on, and it's not a bad thing to be more dependent. It's like quiet versus talkative. I was just listening to Amy Webb's dating hack book today, and she, an adult woman, when describing an ideal mate wanted someone who could "fix her shower drain when it was clogged". That's dependent - she wanted a partner to fix something in her life for her. My post is trying to say I can't/won't wait for that -- I tried SO hard to make that way work for me and it didn't. I have to do it myself because I don't want to spend my life waiting for someone to come fix my problems. Period. And it sucks because like Amy, I don't enjoy having my drain clogged. It doesn't mean I think "fuck love" or "cat lady 4ever", it means, well, I'm still figuring things out.
(2) Some of you felt the post was whiney and a little 'poor little rich girl'. It was, I genuinely agree - I'm pretty happy with my surroundings and outlook right now in a first world country with a good job. I haven't always been happy and I have also been given a lot of opportunity and help to get to a point where I can invest huge amounts of time in fixing my drain. But I urge you all to think about the quote I keep on my Facebook profile at all times by Plato: "Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle". My blog is never a complete story, and I share it publicly not for fame (heh) but to (A) keep people updated who want to know what is happening in my life and (B) because I think it excites and motivates some of you to take your own life situation and change it for the better. I am honest and sometimes bare my soul a bit, and you don't have to like it, agree with it, or even respect me for it -- instead, I want you to embrace your own potential. Focus on the good.

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