“once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” – e.e. cummings
Last week S and I celebrated three years together and my 29th birthday, and I am now about a month and a half into my sabbatical. This seems like a good time to check in on the progress of my year abroad.
My last day of work before my sabbatical was a Friday, it was a full day, full pace, full work load; Saturday we had the whole family over for a Christmas party; and then Sunday I flew to Frankfurt. Well, before I could fly to Frankfurt I had to get my luggage on the plane. Note to self, check the airline’s bag policy before arriving at the airport. I was flying Icelandair, which allows you two checked bags, neither of which can be heavier than 50lbs. Of course, my one bag was 60lbs. When I suggested that my 60lbs of stuff in one bag should be acceptable because it was lighter than the 100lbs of stuff I was allowed to take in two bags, my statement was met with shaking heads and intense stares, undoubtedly holding back rage at my attempt at rationality. So, my last few moments in the US for several months were spent running to the airport gift shop, purchasing a duffle bag, and furiously transferring items between my suitcase, duffle, and carry-on (which also had to be weighed!), all the while with my mom crying and the Icelandair employees scrutinizing my assortment of underwear, shoes, clothes, and other deemed-essentials. “Yes, I need that many shoes and that dish for grinding garlic.” Ok, after all of that, I landed in Frankfurt.
Suddenly I had no meetings, no deals to close, no schedule at all. No Icelandair employees judging my belongings. I also didn’t have the luxuries that one accumulates after living in an American city for six years – a close group of friends, my favorite coffee place, favorite wine bar, favorite restaurants, favorite spin class, favorite yoga class, favorite running trail, a lot of other favorites, and, of course, Whole Foods. The first morning that I woke up in Germany without these things, I thought, “Now what?” I’m not going to tell you that, after a month and a half, I don’t want these things anymore. I totally do. But, their absence for a period has allowed me to discover some new “favorites,” better described as truths, that I’ll carry with me even when this year is over. They’re best type of souvenir and they won’t even tip my luggage over the weight limit on my return trip.
My first week here, I had a lot of built-up anxiety and stress-energy from closing out all of my projects at work during our busiest time of year, moving out of my apartment, shipping all of my stuff either to my parents house or to Germany, and then, finally, actually moving to Germany. Maybe I expected to relax immediately. I didn’t.
In that first month I was going to learn to speak fluent German, cook gourmet meals from scratch, start a blog, receive countless phone calls from agents wanting to publish my blog à la Julie and Julia, learn how to code and sell my app for billions, publish a brilliant Paleo cookbook, compete in an Iron Man (and of course develop a super model body), publish the next big piece on intellectual property law in the Harvard Law Review, and dress with impeccable style on a daily basis. I guess I thought taking a sabbatical meant taking on super powers. When all of these things didn’t happen immediately, I was very frustrated. I probably wasn’t very fun to be around and S was probably regretting having me move to Europe. Fall Out Boy’s lyrics came to mind: “Am I more than you bargained for yet….”
Week two was much better. I got used to the freedom and embraced the lack of schedule. I ventured out to the market and local coffee shops, despite my lack of German skills. I went for long runs, broke out my yoga mat, and started cooking healthy meals. I wrote posts for this blog. Most importantly, I learned to relax and enjoy the moment and appreciate this amazing opportunity of a sabbatical in Germany with S and our lovely new friends.
I didn’t take this sabbatical to escape, but to grow. Before I moved to Germany, I liked my life. I liked my job – the work was challenging and my colleagues collegial, intelligent, and friendly. I loved the atmosphere of DC and the options of activities. I moved to be with S, but also to experience more life in this life. In doing that, I’ve learned two important things:
- Stop and Smell the Cannoli. Before, I didn’t take enough time at work to ask questions (professional or personal). I didn’t take enough time before or after work to take care of myself (physically or emotionally). I usually cut work outs short, treated sleep as a luxury, and allowed conversations with loved ones to be interrupted by emails and deadlines. Over the past month, I’ve realized how much I used to rush through everyday life. On multiple occasions, I’d finish scarfing down a breakfast sandwich at my desk and then a few minutes later think, “Did I already eat that breakfast sandwich?” Isn’t it the worst when you take the last bite without realizing that its the last bite? It’s even worse when you aren’t consciously enjoying any of the bites! If I was eating a cannoli, you can bet I savored every minute. But we shouldn’t just savor the cannoli minutes. In Europe, it’s part of the culture to savor “everyday” minutes and take joy in little everyday things like picking out fresh produce at the outdoor market, eating your favorite cheese after dinner, sipping a delicious wine, or taking in a deep breath of cool winter air. This sabbatical has shown me how meaningful and enjoyable life is when we treat more moments like cannoli moments. I’m now on the search for a cannoli or a cannoli recipe….
2. Bake a cake for your friends. Cake makes people happy. My mom used to bake cupcakes in ice cream cones…yes, they were awesome…and send them to school with me on my birthday. When I got to college, she would special order a cake with buttercream icing and drive it to wherever I was living at the time. When S came into the picture, she started bringing him massive Smith Island cakes. I can’t remember the last time I baked a friend a cake on her birthday. Last week, my new, lovely, and amazing friend, Michelle, who, in non-sabbatical life is a kick-ass microbiologist, baked me a cake…with buttercream icing! And surprised me with it in German class, where my classmates sang “Happy Birthday” to me in German. Her efforts to make my birthday special even though I was across the Atlantic from my family and friends was one such a touching displays of friendship…and a really delicious cake! The same day, my mom sent me a “cake in a box” – a care package containing Funfetti cake mix – YES! – and Funfetti icing, birthday plates and napkins, and a streamer. She’s awesome. When I baked the cake and my friend, B, saw it on the counter, he actually developed a twitch he was so excited to eat it. “Hey, hey, Col. Do you know there’s a cake on your counter? When are we going to eat that cake? Should we sing Happy Birthday now? WHEN ARE WE GOING TO EAT THAT CAKE!?!” In conclusion, friends love cakes, so bake a cake for your friends.
Over the course of the year, I hope to develop a list of lessons like this one, “Five lessons learned from living in Paris,” by a woman who lived in Paris and learned valuable lessons from the French family who hosted her.
Thanks for reading!