The Amazing Difference a Year Can Make

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“The days are long but the years are short.”

I’m not sure where I first heard that phrase, but over the past year, I’ve come to believe it. This time last year I was boarding a flight to Southeast Asia. Spurred by a friend’s death, I decided to stop putting off a final “big, multi-month” trip and just do it. I booked a flight and planned to be gone for eight months. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year now already.

In looking back, this has been the best worst year of my life since I started traveling.

Just a few weeks into my trip, I happened to meet a beautiful American girl. We spent the next few days traveling together — then quickly we became inseparable, changing travel plans to meet up with each other.

From the moment I met her I was in love. Eventually, she told me she felt the same way and we spent New Year’s together. She moved to Australia for a working holiday visa, and I went to South America, But after doing the whole “are we or aren’t we?” thing, I flew to Australia to be with her. She was the first girl I ever met that, when I pictured a life with kids and the white picket fence, I didn’t immediately want to run away. I actually liked — and welcomed — the idea.

But in the end, it didn’t work. She was just starting her travels and wasn’t ready to settle down. And I wanted the opposite. We were in different stages of life, and so she finally broke it off in June. The split was really rough for me — and much of me is still not over it. (Part of me also finds great irony in the situation, since my last serious relationship ended because back then, I was the one who didn’t want the family and she did!)

Moreover, earlier in the year, under the stress of our relationship, too much travel, and too much work, I cracked and developed anxiety and panic attacks. I had this constant fear that I was never doing enough. Never having had panic attacks before, the first time I really suffered from one I called a doctor because I thought I was having a heart attack. Anyone who has never felt this won’t be able to relate to the feeling that there is this weight dragging you down and that no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to untie it and break free. It is a tough thing to deal with. It’s crippling.

On top of that there were the little things: the book I vowed to finish by the summer that still sits half done on my laptop, the gut I developed from poor eating, the friendship I had to end because nothing was ever good enough for that person, and the fact I had moved to Austin but in reality spent little time there.

For every step forward I took this year, I always seemed to take two steps back. Goals were half-finished or put off. Something else always came up.

Yet, when I think about it, these hardships were blessings in disguise. They helped me realize I’m finally in a place where I want to settle down with someone. I realized I am no superman, so I hired more staff and created a better work/life balance where I actually shut off the computer. With my pants no longer fitting me (and without the money or desire to buy a whole new wardrobe), I finally signed up for the gym and paid for a trainer to force me to develop a healthy lifestyle. I’ve purchased cookbooks and enrolled in a cooking class. And I hired an editor to help me finish my book.

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Ten years ago, I made big changes: I quit my job to travel. I learned languages. I learned to be better with money and to save. I learned to work overseas when I needed cash. I made my life better.

This year I lost sight of the one thing that made me who I am: the staunch belief that we each have the power to make our lives better.

We often get lost in the sea of life. As the waves crash down upon us, we don’t realize that we have the power to navigate out of the storm. It took my boat capsizing for me to realize that I was so busy bailing water that I missed the path to clear skies.

Churchill once said that Americans could always be trusted to do the right thing once they had exhausted all the other options.

I think that’s the same for life.

No one forced me to work all the time. No one forced me to eat bad food. No one put it in my head that there’s no point in even running if I couldn’t build a workout regimen. The path of least resistance is the path I chose — and most people choose — because it is easy.

Working out is hard. Eating right is hard. Cutting back expenses is hard. Maintaining a proper work/life balance is hard. Getting over relationship is really hard.

The “disasters” of life often turn out to be secret blessings. They push us into new areas and help us define — and survive — life. It is the challenges in life that make us who we are, not the easy parts.

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Looking back, there are things I wish had worked out differently, but everything that went wrong helped me focus my life in a more positive direction. I hit the point where I realized I needed to change. It sucked at the time, but in the end, it was for the best.

Without all the mishaps, I probably would have kept going — close to the edge but not over it — like the frog who never realizes the pan is getting hot enough to kill him before it’s too late.

But instead, it all made me realize what I want from life right now.

And for that, I’m eternally grateful for the last best worst year of my life.

P.S. – Want to meet some cool travelers? The Nomadic Matt team is hosting a bunch of meet-ups around the U.S. over the next few months! You can find out how to join one of them (they are free) by clicking here! We’re even giving away prizes to attendees!

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