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How I Learned to Be Present by Flying Away—An Honest Look Back at 2017

Updated: Jan 9, 2019

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

- Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been almost three months since I’ve published a blog post. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about for months; it’s just been difficult to sift through what is worth writing and what should or should not be shared. I thought I’d come gliding into the new year with tons of epiphanies and revelations to share, but, alas, such is not the case. Instead, I will share with you whatever naturally comes to mind as I clack away on the keyboard for the first time in weeks.

The first thing that I keep thinking is how much has changed in my life over the past year. I won’t get into the details because I’m sure all of our lives have changed a lot, but I will highlight this one thought I’ve been having that I just can’t shake.

Cate at the Eiffel Tower in Paris - October 2017

In 2017, I went on a total of three trips to Europe (including London, Paris, Dublin, Berlin, Venice, Florence, and Rome) and one trip to the Southern states. I think I went on a total of something like 12 flights. All in all, I spent almost 70 days abroad, four weeks of which were spent studying French at a language school in Paris. Each trip was really different; some were spent solo and/or with a good friend and/or my husband and/or even new friends on a Contiki tour or from my school. Each one taught me so much about myself and the world, and I will forever be grateful for having had the opportunity to explore as much as I did.

Over the last year, as evidenced by a three-part series of blog posts I wrote back over summer, I also started questioning my use of social media a lot. This eventually led to my deleting my personal Instagram account as well as my Facebook account. I still have Snapchat because I still haven’t moved all my vacation photos from it. But that’s the next to go. I don’t consider LinkedIn and Pinterest to be social media with the way I use them, so those can stay.

Anyway, as I was going through my Snapchat archive to sift through my photos, I saw some that I hadn’t looked at in months. They were all the photos from my first trip of the year to London, Paris, and Dublin. I had pictures of myself with all of my new friends from my tour, my hotel rooms to remember what they all looked like and how small they were, sparklers with the group at the Eiffel Tower, and let’s not forget the amazing hot chocolate in Paris.

The things I stumbled upon that interested me the most, however, were a set of videos from New Year’s Eve night. I had spent the evening with my Contiki group watching fireworks over the city of London at midnight from Primrose Hill (where I ruined my brand new suede heels), and then we went out dancing at a club afterward until probably 2 or 3 in the morning. (That was probably the last time I’ll ever do that in my life, but I’m totally okay with that.)

So, from the looks of it, my life was pretty great. I’d never experienced a more glamorous New Year’s Eve celebration that I could recall. It should have felt magical. Life-changing even. And while it was fun, and I very much love every person I was with that evening, it felt lonely. In fact, I had probably never been lonelier or sadder in my entire life. Between having left a job I loved for another job that proved to not be a good fit for me and some other issues in my personal life at the time (not worth giving details; I’m fine now, promise!), I felt lost. For a person whose life’s work is all about helping people discover who they are and what they want, I was in a pretty sad state of confusion. I didn’t know myself anymore, and I didn’t recognize my choices and decisions as my own. I didn’t know who I was, and that was the one thing in life I had always felt certain of since a very young age. It was humbling, if not devastating.

Since that evening, I spent the past year battling myself in a lot of ways. I desperately sought insight into why I was feeling unhappy and unfulfilled, and I spent some days crying and other days reading to seek solutions and still other days with family and friends to remember what really matters most in life. Sure, I traveled a lot and seemed to live a life of gluttony and leisure. In some ways, I did. I was sometimes painfully indulgent with the way I wallowed and wondered what was wrong. This only led to my feeling even more ashamed about the person I had become. Over time, however, and I can’t even really explain how or why, I began to come out of this trying phase and enter a much more hopeful and positive one.

I attribute some of that to my decision to abstain more from social media. I think I was overwhelmed, not just with the news and state of the world, but also just with the sheer knowledge of what hundreds of other people were doing every day. Maybe I’m naïve or arrogant to say this, but I’ve never considered myself a very jealous or competitive person. I was never really into sports, and I don’t get too intense about winning things. I’d rather everyone just be happy and get along. And yet I could still feel the effects of social media on my mental and emotional well being.

For one thing, seeing posts of hundreds of people every day seemingly doing life-fulfilling work and going on life-changing adventures was a bit intimidating. Of course, I hope it goes without saying that I am always happy to see others happy. It’s just that it made me start questioning whether I was doing all the right things in my life and whether I was actually happy. I also felt myself get really overwhelmed with being aware of so many people’s daily lives all at once. So much so, in fact, that I got consumed by it to the point that I wasn’t really taking part in my own. And as for my own posts, I always overthought everything I posted and wondered if it was annoying or somehow tone deaf (which I worry about with every blog post as well), and I also worried whether I was feeding into the same problems social media had posed for me.

For instance, my travels made my life look amaaaaaazing, I’m sure. And they were great for the most part, though sometimes challenging when I was alone. But that didn’t mean I was happy or content. I found myself wanting to feed my feelings of emptiness and loneliness with validation from outside sources. The comments and likes and ding!-ding!-ding!s on my phone were like a drug. But like almost every drug we take to treat deeper problems, it didn’t get to the root of the issue.

This past month, I watched a video course taught by Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle, and it was all about the acts of our journeys in life. It was an amazing course that I highly recommend, and one of the comments that Glennon made has stuck with me. She said that sometimes the most courageous adventure we can take is to sit still. After running all around the world searching for answers or some sort of revelation and never quite finding it, this deeply resonated with me. I realized that the things that had brought me the greatest joy throughout the year were my attempts to simplify my life, rather than overload and complicate it.

Since we moved in August, I have cleaned out my closets at least three or four times, I went through every unread email in my inbox and have kept it cleaned up ever since, I deleted social media accounts and stayed present in every moment of my life possible with every person I was with, and it has all provided such clarity. My husband even said he noticed a change in how we communicate and what we discuss when we’re together. I am no longer wondering if what I’m doing is good enough or if who I am is good enough. I am no longer overwhelmed by all the choices and possibilities out in the world. I feel focused. My head feels clear. I have been reading more than I have in years. And I still have so much more work to do.

None of this is being shared to take away from the joy some may feel when engaging with social media. I do not write this to begrudge anyone the fun of sharing their lives and connecting with others online. I know how much good can come from it, or else it wouldn’t have taken me so long to acknowledge that, for me, the cons were outweighing the pros. Perhaps things will change for me someday if I revisit the topic after a break, but this is just where I stand with it today. Plus, I’m sure some people are much better at filtering things out that they see online so that they won’t be as affected by it as I found myself. I just want to share this experience because it has brought so much more happiness into my life as I have learned to focus on the essential things in it. I never would have guessed how much it would have changed things for me, and I know I’m not the only one.

When I got bored at first after having no more endless photo streams to look at, I started reading articles and blogs written by others who had given up or lessened their social media usage, and the results were pretty much the same across the board for everyone. Every person I read about has experienced more clarity, more presence, more focus, more productivity, and, perhaps most importantly, more memorable moments.

On December 31, 2017, my husband and I had dinner and ice cream sundaes with two good friends at their house and watched a comedy special in our pajamas. My husband fell asleep around 10pm, along with my friends’ dog that laid down at our feet, and their baby slept peacefully in the back room as the rest of us stealthily counted down until midnight. It was probably the quietest, most low-key New Year’s Eve I can ever recall having. And I’ve gotta tell ya—it was magical.


Here’s to the New Year—may we all continue trying our best to lead the lives that bring us the most joy, contentment, and a sense of gratitude. I love you all, and thank you for supporting my journey as a writer. I wish you the best this year and every year after!

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