Tag: Life Lessons

What I’ve Learned This Year

You Are Here sign on yellow background, digital art by Mihaela Limberea
Digital artwork from my new “Inner Citadel” series

It’s that time of the year, so I’ve just completed my annual personal review. This is something I do every year, although in a slightly different form. I was thinking about publishing it here, but it felt too personal. I couldn’t. Maybe next year.

(I use this Year Compass form which is excellent; it supports multiple languages, and you can choose whether to complete it online (PDF) or print it and work on the hard copy. I recently found this one which seems good, too. I had already completed this year’s when I saw it, but I’m thinking of combining them next year, taking the best of both in one customized version.)

In the meantime, I thought it might be worth sharing some of the insights of this second annus horribilis. I think we all hoped that things would go back to some kind of normal this year, especially with vaccines available. But, unfortunately, it seems we were mistaken.

No matter, no matter; new year, new prospects, I always say, the ever optimist. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Top Three Things I’ve Learned This Year

  • I Need Meditation and Yoga to Feel Good.

This year, I struggled a lot with attention, or rather, the lack of it. Not being able to focus when working on a book (or doing anything, really) is stressful and anxiety-inducing. As I mentioned elsewhere, I had already reduced social media and news intake drastically but, obviously, not enough. So, I did an app audit and reduced the number of apps on my smartphone, deleting both the ones I seldom used and the attention stealers (you know which ones, don’t you?). I also took a time-out from social media (I’ve been sober for six months now!) and stopped reading the news. They have a way of trickling through anyway (especially the bad ones), and, fear not, I haven’t missed the news of the first woman to become Prime Minister in Sweden or the Omicron variant. I pruned blogs and newsletters as well, keeping a few core ones only (Austin KleonSeth GodinOliver BurkemanMason Currey, for instance). No TV except on Fridays and Saturdays.

And yet, I struggled. Then it dawned on me that I hadn’t meditated or done any yoga in some time. Like, in a long time. A very long time. So, I’ve just taken up mediation and yoga again, and I’m almost back on track! The wild monkey mind is not easy to tame, but I feel good about where I am at the moment.

If you haven’t meditated before, Pema Chödrön’s wonderful book Meditation: How to Meditate is an excellent place to start. It’s short and simple and beautifully written.

As for Yoga, Adriene Mishler has this wonderful YouTube channel called Yoga with Adriene, where you can pick and choose from a variety of yoga sessions, and they’re all free. If you don’t know where to start, she has a series of videos for beginners.

This is by far the most important lesson of the year. It’s incredible how these practices impact my mind (and body), something I tend to forget. I’ve now included yoga and meditation in my daily tracker to make sure I don’t fall off the wagon again.


  • To Nap or Not to Nap? Naps Win. Of Course.

Partially related to the above. Whenever I could, I would nap after lunch since in high school (I’m not kidding). I don’t seem able to function optimally for a whole day without some rest. I don’t necessarily have to sleep, but I do need to lay on the bed for half an hour someplace dark and quiet. I did this at work, too, whenever I didn’t have any meetings or calls around lunch. I would eat a quick lunch then go and lay down for 30 minutes (the perks of working from home, long before Covid-19 taught the world how to). 

What did I do this year, knowing all this? In my search for efficiency, I started skipping my naps. More time for me and my book, yay! Only it became “nay”! The result was that I had more awake time, but I was too tired to do anything worthwhile (my house shines, though, there’s that). If naps were good enough for Churchill and Einstein, I guess they’re good enough for me, too. And I’m not alone to think that. I’m back to my post-lunch nap now, together with my cat, who seems to be the wiser of us. 

(By the way, I love that nap line from “The Darkest Hour” movie when Churchill is asked to meet the King at 4 pm, and he replies: “I nap at 4.” I was SO tempted to tell that to my boss sometimes when he wanted to have a meeting at 1 pm). There are so many great lines in that movie, brilliantly written by Anthony McCarten; here are a few more.)

  • Connecting with Friends in More Meaningful Ways

I think of myself as a person who values friendship and friends; in fact, being a good friend is one of my core values. I thought I was a good friend; I know I’ve tried. But how was I a good friend? 

If we take birthdays, I would always make sure to send a message to a friend on their birthday. Note I said “send a message” (as in DM), not send a card or make a phone call. We’re all busy, I was busy, and I thought my friend was busy too, so a short and quick message to congratulate her was an efficient way of dealing with that. 

But was that a good way of keeping in touch? Since many of my friends are scattered on four continents now, social media is the only way to keep track of what’s happening in their lives. I could see their updates and would occasionally comment on something, and then I’d, of course, send a DM on their birthday. Even at Christmas! I was a good friend, wasn’t I? Wasn’t I?

I thought about this and realized it was a superficial way of being a friend, more like a social obligation. So this year, I’ve started creating personalized birthday and holiday cards (now you know where that Freebies section came from) and writing e-mails with a few more lines than “Merry Christmas”! Handwritten letters would be much nicer, of course, but I need to be realistic. I feel that what’s important is writing more than a DM and more than once or twice a year. And making phone calls as we used to, despite the logistic challenges of different timezones.

Does this make me a good friend? I don’t know; you’d need to ask my friends. But I think I am a better friend at least.

As I’m planning 2022 now, I’ve added reminders in my calendar to reach out to friends every now and then, not only during holidays.

… and Three Tiny Thoughts

  • The more I write, the more inspired I am.
  • Perfectionism is a subtle form of arrogance.
  • Sometimes optimism is just wishful thinking (if not plain stupidity).

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An Excuse Is Not an Exception

An abstract photo of ice and fire in hues of blue and orange. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Fire and Ice  © Mihaela Limberea 2021

It’s so easy to think, “I’ll make an exception, I’m so tired/busy/stressed” when you skip a planned activity or something you wanted to do. You still mean to eat right, or exercise, or write at least 300 words every morning, of course. You just skip today. It’s OK. You’ll resume tomorrow. Not a biggie.

The thing is, this is not an exception. It’s an excuse. An excuse not to do something that makes you uncomfortable or anxious or that scares you—a reason to take the easy way out.

It’s an exception when you have to skip the gym to take your daughter to the emergency room with a sprained ankle. It’s an exception when you sit down to write your daily quota, and your computer eats your document and its backup. It’s an exception when it’s outside your control.

An excuse is not an exception; an exception is an emergency.

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What 2020 Taught Me … So Far

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What 2020 Taught Me … So Far

I’ve been struggling to make sense of the world lately, like many others, I suspect. Burying my head in the sand and trying to carry on with my work as nothing had happened. While, of course, the world around me continued spinning faster and faster.

I’ve missed two family anniversaries that I was looking forward to. Before what now seems to be the second Covid-19 wave, I thought I could attend, observing all restrictions, of course. With family and friends scattered in several countries on four continents, it’s been a trying time, to say the least.

Abstract B&W  photo
Untitled from my latest photo project.

As for my work, my new book and some photo projects, well … slow progress. I’ve reached an all times low in terms of creativity. I had all this time on my hands and no lust to do anything. I forced myself to show up and do the work because I know that in the end, there’ll be something. A shitty first draft. A few photos worth including in the series. But it’s not a solution.

How to keep going? Retreating into a shell and ignoring the world is not a life strategy; it’s escapism. As always, writing clarifies things for me. As Joan Didion once said, I write to find out what I’m thinking.

Here are a few things that I’ve learned this year of the plague. So far.

Accept the current situation. No amount of wishful thinking will make Covid-19, and its restrictions go away. I’ve come to accept that I cannot travel, for example, not only in 2020 but very likely not next year either. Would a trip be possible in 2022? I hope so. But if not, I’ll accept that travel would have to wait a while longer. If I cannot go to Australia for my planned photography project, I’ll try doing it in Sweden. If nothing else, this would be an exercise in creativity; creativity thrives on challenges. 

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Acceptance is key to get through this trying time. Humans don’t do well with uncertainty, and Covid-19 is the biggest uncertainty of them all. Accept that there are things that you cannot control.

Technology can be friend or foe. When I moved to Sweden, I was still writing letters (yes, real letters, handwritten et al.); compared to that, it’s never been easier to stay in touch. One of the small things that made a great difference was using a private cloud service where all family members can upload and comment on photos and videos. We can follow what’s happening in each other’s life in real-time, and can easily call each other or have several parts conference. Technology became my friend.

A sleeping tabby cat on sheep fur
Minette broke her leg and the whole family could follow her convalescence and provide moral support (mobile phone photo).

However, technology can easily become your foe. Like everyone else, in the beginning, I’ve spent a lot of time watching the news and reading everything about pandemics and viruses, antibodies and vaccines, intensive care and protection measures. How could I not? Everything was so readily available. The whole world at my fingertips, everywhere I turned. But the more I learned, the less I knew; even the experts had more questions than answers. The news reports became harbingers of doom. I was sucked into a maelstrom of catastrophic news reports (when it’s the last time you’ve seen good news?), comedy sketches, and cliffhanger series that made me even more depressed.

With no end in sight, the pandemic, combined with the recent changes in my life, was getting to me. I realized that I needed to make some drastic changes in my life. Covid-19 clarified my priorities.

I’m watching less TV now, especially the news. I keep informed, but that’s about it. I (no longer) binge-watch series but decide what really matters to me and stick to it. I didn’t watch Games of Thrones or The Crown. I did watch Stranger Things and Chernobyl. I have limited time and more important things to do.

Doing things around the house and crossing off tasks on my To Do-list make me feel good, as I had accomplished something (which, in fact, I had) and helped silence the monkey mind.

A sunny room
The guest room is ready! Unfortunately, no guests due to Covid-19.

Since we moved into our new house last year, we had a lot to do, and boy did we do it! We still have a few pictures to frame and the home office to figure out, but everything else is pretty much done. All that work did take my mind off things, and, in the process, I knocked off almost all items on my moving to-do list. Note to self: keep busy; keep busy; keep busy; keep …

Doing things I love with no ulterior purpose is relaxing; do more of them. I’ve started drawing again for the first time in several years. My drawings don’t look like much yet, but the concentration they require and my pleasure in what I’m doing make me forget the world. Right now, that’s a good thing.

A tabby kitten with a teddy bear
Minette and Patrick the teddy bear

Photography is work, of course, but taking photos of my cat or my garden just for us, for the family album, with no pressure, doesn’t feel like work and allows me to get into the zone and shut off the world.

A foggy forest in the autumn
A photo I didn’t post on Instagram. I was too busy scrolling.

Spending too much time on social media is counter-productive. Using Facebook to stay in touch with friends or YouTube for tutorials is one thing; spending hours scrolling through Instagram mindlessly and calling it “staying updated” is just wasting time. And likely to make me feel inadequate. Ask me how I know.

If you’re struggling as I did, I hope you’ll find this post helpful. I found that knowing you’re not alone is one step towards feeling better.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh. 

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