16 Lessons From 2016

Sunrise in Nargakot, Nepal

2016 has had a pretty bad rap – celebrity deaths, Brexit, a certain blonde-wigged maniac making it to the White House, the continuing war in Syria, and terrorism attacks are just a few of the things that had us all wondering whether the year is jinxed or something (spoiler: it isn’t).

But one thing I’ve realised is that the biggest and most significant life lessons can come from adversity. From not getting what you want. From coming up against obstacles (repeatedly). From death, destruction and devastation. From breakups. From losing your job. From having everything taken away from you. From starting from scratch.

While 2015 was more challenging for me, 2016 was a year of life lessons. Things have not come easily. Just when I thought I had faced and eradicated one demon, another ten would pop up in its place. Figuring out my life from scratch wasn’t something I imagined I’d be doing right now, but I’m so, so, so damn glad it’s happened. My breakup last year was a blessing in disguise.

“You raze the old to raise the new” – Justina Chen Headley

I love this quotation and it’s something I now firmly believe. If you’re living your life on shaky foundations, you’ll never be stable and you’ll never find true happiness. And what is true happiness? True happiness is realising that you and you alone are responsible for your own happiness – no partner/amount of money/amount of success will ever be enough unless you learn first that happiness comes from within.

Razing the old has enabled me to finally see that for myself. I was living on shaky foundations. And so I’ve forged my way through 2016, trying to figure things out. It has been a case of one step forward, ten steps back at times, but I’m ending 2016 positive, optimistic and thankful. I’m deeply grateful for 2016 – warts and all. Here’s what it taught me:

Not everyone you lose is a loss

I do not say this out of bitterness or anger; I say this from a place of acceptance and understanding. My past relationship was not good for me for many various reasons and I see that now. Sometimes the hardest experiences are blessings in disguise, and that’s definitely been the case for me. I want and need a peaceful life, as I’m a peaceful person, and I won’t settle for anything less in the future. It took me almost a year and a half to realise it, but I got there in the end.

Solo travel is bloody fantastic

My trip to Nepal in November was nothing short of phenomenal. I travelled solo and yet I didn’t ever feel lonely – I had the time of my life. I met incredible people every single day, some of whom I still talk to today. I had meaningful exchanges with people that I know I wouldn’t have even met if I’d been travelling with friends or a partner. From the lovely Indian uncle who owns his own incense shop in Thamel, to the adorable grandmother and granddaughter that I met at Bodhnath, all the exchanges I had while I was there are etched on my heart. I also had what was possibly my most beautiful travel moment to date while I was in Nepal. Now that I’ve had a taste of how liberating solo travel can be, I can’t wait to hit the road on my own again.

A scene from Bodhnath stupa in November 2016

I love Nepal (side lesson)

I have been fortunate enough to travel to quite a few places now and Nepal is certainly one that sticks out – it’s one of my favourite countries in the world. I was told there was something special about the place before I went, and it’s only once I was there that I realised what people meant. For me, it’s the locals who make it – they are so friendly, genuine and welcoming. There’s also something highly therapeutic, healing and spiritual about the place. I encourage you to travel there if you get the chance – more blog posts coming soon.

You teach people how to treat you

It’s up to you and you alone to set boundaries for yourself. I never used to have boundaries because I didn’t realise that I needed to have any. For example, if my boss would repeatedly ask me to stay late, I would stay late regardless of whether I had something planned afterwards and I’d silently grow resentful. Now I have learnt to speak up and say if I have something planned. You teach people how they can treat you, so if you repeatedly capitulate to unreasonable demands, people will continue to make them. Figure out what you find acceptable and what you don’t, and stick to it.

Smiles get you a lot further than frowns

I do this little experiment from time to time to prove this to myself: when I leave the house with a smile on my face and make an effort to talk to people as I go about my day, I never fail to be amazed by the results. People, on the whole, mirror how you treat them. So if you smile, people will smile back. If you strike up a conversation with someone, you’re likely to be rewarded with an interesting exchange with a stranger. This is how I made friends with a lovely Nepali lady named Nira who used to weigh vegetables in my local supermarket; I smiled and asked her how her day was and we ended up chatting every time I was in the store. I find my day is so much lovelier and fulfilling when I smile and have the opportunity to meet new people. Even a smile from a stranger is enough to perk me up.

Bad sometimes ‘wins,’ but we can still be good

I couldn’t understand how Trump was elected in November, but it made me realise something – it’s more important than ever in this era of uncertainty and ‘fear’ to be a non-asshole, non-racist of a person. We can all make a difference by continuing to choose love over hate, hope over fear, peace over fighting. Love always wins. Hope always wins. Peace always wins. Continue to let that light shine through. Highlight to people when they’re being ignorant. Make friends with people from other cultures. Volunteer. Travel more. Take time to show people you care. These are all things that we can do to help the light to continue to win through, even in dark times.

Me in my element during Christmas 2016

Being alone is better than being in the wrong relationship

Anyone can be in a relationship, I’ve realised. Sadly a lot of people attach themselves to whoever comes along because they fear being alone. I’d rather be alone than with the wrong person, though. I love my own company and I love my peace. What I do not want is someone who will mess with my peace, or to be with someone just to fill in any gaps I have in my life. I am working on myself and my own happiness, and when the right person comes along we will be two complete people who are together because we want to be together, not because we cannot stand to be alone.

Your life begins to change when you become your own best friend

I never knew what it meant to be your own best friend until I really had to. My self-talk was awful. I berated myself for every little mistake I made, told myself I wasn’t worthy of anything, and basically spoke to myself in a way that I wouldn’t speak to my worst enemy. I realised that I needed to change. I started asking myself if I’d say the things I’d say to myself to a friend, and the answer was more often than not a resound no. So I learnt to reframe my way of thinking. I switch it and I now talk to myself in the way I’d talk to a family member or friend. I know I’ve made massive strides in this area because the negative self-talk has decreased dramatically and has been replaced with an understanding, compassionate voice. It’s nice to be your own best friend.

The only thing worse than failure is giving up

I used to be guilty of growing despondent, very fast. I took any sign of rejection very badly and was prone to getting down if things weren’t going my way. I have realised over the last year or so, though, that it was partly due to the fact I wasn’t very kind to myself. I berated myself for any perceived failures and took every little rejection as a sign that I wasn’t very good at what I do. As I started to become my own best friend, though, my mindset started to change. I realised that things will not always go my way and that is no indication of my worth as a person. I now see failures as road signs that show you that perhaps you need to try a different tactic. What they do not mean is give up – with each failure, you’re just getting closer to achieving your goals.

Showing daily gratitude for what we have is important

When I was in Nepal, I met a gentleman who told me a story about a man, who like many others, lost everything in the massive earthquake that hit the country in 2015. Upon finding his house totally collapsed, all his belongings crushed in the rubble, the man started laughing.

Why was he laughing?

Because he was grateful – grateful that he and his family were not inside the house at the time. That’s gratitude. I make a point of keeping a gratitude diary as part of my morning rituals, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I have so much to be grateful for and focusing on those things enables me to be happy in the here and now.

My last sunset in Berlin in March

I am a lot more outgoing than I ever realised I am

When I had a partner, I found that I became even more introverted than I usually am. I was happy to be with someone who would take the lead when we hung out with people we didn’t know too well, for example. I was guilty of letting him do all the talking when we travelled, too, because I found it easier to sit back and observe. I always told myself that I wasn’t good with getting to know strangers, but 2016 has proven me otherwise. I have turned into a chatterbox and cannot seem to get enough out of getting to know new people. I have made new friends since I’ve been back in Dubai. While travelling solo I lost count of the number of strangers I spoke to. And guess what? I absolutely loved every single minute of it. It seems that the ‘labels’ we give ourselves sometimes can be completely false.

You know a situation holds absolutely no power over you anymore when you’re prepared to speak your truth

My breakup last year was, in one word, horrendous. There was a very long time when I was afraid to speak my truth because I was worried about what could potentially land in my inbox. Today, however, I couldn’t care less about what could happen if I speak my truth, and that’s how I know my ex and his family no longer hold any power over me.

The truth is always on the surface, waiting to spill out

It can be incredibly frustrating to feel you’ve been wronged, that people are listening to the wrong side of a story, that you’ve been betrayed, that someone is covering up the truth with a bunch of ill-conceived lies. But one thing I’ve learnt this year is that the truth always outs eventually. If you lie about something, you then have to continue to lie to cover up the first lie, and there’s only so long you can continue to do that.

This quote from Haruki Murakami – one of my utmost favourite authors – sums up how I feel about this:

“The truth sometimes reminds me of a city buried in sand. As time passes, the sand piles up even thicker, and occasionally it’s blown away and what’s below is revealed.”

My brother and I during Christmas this year

Fighting against the essence of who you are and what you want to do is pointless and exhausting

There’s a saying that goes a little something like this: “You’ll continue to make the same mistakes until you learn the lesson.” I’ve realised that this year. I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, for example. This is something that I figured out early on in my career, and yet I still sometimes doubt this and crave some stability in the form of a full-time job. One of my closest friends, Gaby, pointed out to me this year, though, that perhaps it’s time to just bite the bullet, forget the distractions, and focus on doing what I want to do. And so 2017 will be all about that – focusing more on what I want to do and less on what I think I should be doing right now.

You can evolve past people and places

I’m so happy that I returned to Dubai in 2016. I needed to do it for myself. And the great thing about having done so is that I now realise that I really don’t need to be there. I can go anywhere I want to go. I love Dubai and I’ll always love it – I spent some of the best years of my life there, after all. But I’ve realised that sometimes you can evolve past people and places. That you can go through certain life experiences that mould you to such an extent that you no longer see a person or place in the same way as you used to. And that’s kind of how I feel about the city now. I always loved how easy it was to slip back into life there, but I realise now that I don’t need ‘easy.’ I would now happily move to an entirely new city and deal with all the difficulties that come from trying to settle there.

You can cause trouble and chaos in an instant, but good things take time to build

While talking with a wise man whom I met in Nepal (yes, I met many wise people there), he said something that stuck with me. He said that if you want to cause trouble, you can walk outside right now with a gun and do so in an instant. If you want to do good, though, that takes more time, but it’s far more rewarding. This resonated with me for many reasons, and I realised that what he said is so very true. It’s easy for us to retaliate against someone who has hurt us, for example. But what’s far more positive and beneficial is to try to forgive, move forward, and expend your energy on something positive. It may take more time to reap the benefits, but it will be so much better in the long run – for both yourself and the world.

A glass of Champers at Dubai Opera in September

My Top Posts of 2016:

Things To Do In Munich

My Berlin Travel Guide

9 Things I’ve Learnt From 4 Years Of Working As A Freelance Writer

14 Ways To Have More Meaningful Travel Experiences

13 Things To Do If You Cannot Travel Abroad Right Now 

My top Instagram posts from 2016 – follow me at andrea_anastasiou

What’s Coming Next?

Over the next few weeks I’ll finally be blogging about Nepal, so keep your eyes peeled for the posts. I’m heading back to Dubai tomorrow, as I have a two-month assignment. After that, however, I have no idea what I’m doing and instead of this filling me with dread, it fills me with excitement. I’ve been applying for various things and putting the feelers out, so I’m waiting to see what bites first. And if nothing bites at all? Well, I’m going to head back to Asia and focus on finishing the first draft of my second novel.

I’m not going to say I have a feeling 2017 is going to be a good one, because that’s not correct. What I will say is this: 2017 is going to be a good one because I’m going to damn well make sure it is!

Thanks, as always, for all the support and for reading my posts throughout 2016. It’s been a bit quiet on here of late, but that’s not a trend that’s set to continue. Happy New Year, and see you all on the other side!

What was your greatest life lesson of 2016?

  • I love this so much Andrea! I know we’ve talked about a lot of this before, but I’ve also learned (and continuing to learn) many of the same lessons. I still need to work on the positive self-talk, but asking yourself if you’d say that to a friend is such a good way of looking at it. And I’ve also realized since I’ve been alone that I’m not as shy as I thought I was, and that i am capable of making friends (though I don’t think I have whole conversations with random strangers though!). I am realizing that I am actually the best version of myself that I’ve been in a long time, because I’m only fully dependent on myself and doing things that I never used to think I could be capable of.

    • Andrea

      Thanks Anna 🙂 Yes, that little ‘trick’ helps me well…I’d never say some of the things I used to say to myself to a friend! Yay for all the lessons you’ve learnt; it’s a great feeling to feel fully independent and strong, isn’t it?

      It’s funny how we’ve both been pushed out of our comfort zones and learnt so much about ourselves. I never, ever thought I’d hear myself say this but my breakup really was the best thing that ever happened to me!

      Really hope we get to meet in person this year!