Reflecting back on the year, the word that sums up 2011 for me is “transition”.
Some of my personal and professional transitions are a direct result of intense self-evaluation, and some has come simply from changes in circumstance. But as the year comes to a close I am realizing that no matter how it has come about, I will start 2012 in a very different place than I was at in the beginning of 2011. It may not have been the most outwardly transformational year, but the changes I’ve made are significant in many ways and will profoundly impact where I go next.
2011 has seen my life transition in so many ways:
from expat –> to local: For the better part of the past decade, I have defined myself as an “expat” – a foreigner living abroad. While that label technically still applies, since moving to South Africa I’ve realized a real shift in the way that I see myself (if not yet in the way that others see me). Living the expat lifestyle has its challenges and benefits, but by-in-large you interact with other expats and often have a special set of privileges (salary, housing, leave) that sets you apart from the locals. You can never really feel permanent anywhere, even if you are there for years, as your friendships are largely transient and your work situation temporary. Here in Cape Town we have put down roots: bought a house and car, have pets and live near family. We really only have friends who are from SA and have no intention of moving on any time soon, and we sometimes talk about things like where we would send our hypothetical kids to school…in short, we LIVE here, we aren’t just BASED here for the next year or two. Granted, my American accent will always set me apart when I meet new people, but I am (slowly) being seen as “one of them”. More importantly, I don’t always feel foreign. It’s nice to be home.
from aid worker –> to NGO consultant –> to writer & designer: To be honest, my professional transition has been closer to two+ years in the making, but I consciously made the effort to head in a particular direction in 2011. When I left my post in Liberia in 2010 I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do, or even what I wanted to do. I more or less fell into NGO consulting – it was mostly a continuation of the work that I did long-term in the field, although it was definitely rewarding and new territory to conquer. In 2011 I took a long, hard look at what I was doing and where I wanted to head, and took some major leaps towards my goals. I decided to refocus my work on what I liked most about my job – writing. I also actively pursued what had, until this year, been merely a hobby. I enrolled in a graphic design course, honed my technical skills and got my print design portfolio together. I spent the last few months of this year working full steam ahead to set a solid foundation for my new career path; thinking thorough what transferable skills I have and what unique expertise I bring to the table. Though I’m by no means there yet, and I’m not planning to make a completely clean break from my past work, I’m excited to continue my professional transition in 2012.
from girlfriend –> to fiancée (soon to be wife!): This one is still in the works, but we’ve come a long way! We’ve been together for years, so you wouldn’t necessarily think that this would be much of a transition, but I think this is perhaps the most daunting change for me. It is something that I cannot do on my own and that I can’t fully control – scary stuff. We’ve worked hard to lay the groundwork for a happy life together, but you never know the challenges we have to face in the future. I’m so lucky to have an amazing partner going through this transition with me.
from renter –> to homeowner: This is the most wholly satisfying transition I’ve made this year. Despite the enormous amount of work (and money) we’ve realized homeownership to be, it is so worth it to me to come home to a place that is ours, and to make long-term plans on how we can alter and improve our space. I’m really loving it.
from nomad –> to homebody: Again, this transition has been awhile in the making, but now the difference is that I actually have a home! It amazed me how little wanderlust I actually had this year. Every once and awhile I’d get the bug and pour over travel blogs and envy friends who had taken exotic trips, but for the most part I have had NO desire at all to travel just for travel’s sake. No need for endless “adventures” that can turn out to be major headaches. No need to go somewhere just because it is new and novel. Rather I’ve loved being in my house, my office, my town, having less-than-thrilling nights with friends, making plans, just being home. I’m sure I’ll get the bug again, but at the moment I’m just enjoying my new-found love of domestic pleasures.
What do I hope for 2012? I plan to continue on the paths that I’ve started myself on in 2011, and to successfully navigate the many transitions I know will lie ahead. I’m aiming to have the words fulfillment, contentment and achievement summarize my 2012.