Turning 30 – Birthday Reflections On Life, Achievement and Travel

Prolific travelers often joke that we have commitment issues.  It’s a joke I’ve often made – after all, when folks asked how on earth I could pick up everything and re-locate to Europe for a 2-year Master’s or how I seemed to perpetually be traveling I would flash a smile, shrug, and explain, “No mortgage, no dog, no girlfriend”.   There is, undoubtedly, some truth to this somewhat cavalier statement…but it’s simultaneously an equal part bullshit. I don’t have issues committing and I’m most certainly not running from things.  There is a path I chose a number of years ago, mostly aware of the trade offs. I do not commit casually and I do not commit without reason.  Why?  Because each commitment is a rope (or chain) which binds us to a place and time.  The weight of these can, at times, be light or transient but even the smallest commitment, when taken seriously, is binding.

All Abroad - Train Travel

In life I can be uncompromising though I combine this with a personality and lifestyle which might seem in direct conflict due to its fluidity and socially-engaged but relaxed approach. How can someone who grew up with a mediator-oriented personality and leadership style be simultaneously uncompromising? As I’ve matured as a person and grown increasingly confident in myself, my abilities, and the decisions I make I find myself less inclined to doubt myself and more ok with the trade-offs that come with decisive decision making.

Family in Europe - 95

Today I turn 30.  It is an interesting opportunity to step back, reflect, and share some of my observations to date. Below you’ll find a mixture of items I think you may find interesting – either as insights to reflect upon, or as advice garnered from life-lessons I’ve learned and am happy to share.  Others are just general musings about issues I find interesting, which weigh on my mind, or which have shaped the person who I am today.

The Sojourner’s Dilemma

I love Copenhagen. It is, quite possibly, my favorite capital city in the world.  Yet, recently, I found myself falling out of love with the city. A combination of factors – winter, a cold, the stress of the job search, and a daily commute that ate up three hours of my schedule started to weigh on me. I found that sense of doubt creeping into my psyche, combined with the seeds of bitterness.  It wasn’t until I had a day to walk the city – something I hadn’t done in more than three months – that I had an epiphany and sense of renewed love for Copenhagen.

Springtime in Copenhagen

What I’ve taken to calling the Sojourner’s Dilemma is something no doubt familiar to anyone who has done a long-term study abroad, lived abroad as a sojourner, or progressed to the full-expat stage. It is that inevitable stage in the experience where your love and zeal for a place starts to slip away.  In some cases losing that magic is a very real thing tied to changes in your needs as an individual.  But, more often than not, I believe it stems from a loss of connection with the aspects of the city and daily/experience which were the source of that magic to begin with.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in a city for 6 months or 10 years, it’s when we lose touch with the daily richness that the balance begins to shift from a place of inspiration that puts an added bit of zip into our steps towards a weighty chain that drags us down.

A Danish Life Lesson: The Simple Joy of Sunshine

Sunbathing in Copenhagen

When was the last time you got up from your desk, stepped outside, stretched, paused and truly enjoyed a sunny day for more than a few seconds?  I’m talking about heading down to a park, or out to your back yard to lounge in the sun like a cat on a lazy afternoon?  If you’re like me you probably haven’t in a long, long time.

It’s no secret that Denmark isn’t exactly the world’s sunniest destination.  Located at a similar latitude as Newfoundland, Edinburgh and Moscow the summer days are long and the winter nights are even longer.  The city of Copenhagen is located on one of the many islands that make up the nation and like most coastal cities it experiences more than its fair share of rain fall.  In winter the Danes battle the inevitable creep of depression as they break out vitamin D supplements and sun lamps to offset the extended periods of darkness. Despite these challenges they’ve regularly been ranked some of the happiest people in the world and with good reason!

I recently relocated from one of the sunniest places in the United States. In Phoenix, Arizona blue skies and hot weather are the norms. So normal that even the periodic white puffy cloud can be cause for conversation.  Unfortunately, it’s something that I’ve only begun to realize we not only take for granted but also completely under utilize.

Sunbathing in Copenhagen

When a sunny summer day hits here in Copenhagen the locals are out en-mass. Streets are clogged by bicyclists, outdoor cafes filled past capacity, every park awash in half clothed bodies, and the harbor areas decorated by sunbathers and people out to enjoy the weather.  In Copenhagen the sun isn’t something that is ignored or tolerated. It is something that is celebrated.  When the weather is beautiful the people genuinely go out of their way to enjoy it.   I’m not just talking about pausing casually here or there. I’m talking about putting on bathing suits and heading to the park or stripping down to bras and shorts to lounge along the docks or in the city parks.

As I found myself meandering the city the positive energy and general approach to the sunny weather was intoxicating.  It truly WAS a beautiful day and the people not only knew it, but embraced it! I’ve spent years with more sunny days than I can count, but I don’t think I’ve ever been surrounded by people who made such great use of them.  Oh, sure we’d have the occasional day on the river and pool party in Arizona but even those were more about time in the water than enjoying the sun.  The real shame is that even though the summers are genuinely too hot to enjoy properly in Arizona everyone I know there lets that poison the chance to enjoy incredible weather when it does come during spring and fall. Arizonans aren’t alone it’s a similar mistake shared by people all over the world.

So, the next time you find yourself waking up to a bright sunny day don’t just hide inside or take it for granted.  Smile, roll up your sleeves, take off your shirt and head somewhere where you can enjoy it.  The sun and summer are things that should be shared so don’t just do it alone, make it a social outing and take a friend, a loved one or a family member with you!

For my part, now that I’m learning to slow down and smell the sunshine you’ll find me joining the Danes and relaxing in the sun.  It’s time I made up for lost time – life is good!