psychology, Spain

Reflecting On A Decade, 7/10ths Of Which Were In Spain

Madre mía. 

How did we arrive to the end of this decade already?

When did 1990 become 30 years ago? (I know I said I was gonna stop using social media and I mostly am, but ThirtyAF has me reminiscing on the 90s like crazy.)

I’m being like the adults I always rolled my eyes at as a kid, lamenting at “how time flies.”  I’m the age my parents were when I was in elementary school. Yet I feel very different – like I’m standing still while time rushes past me like cars on a highway. It’s kind of crazy, really.

I know I’m living the life I want, but I also see people my age with kids that are like, OLD. Friends with four(!) kids at this point. So for them, time probably feels really different. It’s much more visual – weddings, babies, watching the kids lose teeth, grow taller, and all that. For me though, it’s a lot more internal and requires quite a bit of reflection. The fact that I’ve been living abroad for more than half of the last ten years is still blowing my mind. So let’s take a look back at the last ten years and see what was going on!

Back in 2010, I was just getting started in the first few years of my career. I worked at the Children’s Council of San Francisco, I’d gotten my first promotion, I spent a lot of time giggling with my office mates and reading Hyperbole and a Half. No clue about a career path or a life trajectory, just working full time and taking some photography classes on the side, and side-hustlin’ by taking pictures of my coworkers. In my free time I hung out with my San Francisco urban tribe watching endless Korean dramas. I got my first smartphone – it had an actual keyboard. 🙂 Life was pretty simple in 2010.

We definitely did not get enough sun in SF

After that though, things got a little weird in 2011. Layoffs and shuffling people around at work, jumping ship to work temp jobs, stressing endlessly about money, some drama between friends, and a big trip to Asia which I convinced myself was a good idea despite it costing me ALL the money I had at the time. (I did ring in the new year in Cambodia, so that was cool.)

The dust finally settled in 2012 when I got a new permanent office job just in the nick of time when my money was about to run out for real. With a year of newfound calm (and the drabness of the gray cubicle walls and the endless photocopying) I reflected on what it might be like to actually go back to Spain. San Francisco, despite being a place of immense personal growth, was starting to wear on me and I was ready for a change. The months leading up to my preparing to go found everything falling into place and an excitement for what was to come. I’d love to sum up 2013-2020 in one big “Spain” box, but this experience has been so varied and rich that it’s pretty much impossible to summarize. (Great/awful/exhausting/exhilarating/joyous/enriching/lonely/interconnected?)

Cue fall of 2013, landing at Madrid-Barajas, locating Lisa, one of my best friends who agreed to join me on my transatlantic move, and spending a fabulous week drinking tinto de verano and laying on beaches. Those glorious first weeks, an entire month in Bilbao with perfect weather, not far from the beach, signing up for social events and staying out until 7am.

It was the perfect kickoff to the next 7/10ths of a decade. Of course, soon enough, government bureaucracy and noisy (but fun) teenagers were part of my life, the rain started, and I had a few mini-crises which are normal for anyone who moves abroad for the first time.

In Cantabria in 2014,  I honed my teaching skills, got more confident, and started to feel more at home in Spain. Emotionally, I was more stable and overall happier in my work. I traveled quite a bit, doing some solo travel to the UK, Germany and Austria. Of course, I kiiinda threw that away by ditching Spain for England in 2015. (Are odd-numbered years my years of  total life upheaval?) I came to regret that move for a long time to come. Sigh.

Getting back to an even year, in 2016 I made it back to Spain, where I spent several rainy but fantastic months in Galicia healing on the inside, getting out of debt, and learning how to eat copious amounts of shellfish while drinking albariño and finishing it off with crema de orujo. And also learning how to not get bowled over by herds of children who insisted on group-hugging me every day. Galicia was so good for my soul! I started practicing yoga for the first time, tried belly dance classes, enjoyed the street art, found a ton of awesome friends, and loved the sounds of Celtic music (Böj). I’m so glad I chose to take the seemingly random opportunity – it was exactly where I needed to be. Namaste, Galicia. More reflections on this period to come.


2017: headed to Santander, where I worked more than full time and still somehow managed to have an active social and travel life. Met another ton of great friends. It was the year I learned how to work remotely and be part of a team again – at startup Lingo Live. Took up swimming and running, and promptly quit both. 🙂 I added quite a number to my growing tally of roommates.

In 2018 I followed a hunch I’d had over a year before about possibly living in León, a place I had a really good feeling about. I’m glad I gave that little city a chance – it was lovely! The second half of 2018 found me back in Cantabria, surrounded by old friends and making new ones. Though I was more mentally and emotionally exhausted the second time around in Castro, living there was just what I needed to prepare me for a professional move the next year.

After a pretty rock-bottom end to 2018, I reconnected with myself and did a solo trip to Andalucía in spring 2019. I shed some layers of exhaustion and resentment and opened myself up to new experiences and came home fully prepared for the next step: Madrid. Professional growth, working in an office, dressing a little better, learning to live in a big capital city, having my homemade lunch in Parque del Retiro, etc. Learning the kind of company I don’t exactly want to work for.

Now it’s 2020, the “raging dumpster fire” of a year that none of us except Bill Gates could have ever predicted. The silver lining to this year for me and many others has been time to reflect. Mental space to focus on what really matters. Everyday choices to make the best of a tough situation. A decade from now, we’ll look back on this tragic year, with all the movies and books that will be made about it, and just shake our heads. Top things I’m proud of this year? Reading 60 books, buying a guitalele, and doing yoga every weekday.

2020: a chill year

Despite all this international moving around, this decade wasn’t necessarily made up of big, flashy achievements, but rather small choices – some of them daily – that have contributed to an overall increase in well-being.

Despite all this international moving around, this decade wasn’t necessarily made up of big, flashy achievements, but rather small choices – some of them daily – that have contributed to an overall increase in well-being.

  • Saving and investing money, even when my paycheck was drastically reduced
  • Packing lunch nearly every day when I had a full-time job, or otherwise eating nearly all meals at home
  • Doing some kind of exercise every day
  • Choosing to read books rather than watch a lot of TV and movies
  • Investing in myself by taking a few courses to learn new things
  • Journaling a lot and doing morning pages to clarify my thoughts
  • Not owning a car since 2008 – massive reduction in stress!
  • Eating a more plant-based diet
  • Reducing social media use – most recently by asking myself “what else could I be doing right now?” (there’s ALWAYS something else!)

And some areas of intense personal growth this decade that were largely absent in my 20s that I think living in Spain has largely contributed to:

  • Understanding culture and language better
  • Judging other people less
  • Asking for what I need
  • Not being ashamed of my feelings or moods
  • Feeling a deeper sense of connection with others
  • Building confidence
  • Being able to say no to what isn’t really important
  • Learned how to not take myself and situations so seriously
  • Recognizing when my ego is getting in the way
  • Knowing myself better

I’m grateful for all Spain has taught me in these 7 years, and all life has taught me in the last decade. Cheers to a hopefully amazing start to 2021!