I’m a big believer in living with the seasons. I could never imagine myself living in a place where the weather is constant all of the time. I need the contrast. I need the ups and the downs. It gives me perspective and gratitude and hope for seasons to come.
Winter has never been my strong suit. I’ve never been great at winter sports and I genuinely despise the lack of daylight hours. When winter comes around, I usually feel joy for approximately three weeks before eagerly waiting for warmer weather. Even so, I still appreciate the winter. It makes me grateful for the warm sun in the Spring and the hot lake swims in the summer. Even a bit of sun on an otherwise cold winter day brings me joy.
But THIS winter. This winter was different. This was the winter of all winters. A season of change and growth and a rare good season for me. Here’s why:
1. I got a new visa
For those of you who are keeping track, I initially came to New Zealand on a working holiday visa, a common visa for most countries that allow anyone under the age of 30 a 12-month work visa in New Zealand. I had only planned to stay for a year but one thing led to another and I decided perhaps I’d try out two years.
My bosses at the cafe were willing to keep me on board and even went through the trouble of sponsoring my visa. It was great! I had three full years to stay in New Zealand. I wasn’t sure I’d need all that time but it was good to have the option.
As time went on and I became more jaded, I craved new challenges and a new job but with a sponsored visa, I was tied up and committed to my one employer. No one else would hire me because they couldn’t be bothered sponsoring someone they weren’t familiar with. My growth potential at the cafe was limited. I was starting to feel stagnant.
I looked into other visa options and my only other potential was to get a visa through my Kiwi partner Geoff. The visa would only be a year and would have the exact same rules and regulations with one tiny, and crucial exception: I’d have the freedom to work wherever I wanted. This meant I could apply for other jobs, without fear of being rejected for something that was out of my control. This meant freedom! My new visa lasts a year only but fast tracks me to residency, which I’ll apply for in 2019.
2. I quit my job
The day after I got my visa, I quit my job. It wasn’t exactly a surprise to anyone, especially my beloved bosses. For the last three years, I’ve been working at a cafe as a barista, which was honestly exactly what I wanted to do on my working holiday visa. I had dreams of working in a small town, slinging coffee and chatting up the locals, and that’s exactly what I did.
The problem? My working holiday only lasted a year and then I began transitioning into real life. The cafe was no longer cute and quaint but a drag and a nuisance. I wanted to be pushed again. To be engaged in my work. To create and feel inspired. Anyone who works in hospitality can tell you a cafe is not a place of inspiration. It has a way of making you jaded and indifferent to other humans, which is certainly not my personality type.
While I felt so fortunate to have even found a cafe that would go to the effort of keeping me around, three years of hospitality began to take its toll. The grumpiness I felt was irrational and overwhelming and I couldn’t get a grip on it. I was stuck.
When my new visa came in, I wasted no time in putting in my notice, as graciously as possible. This was new for me. It was different.
It was scary. I had no plan, really. I knew I could piece together work to get by but that’s not my personality type. I’m a planner. I like stability. I’ve never quite a job willy-nilly with nothing to fall back on. I was trying to hone in on old advice from myself. I was taking a leap of faith and hoping the karma gods would catch me.
3. I got a new job
Three days after quitting my cafe job, I got a new job. It was fortuitous and random and seemingly perfect. My housemate had passed along a job listing that seemed too good to be true. Social Media Manager and Digital Marketer for Vallerret Photography Gloves.
I had never heard of them before but the job description sounded great. Full time, permanent work creating content and managing social media for a company that makes gloves for outdoor adventure photographers. Writing, photos, social media, marketing. How was it possible to have all of my experience and interests in one company? The best part? Completely location independent. I could stay in my beloved Wanaka and better yet, I could have the freedom of travel. I could visit the states or travel around Europe and as long as I have wifi, I’m all set.
I landed an interview and spend the next three days prepping. While at the cafe, I banished myself to the dish room where I soaked up as many social media podcasts as humanly possible in a 9-hour shift. I didn’t care that I was scrubbing plates all day, I was learning and preparing. Vallerret had asked me to do pitch to them what I would do to help launch a new glove and instead of giving them brief bullet points on my thoughts, I gave them a 1.5 hour heavily dissected plan on every possibility I could possibly think of to launch their product. At numerous points, I thought I had lost them. A few times they tried to cut me off and thank me for the *thorough* presentation but I didn’t stop until I had exhausted every inch of my marketing knowledge. Over the top? For sure. But did it work? Miraculously!
I landed the job and started in August. The founders happened to be coming to New Zealand for a month in August anyway so I got real hands-on training and in-depth training. I found a new level of exhaustion that only comes from using your brain. I was sitting down all day but thoroughly pooped after a full day of learning. I loved it!
4. I buckled down on personal projects
I got really into podcasts (again) this winter. I exhausted my queue of “How I Built This” and felt inspired by ever entrepreneur they interviewed. Each one started from the bare minimum and problem solved, again and again, creating and re-creating their product. They all had one thing in common: at one point during their struggles they had to make the call to give up and cut losses or keep fighting against all recommendations and odds. I don’t need to tell you how they end because I’m sure you already know. The point is, it was inspiring and was my brain food during the final unbearable months at the cafe.
In that time, I finally decided it was time to devote some hours back to my personal projects. My poor, sad blog that had the best intentions but sat dormant for years. It needed a facelift but more than anything, it needed content. It needed a bit of dedication.
I organized it a bit better and in light of having hardly any woman gear reviews on the internet, I started my own. Trip reports, photo essays, guides and tips. I want to be a resource for those who want to get into the outdoors but don't know how. Also, I published A LOT of old drafts from my beginning months in New Zealand. They aren't as relevant now as they were three years ago but they’re still a part of my history and entertaining to read.
I also became rededicated to my free-lancing projects, working mostly with Liz from Young Adventuress. It’s been invaluable learning from her and how she’s managed to build her empire from nothing. The more I worked with her, the more I realized the problems she encountered and the solutions she created were just the same as the entrepreneurs from my podcasts, the same ones that had gone on to build multi-million dollar companies.
5. I focused on being a better friend, daughter, and sibling
It’s no secret that I’m not very good at keeping in touch. It’s not that I don’t want to but rather I just don’t find the time. Or perhaps more accurately, I don’t prioritize the time. When the weather’s nice, I play outside and when I’m not outside, I’m at work.
It became so easy for me to push aside friendships until it was on my terms but this winter, I decided that wasn’t the type of friend I wanted to be. I didn’t want to collect friends, I wanted to hone in on the friendships I had. To truly develop them and give them my all. This meant calling friends back home and making time for friends in New Zealand.
Sometimes it means going to four different potlucks a night and compromising on other passion projects but it’s important to me. Sometimes it means staying inside on a warm sunny day, just to be able to catch people on Skype back in the USA. It’s a sacrifice but it’s important. Without friends and family, nothing has meaning.
6. I was kind to my body.
The last few years I’ve been delving into the world of ultra running. The first race I did was a 60km race on the Kepler trail. The last race I did was 85km through the West Coast mountains. I was poorly trained for it, I admit. Instead of putting in the long boring miles on mild grade inclines, I opted instead for full-day, fun thigh bashing walks up tall and scrambley peaks. Sometimes I’d run down but mostly, I was just out having fun and challenging myself in new ways. This did nothing for my race prep and I suffered.
After the race in March, I vowed to be nice to my body. To let it recover and to stretch it and roll it to counterbalance the pain I put it through. I tried returning to running several times after that, each time ending in frustration and tears. It didn’t feel natural to me. I didn’t feel like I was even good at it. I let myself feel that and gave myself space and only ran when I really truly felt like it.
I did yoga and slept plenty and eventually, without any external or internal pressure, I got back to enjoying my runs. I have no race plans this year and am instead working on rebuilding my love for a sport that used to be my life.
7. I went heliskiing
It’s no secret that I’m not a fantastic skier. I can get by in a pinch but my form is all over the place. I like to imagine that if you put those blow-up guys outside of used car lots on skis, that’s what I look like coming down the mountain. Still not entirely comfortable with the strange apparatuses on my feet and certainly not accustomed to New Zealand’s strange maritime snow. It’s icy and stiff and patchy. Not at all like the powder I was accustomed to in Colorado.
When Liz asked me if I wanted to go heliskiing, I couldn’t say no. Was I good enough? probably not. Would I be hucking myself off cliffs? 100% no. She promised me we only had to be intermediate in early August, we went on an all-woman heli-ski trip on the backside of Black Peak, a promenade pyramid-shaped mountain in our Wanaka skyline.
Did we ski powder? Yes. Did I fall over? Yes. Did I have the time of my life? Fuck yes.
Turns out you don’t have to be pro or a testosterone filled dude jacked up on energy drinks to enjoy heliskiing. All you need is an intermediate level on skis and an open mind. File that in the list of things I’d never thought I’d do in my life.
8. I forced myself to go on cold, winter missions
Between getting a new visa and job and buckling down my personal projects and being a good friend, I forced myself to still get out on some winter missions. Having a new job meant having the same weekends as Geoff and we weren’t about to waste those precious days.
9. I planned a trip home.
Once I quit my job, I immediately began scheming a trip home. It had been almost a year and my general rule is to get home every 12 months or so. I need it for my sanity and this year, without being tied to the cafe, I decided I wanted to be home for Christmas, even if that meant expensive plane tickets.
Geoff was eager to come too to see a bit more of the states and meet the family so we booked our flights and will be spending some time at home in December. I truly cannot wait for a snowy, Christmassy holiday. The past three Christmases have been warm and weird and absolutely no substitute to a cozy fire and an afternoon sledding in the snow.
In January, we’re off to Patagonia for a month to explore the rugged mountains of South America. We’ll be doing part of the trip by bike so it will be a learning curve for me, for sure. I’m excited to dive in and see what all the fuss is about when it comes to bikepacking.
And that’s it!
Or at least, that’s the gist of it. I’ve written before about how the division of time into 12 months is an arbitrary human invention and every day is a good day for growth, reflection, and resolution. Thanks for bearing with me on the journey and for all of the good vibes. I’m certainly feeling them.