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A year of learning to let go

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You know those people whose lives seem effortless? On the surface (social media), they appear to have everything going for them: good health, a great career, a respectable bank account, and a happy family. However, I also think we’re starting to be woke enough to know that, of course, the internet version of ourselves is not a good measure of testing reality. But still. What is it like to feel really put together?

You know, I’m talking about solid, unflappable folk. The Type A humans of the world. I think many of us have friends with personalities that just stay on top of their shit. Like anything that comes their way, they can accept it gracefully, even if it’s bad. Productive, reasonable people with only one window open with one tab at a time on their computers. 

Yeah, I’m not one of those people. Never have been. 

I’m messy, emotional, and thrive in chaos. I know it, and I own it. And while it only took me 35 years to reluctantly accept this about myself, it feels really good to know who you really are more than always feeling like you’re not good enough. Please note the *reluctantly,* as I still have to remember to be kind to myself all the time. Self-love is a work in progress, I guess. 

As I reflect on who I am now, I’ve started to accept that I’m a big empath, and I feel everything, often deeply. I’m a solid INFP-T on the old personality test. And you know what, it’s not a bad thing?

Part of me believes that being this way contributes to my writing, creativity, and work. I’m a dreamer and an eternal optimist. I’m not perfect, and I hope I don’t appear effortless online. I regularly share hard things, my hurts, my struggles, and fuck ups, along with my wins. It’s always been important for me to share the full, glorious, messy story. I’m a blogger of the people. Feel free to remind me when I forget. 

Whether your heart’s broken, or you’ve lost a parent, or someone stole your work, or you’ve royally fucked up, or you’re just plain sad, I know how you feel. Those moments in life that bring you to your knees, I’ve been there weeping on the ground too. You’re not alone. I know what it feels like. And I’ve shared it all in the hopes it makes you all feel less alone. It’s certainly not easy to write publicly about these things.

learning to let go

learning to let go

Growing and evolving have always been important to me. I will always strive to be a better person.

But one thing I’ve always struggled with is letting go. Sticky, difficult situations often trap me far longer than what’s good for me. As a high-functioning yet highly anxious person, I regularly let negative thoughts spiral out of control or allow myself to take up way too much space in my brain. Anyone else? 

Underneath my exterior is often a swirling storm of emotions. Few things are effortless for me, and many mundane things no one else thinks about will stress me out for days. To truly let certain things go, I must drag myself kicking and screaming to the precipice or even trick myself into dropping it. 

I’m a dreamer and letting go of dreams, for whatever reason, is challenging. Of course, once you let go, you feel infinitely better. But man, getting there is so hard. And it’s so easy to fall into despair instead.

learning to let go

learning to let go

The past year has forced me to face things I would have avoided indefinitely. I’ve had to learn to accept deeply unfair things and let go of dreams in order to better care for myself. Of course, it seemed to happen all at once, too. Thank you, universe.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more tired in my entire life than I have been this past year. And not from a few bad sleeps. I mean serious, long-term fatigue. I’ve been running for so long, living in full-panic mode, forgetting that the body keeps score. There’s so much trauma I’ve been hiding for such a long time.

Having a heart attack. Losing a parent. Losing a close friend. Crazy family stuff I can’t talk about. Depression. Severe anxiety. Closing a business. Failure of a big relationship. Financial failure. A pandemic. An unjust lawsuit. I mean, it’s a hell of a lot. I’m sure so many of you guys can relate. As soon as the pandemic calmed down (however you define that), we just went right back to where we left off, processing nothing that happened to us. 

Since returning to New Zealand after unexpectedly closing NODE down, working in the Arctic and Antarctic, and wrapping up older work things, I feel like I can deep breathe again. But my body just freaked out. After returning to my home in Hāwea, I slept for a week straight, and when I tried to work to do anything, I royally fucked it up. I got times wrong and info wrong and forgot everything. I still have some of this brain fog.

learning to let go

learning to let go

Bessel van der Kolk’s magnificent book, The Body Keeps Score, talks about the complex impacts of trauma.

“In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.”

As I try to move on and confront things I really don’t want to confront, as I let myself relax and not live in a state of fear and panic anymore, my body is like, WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!? A fundamental change of the self would never be easy, I guess. I’m actively trying to process these huge, heavy things instead of shoving them under the rug.

Deep down, I know that for me to move forward, I’ve got to accept and let go of painful things. We can do hard things, eh? Here are some of the major things I’ve had to learn to let go of the past year. 

learning to let go

learning to let go

Letting go of business goals

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is close my houseplant shop, NODE

I opened NODE, a designer houseplant shop in Lyttelton, during the pandemic when our borders were shut. My travel work disappeared overnight, and I wanted to create a happy, joyful space for people who loved indoor plants, my biggest hobby. There is an insane demand in New Zealand for houseplants – I regularly sold rare plants for over $500 a pop! It even got me my first book deal

But it was all tied to a life tumbling down around me. I had moved to Lyttelton for love, leaving Wānaka behind. I opened NODE in the same small building as my partner; we shared it. When we broke up, I couldn’t stay there and be face-to-face with my old life every day. But NODE, as a physical shop, needed me there full-time. I slowly abandoned it. 

learning to let go

learning to let go

I struggled so hard with what to do. I let it drag on for over a year, commuting five hours between Wānaka and Christchurch every few weeks, before I finally came to terms with the fact my life had changed drastically, and my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I couldn’t do the business justice. I had the whole brand, including the physical shop, for sale for a while, but in the end, I had to make a snap decision just to close the physical premises and relist it as an online store. I should have done that first. I should have done it a year earlier.

Superficially, it feels like a failure. NODE was meant to be my nest egg, my work for years and years, and it was cut off at the knees. It was successful and made so many people happy. It made me happy. I loved living in Lyttelton and being by the sea – I would have easily continued a life there. But circumstances change, often out of our control. In the two weeks I spent closing up, I had a bus hit my car in Christchurch, and then all of my things were stolen out of the hire car. I don’t believe in signs, not really, but that was the final straw. I was done with this city.

Letting go was incredibly hard and took me so long. But once I did, it was like I was 100 pounds lighter.

learning to let go

Some people just suck

I know this sounds SO naive, but I learned a really hard lesson that there are just bad people in the world. I knew this already, obviously, but I didn’t have to face it firsthand in such a punch-in-the-face way as I did last year. I’ll try to keep this brief.

Two years ago, I hired a young girl on a casual contract to help pack online orders for me at NODE. In New Zealand, this means they work as needed with no guaranteed ongoing work. She worked for me for about a month, a few hours weekly, depending on how many boxes needed packing as orders came in. We then had a super dry spell, so we didn’t have hours for her for a while.

A month later, she hired a no-win-no-fee lawyer and filed an official employment grievance against me, saying I unjustifiably dismissed her and that she should have actually had a part-time contract (with benefits). Therefore, she was seeking tens of thousands of dollars in damages and lost wages. She escalated this up the official ladder for nearly a year, refusing to drop it, each time asking for more and more money. In the end, it got up to her asking for $26,000 plus her perceived lost wages, plus her legal fees, and also two separate financial penalties for me. Bear in mind that she only earned around $1,000 the whole Time she worked for me, and I only met her once briefly. 

We had a hearing scheduled that I flew back from the Arctic early to attend, my only chance of potentially getting some of my own costs back. Then, she dropped the case the week before the court hearing. The amount of money I spent on lawyers, appearing at mediations, paperwork and the chance to potentially earn back some of my legal fees over a year—poof—gone. 

What a piece of work.

learning to let go

learning to let go

This happens all the Time in New Zealand; she essentially was extorting me for money and would have taken a smaller payout from me to make this go away. The mental toll this took on me was tremendous – I had high blood pressure for a year, and this kept me awake more nights than I care to remember.

I just couldn’t understand how there were people like this out there; it’s not something that would ever even enter my mind to do. Many of her legal documents had dozens of bullet points telling me how I was a horrible person who ruined her life and made her afraid ever to work again. It’s awful to read that about yourself, especially in a legal setting. It couldn’t have come at a worse time; I was so broke, hanging on a thread, and having to borrow money to deal with this.

I have no problem admitting I’m wrong; if I mishandled this, I would have paid up and negotiated. But I followed the law perfectly, and I was still fucked. Why do we even have contracts if they don’t protect you? There’s a lot more I could discuss, and I have all the receipts; the judge even told her she had no case multiple times, but suffice it to say this was a big part of my decision to close my physical shop. There was no way I could trust hiring a new employee again, and I couldn’t rely on contracts to protect myself. 

I cried. I seethed. I raged. I was going to write about her, name and shame her. I wanted to show everyone what she was doing to me and warn others what she was like. But in the end, as hurt and angry as I was, I knew I had to let it go. The truth is that I feel sorry for her. What a sad, miserable existence. As someone who has long struggled with my mental health, I know what it is to feel so low. She fucked me up for a year, but she’s probably fucking up her own life indefinitely. At the end of the day, I pity people like this.

In the scheme of things, it could have been so much worse. I know I’ve been lucky not to have been whipped by the legal system in my life so far. But you know what? It still really, really hurt. I worked so hard to build such a strong, solid team at my shop, a safe space where we literally can talk about anything. We’re all still tight friends, too. But man, I missed the mark with this girl. There was nothing I could have done differently, so I had to learn to just let it go. There are shitty, manipulative people out there, and it is what it is. The ultimate lesson in learning to let go.

learning to let go

learning to let go

Coming to terms with my career

Over the past two years, I’ve started to think about the current state of the social media landscape. And the truth is, I wasn’t loving it.

I started this blog in 2010 to keep track of my adventures and to help and inspire others. By 2013, I was blogging full-time and really embracing Instagram and other social media. I was one of the biggest and most well-known creators worldwide, leading the pack. I helped turn Instagram into a job in New Zealand before most brands were even on the platform. I crafted conferences teaching people how to turn online storytelling into a business. I loved it. 

But I’ve grown, and so has this world, and sometimes I wonder if I even fit in it anymore. I don’t want to dance for clicks or make jokes for likes. I’ve always considered myself someone who digs deeper (in the least pretentious way possible). I write 3,000 articles all the Time. I go in-depth with my stories. I make connections and hope that I don’t share crap just for the sake of posting crap. 

learning to let go

learning to let go

A lot of social media feels superficial to me; influencers post ads for the most random things every day. It feels disjointed and ungenuine; I know I’m making sweeping generalizations here. Every collab I take on (and I don’t take on many), I spend so much Time and energy putting together collabs with real impact, creating valuable content that I hope inspires others to care about it, too. If I promoted something and no one bought it, I would be horrified. 

Then, I went through a period where I was getting turned down on projects I knew I was perfect for. Hell, sometimes I wouldn’t even get replies. Ultimately, it made me reevaluate what I wanted with my work and where I wanted to go with it. To be honest, sometimes I don’t want to be an influencer; I certainly never identified with that word. 

I love writing, storytelling, growing and guiding, sharing, and inspiring others. I want to write more books and work with sustainability—and conservation-forward brands long-term. I had to let go of who I thought I was to embrace the unknown for the future. It was terrifying yet liberating.

learning to let go

learning to let go

Starting work as a polar guide

One of the greatest things about letting go of things that weigh you down is that it frees up space for many other things. Sometimes, you have to learn to let go of the idea of who you were to embrace who you want to be. Damn, did I just write that? Sounds like something you’d see printed on the side of an inspiration mug. 

While I was letting the threads of my old life as a houseplant hawker and travel influencer come apart, I was also opening myself up to the secret dream I’ve always wanted: to be a polar guide

I traveled on expedition ships to the polar world for nearly eight years as a media person before I finally stood up and made it happen. Imposter syndrome is real, guys. But when I was hosting a group of amazing people in Antarctica I realized I loved teaching and sharing these places. I wanted to be part of the expedition team. I’ve spent five months working as a guide in the Arctic and Antarctic. 

I’ve had to learn to let go of the idea that I wasn’t good enough or couldn’t do it or that it would be too hard. Spoiler alert – it’s really hard but so worth it. Can’t stop me now!

learning to let go

learning to let go

Losing a close friend

Guys, this one is so hard to write. The long farewell.

About two years ago, a close friend of mine, someone I lived with for years and years, was diagnosed with cancer. They gave her a year. Omg, I can’t even write this without sobbing; writing about someone you love in the past tense is just. so. hard. 

We all have to face big, adult, scary life lessons. And guys, death is the hardest one. While I experienced sudden loss when my stepdad passed away during the pandemic, the slow goodbye, as you watch someone you love waste away 40 years before their Time, was a whole different type of grief. It was the first Time I lost a close friend.

When she first passed away, I found myself so upset and angry. It was so unfair. She was sunshine incarnate with a hilarious, cynical side. She was a really great person who helped shape me (and others) so many times without me even realizing it. She was a rock, a rainbow, with grace and an unmatched personality. When she lived past her one-year cancer anniversary, she had a cake made that said, “Not dead yet.”

There are so many awful people in the world. Why her? To be honest, I don’t think loss is something you ever let go of. Rather, you learn to endure it. A quiet acceptance that life can be bloody unfair. 

learning to let go

learning to let go

Looking forward 

It’s funny when I look at the state of my affairs. One way of looking at it was that I lost everything. My breakup and decision to close NODE cost me every penny I had and more. Everything I put into them was gone. But you know what? I couldn’t be happier. 

Isn’t that wild? The weight of all the negativity, the unkind stories I told myself, the toxicity of things in your life that should disappear once you let it go, holy shit, is it liberating. I’ve been close to rock bottom a few times and always managed to claw my way out by my fingernails. And I’m doing it again. 

The pain that accompanies so many of these worries, once you face it, it gets easier. I’ve had to learn to let go of so many fundamental things this past year, and yet I am really happy. I feel free. I feel hopeful. I know who I am and have a vague idea of who I want to be down the track. And I’ll get there eventually. 

learning to let go

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