beware imagined and self-fabricated duty

Duty and obligation are virtues, but we forget that duty to yourself is the most important duty of all – and imagined and self-fabricated duty can be highly corrosive.

Duty and obligation are two words that have dominated my life. They are, of course, virtues; doing your duty is better than shirking it, fulfilling obligations preferable to abandoning them. According to the dictionary, as well as having legal connotations, they share a moral imperative.

Duty: a moral or legal obligation; responsibility
Obligation: an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound.

Legality aside, it is the moralistic aspect that make duty and obligation highly subjective and open to wide interpretation, meaning that some of us assume far more than our fair share, while others restrict their efforts to the more measurable realm of “responsibilities”.

The Quarter Gap Year, with its focus on self, has led me to reflect on my own approach to duty and obligation; the balance between duty to oneself and other people; the distinction between real and imagined duty; and the corrosive impact of self-fabricated duty.

Duty to self
The oxygen mask has become a clichéd symbol of the wellness world; put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. On an airplane, the reality is that you only have time to put your own on before you pass out. In life, the theory is that if you are not healthy you won’t have the energy to support those around you. In other words, the rationale for looking after yourself is that it will enable you to help someone else.

That would have been my line until fairly recently. I’ve been uncomfortable with self-care my whole life, whether it’s about taking the time and effort to cook and eat well, prioritizing exercise, making space for meditation, or carving out opportunities for creativity. Too often, I’ve worked late and missed family life, scheduled back-to-back work trips rather than putting my need for routine first, drunk wine to keep a friend company when I would prefer a sober evening, or agreed to early morning calls rather than saying no for the sake of a good night’s sleep.

Perhaps the most important goal of the Quarter Gap Year is reversing this tendency. After a shaky start brought on by a disconnect between my ambitions and fitness level, I have found a new rhythm of activity focused on my health and wellbeing – and it’s an absolute revelation. This week I’ve exercised 2-3 times per day, short low intensity bursts of 20-60 minutes each. It’s not just the feel-good effect of endorphins, it’s the joy of prioritizing my day around my health, and then working out how other tasks will fit around it.

Duty to yourself is the most important duty of all

I’m not doing this because it will make me a better wife, daughter, friend… I am doing it because it will make me a better me – happier, healthier, calmer, fitter. That’s reason enough. Duty to yourself is the most important duty of all.

Real versus imagined duty
After duty to self is duty to others; knowing where your duties lie and how much of your time and energy they deserve relies on careful prioritizing. If you have problems with boundaries, as I do, this can be tricky; I tend to imagine duty where it really doesn’t exist.

Here are a couple of classics from recent years: offering a professional contact to stay rent free in my apartment while I took extended travels (he looked at me confused and politely said thanks but no thanks); re-working my personal schedule on a precious trip back to the UK to see family to incorporate a “nice to have” but non-essential work commitment I wasn’t even paid for – and as a result missing time with my parents. There are dozens of other examples.

Close friends lovingly roll their eyes and reassure me it’s ok to say no (or not make the offer). Only recently have I started to follow their advice and it required me to adopt a rather formal system for categorizing the people in my life and working out how much time and effort are appropriate for each: close family, close friends, friends, people you spend time with, close colleagues, and your wider professional network. This has allowed me to counteract my in-built ‘duty alarm’ and find the most appropriate response.

We should give 80% of our energy to the 20% of people who bring 80% of the joy to our lives

If someone hasn’t already said this, they should have done: we should give 80% of our energy to the 20% of people who bring 80% of the joy to our lives. I’ve come to appreciate that the smaller my circle, the richer my life. I only owe “duty” to my inner circle. Outside them, I have responsibilities, usually codified in a contract or a quid pro quo.

Self-fabricated duty
The most corrosive duty of all is that which we impose on ourselves for no good reason; setting aside logic, rationality, and what’s right in front of us, we choose to place the whole burden on our shoulders alone.

A few years ago during an especially tough time at work, I sat down to figure out what was wrong. Honestly wasn’t the best policy – it was the only policy. Things really were that bad. Taking out a large piece of paper, I jotted down all the thoughts, frustrations, challenges and gripes I could think of – it was painful reading.

One phrase jumped off the page – “I always think I am the only solution to every problem.”

I didn’t mean this in a narcissistic way; it was due to a lack of self-confidence rather than a big ego. I was afraid to ask for help because I thought everyone expected me to have the answer and would think I was a failure if I couldn’t fix things on my own. Instead of reaching out, I became the martyr and victim and was stuck.

A linguistic tweak was all it took; instead of asking myself “how can I solve this?” I started asking my colleagues and board members “what are we going to do together to overcome this problem?”

No-one ever expected me to have all the answers; I had fabricated a duty that didn’t exist

This tiny change was transformational; it altered my perception of the situation, helped others to see the problem and understand their responsibilities, signaled a wider effort was needed, and ultimately created better and more sustainable solutions. It turns out no-one ever expected me to have all the answers; I had fabricated a duty that didn’t exist.

Duty and obligation are valuable concepts that encourage us to think about our wider debt to family, friends, colleagues and society as a whole. They generate pride, morale, self-worth and tremendous public and private good. But beware imagined and fabricated duty – and don’t forget that your first and most important duty is to yourself.

slow is good

Slowing down is the fastest way to get where I want to go

Entering the second full week of the Quarter Gap Year, I’m learning an important lesson: slowing down.

Last week was a heady mix of novels, sleep and sunshine on the one hand, and on the other, bursts of feel-good productivity: a Johns Hopkins online epidemiology course, dozens of articles on managing pandemics, a couple of blog posts written, and a book on the impact of childhood trauma. I can think of worse ways to spend my days; in fact, it’s really wonderful to feel my brain stimulated, pinging off in different directions.

Shakira may have warned us that the hips don’t lie, but for me it’s all about the shoulders. Thursday it was a slight twinge. Friday needed a husband rub. Saturday extra pillows for my neck. By Sunday the battle was lost and I spent all day yesterday (Monday) with my left arm supported, sitting upright on the sofa doing nothing more taxing than TV.

Neck and shoulder issues have plagued me all my adult life. The time I almost had to cancel a holiday (and then spent the first 3 days of it in bed immobile); when I spent a couple of months having to ice my neck pretty much constantly; the frozen shoulder that necessitated opioids and steroids; the countless other times I’ve had to carefully choose my sleeping position to minimize the stress on my neck.

Acupuncture, physical therapy, massage, sports massage, deep tissue massage, osteopathy, pilates, yoga. You name it, I’ve tried it. I even had calcium deposits removed from my shoulders with a very large needle a couple of years ago. I’ll spare you the visuals. Some have helped – deep tissue massage and pilates are stand out stars – others didn’t do a thing – acupuncture and physical therapy were a waste of money (for me).

As good as any of these things are, they treat the symptoms not the cause: Stress. Stress impacts my posture, which strains my muscles, which are then vulnerable to the slightest tweak, leading to a disproportionate strain, which impacts my posture as I try to compensate, and so the cycle continues until I’m in agony.

Meditation isn’t something you do to take you out of your daily life – it’s something you bring into your daily life to cultivate perspective

I’ve found meditation to be the only effective way to treat the cause. In 2017/18 when I was going through undoubtedly the most stressful period of my career, I discovered meditation. Take Five Meditation studio had opened near my office and I’d passed it for a year or more thinking I should drop in. I thought it would offer a bit of peace and quiet – an escape from my daily stress. It did that. But what I came to understand (after a couple of years practice working my way up to 90 minute meditations) is that meditation isn’t something you do to take you out of your daily life – it’s something you bring into your daily life to modulate, help you cope, lower the temperature, and cultivate perspective. Of all the things I’ve tried, it’s had the biggest impact on my wellbeing.

So, for the second week of my Quarter Gap Year, I will be spending more time cross-legged meditating on the floor, less time hunched over a computer at my desk. After five stressful years, the very point of this QGY is to reset, recharge, reinvigorate. Slowing down is the fastest way to get where I want to go.

 

the biggest lives are the smallest ones

The Quarter Gap Year (QGY) is not just a period of time – three months, a quarter of a year. It is also a mindset. It is about trusting yourself, following your interests, taking notice of the things around you and paying attention.

I do that naturally when I travel, maybe because I am conscious of my surroundings and making decisions about where to go next. I’m quickly finding out that it works just as well – but differently – at home. Where travel offers dramatic scenery, awe-inspiring nature and finely curated history, at home I have switched lenses to take in the tiny details of the normal, the familiar, the usually invisible or taken for granted. Here are my top ten in no particular order…

1. There is the park across the road. When we moved into our building last Summer we bought fancy plastic champagne flutes with the aim of decamping for happy every week to soak in the views of the river. We did that once. I’ve been every day since the start of the QGY, though not with bubbles yet… Today I noticed it is dedicated to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. More on her in a future blog post…

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I spent a peaceful hour there this morning, journaling, watching dogs playing on the cool grass, elderly ladies taking a rest on a bench on their daily walk, a young guy with a laptop making it his WFH office, and the occasional DC power walker talking much louder than necessary via the medium of their apple blue tooth earphones.

2. The view from my lounge window – the sun streaming through the green green leaves. Nothing more – that’s it. Yet so peaceful, so beautiful, so fresh as you start your day.

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3. The simple joy of a homemade lunch cooked with care, attention and no care for time. Exibits A and B.

4. Having the time to see what’s happening around me. In the gardens by the Capital over the weekend, friends finding a way to connect, a woman on the phone among the tulips, the Capitol casting its white glow on everything around it.

5. Getting out of bed because I want to rather than because I have to. Strangely for someone who have NEVER been a morning person, I’m up before the sun these days. Seasoned readers will be placing bets on how long this situation continues.

6. Writing. I love to write. I care about a lot of things. The past five years, the only thing I’ve written about is kidnapping, and very narrowly because of my position. I can now allow my mind to wander, be free, explore ideas, and work through new positions. It’s good to be back. My latest: ‘when the storytelling needs to stop’

7. Naps. I never nap. Not my thing. But I sure as hell reserve the right to. Day Three – two naps in. Nice.

8. Feeling the sun on my face. And even better, when you know you don’t have to move anytime soon.

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9. My husband. My reduced stress levels are already paying dividends for our relationship. Last night in bed, he spent a happy 15 minutes telling me about a new programming language he’s learning. He lost me at “I’ve started learning…” but it felt so good to listen – really listen – take an active interest, have nothing else on my mind but what he was saying, and encourage him along with questions. He deserves that from me, but I haven’t been able to give him enough of that so far.

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10.,Gin. I’ve always enjoyed a g&t, but lately I’ve started to understand it, savor it, and get the hang of botanicals. Drinking. I also like drinking it. Ever the forward planner, Paul (husband) researched and bought me a raft of award winning gins for our drinks trolley ahead of the start of the QGY, along with rather more bottles of tonic than I am comfortable admitting to. Whether it’s a Gun Powder Irish gin with its licorice flavor and a straight tonic or a classic Hendricks and cucumber tonic, 5pm comes and you know where to find me. Location details below.

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And so you see, the biggest lives really are the smallest ones. Sleep and sunshine, love and listening, food and fun making. These are some of my favorite things – and for the next three months I can have as much of them as I want. And that right there is why I love QGYs so much.

 

 

Explore. Dream. Discover. Welcome to the second Quarter Gap Year.

This month, the nonprofit I started celebrated its fourth birthday. In a handful of years, I have overseen the creation of a nationwide organization with average annual income growth of 35 per cent, which partners at the highest levels of government and commerce, and currently has an operating reserve equivalent to a whole year’s running costs. All achieved in a new country – I moved from London to Washington DC to make this happen.

For many, this would be the time to breathe a sigh of relief, celebrate the return of sleep, and enjoy the hard-won right to lead in the good times. Not for me.

Six months ago, I went to my boss, the President of the Board of Directors, and told him of my intention to step down. My contract required three months’ notice, I offered double to allow us to manage the transition calmly. I log off on Thursday.

I knew the time was right; I achieved what I set out to do – I’ve created and built an organization that is well respected, exceptional in its work and fiscally sound. The latter is even more important today; nonprofits are facing funding challenges worse than after the 2008 crash.

Around the time I was making my decision, I came across an article about Deanna Mulligan. She took 2 years off when she was 41 years old – I’m 43 – and attributes this with her rise to CEO of Guardian Life Insurance just a few years later. She said, “What I’ve learned is that life is not a straight line.” I don’t believe in fate or messages from the universe, but it was well-timed and reassuring to know someone else felt the same way.

Alas, my savings won’t stretch as far as hers, but I’m about to take my second Quarter Gap Year. The first happened in 2013 following my divorce – three months backpacking around SE Asia with just my guitar for company. It was liberating to travel alone, I learned more about myself in 3 months than the previous three decades, I made lifelong friends, and I came home with a rekindled passion which has fueled all I’ve achieved here in the United States.

My second Quarter Gap Year will be very different; it won’t start with a long-haul flight, I can’t escape my day to day life, I won’t experience new sounds and smells, and no new friends will be made along the way.

Instead, my discovery will happen right here – at home. These strange times offer me a precious opportunity to be still, appreciate the ordinary, and re-ignite my imagination. Rather than escaping to a state that can’t be maintained, I have the chance to re-set my normal. What might seem restrictive will, I suspect, have a much more profound and lasting impact on my life.

Mark Twain said:

“20 years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I can’t literally leave the shore right now, but I have every intention to explore, dream and discover. Sometimes you have to stand still to be able to move forward.

If anyone needs me for the next three months, I’ll be right here.

Final reflections from the quartergapyear…

I can’t quite believe that my amazing journey is finally coming to an end. It is exactly 13 weeks ago to the day that I set out from my flat in Blackheath for Heathrow airport, the BA business class lounge, a glass of champagne and a huge sense of excitement and trepidation about what lay ahead. In just 2 hours time, I will be making my way to Bangkok airport. Yes, I will again be enjoying the fine hospitality of BA, and even though I will be sad to say goodbye to travels and be returning to work on Monday morning, I have a different sense of excitement and trepidation about what life will have in store for me. And also a lot of anticipation about what promises to be the best EVER homecoming weekend choreographed by the hostess with the mostest, Mel. Can’t wait to see the girls.

Such were the expectation on the quartergapyear that there was a very big danger of it disappointing, and not managing to live up to what I had dreamed it could be. I have to say, though, that it has truly been the most amazing, most wonderful 3 months of my life. I have pushed myself to be independent and brave; I have met so many great people and new friends; every day has brought a new memory, moment and experience to savour for a lifetime; I have learned new skills; I have found out good things about myself that I didn’t know; I have come to love and appreciate my family and friends even more than I did before; I have said goodbye to the last stage of my life, but with fondness, positivity and goodwill; I have come to understand what the future can hold for me, and to accept the need to take each day as it comes, listen to myself, and embrace new realities with an open heart and an open mind; and most importantly, I have remembered how to live for the moment and wring every last drop of fun, enjoyment and happiness from life. Of everything, it is the last feeling that I hope I can hold on to when I am back.

I have been reading back through my journals, reflecting on the amazing things I have done. It gives me so much pleasure to think how much fun I have managed to pack into 3 months,, how many memories made, how much I have grown and learned as a person. If only every 3 months of my life could be the same. Here are some of the selected highlights:

Friends: a wonderful send off from the girls in Blackheath the night before I left; long emails from Mel and my mum packed with news from home and funny anecdotes; FB chats with all the girls filling them in on the details that haven’t made it onto this blog; a valentines text from my sister; xmas with the delightful Roberts family; sing-a-long Grease with Dan and the boys; dancing in Palms with Dan and Tony; Lou Lou’s birthday celebrations; tears at midnight as the fireworks went off over the Sydney Harbour bridge; last night drinks at the Sydney Opera bar; great news friends like Rebecca and Chris, Jonni and Louisa, Becca and Johannes, Matthew, Arian, Tamara, Jo and Dan, and many more; my lovely scuba instructor Billy and our big tequilla night out.

Personal achievements: feeling truly alive again; sleeping soundly for the first time in ages; scaring myself and enjoying it; being proud of myself for travelling alone and making the whole thing work; listening to myself; fending off the rats; being chilled out when I realised I had missed my flight from Phnom Penh to Bangkok; learning to scuba dive and then getting my advanced qualification.

So many ‘firsts’: scuba diving to 35 metres and seeing a turtle swimming underwater; watching my first 3D film; swimming in a river; seeing a flying fish; staying in a bamboo hut; sleeping under a mosquito net; sleeping outdoors on the top deck of the boat off Richelou Rock; seeing a salt farm; seeing someone eat a deep fried spider; doing a night dive.

Music: open mic night in Cairns; 2 nights jamming with the locals in Kalaw; playing guitar on boats; beers and guitar playing on the rooftop terrace on Bribie Island; learning lots of new songs.

Travel experiences: going back to basics; the roof top bar in Bangkok that was so full of life and fun; temple gazing in Bangkok; picking up fresh pineapple and mango on the go; getting my first glimpse of Burma from the plane as we came in to land; beautiful but crumbling architecture of Yangon; cooling off with the fan in my room in Yangon after a busy day sightseeing; being at Schwedagon Pagoda as my divorce came through on 9 January; reading Burmese Days by Kandawgyi Lake; the sense of camaraderie among female bus travellers as we all troop into the ladies toilets together on stops; Ang Sang Suu Kyi’s writings on friendship in Letters from Burma; the dawn bus ride from Kalaw to Nagschwe as the mist rose over the hills and through the trees; catching up with Kalaw friends at Inle Lake; bike ride with Matthew and Arian through the beautiful Burmese countryside and feeling an impulsive smile strech wide across my face as I felt so truly happy; Bagan temples by horse cart and hot air balloon; the boat ride from Nuang U to Mandalay with beers and guitar on deck and amazing sun rise and sun set; the motorbike ride along the beach with Ray in Ngwe Saung; crazy nights out with Tamara in Siem Reap; sad historical truths in Phnom Penh at S21 prison and the killing fields; watching a family playing together on Otres beach; feeling like I was at the edge of the world at the old casino on Bokhill Mountain; the 1965 film at the National Museum of Cambodia; Cambodian cooking course; my island paradise in Koh Pagnang; my luxury boutique hotel in Bangkok.

And that, as they say, is a wrap.

I now have an hour to shower and prep for my trip to the airport and then it’s head down and wake up in London.

In many ways, I don’t want this adventure to end, don’t want to come home and back to reality. But then I remember Anna’s wise words ” you will remember that the world is such an amazing place, and you have barely begun to scratch the surface. So much more to see and do.” I already have plans for where I will go next – not for so long next time, unfortunately, but travel is part of who I am and the desire to explore, learn and grow is stronger than ever in me.  As I said in one of my previous blog posts, ” the fire of adventure has been lit, and its embers will continue to glow in my head and in my heart, the desire to explore and grow have been reawoken in my soul.” It is that thought that I take with me as I bring this brilliant, wonderful, life changing adventure to a close. And come home to start the new chapter of my life.

Quartergapyear Book Club

One of the many amazing luxuries of having 3 months away travelling is having the time to read. I was lucky to get recommendations from many friends. Alas, I didn’t have time to read everything that was suggested, but thanks must go to the following people for offering great suggestions: Mel, Teresa, Jen, Anna, Vidhya, Matt, Matthew, Johannes and Pete, along with the people who compile lists of the 100 books you must read before you die, which I scoured before I left. There are still many great books left to read on my kindle, so there’s something to look forward to when I get home.

Here are the choice works of literature that I read:

A Street Cat Named Bob, James Bowen
The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling
Burmese Days, George Orwell
Letters from Burma, Ang Sang Suu Kyi
The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch
Tortilla Flat, John Steinbeck
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
The War of the Worlds, HG Wells
First They Killed My Father, Loung Ung
Travels with my Aunt, Grahame Greene
The Long Shot, Stephen Leather
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
Money, Martin Amis
Fatherland, Robert Harris
God is not Great, Christopher Hitchens
Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service, Gordon Corera

Scuba diving off Richelou Rock

I just spent 5 days scuba diving on a live aboard boat off the west coast of Thailand. We took in the Similan Islands and the famous dive spot off Richelou Rock, among the top ten places to dive in the world. It was a truly fantastic trip on so many different levels – amazing diving, fantastic people, and out of this world scenery from the boat.

There were so many good things, it’s difficult to know where to start and I wouldn’t come close to doing the trip justice. But here are some of the highlights: gaining my PADI advanced qualification under the careful supervision of the lovely Billy; seeing so many new sea creatures I haven’t seen before, including a couple of turtles and some cuttle fish; doing my first night dive, seeing the plankton that glow when you move the water, and gazing up at the stars afterwards as we waited for the boat to pick us up (thinking to myself, ” life is good”); mountains of amazing Thai food prepared by the lovely Burmese chef; the fun loving Burmese crew who always noticed when I needed help hauling my gear onto my back, and help me get my fins on every time; Vernon’s brief briefings (we will go out, we will explore, we will see fish – enjoy!); the funny French guy in our dive group who taught me to swim with my arms crossed in front of me and to slow down my kicking to conserve more air and generally make life a lot easier for me; the soft coral at Richelou Rock that looked like purple sprouting broccoli; swarms of thousands of fish, flitting from synchronised dance routine to standing army pose; sleeping on the roof of the ship on my final night, first time I have slept under the stars; drinking very strong shots with the lovely Czech family on my first night and again to celebrate me qualifying on the last night; managing to swim against a really strong current off Koh Tachai Pinnacle; nightime chats with my room mate; playing the guitar on deck at night to an appreciative audience; sitting on the front deck drying off in the sun after each dive; and the beautiful greens and blues of the sea around Shark Reef on day one.

I have an underwater photo of me coming from one of my fellow divers soon, but in the meantime a few shots from the boat:

In Ranong harbour before we set off:

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Out on the high seas:

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In the Cactus bar back in Ranong, celebrating me joining the illustrious ranks of PADI advanced divers (lowest depth of the trip – 35 metres!!):

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Needless to say, I didn’t see a.m. the next day…

Summing up the last 2 weeks…

Blissfully, there has been so little to report from the past 2 weeks. Beach. Books. Food. Guitar. Sleep. Repeat. As there is a very real risk of my loyal blog readers deserting me in favour of some young whipper snapper with tales of trekking, cultural insights and meaningful interaction with the locals, I thought I better fill the void with some photos. Sorry, its all I have for you…

Beach art:

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Sensational colours:

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Books, lots of them:

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Chilling out:

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Shark-shaped cloud:

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Sunset:

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The End.

On friendship and future adventures…

Today I awoke to a wonderful email from my lovely friend, Anna. She had read one of my recent posts, questionning how I would be able to leave this adventure behind and come back to the reality of life in London. It made me think a lot, both about this and future adventues, but also about how lucky I am to have such wonderful friends. I hope she doesn’t mind me reproducing some of her email here:

”I just read your last blog with the usual fascination and jealousy and felt impelled to impart some traveller-to-traveller insight into your ponderings on whether this can change you. The simple answer is you have already been changed by the experiences you have had and those will never leave you. Ýou can’t stay the same as you are now otherwise you wouldn’t be able to operate in London, but somehow deep inside you are different. I think, for me at least, this comes out most in times of the usual rat run crises, stresses and strains. There is something of travelling as you have done which means that perspective can be easier to come by. Hold onto this, as it is one of your most valuable lessons in life. Not that it is all zen, but you can remember much quicker that life is good. And most importantly, you will remember that the world is an amazing place, and you have barely begun to scratch the surface. So much more to see and do. Relish these last moments but know that your return to Blighty is not the end, just a new beginning.”

My email from Anna made me pause to think about two things: friends and future travels.

I feel so very lucky to have such amazing friends in my life, family included. While I am sad to see my journey come to an end, it is the thought of their smiling faces, their laughter, their arms reaching for the bottle to pour me another glass that makes me feel happy about going home and not dwell on the sadness I feel about this wonderful journey ending. They have shown me such kindness and warmth, humour and love inspite of the distance and time differences while I have been away – Mel’s long emails about life back home, packed with hilarious anecdotes and the news items that really matter to me; Louise’s spontaneous text messages to tell me she misses me and can’t wait for me to get home; FB messages from Alice adressing me as ‘Miss Briggs’ and always so positive and encouraging of the wierd and wonderful things I have been up to; Teresa thinking of me all day on 9 January; emails from my mum and dad, so thoughtfully written and wrapped with love; the valentine’s day text from my sister; random FB chats with Dan; and messages from friends, both close and less close, celebrating my decision to travel and showing their support. I have appreciated every single one.

I have never believed that ‘á problem shared is a problem halved’ – a problem shared is merely a problem that more people know about. My independence of spirit and mind has made me guard this principle a little too firmly in the past. But over the last year, my friends have been invaluable. I am not convinced that they solved my problems for me – I maintain the key to anyone’s happiness lies with themself. But a problem shared kind of was a problem halved, as their support made it much easier for me to do my job of reflecting, processing, problem solving and starting again.

When I was in Burma I read the beautifully written Letters from Burma, which as well as giving an insight into life in the country, also provides some wonderful quotes on friendship. First: a saying from the Lokaniti, a guide to prudent living, says ”the friends who stand by you in severe ailment, in times of scarcity, or in misfortune, when captured by an enemy, at a kings door, or in the Charnel-house, they indeed are good friends.”

Second: ‘Áccording to the teachings of Buddhism, a good friend is one who gives things that are hard to give, does what is hard, bears hard words, tells you his secrets, guards your secrets assiduously, does not forsake you in times of want and does not condemn you when you are ruined. With such friends, one can travel the roughest road and not be defeated by hardship. Indeed, the rougher the path, the greater the delight in the company of Kalyanamitta, good and noble friends who stand by us in times of adversity.”

And this brings me back to this adventure. I suppose in many ways I need to switch my thinking. Yes, this physical journey is ending; in 2 weeks time I will be in cold and rainy London rather than coccooned in my travelling paradise. But I know it will continue – the fire of adventure has been lit, and its embers will continue to glow in my head and in my heart. The desire to explore and grow have been reawoken. Anna is right that I have already changed and will definitely come back different. I can say for sure that life will never be the same again. And I know for a fact that the most important constant in my life will continue to be my family and friends.  Wherever I am, and whatever I am doing.