5 things I learnt in 2023

With 2023 quickly ending, I wanted to share five life lessons I learnt over the last 12 months.

This is the eighth year I have written a “lessons learnt” post. If you want to return in time, you can read posts from 201620172018201920202021 and 2022.

It’s always cool to see how I view things change over time! Maybe one day I’ll make these into a book. 😊

On some Greek island

1. True independence

For most of 2023, I have lived alone either in my long-term rented apartment in Greece or in various hotel rooms or Airbnbs during my travels.

Living in Athens has been quite the challenge, and there have been many days where I ask myself if the sunnier weather is really worth the friction of daily life—from language barriers, shitty postal services to occasional racism. My answer always comes back to yes.

Despite all the tribulations, I’ve made it work for over a year.

Not only that, but I travelled alone for work trips, with my longest and furthest trip being to San Francisco in June. I also took myself on long train rides across Germany, The Netherlands and Austria, reminiscent of my 2019 interrailing trip.

The Golden Gate Bridge is real!

If I told my 17-year-old self any of this, she would laugh anxiously, especially at the fact that I:

  • Explored an American city on foot, primarily oblivious and alone
  • Made jokes with passport control in the States, where no one laughed, so I continued (lol)
  • Convinced a barista to bring free coffee to an event I was hosting in Munich
  • Lived on an island for over a month in the summer
  • Became a tour guide for all my friends who visited Greece
  • Lived for most of the year far away from the Sheffield comforts

She would be in shock.

A shot from my trip to Bilbao 🇪🇸

Although #adulting is difficult, especially in a different country. I’m so proud of myself for working on being happy with my own company and living independently, even if that means I climb up a hill with bags of groceries daily.

But hey, that’s why I work out. 😝

2. Numbing is temporary

Fair warning: I’m deeply ashamed of many lessons this year, especially when I spent a good chunk of my time in my early twenties working on being the person I wanted to be.

Who was that? Someone who didn’t drink, smoke or party to feel something. I had found other ways to keep me feeling fulfilled and happy, and I seem to have forgotten this in the year’s haze. I’m ashamed that I regularly started drinking last year, and it only got worse this year.

Reflecting on this year, I realise I spent most of it trying to numb the rollercoaster of change. I spent long nights hopping from bar to bar, searching for meaning, an escape from the discomfort and triggers, or a way to calm my constant fight or flight mode (surprise: it didn’t work.)

I found it funny to put this in this section of the post 😅

It was so bad that a few months ago, I went every night for two weeks, drank whiskey, and slept 3-4 hours, and at that moment, I felt so happy. When I returned “to reality”, I realised the happiness was fake, and it wasn’t doing anything but numbing my issues for a few hours.

It’s been 2~ months now. I reduced my drinking significantly, and during this festive season, I’ve not drunk at all, taking on the challenge In the next month of going completely alcohol-free.

I’ve felt better already, sleeping better and generally feeling more positive and empowered to say no to alcohol. The lesson is crystal clear: numbing doesn’t work, and I don’t want to stop this habit that is just causing me harm.

3. Crunchtime is necessary, but so is recovery

Around 80% of my year felt like an ongoing crunchtime. While I acknowledge the importance of short bursts of intensity, prolonged periods of such intensity are counterproductive and dangerous for long-term health.

I know this. 🤦‍♀️

Burnout has been a recurring theme for me over the years, and it seems I still haven’t learned from my past burnout experiences. My stubborn excuse has always been, “I just care so much and enjoy what I’m doing. I’m fine. I can do it.” Even when it was getting too much, I powered through, working long hours and abandoning the carefully crafted self-care routine that is essentially my guiding light.

I admit that my relentlessness tripled in this year of tech layoffs, which eventually took quite a mental toll on me.

I’m sure there’s psychology behind this, but witnessing layoffs firsthand compelled me to work even harder. Eventually, burnout set in, and although I feel like I put quite a face to the outside world, my personal life felt like it was taking the brunt of my regular mental breakdowns, which strained a lot of my relationships.

In the developer tooling space, we often hear about how every company wants to create a great developer experience.

Nobody wants to feel frustrated when using your tools. When engineers use tools as part of their craft, they want to be in a state of calm where clarity and creativity naturally come out. I’ve been in the developer experience space for the last two years, and this aspiration still inspires me.

I would love also to reach this level of calm, creating the experience around the tools, and I found that starts with me. I strongly believe that is applicable to teams, too. Happier, inspired teams create the best developer experiences, but that’s another blog post for another time.

Looking ahead, I want to remember to be in my relentless, get-shit-done mode during crunchtime but put equal amounts of energy into recovery.

4. Living life on my own terms

My remote job made it all possible to travel 42,972km across eight countries. To this day, I’m still taken aback by making my dream come true: living life on my own terms. Not only have I been fortunate enough to explore new destinations, but I’ve also met so many communities in person and avoided cold weather for the most part. Win. 🥇

Taking the train in Munich

What I learnt, however, is everything changes – including what I want.

The digital nomad lifestyle was fun.

Living from a backpack and moving countries every few months was fun.

But my desires have changed. I no longer want to be constantly on the road. I love the little life I’ve started to create in Greece and would like to double down here rather than pick up my foundations and start over and over again.

I want stability, and for me, that looks like a life between the UK and Greece.

Pauline (still) in Athens

Not only have I found the frequent jet-setting exhausting, but a common theme in 2023 is how crucial it is to prioritise my authenticity.

So! Here’s me being authentic: I’m not interested in finding myself in Southeast Asia and packing as little as possible in a backpack. I care about a relatively stable routine and the freedom to challenge what living life on my terms constantly means to me.

5. Stop, I’m losing me*

*The original song is “You’re Losing Me (From the Vault)” IYKYK.

The benefit of writing online for the last few years is that I can go back and look at the main topics I wrote about in that year. My posts are always directly correlated to what I was thinking deeply about.

In 2023, my headspace was mostly taken up by romantic relationships.

I met someone who reignited my hope for “true love” and my next stable partnership. Dramatic, but it’s all true. I know that infatuation can permanently change my eyesight to see things only with a rose-tinted wash. Despite this logic, my heart embraced all the colours of rose, including the reddest red.

I gave you all my best me’s, my endless empathy

IYKYK

I’ve been in 8 years’ worth of long-term relationships, but none of them were as passionate and so full of life in such a short time. I was convinced that this was it.

Initially, it was the kind of love I gushed about in stories, films and songs. I dedicated Taylor Swift’s most romantic songs to him, I wrote him letters, he inspired me to write short poems, and I put his needs above mine, which is something I hadn’t done since my last relationship.

I loved the sound of his voice, the smile he flashed me when our eyes connected, and his heart that felt so rare in the endless pit of “swipe right”s.

They say that hair holds memories, so I cut 12″ off.

Things started breaking down quickly as I compromised my authenticity, moulding myself to fit his preferences and desires, which he was very vocal about.

I broke my own heart as I started to realise that it was not me.

He wanted someone that fit more of a traditional woman, and I gauged his preference for an older, wiser woman with more experience. That was not me. I was younger and more naive, no matter how much I tried to “grow up faster”. I know who I am: a more open-minded, modern, fierce woman with a pretty strong, sometimes annoying personality. You could say the opposite of what he wanted, and maybe I was just a bit of fun before he settled down.

I never date “for fun”, so the rejection hurt even more.

I’m the best thing at this party

IYKYK

The push-and-pull of this relationship brought the most distress I’ve ever experienced. One day, I was the one; the next, I wasn’t. It actually became another stark realization that I was repeating a detrimental pattern, sacrificing my well-being for the sake of someone else. That leaked in other parts of my life.

Thriving in life requires a safe home and environment.

Sometimes, I wonder if I ever expressed this enough in my previous relationship, where my ex gave me the safest space to grow into who I am today. I would not be me without the safety he had provided me.

I’m getting tired even for a phoenix
Always risin’ from the ashes
Mendin’ all her gashes
You might just have dealt the final blow

IYKYK

The last few months in this relationship were far from that; instead, they brought explosive arguments and self-doubt.

We threw cruel words at each other, and they became crueller as I fought back his attacks. He picked on my career choices, Filipino roots, my ability to live alone, speaking Greek, if I could write posts (like this one I pour my heart into) to who I am to the core.

I was just not enough for him, no matter what I did.

I felt my sanity slipping away, my once positive, radiant energy turning sad, bitter and angry—a direct result of his pessimism, stereotyping and superior attitude.

As we look forward to the future, I put my hands up, holding a white flag. I’m exhausted from seeking validation from others because I lose who I am in the process. I made the most romantic vow to myself that I would only approach relationships as the self-assured, authentic person I know that I am.

What now? I’m no longer looking for new relationships that make me question who I am, and my attention will only be on becoming the love that I seek.


What are the five things you’ve learnt this year? Comment below or link me to your blog posts. ✨

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season!

4 responses to “5 things I learnt in 2023”

  1. proud of you 🙂
    and thanks for sharing this!

    1. Rishab – thank you for always being such a positive supporter. Appreciate having you in my online circles! 🫶

  2. Just some 2 cents that may or may not help from a somebody on a similar journey.

    1) Drinking alcohol shrinks the brain and weakens your cognitive abilities. So stop drinking and following the crowd if you still want to be happy. Drinking actually increases depression.

    2) Slow madding is better than jet setting around the world on a backpack unless your 18
    And haven’t got a clue in the world. Make a base, join communities and be apart of something special.

    3) Finding a partner is not always going to be a hit and miss. If you’re serious about the person then ask them to read 101 questions before you get engaged after a month or two. This way you both know you align rather than loving and separating. Probably this is why so many people get divorced now. They don’t have the conversation in the beginning and align their values.

    If you want love that you seek, you first have to love yourself the same on how you want to be loved. The same goes for your future partner too.

    4) Build your skills so that you never have to fear a layoff. Become so valuable that the market pays you more and that you are the main contributor in your company.

    Have a successful and happy 2024 !

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Adam! I found myself nodding in agreement at all of them. 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from a blog by Pawlean

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading