Since I last wrote in this blog in 2014, a hell of a lot has happened, for better and for worse (but mostly for the better). A few of these events I could have imagined, but others I could never have predicted.
Travelling to Thailand for two and a half months in 2014, following the death of my father, was my first flirtation with rebellion and adventure. I did not outright quit my PhD program in chemistry—I initially took a four-month leave of absence in order to maintain a safety net. Still, in my mind, I was finally channeling my inner badass, a formerly dilligent graduate student gone rogue. I temporarily detoured from academia in the hope of gaining a renewed vitality in being estranged from my normal way of life.
Ultimately, this solo quest gave me the confidence to leave my program in 2015. After several recurring bouts of apathy, I had to give in, which technically meant giving up. I do not regret my decision, and in fact, it has led to a string of great jobs, including my current career as an editor. Before this, I was a chemistry lab instructor for first-year undergraduate students, and then, after moving back home to New Brunswick from St. John’s, Newfoundland, I taught a chemistry course to undergrad students preparing for the MCAT.
All the while, I maintained a side gig as a freelance editor of theses, research articles, and the like, working with both students and professors. I’ve always been a logophile (lover of words) and a perfectionist when it comes to grammar. Editing was second nature to me. The venture was quite successful, but not enough to serve as a sole career. I applied for editorial jobs, as this seemed to be my realm of expertise outside the lab, landing my permanent contract with Wiley-VCH in the summer of 2016 and promptly moving to Germany to join the Materials, Physics, and Life Sciences journals team. The opportunity could not have come at a better time, and I have been here since. I’m glad I listened to my gut back then.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Without going into detail, I had a meaningful relationship with someone who I thought could be it for me, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I realize this is a rather dismissive oversimplification, but I’m chalking it up to fate as a way of putting it to bed (for fear of reentering the endless cycle of overanalyzing). It left a lingering mark and getting the hell out of Dodge (St. John’s felt like “Dodge” at the time) was the best way to move forward.
My first trip to Thailand was transformative. It was centered around Muay Thai but left plenty of room for spontaneous excursions (including trekking in Mae Hong Son and again in Mae Sariang, a death-defying ride to Umphang on the aptly named Death Highway, walking across the Friendship Bridge from Mae Sot to Myanmar, and cycling through the ruins in Sukhothai—not all of which I chronicled here, unfortunately). I loved training in Chiang Mai at Lanna Muay Thai and the Hill Camp.
My second trip to Thailand, in April of last year, almost exclusively focused on training at Sitjaopho Muay Thai in Hua Hin (and I was otherwise a beach bum). Muay Thai continues to be very important to me and my well-being, and I finally decided to have a match last month (I started boxing about 7 years ago). You can watch the full video here.
Although I didn’t win, I’m happy with how I did as a first-timer and would like to have a few more matches under my belt. I’m not planning on making a pro career out of it, but I still have the desire to fight once in Thailand.
And then a bomb dropped.
My mother passed away last year, in July 2017.
Fast forward to now. I’m currently sitting bundled up in blankets, warm clothes, and a bright blue toque in a little homestay in Hankar, Ladakh, on Day 3 of my six-day trek. I had planned to visit India solo before the sudden death of my mother, but the same “life’s too short” alarm bells that I experienced after the death of my father prompted me to get the ball rolling. Filling my life with challenges, in the form of solo travel and otherwise (like stepping into the ring), is my way of filling the void of loss and loneliness, I think. There is something deeply satisfying and nourishing (on a soul-level) in going it alone. Inarguably, pushing beyond one’s comfort zone builds resilience and self-confidence, and exploring new territory, both geographically and metaphorically, has helped me to cultivate a mindset that is perpetually net-positive.
I’m always able to gain perspective when I’m estranged from my normal way of life. This trip serves not only as a challenge but a much-needed time for self-reflection. The day-to-day distractions don’t always allow for this, and we quickly and easily consume experiences without properly savoring and digesting each one.
So here I am, savoring and digesting (and freezing my ass off).