Friday, March 24, 2023

2022 in review

A few years ago, I realized that I have really good years on years that end in 2 or 7. 2007 brought the very fun spring semester of my senior year of high school, a summer where I got to hang out nonstop with my friends, and the world-expanding start of my college career. In 2012, I moved to Palestine, WWOOFed through Turkey, and generally traveled the world, and then moved back to DC to land a dream job and move into my first apartment. In 2017, I left that dream job, backpacked through France and Morocco, moved to Cambridge, and enjoyed the very fun first semester of grad school. So I've expected for a while that 2022 would be a good year, and as I was loosely mapping my path out of grad school, I realized there was a decent chance that I would get married this year. 

As with all fairy tales, the prophecy came true, but with a twist. I had correctly foreseen that 2022 would be a wedding year, but rather than my own, it brought the weddings of so many people I love—almost everyone I’m close to who was in a serious relationship and intended to be married but wasn’t yet, the combination of a pandemic backlog and just being in our late 20s / early 30s. Getting to be there to celebrate their love, and our friendships, was such a joy.

The seven weddings I was lucky to attend were a high point of a wonderful year. (I calculated that nearly 20% of my weekends were spent at a wedding or bachelorette party.) It was a big milestone year overall, as my parents celebrated 50 years of marriage, my sister graduated from Chapman University, and (more trivially) I marked my 15-year high school reunion.

As the wedding count would imply, the year also brought so. much. travel. I took 80 flights in total and spent 46% of my time away from my Cleveland home. That was in large part because, for the first half of the year, I divided my time between Cleveland and Cambridge, where my organization is based and where technically I was based as well.

(The longer story is: I knew when I accepted this job in spring 2021 that the expectation was that I would work from Cambridge at least a few days a week. I was (and am!) very excited about the job. But after Austin and I lived on different continents during a global pandemic I was not willing to be truly long-distance. So I hatched a scheme that was both technically workable and quite harebrained—commuting back and forth from the Midwest to the East Coast on a weekly basis). 

From September 2021 through March 2022, with a break during omicron, we were required to be in the office one day a week, and I would often fly in and out the same day. At the end of March, the expectation ramped up to two-three days a week. This entailed bouncing between a series of sublets that friends, colleagues, and people on the Harvard grad student Facebook group were kind to open up to me, with a big suitcase full of bedding, toiletries, and hand weights that served as my "apartment-in-a-box." For an extra layer of complication, all the wedding and other travel meant that some weeks I'd go to Cambridge for two days, and others I'd leave Cleveland for two-three weeks at a time since I'd have weekend travel to other cities mixed in there.

By mid-summer I felt totally exhausted and worn down and vowed that I would learn to say no to myself in 2023. (Ha!) But I don't really have regrets: looking back, there's nothing I would have skipped to give myself more breathing space. (Maybe with the exception of my high school reunion. It was wonderful as always to see friends and classmates but that gluten-free parsley pasta was a travesty.) 

After I marked my one-year anniversary at the end of July, I was able to go fully remote, with about quarterly travel to Cambridge. With the transition, the pace of life felt way more sustainable. Still lots of travel—I was only home for a few weekends all fall, and when I calculated it, I was surprised to learn I was away from home as often in the second half in the year as I was in the first half—but no longer exhausting. On the first Monday of being fully remote, I sat in my home office and realized I would be there all week and let out a giant exhale. 

The upside of this travel is that I had a ton of fun. The downside is that I didn't invest as much as I would have liked in my home or community. One of my goals for 2022 was "declutter and decorate the house." When I moved here in July 2021, there were so many projects I was raring to take on—paint every room! wallpaper accent wall! put doors on the bathrooms! buy new furniture! hang curtains!—and very few of them got done. There was some progress—I painted my office over a long weekend, and scored a perfect midcentury dresser to use as a TV stand on Facebook marketplace—but a lot of those projects remain unfinished. (Including, regrettably, the bathroom doors.) With planning a wedding, I doubt this will be the main focus in 2023, but I'm hoping to make some progress.

I would love to cultivate more local friendships, which traveling so often made it hard to do. Mainly through Austin, I know some wonderful people in Cleveland and am looking forward to putting down more roots here. 

But I accomplished a few big goals and reached some exciting milestones. After setting the goal almost annually for nearly 10 years, I succeeded in running a total of 365 miles, including my first half-marathon. I trained for the marathon between mid-March and mid-May, during a peak travel season, so while it was challenging at points to fit in long runs, it was a nice touchstone during a chaotic time—something that was constant no matter what city I was in.

Going remote freed up the space in my schedule to take on a regular volunteer gig—tutoring a local Afghani family in English through the Refugee Response. They are lovely and funny, learning how to teach English has been a fun challenge, and it has made me feel more connected to my community.

Even better than working remotely is the fact that I really enjoy and feel increasingly confident in my job, and can see myself growing in my organization over the next few years. It's a challenging but very fun role—I get to read academic research and call it work—where I've gotten to build a portfolio that speaks to my diverse interests (democracy and governance! the Middle East! scaling evidence-based programs!) And learning to manage people has stretched me in the best ways.

And a big one: I got engaged and started planning a wedding! ("Get engaged" was one of my goals for 2022.) We spent the first part of the year working with an amazing local jeweler to turn diamonds from Austin's grandmother into a custom engagement ring, officially booked a venue on my 33rd birthday this summer, and have gotten deeper and deeper into the planning trenches ever since. After knowing for years that we wanted to get married, it’s exciting that the ball is rolling towards this big milestone. We're in a great place in our relationship and I’m thrilled to be working towards a marriage.

I realized recently that we're in the place we've been working towards for years—at least since we started grad school, and really even before that, when Austin started voicing his hope of moving back to Cleveland (and I started voicing my hesitation). (The short version of his year-in-review is, he successfully off-ramped from Big Law to a position working with Cleveland's new millennial mayor, where he's taking on all sorts of challenging but worthwhile policy issues.) I finagled a way to live in Cleveland while continuing to build a career in international development; we're both doing public-sector work that (most of the time) feels meaningful; we own a house and are planning a wedding and, better yet, a marriage. What a tremendous joy it is to be here.

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