Unemployment is the worst

For some reason, I frequently find myself in very uncomfortable situations. Not just of the socially-awkward variety but, “What kind of decisions have I possibly made in my life to end up in this pit of misery?” type. To be completely honest, they aren’t always literal pits of misery. Mostly a state of mind made up of crippling self-doubt and panic-inducing fear.

Although one time I did not have any money and had just come off a million hour flight and lived of granola bars and didn’t shower for a solid four days… So there was that… I think the last time I had gone that long without showering was during my roadie-ship and was living out of a van and we were so busy showering was just kind of forgotten. But enough about my lapsed hygiene practices…

The last time I wrote (let’s make a pact not to add up how long it’s been, ok? Ok.) I was in one such spiral. My ex had just moved away, and while things ended amicably it’s a bit destabilizing when someone you’ve spent practically every moment of the past five months with is no longer around. I suddenly had all of this free time to think about what my plan was. I was definitely living comfortably thanks to a couple full-time freelance gigs but wasn’t earning enough to save anything (or even get home).

I’ve mentioned before how expat life in Cambodia seems to cycle through people. About every six months or so someone new is showing up while old friends move on. At this point, my little community was prepping for another such exodus. Those with higher-paying jobs were considering moving to new, nicer apartments while the few with free time were considering life as nomads for while. My best friend already had her flights booked home before starting a graduate program in Australia. Things were changing and I decided it was best to jump on that train, too.

Thanks to hindsight, I can laugh at my naivety upon returning home. My new “plan” had been to relax and enjoy the Christmas festivities with my friends and family and then crack down and find a job, surely by the end of January, because that’s when my new phone plan bill was due and once again I was without a steady income.

My one-month job hunt turned into two, then three, then four.

I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression. I’m really good at being upbeat and talking about how magical everything is, but when I’m down I get really down. Every day I applied for jobs after thoroughly researching the each company and writing unique cover letters. I was putting in the effort. And crickets. For every 20 jobs I applied to, maybe MAYBE I would get one response back. At this point, even the rejection letters became a reason to think positive because at least I was hearing something. But even those were few and far between.

Every day was an endless span of potential disappoint. It became harder and harder to look on the bright side. Despite knowing my parents are super supportive and would do anything to help me out I was keeping a running tally of everything I had asked for and could only seek such help after working up a really good anxiety attack. After bleak periods I’d snap out of it for a week or so, somehow tapping into some new source of motivation and positivity making all the past despair seem silly and unnecessary. And then out of nowhere, the dread would be back, like an elephant sitting on my chest. I’d stop showering regularly because for some reason that’s the first habit to go…

I went on a few interviews. They’d see the gap in my employment after I left Cambodia and ask what have I been doing the past few months. Like a punch to the gut. Like I’d been twiddling my thumbs since January and not actively, desperately seeking employment. Each rejection, especially from jobs I’d been over qualified for made me question the time I spent abroad. It was as if those two years, during which I had worked the hardest and overcome the most, meant nothing in the eyes of recruiters.

I started seeing a therapist and struggled to find ways to describe my feelings: I can’t find work, I’m questioning my self-worth, I just can’t get out of bed in the morning, but I’m also having a hard time processing everything I’ve experienced the past several years. Herbal supplements didn’t help. I started anti-depressants. It somehow made me feel better to think that my depression was stemming from a chemical imbalance and was actually out of my control. I’m type-A. I felt like I could take depression off my plate if that makes sense. Something that isn’t my fault. Medication helped calm the swirling negativities that had been distracting me, but I was still jobless.

My parents and I discussed how best to move forward. Up to this point, I had been driving my dad to work so I had access to a car for days I had interviews and we decided having a car of my own might take some of the pressure off. They helped me with the down payment and from that point on it was like dominos.

The day after my 26th birthday I had a very promising job interview and the following Friday I received an offer. I could breathe again. I could afford my new car payment.

I’m lucky. I have incredibly supportive parents who never made me feel like I was a burden during my unemployment. I have friends who were always encouraging. I’m grateful that even though those six months sucked it was the kick-in-the-pants to get myself into therapy and start examining the thoughts that hold me back.

Now that my life has some sort of structure again I’m able to think more clearly and without (as much) anxiety about what I want. I’m saving to travel again. I’m building my portfolio. I can dream about all of the possibilities of the future instead of just dwelling on the past.

Not to say that employment has been a magic wand waved over all of my issues. I still have plenty of those. But I’ve learned (and continue learning) ways to give myself a break. We all need to give ourselves a break sometimes.

So here’s to finally dusting off the motivation to write again. And to regular showers.

25: a retrospective

25 days ago I turned 25. One quarter of a century.

It's embarrassing how long it took all of us to determine whether or not there were actually 25 candles on the cake...
It’s embarrassing how long it took all of us to determine whether or not there were actually 25 candles on the cake…

This year I was lucky to be home for my birthday and spent the day with my brother at the most magical place on earth, Disney (obvi). Since weird things happen to me, I somehow managed to severely bruise some ribs riding Thunder Mountain Railroad and was having trouble breathing so we had to leave early 😦 On the way home I was belting out the soundtrack to Tangled, with some difficulty (it’s not easy to sing with a bruised rib, but you do what you have to do), when I started to actually listen to the lyrics of the song, When Will My Life Begin?

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Growing up I always pictured what my life would look like when I was “older”. I was sure I’d be popular and perhaps have a steady boyfriend when I turned 16. By the time I reached university surely I’d have a hip internship and be able to afford nice clothes and nights out with my friends. And of course, growing up in the South means an engagement after graduation. My university did have a saying: Ring by spring, which an alarmingly large number of seniors took to heart.

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Me at 16: the reality.

Even though my mom would share stories about how when she was my age she was getting married she always encouraged me to take time for myself, explore and see the world before settling down in a relationship or career (though I’m pretty sure packing up for Cambodia wasn’t really what she had in mind).

My mom on her wedding day.
My mom on her wedding day.

Regardless of whether or not certain daydreams came true I grew up with goals certain that if I reached them, then life would really begin.

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently, not necessarily because of my age, but just trying to figure out what I really want out of life, and I’ve realized even though nothing really turned out as planned, the life I’ve led thus far is unique and has shaped who I am and how I see the world.

When I was 16 I got involved with Invisible Children, a nonprofit dedicated to stopping Joseph Kony and his crimes against humanity. I helped raise around $26,000 for the organization and was able to travel to Uganda with a handful of other students (Invisible Children made I documentary about it and you can watch the trailer here). I’ve lobbied government representatives on behalf of Invisible Children on multiple occasions and took a semester off from university to live out of a van and share my experience with students across the country.

Team Mid-Atlantic

I spent one summer traveling around Europe and the UK, meeting international public relations firms and reconnecting with friends.

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After an internship with a hospital in Florida I was asked to stay on and run a campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness month.

My office was a "Pink Army" war zone...
My office was a “Pink Army” war zone…

A year and a half ago I moved to Cambodia, where I didn’t know anyone and have since created a family of friends from around the world.

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Whether I’ve noticed it or not, life began a long time ago and the only tower keeping me from experiencing it is the one I’ve built in my mind.

I can already tell 25 will be a difficult year, not because I’m getting “older” but because I’m starting to realize the life I always imagined, a life full of comfort and stability, may never be a reality. But I’m ready to embrace it. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world and how I fit into it over the years. I may not know what I want, but I know what will make me happy. I know that sometimes the best decisions are the hardest ones to make. I’ve experienced more goodbyes than I can count and have learned the importance of making the most out of the short time you may have with someone. The power may go out for days and your water could cut off mid-shampoo, but the relationships you build make everything worth it.

Will I be an expat forever, hopping from country to country? Will I ever experience the type of stability found in settling down? I don’t know. But I can tell you I won’t be wasting any more of my life wondering when it will begin.

Personal Legends: A Long-Winded, Overdue Update

I have a love/hate relationship with the show Girls. Half the time I’m visibly cringing at the situations the show’s lovely ladies seem to find themselves in, and the other half I’m shaking my head, wishing I couldn’t relate.

One episode, in particular makes me especially uncomfortable. Hannah has been working a new job writing advertorial pieces for GQ. In true Hannah fashion, she has a complete meltdown questioning her authenticity while insulting her entire team then pulls a classic, you-can’t-fire-me-cuz-I-quit move before storming off.

I’m not sure why I was thinking about this scene recently, but as I did the voice in my head, which sounds an awful lot like my parents, sighed exasperatedly and muttered, what a stupid thing to do. For a second I listened feeling really uncomfortable at Hannah’s sense of entitlement and how she was able to just walk away from a well-paying job because it didn’t align with her expectations.

Then I had to take a step back. The blood drained from my face as I realized I did exactly the same thing, albeit in a far less offensive manner (I hope…).

Before she started calling her fellow writers failures, her words rang true:

“I just expect more from life. Seriously, it’s like I want everyday to be exciting and scary and a rollercoaster of creative experiences as if I’m making a new life for myself in France.”

Except I chose to make a new life for myself in Cambodia.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had been working a marketing and communications job for a hospital before moving to Cambodia. My contract was almost up so I was interviewing for other jobs within the same hospital system while also looking for opportunities abroad.

I made it to the final round of interviews for a project manager position at the corporate office. Since my dad also works for the company and had been discussing the possibility that his daughter might be offered a job in Cambodia, it came up during the questioning.

“So, I know you’ve also been interviewing for a job overseas,” my interviewer began. “If you were offered both positions, which would you take?”

“Cambodia.” I stated without hesitation.

I mean, she did ask…

I totally understand why our generation comes across as selfish and impulsive. We were raised in a time of creative-plenty and advances in technology opened our eyes to possibilities previously unavailable. We’re more open to taking risks and throw away careers with 401ks and benefits for opportunities more rewarding in an intellectual and/or creative way.

We’ve seen what traditional 9-to-5s have done to our parents and while many find satisfaction in them we want something more. We’re getting married (if at all) and having babies later in life, freeing us from the sense of familial obligation. Chances we will actually be able to collect social security are slim to none, so with the golden years of retirement off the table we need to make the most of our lives now.

Let me set the record straight, I am in no way advocating tossing a dissatisfying job to sit on your ass in your parents’ basement.

When I came back to Cambodia after spending the holidays at home I was returning with no job, an expiring visa, and around $300 in my bank account. Trust me, explaining to friends and family why I was going back was not an easy task and I definitely downplayed my anxiety, though probably not as well as I think, considering I spent a lot of time holed up under the duvet crying about what I was doing to myself or marathoning mind-numbing TV series on Netflix.

To say the first few months back in the Reap were difficult is an understatement. Every morning I had a few moments of solace until I remembered how much I had to do and the dwindling number of bills in my wallet. I avoided calling my family out of fear of the unanswerable questions they might ask. My diet consisted of the remaining granola bars I had packed for my journey and 35-cent noodles (a step up from the 20-cent ones, to be fair…) and I may or may not have gone on a couple Tinder dates for a free meal…

#notproud

I’m not one for handouts and I hate pity, I chose this life and all of the good and bad situations that come with it. I’m writing about this because the struggle was the catalyst I needed to buckle down and make some serious decisions. In the back of my mind I wondered if I should just throw in the towel and go home and asked myself more than once if it was all worth it. Is this what I really want?

Yes, it is.

I withdrew some savings, sorted out my visa, cracked down on my remaining freelance work, started a bartending job and landed a part-time position writing for a local coworking space.

Around this time a friend lent me his copy of The Alchemist and I couldn’t put it down. Every word written seemed to speak directly to me. If you haven’t read it (and I highly recommend that you do), the story follows the journey of a young man, Santiago, on a journey to find his “personal legend”.

A personal legend is like our calling, not necessarily what you end up doing as a career, but that initial inkling you had as a child spurring you toward your dream, no matter how obscure. As we get older and society shapes our ideas about what is and isn’t “possible” we tend to loose sight of our personal legend settling for lives that may make us happy, but aren’t necessarily what we were originally created for.

In the book Santiago is told that as long as he is moving towards discovering his personal legend the entire universe will conspire to help him, and as the story progresses you see how seemingly chance meetings and coincidental events all add up (the good AND the bad).

I like the idea of the universe conspiring for you, rather than against, especially during that first month back. Creating your own life from scratch isn’t easy and while everything is starting to sort out it’s definitely an uphill battle. Even after I acquired work I was essentially living from shift to shift, tucking away money for rent while subsisting on one meal a day (and I LOVE food).

But the pieces are slowly falling into place and despite not knowing exactly what I want out of life, I feel like I’m at least moving in the right direction. I recently led a trip across Cambodia for a few weeks, which was a substantial boost to my income, allowing me to splash out a bit (yay new haircut and sheets that haven’t been previously used) and replenish some of my savings. In other words, don’t worry, Mom, I can afford three solid meals a day again (whether I have time to eat them is another story…).

One of the reasons I haven’t written an update sooner is my typical daily schedule, which looks something like this:

9:30/10 a.m. – Wake up, go to the 1961 Coworking Space, write.

3/4 p.m. – Go home and take a nap.

6 p.m. – Get dinner at Belmiro’s to catch up with the bestie if she’s working that night.

7 p.m. – Go to my bartending job at Picasso’s.

Anytime between 1 and 5 a.m. depending on how busy we are – Go home and sleep.

Repeat.

Like I said, branching off the beaten path is hard work and I only recommend it if you are willing to put in the time and effort, you can’t just half-commit. While exhausting, I’ve pieced together a great community through my bartending job and am slowly getting my name out there as someone to go to for writing projects. I still don’t know what exactly I’m trying to do, but I’m definitely happy.

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20 Everyday, Expat Stresses Of 20-Something Female Life

I had a lot of fun writing my previous post outlining the struggles of being a 20-something living in Southeast Asia. Today I came across another fun article: 20 Everyday, First World Stresses Of 20-Something Female Life. So I give you:

20 Everyday, Expat Stresses Of 20-Something Female Life

1. To blow out or to work out…

Last time I attempted a ‘blow out’ my landlord’s mother freaked out about the sound. My landlord frantically knocked on my door, “Amanda! Are you ok? Is that your hair-drying machine? My mother didn’t know what it was!”

Wondering whether or not to exercise in my air/con-less apartment while it’s 95 degrees with 112% humidity is also an internal battle I fight daily.

2. Choosing what to eat for dinner

20-cent noodles. Every time. Extra MSG, please.

3. Responding to a flirty text message

Next time I receive one I’ll let you know.

4. Out-of-control hair

Come on, is there any other kind?

5. Periods.

The day you run out of the tampons you brought with you from the States is a dark, dark day. Not only will you have to spend a million dollars to get a brand you recognize (if you can find them) but you’ll get the third degree from every Cambodian woman in the store: “What are those for?” Followed by intense giggling.

6. Sexytime

Hahahahahahaha ………. ………. ………..

7. Whether this dress will go on sale because paying full price is a no-go

Paying full price is for the timid who don’t know how to bargain. $10 for that dress, you say? Bring. It. On.

8. Far too many after-work activities

This one is a bit legitimate. When town is only a 10-minute cycle ride away and it’s full of fancy hotels and restaurants putting on special deals every day of the week to attract tourists, not taking advantage is just dumb. Where else in the world can you waltz into a five-star hotel and not be told to hit the bricks?

9. Being alone… forever

Another valid fear. When I’m trying to save money I end up eating in a lot. By the time the weekend rolls around I can be pretty starved for human interaction.

10. There isn’t enough time to get everything done

This really isn’t a problem in Southeast Asia; everyone just kind of goes with the flow. Also, when your seasons consist of hot and dry and hot and wet, keeping track of passing time is difficult. What do you mean it’s July ALREADY!?

11. Friends getting married

No, I will not fork out $1,000+ to fly home for your wedding. #sorryimnotsorry

12. Work

Everyone stresses about work and money, no matter where they live.

13. Grooming

I don’t understand the question… I was my hair twice a week, isn’t that enough?

14. Overanalyzing

To buy a refrigerator or not? I could by cheese and not have to eat it all in one sitting! But my electric bill will go up. Cold water in the morning would be fantastic! How would I even get it home? Cheese. Would I really save money eating out? Cheese. I made it six months without one and did fine. I did eat an entire package of camembert and called it dinner. Twice.

15. Wondering if everyone just saw some booty

Have you ever tried to cycle in a skirt? At least you aren’t one of the table-dancing backpackers at Angkor What. Sometimes I think they honestly forgot to get dressed before going out in public. Poor things.

16. Just wanting to sit on the couch and watch “Orange Is the New Black”

 

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17. Errands

Oh look, it’s raining. I guess I’ll have to wait and buy toilet paper in November.

18. Social media

a.k.a. the only way to stay up-to-date on your friends’ lives back home.

19. Social life

Four vacancies are about to open up in our circle of friends. Please send your applications to stayinglongerthan6months@wecantemotionallyhandleitanymore.com

20. Health

Please don’t be dengue, please don’t be dengue, please don’t be dengue…

Being a 20-Something in Cambodia

Too often I get sucked into those bullet-point articles detailing some new epiphany about the greatness of life as a twenty-something. Each new list reads almost like a set of instructions: 10 Ways to Enjoy Being a Single 20-Something, or 15 Ways to Embrace Living Alone, or 20 Reasons to Love Being 20-Something.

By definition, I guess I am twenty-something, but if I were to follow some of the advice handed out by the all-knowing “Voice of Generation-Y”…well…you’ll see.

6 Reasons Why 20-Somethings Abroad Struggle to Live Up to 20-Something Standard

It’s ok to binge on Netflix.

First, Netflix is a luxury I wouldn’t be able to afford without the password to my family’s account (and I would bet this is true for 98.9% of the Millennials out there). Second, if I even want to open Netflix I have to download some IP scrambler and cross my fingers the movie gods are too dumb to figure out where I am. And third, most often than not my Internet connection is too slow to open Buzzfeed articles let alone stream an entire movie.

Don’t get me wrong, binge-watching TV shows and movies is one of my favorite past times. I just have to pre-decide what I want to watch and start the download three days in advance, which kind of takes all the fun out of it.

Now is the time to figure out you. Be selfish.

Number one priority when you move abroad by yourself: find a friend. You could argue finding food and shelter are at the top of that list, but those hassles are way more fun when you’ve found a companion to complain to. You can maybe pull off the selfish act around the friends you’ve had since you were in diapers, but there’s a history there. You can’t expect someone you’ve just met to take your selfish behavior because deep down they “know you mean well”. They don’t know you at all.

Honestly, I think this is dumb advice even to give those not living abroad. All relationships, friendships especially, have to be give and take. Otherwise, you’re just treating those around you like a psychologist, heaping your thoughts and problems on them without reciprocating (and I’d hazard a guess you don’t pay them, either).

Live alone? Eat that whole jar of Nutella. No one is around to stop you!

Nutella is like, $15 a jar here! And even if I could afford it, the whole “who’s there to stop you?” thing is a real problem. My amazing friends in the States sent me a giant jar in a Christmas package and I definitely ate spoonfuls on one too many occasions. Sure, having to cycle or walk to get anywhere is like a built-in exercise routine, but that only goes so far. You’d have to be out of your mind to think I’d take up jogging in this heat. I sweat enough, thank you.

Also, I think this “tip” shows just how much Gen-Yers struggle with self-control.

Leave those dishes in the sink and treat yo-self.

Not cleaning up after myself is so tempting, especially since I live alone. Who’s there to see it? Me. I live in a studio. I can see the sink from my bed. If I stretch I might even be able to reach it. Making my bed isn’t really an issue because 99% of the time it’s too hot to even use a sheet. But if I decide to leave dirty dishes in the sink the only one being “treated” are the ants.

Save relationships for later, now is the time to date around.

I recently read an article outlining the woes of finding love in the field. While meant for humanitarian aid workers, I live in a town heavily populated with NGOs, social enterprises, and volunteer organizations so I could relate. Not only are women in the vast majority here, it’s also is a very, very small town. By all means, date around; just be aware you will inevitably see your “dates” on a weekly, if not daily basis. Of course, you can always go the backpacker route. They are fun to flirt with since you’ll (hopefully) never see them again but remember they’ve most likely been traveling for months on end with very few showers and are probably shacked up in a 1242098524-person hostel dorm. Gross.*

Doll up for a girl’s night out!

Once I tried to put makeup on before a night out, nothing fancy, just some liquid foundation and mascara. Five minutes later it looked like my face was melting off. Tropical climates really only allow for minimal effort. Guaranteed that shower will have been in vain the minute you step outside.

Sure, you can dress up just keep it classy. Wear anything short and/or tight and you will be mistaken for a prostitute and might get followed home (feminism hasn’t really caught up here). You also don’t want to get mixed up with the backpacker girls and their crop-tops, booty-shorts, and feathered accessories. Leave them for the smelly, backpacker guys. They’re probably staying in the same 1298374-person dorm room anyway!

Now to binge on some pre-downloaded Orange is the New Black while eating peanut butter off a spoon.

The struggle is real.

*I apologize for my rather harsh description of backpacker dudes. While there are several that fit this mold, those I have met are pretty great and were really fun to hang out with/talk to. Sorry, Matt! Forgive me? 🙂