Happy Holidays and a Brief Decade in Review…

Over this past holiday season, we have been lucky to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends, reconnect with people we haven’t seen in a while, travel out of town, and enjoy a quiet Christmas at home. All of that has meant a lot, since our Christmas ornaments are at a port warehouse in Long Beach along with the rest of our worldly goods, and coming home to Virginia has felt at times more like a way station than anything else. Before our NYE celebrations planned for later tonight, I wanted to send some good end-of-decade vibes out into the world.

Making time in November to see a live DC recording of one of my favorite podcasts, Dear HBR!
Cubing, seasoning, and drying out bread for Friendsgiving stuffing!
The front of this year’s Christmas card…the first one I’ve done in four years!
Celebrating the 13th anniversary of our first date in late December

As maybe others have also been feeling, the end of 2019 seems like more than just the end of one year. Inspired by a colleague’s “the last 10 years” Facebook post, I have been reflecting on my own timeline…

-In 2010, I started the decade off right by buying my dream car (which I still own!). I became an aunt, and I got a new job at Peace Corps Headquarters. I also gained residency in Virginia, and visited Latvia, Austria and Germany.

-In 2011, I started my candidacy for the Foreign Service and traveled to Greece and Macedonia, where I met my now-husband’s family for the first time.

-In 2012, I passed the Foreign Service Oral Assessment, was chosen for the Peace Corps’ Leadership Development Academy, and started planning my wedding.

-In 2013, I was back and forth to California a lot and got married in San Francisco. I also visited Panama and México.

-In 2014, I was invited to join the 178th Generalist Class and became a U.S. diplomat. I also started Russian training for my assignment to U.S. Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

-In 2015, I became a consular officer and moved to Uzbekistan. I began my first embassy job, traveled around the country, and also visited the Czech Republic, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Turkey.

-In 2016, I learned more about immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, and celebrated 10 years with V. I also visited Malaysia, Turkey, the Maldives, Hungary, Russia, India, Kazakhstan, the U.S., and Thailand.

-In 2017, I wrapped up my work in Tashkent and moved on to my second assignment at U.S. Embassy Canberra, Australia. I learned the ins and outs of being a political officer and also visited the U.S., Russia, South Korea, and Kazakhstan.

-In 2018, I had back surgery and stayed in Australia all year, traveling to almost all its major cities and a good deal of beaches and the in-between! We also dog sat for four months…our first almost-pet (besides outdoor tortoises) in 10+ years.

-In 2019, I returned to the U.S. in preparation for my third diplomatic assignment to U.S. Consulate General Ciudad Juárez, México in 2020. I started studying Spanish, traveled thousands of miles across the Australian Outback by train, and visited both Hawaii and Ecuador for the first time.

It all sounds pretty great, and it is, but in the interest of intellectual honesty, there have been hard times too.

Over the past 10 years, I have continued to push myself to try new things both personally and professionally. In many ways, it’s uncomfortable for me to be on the spot, to speak extemporaneously, to be constantly on the move and out of my comfort zone. Essentially, to be a professional extrovert! But I’ve learned that somehow, those things also sustain me. For now. The more afraid I am of something, the more I throw myself at it and in a weird way, laugh through my dread at what happens. And most importantly, relish in the fact that I made it.

As a result, I have discovered new things that I like and am good at. (And frankly, quite a few things I don’t like and also suck at.) I have also expanded my comfort zone far bigger than I ever could have imagined. I have become more confident and hopefully, a better friend and listener. In 2020 and beyond, I will continue to push myself – to improve my health, to be a better writer, to be a stronger and more innovative leader, and to be more thoughtful and intentional every day about how I spend my time.

The way we curate our social media presence doesn’t often show our personal struggles – with illness, with family, with finances or unemployment, with difficult decisions, job stress, or any other normal problems that we all have. When I talk to people in person, I find more and more that I am repeatedly caught off guard by the gap between what I glean from social media about someone’s life, and what I discover is actually going on with people I had the impression I was in better touch with. It doesn’t mean we should share all of our personal business online! No, it means that we should stop letting social media contact take the place of more personal contact.

So if I have to come up with a New Year’s Resolution – aside from the obvious shite everyone says, like lose weight and stop procrastinating – I would say that I will try to be more intentional. How does that manifest? I am already disciplined and driven. But could I direct my energy and time more effectively towards better and more direct communication, and less time lost in the online void? Could I get better at playing the long game on working towards the things I really want, and not just what distracts me? Yes. And I will.

Happy New Year to you and yours! May 2020 bring you less inspirational memes and more real life adventure, less Facebook likes and more phone calls from friends, less political divisiveness and more listening, and less curated moments in favor of the raw and real.

Sarah W Gaer

Author, Speaker, Thought Leader

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