2010 was the year I got my shit together. I paid off all my debt, built up more than $10,000 in savings and moved out of my mom's house at the very end of the year — the day after Christmas.
2011 was the year I went from dreaming to doing. The things I had only dreamt of before — traveling, getting into photography, becoming a serious runner — actually became possible because of the strong financial foundation I built in 2010, and because I really believed in myself for the first time.
2012 will be the year of adventure and possibilities. I'll be on the road for most of the year, if things go according to plan — not that there's much of a plan. I have no idea where I'll be one year from today. Perhaps I'll be sitting down somewhere on the other side of the world to write my 2012 recap, still traveling, or maybe I'll be hauling my few possessions back to my mom's house because I've run out of money.
That kind of uncertainty may drive some people crazy, but I welcome it and its exciting companions: Adventure. Possibilities.
I am certain that 2011 was a fantastic year. Here are my top 10 favorite experiences — and what I learned — from what was undoubtedly the best year of my life.
10. BUYING MY FIRST DSLR AND A NEW LAPTOP
I spent the first half of 2010 paying off debt and the second half building up savings to be able to move out on my own. After a year of meticulous budgeting and penny-pinching, I finally gave myself permission to splurge at the beginning of 2011.
I love my DSLR and my MacBook Pro, but I put the purchases of these items on this list because of what they represented.
After years of racking up instant-gratification credit-card debt, I carefully planned and saved for these items, then bought them with cash — no debt and no guilt. That was a new experience for me, and it felt incredible. I learned that some things are worth waiting for.
9. RIDING (NEARLY) NAKED IN THE FREMONT SOLSTICE PARADE
The main attraction of Seattle's Fremont Fair in June is the Solstice Parade, and thousands of spectators flock to downtown Fremont to see the Painted Cyclists lead the eclectic procession. The cyclists are usually partially or fully nekkid, save for body paint.
I always thought it would be fun to ride in the parade if I could gather the courage, and this year I decided to go for it — with underwear. I saw a few people I knew, and my picture showed up in quite a few Flickr streams, so I'm glad I chose to cover up!
The painting process was a blast and it was a total rush to ride in the parade. Hundreds of bold cyclists commanded the streets of Fremont while thousands of spectators watched. I learned just how fun it is to leave the comfort of the sidelines.
8. RUNNING MY FIRST 10K, 15K AND HALF-MARATHON (PLUS ANOTHER HALF)
The farthest I'd ever raced before this year was 5K (3.1 miles), and the farthest I'd ever run at one time was just 5 miles. It was a fantastic year for running and racing!
Seattle's Best 15K (9.3 miles, pictured above) on my 24th birthday was one of my favorite races, and an incredible way to start out another year of my life. I learned that I could push myself further than I'd ever imagined.
7. RAISING $2,200 FOR THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY
In March, I joined the DetermiNation program to fundraise for the American Cancer Society while training for my first half-marathon. Too often I said "no" to things just because they were outside of my comfort zone, so I decided to say "yes" for once — and I'm so glad I did.
I was nervous about hitting the $1,250 fundraising minimum since I hated asking people for money, but thanks to a successful online raffle, an event at work and the generous contributions of many (mostly complete strangers from the Interwebs), nearly $2,200 went to the ACS. I learned that great things can happen when you just say "yes."
6. LEARNING TO SURF, GOING SKYDIVING AND TAKING PHOTOS IN HAWAII
My then-boyfriend, Aaron, and I spent eight days on Oahu in late February soaking up the sun and doing all sorts of fun activities.
I got to use my then-brand-new DSLR a bunch (looking back on the photos has officially convinced me to bring it on my RTW!) and the slow-paced freedom of the trip reinvigorated my desire to travel. I learned that there's much more room in my life for adventure.
5. VISITING NEW YORK CITY BY MYSELF
My trip to NYC ranks higher than my trip to Hawaii only because of what it represented. I went all by myself and still managed to have a ton of fun both alone and with many cool people. I learned to navigate the subway system, ate New York pizza, ran in Central Park, partied on a rooftop and saw everything from Times Square to Occupy Wall Street. I even took three whole blog posts to write about it all: Part I, Part II and Part III.
I just loved wandering through this unfamiliar city by myself. I learned that I could travel the world alone and have a great time, too.
4. COMPLETING MY FIRST TRIATHLON
It was inevitable that I'd get comfortable with running and look to other sports for new challenges. I am a terrible swimmer and an okay cyclist, so why not attempt to improve my weaknesses with a triathlon?
I had so much fun completing my first tri — a super-sprint event that was perfect for newbies. Even though I slowly doggy-paddled and backstroked my way through most of the swim, I felt stronger and stronger throughout the race as I transitioned to the bike and the run. I finished with so much pride because I did it even though I knew I wouldn't be great at it. I learned that the most important part is the doing.
3. ATTENDING THE WORLD DOMINATION SUMMIT
This conference in June marked the first time I traveled to a new city by myself, the first time I stayed in a hotel room alone and, actually, the first time I ever went to a conference! I didn't know a single person who would be there until the night before I went to Portland.
I left WDS with a bunch of new friends, a massive amount of inspiration and the lasting effects of a life-changing revelation. I wouldn't be in the midst of planning a RTW trip right now if I hadn't gone to WDS. I learned that I want to live an unhurried life.
2. QUITTING MY JOB TO TRAVEL THE WORLD
After months of feeling unhappy with my 8-5 routine and knowing that I wanted to spend a year traveling, I threw my "responsible" plan in the FUCK IT bin and quit my job. I learned that life is too short to waste time doing anything but following your dreams.
1. CROSSING THE FINISH LINE OF MY FIRST MARATHON
Yup, running my first marathon absolutely trumped quitting my job. Crossing that finish line in Las Vegas after five months of intense training and four hours and 15 minutes of nonstop running was a feeling I'll never forget. I felt like complete shit immediately afterward, puked six times, could barely walk and couldn't eat solid food for 12 hours, but I loved every moment of my marathon experience.
For 23 years of my life, I never believed I could run a marathon. In my 24th year, I not only ran one, but I also hit my goal time and finished strong. I learned that I can do anything.
Thanks to all of you who've joined me on this crazy ride through 2011. Have a happy and safe New Year, and I'll see you in 2012!