2015 — A year in retrospect
I have experienced more freedom this past year than I ever have before. Quite honestly, it has revolutionized my life and my way of thinking. This post is a series of not-so-short stories about the last 12 months, and what they have meant to me (cue the Braveheart “freedom” GIF).
For those who don’t already know me… A (very) brief summary of my life before 2015: I was born in Bulgaria and went on to live in California, Belarus, and India, all before the age of 10. Moved to Austin, Texas in 1998, and graduated from the St. Edward’s University in May of 2014 with a degree in Environmental Science. I immediately hopped on a plane to India, got trained as a yoga teacher, and then came back to ATX in October to begin a career at the TCEQ (in water quality management), which I thought would be my dream job.
After 3 months of sitting in an office and sifting through water quality data on the Rio Grande and Bosque river systems, I was extremely bored. I had spent most of my days sitting in an office, twiddling my thumbs. Sure, it was better than a cubicle, but it felt like a waste of time. I knew my work was for a good cause, but I was so far removed from the impact of it, and there was so little to do, that I ended up spending most of my time looking for other opportunities. I just now considered adding a picture of my old office, but even that was boring.
On the 12th, I got that new opportunity with Recruiterbox, a SaaS startup focused on solving problems in hiring. I was the first remote hire, as well as the first Customer Happiness rep. Quite suddenly, I was completely location independent, and also making more money than I ever had before. Freedom. And there was good work to be done! Our team was tight-knit, fast-paced, and focused on what made the most impact. I was learning interesting things at a faster rate, and loving the potential possibilities. Working hours were 12 to 9pm CST.
I heard of a cheap flight from Houston to Denver, and without having any friends or set plans there, decided to hop on a plane to check out the fabled mountain town of Boulder. Working hours: 11am to 7pm MST.
It was unseasonably warm and incredibly beautiful. My first attempt at Couchsurfing landed me a sweet spot downtown (thanks Sophia!), and with a borrowed mountain bike, I set out to explore the city and its surroundings - Pearl street, NCAR, the Flatirons.
This was also the first time I was working remotely away from home. Enter the world of coffeeshops as dedicated work-spaces…
I checked out quite a few coffeeshops that week, but most of my time was spent at the Yellow Deli. My host recommended the place to me, and called the community there the “good kind of cult.” What I found, is that the Yellow Deli, or the Twelve Tribes, are a beautiful people who live simply and spiritually. They have a farm just outside of town, and grow most of the food served in the Deli themselves. They’d also built the Deli, and nearly all of the furniture inside it, by their own hands. All of their food is delicious (I could write a whole post about their muffins), their Wi-Fi is strong, and they’re incredibly friendly. At the end of the week, I was specially invited to their Friday gathering and got to visit their communal farm for a family dinner and some Hebrew dancing from old Israel.
Back to India! Scheduling my travels around my cousin’s wedding in Delhi, I planned to hit 4 cities in 4 weeks, which turned out to be a whirlwind of fun. Working hours: 6pm to 3am IST.
Bangalore was my first stop, to see Recruiterbox’s India office, acclimate to the time change, and show my company that I could handle the dynamic lifestyle I’d chosen. Working face-to-face turned out to be a HUGE learning opportunity, as well as a chance to connect personally. Big shoutouts to Nitesh (team cook), Rajesh & Rohit (for showing me the ropes), and Rainbow PG (for prompting me to explore other parts of the city).
Delhi was next, and if you know anything about that city, you know that 1 week of wedding festivities in the capital is the best way to experience it. My cousins are some of my closest friends, even though we don’t see each other often. Big family, food, and fun… enough said.
Varkala, Kerala was a welcome respite from the big city. Although internet connection was a bit intermittent (this is obviously a major requisite for anywhere I go), I enjoyed living on the beach for a week, the many Ayurvedic and Yogic centers, and south Indian culture in general. I was with my parents, sister, and her husband for a few days, and then stayed on the beach by myself for a while.
A week in Hyderabad was the perfect way to end my trip. My sister and brother-in-law have settled down in to a beautiful apartment there, not too far from the Qutub Shahi tombs. Pragya is a master educator with Teach for India and Nikhil is an incredible artist who just self-published a graphic novel with Oddball Comics. Needless to say, they are beautiful people living in a beautiful city and I loved getting to re-connect with them.
Barely a week after I landed back in Austin, I was off to Mexico with my friend Lily and her two sons. This country has always held a special place in my heart, having grown up in a land that literally used to be Mexico. In the previous 2 years, I‘d driven down to the Pacific coast (Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita) twice, so we decided to fly down this time, and stay in the small village of Yelapa, a little further south along the coast. Working hours were back to 12 to 9pm CST.
We rented a sweet home right on the beach for 2 weeks here. Although the town is on the mainland, it is completely remote to the point that no roads go there, so there are no cars. Once you get there by boat, everything is walking distance (on cobble-stoned paths), or a short horseback-ride away. There were gorgeous waterfalls, fresh fruits, and a beautiful community, as well as a pleasantly reliable internet connection.
After returning to Austin for a few weeks, my sights were set on Hawaii for the second half of the month. The idea was to fly into Kona-Kailua on the Big Island, and slowly make our way south around the entire perimeter to Hilo, and then take the northern route back to Kona. Working hours here were 7am to 4pm HST.
I had the pleasure of taking this trip with my sweet grandparents, which was nothing but a blessing. However, it did mean that I was moving a little slower, and had to accommodate for my families desire to sightsee. This was a little challenging, since I don’t typically travel as a tourist. In any case, the island-life on Hawaii was incredibly sweet and very charming. It won me over so much, that I immediately began planning my return during the winter months, and even considered moving to the islands.
My family across the States rendezvoused in New Jersey to attend my cousin’s wedding in Philly this month. Working hours: 1 to 10pm EST.
My father’s extended family mostly lives in New Delhi, whereas my mother’s family is scattered around the U.S. These are my maternal cousins, and also some of my closest friends in the world. Needless to say, we had a blast and made some memories to last a lifetime.
At this point, I was spending most of my time in Austin. However, I did take a short trip to Kansas City to attend a meditation and yoga retreat, organized by the Path of Bliss. Working hours: 12 to 9pm CST.
This is my spiritual family, and seeing them is always rejuvenating and relaxing. In fact, each of my previous trips (Colorado, India, Mexico, and Hawaii) had somewhat fallen into my lap and simply happened because they were easy. Kansas City was planned, because being at this retreat was important for me. 7 days of studying bio-psychology, practicing meditation, and sincere service creates a momentum that is tangible, and not to be missed. In a few words: I got the opportunity to re-align my short-term choices and actions with my long-term purpose and goals.
August, September, and October
Late summer/early fall is the best time to be in Austin, and this is when I rented a sweet spot right on the greenbelt, and hunkered down in my hometown. Working hours: 12 to 9pm CST.
The sunny weather is enjoyably hot, so my friends and I spend a lot of time at the local swimming hole, making music, and dancing. My family are all Leos and Virgos, so these are also our birthday months.
Besides a few camping trips, I mostly stayed put. My intention was to spend some time at home, reconnecting with my friends and family, and I’m happy to say that’s exactly what I did during these two months. Oh, I also sold my motorcycle and bought a car.
“It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.” Wallace Stegner
California. Working hours: 10am to 7pm PST.
After a week’s stay in Phoenix, I drove to the bay and was invited to stay at the Yoga Society of San Fransisco, a beautiful ashram in the heart of the city. I was there for one week, working at the Recruiterbox head office, singing kiirtan at the ashram, and riding my bike up and down those hills. I lived in San Fransisco at a very young age (from 2–5) and my earliest memories in this life are of our home on 19th and Judah (just south of Golden Gate State Park). Going back to SF felt really good on a lot of different levels.
I was invited to Santa Cruz by a dear friend, and decided to visit the town for a week, before driving further north along the coast. What I experienced there felt so much like home, that I ended up staying for nearly 2 months. Friends that felt like instant family, a home deep in the redwood forests, ocean with perfect surf, breathtaking sunsets, and beautifully conscious community — it was inspiring and incredibly fun. Plus, it was an easy drive back to SF whenever I felt like it.
A holiday family reunion and the winter meditation retreat called me back to Austin, and so I drove back, landing here just before Christmas. I’ve been back 10 days now, though it feels much longer. I’m glad to say the family is doing well, and the meditation retreat has largely been a huge success. I’m looking forward to a big family dinner tonight, and a 12-hour continuous kiirtan the following night to transition into the new year.