First Impressions | Austin

“So, like, what was your favorite country?”

I thought I was sooo clever when I had the idea to do First Impressions of Austin during my first couple of days back in the office.

“Aha! They thought they were done with me spamming their timelines with my blog posts! They’ll rue the day they bet against Ole Michael! Wait, I mean Ole Miguel. Damn it… who am I again?” I thought, cackling with the fervent intensity of someone whose brain had been roasting under fluorescent office lights for nine straight hours and was incapable of thinking straight.

Then, approximately five minutes after posting my final Back That Month Up post, this happened:

cool, derek

Alright, so this might have been a little more predictable than I thought it would be. Looking back, it makes sense.

Reading (and writing, for that matter) about returning back “home” after being away for a year is a way more interesting topic than which cafes I frequented in Mexico City.

So, how the hell does one go from near-complete autonomy of schedule and location for over 365 days and simply transition back to normal life like it ain’t no thing?

[long, awkward pause]

Oh.

Are… are you looking at me for the answer?

Ha! Joke’s on you. I don’t know either!

I’m still trying to figure it out, but I have had some interesting thoughts and have made some curious observations of my time back in Austin.

I’m experiencing a slight identity crisis

After spending a relaxing couple of vacation days in Tulum post-CDMX, it was finally time for us to board a plane bound for the US of A.

It was clear to me very early that I was not mentally ready for the transition.

While ordering a coffee at a Starbucks in the Cancún airport, the barista asked me for my name.

My response was, um, peculiar.

“Uhhh…Michael? Yeah. Michael…”

I have been going by Miguel almost exclusively for the past eight or so months and was headed back to a life that knows of no such person.

The name Miguel is special to me for a couple of reasons:

  1. I am usually the giver of 🔥 nicknames, not the receiver (ex. Mumsy, DDR, Buenos, Sloshima, Mama Slaynes, Jaceika [HELLLLO!], Rosé, etc). That’s right, Kaizen. Bet you didn’t know that most of our foundational nicknames came from yours truly.
  2. I grew and changed a lot over the course of the year. I’m not going to say I am an entirely different person, but there are some major changes in my beliefs and values that would have given pre-RY Michael anxiety just to think about. For me, the name Miguel, in a silly way, embodies this growth and these new perspectives and I don’t want them to go away.

Also, Miguel just got really attached to the name and speaking in the third person and giving that up is sad for him! Some Kaizens even joked about making Miguel his legal name, which would be too silly of a thing for him to actually do, right?

right!?

It was all a dream (!?)

It is weirdly easy to plug right back into your pre-RY life as if you were replacing batteries in your remote (hehe). Sometimes there have been moments where I’ve wondered if it was a dream.

I’ve had to remind myself on occasion that this year, this growth actually happened to protect myself from regressing too quickly into some of the old routines of yesteryear that I wanted to break out of.

Here are some things that have helped my in my first month back:

  • Eating at restaurants (for me, specifically Asian ones) that I typically avoided before
  • Taking Spanish classes so that I do not lose all the progress that I made over the past four months
  • Booking a trip back to Mexico City for a long weekend to keep that newfound spontaneity alive — just because I’m not on Remote Year anymore doesn’t mean I can’t still make impulsive, alcohol-influenced decisions like I am!
  • Working from cafes and taking midday walks to get out of the office
  • Staying in daily contact with my krew via WhatsApp or Slack
  • Reliving my travels through reading my blogs or watching my 1 Second Everyday videos — not in a “wahhh my life will never be this fun” way, but in a motivating “damn that was awesome, I want to continue to live a life worthy of writing about” kind of way
  • Exploring the city by walking more, which is easy to do since I don’t have a car anymore

That being said, there are plenty of old routines that I loved and have desperately needed back. I think the key is to pick and choose the old routines that serve you à la carte and blend them in with your new ones.

Austin is my home (in the US)

I could tell by the excitement and enthusiasm I felt when showing off the city to the four Kaizens who spent that first week back in town with me that this place still holds a special place in my heart.

I know and like this city more than anywhere else in the US, so it’s really nice to know that I can leave for a year, but still feel at home when I get back.

Speaking of homes, literally everyone bought a house while I was gone. Or at least it feels that way. That is just one topic that is so off of my radar, I don’t even know what to say.

“Houses are so expensive here! Luckily our agent found a good price on an older house out east.”
“Yeah, I totally get it. Like, all of my Smartwool socks are destroyed now so I had to buy new ones when I got back. They cost a fortune!

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Not a ton has changed back home

There haven’t been too many huge changes during the past year from what I can see, which made me happy. Gentrification on the East Side is still going strong, much to millennials’ delight and locals’ discontent; “luxury” condos and apartments are still popping up on every corner; rents are still absurdly high; and several old restaurants are now different restaurants. Luckily, all of my favorite spots are still around.

Incorporating my favorite Austin things like live music, breakfast tacos, Topo Chico, and yoga as much as possible has also helped ease the transition.

I should have heeded certain advice…

Every Remote’s advice before RY
GET RID OF ALL OF YOUR SH*T! YOU WON’T WANT IT WHEN YOU GET BACK. TRUST US, STUPID PREMOTES.

Me then
Yeah, I hear what you’re saying, but, like, I’ll definitely want all four of these decorative trays when I get back!

Me now:

I thought that I got rid of or sold most of my possessions before I left.

I was very wrong.

Besides a pair of shoes and a couple shirts, I don’t want any of it, either. The rational part of my brain tells me to keep it all in case I sign a lease somewhere in the future, but the rest of my being physically recoils upon hearing the word “lease” and wants to burn it all to the ground.

people: “so, where are you going to sign your lease?”, me:

It legitimately causes me mental stress knowing that I’m bound for weeks of selling more stuff on OfferUp and receiving messages from people like this dude again:

i feel like there’s a viral meme here somewhere… anyone know the fat jewish?

The Office

I was straight up nervous to go back to the office, you guys. It felt like I was going back to the first day of school all over again.

Preferring to not be the center of attention, I wished I could have snuck back in unseen, hoping that most people just didn’t even realize I was gone for a year. Also, the thought of having to explain the past year to a bunch of people sounded exhausting because it’s nearly impossible to do.

Fortunately, my nerves were quickly assuaged when I finally went back in and realized that it actually felt pretty nice to be back and that most people just didn’t really care that much about Remote Year! 😂

There were way fewer conversations to be had because so many new people started at the company since I left. Despite having worked there for three years, I looked like the new guy to most people.

For the people I did know, it was genuinely great to catch up with them. Working remotely is amazing, but being back reminded me how much I missed being able to interact with some of my favorite coworkers in person on a daily basis.

Also, I felt a huge sigh of relief when I remembered how spoiled we are at my office in terms of the office itself and its perks. Transitioning back would have been way harder without the coffee bar, free food, and the general adult playground vibe we have going on.

Honestly, that first week back felt really comfortable —like, dangerously comfortable. I found myself thinking “hey, I could do this again!” — “this” meaning old life, old routines, old everything. The Michael voice in my head was starting to talk over the Miguel voice.

Despite how comfortable lots of things were at first, there were certainly things that were tougher to adjust to.

I really missed the flexibility of being able to move around throughout the day and work from anywhere. I mean, yeah, I could have moved around the office and worked from the various floors we have, but I felt this weird, non-existent magnetic pull that had me attached to my desk for eight hours a day. Maybe I was subconsciously doing it so that I would dislike being back more? Idk.

I had a little wake up call when it dawned on me that I went from a life with a phone filled daily with new pictures and one second videos of incredible sunsets, scenery, and people I loved being around, to a life with a phone whose only picture taken in the past five days was of a white board at work with some SQL code written on it because it was obviously very important... That was a hard feeling to shake.

Interactions with people

Interactions with people have been the most interesting thing to observe since I’ve been back. I’ve noticed a lot of funny things about myself and others through them.

Interactions with most coworkers:

“Hello!”
“Omg welcome back!”
“Thanks! Feels pretty good to be back.”
“So, how was it!?”
“Best year of my life.”
“What was your favorite city?”
“I liked them all, but Japan and Mexico stand out.” (you gotta give them something)
“Oh, awesome! I have SO many questions, we’ll have to catch up soon.”
“Sure!”

*never catches up*

To my surprise (and delight) most people back home really just don’t care that much about what you’ve been up to!

There are definitely some people, however, who ask a lot about it because they’re either fascinated by it or are considering doing something outside the norm themselves. I could talk with these people all day.

But yeah, in general, after a day or two, the novelty of me and what I did wore off and it felt just like I had never left.

Interactions with people working in restaurants and stores:

I have a newfound appreciation for small talk after not being able to effectively communicate with locals for so long. After a year of having to rack my brain for what to say every time I made a purchase at a 7/11, it’s really nice to FINALLY know what everyone is saying!

I’m being pretty extra about it, too. Like, I’m saying sh*t that doesn’t even need to be said just because I KNOW HOW TO SAY IT.

“So, have you seen the new Avengers?”
“How about this weather, amirite?”
“What do you call a fake noodle? An impasta! Haha, yeah, that’s my favorite joke. I saw it on the back of a Kool-Aid Ja — oh, sorry, yeah I’ll be paying with card.”

Interactions with friends:

Remote Year attracts certain types of people. One mostly shared trait is what I’ll call our “always down-ness.” Transitioning from having a stable of 50 people who are usually down for any ridiculous idea you propose to not having that is, well, somewhat of a challenge.

Last July, it took me all of maybe 10 text messages sent on a Sunday to have six or seven people commit to bungee jumping off a shady-ass bridge in middle-of-nowhere Bulgaria on that same Wednesday morning.

Now, it takes days of back and forth texting to schedule a dinner with a small group of people, a dinner that usually has to be planned a week or two in the future due to conflicting schedules.

I understand it though. People here have lives and jobs and significant others. Pre-RY Michael avoided plans like the plague and would have won the gold medal for expertly flaking on any plans that he agreed to while in a moment of weakness.

classic michael

The questions

When you first get back, you’re flooded with questions by everyone you see. Some questions good, some questions laughable.

Here are some of my favorites:

You must be excited to come back! 
Technically this was before I got back. Also, how dare you?

What was your favorite country? 
The unavoidable, always asked question. People won’t accept the truth, which is that I can’t pick one, so you have to come up with a pre-canned answer that has specific names in it — THEY WANT THOSE NAMES! (I decided on “I loved them all, but Japan and Mexico stand out”)

What was your favorite part?
D. All of the above.

What was the most challenging part?
This was someone’s first question they asked me, which I did not see coming. Well done, sir.

Was it worth it?
LOL

Would you do it again?
Can I go rn?

What’s the craziest thing that happened?
I always react to this question so awkwardly. Mostly because of that self-conscious part of you that wants to make your year sound incredible, but not in an overly obnoxious, braggy way. What if I pick something that this person doesn’t think is that sweet!? Then they’ll think I just floundered a year of my life doing not-that-sweet of sh*t, and we can’t have that happen, now can we!?

I find it really funny because I have to imagine this is what it would be like for me to ask someone about their bitcoins — something I don’t know literally anything about.

“So…like, if you had to pick, which bitcoin is your favorite?”


Having been back for a month and a half now, two things are clear to me.

  1. I still love Austin and it is the closest place to a home that I have in the US.
  2. I am happy to be back for 2–3 months, but I am not ready to settle down here again just yet. I have the urge to get back out there and explore, do, see, and experience more, so that’s what I’m going to do.

I had a similar urge before, obviously, which is how I ended up on Remote Year in the first place.

This urge, however, is different. I want to be in control this time — both in terms of how I spend my time and where I spend it.

There are lots of changes brewing for Ole Miguel, and starting in July I will get the chance to put my money where my mouth is and venture out without my Remote Year travel training wheels as I start my big boy two month trek through Europe.

Who knows, I might find out that I hate having to make all those decisions. That’s cool though. I’ll just pop those RY training wheels back on and Citizen somewhere.