Six life lessons I learned in Six Months on Remote Year

Six Month Reflection

The art of having less. Before Remote Year, I loved my apartment in Chicago. It had my comfy bed and my fluffy rug and was decorated with all of my favorite things. But since being accepted to Remote Year, I’ve been in a constant state of cleansing. In just a few months, I went from an apartment full of belongings to just a car full, to a single closet at my parents’ house. And when I left for Remote Year, I took just one suitcase, one carry-on, and one personal item. On my first flight, my suitcase weighed in at 65 pounds. Now, halfway through, I’m under the 50 pound limit. This cleansing process has taught me that while having things gives you comfort, shedding them gives you freedom. I’ve kept only the items I need and replaced the rest with fresh air and white space. And I’ve never felt lighter or more free.

Age is just a number. In America, we are so often segregated by age. In school, we are surrounded by others who are precisely our age, and thus our friend groups are remarkably age-homogeneous. But even after finishing school, the same phenomenon largely persists. As a 20-something living in Chicago and New York, my close friends were all within a few years of my own age, and sometimes I found myself genuinely wondering when the last time was that I saw a child or a senior citizen. On Remote Year, our group ranges from 24 to 54 years old. But regardless of age, I have more in common with the other Remotes than most of my peers back home. So I am close friends with people across the spectrum. It’s a rich diversity I rarely get to enjoy. And it has convinced me that youth is just a state of mind.

Sleep is the best sauce. I’ve always rebelled against bed time. I hate “calling it a day”. There’s always more to do or say or see or Google. So I often stay up late, wake up early for work, and end up missing out on a lot of Zzzs. But for the first half of Remote Year, we were at least five hours ahead of my office in New York. So I had the opportunity to experiment with different work and sleep schedules. And I realized how chronically under-rested I normally am. Left to my own devices, I would sleep much, much longer than I ever expected. And when I get good sleep, I exercise more, eat less, am more productive at work, and just feel generally better about life. My mom always says that “hunger is the best sauce” — meaning that everything tastes better when you’re hungry. On Remote Year, I’ve realized that “sleep is the best sauce” — meaning everything is better when you’ve had a good night’s sleep.

How to fall in love with strangers. We often erect barriers between ourselves and strangers — whether because of our addiction to technology, our hectic schedules, or just not wanting to seem desperate or “uncool”. So it can be hard to make new friends. But on Remote Year, I’ve made more close friends in the last 6 months than I did in 4 years in Chicago. We’ve all left our families, friends, and most obligations back home, so we have no “other plans” to hide behind. And we depend on each other for the full spectrum of social interactions. Instead of being exposed to just a slice of someone’s life, I see them at work, at the bar, and at home in their pajamas. On side trips, we share long car rides, toothpaste, and all snacks and drinks. It’s an intimacy normally saved for couples. And it has hyper-bonded us. Because once you get to know someone’s whole comprehensive, complicated self, you almost can’t help but love them.

There has to be a better way. I’m only 26 years old and there’s already been way too many days where I’ve peeled myself out of bed early, spent 8 to 14 hours in a desk chair, forced myself to exercise, and gone to bed. Just to wake up and do it all again. And for what? Rather than living, I was hibernating, waiting for some elusive future — my two weeks vacation? retirement? (who says I’ll get one of those, anyway?). I want to break into all the sad offices and shout from the desktops “it doesn’t have to be this way!” Remote Year has jolted me awake and shown me that I can thrive in both work AND life. I know I sound painfully millennial, but I want to kick ass at work and I want to see the world [Or Insert Your Passion here] before I’m old and grey. And I want it for you too. Because “enduring” life for some unpromised future is entirely missing the point.

Nothing lasts forever. I remember being a little girl sitting and listening to my Dad playing “Time in a Bottle” on his guitar and feeling incredibly sad. It was the first time I really thought about how precious time is, and how fleeting. Remote Year heightens your sense of time. Even just the name “Remote Year” — you know exactly how long you’ve got. And when you walk onto the program the first day, the countdown begins. You’re especially cognizant of months. Each month you move to a new city with a new culture, new adventures, and a new routine to settle into. And each month you pack up and say goodbye to this snapshot of what your life could be. Because no matter how hard you try to grasp time and hold it still, you feel it slipping through your fingers. As we close in on the final months of what has undoubtedly been the best year of my life, I’m trying to make peace with the clock. Because for better or for worse, all things must come to an end.

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