I'm no longer a 20-something trying to figure out where I belong. I'm a 30-something trying to figure out where I belong. I didn't think a simple number would carry such significance, but here we are - and I'm ready for a new decade.
Rather than panicking about getting older, I've decided to celebrate a decade of inner growth by looking back. This is the foundation I build the next 10 years on.
It's 2010 (I'm 20) and I'm packing my lIfe and moving to Vienna. I still think "my life" is comprised of the things in the trunk and I haven't yet realised that owning a couch and a fridge is holding me back from seeing the world and believe people who love themselves are just self-indulgent. I'm pretty stupid for a smart girl.
I hit university and go from being in the top 10% to being the very best. I'm not brilliantly gifted at anything, but I'm pretty good at most things and sports taught me methodical thinking and staying power. It turns out this is rarer than genius. I start feeling somewhat confident and a chain reaction sets a new story for my life into motion.
It's my first year in Vienna and I drive 50k kilometres between countries for a tempestuous love. I'm split between lives, split between fights and let it go. I'm scared I already experienced all love has to offered, but I'm wrong.
The first lesson I learn is that I'm more than what I look like, more than someone's something, more than what I own, more than my legacy. And not just more, but distinctly different, limitless and free. However, this takes longer to sink in.
It's 2012 and I'm 22 now. I'm enjoying the glamour of Vienna with friends so close I call them as family. We dive into the clubs, the private roof pools and the luxury this city has to offer with a control only beautiful women can command. I'm never alone because I don't yet know how to be. I test the limits of my magic by demanding too much of men I don't care to keep, yet they rise to the challenge. I walk away over a green apple.
I have the first real male friend who is not trying to date me. He shows up on Saturday mornings with croissants and his guitar and never asks for anything. My soul dances.
I get sucked up by the startup ecosystem and finally find a world that moves to my rhythm. I immerse myself in my projects and people actually listen. Actually follow. Believe in me for the first time. This is intoxicating.
I learn that my actions affect others and guilt lingers. When I make mistakes, my friends are however worryingly eager to help me hide the (figurative) bodies. This never ceases to touch me.
It's 2015 and I'm 24, turning 25. I move to Berlin and though I feel alone, I know I'm home. I feel no limits here, no prejudice, no discrimination. I finally abandon that couch, that fridge and the boxes of clothes holding me back through their sheer volume and I am reborn.
In Berlin I find my way. I find my voice. I find a lifelong love for education, technology and health. For the first time, I truly commit to something.
I run into my stalker from Vienna. It's been 2 years. He lives here in Berlin now. We cross paths too often in such a big city. I learn how much information you can find out from a picture's metadata and I become fiercely protective of my private life and digital footprint.
I learn to adult and I get a savings account, do taxes and start making smart investments. It feels weird, but it's nice to actually have money to worry about.
I work, work, work and start seeing my dreams, designs, ideas being built and I cannot believe I'm getting away with it. I start to pursue the unprecedented and develop an addiction to the feeling of progression.
I learn that love should not feel like sacrifice. I understand what real partnership looks like and what a powerful foundation that is for an individual's growth. Things are so good I fire the back up plans and stop lingering on the "could have been". There's no games, no conditions, no pretence. It's hard to trust in the authenticity of it, but I learn to over time.
I feel I'm not good enough and don't deserve my wonderful life. I can't explain why, but I feel it to be true. But it's not. It's bullshit. Yet I can't let the feeling go.
I cry from exhaustion. Many times. I cry because the world is unfair. I cry because I feel trapped by my schedule, by responsibilities, by expectations. When I look beyond myself I cry because my privileged life "is worth" so much more than others. Yet I cry because it may not amount to enough. I cry when suffering people ask for help I can't give or grasp for change I can't usher. I cry when I learn truth and decency do not always prevail. I cry when I understand that economic and humanitarian paradigms must coexist for action. Eventually, I learn to steel my heart.
My work touches A LOT of people and they themselves are vectors of change. This gives me strength - strength that endures.
I accept that my life doesn't belong to me, but is in service. I finally let go of this nonsense about "finding my passion" and create meaning in serving something greater than myself. I get comfortable with risk, with improvisation, with imprecision. I learn to thrive in chaos and feel steady in a storm.
I develop the strength to stand for what's right and not be defeated by the voice of complacent opposition (yes, f*** you unnamed Goliath, you know who you are!). I negotiate the limits of who I am and find the unyielding parts of my character. In the process, I unearth the uncompromisable values in the hard decisions.
I lose my footing, my energy, my joy. I get a haircut to ignore the fallout. I'm surprised to find my world is crumbling over silly vitamin deficiencies. This explains the crying. I take care of myself and life moves on. Two years later, I'm anaemic again and relearn this lesson. This time for good
I create the job I want to do - one I never thought existed, one I didn't think I'd be "allowed " to do. Then I get good at making money. While money cannot buy happiness, it can buy conveniences that free up time, and time can be traded for happiness.
I find a place that lets me forgo fighting within imperfect systems, but rather step above to design better systems. I stop trying to "shape the future" and look instead at changing the parameters within which the future can be shaped. And this one... This one feels like playing with the powers of creation and destruction and it intoxicates me.
It's 2018 and I find myself designing the operational model for the first digital native university. As I'm envisioning a secure digital gradebook, I remember that this was my project for the IT professional certification I did in high school. Exactly 10 years prior, I had built a digital gradebook prototype for my project. Life has a funny sense of symmetry...
I start travelling and enter the secluded rooms where decisions are made. I find that in those rooms, at those tables, I start to have a voice. In spite of my fears, no one figures out I don't belong.
I spend more time in the air than I'd like and learn that I'm small enough to stretch on an easyjet flight.
I get good at hiring. I feel the pain and accountability of taking responsibility for the wellbeing of others. I navigate the balance between the extreme gratitude I have for those who follow me and between pushing them to grow. Every now and then I push too far. I hurt when I can't help them, or when I shouldn't.
It's 2019 and I learn to achieve more by pushing myself less. I learn to sleep, to eat and to run with joy rather than discipline. In my teens, I thought I'd be a titan by training like a robot. Now I know superhuman performance is built on compromise.
I start thinking about deep time and working on multi-generational time scales. My vision barely covers a 5 year myopic view and most days I can't see further than lunch time. I slowly start think in decades of progress. I become fascinated with the endurance of cities as organic organismS and wonder if my life and work will reverberate into the next millennium. I support a project to build a 10,000 year clock, just in case things don't pan out.
Working to change the parameters of systems is better than fighting within a system. But what if there's yet another level, one where I shape the minds of people who decide how systems are designed? I think I'm starting to see the long game. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...
It's 2020, I'm 30 now and the friends I called family are still here. I still run a bit too much and worry I don't deserve everything I have. I'm still overprepard for every meeting. I still brace myself when I speak my heart.