Monthly Archives: January 2012

Change is good

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“I got the job!”, I’m happily screaming into the phone.
Silence at the other end of the line. Then I can hear my Mum taking a deep breath.
“Are you sure about this?”, she asks. Which translates into “I really think you shouldn’t do this” in my Mum-daughter-dictionary.
We’ve talked about this before. Ever since this new job opportunity has arisen about 2 weeks ago.
“Yes, I am”, I’m saying with as much confidence I can put into my words.
“Weren’t you the one telling me to look for something else in the long run?”, I add.
“Well… yes. But…”
“What?” Suddenly all the happiness is gone.
“Maybe you should wait a little longer. Search for a better opportunity.”
“Who guarantees me there will be a better opportunity? This is a huge chance for me. And chances are there to be taken.”
“I know. But what about your surgery. Did you tell them you’re going to need another one.”
“No, I haven’t.” Deep breaths. Deeeeep breaths. She only means well.
“I think you should have.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll tell them.”
“Why didn’t you tell them during the interview?”
“Oh, sure. I should’ve said: Hello, I’m Nic Maybe. Nice to meet you. And by the way, my butt is going to need surgery some time later this year. Just thought you should know.” I can’t help but laughing. Hysterically.
“What if something goes wrong with the surgery.”
“Mum, I’ve been through this two times already. And everytime I didn’t miss more than 4 days of work – even though they wanted me to stay home for 2 weeks. Everything will be fine.”
“What if it won’t and you’ll get fired.”
“What if I get run over by a truck on the way to work? What if a meteor decides to make it’s way down to earth and lands on my head?” This is really starting to piss me off.
There’s an angry silence lingering in the air.
“I’m just worried about you”, my Mum finally says.
“I know. But there really is no reason to be. Can’t you just trust in me once?”
“I know that I have to let you make your own choices. Sometimes when you’re young, you’re making decisions you will later regret. It’s an experience you have to make. So I’ll let you do what you think is right.”
I have nothing to say to that. I’m just sitting there with my mouth wide open.

I used to be scared of changes. I hated them. Because it meant that things would never be the same. Changes came with an  unpredictable risk. They could turn into something good. But what if they didn’t? What if it meant that things got worse? Wouldn’t it be better if everything just stayed the same? Even if I would never know what the change would have brought?
I grew up with the notion that safety and consistency are the most important things in life. A safe job, always enough money in the bank, a lovely home. I’m pretty sure that’s something we all want. And I totally get that my parents raised me that way. Their parents had survived wars and depression. What they had gone through goes further than anything I can imagine. So for them and their children safety and consistency were like paradise. Even if it meant missing out on opportunities that might have changed their lives forever. So for example, my Mum did not go to Africa to do humanitarian work as a nurse. Instead, she got married to my Dad and had 2 children. And I’m thankful for that because otherwise neither me nor my sister would exist. But from time to time I can’t help but think about what my Mum’s life would have been like if she had taken that risk. What kind of person would she be today? Would she still have children, maybe with another man? And how would she have raised them?
Considering this, you might think that changing a job shouldn’t be that big a deal. Even for my parents. But for them it means that I’m putting myself into unknown territory that holds threats around every corner. I might get fired before the probation period is over. I might  not get along with my workmates. I might not like the tasks I’ll be given. I might end up regretting to have changed jobs. There are a million things that might go wrong which is the reason why my parents have been working for the same employer since they were 17. But aren’t these uncertainties the exciting part about changes? Not knowing what is going to happen, How this is going to change my life. And isn’t the best part about all this that it is all lying in my very own hands? I decide where this change is going to take me. And I will make the best of it, even if it turns out to be a mistake – which I highly doubt.
After all it’s just a job. My Mum should be glad that I am, too, having a certain need for safety. Otherwise, I would be living the life of a vagabond travelling the world with no job, no money in the bank and no home.

P. S.: I’ve recently seen a brilliant movie that fits the theme of how decisions can have a huge influence on the way your life might turn out – no matter how small they are: Mr. Nobody. Check it out.

Immersion is key

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I’m going to tell you a story I haven’t told a lot of people before. Because it’s gross. And I still can’t think back to it without feeling embarrassed and creeped out even though it happened almost 3 years ago. But I will tell you anyway. So here it goes:
I’m in Tokyo standing in front of the most luxuriously looking hotel I’ve ever seen. I’ve put on the fanciest clothes I’ve brought to Japan – and I still feel like a homeless person compared to the people in shiny suits and stylish dresses that are entering and leaving the lobby. I take a deep breath and walk inside. The marble walls and chandeliers are blinding.
“Just keep breathing”, I tell myself as I walk up to Manoru who invited me into this fairy tale. Manoru is about 50 years old, he’s a busy surgeon with almost no private life – and he is one of my students. This is only our second lesson – and by lesson I mean one well-paid hour of chatting in English. For the first lesson we met at a Starbucks in a train station. And now we’re here.
I realize that coming here was a big mistake, when we sit down at the bar. We’re having champagne. I think I’ve only had champagne once before in my entire life. It was a gift I’d received for a magazine subscription.
“Why the heck did I listen to my friends when I knew better”, I’m thinking to myself while trying to put on a smily face. Manoru is telling me about a difficult surgery he just did. I’m taking a sip of champagne hoping for it to calm me down. My glass is still half full when our table is ready and we move over to the restaurant. I notice dozens of different forks and knives on the table as I sit down. I can’t breathe. Thank god, the wine is served.
“So tell me about your work”, Manoru says. “You’re working at a cafe, right. A pink one”
“Yes. In Shibuya. Pink chairs and everything”, I reply.
“You like it?”
“Yes, it’s fun. I like talking to the customers. They’re very nice to me.”
The first dish is served. It’s tiny, but it tastes delicious. The waiter pours some more wine into my glass. I’m already feeling tipsy, but I’m scared it would be rude not to have anymore.
Suddenly I can feel Manoru’s hand on my knee. I can’t believe he’s making a move on me after the first dish already! But why is his hand making a crackling sound? I lift the table cloth. Bills! A lot of bills. What should I do? I take them and nervously shove them into my purse. It looks like a lot more money than my usual 3.000 Yen.
For the rest of the dinner, I’m desperately trying to think of a way to get out of this. Should I just go to the toilet and run away? Should I pretend I’m not feeling well? But Manoru paid for this expensive dinner. And maybe he just means well. Maybe he gets that it’s not easy making a living in Tokyo as a waitress. And he’s probably lonely and just enjoying my company. Maybe that money in my purse isn’t that much after all.
After another 6 courses and a lot of wine, we leave the restaurant.
“I have to go to the restroom”, I tell Manoru, finally hoping to be able to escape.
“Me too”, he says. Luckily, he walks away in the direction of the men’s room.
I open my purse and take out the bunch of bills. I count. I count again. And again. 50.000 Yen! Fifty freaking thousand Yen! That’s about 500 Euro. Almost a month’s rent. Now I’m really freaking out. My hands are shaking as I put the money back in my purse. I’m running out of the restroom – but Manoru’s already waiting for me. We take the elevator down to the lobby. There’s an awkward silence.
“So, thank you”, I say when we get to the lobby.
“What are your plans for tonight?”, Manoru asks.
“I’m going to go home now”, I say, hoping he can’t hear my voice shaking.
“Really?” There’s no mistaking his disappointment. “I thought we could go up to my room.”
“Oh, you’re having a room here?” I’m trying to sound naive.
“Yes.”
“Sorry, but I really want to go home now.”
“Ok”, he says and walks away.
For a split second I’m too startled to move. Then I turn around and run as fast as I can. I’m not stopping until I’m a block away from the hotel. I feel like throwing up. Instead I go to a game center to play UFO catcher.

P. S.: It wasn’t until more than a year later that I found out that the word pink in Japanese doesn’t just stand for the colour. It’s an equivalent for red-light. Someone should have told me.

When I first came to Japan, I was suddenly thrown back to the state of a toddler. I was 26 years old, but when speaking to Japanese people my vocabulary consisted of nothing more than about 50 words that I was unable to put into a proper sentence. What they were saying to me sounded like a weird gibberish and I’m sure they felt the same way when I was talking in English. So I had to rely on gestures and interpreting facial expressions which isn’t as easy as it sounds when you’re faced with a totally different set of cultural rules and customs. For example, it took me quite a while until I realized that when someone is pointing at his nose, he doesn’t want to tell me there’s something in my face. He just refers to himself.
Of course, I felt a little lost and sometimes desperate not being able to express myself the way I wanted to. I tried to study during breaks while working at a ski lift in a ski resort – and there were a lot of breaks. But I always ended up being frustrated because I didn’t seem to be able to learn fast enough and there were a trillion of words I thought I needed to know and they all sounded pretty much the same and nothing like any other language I had learned before. So I could have ended up like one of these foreigners who spend years over years in Japan, but are still not able to properly order a meal or ask for directions (which is extremely useful in Japan). But I didn’t. Because unlike them, I didn’t just surround myself with people that were speaking the same language(s) I did. I talked to my workmates and asked them to teach me stuff, I made Japanese friends, I watched Japanese TV and tried to read manga.
And after a couple of weeks, something amazing happened: Suddenly, I was able to understand what people around me were saying. Little at first, but my skills were increasing fast. And I realized that it didn’t matter if I didn’t get every single word. I got the overall meaning. And that was worth something. And of course, input created output. There were sounds coming out of my mouth that sounded more and more like proper sentences. My brain had turned into a sponge that was soaking up everything Japanese around me and releasing it when I was pushing hard enough. After only 4 months in Japan I got a job as a waitress. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to understand the customers and my workmates who were all Japanese and didn’t speak any English (except for one girl from France). I was scared I would get the orders wrong. I was convinced I would get fired within a week. But I didn’t. Instead, my Japanese skills went through the roof. It didn’t happen over night, but after a few more weeks I was able to chat with customers, to joke with my workmates. I even went on a date with a Japanese guy – and yes, we just talked (at least at the first one). By the end of the year, I decided to challenge my newly acquired skills and took the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (level 3). It required the knowledge of about 300 Kanji (Chinese characters) and 1.500 words. I passed.
The point I’m trying to make here is: Whatever you want to learn, whatever new hobby or activity you want to pick up – just throw yourself in there! Surround yourself with it as much as possible. Then watch and imitate. You will feel like a toddler trapped in a world of grown-ups. You will trip and fall. Many times. But you will get up again. You will progress. And maybe one day, you will be a grown-up, too! Ganbatte!

The Evolution has begun

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“That was an excellent meeting! I’m having a great feeling about this”, my boss says overflowing with confidence and smiles at me and my workmate. We’ve just had a meeting with a potential new client a couple of days ago.
While my boss keeps going on about his great feeling and the good work we all did, my eyes start to wander around. Outside there’s a squirrel running around on the opposite building. I watch it going back and forth on the rim between the 1st and 2nd floor. How did it even get up there? It’s easy for it to walk on the rim, but there’s nothing else to cling to for a couple of meters up and down until the next window. The squirrel slows down its running back and forth. It looks down over the rim. Carefully at first, then it leans forward further and further.
“Oh my gosh”, I think and try to keep my eyes from watching the squirrel. “It will fall down. And die a painful death. I can’t watch a squirrel jump to death right in front of my eyes!”
I’m trying to think of something to do. Maybe I should pretend to go to the toilet, run outside and tell it to wait until the fire brigade arrives to save it. But I don’t speak squirrelish, so the squirrel would probably misunderstand me and jump anyway.
“The client told me she was very impressed with your knowledge about the product, too”, my boss suddenly says. He’s looking at me, still smiling triumphantly.
I smile back and nod.
“She also said you seemed a bit quiet. But she thought that’s just the kind of person you are.”
My smile freezes. A quiet person? She also could have called me a wallflower, it wouldn’t have made any difference.
I look outside the window again. The squirrel has miraculously made its way down to the window shutter on the ground floor. It jumps down on the ground gracefully and runs away.

There’s nothing I hate more than people calling me quiet. Because I’m not. I used to be. But I’m not anymore. And I want people to acknowledge that. When I was a teenager, I was shy. Incredibly shy. I would blush in class when the teacher asked me a question, even though I almost always knew the answers. Never would I have dared to raise my hand or blurt out an answer like my classmates did. I also didn’t talk to people I didn’t know. When we were at a party and my friends were getting to know some guys, I would just stand there listening to their conversations. Of course, I uttered a couple of words when someone asked me something. But that alsmost never happened anyway. My friends always encouraged me to be more outgoing, because they knew I could talk a lot when we were just on our own. But it didn’t really bother me at that time. I actually enjoyed listening and watching people. Plus, I didn’t feel like I had that much to say to random people. Until I realized that being invisible doesn’t only have advantages (like not being bullied because you’re never noticed anyway). It lead to me getting worse grades because I wasn’t participating actively in class. And it made it really hard to get to know new people, let alone finding a boyfriend. I also had this dream of becoming a journalist or at least something related to that. And there’s no such thing as a shy journalist.
So I decided to try to be just a little more outgoing. Just a little. Looking back, I didn’t even have to try that hard. It was rather the path I took, the situations I put myself into, that helped me to grow. While I was in my final year at school, I joined the drama group and played a supporting role in “The Wave”. In front of my family, friends and all the kids at my school. I moved out from my parents’ home and started studying communication science in a city I had never been to. 95% of my fellow students were people who loved to hear themselves talking more than anything in the world, but mostly there wasn’t much behind these words. And they all wanted to do “something with media” as long as it involved them being in the center of attention. I was lucky to find some people who were different and I managed to get good grades. It was at uni where I found my passion for PR. I knew that this was what I wanted to do. My PR professor thought otherwise. He thought I was too quiet for the job (haha!). But here I am today, having more than 4 years of experience in the business, consulting clients and holding presentations in front of people I have never met before. I’m also known for being able to even get along with “difficult” people. And I think that is to some part because I like to listen first, then think and then talk. Because I’m not some blabbermouth who likes to push oneself to the fore. I like to talk now, too. I love doing small talk. I love meeting new people. I love talking about silly stuff and things that I’m passionate about. Because I’ve actually discovered that I have something to say. So I guess the listening for all those years was worth something. It just took longer for me to find my inner voice. But still, when I don’t have anything to say, I remain silent. I listen and soak up everything like a sponge. Until I finally have something to say.
All of this would have been unthinkable for the teenage me. So I think it’s pretty impressive for a girl who wasn’t able to buy stuff at the bakery or to make an appointment at the dentist because it involved talking to strangers. So please, please, just never call me quiet again. Because I’m NOT!

I have never… played the guitar

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My parents are in town for a visit and we’re on our way to the city center to do some shopping.
“You have to turn right here”, I tell my Dad from the back seat, but he doesn’t react fast enough.
My Mom sighs loudly which has become quite a habit for her. At least when it comes to things my Dad does.
“No problem, we can take the next one then”, I say calmly, trying to keep down the tension I can feel slowly building up.
My Dad turns right.
“This is a dead end”, my Mum exclaims. “And I don’t see a parking garage anywhere around here.”
“I guess we have to go all the way around then”, I say, anxiously  trying to keep a pleasant tone in my voice.
“You’ve been living here for almost 2 years now. How do you not know where to go?”, my Mum asks enervated.
“I always take the bus. That’s why!” That came out a little too harsh, but I’m already too annoyed by all this.
“Where should I go then?”, my Dad asks. His voice is starting to reach a higher pitch than usual which is an alarming thing.
“We have to go all the way around. Up to the river”, I tell him.
Noone talks until we finally reach the parking garage. I get out of the car and – stop.
“Wait! Where is my guitar?”, I shout. Where is it? It’s supposed to be in the car, so I can take it to a music shop to get it restringed.
“Did you forget to take it?”, my sister who’s been quiet all the time asks.
No! This can’t be true! I search the car for it everywhere, but it’s just not there. I lean against the car and suddenly feel like crying.
“Let’s just go shopping then. You can go to the music shop some other time”, my Mum says in her commanding voice and is about to walk away.
“No, I can’t!”, I protest. “The shop closes at 6 on weekdays. I can’t make it. And I really have to practice.”
“What is so important about that stupid guitar that it can’t wait for a couple of days?”, my Mum asks, not getting it at all. Suddenly I feel like a kid that’s begging his Mum to buy him sweets at the supermarket. My Mum shoots me a look that tells me to finally give it up and go shopping with her.
But then my Dad steps in and says something that right in that moment sounds like magic to me:
“You guys go ahead. I’ll drive her back home to get the guitar.”
I jump in the car overflowing with joy and off we go.

I have alawys been an enthusiastic person. I can get very excited about a lot of things. They can be little and somewhat insignificant to others like a leaf that’s dancing in the wind, involve physical exercise like climbing Mt. Fuji (which is by the way more than 3.700 m high!) or requiring a longer-term commitment – like playing the guitar. Once I have found something I feel passionate about, I can be very obsessive about it. And playing the guitar might just be one of those things for me right now. The funny thing is that a couple of weeks ago I had no idea that I would even think about taking guitar lessons. I hadn’t thought about it in years (well, rather decades). When I was 12 I wanted to learn how to play the electric guitar. At that time I was playing the keyboard, but always felt it was only a cheap version of a piano and thus, plain boring. But guitars were cool. Guitars were the companions of rock stars. It could be the chance to end my invisible existence and actually turn me into a cool kid. Who knows, maybe I would be a famous musician today, touring the world, bringing the joy of music to all different kinds of people – if it wasn’t for my Mum. She was kind enough to take me and my sister to a trial lesson, but when she realized how noisy an electric guitar actually is, she refused to let us take any more lessons. It’s a pity that noone told her that it’s possible to use headphones, so noone gets tortured by squeaking noises. Or that she also refused to let me play drums instead.
So, over the years I had forgotten about that dream – until I saw a music video in which a girl was playing the electric guitar with so much joy and passion. Suddenly it all came back to me and I thought: Why not give it a try now? I’m living on my own. I can do whatever I want to. There are only old people living in my house and they’re probably almost deaf anyway. So I searched for a guitar teacher on the internet and a couple of days later I was off to my first real guitar lesson. The moment when I first held that guitar in my hands and played the first chord – it was pure magic! Of course, it felt kind of weird at first to put my fingers into somewhat unnatural positions and the sounds that came out didn’t quite sound like music. But I guess it’s just a matter of practice. After I had my Dad’s old guitar (which is about 35 years old!) restringed, I played every night after work and it is just so much fun. I’m so happy about every progress I’m making, no matter how little it is. In my last lesson, my teacher Adam showed me how to play “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. I watched closely and then practiced the song a couple of times by myself. Then he told me he thought I was ready to play along to the song now. I was like: What!? I had just learned how to pluck and I was still pretty slow at changing between chords. How was I supposed to play along? But he told me just to do it. Not to think, just do. So I did. I was sitting there with this guy who has been playing the guitar for 9 years and I played along to Snow Patrol. Of course, it wasn’t perfect. I messed up the chords and lost the beat a couple of times. But it didn’t matter at all. I was just enjoying the joy of making music. And I hope I will do so a billion more times. When we were finished, Adam said: “Cool!” I couldn’t agree more.

I could go on about this for hours, but I’ve got to go. My next lesson is starting soon 😀

Wishes to the Universe

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“Shouldn’t we start drinking?”, I ask my friend who is lying next to me on the couch. It’s only 2 hours until midnight and the beginning of the new year and we haven’t had a single drop of alcohol yet.
“There’s some Crémant left from last night”, my friend replies unenthusiastically.
“We had Crémant last night?”, I shout while desperately trying to remember when we did.
“We almost finished the whole bottle.”
“When?” Still no memory. It was a long night though.
“After the red wine and the hot Mojitos.”
Now I remember.
“Ah, right! Then Crémant it is,” I say, trying to sound cheerful.
My friend slowly gets up from the couch and disappears in the kitchen. She comes back with an almost empty bottle of Crémant and pours it into my glass.
“What are you gonna drink?”, I ask.
“I’ll stick with water tonight”, she says and flops back on the couch.
“So what are we gonna do now?”, I ask. We’ve just finished watching “Beginners”. It was a good movie, but probably a bit too depressing for New Year’s Eve.
“Maybe there’s something on TV”, my friend suggests and pushes a button on the remote control.
But there isn’t. Unless you like German folk music, Après Ski music or old German pop songs and celebrities I have never once seen in my life making stupid comments on them. Compared to that, “Scary Movie 3” doesn’t seem like such a bad choice.
After half an hour of silly jokes and every second scene ending in a hardcore catfight in which at least one of the chicks is losing one or several body parts, I notice that my friend has fallen asleep. I look at her and start to giggle. This is hilarous! Suddenly my eyelids seem to weigh a ton. And it’s still more than an hour to go. But I’m not going to fall asleep. No, I will stay awake and welcome the new year – and then I’ll go to bed.
After I’ve been fighting sleep for an endless hour, my friend finally wakes up again. The fireworks outside have gotten pretty noisy, so we get up to watch them. They look beautiful. I just stare at them swirling in the dark night sky in all different kinds of shapes and colours and wait until the new year finally arrives. When it does, me and my friend hug and wish each other a happy new year.
“It was so much easier to party 2 nights in a row when we were younger”, my friend says when we go to bed a couple of minutes later.
Oh yes, it was!

I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions. I have never really had any and probably never will, simply because I think I don’t need them. If I want to be nicer to the people around me, eat healthier or finally start to properly seperate waste, I can just do it. Anytime. And it shouldn’t just be a resolution for the new year, but for the rest of my life. What I do like doing at the beginning of a new year though, is to set goals I want to accomplish and dreams I want to make reality. Last year I attended a party on New Year’s Eve where we wrote down our wishes for the new year and then burned all of them wishing for the Universe (or just us) to make them come true. At home, I wrote down the wishes I had made and put them in a drawer. Throughout the year I have looked at that piece of paper more than once to remind me of what I wanted to do and accomplish in 2011. It really has kept me on the path I wanted to take. And guess what: A couple of the wishes I made actually came true. Basically because I worked towards them or finally had the means or guts to put them into reality. Others didn’t, but led me into a whole new direction or didn’t seem achievable anymore because I have changed my mind.

  • Finish my first screenplay. I’d been interested in writing screenplays for a while, so at the end of 2010 I finally bought a book about it in order to learn the basics and finally get started. I actually never made it any further than writing down the plot line and a couple of scenes, but I did so several times. I just didn’t have the persistence to follow it through. Or maybe it just wasn’t the right idea. Instead, I started this blog which I have to admit has been one of my personal highlights in 2011. And I’m having big plans for it in 2012. Oh, yes! By the way, I’ve also had an amazing idea for a new screenplay. So maybe I’ll finish it this time.
  • Travel to New York. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and in 2011 I finally  did it. I’ve always had a thing for huge cities because of their diversity in every aspect of life – and New York is now definitely one of my favourite cities ever (right after Tokyo which can’t be beaten by any other place in the world). Even though we stayed in the Big Apple during a horrible heat wave, we had an awesome time every single day. We would walk all day to see as many parts of the city as we could and fell into our beds with a happy feeling every night. I took home many great memories and loads of inspiration that I’ll be able to live off for a long time. And I will definitely be back!
  • Be promoted. One of my goals for 2011 was to be promoted to PR consultant. I had been working as a junior consultant for quite a while and felt that I was ready to finally become a consultant. So I worked hard on improving my skills, on satisfying my clients, on getting more responsibilites – and on making my boss notice my efforts. Having worked at this company for quite a while, I knew that my boss wouldn’t just offer me a promotion. I would have to take the first step. So in October I went to his office and told him that I felt I was ready for it. And he thought so, too.
  • Find a boyfriend. Ok, that one didn’t turn out that well. But there have been worse years. I made out with a couple of guys, even dated two of them for a while, but it never turned into a proper relationship. Before you’re eyes will start tearing up because of that sad story, I’ll tell you that it was my decision and I’m happy with it. Of course I’d like to have a boyfriend that I will eventually marry and have kids with. But what I’ve learned is that when it comes to relationships it’s wrong to listen to reason (or what your family and friends might say to you) rather than what your heart is telling you. If something doesn’t feel right from the start, it probably just is not right. It’s as simple as that. I’ve had to hurt some people’s feelings this year because of that and I can tell you, it wasn’t nice. So I will stay single until the feeling is right. And being single is actually not that bad once you’ve gotten used to it.

Tonight I’m going to make a wish list for 2012. I’m already having a lot of things in mind that I want to do. All I will tell you is that it’s going to be an amazing journey that is definitely going to change my life in one way or the other. And I’m sure I will share a lot of these experiences on this blog. So stay tuned in 2012!

Happy New Year!