WHEN I was a kid, I was told to “sit still” or “relax” more times than I can count. A counselor even told my parents that I may have had a disorder — but it turns out I was just a kid with a little more energy than those around me. As an adult, that can’t-sit-still energy has remained with me but taken a new form. And often, it’s hurt me. Over the past year I finally recognized that, and worked harder than ever to dial back.
In 2018, I embraced the idea of life slowing down, which I’d never been able to do. As I sit here at the year’s end, I see a lot of room for self-improvement, but I’ve made progress. I’ve found that the slow lane isn’t failure. In fact, it’s almost never a bad option. In these next two posts I’ll put into words how I came to realize that, if for no other reason to remind myself when I inevitably end up in the fast lane for too long again. These are not how-tos. I still don’t have it all figured out. I’ve simply realized that I needed to make a change.
I have, for years, struggled to give myself downtime. I felt a need to be “productive” in every moment and didn’t see as much value in rest. If I ever managed to, I’d have a an even harder time being present and truly taking advantage of that time. I think much of this can be traced back to my young life moving and traveling constantly — as soon as I’d settle into one place, we’d be moving onto the next. I didn’t have time to get comfortable. Today, as an adult who has finally settled in one place, I still fear losing sight of one priority while working on another, which means my mind and body are constantly working on too many things at once.
Something as simple as going to get a coffee became really hard for me to do. If you’ve read any of previous posts, you’re aware I spent almost all of 2017 on assignment in Afghanistan. Over those 11 months, I had time to sit down, with no obligations, and simply enjoy coffee maybe three times. That changes you, being totally secluded and constantly on your way to the next 14-hour shift. I physically wasn’t able to sit and tune out the world and my brain.
Back at home, this hits me no harder than when I’m running, during which time 100 things go through my head. I’ve gotten a lot better at allowing myself this time to clear my mind instead of filling it. I don’t make stops. I don’t look at my phone. I give myself those miles.
After a morning run a couple months ago, I made my way to cafe in the newly remodeled Wharf, a fun area on the Southwest waterfront of the District. It had been under construction for as long as I could remember, so when I ended my workout there, it hit me that I’d never spent the time, uninterrupted, to take in these new surroundings and really see them. I’d of course been here before, but likely in a rush, head buried in my phone, or preoccupied with any number of tasks. Entering Dolcezza was exactly what I needed. I drank a double espresso, and just sat. I could have bolted home (or onto the next thing on my to-do list) like I usually do. Accomplishing a lot in a day is nice, but that morning I found myself asking: When was the last time you weren’t in a rush?
I look today at something I posted back then after I left the cafe and laugh, because that caption still remains true and the moment behind set me on the right course.
When I thought through what to create on this blog for the close of the year, it was clear pretty quickly that I wanted to relive that morning at the Wharf. I wanted to put myself right back in the place that made it click for me that I wanted — needed, really — to better myself. The place that made me realize there was no harm in taking it slow. That, in fact, there was value in it. I followed the same path of that uber-cold day in February 2018. Ordered a double espresso. Sat down. This time, with a copy of my favorite classic book, something I knew I could tune out to. And I was in no rush.
From there, my friend Jon and I took a walk around the old fish market.
There’s something about going to a place, spending just the right amount of time needed to see everything, and leaving without spending a single dollar. This isn’t quite how all of my visits to the market have gone, but it’s how a majority of them end up these days. That’s because, while often I have plans to walk through it, when you’re nearby you can’t help but make a lap and take in the sights: the booths overflowing with sea creatures, the local workers smiling ear-to-ear, eager for conversation. Ask ‘em anything about a fish and they’ll tell more than you’d ever want to know about where it came from, how you can tell one is a male or a female. See a lobster you like? They’ll pick it up so you can take a photo. It’s the perfect place to go when you’re in no rush. They won’t pressure you, but they’ll happily entertain your curiosities. A perfect harmony. These guys have been doing this every morning for years, long before their new glitzy neighbors arrived — and it’s my hope that with all the development, they’ll remain untouched.
The day we went to shoot here, a cold wind was coming in hard but the bright sun was even stronger. That scene sums up my 2018. There was a lot happening from all angles — work, side projects, relationships, family, everything. Something to disrupt my groove just as soon as I thought I’d caught it. Good challenges and bad. Then, on March 24th, the brightest light of my 32 years appeared when I married the love of my life. I think, at times, I’d lost sight of that light because the wind was blowing so hard. But I knew it was on me to learn to live more. Slow down and allow space for the light to shine brighter. This is the simplest way I can explain it. By truly enjoying fewer, more meaningful moments, I could in fact live a fuller life.
“I knew it was on me to learn to live more. Slow down and allow space for the light to shine brighter.”
Also this year, I embraced books more than ever. I’m backlogged now with more than I can possibly read, but I’m very aware of what’s on my list, having intentionally selected each one and placing them wherever I spend extended periods of time. One in my car. One at the office. The night stand. In every carry-on. Even if it’s just a page here and a page there for now, sooner or later I’ll get through that list. Reading is by no means a new thing I’m introducing the world to, but it’s a change for me — and as someone trying to renew my focus, one into which I’m happy to dive head-first. That February morning inside Dolcezza, as I browsed social media and scrolled past moments of people’s lives in seconds, I realized just how attached my phone I’d become. But nothing can slow a person down more than a book. Everything has to hit pause: music off, TV off, phone flipped over. Just me and the distant sound of the city outside my window. One of the first books I finished this year was “Unbelievable” by MSNBC host Katy Tur. That story — WOW! It put me right there, on the road with her during the last presidential campaign, in a way no Instagram post or series of tweets can. It wasn’t the most relaxing tale to read, but it transported me, as every good book should.
All of that said, I understand there were times when I could have been better. Occasions during which I was on my phone for way too long. When I was too quick to leave one location in the hopes of getting to the next. This year wasn’t a perfect one, but as I finalize this piece, I remind myself that there’s no reason to rush the process. Why did I feel the urge to be “there” by December 31st? Why did I convince myself there was a need to have it all figured out right away? In my hopes of learning to take my time physically, I nearly forgot that I was on the same journey mentally. There was no need to hit “publish” any sooner than the moment I was ready. Living in a state of progress was okay.
At the end of the day (or year), I’m proud of how far I’ve come since that February day. The biggest accomplishment I made in 2018 was gaining a better understanding of myself. I don’t have to have it all figured out just yet, but I’m in no rush — because how boring will life be the moment I do?
All of the above images were shot on location in Washington DC at The Wharf.
The Coffee shop scenes were shot inside Dolcezza.
this write up was edited by Diana Elbasha.