4 things I've learnt from my first year in Denmark
It’s hard to believe that yesterday marked the one year anniversary of our move to Denmark. 12 months of highs and lows have been and gone in the blink of an eye, and as I stand here today and look back I can scarcely believe just how much things have changed from the life we lived just one year ago.
The year living abroad with the worlds…ahem…*second happiest nation has taught me so much about not only myself but life in general. I thought now would be as good a time as any to take a moment to reflect on some of the biggest things that my first year living Danishly has taught me.
1. Making change is hard but healthy
Moving abroad is definitely not always a bed of roses. It’s really bloody tiring to have to start from scratch. That said, change has an amazing way of giving you a sometimes much needed kick up the butt. This past year has given me a renewed focus and energy that’s helped me to achieve things I previously didn't have the confidence to do; from rocking up to events alone to make new friends, through to picking up new (and often random) hobbies, and it’s also helped me to reconnect with parts of myself that I had been neglecting.
Being faced with a blank slate presents you with endless opportunities. Filling the first 12 months of that blank canvas has been one of the most inspiring and energising things I’ve done in my life. Suddenly I find myself drawing, and weight-lifting, and organising events. In 7 years in London I didn’t do a single one of those things.
So, even though I really miss my family, friends and Cadbury’s chocolate, the change that came with quitting my old life has helped me to grow into a much better version of myself. If I ever find myself stuck in a rut again I’ll remember how healthy it was to find a way of starting over again.
2. Your work doesn’t have to define you
Rewind 12 months and I was working stupidly long days that were made even worse by an even more stupidly long commute on a packed, stinky train. I could pretty consistently rule out the hours of 07:00-20:00 every day.
These days, I usually average a 7 hour day and work just a 10 minute cycle away from home. Quite often I find myself glancing at the clock at 18:00 having already finished my working day, been to the gym for an hour, showered and cycled home again wondering what the hell I should do with my evening. It’s really difficult to put into words just how positive that shift has been. I now not only have more time to do things for me, but also the headspace to dedicate energy to side projects and hobbies.
In London, I got myself into an unhealthy cycle of putting my career above everything else. Not willingly, but just because I couldn’t avoid it. If I ever spoke to anyone about how I was doing, the conversation would always default to how my job was going and very little else.
Inspired by the Danish attitude towards work-life balance, I now I fill my life not only with a job that I love, but also many other things that that have no other function than making me happy. I no longer feel defined by my job title, and much less so by my salary, and I now make a point of finding ways of using my free time to explore new things.
I think this is the single best gift that living in a Danish culture could have given me, and it’s something I think we could probably all learn a lot from.
3. Friends come in all kinds of places
Moving abroad can often be lonely, but happily I’ve now made some incredible friends here who I already feel like I’ve know a lifetime. Over the past year my world has been filled with a beautiful mix of people from all walks of life and dozens of nationalities. I’ve realised that I only need a handful of really good friends to feel secure, and for the first time in a long time, I really feel comfortable just being alone too.
Truth is, friends come in the most unexpected places. They’re scattered around Facebook groups, Meetups, work, the gym, the local bar, and often all it takes to spark up a new friendship is not being too proud or shy to say hi.
We all feel lonely at times, and being here this past year and building a new network from scratch has taught me to get over my own awkward self-consciousness and just get out there and meet people. Sure, they might think I’m not their cup of tea, most people I meet definitely aren’t mine, but in doing that I’ve met a handful of people who are now friends for life.
In the same vain, moving abroad also teaches you a lot about who your true friends ‘back home’ are. Over this past year I’ve seen the people I care most about less, but I also feel closer to them than ever before. For every friend that makes an effort to stay in touch or come over to visit, there will be countless who don’t. And that’s totally ok.
4. You are capable of so much more than you thought
For me, this is the big one. When I started thinking about writing this post I was going to make it about lots of funny little anecdotes that sum up the absolute best of this past year. But every anecdote I thought of all led me back to realising that I’ve achieved more this year than I ever dreamed possible.
When I thought about what life would be like before I left, the best I hoped for was to feel happy, settled, make some new friends, and generally not make too much of a tit of myself. But the reality has been a thousand and one times better than that. I’ve pushed myself waaaayyy out of my comfort zone on a number of levels, and it seems to be paying off.
I’ve come here, built a whole new life from scratch, started a creative group that now has almost 800 members, I’ve got fit, lost weight, learnt (/am learning) a new language, grown in job that challenges me, travelled to new places, and even got used to getting naked in front of strangers (read the post, it’s less weird than it sounds): I hate to be frightfully unBritish about it all, but I’m pretty bloody proud of myself.
I started this blog 12 months ago to help me express the new experiences I had as I made this change, but also to hopefully inspire other people who are feeling like I used to that there is another way.
Not everyone needs to move abroad to fix a life that isn’t working for them, but you can and should make a change to help create a reality that is more right for you. Long days on the gravy train and life sucking careers don’t have to be the only way. You can define your own success.
Be comfortable and secure financially, sure. But don’t sacrifice your identity and personal passions in the hope of earning more than you need. Freeing up time to do things just for you will enrich you in a thousand more ways than that busting a gut for another 10k will.
My experiences over the last 12 months have stoked my motivations and ambitions again - I’m now better personally and professionally than I ever was when I was trying to climb the career ladder in London. If I could hope that this blog has any impact, it's that it helps others know that when you feel like life's giving you lemons, you can make your own lemonade, on your terms, too.
Thank you to every single person who’s encouraged me through the past 12 months, both here and in the UK. And mostly thank you to my other half, who’s shared every step of the journey with me.
The conditions of my life here in Denmark have helped me to press the reset button on 5+ years of an unhappy routine - I now feel more ‘me’ than ever before. And I’m only just getting started.