For the first time in years, I took the whole month of December being far away from home, also being far away for Christmas. This month was rather unique, wonderful, inspiring, and interesting.

The picture above, taken from a trail opposite my accommodation, mirrors how I felt. I was on the road travelling but would not know what lay around the corner. I could only follow the path and trust it would lead me somewhere good.

I have great memories of my time in February 2016 when I hid at my friend´s place in the UK (Jim and Christine Memory were the best) focusing primarily on writing my MA dissertation. When I checked my calendar in October, with only one speaking engagement in December, I felt it was time for another challenge. I did not want to play safe, so stepped up. Easily said, not so easily done.

At the same time, I felt very pressured, facing various deadlines, and wondered what it would take me to finish 2023 well. Meaning having completed the most important projects.

Besides having had two work-related meetings in the US this month, I spent a lot of these days on my own, finishing off projects, but the primary goal was to make good progress on my PhD studies.

In retrospect, some things really helped me going, and I like to share with you some of my learnings. Ignore them if they don´t make sense to you, but for some, it might be a great reminder.

  1. Daily rhythms have massively helped me. I am not a morning person, but due to the time zone changes, I had many early morning calls starting at 7 a.m. This helped me get out of bed and start the day earlier than normal.
  2. I started off with breakfast, which I never do at home, but it helped my energy level.
  3. Spending more than three of these five weeks on my own made me go through various emotions. I was able to face them and work these through. It provided me with more clarity, helped me understand some of my fears, and helped me work with them. “Fear, what do you need right now?”
  4. Silence and solitude were refreshing and challenging at the same time. As I was working through my studies and projects (mostly alone and in quietness), I was confronted with some of my inner doubts and insecurities. I also witnessed some of the dark sides of my soul. I had to make cognitive decisions to place them at the cross of Jesus – again and again
  5. I switched off social media and the internet for a few hours each day to be less distracted.
  6. When my focus was deteriorating, I would change subjects, make myself a cup of tea, and do something less challenging for an hour. Self-discipline helped me through tired phases. Bed was not the option, but rather exercise and think while walking.
  7. Each day in my breaks, I did something rewarding, like listening to a good book, or worship or just being present.
  8. Cheering from my friends all over the world provided me with daily precious cheerleading engagements (one of my friends organised a countdown for the first 24 days of December with the #rockthedissertation day 123)
  9. Each lunchtime, I went for a 7km walk, which was a great break. I so needed the time out to get my steps in. It not only sustained my sanity but also let ideas flow freely.
  10. Before coming to the Chicago area, I promised myself not to “waste” any time with watching movies etc. Having made some tougher decisions beforehand helped me stick to them.
  11. When I was feeling too alone or stuck in my studies, I asked for help. And most of my friends said yes, when I needed them. It helped me so much knowing I am not alone in this.
  12. Having only about 20kg of luggage, it was so nice not having to think about what to wear or do daily. Minimalism helped me concentrate!

I would be very eager hearing what has helped you in the past? Anything resonating here? Anything you disagree with?