Back in December I published my Depth Year 2019 post, which set out my goals and hopes for the year. As a reminder, here are the goals:
- Limit my social media time to 20 minutes per day, except if I’m involved in an important group chat about something: no mindless scrolling.
- Uninstall or block notifications from Instagram and Twitter. Turn off Strava notifications and most Facebook notifications so they’re not distracting me when I’m trying to do deep work.
- Set aside dedicated time each week to play board games and shoot the breeze with Michael. You’d be surprised at how little that happens due to a combination of my fitness training schedule and mindless time-wasting.
- Look at ways to improve how we run the house, so that less time is wasted on mindless chores. Spending money on this is fine as long as the utility value makes the costs worthwhile.
- Allocate (realistic) time limits for tasks. If I haven’t got the task completed in that time then move on, and work out how to do it more efficiently next time.
- Identify a personal project to work on over the year, and track my progress on a monthly basis.
We’ve made it to the end of the year! But what happened in the final two months? How do I feel about it now it’s over? How successful, or otherwise, was it? Are there any lessons, or anything I plan to carry over into the new year or decade?
The previous diary ended with me laser-focused on our impending move to Sweden. Now I’ve been living in Sweden for a month. How did the move go? And what impact did an international move have on the final couple of months of my depth year?
November was a month full of endings and farewells. There were final board game nights, final parkruns, final running club meets, final races, and several farewell lunches and dinners. Auchterarder Half Marathon was my final race of the year, on 3rd November. Barry kindly drove us through, and, not being completely recovered from Chicago and it being typically Scottish weather (very wet and misty), I decided to run it slightly within myself rather than completely flat out, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had been planning on doing Glen Clova Half six days after, having loved it the previous year. It would have been a great place to say farewell to some running acquaintances I don’t see all that often but do like to catch up with now and again. In the end I just couldn’t fit it in. Instead, I had a fairly relaxed parkrun with a close friend who hadn’t been able to get much running done for several weeks. That was probably better for the soul. It also meant I had time for more skip runs because we had to shed the contents of our house like a hot-air balloon operator trying to avoid being smashed into the side of a mountain.
We did try not to just dump massive piles of possessions – whilst trying to shed possessions, we had largely hoped to find suitable people or places to donate them to. But when your sambo (the excellent Swedish term for your significant other with whom you have a long term, serious relationship, but are not married to) is a bit of a hoarder and you are moving to an apartment which has less than half the square footage of your current house… you’ve got work to do. A few friends in particular kindly helped us by taking the majority of our DVD and book collections, some board games and a few electrical items. We did sell a few items on eBay and I sold my old Garmin and boxing gloves, but mostly we ran out of time to sell things and started pleading with people to take things from us. Even with all of that, we were still doing skip runs the day before we flew to Sweden. The last thing we did before locking up the house was make one final run before the recycling centre shut for the evening.
The farewells were nice, but also bittersweet. Michael was finding the move was taking up an inconveniently large amount of his time, but he’s not in the least bit sentimental. As long as he has a decent computer set-up with a good internet connection, he can be happy anywhere. He has a few close friendships other than me, but he mostly talks to those friends online. He ‘gets on’ with people more than he makes deep friendships, although there are a few of our shared friends he’ll make an effort to see.
I, on the other hand, had put down fairly deep roots in Angus, and had a wide circle of acquaintances and a reasonable number of friends. It’s easier than ever to stay in touch with people long distance. It’s not like at the end of the last century when I spent a gap year in Canada . Only close relatives received phone calls – I couldn’t afford more than one per month on my meagre income. I had to go to the library for internet access, so I actually communicated by handwritten letters with several relatives and some friends. I actually found some of this correspondence when I was clearing out the house before this most recent move. Even though communication is easier though, I’m not sure how many people with which I will still be in touch a few years’ time.
Still, life moves on, and there’s no point in getting maudlin about it. I thoroughly enjoyed all the lunches and dinners. I was touched that so many people wanted to say goodbye.
Welcome to Sweden
The very end of November, and December, were by comparison a time of new beginnings. We arrived in Göteborg after 12 hours of travel. The flights were booked by Michael’s new employer, and I suspect Ryan Air isn’t on their approved list of providers. We had to fly via Stockholm, then both legs of our flight were delayed due to unexpected snow in the Swedish capital. We literally flew over our destination so that we could spend more time waiting before we flew back. It’s paying money so you can slowly spend time in an activity you don’t want to do. A bit like commuting via British Rail to a funeral.
We got in late at night on Friday 29th November. Our first four days here were spent in a pleasant hotel in the city centre. It was very cold, and we were glad of our scarves. I soon regretted not taking Michael up on his offer to buy me new gloves. The cycling liner gloves I was wearing were nowhere near warm enough. If I had stuffed my hand in a couple of bin-bags I’d be just as warm. Even though it was around -5 degrees and very frosty, the streets were very well gritted. I was still able to get a couple of exploratory runs in. Of course taking my phone for when I would inevitably get lost, or decide my hands were too cold, and take the tram back to the hotel.
We acted like tourists for the first weekend but got the keys to our apartment on the Monday night. We moved some of our luggage there to save having to make multiple trips on the Tuesday morning. The removal firm arrived slightly before we did on the Tuesday morning (even though we were 15 minutes early) and they were very efficient.
We only really had two problems with the move.
The first was that the movers in Brechin had not indicated which box they had packed the feet and bolts for the bed. We had to unpack several boxes and make two phone calls before that was sorted. At one point it looked like our movers were going to abandon that entirely, leaving us to either solve the problem ourselves or sleep amidst the wreckage. Every day would be like waking up after surviving a nocturnal air-raid where the only bomb that went off was in the bedroom.
The second problem was the chair I had brought for my study was too large to fit through the door. It’s currently in our excellent basement storage cupboard in case we move somewhere that has space for it at a later date. The door widths here seem narrower than is standard in UK housing. What is taking some getting used to is the door situation, as in – there aren’t many of them. There are two doors in the apartment – the one for my study (which should be the second bedroom) and the one for the bathroom.
The main bedroom only has a curtain instead of a door, and we had to put up an expandable curtain pole between the kitchen and dining room (Michael’s study) so he doesn’t get distracted when I’m in the kitchen. It means that we needed to enforce some noise discipline. Otherwise I’d be in the kitchen listening to Marathon Talk. Michael might be in the living room watching the Simpsons. Neither of us would be able to hear over the other. Our neighbours would have their ears to the wall, worrying that the weird couple next door had started talking in cacophonous tongues. Headphones are the order of the day.
I thought I would have a lot of free time in December, what with not having a job to go to. I was surprisingly busy with getting settled in. A lot of things take a bit more effort when you don’t have a car. Luckily there is a street recycling point less than 50 metres from the apartment, but I filled it up so quickly with boxes that we had to store them in the basement until it got emptied. There is a number to call when it’s full, but I don’t have a Swedish SIM card yet and wasn’t confident explaining the situation in Swedish. I’d try to get the recycling taken away and probably end up ordering a police raid on someone.
I did manage to get a couple of books read. The daylight hours were so short though, and the lighting in the living room isn’t great. I only made it to 41 books for the year. Still much better than last year’s total of 27 though.
I also made sure Skatås parkrun became a habit early on, going along 8 days after arrival, and going for fika afterwards. I volunteered the following week and ran again the third one in December. I even picked up a parkrun nemesis, who told me his goal is “to beat the old, grey-haired lady”. It took me a second or two to realise he meant me and then another second or two to decide he had become my enemy for life. He better hope I don’t try to phone up about the recycling any time soon.
The parkrun here is much smaller than in Montrose, even though this is a city with a larger population than Edinburgh. But it is slowly growing in popularity. It’s a beautiful location and it’s very friendly. I also joined a running club – Solvikingarna (which translates as The Sun Vikings). I haven’t started looking for work yet, but you’ve got to have priorities. I can’t understand most of what is being said, but there are a couple of people who look out for me and make sure I understand the instructions. And it’s good to be able to run in a group, especially for interval training, even if my limited communication skills make it impossible to have deep and meaningful conversations whilst doing so.
Michael and I had also planned to go along to the International Board Game Café evenings, but Michael was too tired to go to the first couple. Starting a new job can be exhausting especially for someone that is so introverted he’s psychologically inside out. He had a departmental away day, then a divisional away day, and just couldn’t find the energy to meet more new people. By the time he recovered from pretending to be a real human person the event had a break for Christmas. We decided we’ll start attending that after we get back from Christmas in Scotland. There’s also talk of setting up a board game evening at Michael’s work.
I wouldn’t say I’m fully settled yet, but it’s amazing how you can have a huge international move, and massive change to your routine, and yet you can very quickly adapt to the new normal. It’s the hedonic treadmill at work – it’s like a parkrun for your psyche.
On Depth Year Progress
As with the previous diary, it would be fair to say that I have spent a lot of time on social media. In November, that was mostly Facebook messenger, frantically organising final runs and meetups with people I might not see again for several months, or possibly ever. I was too busy to spend much time idly browsing social media though. I thought I might have a bit more time for that in December, but there are always a lot of obligations on your time when you move. I spent some time acting like a tourist and uploading lots of photos of our new apartment and city, and chatting to people via messenger or Facebook. When you’re around 1,000 kilometres (as the crow flies) from what was, until very recently, home, social media does have some great benefits for keeping you somewhat connected to your nearest and dearest. It’s also useful for connecting with other immigrants to your new country, and I found the Brits in Sweden Facebook group a useful place to ask questions I would have had nobody else to ask – such as about products that you simply cannot find in the shops in Sweden. I’m missing proper bleach. Michael is missing Heinz tomato soup and HP Fruity Sauce. The latter of those he has long treated as a hidden level of the food pyramid. The only flavour he really seems to like is ‘Smothered’.
I’ve stuck to rule 2, not receiving notifications from my social media apps – other than messenger. It does reduce the amount of time I spend on Strava, and I can’t remember the last time I checked Twitter or Instagram. But I have spent a lot of time on both Facebook and Messenger.
In terms of rule 3, we managed to have a couple of final board game nights with friends in November, but mostly we didn’t have time to sit down and play games. Then we had to get them all packed up in the middle of November, and they were taken away by a removal firm, never to be seen again (well, for three weeks). They are all now unpacked and, though we haven’t made it to the International Board Game Café yet, we have managed to play a few new games for Michael to review, both in Göteborg and in Kirkcaldy over Christmas.
Michael has pointed out that I have had tremendous success with rules four and five. I completely failed to streamline how we ran the house in Brechin, and just couldn’t stay on top of cleaning, maintenance and gardening for it whilst also continuing to work, eat and run. But it turned out that the (fairly drastic) step of emigrating solved those problems. It’s a pretty great solution to the problem – if you can’t optimise a house, get rid of the house. If you can’t optimise your job, get rid of the job.
Moving country to a much smaller apartment, with no garden, and no job lined up, has simultaneously given me more time and far fewer tasks needing done. It’s much easier to stay on top of chores here, and they take far less time to do. That is, except for laundry. There is a shared laundry room in the basement and so it requires more organisation to book a slot, ensure you can bulk process your laundry, and running up and down the stairs frequently to move things to the dryer machine or hang up the next load in the drying room. The drying room is a room with two pulleys and two very powerful fans which blow out hot air. It’s the most amazing invention ever, and I love it. The other added benefit is not needing to put the heating on to dry the laundry on cold or rainy days.
We also have a project in the pipeline for rule 6 – we’re going to be writing a book. I haven’t started on this yet, but I’ll be able to start fleshing out a plan, milestones and deadlines once I know what my timetable for SFI is going to be like. I’ve been studying Swedish via Duolingo for the past four months, and it’s probably not the best way to get any degree of fluency, or useful vocabulary. The Swedish Government mandates by law that all immigrants who don’t speak Swedish (other than those from Norway and Denmark, whose languages have a lot of mutual comprehension with Swedish) are entitled to free svenska för invandrare (Swedish for Immigrants or SFI) classes. You need a personnummer to register for this, and those arrived just before Christmas. I registered as soon as the offices reopened after the Christmas break. I’ve opted for the full-time, day classes option since I have the time, and it would be useful to understand more of what is going on around me. Michael has opted instead, for now, for the very British strategy of just looking baffled whenever anyone talks to him. The average level of spoken English in Sweden is probably higher than the average level of spoken English in Scotland, so it’s working pretty well.
As a reminder, my depth year goals were
- To be more aware of how I am spending my time, and to spend it in mindful ways that are productive or enjoyable.
- To focus on becoming as good as I can be at running.
- To read more paper and/ or Kindle books than I did in 2018.
- To spend more quality time with Michael.
- To have more time for contemplation.
I’ve definitely been aware of how I’m spending my time. I haven’t been able to spend all of it on enjoyable things but I feel as if the past couple of months have been very productive. My main goal for 2020 will probably be to focus on becoming as fluent as possible in Swedish. Having moved to a country where I don’t speak the language, and which doesn’t have the same clearly defined Further Education sector as the UK, it’s unclear to me what skills I have to offer in the Swedish workplace. I therefore think that learning Swedish to a reasonable level is an important precursor to working out where I can fit in and become a more productive member of my new homeland.
I will still have a lot of focus on running though. I didn’t do as well in 2019 as I would have liked. I did manage to take over 2 and a half minutes off my half marathon PB, but was slower across all other distances. And rather than finishing strong, in the final two months of this year I let my training and mileage drop at least 35% after Auchterarder. This was largely due to time constraints, but also the off-season, post marathon slump. My fitness has definitely been negatively affected by the move, but marathon training for London 2020 will begin early to mid -January, and I should have the time to put in a decent training block. I’m not expecting a PB, but hopefully I can plan it better than Chicago and not hit the wall as early. Even if the time is slower, I’d take that in exchange for feeling good for the entire distance. I also managed to get a ballot place for Berlin marathon. Unlike London, I had no chance of a Good For Age qualification as, for women under 45, the time limit is sub 3 hours. But somehow I beat the 1 in 6 ballot odds to obtain a place. So, all being well, by October 2020 I will have run 3 of the 6 marathon majors.
Goal three was relatively successful. By the end of December of 2019 I had read 21 paper or Kindle books. This was more than double the paltry 9 I managed in 2018. That wasn’t because I managed to spend all of December reading (I managed two Kindle books that month). It was largely due to consciously carving out time away from social media, and prioritising time for reading, throughout the year. My overall book total was also a fair bit higher than for 2018: I managed to read 41 books in 2019 compared to 27 in 2018. I didn’t make the “book a week” target that Michael exceeded, but depending on my work situation in 2020 I could easily see me achieving that next year.
I have definitely managed to spend a lot of time with Michael over the past couple of months. Some of it was just the chores of moving, but a lot of it, particularly after the move, was quality time. I think it might be at the point where he would happily see a little less of me. I’m still out running two nights a week, but he gets to see a lot more of me on other weeknights than he used to, and I even cook for him sometimes. He used to have to book me for a day of games if he was running low on games to review, but now sometimes I suggest playing games and he says no, because he’s played too many already that week. I think we’re still trying to work out optimal new routines for us both, but we’ve had very few arguments during this huge transition period, and I think a large part of why I feel so comfortable in Sweden already is because Michael is here with me, smoothing the transition. And I think it would be fair to say that, as always, I’ve had plenty of time for contemplation.
On the whole, I’m not sure how successful my depth year was. I probably partially followed half of my rules, but did achieve most of my goals. I didn’t have any epiphanies, or have anything like the kind of transformation Michael did. But we’re starting the new decade in a very different place to where we were at this time last year. As such, a Depth Year in 2020 doesn’t make much sense to me. I did find shedding the majority of our possessions and downsizing our living space very freeing though, and an unexpected way to achieve some goals. I really don’t think Michael could have done this without his depth year, so I’m very glad that his was such a success.
The future is uncertain – especially with Brexit looking guaranteed to happen now. I don’t know where I’ll be working or living at the start of 2021. We still have loose ends to tie up in the UK – the main one being the sale of our house, which could be a protracted process. But I’m pretty confident the future will be bright.