Sometimes it’s hard to look into the mirror. Really stare yourself. Look at your reflection and see not only the flaws but also the good things. Sometimes you need someone to hold that mirror up and point those things out to get you started.

The point is, that unless you are willing to really look yourself in the eye and be open to what you see, you will never improve. You will never change one single thing about yourself apart from just getting older.

Would you be willing to stay where you are? Not change? Be like this until you’re 80?

Yeah. Me neither.

Don’t be afraid to be you. The tagline of my website and the hardest lesson I’m still learning. Every day I’m still afraid to be me. I don’t know who ‘me’ is sometimes. Where I’m going or what I want to do, who I want to be. So it’s hard to be something fully and completely when you don’t know who or what that is.

It’s an easy excuse to hide behind and live in suspended animation. I know that. But it’s also a large part of my reality. Who am I? How do I know for sure what I want to do?

Taking a leap of faith is one way to go I’ve done that on many occasions. I moved to the UK, went back for one thing and there have been many other situations where I spontaneously followed my gut instinct. Sometimes that felt like the only thing I could do.

And now when I want so desperately to rely on that gut instinct, it has gone on a vacation without me. I will have to work hard to make sure it comes back to me. And the only way to do that is one habit a time.

So this morning, after a long period of nothingness, I pulled out my journal, and I wrote three good things that happened yesterday and three things I’m grateful for. Starting to full on journal was too big a step yet. But, the journal inspired me to make an index card for the ICAD challenge, and I’m writing this blog post now.

Little tiny baby steps all the way. One thing I know, one thing I’ve always known, is that creativity and writing are the two things that are going to make all the difference.

It’s up to me to face the demons blocking my path with these tools and make sure writing and creativity are the cornerstones on which I build my day.

I’m lying on my back on a towel. I can feel the grass beneath my feet, the sun on my face and the wind playing with the loose strands of hair. At this moment I am completely happy.

Lately, happiness is something that doesn’t come around that often lately. Being burnt out for me means that happiness is something that’s hard to experience and everything around me feels like a big black hole that’s sucking me in deeper. Sometimes trying to be positive just doesn’t do it. Stress and anxiety keep crashing over me like an angry ocean. But today was different.

Today’s yoga session was outside. It’s one of those rare occasions where it’s warm in the Netherlands. And I mean really warm. Bright blue sky and blazing sun. We white Dutch people rejoice and at the same time worry about sunburn. So today my weekly yin yoga class was in someone’s garden overlooking the fields. Up ahead horses were running around and playing, and all I could hear was the sound of birds and the rusting in the grass.

We slowly move, bend over and stretch. The sun warms our bodies, but mostly our souls. It’s said that being outside helps removes anxiety, reduce stress and lift your mood. And at that moment it’s true. I feel lighter than I have felt all week. And after a blissful hour, I cycle back home as if I had wings.

This is what happiness looks like.

I grew up singing songs. Usually during the dishes or in the car. Whenever we would drive somewhere, my dad would turn up the radio and start singing along to songs. So naturally, we followed. We didn’t care about being good, or anything else. What mattered was that we were singing songs together in that specific moment.

I remember one trip where my dad drove me to France at the end of June. It was warm, so we had the windows of the dark blue Volvo rolled down. They were the kind of windows you had to roll down manually. As we were driving through the countryside, we were listening to our mp3-mix that we had burned on a cd. Dust in the wind by Kansas came one, and we both sang from the top of our lungs. The wind in our hair, the sun on our face, and good company. At that moment I felt rich, happy and so lucky to experience that moment. When I think of that trip, that moment defined it all.

Singing became something we did in our family. Never on stage though and I hardly sang in front of other people, unless they were in the car with me. Most of all singing became something that calmed me down. Whenever I was driving, and things got a little hairy or I was nervous, I turned up the radio and sang. It made me focused, grounded and present in the moment.

For all the good things it had brought me, I stopped singing. I stopped doing it at home while I was cooking, I stopped singing in the car with my dad. The only time I sang was in the car, on my own, as it was a safe place to let all the emotions out. More often than not that became the place where I allowed myself to feel, to cry and scream at the music. Those few minute rides every week became my new safe.

Until last week.

Suddenly I caught myself dancing in my living room wearing Miffy socks that smiled at me. I found myself sliding up and down the living room dancing as if my life depended on it. It was in that moment that I felt the urge to sing. And I did.

Songs have a way of making us feel things even if we’re not ready to feel them. I always thought my mp3-player had a cruel sense of humour, giving me the songs that were the most confronting. But now I realise that when all the walls are up, music sometimes is the only thing that can get through.

And all you’ve got to do is decided whether to sing or not.

We form a line. The seven of us are standing in a darkened hallway in our socks. We move at the rhythm our teacher is setting. Sometimes slow, at times fast. And I’m struggling to keep a straight face.

Round and round in circles we go. Up and down the hall, trying to feel our breath as we walk. It feels surreal walking here. I’m trying my best to stick with the assignment and focus on my breathing, but I have to hide my face so no one sees me giggle.

I’m halfway through my mindfulness course and I’m still not sure what to think. I love the idea of not feeding my negative thoughts and not giving the stress any power. But I have a hard time surrendering.

All those years I have trained my mind to be in control. To be strong, to not let anything else win. And yet, I feel weaker than ever. I’m trying to quit my snacking habit and as soon as the impulse comes up to race to the chocolate. My mind has no control over that feeling whatsoever. So why do I insist this is ‘being strong’?

All my life I heard not to give up and to fight for my dreams. So when things get hard I work harder and fight to make them things happen. Even if that means breaking myself.

At least I didn’t give up. Well, that’s the idea at least.

With a few extra years of life experience, I’m beginning to think saying no is actually a stronger. If it’s based on well-considered thoughts and you made a real effort to make it work, it’s okay to give up. To let go of a dream that is making you miserable.

Mindfulness is a hard lesson for me. Because again it’s not about giving in or giving up. It’s about living in the moment and accepting how that moment is making you feel. Not to pass any judgement on that. And boy, am I good at passing judgement. Mostly when it comes to myself.

That makes mindfulness also a valuable lesson for me to learn. Because I am struggling with it so much.

I’m not sure if I’m going to get the hang of it during the lessons I still have left. It feels like something my mind is and isn’t ready for at the same time. And the trick is not to judge yourself about that…

We’re standing in a circle throwing a paper towel ball at each other. Then a second ball gets added, followed by a third. Suppressed giggles from everyone in the group. It looks like I’m not the only one who finds this both ridiculous and fun at the same time.

On the sidelines, our instructor tells us to stop trying to catch the ball and feel our butt, legs and feet. It feels silly and I’m very aware that I’m putting extra tension on my rear end. All I want to do in that moment is to throw the ball and keep laughing. Which is not the point of the exercise.

A couple weeks ago I started a mindfulness course. Burnt out, stressed out, out of a job and on the verge of a meltdown, I felt like it was time for a change. I heard so many good things about mindfulness I was ready to try it. Every week I sit cross-legged with strangers on a yoga mat trying to feel my pain. To me, that seems counter-intuitive. Naturally, I asked about it.

Wanting it now

“So what you’re saying is that you already feel the pain all the time, but that you want it resolved, right? You want it to go away?” Our instructor asked me. Yes, I nodded, yes please. “Well”, he shrugged. “You didn’t sign up for a course to solve all your problems.”

I can’t put into words exactly what I felt at that point. Anger, frustration, annoyance, sadness, perhaps all of it at the same time. Why? Because he was right.

What I didn’t get is that mindfulness isn’t about finding a solution. It’s about everything but the solution. “Your mind is like a little child”, he said. “It wants it and it wants it now. And if it can’t have it, it starts to whine until he either gets it or gets a lollipop until it’s resolved. It wants a distraction, a form of satisfaction, why do you think we’re all overweight?”

While I said I am not trying to distract myself from the pain, I remembered the brownies and ice cream I had earlier. I reminded myself I was heading to the gym later that evening to take my mind off everything. And I remembered the Netflix binge I indulged in. Everything to not be alone with my thoughts. But I shouldn’t be alone with my thoughts, I should be alone with my feelings.

I should be trying to feel the pain and not think about it. Thinking about it only makes it bigger, feeds it. Feeling it doesn’t make it go away, but also doesn’t make it grow. I tried it this morning and it was uncomfortable. It hurts and it feels like something is rotting in my chest, pressing against my ribs and wanting to go deeper. I still want to resolve it, fix it and make it go away. But I like the idea of not making it grow.

So if you see me with a blank expression on my face this week. Don’t worry, I’m emerging myself in that ball in my chest. Or I’m trying to feel my butt and feet (and trying not to care how ridiculous that sounds.)

This year I want to travel. Travel a lot. Sure I’ve done that the past few years too, but this year it’s different. I am tired of being a tourist, of being some white girl who goes to fancy restaurants in some Asian country. I want to emerge myself in the culture.

When I think of travel this year I see myself going on adventures. Climb outdoor, have a backpack on my back with everything I’m taking with me and camera in hand. I want to document cultures, invoke wanderlust in people and make them dream through my eyes and lens.

Truth be told, I was never an adventurous spirit. I am an introvert who’s perfect afternoon is on the sofa with a book with endless amounts of my favourite tea. Most of my comfort consists of having my favourite things around. The comfort of home is my woollen blanket under which I write this.

That’s exactly why I want to be uncomfortable this year. I tried the comfort zone and it has gotten me as far as the end of the sofa. Ok, and to the UK and back. That’s where my love of the outdoors started. There I started running, started hiking and even climbed my first bit of rock. I got my hiking boots there and my beloved backpack. And then I went back home to the Netherlands.

The outdoors is different here. Flat. And my heart longs for the mountains. It longs for rocks, for forests so old it makes you feel small. For dramatic skies that feel like you’ve left earth and entered a place new to ever human imaginable. I long for outdoors that makes me feel like a new person who can do anything every single day.

For the past five years, I have let myself be ruled by fear. By ‘I can’t do this’, by fear of what others would say, and by financial fear. See that’s the thing about fear. It’s so goddamn easy. “Hey want to go and climb?” “Oh no, I don’t think I can do that, I’m not strong enough.” (true story by the way). It’s often the first response when asked to do something new. No, and some kind of excuse. It’s time to call bullshit on this. Time to let go of the fear. Time to stop letting fear being the first reaction to anything and everything.

It will be hard. And I can tell you there won’t be a day that it will be easy. But I hope that it will get easier.

As I am writing this, I’m writing this I’m setting intentions for 2018. I want to be fearless, take risks and push outside of my comfort zone. I want to things that 18 years old me never dreamed of doing. I want to write about my adventures and create adventures to write about. I want to climb real mountains, hike a part of the Chinese wall, and never let fear stop me.

Photo by Yuxiang Zhang

The plan was to hop bookshops, cafes and write. So far I have a sore shoulder, a headache, bought no books and haven’t written a word.

There is something magical about writing. The illusiveness of creating something that wasn’t there before. To shape something that inspires readers with tools that everyone uses every day. It makes you feel like a wizard.

In reality, writing is hard work. Creating magic puts a pressure on you that is not easy to lift. In fact, drinking tea becomes more important than why you came to the cafe in the first place: to write. If you’re reading this it means that I succeeded and wrote. But is it magic? I’m not sure.

When I first started writing as a teenager, I wrote because I wanted to share how I saw the world. I had stories in my head and I shared them unfiltered. I wasn’t afraid if it was good enough, or if other people would care. I wrote and I wasn’t afraid. In many ways that feeling got ruined not only by adulthood but by social media and peer pressure. I would even go as far to say that it’s the reason why I stopped writing.

Ok. You got me, I didn’t stop. I write for a living. I’m a content creator, a storyteller and a blogger. I write every day. I get paid for writing and that helps me to keep the lights on. According to Stephen King that makes me a writer: someone pays me to string words together. But writing at work is all I do. I can hear you gasp in horror. Yes, I only write during work time. There I said it and I don’t like it.

See, I fear the blank page. I fear that no one gives an actual shit about what I have to say. I fear that I’m not good enough and I fear that I suck as a writer. I can be honest with you, right? Dear stranger on the internet whom I have never met, we’re all friends here.

So in many ways, I long back to the uncensored 14-year-old who was always writing. How can I get that girl back? Here comes the tricky part (and I know you already know this): write. Sit your ass down in a chair and write. And that is why on a cold October afternoon in Dublin I find myself on a sofa that I’m afraid I’ll never get out of. And I’m writing. There is something magical about this city. It makes me feel comfortable enough to take the gamble and write again. I can borrow the magic of the city to not have to conjure it up on my own.

And while I’m swooning over the Irish accent and hugging guys from Amnesty international. I’ll indulge in bookshops and I can’t help but wonder: is travelling alone the way to get the magic back?

Morning routines have been a hot and trending topic in blog land for the last few years. ever since Hell Week and the Miracle Morning people have been focused on creating a morning routine that gets them more productive in the morning to kick start their day.

I have always been a morning person. I love the quietness when the world is still half asleep and everything slowly wakes up. It feels like me-time where I can write and be creative without being interrupted. Some of my best writing has come out of these moments in the morning. Over the years I have tried a lot of different things. But it always comes down to the following things:

I like to get my workout in in the morning. That way I have it out of the way before the day starts and I don’t have to do it later in the day. It always leaves me feeling super productive and full of energy as I start my workday. It changes with the morning. Sometimes it’s a sweaty workout, other times it’s a run and sometimes it’s just some yoga to wake up with.

I always shower in the morning, it makes me feel refreshed and it wakes me up. I have experimented with showering in the evening or skipping a day, but it never made me feel really awake (or clean!). Without it, I feel like I haven’t started my morning properly.

My journal times are the best times of the morning. It’s 100% me the time where I can do whatever I want. I used to do morning pages only, but over the years that has changed somewhat. Sometimes I do the morning pages, other times I write blog posts, articles, or just gratitude lists. There are times where I even skip the gratitude lists and not journal at all and I can always feel the effects later on in the day: less focused, easily distracted and overall just not very happy.

I need my tea in the morning like other people need their coffee. I only ever drink herbal tea, so no caffeine for me. I love having a large steaming mug of tea next to my journal when I write. It’s the best part of the morning apart from journalling (and let’s be honest: breakfast). Without it feels like the morning is off to a wrong start.

Some relaxed music to start my day is essential too. It helps me to get in a relaxed mood and get in the right mindset to tackle the day head on. I’m really receptive to moods, so if the music is off I really can start the day in a wrong mood. So I really carefully pick out my music every morning.

How do you like to start your day? What are your best morning ritual essentials? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

This post contains affiliate links. I will never promote stuff for the sake of promoting and will only write products that I know and use. Using affiliate links will not influence my opinion in anyway.

My photography story isn’t one where I picked up a camera and I just knew that this is what I wanted to do. Far from it. It’s something that grew with me as I became an adult. Something that somehow was always present.

When I was younger I took my first photo with my dad’s camera then later I started experimenting with my first digital camera after having had a simple film camera for years. Quickly after that, I got a more professional camera.

However, I didn’t really start to take photos until my dad showed me how to shoot analogue. We’ve spent the weekend in Dublin and only took his old Pentax ME Super with us. It stopped me to pause and think before I composed a shot. This was also the first time I experimented with a wide angle. After that, I was hooked.

Learning to shoot with the Pentax ME Super in Dublin.

I went from a Canon EOS 400D to a Canon EOS 7D and at the end of last year, I finally switched to my beloved Canon EOS 5D Mark 3. Over the years I’ve experimented with a lot of different parts of photography, and I thought it would be fun to show you the style and transitions I went through (and am still going through!). Because photography is an ever moving thing, you shoot, and the more you do it, the more you will develop your own style and the more it will change (for the better!)

This is one of the first photos I took back in 2007 with my Canon 400D. I remember being extremely proud of this photo.