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  • Writer's pictureZanny Merullo Steffgen

2023 in Review—My Adult Gap Year!

As a sentimental person who's also prone to musing, I always take the last days of December to reflect on all the experiences, people, meals, places, and emotions that contributed to my evolution as a person in the past year. 2023 was a particularly significant one for me—I made my home in a new city, got healthy after three years of illness, celebrated my 2020 marriage, and finally felt like I was back in the groove again. A lot of that is thanks to my efforts to create an "adult gap year," as I wrote about in a previous blog post. So I thought I'd put together a short recap of my 2023, including some of my favorite photos and an update on how my adult gap year went. Wishing you all peace, health, and joy in 2024!

Adult Gap Year Update

2020-2023 were really tough years for me, and I know I'm not alone in feeling that way. A combination of health problems, a heart-wrenching move from Cambodia, financial troubles, loneliness, a career change, and the pandemic throwing me out of whack meant that by this time last year I was miserable and had been miserable for quite some time. So I decided to do what I could to get back on track. For me, that meant throwing myself into a bunch of new activities in my new hometown of Fort Collins. Doing so wasn't easy—it meant getting out of my comfort zone and pushing myself, with no guarantee my efforts would pay off. Except they did.

I approached my adult gap year like I'd approached my post-high school gap year. The idea was to try some activities that might enrich my life, follow my whims, and prioritize my own fun. When I wrote a blog about this in March, I was taking beginner hip-hop classes, doing yoga a few times a week, volunteering with immigrants and refugees, joining Italian conversation meetups, and building my first friendships. Fast forward nine months and many of these activities have become beloved parts of my regular routine. I swapped hip-hop classes for Zumba and Pilates and switched to a different volunteer program closer to home, but the Italian conversation club members have become my family, the yoga studio has become my sacred space, and I feel enthusiastic about living here in Fort Collins. In the past months I've also attended Buddhist meetings, been part of the formation of an article club (like a book club), gone to my first women's and full moon circles, and attended marketing networking events—something I never would have considered doing in the past. My life in Fort Collins is rich and beautiful and just what I've been looking for.

With all these activities and even some exciting travel adventures behind me, I'd say my adult gap year was a success! And I highly recommend this practice to anyone else who's in a rut... It's amazing what reframing a year as a "gap year" with lots of exploration and no judgments can do. If you ever want to talk about this idea (or anything else really), feel free to reach out!

2023 Highlights and Accomplishments

-Spending time with my family and in-laws in the US and Germany.
-Getting healthy again after a brief hospitalization and my 10th sinus surgery.
-Going to some pretty great shows and events: Green River Festival, my first Bundesliga game, Bastille and Duran Duran, Phish, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, Adam Sandler...
-Finally celebrating my 2020 marriage in both Germany and the US with friends and family. (Wedding dress shopping with my mom and sister was pretty cool, too.)
-Walking part of the German leg of the Camino de Santiago (called the Jakobsweg) with my husband.
-Improving my sleep hygiene and releasing much of my attachment to my cell phone.
-Putting a lot of effort into my marriage.
-Reading over 20 books throughout the year—it may not seem like a lot, but that's more than I've read in a long while!
-Attending my first networking events and conference as a freelance writer.
-Writing 15 different articles for publications, including some big-name magazines. (Plus working with some great clients and making a living from only freelance writing for the second year in a row.)
-Being nominated for AITO's Young Travel Writer of the Year Award.
-Starting a Substack with my dad.
-Spending ten unforgettable days in Peru as part of an Adventure Travel Trade Association event.

2023 Lowlights and Failures

-Lots of sickness, including a particularly nasty virus I've been fighting for the last two weeks.
-Several slow work months and a tough time getting students for my freelance writing course.
-Not keeping up with my meditation habit.
-Dealing with some hate mail in response to an essay I wrote that I probably should have kept private.
-Falling short of my income goals (although I still made more than last year, and plenty to live on.)
-Sad moments when missing friends and family far away.
-Failing to reach my goal to work on personal writing projects in my spare time.
-Plenty of writing rejections, including those for residencies and fellowships I was excited about.
-Having a quarter-life crisis. Is this what I should be doing with my life? How will I ever afford a house? When will I have children? Is this who I want to be?
-Planning a personal essay workshop and then having no one show up.

My Year in Pictures

January 2023, Berlin. Hanging out with old friends and making new ones!

March 2023, Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins. Getting acquainted with the nature in my backyard and making Fort Collins my new home.

May 2023, Denver. A week of IV antibiotics before my 10th sinus surgery. The end of three years of infection and sickness!

June 2023, Fort Collins. One of the year's simplest joys as I discovered that the tree outside our bedroom window is more than just a tree...

June 2023, Greenfield. Three days of music with my sister.

July 2023, Fort Collins. Some of my favorite 2023 memories will be our walks to nearby City Park. I always see something that surprises and amazes me there.

July 2023, Bruchmühlbach-Miesau. Celebrating our 2020 marriage with a garden party surrounded by family and friends.

July 2023, Vogelbach. Three days on the German leg of the Camino de Santiago six years after I walked the Camino Francés from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela.

July 2023, Kaiserslautern. My first Bundesliga game, and the joy of bringing my niece to the stadium.

August 2023, Worthington. Our American wedding, complete with dancing!

August 2023, Red Rocks, Golden. Watching my favorite band (Bastille) play during the supermoon rise.

September 2023, Denver. A reunion with a dear friend, our former housemate in Cambodia. And a Phish show!

September 2023, Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins. A post-hike swim during a visit from my parents.

September 2023, Estes Park. It was a great year for golf!

October 2023, Fort Collins. Another precious moment of stillness.

October 2023, Fort Collins. Getting my professional headshots updated in Old Town.

October 2023, Colorado Springs. A quick getaway.

November and December 2023, Arequipa. An adventure to remember in this spectacular and mostly untouched region of Peru.

Looking Ahead to 2024

I usually love to set goals—I've been making seasonal color-coded goal sheets for myself since high school—but as I look ahead to 2024 I have the sudden urge to shoot for less, not more. So this time my goals are more about how I want to feel than what I want to accomplish. I'd love to feel less attached to my phone and social media (here's to leaving my phone at home when I go out more often), more inspired by my work (I feel big travel features coming my way...), connected to my spirituality and spiritual community, confident and comfortable in my work success, and playful in my physical body. Another goal of mine is to be at peace with my own contentment even though much of the world is suffering—I want to help in whatever ways I can, but not take on the hardships of the world as if they were my own.

As I leave 2023, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for the people and experiences who made my year, gratitude for the doctors who got me back to full health, and gratitude for myself and all the effort I put into my own happiness this year. Wishing you all a moment of quiet reflection as the year ends and a fresh start in 2024. May it be your happiest, healthiest year yet!

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댓글 4개

1월 03일

Hi, I'm Melody and I loved reading this! Jan 1 is my favorite holiday because I also enjoy reflecting, goal setting/achievement and learning in general. I'm based in San Diego but over the holiday weekend went up to the national parks in the Sierra to reflect, write, and make personal and professional plans for 2024.

I actually found your website through your UpWork profile since I'm a writer and traveler as well. We share a lot of interests and I also deal with chronic illness, so I'd love to talk more about work, life, ideas, etc! Can I reach out through email?


Karen Shiebler
Karen Shiebler
2023년 12월 31일

Zanny, I admire you so very much! You have achieved, in your young, what has taken me decades to approach. Your ability to recognize your own needs/desires and to prioritize them is absolutely wonderful. As a Mom of three, I think this solid sense of self is a tribute to you parents as well.

I so hope we get to meet one day! ( I know we crossed paths at Green River). I'd love to talk moon circles, spirituality and food!

Happy New Year! I look forward to reading more from you!

Zanny Merullo Steffgen
Zanny Merullo Steffgen
2023년 12월 31일
답글 상대:

Thanks, Karen! I do hope we can meet up sometime soon. Wishing you and your whole family a great 2024!


2023년 12월 31일

I applaud you for taking control of you life this way, for dealing so gracefully and bravely with the health challenges, and enjoying so fully your marriage, celebrations, meals, friends, travels, and your new home. Someone I know said true adulthood begins at 25. This year of yours is the mark not only of a true adult, but of a wise and mature one. Very best wishes and every blessing in 2024.

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