It’s almost my birthday. The past couple of years, I was either celebrating in Bali, or frolicking around Thailand or on a boat setting out for one of the islands around Singapore. (I know, life has been good!)

This year, however, life looks a whole lot different. And while I could sit here lamenting the reality of no more islands or boats or planes, and no more big celebrations with friends, instead, through all these difficult times I find myself immensely grateful simply for getting a chance at another trip around the sun!

Every year, I always do a bit of self-reflection around my birthday. It’s often filled with mixed emotions of gratitude for all the things I’ve gotten to experience and the people I’m lucky enough to have in my life. But it’s also filled with melancholy moments on how fast the years roll by and I wonder, whether or not I’m where I think I should be in life, if I am doing enough, or if I am failing somewhere, somehow.

This past year has been a transformative year for so many of us, to say the least! At first it was very personal for me, with a lot of internal growth as my journey took on some new beginnings, some I had planned and others that took me by surprise. But then almost as if in a universal effort with this pandemic, we went through an unprecedented transformation and mourning period altogether, around the globe.

When 2020 started I was eighteen countries into my personal sabbatical, after leaving my job in mid 2019. By February/March, I was on the South American part of my journey, so grateful for the new experiences in a part of the world I had yet to discover. The biggest highlights of the trip were Machu Picchu, Carnaval in Rio and hiking in Patagonia. At the time, I had already left my job and left my home in Singapore months prior (oh and did I mention I was mourning a breakup with a person I thought was going to be forever?!). And so there I was, grateful for this time to travel, soaking up every moment, and thinking maybe I’d never return to the real world. But then COVID escalated quickly in early March and the whole world shut down. In that moment, I had lost my ability to travel. The very thing that kept me going, despite everything.

So I packed up and within 48hrs, I was on a flight from Buenos Aires headed back to the US to be close to my family. I knew in my heart that I wanted to be with them, in case anything happened. I spent the first few months of quarantine life loving it – acting as a Mexican Mary Poppins – helping with my niece and nephews who were now finishing their school year at home. After living abroad for four years, I loved having all the time with the kids. I even felt guilty at times that I was having so much fun with them when I knew how hard the pandemic was for others.

Sadly, one day the fun faded when I learned that my godfather had been diagnosed with cancer. He was one of the strongest men I knew so I had every reason to believe he would be ok. I was still quarantined with the fam at the time but made one expectation to see him on a Tuesday in June (back when California had started relaxing its quarantine orders, but things were still a bit uncertain). We social distanced, talked about life, and remained hopeful about what would happen next. Unfortunately, by early July, he passed away. It was a loss that none of my family was expecting and especially that soon.

And then, one day in the summer, I got extremely ill. I had all the classic symptoms of COVID without the shortness of breath. I tried to convince myself it couldn’t be COVID. But after a few days of only getting worse, I decided to get the COVID test and much to my surprise, it was positive. It set me on what would later become a 6 week journey of recovery. I spent almost one and a half weeks mostly in bed recovering, a few weeks after that coming out of it with lingering headaches, constant fatigue and persistent joint aches. It’s only been in the past week that I have felt more myself again – both physically and cognitively. And so now, I’m also just grateful for my health again.

I’ve always been an optimistic person but I can honestly say that it’s been a challenging year. And I haven’t even touched on BLM or politics in this blog post and the impact that has had on so many of us.

But what I do know is that we will always be faced with challenging times (ideally not all in the same year). And even when we feel the pain and start to feel sorry for ourselves, there is still a pathway back to hope.

In the end, after all the struggle I have faced, these were some of the main themes that resonated for me throughout this journey and kept me able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope they help you too:

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
I’ve learned it’s important to lean into your feelings – especially those deep, dark feelings we feel. Even when I consciously decided to make a major change in my life last year, and leave my job and home in Singapore, I still felt the shake of the earth under my feet about leaving stability and comfort for the unknown. And break ups are never easy. Even if after you’ve tried everything to make it work and know it’s for the best, it’s still hard. Despite the fact that I had this innate belief that everything will turn out ok in the end, fear still crept in from time to time. I’ve learned that physiologically, fear and excitement can feel nearly the same at times. Your heart races and you naturally may even want to quit or run away. It takes time and courage to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and allowing yourself to acknowledge and feel the way you feel. In those moments, the change is happening and when we can make sure not to misdiagnose excitement for fear or let the fear overtake us, we get the chance to truly grow.

Find Moments of Gratitude
I’ve learned to have to let go, and relinquish control. Trust your gut, God, the universe – whatever you believe in. I knew I couldn’t control whether my godfather would beat cancer but I wanted to help ease part of his pain just by being there. I know it sounds odd but even through the mourning, I was honestly so grateful that I even had that last conversation with him, in person. Sometimes people are taken suddenly, without warning. In this case, I believed he would have more time but in case he didn’t I made sure to tell him what he meant to me. I didn’t know at the time that it would be our last time together. I’m truly grateful for his love and the impact her has had on my life.

Stay Hopeful
Through all this change, it’s reshaped itself into a journey of personal growth. Over the past year, I learned to shed my own ego, challenge so many of my traditional beliefs, unlearn and relearn things and center myself with the things that have always mattered most. I realized that, as much we are all changing through the process, maybe it really has become more of a blossoming. Leveling up as a person, shedding parts of ourselves that are no longer needed and retaining the parts that would continue to serve a greater purpose. It’s important to remain hopeful. Things will get better.

I wish you well on your own personal journey!


lisa val verde



During her 10+ years marketing everything from concept to commercialization on a global landscape, Lisa has found that her greatest opportunity is to empower and encourage any woman with a burning passion and a desire for change to pursue whatever lights her spirit on fire. With Wildernest, Lisa is able to help other women break down their own walls to achieve their full potential, and enable a community of passionate women to create thriving businesses and become catalysts for change.

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