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To Iceland and back: New beginnings

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Yes, a new year has begun. The perfect time for transitions, fresh starts – in short, time to reflect and begin with a clean slate.

Coinciding with the new year, I’ve just returned from Iceland, a foreign land so foreign that I actually felt in another dimension. I spent some time comparing the cultures and noted some interesting observations perfectly suited to beginning anew.

Everything’s smaller

The houses are teeny. The cars are teeny. The food portions were super-teeny. With the smaller spaces came the need to simplify, to pack fewer items and purchase fewer items. Obviously, with a brief vacation, we can all can commit to do without for the short term, but what of our permanent lifestyle?  For instance, do we really need the bulk package of 182 rolls of toilet paper?  Because then, I need the space to store all that TP!

There’s something to be said for being in a space with less clutter. It actually translates to a clearer mind. So I came home, ready to purge, both physically and mentally, starting with scheduling myself less tightly, with more time to think and work and less hurriedness and busyness. Don’t be upset if my next available appointment isn’t till May!

Observant and aware

As we explored the various Icelandic outdoor wonders, I marveled at the lack of safety protocols. By the precipices of the Skogarfoss canyon, there were no handrails, guardrails, or barriers to protect us. he hillside platform of the Seljalandsfoss waterfall was reachable via a set of wooden steps that was frozen solid, coated with at least an inch of ice, from the steps, to the handrail to the platform- in essence a frozen slip and slide. (I actually sat on my bottom and slid down the steps to avoid slipping and getting injured.)

Throughout our visit, there were various snowstorms and squalls, with 3-6 inches of snow coating the ground, streets and highways.  Followed by rain and hail that just converted the entire area into a frozen setting that would have shut Maryland down for days.

And there were no plows visible, no salt spread on the streets or sidewalks and are you ready for this? THE WORLD CONTINUED! Businesses opened, government offices continued operating, tours proceeded as scheduled. … I noted that people proceeded attentively, with a keen focus on their surroundings, fully aware of the slippery conditions, just being mindful. Everyone was “on.”

Are we that aware?  Not just of our physical environment, but of all the “noise” that constantly distract us, claiming our attention from the truly important things?

Timing

And of course, the pace is way different in Iceland as it is in the rest of Europe. From my perspective, Americans measure success by how frenetic and frenzied their pace is. How much can we jam into 10 minutes? How much multitasking can we do during ONE conference call? How many screens can we watch simultaneously?

We drove through Reykjavik, the main city, and throughout the coast of southern Iceland. Distance and speed are measured in kilometers, with a max speed of 90 kph for the country, which is approximately 55 miles per hour.

Do you know how long it takes to drive 50 km at 90 kph? In a wintry/icy mess? A long ^$(&^% time.  Well, we had to slow down to be safe, resulting in more time to admire the stunning landscapes passing by.  We were able to have deeper conversations. We had more time to think.  We had to reassess just many things we could fit into the allotted time.

Additionally, during winter, Iceland sees approximately five hours of sunlight. Let me clarify: The sun rises around 11.30 a.m. and sets around 4 p.m. The rest of the time is cloudy to pitch-black. Yup. Another variable impacting the need to be attentive and focused, necessitating better planning or allowing what would be to be.

Being from a Caribbean island, I am inherently not a fan of the damp and cold environment, but I am a lover of people and am curious about their cultures and lifestyles. It doesn’t mean I will sample their “delicacies” like Hákarl (national dish of Greenland shark that is buried, rotted, fermented and then dried for five-plus months — that’s a hard pass for me) or sheep headcheese (look it up). But I thoroughly enjoyed Iceland, its glorious natural wonders, its pace and people tremendously.

And more importantly, I appreciated its lessons.  The opportunity to be more present and observant in the new year.

Amigos, may this new beginning bring you the opportunity to shine, explore and enjoy.

Veronica Cool is founder of Cool & Associates LLC, a business management firm specializing in financial wellness and diverse segment marketing. Her column appears each month in The Daily Record and online. Contact her at Veronica@CoolAssociatesLLC.com. Follow her on Twitter at @verocool.