2016, you sucked balls! I can’t even pinpoint exactly what it was apart from the political and social issues, votes and decisions that left an incredibly bitter aftertaste. I started the year in a hut in the mountains in Norway, traveled to seven different countries (and three times to Austria, weird) and was involved in several really cool photography and journalism projects. Still, and my friends will agree: Especially in the second half, I had more questions than ever before in my life, I felt like my faith in humanity was shaken more than once. So this year, I don’t want to bore you (or me) with how exciting and fantastic my favourite trips were (they were, don’t worry!); instead, I want to share some of the more personal thoughts and learning curves with you because I have the feeling some of you will be able to identify.

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Work is just work

I spend a lot of time trying to work out what it is that I’m good at, how to get even better at it and how to go to sleep at night knowing that I’ve made my world a teeny tiny bit better today. But you know what? If you’re not a doctor, if you’re not driving an ambulance or trying to find a cure for cancer, chances are that you may take yourself a little too seriously. I speak just for myself; I stare at screens or through my camera finder all day and tend to overcomplicate this. 2016 has been a year where I realized that I spend too much time worrying about stuff that doesn’t matter. You hear about this stuff all the time, but it really just takes a cancer diagnosis in your wider circle of friends, a break-up that rips two worlds apart, a phone call from a crying friend to have your priorities shift and make you see things clearer. Yes, work is an integral part of my life, and it usually doesn’t end at 6pm when you’re your own boss but it’s also just one aspect of life and it shouldn’t dominate all the time. If it does, and if you then mess something up, your life will seemingly fall apart and that’s really not worth it. Nobody on their deathbed has ever said “I wish I had spent more time at the office”, however much you love your job. So instead, find something that’s worth living for, dreaming about and fighting for. Highlight the “worth”, throw out the idiots.

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Stop overthinking, keep life easy

Everyone knows this is the key to success, right? Haha. Yeah, right. I’ve realized on multiple occasions that the problem or the issue that I was going over 24/7 in my head wasn’t as dramatic as I thought; in fact, on every single occasion the people that were involved didn’t think it was that big a deal. Think rescheduling deadlines, shifting story angles, calling jobs off because it just doesn’t feel right. All of this is life – and it’s normal. Having to say “No” feels like a really, really big deal but often, the person on the other end of the line is sensible enough to realize that “No” is quite the beautiful and liberating word. So use it more, tell people what you want, and then go grab it. That guy, boss or friend of yours won’t know what you want (even if they know you well) unless you tell them. And stop playing the same old scenarios in your head over and over again. There’s no point.

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Listen to your body

I’ve been on this planet for 24 years now and… I still don’t know my own body and its needs that well. Knowing your body doesn’t only include organs or allergies, but also your skin type, the vitamins you may lack and what type of sport works for you. Your body is your most important “asset” (I hate that word), so look after it. Be kind to yourself. Take a bath every week, go to the spa and the gym. Switch off all devices on weekends to give your mind a break. Make sure your body and mind are in sync – they need to be. When you’re living out of suitcases or jumping from one trip to the next, it’s very easy to just swallow some pills once you feel a cold coming up. You know what? Maybe you should give yourself a proper rest instead – because risking your health isn’t worth it. In fact, you’re definitely not going to enjoy a trip being half-ill, I’ve tested that one for you a couple of times.

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Finding yourself never ends

Just as you never stop learning more things about the people you love, you also are constantly changing (or maybe that’s just me). Part of the process of growing (up) is constantly reflecting on where you’re going and if the people you’re with help you to be a better person (and vice versa!). It’s about letting go of stuff that no longer fits. Write that e-mail. Make that call. Cut off as many loose ends as you can, that’ll give you space for tackling what’s important. Learn more about yourself every day – trust me, there’s so much to find!

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It’s okay to feel like you’re losing faith in humanity

In fact, this has got nothing to do with being uber-emotional or dramatic, it’s a very valid way to feel when you’re starting to imagine the sad, little world that some – thankfully not all – people around you would like to live in. There was one evening when I sat in a bar with a great friend of mine and we talked about the military coup in Turkey, Brexit, Syria, and the tears just started rolling down my face. Part of that is probably that I work in journalism, love traveling to Turkey and the Middle East and have lived in the UK for three years, but most of it is just being a human with convictions and a sense for what’s right and wrong. And when that sense gets shaken, it’s okay to cry. So on that night, I started to apologize and he told me that it’s fine and healthy to cry about these things, because they are real. He didn’t say “Don’t worry,” or “Looking at history, we still live in relatively peaceful times, you know” or “It’ll be okay”, because it may not be, we don’t know. What’s important is to not grow cynical. Be soft, do not let the world make you hard, as they say.

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There’s nothing like coming home

The best thing that happened to me this year was coming home, perhaps for the first time in my life. It was unlocking the doors, putting candles and fairy lights on, reading magazines and falling asleep on the sofa straight after I read the editorial. Having friends cook for and with me and then crack up all night from silly conversations. Coming home, coming home to people you love, I think that’s what I take away from this year and that’s what no one can take away from me. Home, that’s the people who just get it, who remind you who you are when you don’t want to leave the house for three days, who remind you who you are when you feel overwhelmed by everything which can easily happen in a year like 2016. It comes with living in a big city, with being completely and utterly helpless while people die in Aleppo and on the Mediterranean Sea, with populists rising to power and with people demonstrating against other people, it comes with getting New York Times push notifications and it comes with deciding not to keep your eyes shut when they say something they don’t want to see. And that’s okay.

All photographs taken by Caroline Schmitt