You Should Buy a Flare Gun… And Other Travel Advice I’ve Received

The bell chimed its friendly greeting as I opened the door to Prospero’s Books. Besides a gathering of older men around the checkout counter, the place was empty. I nodded my head in the general direction of the group and slipped inside.

Bookstores are a safe middle ground for the solo-adventurous.

I’ve been practicing, you see. Traveling alone takes a lot of bravery. So I sometimes go on mini-ventures in my familiar places.

Practice turns bravery into second nature, and striking up conversations with strangers still takes bravery for this shy girl.

Bookstore

I wandered down the musty aisles, checking for all my go-to authors, comforted by the columns of colors and gold-etched words on the spines. Wisps of the men’s banter up at the counter wafted over the bookshelves, commentary about the presidential candidates, punctuated with guffaws and disparaging remarks.  

Winding my way over to the travel section, I happened upon John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. I had heard of this memoir of his journey across America, a friend recommending it to me when I told him about my plan to do the same thing. This edition was beautiful, the kind of book that begs for you to smell the pages.

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Satisfied with my find, I clutched the book and brought it up to the counter. The flock at the counter continued their shooting of the breeze as I slid my book onto the counter.

“That’s a good one,” the man who must have been the owner said, pausing his conversation.

“Well I’m about to take a similar journey, so I thought I should give it a read.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah, this fall, I’m planning to drive out to the west coast,” I replied, opening up to the inside cover with the map of Steinbeck’s trip. “Well, this half anyway,” I added, fingernail tracing the left side of the map.

The hum of conversation around the counter halted, simultaneous interest peaking in the men.

“My sister did that awhile back.”

“Are you going to drive or fly?”

“What kind of car do you drive?”

“Where are you going to stay? Have you heard of KOA camps?”

The barrage of questions hit me as I became the epicenter of these retired men’s Saturday evening.

They were chiefly concerned about my auto-mechanic smarts and my personal defense plan. Each man put in their two cents worth about how to make the most of my trip.

“You should get a flare gun. That would keep ya safe,” one man advised, looking over his bifocals with one eyebrow raised. “You don’t need a gun permit to have one, and that would knock someone right out if you needed to.”

Murmurs of agreement from the peanut gallery.

Bemused, I asked for other words of wisdom.

 

I finally broke away, making promises to stop by the store before I’d leave town, shaking my head and smiling for the next two blocks.

What I’m finding is that people are excited to share in this adventure with me. There’s something about traveling that leads to moments of connection. A magnetic force that draws people in with a range of curiosity, wistful longing, and excitement.

Even though I haven’t left yet, I’ve already had several encounters of sweet conversation and unexpected generosity.I’m more exposed to the kindness of strangers when I’m out of my element, whether it’s spending a Saturday night by myself, or in a foreign country. Most of the time, the people I meet at the intersections of my openness are eager to help; to share in the moment with me.

I think we are all captivated by stories of people pursuing the things that are life-giving. It conjures up memories of our own bravery or our hunger to do the same. What a relief it is to break past the mundane small talk and delve into the things that ignite our souls!

These conversations have often been sparked as I share my story.  That being said, I find myself wanting to receive advice more than give it these days. I’m intentionally seeking out the stories and wisdom of people that I see pursuing the things that make them feel alive.

Some conversations I initiated, inspired by their bravery in seeking adventures. Other advice came from late night conversations with people who know me well. Others still, like my peanut gallery at Prospero’s Books, have been friendly strangers willing to share their words of wisdom. Some advice is unsolicited, but all is welcome.

Less than two weeks away from embarking on this journey, I’m thinking back to all the myriad discussions I’ve had over the last six months.

The words that have shaped me the most haven’t been about the practical how-tos. Or the hacks of how to copy other people’s journeys. It’s been the statements that lead to the deeper reasons of why we go on adventures. It’s been the pointing out of lies that keep us from embarking.

Looking back, I can see that these statements formed the foundation for which I am now leaping off.

Allie, you can do this.

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(Or: Bravery is a choice.)

The idea of traveling for a longer period of time was sparked by a conversation with a friend who was about to take a year-long trip with her husband around the world. I was bombarding her with questions of how they were making this happen, and she was firing back questions about what I was planning to do after the school year was over.

She must have seen my eyes lighting up because she looked me squarely in the eyes and said “Allie, you could do this. Travel! Do what you want to do! You don’t have to live this cookie-cutter life!”

At first, I dismissed this as a fanciful but wildly impractical pipe dream. I filed it away in the “Someday” drawer in my brain. You know the one–right next to the “when I’m married” box and the “when I have it all together” filing cabinet.

But I couldn’t get her words out of my mind. The more I sat with the idea, the more appealing and intriguing it became. To take a set outside of my expected narrative and delve into the perspective that comes from travel. The risks of this dream were very blatant. But her words helped me overcome this myth that you need some sort of permission or credentials to be able to do what you want to do!

Bravery is not some inherent trait like being left-handed or Irish. Nor is it this grandiose disposition of fearlessness. It’s more like integrity: a daily choosing to align with your desire. Being willing to reckon with the self-doubt and accept help along the way. It means deciding to submit to the mundane minutia of following through with something when it stops being easy.

You’re not just going to be a hippy for six months!

(Or: Your level-headedness will be an asset.)

IMG_1336I’m this weird hybrid of spontaneity and strategy. I’m free-spirited and a planner. I love having a framework of a plan, but I have no qualms with scrapping the plans at the last minute and embracing what the moment is calling for.

Sometimes I feel like I’m too much of a free-spirit, choosing to be a vagrant with no place to call home for several months. I see people’s eyes widen at my vague descriptions of plans, feeling overwhelmed on my behalf.

I also have moments of panic, feeling like there’s no way I can handle this. I don’t know what the heck I’m doing! All the “What-Ifs” creep up, and suddenly my cozy bed at home and some easy comfortable job right here in the Midwest seem pretty appealing. Or at least safer.

Truth is, I am heading into a level of unprecedented unknown territory. This feels daunting when I try to wrap my mind around the whole big picture. But if I remain in this present moment, and do the work that is before me today, it’s fine.

I have done the work to be prepared. (As prepared as a can be.) A friend who has also done some solo-traveling reassured me when she said that both sides of my personality are needed in this adventure. It’s a process of leaping into the unknown while making the best choices with the information that you have.

The worst case scenario isn’t actually that bad.

(Or: Fear doesn’t get the final say.)

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetSometimes optimism can be paralyzing. Trying to drown out the voice of fear with trite hopes that “It’ll all work out just fine” doesn’t hold much weight for long.

This has felt counter-intuitive but has proved to be so mobilizing in actually decided to pursue this dream. Letting my fears have their say; letting all my worst nightmares play out in my imagination is a launching off point for finding a way to move past them.

When I actually exposed my worst fears, I saw them for what they were. They were either inconvenient problems that are solvable (i.e., my car breaks down=get AAA.) Or they are things that I have no way of controlling, and could just as easily happen in a safe and predictable environment.

Which begs the question, what is the cost of not doing this thing I’m longing to do? After my fear had its say, curiosity’s voice came out loud and clear. That is the voice I’m choosing to listen to more.

You should stay with my cousin’s best friend!  You’d love her!

(Or: Wherever you go, connect.)

IMG_7433I haven’t spent much time on the West Coast. I don’t know very many people there. And for this shy girl, it’s daunting to feel like I’m heading to so much newness.

Before I could talk myself out of it, I was met with this outpouring of generosity and hospitality. More people than I can keep track of offered their insider scoops on places to visit and have given me names of people to connect with when I go.

Some bloggers get sponsored by big brand names. I get sponsored by college friends and their relatives. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And, without a doubt, the best way to travel is through the eyes of a local. There’s such a difference between being a tourist in an unknown city and trying to find your way to interesting places and being guided by someone who shows off their city with the bragging pride of a smitten lover.

It’s humbling to receive other people’s hospitality, let alone people that are friends of friends. But the beauty of this connection, especially in an age of rugged individualism, is well worth it.  

It’s true–I am heading out on my own in a few short weeks. I’m taking this dream of mine out of it’s dusty “Someday Box” and embarking. But I am not alone. I am encompassed in the support of a kind multitude. I can embrace my beginner status, because I know that I will have instructors along the way, helping me with all the advice a girl could ask for.

Ten Reasons I Love Road Trips

open roadI’m about to head out on the biggest road trip of my life. I mapped it out the other day and I’ll be putting in over 2,400 miles in the month of September. That’s a lot of time with me on the open road.

I don’t feel daunted by that. Well, maybe a little. But mostly, I feel excited. I have always loved a good road trip. Here are my top ten reasons that going on an adventure makes me feel most alive.

|Reason #10| The best conversations happen in the car

My affinity for road trips probably started when I got my first car. A 1999 Chevy Cavalier. Forest Green. My best friend from high school and I would roam the streets of our small Iowa town. We’d alternate between going through the Arby’s drive-thru, ordering curly fries in a British accent and wandering the streets, “philosophizing” about life.

There was something magical about my little forest green car. Driving aimlessly, reveling in the freedom of our pre-curfew hours, Jaci and I would have the best conversations about anything and everything.

Maybe it’s the stretches of time on long trips. Maybe it’s the sense of possibility in the air. Being en route has a way of helping people drop their guard and open up.

two girls on a car|Reason #9| Quality time with an audio book

It doesn’t take long for my not-so-subtle nerdiness to come out.

It hit me the other day why I’m not that familiar with the popular music from my era. I have to just smile and nod my head along to the vaguely familiar beat when everyone sings along at weddings and parties.

When everyone else was driving around, listening to the top 40 songs, I was probably listening to The Count of Monte Cristo (a 24 disc feat) or The Series of Unfortunate Events. I love delving into a good story when I have a long drive ahead of me.

Turns out you can have too much of a good thing. I’ve noticed that if I listen to an audio book for too long, the calming British voice will start narrating my thoughts.  I try to balance out my stories with music or a phone call with a friend, but I still feel giddy at the thought of getting lost in a novel or podcast.

I’m sure many people have looked over at a stoplight and seen me talking back to the narrator or gasp in surprise at a plot twist and gotten a good chuckle. There is something distinctly wonderful about the human love for a good story.

|Reason #8| The (sometimes not so) unexpected detours

One time, my friend Jamie and I went on a “Choose Your Own Adventure” road trip. We set out with no destinations in mind, ready for the open road and the spontaneity that would ensue. In the console between our seats were cards that we’d draw at random, saying things like “Take the next exit and find a place to go on a picnic.” or “Ask a local where to go to dinner tonight.” This trip resulted in us heading over 800 miles of travel in under a week. There were so many unexpected delights that we never would have come across if we had planned everything in advance.

The small hole-in-the-wall restaurants. The quirky little towns and well kept secrets of America. How else will we find these hidden gems unless we get in the car and go?

girl in front of van|Reason #7| Road trip snacks

I always associate traveling with giving yourself permission to splurge. Especially in the food department.

On the first day of vacation, my family would always pile into the car and head to the grocery store. This was the one time a year where the answer to any “Can we get…” question was always yes. Rice Crispy Treat Cereal? Yes. A king-sized bag of Peanut M&Ms? Yup. Two bags of Bugles? Why not?

My desire for what to splurge on has taken a somewhat healthier route, thankfully. V-8, pistachios, and a Cliff Bar are my usual gas station purchases. (Ok, and sometimes still Peanut M&Ms. I can’t resist!)

I love the sense of extravagance that traveling brings. The simple pleasures that you gift yourself add to the joy of the trip.

|Reason #6| Creativity born out of an escape from boredom

There us a distinct brand of goofiness that comes from being in the car for what feels like forever.

I became an expert at long stretches of car travel from the summer vacations our family went on every summer. Armed with a bag of toys, blankets, and some Rope Twizzlers, my two siblings and I would pile into our Dodge Caravan for the long haul to some idyllic destination. It wouldn’t be long before the blankets were webbed into a fort and the Twizzlers were fashioned into a red, braided beards on our faces.

Then in college, several of my friends decided to road trip to Charleston. We piled into this oversized 80’s van and drove halfway across the country and back in the course of a magic-filled week of epic adventures. Between the evenings of city exploring and camping in the Smoky Mountains were long stretches of time in the car. Being the creative souls that we were, we filled that time with storytelling. Joe spent the entire state of Virginia recounting the epic tale of The Lord of the Rings. This lost art of storytelling was rediscovered. We were literally a captive audience, with nowhere to go in the giant van. But we listened with rapt attention, drawn to Joe’s larger-than-life recounting. 

Someone said that only boring people are bored. So what else is a creative person to do when there’s 200 more miles to your final destination, and conversation runs dry?

|Reason #5| Concert: Party of two

I am not one to sing in front of an audience. Karaoke makes me cringe. But with the right person, and the right song, in the right car, and I’ll belt it out with the best of them.

Hand motions and car choreography included, I love a good car concert! (My roommates and I once had the idea to go “car-oling”–a version of Christmas caroling that included a choreographed dance to the N’Sync Christmas album. This was one of our better ideas as a collective group, I think.)

Who needs an open mic night? My car is all the stage I need.

|Reason #4| Margin is created in the in between

We don’t follow the normal rules of behavior when we are in transit. In the unavoidable commute time between point A and point B, we find space to just be.

I find driving to be an almost meditative experience. The mental clutter settles like flakes in a snow globe as the endless ribbon of highway slips by. Especially in a culture that accepts the frantic pace of unceasing activity and productivity, this quiet intermission is often mistaken for an annoyance rather than a gift.

girl truckI always get my best thinking done in the car. For awhile, I worked in a town thirty minutes away from where I lived. While others would drop their jaws at the length of my daily drive, I would look forward to my commute to and from work. Turning off the radio, I’d let my thoughts unfurl as I processed my day. There is something so helpful about driving in sorting out thoughts and ideas.

As I was planning out my route to the west coast, I have some eight, nine, and even ten hour days in the car. I get a week where my full-time job is to drive. It will be a living out of this in-between space, as I physically and mentally shift into a new season.

|Reason #3| Connecting with Strangers

One of my favorite things about the trips I’ve taken is the people I’ve met. Getting out of your own stomping grounds opens you up to the possibility of encountering other colorful characters.

Like the guy I met at a coffee shop in Colorado Springs. Self-proclaimed “Hobo Greg” struck up a conversation with me shortly after I sat down with my cup of coffee and journal. Not long into the conversation, he mentioned that he was a poet. He shared some of his poems, one part sheepish, two parts proud. We talked about the ways that writing can bring people together. Before I left, both of us had written a poem for the other person.

Or the time that my parents came to visit me when I lived in Brazil. We rented a car for the weekend and explored the state of Goiàs, relying on my very patchy Portuguese to get us around. The people of Brazil continually surprised me with their generous hospitality. Many times we had to stop to ask for directions, and without fail, smiling and gracious, they listened to my attempts at communication and pointed the way we needed to go.

Some end up being kindred spirits. Others are people that I’ll never see again, but I still think of them occasionally. With all the people I encounter, I am shaped and changed by their stories, and their willingness to hear mine.

|Reason #2| Being in the midst of ordinary beauty

I am a child of the Midwest. The “flyover states” as coastal folk like to dismissively label us. It’s not a destination. Not one of the Seven Wonders of the World. But there’s an unmistakable and unassuming beauty about the rolling hills of cornfields or the stubborn wildflowers growing in the ditches. Long country drives expose us to the beauty we might otherwise pass by.

I can’t wait to pull over in the foothills of the Rockies. To feel the smallness of the wide open plains of the West and marvel at the winding roads of Highway One.

There is beauty that we seek in our destinations, but surprising vistas can catch us off guard while we are on our way.

|Reason #1| Being found by getting lost

girl on top of carRoad trips lead me on detours that end up being remarkable. I love figuring out how to get somewhere without using Google Maps. (Admittedly, this is the way that everyone drove ten years ago but still…it makes me feel like a bad ass.) I love the process of finding my own way. Inevitably, letting go of the certainty of GPS, I have moments or miles of feeling lost. I stumble upon places that I didn’t intend to go. 

“The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn’t even think to ask.” — 180° South

The process of getting lost (intentional or accidental) feels like a tangible metaphor for living out the questions to which you don’t know the answers. Right now, there are so many unknowns. So many questions that don’t have answers. So many roads I will be traveling on that are unfamiliar. But an adventure outward into uncharted territory is just as much an inward adventure.

The risk of unknown does feel scary, but the beauty of possibility beckons.

So what is it that you love about road trips? I’d love to hear from you! Plus, I’m putting together a “Road Trip Kit Giveaway” with all of the essentials that you would need to hit the road with a friend in these last few weeks of summer!

The Truth about Synchronicity (…or how I didn’t Make It Big in LA)

/syn·chro·nic·i·ty/ siNGkrəˈnisədē/ (noun)

the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

Moments of synchronicity are those goosebumps moments; when the hair on your arm is standing in ovation to the unbelievable luck you find yourself in. “The fortuitous intermeshing of events” as Julia Cameron calls it. It is that coincidence that you needed in that specific moment to remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing. That nudge from the universe  to take that risk.

Serendipity.

Good Fortune.

Fate.

Divine Intervention. 

Or, as Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Heading into this new venture with so much unknown, I want all the synchronicity I can get my hands on.

heart rockSo I signed up for this blogging conference a few months ago. The timing, the location, the theme of the BlogHer conference all felt like more than a coincidence. I was eager for what would unfold in these two days in downtown Los Angeles.

Without realizing it, I walked into that star-studded town with the hope that so many others landing in LAX have.

I hoped that I would get my “big break” in LA. 

Not as a film star or in show business, but within the blogging world. It feels silly to admit to you now, but I had the fantasy that at this blogging conference, some talent scout (are there even such things in the blogging world? I don’t know…) would hear me at the open mic night and recognize my gift. That I’d meet some big blogger, and that she would take me under her wing and I’d be ushered into greatness and prosperity.

See, I wanted some synchronicity that would be more tangible.

Talking about traveling around the west coast and trying to become a full-time writer sounds great in theory when it’s six months out. And it’s been thrilling to have these small nudges from the universe along the way, confirming that this is right for me. But when that’s the plan of what I’ll be doing in a matter of weeks, and it’s still more of an idea than a reality, I’ll be honest. I’m having some moments of panic. I want a little more than just a “goosebump moment” at this point. 

Like maybe the universe could do a little more of the heavy lifting in this collaboration right about now.

Alas, there were no Cinderella moments at the BlogHer conference. No one whisked me away into a golden castle of writing bliss and unceasing success.

Don’t get me wrong. I am so glad I went. It was empowering. Helpful in the details and inspiring in the big ideas. It was connective. There were so many moments with other women who listened well and encouraged. It was insightful. There were so many opportunities to be a listener as well, hearing other women’s stories that were so beautifully different than mine.

But for every moment of connection, there were also moments of awkward isolation. Yes, I got up on a stage and read a post at an open mic night and felt so supported. But another moment found me in the corner of the expo hall, unable to find a place to sit for lunch, shoving a ham sandwich in my mouth while holding my plate and looking out at a sea of women for a friendly face or a place to sit down. Several times I would sit down at a table of warm and inviting women and hear their stories. But a lot of the time I was wandering around the event space, trying to drum up enough bravery to start yet another conversation.

Two voices in my head kept passing the microphone back and forth. One proclaimed “You were meant for this! This is exactly where you were meant to be!” But the voice of Self-Doubt would kick Encouragement off the stage and sneer “What the heck are you doing here? You don’t have what it takes.”

In wrestling with my fear and insecurity, I started second-guessing the generosity of this universe who supposedly conspires with me. This synchronicity business started feeling more like a mirage and less like a real collaboration with Spirit.

I needed to be reminded of how this whole thing works.

sparklerI needed to remember that synchronicity is a partnership.

It is not all on our own shoulders. We have this very American idea that any success we get is from our own efforts and ability to pull some bootstraps up. This is a myth. Everything we receive is a gift.

But at the same time, these gifts come when we are rising up to meet them. It is in the diligent showing up in the creative act of choosing to be fully alive that we find these moments of divine intervention. This weekend was such a reminder that it’s not an endless stream of glamorous moments. However, when we lean into these uncomfortable moments that do come, it rarely ends in regret.”The minute you are willing to accept the help of this collaborator, you will see useful bits of help everywhere in your life.” We labor, but we don’t labor alone.

I needed to remember that synchronicity happens in the dynamic flow of connection.

I have noticed that when I surround myself with others that are living wholehearted lives, there are many more moments of synchronicity. Our conversations are ripe with connections and correlations. “No way! It’s crazy that you mention that, because I was just thinking about…”

Austin Kleon calls it finding your “scenius.” Debunking the myth that “genius” and “talent” are born in isolated individuals, Kleon talks about how we thrive in an ecosystem in which creativity is ignited, fostered, amplified. We need to shed the impulse to hoard our ideas. We don’t need to feel threatened by others that are pursuing similar things. Rather, we should be diving into these relationships where discoveries become collaborative adventures.

Because it is the people we know that lead to the connections with the tangible next steps. 

I needed to remember that synchronicity is pointing me towards joy, not necessarily success. 

It has to be about the process, not the results.

I keep hearing that message. I need to be reminded of it often. If I try to anchor my happiness into a success that is measured by the amount of people that follow my blog, or how well my writing career takes off, I’ll go crazy.

Happiness isn’t found in some future moment of ease and success. It is always and forever found in the present moment.

The creative process, choosing a life that aligns with what makes you feel alive, is a mysterious process. It is not meant to be controlled towards a specific outcome. When the process becomes the focus, I can take myself less seriously. Without needing to know the ending, I can enter into my story more fully. And when the opportunities that present themselves lead to unexpected plot twists, I can be more open-handed.

Ultimately, I needed to remember that the source of this synchronicity is a God who is always in a good mood.

On the plane ride back, as I was wrestling with this fear and self-doubt, I prayed something to the effect of: “God, I’m kind of freaking out here. I don’t want to be dramatic, but Holy Shit! What the hell am I going to do in a month when I’m back on the west coast, with no job and no place to stay?! I’m asking you to show up here. Now. I need a place to stay, and I need to find a sustainable source of income. It feels so scary not knowing the particulars so close to the launching point, so I’m asking you to help.”

(Some of my best conversations with God include profanity. And I love that He’s not scared off by this honesty.)

And do you know what He did? Less than 24 hours from then, I got my first house-sitting job. Three weeks in Northern California, exactly what I had been hoping for.

Now how’s that for some “fortuitous intermeshing of events”?!

He’s not stingy or stand-offish. Not in the least. See, God is an artist, and I suspect that He is rather fond of other artists. He likes it when we ask for Him for big things and expect Him to show up. 

girl yellow umbrellaRarely is synchronicity like winning a sweepstakes. It requires us to “stand knee deep in the flow of life and pay close attention.” (Julia Cameron) It means being willing to be uncomfortable. It means submitting to the stretches of showing up daily, even with no tangible evidence to show for your efforts. It means opening up to risk and probable failure as necessary part of the process. It cannot be formalized or replicated.

Mysteriously, unexpectedly, and not always as quick as we’d like, we receive what we need. Often, if we have the eyes to see it, this provision is abundant–more than enough.

It’s not one moment of breaking into success, but millions of micro-moments. Of choosing, right now to step into the flow.

Large Gatherings of Women Make Me Itchy

I pulled up to the driveway and checked the address. I checked my lipstick in the mirror and grabbed the bottle of wine in my backseat. I was on the phone with my sister and let her know, with a sigh, that I had arrived at the girl’s night that I was going to.

“I hate going to these things. I mean, I’m always glad I do in the end. But you know…large gatherings of women make me…itchy.”

She laughed at my melodramatic statement. “What do you mean?”

“It’s just… all the small talk, and the stupid rom-com that we’ll probably watch. And the giggling! I can’t even…”

I, who small talk on the daily.

I, the one who had almost watched a predictable romance movie on Netflix just last week.

The one who giggles with the best of them, now sighing like a martyr.

“Maybe, when a certain number of women gather, it hits this critical mass of estrogen that just makes my skin crawl,” I theorized on the phone as I headed in.

The night ended up being fine. More than fine. I had several life-giving conversations, enjoyed someone’s retelling of the hilarious thing that had happened to them at work, and didn’t even end up watching a movie.girl hiding face

As I drove home, I thought about why the idea of getting together with my peers is always so intimidating.

It’s deeper than the surface level complaints I had made to my sister. When women come together, there are other, more subtle dynamics at play.

I enter into the game of constant comparing. I know this steals my joy. My head knowledge is filled with self-help articles online and the things my junior high counselor told me about my own uniqueness. But my heart slides so easily into the slippery slope of trying to measure up.

I believe the lie that I don’t belong. Somehow, every other person coming to the gathering seems to effortlessly slide into conversation. The inside jokes floating around me push me away, making me feel “less than.”

It can become so easy to wallow in our own familiar lies of “not enough” and “too much.” My inner dialog becomes this toxic flow of criticism. I try to slip into the script of pretending like I have it all together. Or I feel myself withdrawing, wanting to hide in my insecurities.

Please tell me I’m not alone in this.

I’m becoming more and more suspicious that we’ve all been hoodwinked. We’re all sitting in these gatherings, believing that we are islands of undesired company.

But that can’t actually be reality.

I’ve caught it in the glimpses. The unguarded moments of others in the room. The moment of honesty in the church foyer. “I didn’t want to come, but I made myself.” Me too, sister.

There are moments of epiphany. The frame of reference that I’m alone in my feeling weird falls away and I realize that everyone else in the room is just as human. It’s just us here.

Each one of us carries our insecurities and we are together in our feeling alone. Even that girl that always seems so put together has moments of feeling exactly like I do.

girl alone in crowd

So this week, I’m getting on a plane and heading to Los Angeles. I’ll head downtown to a huge conference room with thousands of women for the annual BlogHer conference. In this new world that I’m entering into, the level of intimidation is hitting record levels. My eyes widen and my stomach drops at thought of it.

But choosing to fully inhabit my life means reckoning with these thought patterns and lies that have been a part of my narrative. It means choosing to change my frame of reference. It’s time to get over my allergy to large gatherings of women.

And the vaccine is realizing that the comparison game is a dead end.

These are the truths that I am arming myself with as I head into this Whirlwind Weekend of Women.

(I realize that all of these manifestos are directly from Brene Brown… Man, I love that woman.)

I am worthy of love and belonging.

girl hands to heartThis anthem has been so powerful for me. When the shame monsters come calling, I chant this until it feels true.

Because if I am worthy of love, I no longer have anything to prove. If I am worthy of belonging than I can let go of the exhausting hustle of trying to impress anyone. Rather than having to expend so much energy trying to defend my existence, I can rest in the fact that my identity is secure.

My place of security doesn’t reside in my own abilities, qualities or talents, but because I am loved by Love Himself.  

“He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is love.” C.S. Lewis

From that place of rest, I am actually free to engage with other people’s stories. To love others not so that they will admire me or need me or think that I’m great. But just love them as they are, just as I am loved.

Everyone else is making it up as they go, just like me.

girl ponytail sunsetI think I’ve long operated under the assumption that other people have this innate quality of ease and expertise that I simply don’t possess– that somehow things just come easily to them.

This insecurity is magnified when I step into a space of uncharted territory. I’m relatively new to this blogging thing. The inner dialog goes something like this: I don’t know anything. And now I’m putting myself into this world of Super Bloggers. They’re going to see me for the fraud I am quicker than you can say “search engine optimization.”

How do I keep that inner conversation from derailing me completely? By realizing that they truly are human. That they had their own shaky moments of feeling like a novice too. And that talent is mostly a myth we tell ourselves to feel sorry for ourselves or make excuses.

True connection happens when we choose to be vulnerable.

women coffee shopWhen I choose to be guarded, or attempt to look like I have it all together, I end up feeling more exhausted, isolated and threatened by others. It’s when I admit my own insecurities that the walls come down and connection happens.

It feels counter-intuitive. Our defense mechanisms of hiding and striving are deeply ingrained. But I have never regretted pushing past that impulse of self-protection. True vulnerability always leads to freedom.

It looks like sitting down next to someone else who is alone. It looks like being brave enough to admit that you’re hurt. It looks like sharing the truth of what it is like to be you, in all your dazzling paradoxes. It looks like not apologizing for being comfortable in your own skin.

I live in a world of abundance.

grapes Maja PetricLike the flu, jealousy can spring up quickly and when you least expect it. Why is it so hard to be genuinely happy when we see our peers succeeding? There’s this belief that there’s only so much happiness, a limited quantity of the things we desire. So then, if someone else has what we’re longing for, we feel personally slighted.

Scarcity is a lie. Contentment is not like the dessert at a potluck that is picked over by the time you get to it. What if we flipped this mindset on its head? What if we believed in an abundant world where there truly was more than enough to go around? Then we could step out of a posture of discontented jealousy and into one of curiosity. We could pass through the trap of comparison unscathed. Other women’s lives are not measuring sticks to be compared, but stories to be celebrated.

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I am nowhere near fully and functionally believing these manifestos. But I am a few steps closer to bringing these truths into the interactions with women that I have. I am in process. And that is more than ok. And it’s such a relief, knowing I’m not alone. So I ask you:

What truths have you been discovering that free you to love people around you?

How do you step into the truth of your belonging?

What stories do you have of becoming comfortable in your own skin, even in the midst of (sometimes intimidating) large groups of estrogen?