Hindsight Revelations at the End of a Journey

It was 2015, and I was in the Chicago airport. On my way to Northern Ireland, the thrilling hum of upcoming adventure hovered just below the surface. It spilled over into conversations with strangers, impatient for them to ask me where I was headed.

Allie Illuminated | airport

A middle-aged lady sat next to me at the charging station, and a question about whether she could plug in her phone led to an easy dialog of conversation. When I mentioned my upcoming international adventure, she lit up, recognizing a kindred spirit. Over the shuffle of passengers and flight announcements, she shared stories of her international travels. Of how she’d spent a majority of her twenties traversing the globe, working odd jobs to fund her wanderlust along the way.

“I think everyone should take some time to travel!” she said, eyes fervent. “I’m so glad I did. It made me who I am today. It made me a better wife, a better mother, a more happy person.”

Her reasons resonated, but I was intrigued. “Tell me more about that. What do you mean?”

She considered for a second, then said “I mean that it shaped the way I see the world in only a way that immersing yourself in somewhere completely different than everything familiar can. I had a longing for adventure, to see the world, and it was important enough to me to honor that longing. So when I did meet my now husband, I was ready to start the adventure of being married to him. I’ve never had to live with the regret of wondering ‘what if’ as I raised my children. The way I live in the world, the way I engage in my community, the choices I make are deeply shaped by that time I took to travel.”

This is why I love talking to strangers. I soaked her words up in that airport terminal, reveling in her story. Acknowledging that her story won’t be mine, but noticing the way my heart was resonating, connecting with the desires she was articulating. 

I thought about her words as I laid in my tent last week, on the last night of my solo trip. Listening to the night sounds of this small town in central Colorado, her words echoed with the hindsight revelation of foreshadowing. My heart felt the truth of her observations as I tried to wrap my mind around the west-coast solo-adventure that was now coming to a close.

Allie Illuminated | tent

I don’t quite know in what ways, but I know I’m returning changed. I’m braver—more comfortable in my own skin. From near constant necessity, I’m more able to step out into the unknown. More willing to be surprised. I have felt an expanding, a blossoming of my soul in openness to others and a gentleness towards myself. I the outer edges of my solitude, I became more fully me.

I could measure it by the 241 days I was gone or the 13,471 miles I drove. But quantifying these last 8 months feels inadequate. Even after a week of being back at my parent’s house, around the now novel familiarity, I get the sense I haven’t even scratched the surface of processing the impacts of this journey. I will be marveling at the weight of this thing that just happened to me for awhile.

Allie Illuminated | Zion

In my tent, alone for one more night, I clicked on my headlamp and looked back at the journal I’d been writing in throughout this trip. I smiled and shook my head at my raw unfiltered thoughts scrawled out in early mornings with a cup of coffee. The scrappy plans and lists of places to see.

A single tear slid down my temple as I reread the mini-epiphanies and articulated tensions, remembering the mystery and the ache and the contented joy that blossomed out there on the Pacific coast.

Sometimes Life Really Is Kitties and Rainbows

I knew traveling solo would have an expiration date. Knew there’d come a moment when the glamor of this trip would be overshadowed by the uncomfortable reality of vagabondery.

But knowing a season will eventually come to an end is no reason to not embark in the first place. So I left all familiarity and set out. Just me and the open road.

Turns out, my expiration date was seven months, five days, 31 cities, and 38 different beds after the trip began. Approximately.

The expiration started when I was making my way back down Highway 1 a few weekends ago. I stopped in the in a valley to explore a black sand beach with Pacific waves crashing and driftwood scattered. Felt the sun cut through the sharp breezes coming in.

As I walked, barefoot back to my car, a pair of beach-goers smiled at me. A retired couple, leather-skinned and Hawaiian-shirted. Noticing my license plate, they commented, voices raised over the waves, “From Missouri, hey? You’ve come a long way.”

Exchanging small talk has been a skill set I’ve honed to an art form, and I gladly engaged. I take conversation where I can get it these days.

A few pleasantries in, the husband nonsequitured, “So, how come you’re alone?” His wife batted him on the arm, feigning embarrassment, but she cocked her head, curious.

The conversation skipped a beat. “Oh, because I want to be.” My voice came out as a chirp, a bit higher, tinny through the smile I had plastered on my face.

How come you’re alone?

The question echoed after I got back in my car and wound around another bend. A question sounding an awful lot like “What’s wrong with you?”

“Why am I alone?! None of your damn business, that’s why! And wipe that smug smile off your face, mister!” I muttered to my empty car, revising my too-polite answer.

I’d said I wanted to be alone. Was that accurate? Did I want to be traveling alone down Highway 1? What had left me giddy and overwhelmed when I started my trip now seemed lackluster this time around. I kept having the unwanted but persistent hunch that these sweeping views of the California coastline, these quirky towns, and opportunities for adventure would’ve been so much richer if I’d had a friend with me.

How come you’re alone?

“Good question. I’ve been asking myself the same thing.”

I chose this lifestyle. I decided to go on this adventure in pursuit of what makes me feel most alive. But also, this whole thing has been a search for belonging. I know the long stretches of solitude have been an integral part of finding belonging.

So it’s not being alone making me feel lonely. Loneliness is a function of not feeling known, and I’d just spent three weeks jumping from one hostel to another AirBnB, coexisting with strangers in the cheapest accommodations I could scrounge up. Trying to remain present with hostile hosts and awkward hostel dwellers.

After those three weeks, and a few days after the conversation with Hawaiian-Shirt Couple, I arrived with my diminished bravery to the small coastal town I’d be housesitting in for 18 days. In a home tucked in the woods, completely by myself. What would’ve felt like an introvert’s dream come true now felt like solitary confinement.

I contemplated just driving right through the town and turning east. Making a beeline back to my familiar Midwest. But I didn’t. I found the house and brought my suitcases in. My host drove away, entrusting her beloved kitty, Miss Fitty to me. 

I laid in bed that night, and reread the email my friend Kamina had sent the day before. In response to my bleak descriptions of my lonely existence, she had this to say:

“You know what? I’m only a little bit sad that you’re tiring of travelling alone, and mostly glad.  What I mean is, I really feel for you in your current isolation, and it’s unfortunate that you have several more weeks to get through – but how sweet to have sucked everything you can out of the experience of solo travel, and to have a new season coming just when you’ve exhausted this one.”

I supposed she was right. I tried to trust the ironic timing of things. But the next day brought kind of wet coldness that seeps into your bones, mirroring and amplifying my mood. So much for The Sunshine State. I spent the day trying to chase the gloomy mood away, staying close to the space heater and making feeble attempts to be productive.

After dinner, I sat down to my nightly ritual of Netflix and water coloring. Glancing out the window, I happened to see the indigo color of the sky through the trees. While it was still drizzling, the droplets came down as golden beads.

Sunshine and rain. My favorite weather combination. I dropped my paintbrush, threw on my raincoat, and hopped in the car. At a break in the trees, I glimpsed what I’d been hoping for. A big double rainbow, bridging over half of the sky. More vibrant than I’d ever seen.

The road led down to the ocean and the sky was a gallery of glory. Billowing cumulonimbus clouds still releasing precipitation to the north, clear skies revealing a sunset over the ocean. And all of nature had that bright, saturated hue that comes right after the rain.

With the fervor of a storm chaser, I drove, trying to glimpse the best views of ocean and rainbow, sunset and storm. I found a park, and sat on top of a picnic table, trying to soak in as much as I could. I laughed out loud as my reality hit me.

My life quite literally is kitties and rainbows right now.

This paradox of storm and sunshine mirrored my life. I remembered what I’ll probably need to be reminded of for the rest of my life. All of this is part of it! The bad day, the tears, the coming to the end of myself. This is what I signed up for when I decided to live a vibrant life! This too is part of being fully alive! I don’t want to shy away from the hard parts. I want to receive it all.

So, how come I’m alone?

Because this is my story. And it’s a good one.

When Bravery Runs Dry On The Oregon Trail

I woke up to a rooster crowing. An actual rooster, announcing the rising sun greeted me in the sloped roof upstairs bedroom of a geodesic home on the same property as a winery I’d booked on AirBnB.

I’ve been zig-zagging my way through the Pacific Northwest these last few weeks—my own version of the Oregon trail.

The vistas of wide open oceans and curving highways canopied by old-growth forests continued to take my breath away. And the combination of couch surfing, hostel-dwelling, and how-cheap-can-I-go accommodations I’d been subjecting myself to had been full of colorful characters. But it had also left me feeling raw. Exposed. Aching to feel known.

Staring out at the grey light making silhouettes of the Oregon Hills, I thought through my day. My original plans for winery tours and breezy conversations with the winemakers had been stunted by polite aloofness of my host I’d received the night before. With each interaction giving the vague impression that I was unwanted company, I was awkwardly hiding up in my room.

Rather than walking on her free-range organic eggshells, I decided to spend the day in the quirky Shakespeare-loving town of Ashland. A forty-five minute drive, according to my GPS. I plugged in the address for a coffee shop and hopped in my car. When the blue line of Google Maps led me onto a gravel road, I didn’t think much of it. But as the road kept winding up an increasingly steep hill, concern settled in right behind my solar plexus. I came to a three-pronged fork in the road, and the GPS gave no indication as to which way was right.

I picked the road winding east-ish. Iowa roots going deep, I wasn’t deterred by a few potholes. But this level of washout, wheels practically tightrope walking on the sections of road least eroded had me white-knuckled.

Also—in Iowa, the roads are flat. These sharp drop-offs were menacing, inches away from my passenger side tires. Multiple times when I had to stop to heave large rocks and branches out of the way so my little Ford Focus could get through.

I was muttering a constant string of encouragement to my car—willing her to at least make it to a place where there was cell service if she decided to finally give up the ghost.

I latched onto optimism like a life vest, buckling on buoyant thoughts and breathing prayers like incantations. The path towards metaphor as grooved and well worn as the rutted road I was on, my mind started turning this into a blog post, composing my lostness on the Oregon hills into a great story I’d tell people.

As if on cue, just as I made my way around another hairpin turn switchback, my the fuel meter dipped below an eighth of a tank, a rock scraped the underbelly of my car with a sickening scratch and the sun slid behind a grey cloud and my cell phone flashed “no signal.”

My car hit another pothole and I shouted into the empty car “I don’t want this to be a fucking metaphor! Just get me off this road! Give me pavement!”

(This statement is funny…now. But at the time, my sense of humor had dissipated with my bravery…) Out of the corner of my eye, I’d see wide vistas of the Cascade mountains, magnificently blanketed in pine trees. But their beauty registered as an empirical fact. A fleeting distraction from the not-so-slowly rising panic.

The winding roads left any sense of direction far behind. I could see plumes of dust from the gravel roads from other sides of a valley I assume I’d just crossed. Uphill then down, then up again—my route seemed intentionally illogical. After what was probably only 45 minutes, but what felt like a lifetime, I rediscovered familiar landscapes.

With a half-crazed guffaw of relief, I realized I had effectively circled the mountain, and come nowhere closer to my intended destination. It didn’t matter. I was back on solid and relatively flat ground. Roads that Google Maps at least recognized as being in the road system.

I parked my car back in the driveway of my host. I opened my trunk and pulled out an envelope, tucked inside a box I’d been carrying since September. On the outside of the letter I’d written “To Allie: On the day when you need to be reminded why”

A letter I’d written back in July, for the inevitable hard day when my bravery had run dry and I needed encouragement. There, in my familiar cursive, I wrote kind words, befriending my future self with understanding and gentle reminders of why I decided to take this trip. Why this adventure, in all of its glorious struggle and hard beauty, mattered deeply.

I wrote, “This is a process. This process necessitates pain. Choosing to be fully human is a daily, heart-wrenching, beautiful creative act. Keep choosing it, Allie girl.”

In this letter, Optimistic July Allie reminded me to make peace with uncertainty. To focus only on the very next step. To speak up for what I need and to continue to befriend myself in this process. 

I knew that traveling solo would have an expiration date. And that I might hit that longing to be done before my trip was finished. And almost seven months to the date, I finally came to my end. Finally needed to pull that letter out.

I still have a month to go. 32 days before I’ll be back in Iowa, able to hug my family members and be embraced by familiarity. And in these next 32 days, I will continue to choose vibrant living.

I will keep practicing being fully myself in every conversation with the strangers I meet. I’ll keep waking up at sunrise to walk by the ocean and saying yes to whatever adventures come my way. Will keep my eyes open for the metaphors. I want to keep living life as art.  

I may steer clear of gravel roads for awhile though.   

The Art of Not Having Things Figured Out

I have this friend who is a counselor. She works with a lot of women in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. I asked her, over coffee one day, for her thoughts on our sub-species— the young woman of the 21st century. What themes did she see on the other side of the counseling couch?

“I see a lot of young women who have so much anxiety over not having their lives figured out. Some feel this sense of panic, that things aren’t turning out the way they thought. They are frustrated with themselves that they can’t be this idealized version of themselves that they’ve created in their heads.

Others have gotten to their mid-twenties and have checked off a lot of the things on their lists. They’ve started their careers. They’re married, maybe even have children. And yet they have this sense of loss. Like what do I do now? Is this it??

What I want these women to know is that, developmentally, they’re not done yet. All of these regrets and existential crises are actually premature and unnecessary. They see their stories as already written. And that just isn’t true.”

gutsoverfear

I set my coffee cup down with an emphatic nod of my head. I felt like I was just like those women she was talking about. I have felt those panic attacks. That feeling of claustrophobia—is this all there is?! I’ve felt stuck, frustrated that the narrative I’d planned out wasn’t unfolding according to plan. I’ve been on the counseling couch, grieving over the story I was supposed to be living, but wasn’t.

And that grieving was important. I had to mourn and die to the version of myself I thought I was supposed to be. I had to come to grips that the “American Dream” wasn’t going unfold like the predictable path of a Life board game.

But just like my counselor friend pointed out, for a lot of my twenties, I assumed that my story was already written. In recent years, I’ve been surprised, daunted, encouraged, and terrified at the news that I actually had more freedom than I thought.

girl-in-the-lightFinding myself in the midst of a story unfolding feels equally risky and hopeful. Especially this past year, it seems I’ve chosen the even more reckless option to “Choose Your Own Adventure.” I’ve become untethered to any sense of long-term plans or clear ideas for where I’ll be in five years, let alone three months. As I have the typical conversations with family members over the holidays (the well-intentioned questions about my Plans) the words “I don’t know” have become very familiar on my lips.

I don’t know where I’ll travel to next.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep traveling.

I don’t know if my freelance writing will support me.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I don’t know the long-term plan yet.

But I do know the very next step, and I sometimes have a hazy idea of what might come after that.

So that is where I start. I’m practicing the Art of Not Having It Figured Out. I’m trying to let go of my demand to be this ideal Allie that always has the answer and never messes up. (To tell the truth, I don’t even think I’d like that girl.)

girl on top of carI’m finding myself replaying that conversation with my counselor friend that I had all those months ago.

It’s relieving to remember that I’m not alone in wrestling with this anxiety. That might not be what we’re presenting to each other on our filtered social media feeds. But when we encounter the gift of brave honesty, we discover we’re all wrestling self-doubt and fear.

But my friend’s observations are also a call to change the script. To insist that it is a good thing that I’m still in progress. To expose the disillusioned lie that we’re stuck and things aren’t going to get better. A whispered invitation to let go of the martyr’s crusade towards some fantasy version of perfect.

As I set my sights on a brand new year, I don’t have a twelve-step action plan to help achieve all of my goals. I’m not clinging to a specific outcome anymore. But I have a pretty clear idea of what I want.

img_2636I want a vibrant wholeness, not a hollow holiness.

I desire authenticity, not a counterfeit conformity.

I want to become deeply human, not sporadically spiritual.

I don’t want to confuse the process of true transformation

with my ego-inflated attempts at self-improvement.

I want to keep entering into the process of becoming

who I already am.

Reflect & Envision: An Illuminated New Year’s Guide

The week in between Christmas and the New Year has always been a hushed margin of possibility for me. The presents are all unwrapped and all the chocolates in the Advent calendar have been eaten. But the decorations are still up, and the days are still infused with the holiday rhythm. There’s less of a push to be productive, and as the year comes to a close, it’s okay to just revel in the snow-globed magic of the season.

img_3372At some point in this transition week, I always try to steal away for a couple of hours. I find a quiet corner in my favorite coffee shop, drink my coffee slow as I think back over the last year and dream about the year to come.

This tradition of reflecting and envisioning has been a practice that I look forward to almost as much as Christmas morning.

It’s surreal to think about where I was at a year ago. I was halfway through my last year as an elementary teacher, living in Kansas City with five roommates. I had recently gone through a breakup and was making my first attempts at delving into the bizarre world of online dating. I knew that 2016 would hold a lot of change, but I didn’t know how it would manifest.

I wanted to be living a life that felt congruent with who I was–I longed to feel deep joy in what I was doing. My time in Kansas City had been filled with beautiful growth and I loved it in a lot of ways. But my sense of belonging and purpose had been slowly diminishing, to a degree that was now painfully evident. I was starting to feel this invitation to step out of this predictable narrative. 

The thought of so much change terrified me, but the only thought more terrifying was the prospect of everything remaining exactly the same. It felt like there was so much at stake, and the possibility of failure felt inevitable. Even so, I decided that risking disappointment was better than living disappointed.

So, as I left 2015 and all of its disillusioning heartache, I dared to write out some of my hopes for the brand new year. Not so much a New Year’s Resolution self-improvement campaign, but a ritual of remembering who I am and dreaming about how to live in line with that identity. A brave declaration of hopes, held with an open hand.

I’ve now arrived at the other bookend of this year. I’ve almost made my way through all 365 days of 2016. And guess what? Those whispers of hopes that I wrote down? Those dreams scribbled into my journal last January? Many of them actually happened. Beyond what I had the audacity to expect! I am living out of a rhythm that fosters my wholehearted flourishing! Unexpected and unconventional though it may be, I love the season I find myself in.

img_7468If this is the part where you’re expecting to hear me say that I’ve now arrived at some continual state of self-actualized contentment, you’ll be disappointed.

2017 is coming with just as much uncertainty and me not having it “figured out.” The highs may be higher, but the lows feel lower. That makes sense–I chose a posture of vulnerability when I left comfort and predictability. 

But I can say that 2016 was a year of me stepping into More (life, freedom, joy, moments of beauty). It was a year of me entering further into the endless process of becoming. There were moments of bravery and moments of failure. Moments of sheer terror juxtaposed against moments of sheer delight. I felt the depths of isolation and tasted the sweetness of true connection.

In other words, it was a year of vibrant humanity, splendid and imperfect. And I wouldn’t trade any of it.

img_2937

So I find myself this week, back at another little coffee shop, thinking back on the whirlwind that was this past year. On the borderline between one year and the next, I want to remember where I’ve been as I remain as open as possible to what lies ahead.

The ritual of looking back–of naming what has happened and feeling the weight of its impact has brought me freedom. Starting a new season with intentionality, taking time to quiet myself long enough to listen to my desires shapes my coming months in ways that I didn’t know were possible.

I don’t know what 2016 was like for you. If you are longing to escape a year that left you battered and bruised, or if you’re ending it with a sense of deep gladness. I wonder how you are feeling about 2017. Is it a year full of possibility and hope for you? Or do you feel daunted by the mountains looming ahead for you to climb? Perhaps you feel stuck, disillusioned by the suspicion that nothing will change. That next December will find you stuck in the exact same spot.

IMG_2312.jpg

I wanted to share the framework that I use to help me look back and look ahead. It’s not really a formula for a New Year’s Resolution, but some open-ended questions to get you thinking. I hope it is a catalyst to help you claim more abundance in your life.

Maybe you can find a time in this week of margin to get away for just a bit. I’m getting so giddy excited for you–maybe sitting down with a big mug of hot chocolate and your favorite pen; cozily wrapped up in a big blanket and envisioning what 2017 could be like. 

Click on the picture to download this free workbook!

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-9-18-30-am

Why is it so Hard to Speak my Truth Without Disclaimers?

I’ve noticed that I give a lot of disclaimers.

I’ll follow up with something I’ve said by clarifying what I’m *not* saying.

I’ll interrupt myself mid-sentence to qualify a statement, or explain my explanation.

And I make certain that I’m never, at any point,  “throwing any babies out with the bathwater.”

It comes from a deep need to be understood. I attempt to fashion words around the exact nature of how I’m feeling. I want nothing to be lost in translation. I want to protect myself from the distinct ache of isolating loneliness that comes from being the receiving end of assumption, confusion, or dismissal. 

So I choose my words carefully in hopes that I’ll be seen. Or I’ll choose silence if there’s any chance that I’m not being listened to, or the other person isn’t going to receive me well. Shutting down is much safer.

girl-hiding-mittensI see that look on the faces of the people who love me. One of bemused confusion at trying to navigate through my over-explanations to the heart of what I’m trying to say. Most of the time, I receive empathy and understanding when I do finally spit things out. And yet, it’s still so hard for me to speak freely, a lot of the time. Bold statements and half-formed ideas are a challenge to get out.

When I was a senior in college, I sought counseling for the first time. I had been living with a mild depression off and on for most of college, and the weight of the constant heaviness in my chest finally got to be too much. I’d slip up the stairs of the student health center, hoping no one I knew saw me, and I’d sit in a quiet, lamp-lit room, fidgeting with my hands and starting to untangle the inner knots with my counselor, Julie.

After a few weeks, between my stunted attempts at articulating the sources and symptoms of my insecurity, she made an observation. “I’m noticing these long pauses before you answer my questions. It’s like you go inside yourself, and figure out what you want to say, before bringing the words out in the open. While thinking before you speak is sometimes a wise choice Allie, there are spaces where you should be able to be messy in front of other people. Relationships where you can let it all spill out; where you can trust the other person to make space for whatever you’re experiencing.”

This impulse, this thought that I could make myself fully seen and fully known by wrapping my carefully chosen words in explanation and disclaimer was actually hindering intimacy. Needing to be understood was actually keeping me from being known.

I see my friends doing this too. I want to dismiss their disclaimers. I want them to know that I’m in this with them, whatever vulnerable thing they’re trying to grasp for words, or they know what their honesty might sound like, and they’re hesitant. So they hedge their words with buffers and qualifiers, and there are long pauses. I want to tell them to just spit it out! I want them to give me the benefit of the doubt that I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. I want them to trust that I can understand where their coming from and have probably had the same thoughts as them.

girl-by-riverBecause here’s the thing. Paradox and inconsistency are at the core of what it means to be human. We live in the midst of all sorts of tensions and contradictions. To deny that and insist on clear-cut answers is to forfeit being fully alive.

“If we are to be aware of life while we are living it, we must have the courage to relinquish our hard-earned control of ourselves.” (Madeleine L’Engle)

It is possible to uphold two opposing truths. Because truth is often found in the nuance. And maturity looks like stepping into the complexities, making peace with the mystery as you continue to explore and observe. To truly be seen and understood is a miracle, and it doesn’t happen when we’re posturing and presenting neatly articulated packages of ourselves. It happens in the messy art of living out loud.

I’ve got to stop being paralyzed by the fear of being misunderstood. I long to stop wasting all this energy on the defending myself against these imaginary arguments. I need to be willing to be wrong. Need to step out in honesty, spilling open to the people who’ve earned the right to bear witness to my messiness. I want to practice the revolutionary act of not  always having to explain myself.

two girls on a carSo maybe this whole blog post is an ironic disclaimer about how I want to stop giving disclaimers. It’s an invitation to you too. You who chooses silence over the risk of a bold statement or an honest confession. A call to stop worrying so much about how things are going to be received and tell the truth as you’ve experienced it. To get out of your head and live out loud.

(Of course, this is not a call to speak flippantly to whomever, whenever. Of course, we should know when to listen, and not say something that would be hurtful…. but there I go again, giving another disclaimer! I’m going to leave you, dear reader, trusting that you know the heart behind the words I’m attempting to speak.)

When Bravery Means Being Less Agreeable

My default setting is to be agreeable.

I’m really good at nodding my head. My people-pleasing skills are exceptional. My ability to perceive what other people want and try to be accommodating is unparalleled.

fullsizerender-jpg-2

It may look humble and kind to the outside observer. It looks like I’m being a loving and “good” daughter/sister/friend/student/employee. But peel back the layers of this “nice girl” persona, and you’ll see a highly functioning and insidious defense mechanism. An attempt to protect myself from ever being misunderstood, or met with any hint of disapproval or disappointment. A refusal to show my full self to others as an attempt to control their perceptions of me.

If I disagree or have some unpleasant reaction to someone, I’ll do my best to keep it a private matter. Internal stewing and nasty thoughts written out in my journal. But externally, I keep nodding and smiling. I stay silent and small. The thought of saying “I disagree with you” terrifies me. So I just avoid any hint of conflict.

fullsizerender-jpg-5This attempt to be agreeable all the time, this crusade to never disappoint anyone ever? It’s exhausting. I know from experience and research that this leads to exhaustion, isolation, and depression. So I am doing everything I know (talking about it, speaking out the shame, taking small steps of bravery) to unlearn this default setting of people-pleasing.

I write about why we should pursue the things that make us feel most alive. I want and need to be clear that this is not only an external affair. This isn’t just about lifestyle choices and how we spend our time. Being wholehearted and vibrantly alive begins with being bravely honest with all of the parts of you. Not just the presentable, easily likable parts.

My ambition in this blog isn’t for it to be a collection of whimsical thoughts about how to be more free-spirited. This is an urgent cry to embrace wholeness. Most of that process is uncomfortable and hard and messy. But oh, dear reader, it is necessary. And it is Good.

fullsizerender-jpgI used to think that it wasn’t okay to have negative feelings. Anger, sadness, or disgust were emotions to be snuffed out and stuffed down as quickly and quietly as possible. I didn’t think it was possible to be loving and disagree with someone at the same time. That empathy and the word “no” were mutually exclusive.

fullsizerender-jpg-7This week was hard for me. I had to reckon with my patterns of agreeableness coming to a halt. My patterns of privileged complacency and fear-based silence were exposed. I felt the effects of speaking up about my sadness over the election and having people that I love and care about disagree with me. My normal mode of agreeableness crumbled as I felt angry and misunderstood. I didn’t like it one bit.

But rather than my previous attempts to push past those negative feelings, I tried to be hospitable towards that grief and frustration. Rather than jumping to the “right answer” conclusion, I stepped into the uncomfortable space of wrestling with the tension for just a bit.

It was exhausting.

I made a lot of mistakes.

But it felt like a step in the right direction.

See, my old way of being? The needing to be pleasant all the time version of Allie? She thought she was being a peacemaker, but she was actually just being a peace-keeper.

Keeping the peace means making sure that no one is rocking the boat. It means running around trying to manage everyone’s emotional state and making sure that we’re all ok all the time.

But that’s actually not my job.

What a relief—that it’s not my responsibility to keep everyone happy all the time, or to maintain an environment where no one ever feels uncomfortable or is disappointed in any way. Because I’ve been trying to shoulder that responsibility, and it turns out that I’m not that good at controlling circumstances or other people’s responses to life.

To be a peacemaker is to believe that people are doing the best they can. To choose to trust that people act the way they do and believe what they do for a reason. And to lead with empathy and curiosity in interacting with people.

And it also means being willing to disagree with them. To be willing to ask uncomfortable questions and really listen to their answers. It means risking discord as you share your convictions. It means engaging in relationship with people that are different, with intention and humility and honesty. 

It means actually loving people. Which isn’t synonymous with making sure that other people are comfortable all the time.

This week was a reminder that the world doesn’t need an Agreeable Allie. It does need a Wholehearted Allie. My anger, my opposition, and my words of grief need to have a place at the table, alongside understanding and empathy and words of comfort.

fullsizerender-jpg-4

I’m not saying we should all start shaking our fists and raging all over the place. Let’s not throw any babies out with any bathwater here.

But I am inviting you to question your default setting.

If your impulse is to avoid conflict at all costs, maybe you need to lean into uncomfortable conversations with people.

If you’re quick to spout off your opinions or blast your social media feed with inflammatory articles, I invite you to listen. To be willing to be wrong.

What does wholeheartedness look like for you this week?

Facing the Reality of my Smallness

To-do lists and timers. These are the things that fill my days. I have editing work, research for new articles, contacts to pitch to, and online courses. But mostly I write. I’ll set my timer set for 52 minutes (because I read somewhere that 52 minutes is the ideal amount of time to be productive) and I try my best to show up on the page.

Because this is my life now. Part of my reason for traveling was because it makes me feel alive and inspires me and it was an opportunity that I knew I had to take. But the other part of traveling is that it would give me space and a break from “normal routine” to step into the discipline of writing.
And writing.
And writing some more.

bw1I’m writing and writing because I’m hoping that quantity will lead to quality. I’m putting my work out in the best ways I know how because I’m hoping that some of my writing is helpful and life-giving to others. And because this is a lifestyle that makes sense with who I am and how I want to live.

Most days, I feel giddy and grateful that I get to do this. That technology, privilege, and the generosity of others have made space for a season to pursue this. I have moments of sensing purpose and the confidence to keep moving forward.

But every couple of days, (usually on Tuesday afternoons for some reason), storm clouds of doubt roll in. I see the reality of my current situation in a different light, and I start to panic.

“Why the hell did you think this was a good idea? Everything you write is cliche and self-indulgent. I suppose it doesn’t matter because hardly anyone is reading it anyway. Look at the staggering volume of other writers out there, saying basically the same thing as you, only better. It’s silly that you thought you could actually do this. Maybe, just maybe if you try this formula from that famous blogger who made 6 figures in six months, or just try a little harder. You aren’t doing enough, but maybe you can be ok if you just…”

This is the point where I try to walk away from the conversation in my head. I make another cup of tea or call my sister. I try not to take my inner drama queen too seriously. Because I knew when I set out on this creative risk, that these thoughts would come.

I expose my inner monologue to you, dear reader because I think that maybe you have some of the same conversations inside your head. We all have our moments of coming face to face with our smallness. But everything—our happiness, our ability to make good work, our wholeness depends on how we respond to these doubts.

The recognition of being small? The awareness that everything that I produce isn’t immediately good? The wrestling with our desire to be seen and known and loved? This is what it means to be human.

The shaming thoughts of not being enough? Comparing myself with others when I can only see part of the picture? Launching campaigns to validate my worth by sheer effort? These are red flags.

It may look like a strong work ethic or humility, but chasing after an elusive perfection is a lie that will eat away my soul. My wholeness depends on evicting those thought patterns from my mind as often as they show up and try to take residence.

bw5This week in particular, I felt the weight of my smallness. The voices of self-doubt were louder. The second guessing and disillusioned reveries increased. These thoughts aren’t new. But the weary familiarity stung just the same. Traveling has made me feel small. Flinging myself out from under an umbrella of predictability and into a storm of unknowns has made me feel small. Attempting a creative career as a writer has made me feel minuscule.

Small isn’t a bad thing, but coming to grips with it can mean a wrestling match with your ego. I am very much in the middle of this, and I don’t know if that will ever change. I have to convince myself, at least once a day, that this is not only ok but exactly where I’m supposed to be. Not having it figured out. Not knowing how it will all turn out. Not doing it perfectly.

I try to have my eyes wide open to today. I try to focus on just the very next itty-bitty step, the piece that I can see. And I try to do that with excellence. For 52 minutes. This is where I start. 52-minute chunks of smallness that I’m trusting will build to something. What, I don’t know. But that’s not up to me, I suppose.

I think so much depends on how I choose to respond to these mood swings.

bw2My choice to let go of expectations and remain open to possibilities.
My choice to keep showing up, regardless of how I feel.
My choice to shift from needing a certain outcome to trusting the process.

My choice to keep claiming the arrogance of belonging. 

Is Life an Adventure…Or a Quest?

I’ve just spent the last two weeks exploring the Pacific Northwest. I had been in California for most of September and early October.
This morning, I will cross the border into Canada. The plan is to housesit for the next month, exploring Vancouver and building my new career as a freelance writer.

Sometimes the surreality of my current situation hits me. This wasn’t “The Plan.” The original plan I’d made.

The Plan was to be an elementary teacher in the Midwest.
The Plan was I was supposed to be married by now.
The Plan was to eventually be a stay at home mom, in a cutely decorated home in a hip neighborhood somewhere in the Midwest.
The Plan was to be living the story that was expected of me.

img_0255Truth is, I could be living that life right now. I could have gotten married to the man who cared for me and would have provided a stable life. I could still be a teacher, making a difference in the lives of eight-year-olds. I could have a house and all the things I dreamed about when I was a little girl.

And that would have been a good story. It just wasn’t my story.

Believe me, I wanted that to be my story for a long time. Even after I made choices to step away from those things, I had to grieve the loss of this expected narrative of my life. It would have been so much safer, so much more predictable and comfortable. It was definitely what was expected of me, and for someone who has often found her security in meeting others’ expectations, it was devastating when that didn’t happen.

I think I used to want my life to be more like one of those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories, where you get to decide how it will all turn out. I wanted some thrills and adventures here and there, but I wanted the risks to be within my (perceived) control. I wanted the end goal to be clearly stated and the road to that “happily-ever-after” to be well planned out.

90b6eb0f-93fe-4295-a17f-bdb0a5086014Things have not turned out to be that neat and tidy. While my story has certainly been adventurous, it has become more and more evident that the adventure is not the end point, but the means to an end that extends beyond me. I found a spark of clarity in a conversation with my friend Karen when she explained the difference between an adventure and a quest.

“See, an adventure is a there-and-back-again tale. It’s like The Hobbit. The character goes out for the thrill and excitement, with some treasure in mind. There’s danger along the way, but the ending is a homecoming, the hero happy and unchanged. A quest, on the other hand, is a journey that a character takes, leaving him so changed, he can’t ever return to life as normal. It’s like Lord of the Rings. It’s about a purpose bigger than the character even realizes…

…Allie, I think you’re going on a quest.”

I loved this analogy. It’s why I love Travel—the way the experiences and encounters change me and shape my perspective. But while the idea of a quest is romantic and makes for a good movie, but can I be real honest? It’s a bit more challenging to be in the midst of a real life story that is full of plot twists and so much uncertainty. There is no treasure map to follow. And the plans I had made in the first few chapters have not at all come to pass.

img_6714I can make peace with the ambivalence of my traveling adventures. I have my arms wide open to being changed by this trip. But when it comes to the greater narrative of my story, I want a little more control than I’d like to admit. I’d prefer calculated risks with predictable outcomes over jumping into risky unknowns.

I’ve been thinking and writing about uncertainty and the landscape of change for awhile now. But I’m no longer in the foothills of transition. I’m on the cliffside of a quest. And I can look back on the valley that I’ve been climbing up. I can look back on the safety that I thought I wanted and see that my life has been far more adventurous than I ever would have planned for myself. And I can say beyond any doubt that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If we are to be aware of life while we are living it, we must have the courage to relinquish our hard-earned control of ourselves.”

fullsizerender-jpg-1If life is a quest, this opens me up to the freedom to enter into the mystery of the messy middle chapters. To trust that the story is a good one, even if I can’t skip to the end to see how it all turns out. Madeleine L’Engle, the beautiful author of the quote above also said that the basis of all story is the question “What if?” “All of life is story, story unraveling, and revealing meaning. Despite our inability to control circumstances, we are given the gift of being free to respond to them in our own ways.”

Happy Accidents in Travel: A Case for Spontaneity

I squinted at the roadmap. Turns out cell reception isn’t the greatest in western Colorado. Good thing I tucked a good old fashioned atlas into the pocket of my passenger seat as a last minute thing.

I was making my way across Highway 70. Arches National Park was only 45 minutes off my intended route. I considered the detour. The home of The Arch. The one that’s on the freaking front of my atlas! And the Utah license plate. And in every montage of America the Beautiful…

I figured I could spend an hour or so at the park and still get to my campsite by nightfall.

That’s the thing about road trips. There is a destination to get to, but there’s also all this liminal space–the in between filled with possibility and beauty. The challenge for the traveler is to steward your time well between arriving at your intended destination and allowing space to travel through with eyes wide open.

img_2176I drove into the entrance of the park, into the view of these flaming cathedral towers coming out of the ground. Ribbons of various reds and oranges cut through the rocks, throwing the contrast of a cloudless sky into unspeakable vibrancy. The splendor contained in this park left me dumbfounded, so I reverted to uttering intelligent things like “Are you kidding me? Are you freaking kidding me? Stop it. Holy cow! Stop it! No, don’t stop it!”

img_2174The road kept winding this way and that around the various crests and stacks of rock. Signs pointing me in the direction of the “Delicate Arch.”

Several miles in, a trailhead sign pointed me in the direction of the infamous arch. It said it was a 1.5-mile hike to the arch. I looked at my watch. I’d already spent 45 minutes of the hour I’d allotted driving and gawking at the different plateaus.

But I was here. And it was so pretty! I figured if I could keep up a good clip, I’d make it to the arch and back and still be ok. I could set up my tent in the dark if I needed to.

As I got on the trail a literal tumbleweed blew past me. A tumbleweed! The reality of the desert came in the form of an oppressive sun, but that didn’t deter my steady pace. I passed the ambling tourists, on a mission to see this Natural Wonder of the World.

I made my way up a hill and around a cluster of rocks. Occasionally there were signs pointing the way, but there were stretches of desert where the trail was unclear. Which I kind of loved. It made me feel less Pedestrian, more Pioneer. At one point the trail opened out into a plain, with no discernable path. I chose to go left, my gut sensing that the arch was just over that crest. I hiked around a few more juniper and blackbrush covered boulders and there it was.

Across on the other side of a canyon.

img_2205Oh, I trail blazed alright. Just not to my intended destination. A wide and uncrossable cavern yawned in front of me, the arch just on the other edge. I sat down on a rock, catching my breath and shaking my head. I didn’t have time to retrace my steps. I could make out the other hikers who had taken the correct path. They were now milling around, taking their obligatory selfies and future profile updates.

img_2212I’ll admit, I’m not the best when it comes to pre-trip research. I’ll go off of my adventuring friends’ suggestions. Or I’ll ask locals where they’d suggest I go for dinner or the best beach in town. And if that isn’t accessible, I’ll rely on an app once I’ve arrived in the area to find a well-rated place to explore. If you can call this “research,” it’s in-the-moment research. It’s investigating with a heavy dose of spontaneity. Which means that it’s always somewhat of a gamble.

img_2207Sometimes I end up in the Best-Kept-Secret places, my eyes taking in a location that came highly recommended. Or I stumble into an Off-The-Beaten-Path place that no one’s heard of, a gem in its own sense. And sometimes I end up on the other side of the canyon, close to where I meant to be, but tucked away in obscurity.

How easy it is to get caught up in the destination. The next hip place that is currently all over Instagram. The Must-See stops along the road. I’m not discounting them, or pulling a hipster card, being a snob just because they’re popular. But I am saying that the places I didn’t intend to end up were just as beautiful as the places that were on the list.

img_2213And there, on the “wrong side” of the canyon, looking around at the 360-degree view of the Utah desert I made peace with where my detour had taken me. Sunlight glinted off the sloping orange stone. A welcome breeze whistled through the shrubs. This is where I ended up.

Not where I expected, just as magnificent as the icon across the canyon.