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.

 

Why I’m Taking This Trip…Now

I got to the parking lot of the restaurant I had meticulously scoped out on Yelp.

I looked at myself in my rearview window, and with a deep breath and a “You’ve got this, Allie!” pep talk, I got out of the car.

My strategy: find a seat at the bar of a classy establishment, order a glass of wine along with my appetizer, and sit up tall. And make eye contact. Eye contact is important.

This is my new Friday night activity. Traveling alone has new opportunities for bravery. Like going to dinner by yourself on a Friday night. And it always leads to a good story.

I ate my potato wedges, reveling in their cheesy goodness and replaying the events of the day in my mind. I had started my morning in Orange County and made my way up Highway One, stopping at various harbor towns and sugar-sand beaches along the way. My heart was full with the turquoise Pacific views my eyes had taken in that day.

img_2705A guy with an easy smile and a driving cap (that I suspect was covering up the early stages of balding) sat down on the stool next to mine. After ordering a Guinness, he introduced himself.

When I said that I was just passing through, he asked for more explanation. I caught him up on my whirlwind of an adventure that I’d been on for a little over a week.

He was a reflective listener—in that he kept repeating things I’d say in a surprised soaking-it-in kind of way. Nodding his head, repeating phrases in a state of wonder. on

He seemed so fascinated by my current lifestyle. Or maybe the word is “wistful.” Like he wished he could be doing the same, but he had resigned himself to a life of watching movies on Netflix and working a lot.

After a moment of wrestling with this wistfulness rising up in him, he gave his excuse. “I don’t know if it’s the romantic in me, but I don’t know if I could go to all these beautiful places alone. I would want to share them with someone, you know? I mean, it’s like cooking for yourself. You get to a point where you’re making a meal, presenting it all nice, and you’re like ‘What’s the point?’ I wish I could go to these beautiful places, but, I don’t know. I guess I’ll wait till I meet someone.”

My eyes widened at this confession. I appreciated his candor. I think a lot of people feel this way. I get it. I think we are hard-wired for connection, and we long for people to share life with. Not having that can leave a constant ache that resides just behind the sternum.

I just reject the worldview that lets singleness be the excuse for living a small life.

Or disappointment.

Or failure.

Or messiness.

I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over what exactly I’m aiming to do as I set out on this adventure, both trekking across the country and pushing into this world of writing. I want my life and my writing to be a piece of art reflecting what it means to pursue the things that make you feel alive.

img_2739“Living life to the fullest” isn’t a label you receive once you’ve got things all figured out.

It’s what happens in the midst of daily choosing to be intentional and diligent and brave in the small things. In other words, wholehearted.

This means that the little things matter.

Shane questioned “the point” of pursuing the art of living–the little flourishes of presenting the food in a meal you make for yourself or taking a solitary trip up the coast just because.

To know what delights our souls and to align our actions with that knowledge is important, whether it’s the way we spend a Tuesday night or the choice to pursue a new career. Being intentional in the seemingly mundane details of our lives leads to the beautiful mosaic of a life rich with joy and satisfaction.  

This means that bravery is a choice.

I think we sell ourselves short when we claim that we lack the bravery to do what we really want.

Bravery is a muscle we stretch, not a genetic trait we either have or don’t have. I have yet to meet someone who wasn’t terrified to pursue the thing they most wanted. I also haven’t met many people who end up regretting that risk they took.

For me that night, bravery meant walking into a restaurant alone, getting past my shy default setting and being open to conversation. A few days later, bravery looked like pressing send on an email to pitch an article to an online magazine. The initial stages of both these acts were difficult, but I want a “life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear” as Elizabeth Gilbert would say.  

This means that we can step into paradox.

Did it sting a little to be exploring Lover’s Point in the Monterey Bay alone? Yeah. Was it hard to not have someone to share the delight of vistas on Highway One with? Kind of. Somewhere between Malibu Beach and Santa Barbara, I chuckled at the realization that I was taking the trip I could imagine doing on my honeymoon. I just happened to be doing it alone.

I have had a moment every day where I feel the familiar pang of loneliness. But that didn’t diminish the beauty of the sunset I saw. The fact that I was alone did not, in any way invalidate my encounter with the beauty of the Pacific Coast.

Because I have also had a moment, every day of this trip, where I feel incredibly lucky and in awe of this opportunity to be doing this. Moments of gratitude that I am doing this alone. I think we miss out when we wait for some elusive version of perfect to pursue something.

I have felt lonely and fully content. I have felt the base tones of melancholy add to the melody of my joy. These opposing feelings can indeed coexist within. To be fully human is to accept the varying shades and nuances of our experience.

img_2762What we do in the waiting matters. Being diligent in what Today holds means things in the big picture.

Traveling Alone Isn’t Weird

“It’s not weird. Traveling alone. Just know that when you walk into a restaurant and sit at the bar by yourself, you feel conspicuous, but no one else is thinking that.”

These reassuring words came to me as a lifeline from a stranger I met in Puerto Rico.

img_3508My traveling companion had gone to bed early, and I decided to check out the bar connected to our hostel. Knowing that, in just a few short months, traveling alone would be my reality, I wanted to start practicing for the bravery of venturing out solo.

I made my way to the bar. After ordering a drink, I feigned interest in the basketball game playing on the television, rotating the cold piña colada glass in my hands and eavesdropping like it was my job.

A little while later (what was probably only five minutes felt quadrupled in my hyper-aware self-consciousness) two girls sat down next to me. They asked for a drink menu, and  I handed it to them, introducing myself. Conversation came easily as we swapped stories about what had brought us to the island and where we had been. When I mentioned that I was planning on taking some time to travel on the west coast this fall on my own, they lit up, sharing their own stories of international solo trips.

Rachel from New York’s words have stuck with me. They’ve been my little shot of bravery, helping me step into this new season on my own.

Because I have moments of feeling like an anomaly. Like I’m some trailblazing pioneer loner, venturing far from the path of what a typical twenty-eight-year-old single woman “should” be doing.

img_3479But I’m not alone in traveling alone. Turns out, there are lots of others doing the same. And there are friendly people everywhere. Generous souls looking to connect.

I armed myself with that mindset as I hopped onto a shuttle at Zion National Park last week. It had been recommended both by social media and friends who travel. It was a crowded Saturday afternoon and I had built in some time to hike there on my way out to California.

The hardest time to be alone is in a crowd of people that are waiting. I stretched my new muscle of bravery and looked around for a friendly face, at the same time submitting to the probability of a solo hike.

As I sat down on the bus, a girl asked if the other seat was open. Small talk quickly gave way to animated conversation about our common love for traveling. Mirroring the conversation I’d had with those girls in Puerto Rico, she lit up as we talked about her experiences in solo-adventuring, full of reassurance and excitement for what lie ahead for me.

As we hopped off the shuttle, Erin invited me to join her in hiking up Angel’s Landing. We spent the afternoon sharing stories and laughing, punctuating our upward climb with frequent stops to catch my breath and take in the breath-taking vistas. 

Here’s the thing. That probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d been traveling with someone else. When there’s no need to reach out, I tend to stay in my comfort zone. Exchanges with strangers don’t extend past pleasantries.

There’s something about traveling, especially on my own, that opens me up to the opportunity to connect with new kindred spirits.

For many people, an immediate red flag shoots up when they hear a woman say the words “travel” and “alone.” There’s been countless furrowed brows and adamant warnings to be careful. Which is absolutely what I must be. There is a sense of vigilance that I must carry with me, along with pepper spray and frequent sharing of my location on my iPhone. While there are certain places I don’t go at night and a careful tuning into my gut, for the most part, it has not been this dangerous escapade that everyone assumes.

img_3440No, it hasn’t been dangerous or isolating. Far from it. Braving this venture on my own has been such a connective and wholesome experience. Not that there aren’t stretches of time of being on my own. Those first few minutes of sitting down at a restaurant alone are excruciating. And I have moments every day where the pang of loneliness hits me right in the solar plexus.

But I’m learning that the true solitude partners well with moments of true connection. And traveling alone really isn’t all that weird.

**Photos by the very talented and lovely Erica Putze.

Traveling is a bit like falling in love

A few days ago, I got in my car. With a deep breath, I turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of my parents’ driveway.

I had meticulously filled my car with my favorite belongings and necessities for the road.

I had been held in the I-won’t-see-you-for-several months embrace of my parents.

I had double checked for the fourth time that I hadn’t left anything important behind.

img_2437

 

And then I did the thing I had been talking about doing since February.

I started heading west.

Gratitude spilled out in the form of tears as the reality sunk in, driving on Interstate 80.

I had been looking forward to palm trees and beaches and the start of this new season in California. But ahead of me lay thousands of miles of In-Between.

Not that I was dreading this trek across the country. I not-so-secretly love long drives in the car. And while the magnitude of this road trip was unprecedented for me, I had a sense of giddy anticipation for the journey ahead.

As the sun steadily rose in the cloudless sky, the familiar cornfields melted into the open plains that stretch through Nebraska.

img_2438In the late afternoon, my eyes strained to see the faint purple outline of the Rocky Mountains on the western edge of the sky.

The next morning, my car swiveled through the jagged mountain terrain, past cobalt mountain lakes, with placid surfaces mirroring their surroundings. Slanting morning sun cast shadows of evergreen armies, standing salute on the sloping foothills. 

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetMy little Ford Focus sped onward through highways that ribboned around the stony towers, the gray and greens blending into rust-colored plateaus of Utah.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetMaybe it was the elevation, or maybe it was the beauty that made my chest ache. There were moments that I couldn’t contain my elation. It felt wrong to be zooming past this glory at 80 miles per hour.

As I passed the continental divide and started the downward slope, I entered a part of the country I had never been to before. The beauty of the foothills I was driving through seemed to reflect the foothills of this adventure I was embarking on. This was uncharted territory. Stripped of everything familiar, I felt exposed.

It was as if someone had turned up the saturation and contrast levels of my experience both internally and externally.

Alone with my thoughts, I’d oscillate between giddy excitement for what these next few months would hold and dread at the realization that I am now essentially homeless and unemployed. I’d revel in my solitude one moment, and feel the pang of loneliness around the next bend in the highway. I would feel lulled into a mundane daze at the endless miles ahead of me, only to feel a surging burst of excitement when another beautiful mountain range would emerge on the horizon.

I think anytime I find myself venturing out into the unknown, the vulnerability leads to an intensity of sensation.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIt struck me that this trip felt a little bit like falling in love. That feeling when the whole world seems to have a filter of vibrant colors.

Like falling in love, travel is uncomfortable and there’s so much uncertainty about how it will all turn out.

But your heart is ignited and your eyes opened to the possibilities and breath-taking beauty that other people might have passed by.

The beauty felt is almost painful. There’s this urgency to claim it, possess it, to share it.

Both of these experiences leave you forever changed.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWith any pursuit of the things the things our hearts long for, there is a rawness that grips us to the core.This vibrancy is not to be feared or shied away from with numbing defense mechanisms. It is to be leaned into.

This is what it means to be fully human.

Why You Should Have Conversations With Yourself

I’ve been staying with my parents, my cozy childhood hometown for the month of August. It’s been a month of family dinners, wedding planning (for my younger sister), reconnecting with high school friends, and preparing for my trip out west.

Being in small town Iowa means running into old acquaintances and family friends wherever I go. So I’ve gotten my one-minute explanation of what I’m doing this fall down to a well-rehearsed elevator pitch.

The thing is, words can get hollow with repetition. The intention can subtly lose its vibrancy as this thing I’ve been planning starts to feel more like an idea than reality. Comfort and familiarity have lulled me into this sneaking suspicion that I won’t actually be getting into my car and driving out to California in just a few short days. The moment of departure is almost here, and I find myself oscillating between moments of Christmas-morning level anticipation and the kind of self-doubt that punches you in the solar plexus.

After spending a night tossing and turning, I woke up to find this letter on my doorstep.

Dear Allie,

I thought I could remain quiet. I mean, you haven’t been really listening to me for awhile. But I must voice my concerns. This was a lovely millennial dream for you to have, but come on. You don’t actually think you can do this, do you? I mean, who do you think you are?! Annie freakin’ Oakley?

Driving out to the west coast, on your own, for four months, with no job to speak of and a pathetic excuse for a plan?! Where do I even begin to point out the risks of this plan?

This is dangerous. What if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere? Or you come across some creep when you’re hiking? I mean, maybe if you had a husband to go with you, that’d be one thing. But you are practically hurling yourself into harms way.

This is irresponsible. You walked away from a secure, predictable job. Your dream to be a writer is cute, but be real. No one is going to pay you to be an “artist.” You don’t have what it takes. You don’t want to face the heartbreak of discovering that you aren’t good enough. Why not just take an easier job that is less risky? You may not love it, but hey. But at least you’ll save your dignity.

This is selfish. How dare you abandon everything familiar and all the people who care about you to go do what you feel like doing? You’re quitting this very noble profession of teaching elementary to do what!? Travel and do things that are life giving??? People are going to think you are a self-centered hippy.

This is not healthy. You already struggle with loneliness. Now you want to go thousands of miles away from everyone you know, and travel by yourself? That is the definition of isolation. You’re read Into the Wild, right? That guy ended up dead. Just saying.

Change is too risky. Please listen to reason and just accept your ordinariness. Here’s what you should do. Just stay put, get some easy job. It may not be life-giving, but it’ll be good enough. It’s fine if you want to keep writing and making art, but keep it to yourself please! We can’t face the possibility of rejection. Just do the things that are expected of you, will you? 

Just looking out for what’s best,

Fear

IMG_4797I read these words with both a smirk on my face and a heavy heart. I knew this voice well. Fear had been whispering these sentiments for awhile now.

That’s the thing. Fear’s concerns aren’t going to go away. “Trust me, your fear will always show up—-especially when you’re trying to be inventive or innovative. Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into a realm of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcomes.” Elizabeth Gilbert’s helpful and enCOURAGE-ing words helped equip me with an ability to respond well to Fear.

Rather than trying to fight fear, or ignore it completely, I can take a different approach. “It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes too. I cordially invite fear to come along with me everywhere I go.”

IMG_3530.jpgSo I grabbed some morning coffee, headed out to my parent’s front porch, and penned this response.

Dearest Fear,

I appreciate you voicing your concerns. I want you to know that you are heard and that your voice is valid. I can tell that you are trying your best to protect this one wild and precious life that I have, and I sense your urgency to do just that. This is absolutely a scary thing, and there are very real risks in the venture I am about to take.

Yes, I am still going to go. And I know that you will be my companion every step of the way. While you get a say, you do not get the final say.

You asked me who I thought I was. I’m so glad you asked. Let me tell you.

I am Allie.

I am a truth-speaker.

A beauty-bringer,

a gentle brave soul

committed to living

the wholehearted truth of my being.

I am loved,

I am taken care of,

and I am Illuminated

by Love Himself.

Yes, there are risks involved in this trip, but I believe that the bigger risk is to stay in the comfortable known at the cost of being fully alive.

Making security an idol is just as reckless.

While I have not lived the narrative I thought I was going to live, I am stepping into the story I have in front of me. There are no guarantees as I move forward, but trying to stay stagnant isn’t a foolproof way of staying safe either!

I’m not disagreeing with you—it will probably be hard and there will be moments of loneliness. So much bravery will be required. But I promise (as much as possible) to take calculated risks. To not actually put my life in danger or be financially reckless.

You’re right—it feels very vulnerable to pursue a creative passion like writing. There’s no way of controlling the outcome. But I can choose to enter into the craft of it. To daily choose the joy of submitting to the process. What if we made that the measure of my success, rather than how many people like or don’t like what I’m doing? That makes the stakes a lot less high.

You mentioned lots of phrases about this being unwise, unrealistic, and even arrogant. While conventional wisdom might see that, I don’t believe this is reality. I know I am called to live a wholehearted life. These comments, both of being too much and not enough, are the voice of Shame. And that is not welcome here, Fear.

Sometimes getting hung up on “right” and “wrong” ends up being nothing more than a paralyzing comparison game. Sometimes there is a wise and unwise choice, but a lot of times, there’s just choice. Beautiful, messy, complex choice. And I know that terrifies you, Fear. But be honest.

What is is that terrifies you more than the risks ahead? Isn’t it a life not fully lived?

I believe that choosing the things that are life-giving, even if they are risky or hard or require change, will lead to Joy.

So take a deep breath with me, Fear. Relax. I promise it will all be ok. 

Love,

Me

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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.

Why am I Writing This Blog?

“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions.” Shannon L. Adler

I am two weeks into my new life as a “pretired” teacher. It’s been filled to the brim with the details of both saying goodbye to the city I’ve lived in for five years and making plans for the upcoming season of traveling on the west coast. As this big change starts to come into focus, the realness of exactly what I’m doing causes three rotating internal responses:

  1. A feeling of giddy excitement at the thought of my upcoming adventures.
  2. A terror that settles in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps like the feeling a trapeze artist might get reaching for the next bar and feeling nothing. What the heck did I just do, flinging myself away from everything familiar and stable?
  3. A familiar ache of loneliness. I’m heading out into so much newness, and I’m doing it alone. I chose that, and I wouldn’t wish it to be different. Not really. But the reality of all the bravery ahead makes me feel small. Makes me wish for someone to hold my hand, to say “It’s okay, we’ll figure this out together.”compass hand

Underneath all of this cacophony of emotions and thoughts inside is a deep sense of rightness. A feeling that taking this journey is an act of aligning my actions with who I am and who I’m becoming. So I keep trying to take small steps forward.

Even though these steps are leading away from my expected and safe narrative.

Even though a mountain of unknowns looms in front of me.

Even though taking these steps forward will mean hard and raw realities in the coming months.

Small steps like trying to figure out what health insurance looks like outside of the luxurious benefits I’ve been living with as an elementary teacher. Small steps like trying to find people that will trust me to housesit for them through Trusted Housesitters. Small steps like trying to think through what the purpose of this blog is. 

I sat down at a coffee shop a few weekends ago, attempting a first draft of this post. I opened up the blank word processing page, flipped to the page in my journal with the idea web I had scrawled out earlier, and was flooded with the distinct joy that comes when you are doing work that feels like what you were made for. In that moment, I didn’t have any of the questions answered. No logistics figured out. But I was doing the life-giving work I know I’ve been needing to pursue for a long time.

journal computerThe Japanese have a word for this. They call it your ikigai. “That for which you get out of bed for in the morning.”(I first heard this in Rob Bell’s new book How to Be Here. So good.) Passion. Calling. Vocation. Purpose. Call it what you like, but aligning all aspects of your life with what makes you fully alive is so deeply important. The creative act of making a life in which you can flourish is the joy of being human. For me right now, a lot of my ikigai is found through the process of creating this blog.

Doing the work of clarifying what my ikigai is has been a long process. One that I’m still in the midst of defining. I think it started when I went on a “solo-cation” to Omaha this fall. I started to sense that this might be my last year as an elementary teacher. In the quiet space of that weekend, I asked my soul, “if not teaching, then what?” And my heart timidly responded, “I’d really like to write, please.”

To be honest, I was a bit bewildered at my own response at first.  While writing had been a part of the fabric of my life for almost as long as I can remember, it had mostly been a private affair. Journaling was a necessity, processing out loud the interior and exterior things I was coming up against. But I’d only been blogging, sharing some of those musings out loud, intermittently over the past few years. It was the spark of joy that came from crafting words together and sharing them with others that ignited something that is now changing the course of my life.

Not that there are any guarantees. No promise that quitting my career as a teacher to pursue writing will get me anywhere. That’s not what your ikigai is about. I have no idea if I will “Make It” as a writer. I have no idea if this is a Viable Career Path. But I do know that I feel the most healthy when writing is a part of my rhythm. I know that I feel purposeful in this work, even in the mundane, tedious aspects of it. This isn’t that thing I would try if I knew I couldn’t fail, like those motivational bumper stickers say. This is the thing I am trying, even if I do fail. And that’s how I know it’s my ikigai.

After the initial spark of inspiration in Omaha, there were still seven months in the school year. Seven more months of trying to figure out exactly what I was going to do in this quarter life crisis of mine. They say 90% of figuring out what you want to do is figuring out what you don’t want to do. Engaging in that process over the last few months has meant slowing down long enough to listen to what I am feeling drawn to, and distinguishing that from the noise of everything else. It has been a process of opening up to possibility and risk, but also practicing the bravery of setting boundaries and saying no to good things. I wanted to articulate some of the conclusions I’ve come to about Allie Illuminated with you.

I’ll start with what this blog isn’t. It’s not my intention for this blog to be an online journal where I only chronicle and process my life. While showing up on the page week after week on this blog has been deeply helpful for my own growth, that is what my personal journal is for.

Neither is it my desire to curate some formulaic how-to blog for working remotely and traveling around the country solo. I don’t claim to have all the answers, nor do I want some enviable online presence that portrays a myth that I’ve got it all figured out. In my present state, I can’t claim any expertise, but I can say that I’m trying to live the questions. In this blog, I’m hoping to voice those vulnerable questions aloud. I think my ikigai right now is creating things that bring those connective and so needed for the human soul moments of “Her too? Oh, I thought I was the only one!”

Allie Illuminated is a why-to blog about aligning all aspects of your life with that which makes you feel most alive. Rather than a formulaic how-to blog, this is a space where I’m sharing my vulnerable thoughts in the journey in hopes that others will connect, and I’m asking the questions aloud in hopes that others will engage with those questions and step into their own stories. 

I’m not claiming to have it all figured out here. With so many unknowns, I can only lean into trusting that God’s got me. I’m not even claiming to have my blog’s branding identity all figured out right now. But it’s a starting point. A step in the right direction.

Continually, I’m having to practice a posture of openhandedness, even as I start to make plans, making peace with all the uncertainty. It has been messy these first two weeks for sure. One foot is stepping out into this unknown, excited about all the possibilities. The other is planted in fear, wanting to try and have the perfect plan all laid out before moving forward. And there are so many moments of lonely self-doubt. But the more I talk to others that have gone before me, that security blanket of perfect plans doesn’t exist. I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but you, dear reader, are welcome to come along for the ride.pointing trees

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

How to be Messy Well

You know that moment when Wile E. Coyote, suspended in mid-air, realized that he’s just run off the cliff?

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That’s a little bit of what it feels like to be me right now.

Another school year ended last week. Ceremonies, deadlines, field trips, checklists, picnics, meetings, grading, cleaning, games, packing, and the flurry of activity that marks the end of an elementary year. The rhythm wasn’t a healthy  one and I couldn’t wait for it to end, and yet, now that it’s come, I feel bereft.

Every year, the first week of summer feels somewhat like this. Throughout the school year, I become addicted to the rhythm of structured chaos and productive busyness. When summer comes, it’s always hard at first. Like I’m going through a detox, the painful withdrawal symptoms being a mild existential crisis. I’m feeling this uncomfortable downshift more keenly than other summers, as the end of this school year signified not just saying goodbye to being a teaching to this group of students, but I’m saying goodbye to being a teacher altogether. I’m in this surreal realization that I just walked away from my first career, a steady salary, the solid ground of my expected narrative.

So many things came to an end this week, and the new beginnings aren’t quite clear just yet. Similar to that cartoon Coyote, I’ve been running, and I’ve taken for granted the solid ground that’s always been beneath my feet. There’s always been a logical next step. The comfort of predictability. But now I’m stepping out into a reality where the level of unknowns are unprecedented. And I feel like just like Wile E., coming to grips with my reality, eyes bugging out in the pause before the plunge.

But unlike Coyote, I knew what I was getting into. Sure, I’ve been running full steam ahead, but I had been counting down the days till the end for a long time. I knew the cliff was coming and have been preparing myself to end well. I even sought out counseling months ago, knowing the turbulence of the upcoming transition would be challenging.

My counselor has been asking me a powerful question. “What does it mean to end well?” I wrote about my thoughts a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been trying so hard to lean into being fully present in this transition. Of speaking my truth and staying engaged, rather than withdrawing or jumping into planning for the future. I’ve been creating rituals to name and honor the season that is ending, practicing gratitude for the people and places that have become familiar companions these last few years.

I was so determined to end well, that I ran right into an all-too-familar trap, just like a Looney Toons character. The anvil that landed on my head might have had “Perfectionist-Expectations” written across it.

Which is why I sat down in the chair across from my counselor a few weeks ago, exhausted, bitter, and heart aching over the weight of my own expectations to “do it right.” I felt so tired from trying to muster up the energy to remain fully present to all things. I was expecting myself to remain “all in” until the last moment. I turned the idea of “ending well” into a checklist of rules to perform perfectly, and it wasn’t working.

Throughout the course of that counseling session, we sat with that tension, acknowledging the desire to end well and to fully honor the process as a good thing. But I also needed to realize (or remember) that I can’t and won’t “end perfectly.” I can’t say all the right things and end well with every interaction. Yes, it is good to engage with the process, to try to remain present in the moment. I don’t want to regret leaving things undone or unsaid. But part of ending is acknowledge the inevitable deaths occurring. Submitting to letting go, which doesn’t happen all at once. Gradients of change happen in the dying process. Grief and sadness need space, and that means not doing all of the things all of the time. There are a myriad of emotions, complex and vibrant, emerging throughout endings, and they need to be reckoned with. My heart posture was trying keep pace with the chaos of the end of the school year. I just wanted permission to start letting go. To let go of these expectations to “end well perfectly.”

Ok, so endings are messy. Challenging, laced with uncertainty and the inability to have a gameplan. (And can we just acknowledge for a moment, that “messy” has become glorified in our millennial culture? A lifestyle concept that has the appearance of free-spirited authenticity from the other side of a Instagram, but in the daily grind of messy, it’s not so glamourous. I can attest to that.) But when messiness is my reality, it can just turn into another thing to try to master. I try to be messy perfectly. Ha.

So this time around, I’m trying as much as possible to get out of my own way and to be where I am. To feel all the feels, as my friend Jordan would say. This is what my counselor and I came up with. Not a list of rules, but some thoughts on stepping into messiness in a healthy, holistic sense. Practical ways of giving myself permission to be where I am.

Pay Attention

heart rockSo often, in questions about the pursuit of joy, or finding peace, or living in reality, the answer comes back to the present moment. It’s the magnetic pole that the compass keeps pointing towards. “Pay attention to what you’re feeling, and even where in your body you are feeling it,” my counselor advised. Open your eyes to what’s going on around you and listen to how your spirit is responding internally. So easily, my mind fixates on something that happened last week or gravitates towards neurotically scrolling through my to-do list. Patiently, kindly, I keep leading my wandering self back to this moment. Be here, now. Be awake to this moment. Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat.

Get Curious

Ocean BoulderAs much as possible, I’m trying to not get stuck in the rut of assumptions, even about my own self. I’m practicing a posture of curiosity towards myself and my reactions. This is not an open invitation to indulge in self-analysis or to slip into a downward spiral of introspection. Rather, it is a posture of open-handedness. What am I feeling in this moment? Why did I feel that way? What thought patterns need to be discarded in this new season? With the gentleness that I find easier to extend to others, I’m trying to be kind with myself in sitting with these questions, either through journaling, on a long walk, or in processing with a friend. 

Honor Yourself

flower handoffFor a perfectionist, part of being messy is breaking the rules of expectations that I hold over myself. Asking “what do I need in this moment? What does it look like to honor myself right now?” And then (most of the time) doing just that. I’ve been keeping a big stack of pretend permission slips close by and giving them to myself when the moment calls for it. You need to skip going to the gym today? You got it. You need to not care about state testing anymore? OK. My counselor added that if honoring yourself can lead to connection, great. Practice needing to need, as Brené Brown says. Reaching out and asking to get coffee with a friend. Asking for a hug from my roommate. Sharing my messy processing with someone via text rather than carrying the burden alone. That’s what it has been looking like to honor myself in small ways that add up to mean big things.

Make Peace with the “Negative”

IMG_0108I’ve been noticing, within my own thought patterns, how much I’m believing the story that I’m only worthy, or desirable for connection when I’m bringing positive emotions to the table. When I’m feeling stable, optimistic in the face of frustrating situations. That I often try to do whatever I can to silence the sadness, to numb the funk that just comes with transitions. A big part of “being messy” well means fully accepting all the parts of me. Because when I allow the scared, whiny, self-pitying parts of me to air their grievances, rather than shushing them into a resentful repression, they actually don’t feel as heavy. Ironically, when I give myself permission to be in a weird mood, it doesn’t last as long.

The truth is, I’m walking contradiction these days. So many complex emotions are swimming around. I feel like I’m a pinprick away from a much needed ugly cry, and I’m also resting in a contented excitement over my upcoming adventure. I am delighting in this season, and also glad to be rid of it. If I start to zoom out too far, I get dizzy at the prospect of so many unknowns, but if I take just the next step, I’m fine. More than fine. Exactly where I’m supposed to be.  I’m writing to you from the midst of all of this. And this post reflects the messiness I find myself in. Someone who doesn’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to step into the questions.