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.

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.

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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.

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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?

Connection In the Midst of Political Insanity

This trip has surprised me.

I guess a little bit of me was assuming that I would feel isolated. I mean, traveling alone, being on the move, and stopping in cities where I know very few people sounds like a recipe for loneliness right?

While there have been long stretches of alone time, this adventure around America has so clearly been about connection.

There’s been many people who’ve struck up conversations with me. Like the fruit stand guy at Pike’s Place in Seattle. A weathered face and slate grey eyes lighting up as he asked if I want to try a pear. He shared about his motorcycle trip he took from Florida up to Washington back in his day as he nonchalantly slips me slices from cameo apples and persimmons.

pouring-coffeeI’ve surprised myself with my growing boldness at interacting with strangers as well. Like the time I went to a restaurant that had been recommended to me, and after ordering a drink at the bar, I couldn’t find a place to sit. There was an empty seat next to three friendly looking guys, so before I could talk myself out of it, I asked if I could join. They ended up being three cousins from Ethiopia. I had a lovely evening, hearing about their family dynamics and laughing at the stories of shenanigans.

And don’t get me started on the overwhelming hospitality I’ve received in the places I’ve stayed. Time and again, I’ve shown up to different homes of people hosting me, unsure of what I’d find. Most of the people I’ve stayed with were complete strangers, or connections through a few degrees of separation. Without fail, these people have opened up their homes, invited me to their dinner table for a feast, and delighted in showing me their town.

These strangers-turned-friends have been a diverse bunch. Differing backgrounds and world views, various ethnicities and perspectives, and people who’ve had vastly different experiences than this sheltered girl from Iowa have come alongside me and made me feel at home.

I am not sure what I was expecting, but I think maybe this is what I was hoping for. It is so good for me to put myself in places where I am out of my element and surrounded by people who are different than me. It is an opportunity to confront my hidden assumptions and see the similar humanity in everyone.

the-adventure-beginsIt has been uncomfortable and stretching at times, but so beautiful. What is so fascinating is to see the contrast between my experience and what’s happening in American politics right now. Juxtaposed against this connection and unity I’m experiencing is this daily news about hate-charged rhetoric, increasing evidence of dividing lines, and a candidate who spews out horrifying statements like it’s his job. So much of this election season has left me waffling between bewilderment, embarrassment, and dismay.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. It makes sense that people are suspicious of what is different than them. That fear can be a powerful driving force, manifesting as anger and extremism. When this is insulated in an environment where only people you encounter look the same, think the same, vote the same way, this fear can go undetected. The other becomes a caricature of assumptions and stereotypes to fear, make fun of, and defend against.

I get it. Fear of that which is different can be so subtle and so deeply ingrained into our humanity. It’s a natural defense mechanism and I am not immune to it. The problem is when you think the only people who are people are the people who look and act like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew. (If you just got that last sentence, you are a child of the nineties…If it made you laugh, then we are kindred spirits.)

“Grace dies when it becomes ‘us versus them.’” — Philip Yancy

While there is a gravitational pull towards that mentality, I’m finding that it doesn’t have to have the last say. In the moments where I choose curiosity over fear, I discover so much about myself and others. In encounters where I’ve released assumptions, I find myself surprised by compassion. Exercising the muscle of empathy and choosing to believe that everyone is doing the best they can has only brought more life and freedom into my world.

 This reminded me of a video I saw a few months back. In response to the controversy of the millions of refugees that were entering Europe, Amnesty International conducted a simple experiment, based on psychologist Arthur Aron’s findings that 4 minutes of looking into someone’s eyes is one of the most powerful ways to break down barriers. What would happen if these strangers, Syrian refugees and Europeans, sat across from each other in the historically divided city of Berlin and really tried to see the other person?

screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-11-29-16-amscreen-shot-2016-10-29-at-11-29-49-amscreen-shot-2016-10-29-at-11-31-08-amNervous laughter and eyes darting away in discomfort dissipate in the first minute. Walls come down and simple human connection is formed. The conversation is stilted with language barriers, but that doesn’t diminish the profound bond that forms. If you haven’t seen it, please watch it right now. (Fair warning, I cry every time I watch it.)

This beautiful video belies our human need to be seen. We are built for connection. When we isolate ourselves into places of familiarity, we lose our ability to see. Being in the presence of “the other” humanizes them. Assumptions and judgment fall away as the familiar humanity in their face become evident.

I don’t claim to have any or all of the answers. This is not a how-to blog, where I claim a 5 step process to eradicating all of the dividing lines that riddle our nation. I’m not proposing that we all hold hands and gaze at each other with 5 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact on the other side of the voting booth next week.

portraitaamanrainbowwomanportraitelderlywomanportraitmuslimwomanportraitelderlymangirl hands to heartBut I am making a case for why we should seek to put ourselves around people that are different than us. I am asking us to practice choosing curiosity over fear. I’m asking for us to endeavor to really see the people around us.

**All photos in this post are from unsplash.com

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

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

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

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

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

Bookstore

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that so?”

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

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

“My sister did that awhile back.”

“Are you going to drive or fly?”

“What kind of car do you drive?”

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

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

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

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

Murmurs of agreement from the peanut gallery.

Bemused, I asked for other words of wisdom.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allie, you can do this.

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(Or: Bravery is a choice.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The worst case scenario isn’t actually that bad.

(Or: Fear doesn’t get the final say.)

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

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

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

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

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

(Or: Wherever you go, connect.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Large Gatherings of Women Make Me Itchy

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

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

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

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

I, who small talk on the daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please tell me I’m not alone in this.

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

But that can’t actually be reality.

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

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

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

girl alone in crowd

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

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

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

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

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

I am worthy of love and belonging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True connection happens when we choose to be vulnerable.

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

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

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

I live in a world of abundance.

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

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

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

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

How do you step into the truth of your belonging?

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

 

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