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.

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

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

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

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

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

Bookstore

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that so?”

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

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

“My sister did that awhile back.”

“Are you going to drive or fly?”

“What kind of car do you drive?”

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

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

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

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

Murmurs of agreement from the peanut gallery.

Bemused, I asked for other words of wisdom.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allie, you can do this.

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(Or: Bravery is a choice.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The worst case scenario isn’t actually that bad.

(Or: Fear doesn’t get the final say.)

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

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

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

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

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

(Or: Wherever you go, connect.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Reasons I Love Road Trips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

|Reason #5| Concert: Party of two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

|Reason #3| Connecting with Strangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

|Reason #1| Being found by getting lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serendipity.

Good Fortune.

Fate.

Divine Intervention. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sparklerI needed to remember that synchronicity is a partnership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Large Gatherings of Women Make Me Itchy

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

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

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

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

I, who small talk on the daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please tell me I’m not alone in this.

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

But that can’t actually be reality.

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

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

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

girl alone in crowd

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

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

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

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

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

I am worthy of love and belonging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True connection happens when we choose to be vulnerable.

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

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

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

I live in a world of abundance.

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

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

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

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

How do you step into the truth of your belonging?

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

 

How Transitions are Kind of Like Getting Lost on a Hike

Transition.

It has become an unexpected theme these past few months, as I’ve processed out loud the heart wrenching and messy and beautiful process of saying goodbye to one chapter and heading into a new one. This week, the transition is reaching a pinnacle, as I move out of my Kansas City house I’ve called home for three years, say goodbye to the dear friends I’ve shared life with over the last five years.

The process of transitions seemed to mirror my experience of hiking on the unfamiliar mountain trails that I went on these past few weeks while housesitting for some friends in Denver.

Most adventures involve feeling lost at some point. Thinking back on the hikes, it’s the moments of uncertainty that made the journey memorable. It’s the unplanned routes that lead to the most breath-taking vistas. And yet, in the midst of it, sweaty and thirsty, and more out of breath than you should be for a healthy young person, you feel it all. The panic of feeling lost, the drudgery of the uphill stretches, the relief at discovering you are on the right trail and the moments of awe on the crest of the mountain.

Always, transitions move us forward.* “Further up and further on” as C.S. Lewis calls our invitation into more. Below is the description of the journey that I’ve been on that has mirrored the adventures my feet are traveling.

The Dead End

The comforting, well-worn path peters out into a copse of trees. Squinting in the high-altitude sunlight, I peer beyond the boulders for the continued path. The well-worn grooves of the path melt into the pine-needled floor. Unfolding the crumpled map I slipped into my back pocket, I try to make sense of the tangled ribbons of multicolored trails, feeling more disoriented by the moment. Glancing around for a boulder, I sit down to catch my breath and take some gulps from my lukewarm water bottle.  As my breaths come in more steadily, I take in the valley stretching out below the bluff I’ve come against. Glaciers of cloud shadows glide over the evergreen carpeted foothills ahead. Off in the distance, a purple bruised  sky threatens rain. My plan for the 3.2-mile trail that my friend recommended is decidedly not what I am on, I figure, studying at the map again.

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We may know the end of a road is coming (a graduation, the end of a lease). Or the end may come abruptly and unannounced (the end of a relationship or the loss of a job). Either way, a “dead end” always involves a death of “life as we currently know it.” Sometimes these ends are tangible and external, but there is a multitude of deaths that we experience that are more subtle and internal.

A dead end may come in the form of the end of a “honeymoon period” in the newness of  a relationship. Or it might be the loss of your sense of wholeness in a season of failure, depression, or woundedness. It can even be the feeling of loss we experience as our own preconceived ideas about how the world works unravel.

The dead end I faced this past year was a culmination of so many of these things. The realization that the career I was in wasn’t for me anymore. The decision to travel which meant letting go of the place I’ve called home. I’ve experienced many small deaths to my idea of “certainty” this past year as things I thought were definite became more unclear.

The thing about dead ends is that have to name them. See them for what they are, and then turn around. The only way to move forward is to get back on the path.

A Fork In the Road

Resituating my backpack on my shoulders, I start retracing my steps. I remember that a half mile back there was a signpost, so I make that my goal. It’s uphill terrain, the roots of the pine trees making steep stair steps further and further up. I get to the place where there’s a fork in the road. I could turn right. I know that a ways down the path is the parking lot, the map with the reassuring “You Are Here” arrow. Or I could turn left. The path continues up, switchbacks preventing me from seeing the final destination. With another cursory glance towards to storm clouds on the horizon, I turn left and continue up the slope.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIn the wake of our deaths, we are faced with a choice. A strong pull within us for self-protection and self-preservation calls for staying put or turning back. But there’s another whisper inside us as well. The call to adventure. The call to live life to the fullest possible extent.

And that involves risk. It involves the challenging work of moving forward, even in the uncertainty. Life is found in forward motion, not back. Retreating, refusing to move on will either result in unhealthy fantasy or ever intensifying bitterness.

We live in a universe that is always moving forward. Inner transformation happens when we join in this unfinished business of transformation that all of Creation is undergoing. When we choose the riskier path of inner transformation.

Feeling Lost

All bravado from the fork in the road ebbs away with the wind whistling through the juniper leaves. What if I’m heading further away from where I wanted to go? What if I hit another dead end and I have to turn back, this time five miles away from my car? What if it starts raining? The rustle of leaves makes my heart go into double time. Moments later, my eyes roll in self-mockery as a ground squirrel darts across the path. My eyes search for a guidepost, reassurance that I’m on the right trail. But all I see in my line of sight are more and more switchbacks.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetThis part of the journey is messy. Grieving the loss of comfortable familiarity is a part that cannot be skipped in the process of transition. Moments of self-doubt, the arrival of fear and the tangle of what-ifs are inevitable.

Before we move on to the new, we must grieve what we are losing. To attempt sidestepping these uncomfortable moments is to deny your own humanity.

I feel like I’m just getting out of the thick of this stage in the process of transitions. I knew it would come, but that didn’t make it any less messy. This time, though, rather than resisting the storm of uncertainty, I tried to pass through it. Sometimes it was a struggle just to put one foot in front of the other, but knowing that this was a necessary part of the process helped.

Staying the Course

There were no external confirmations that I was headed in the right direction. But internally I feel a shift of new confidence as I keep climbing. My senses feel more awake up in the alpine air. The distinct aroma of mountain air that no candle or air freshener can even hope to replicate fills my lungs. My eyes land on the happy yellow teacup of a flower, stubbornly growing atop a cactus. Aspen leaves dappled the sunlight above, and between the trees, a snow-capped mountain range cuts the horizon. Well, I think, I’m not sure where I’m headed, but I am here. And I love that I am here in this moment.

IMG_1365Between the doubt and the fear, poking through the brush like the views of the mountains, are glimpses of deep and resounding peace. Discovered by patient attention to the present moment, there are moments where we become brave enough to let go of the season we are leaving behind.

These aren’t the trite Hallmark card-sounding optimism that we pull out for talking to our acquaintances, but a deep equanimity that has come through the hard work of grieving and wrestling with the death we went through.

We find that we are able to be blessed by the past season. With all its imperfections, heartbreaks, and monotony, we see it for what it was. A beautiful part of our story that shaped us and laid the foundation, not only for this very moment, but also for the unforeseeable next season we are headed towards.

We recognize that there were beautiful moments of deep belonging and significance that named us. We also are able to honor the bruises and scars we carry as souvenirs, wounds that hurt like hell in the moment, but from which truth and growth flowed out in a way that we wouldn’t have traded for the world.

The line between honoring the past and the trap of nostalgia is subtle. With a little bit of distance between where I am now and that gorgeous view that the dead end led me too, I feel the urge to go back, to camp out there. But we cannot cling to the past if we want to fully inhabit the life we are now living. Rather, we enter into the dance of celebrating the gifts we have received and setting our sights on the road ahead. Believing C.S. Lewis’ promise that “there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

Arrival

The light starts to come down in ever widening shafts, the canopy clearing ahead to the peak of the mountain. Panoramic views dizzy my senses. My heart  is overwhelmed at the shades of hills and slopes repeating into the distance. Billowing cumulus mountains compete for grandeur with the peaks and slopes on the ground, their extravagant temporariness contrasting the mountains’ sheer confidence. I resist my millennial urge to look first through my iPhone screen, capturing the beauty and not really seeing it. I climb up onto a stack of boulders, taking me out that much further into the beauty and sit down cross-legged on the sun-warmed stone. Any memory of anxiety over whether I was on the right path is distant. The thought of turning back at the moment of feeling lost now seems laughable, as I drink in the beauty of the adventure.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetSo what happens on the other side of transition? What does it feel like to settle into the newness of what’s next? That’s a great question. I don’t think, in this transition, that I’m there yet. I’m probably back on the path, starting to accept where I am, being blessed by the dead ends and refusing the urge to turn back.

I think the arrival feels like embracing the spirit of the new season, which looks and feels different from the spirit of the last season. It’s a joyful settling into my new skin, learning how to fully inhabit the life I am currently living.

And, at some moment, it will come time to keep moving forward. There will come a time when this season will become a dead end. And rather than clinging, it will be time again to receive the invitation to “further up and further in.” On this side, that longing for home will never fully be satisfied.

And that is okay. “In order to come to fuller life and spirit, we must constantly be letting go of the present life and Spirit.”

*The framework of thought for this post came from an article I read called A Spirituality  of the Paschal Mystery. It is a chapter in the book The Holy Longing, by Ronald Rolheiser.