Finding Heaven and Home on the North Shore

Sunrise on the North Shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota.

I left Minnesota at 17 and promised I would never, ever live there again. The winters are too cold (-4C/24F as a high should not be a thing). The land is too flat. Everyone thinks Fargo is a part of your state. Tornadoes.

But, oh, Minnesota summers.

Now, that’s another thing altogether. The air is clean and buzzes with cicadas. Oaks and maples and willows rustle in soft breezes and the 10,000 lakes come alive with laughter from beach-goers and bird songs. Fireflies create magic shows at dusk — little bursts of light as you walk through the woods. Thunderstorms rattle your windows and bones and you snuggle in tighter to watch the lightening and wait out the pounding rain.

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Good and bad things about living in Minnesota.

A few weeks ago, my friend and I were looking for a quick ocean getaway location. But with a heat wave hitting everywhere along the East Coast, a radical idea popped into my head and out my mouth: “What if we went to the North Shore?”

The North Shore of what exactly, you ask?

A little slice of heaven on earth, in fact.

Specifically, this slice is along Lake Superior in Minnesota. (Ok, so technically, it’s only heaven on earth for a few months of the year unless you are a polar bear.)

The coastline of Lake Superior, Minnesota
Look! So beautiful! For at least three months every year!

The North Shore stretches from Duluth, Minnesota, through the border with Canada, and arches all the way to Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario. The greatest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and third largest in volume. It is so big that almost half of Florida would fit inside its shores.

Actually, I am pretty sure it would be okay to lose Florida, so consider that a suggestion.

Technical map of states that could fit into Lake Superior.
Technical map of states that could fit into Lake Superior.

I’ve been back to Minnesota off and on over the years to visit family, but I hadn’t been back to take just relax and explore, so that’s what my friend and I decided to do.

From Minneapolis, we rented a car, skirted Lake Wobegon and a few Paul Bunyan and Babe statues, and arrived three hours later at a recommendation from my sister: New Scenic Café.

Just north of Duluth and across the street from the lake (“It’s big, but I can still see the other side,” my friend said, not yet impressed), New Scenic Café should be a required stop if you are in the area. Armed with a Duluth Bent Paddle beer, we started with honey-glazed figs, followed with an heirloom tomato and truffle oil sandwich and finished with a passionfruit panna cotta.

This was not the Minnesota fare I remembered.

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This is the Minnesota fare I remembered.

From there, we hugged the road that hugged the lake, and drove a bit farther to our home for a few days, a wood cabin right on the shore. To celebrate our arrival, we popped open a bottle of wine and parked in lounge chairs beneath a big oak along the water. For breakfast, the lodge offered us wild rice and cranberry pancakes and trout lightly fried with wild rice batter. Oh, and a hot plate of homemade cinnamon rolls for good measure.

Full and happy, my friend was at this point sufficiently impressed with the lake’s size. “Maybe we should swim,” he suggested.

“Maybe you should swim,” I suggested.

Instead, we hiked at Tettegouche State Park and stood in awe at the shoreline and waterfalls. More wild rice dishes for late lunch, local beer, and a bedtime of 6 p.m. Oh, yea, we were partying hard.

High Falls at Tettegouche State Park
50-foot High Falls at Tettegouche State Park is a few miles of easy hiking into the park.

The next day, we biked to Split Rock Lighthouse, which was built after 29 ships were destroyed or damaged in one violent November storm on the lake. Lake Superior has long treated ships like they were silly toys trespassing on her domain — since 1816, 240 ships have been destroyed or damaged in just one area of Lake Superior (affectionately known as the Graveyard of the Great Lakes). Even in recent history, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975 on the lake during a fierce November storm of hurricane-force winds and waves 35 feet high, swallowing the crew of 29.

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Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.

On our way back, we found a secret little rocky beach and napped in a hammock, determined to stay up until at least a non-senior citizen hour tonight. For dinner, we switched it up with a Minnesota-style pizza (very flat and not crisp) and local beer and a game of speed cornhole, which I totally won, which makes sense, since being good at cornhole is a requirement if you live in the Midwest at any point in your life.

Our last day, we commandeered a free canoe from the lodge and paddled out on the lake. I was completely calm and chill about the fact that I could see clearly 35 feet down in the water, a brown film covering the rocky bottom. It didn’t bother me at all that if I fell into the water I would be freezing in its average depths of 483 feet and most assuredly immediately gobbled up by a giant fish, who could see me easily through this clear water and was obviously trailing our canoe already just waiting for that to happen.

Nope, I was totally cool and collected.

Canoeing Lake Superior
I believe that is the tip of a lake shark along the rocks in the middle of the photo. It’s a real thing. Just ask any Minnesotan.

We (okay, fine, mostly my friend) paddled until we found a little river coming out from the mainland, and turned in, sure we were going to hit Gooseberry Falls, the most visited state park in Minnesota. Yellow flowers reflected in the still river, a murky brick red after the clear lake.

After a few turns, the sound of the waterfall louder and louder, we hit water too shallow to continue, so beached and walked up.

Gooseberry Falls MN
The official story is that we paddled over the Gooseberry Falls.

Returning back home to the city where I live now was harder than I expected, with its traffic and rush and what-do-you-do and who-do-you-knows.

“What if I just live on the North Shore?” I asked my friend.

“You’d starve in winter,” he said.

“But I’d totally have a greenhouse,” I said.

“Well, then maybe you’d be okay. But awfully cold.”

Now I’m beginning to wonder: Is it possible that that little Minnesota star has just been in hibernation inside me all these years? Flannel shirts and ice skating and snow angels and summers with fireflies and thunderstorms—I feel a longing tight in my chest. Maybe these do still feel like home, even after all the amazing places I’ve lived and traveled in the last 15 years.

Maybe they’ve always been home, even when I’ve sworn they weren’t.

It’s as if someone with a lutefisk is gently slapping my cheek, in a Minnesota-nice kind of way: Never say never. You betcha you’ll come back.

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Sunrise on the North Shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota.

Four Reasons to Get Off the Couch and Go Travel

Inevitably in the life of a traveler, you are having a glass of wine with a friend, talking about where you’re headed next, and they will pop the question:

“But why do you need to travel?”

Or some variation thereof.

As if it’s a choice, I always think, followed immediately by — I am so incredibly lucky. Travel is an incredible privilege, and of course it’s a choice.

But I think once you cross a certain line — maybe it’s a number of days abroad or a surprise experience or your first foreign friend — it also becomes a part of who you are, and you can’t stop traveling any more than you can stop getting older.

San Juan de la Costa, Chile
I travel for stumbling upon beautiful moments like this, in San Juan de la Costa, Chile.

When I’m the U.S., I can be in my city of residence for maybe one month before I start to itch to be somewhere else. At two months, my leg starts to twitch and I’m booking a flight, and by three months, I’m on a plane.

I remember once in the last five years being asked where I was going next, and responding, to my own surprise, “I have no trips planned.”

Which immediately set off a major internal panic attack and frantic Kayak search for flights.

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Entirely accurate self-portrait of how I get when I don’t have a flight on my calendar.

But the best way to answer this question of “why travel” is to recount one of the many, many amazing days exploring a new place.

#1: Travel for the taste and feel of a new place.

Last month in Chile, I spent a day in Bahia Mansa, this tiny fishing village on the Pacific Ocean, rugged cliffs and forested hills.  The one road into Bahia Mansa dead ends at the pier’s dusty parking lot, framed by wooden seafood stalls. At the entrance to the town is a sweet cove of a beach, where I sat in the sun, eating blueberries and cherries I bought from a family at the weekend-only market one town over.

Savoring the slight sweet-tart of the blueberries on my tongue, I watched a puppy wildly chase seagulls along the sand – only to wildly run away whenever the water broke a little too close to his paws.

Bahia Mansa Chile
I totally wanted to run after this puppy that was chasing gulls and then save him from the waves he was running away from.

#2: Travel for the lazy discovery of something new.

I had gone to Bahia Mansa with the plan to see penguins by boat, lured by a flyer left in my hostel. On the pier, a man came up to me with the same flyer, and I said I was in. Vamos!

But no, he explained, he needed a minimum of five people, and we were now just three. So, in about 30 minutes we would go, he said.

Having played this game before, I clarified: “Are we going in 30 minutes or when you get five people?”

He smiled. “Five people.”

So I settled into life on an active fishing pier, watching the bartering between fishermen and buyers. Two fishermen pulled up nets full of crabs. People approached, jumping back with squeals and laughter when the claws moved. Families came and went, heavy bags of fish in hand.

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This little guy was fascinated by the just-caught crabs.

After an hour, the penguin guide hurried to me with his thumbs up —good to go, we were now five. I hustled to the boat launch with three other tourists — and it’s clear we are still definitely not five.

The guide goes back to search for his missing No. 5. We keep waiting.

This person supposedly shows up, because the guide comes back and says, “Vamos!”

Only now he checks the boat and realizes we are missing our illustrious captain. The guide goes in search of El Capitano, and we can see the outcome at the end of the pie: He is found eating a leisurely lunch at one of the stalls.

We wait some more.

#3: Travel to meet wonderful people.

The day before coming to Bahia Mansa, I was two towns to the south on a beautiful but ginormous-fly-filled beach. I spent my quick 30 minutes there fending off attacks from kamikazing flies like a crazed person with a branch — imagine the sound of bees, but twice the size.

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I was not the only one battling the monster flies on this beach.

A kind family offered me a ride back to my beach town, so I took it to avoid another hour walking with these aggressive flies. (Which apparently only plague this town for three weeks in January, so avoid those few weeks if you can!)

I arrived at my hostel, and within seconds realized I had lost my phone. I was sure it had fallen out in this nice family’s car, and I was hopeful they would bring it back.

Now waiting in Bahia Mansa a day later, as I spied the penguin guide and our now-satiated captain coming back up the pier, a couple approached me, asking if I speak Spanish. Thinking they wanted to chat, I was slightly tripped up when they ask if I was at a beach yesterday and lost something.

Yes, I answered hesitantly, because this was not the people of the van who gave me a ride.

“Where were you yesterday? Were you batting flies with a branch?”

I laugh, happy my crazy performance made me recognizable as it clicks into place — this couple has found my phone!

They found it in the sand, they explained. They saw me get into the family’s car, they’d been waiting for me to call the phone to find it, and they even went to the police station to see if anyone had reported it missing.

They were so happy to find me, and me them. I exchanged big hugs with the woman, and we exclaimed over and over how amazing it was that we found each other (as the penguin guide was tapping his foot in the background, as if I had kept him waiting for hours).

We said goodbye, and I sent a big thank you to the universe for the incredible kindness of strangers.

#4: Travel for the thrill of adventure.

I have an awe- and terror-filled relationship with the ocean.

I love to be on the beach — at least 30 feet back from the waves.

I love the sound of waves crashing from my room window at night above the tsunami hazard line.

And I love the idea of body surfing, but there is no way in hell I am going in to try unless it’s crystal clear and there are at least 5 people around me creating a perimeter for sharks to bite first.

But penguins!

I will brave this shark-infested body of likely death and drowning for a look at penguins.

As we exited the harbor, I kept a white-knuckled grip on the bar under my boat’s seat as large swells rocked our tiny boat. We hugged the jagged rocks — a little too huggy for my comfort.

The guide asked the captain if we could make it through the rocks in the swells.

“I’m going to try,” the captain said. (Sometimes it’s better to not speak a language!)

By the time we got to the penguins, I was feeling quite green and had decided against my odds for making it to land safely if we were smashed against the cliffs.

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Do these penguins realize their adorableness will not save them from being shark stew?

With my eyes closed half the time and a forced breath at least twice every minute, we made it back to the pier. I wobbled back to the beach and collapsed to the sand, digging my feet and hands into its warmth.

The next day, the local news reported massive irregular swells along the Chilean coast of up to 5 meters (16 feet). We had been just ahead of the storm.

Bahia Mansa Chile
The view of Bahia Mansa from a path to a lighthouse in San Juan de la Costa, Chile.

I finished the day in a hammock with a glass of wine. Seriously, traveling is the best.

Why do you travel?

When Your Choices are the Known and the Unknown, Choose Adventure

One of the many reasons I travel is for the heart-pounding moment of choice: Do I follow a known path or take the plunge into the unknown?

At home, I often follow a routine. The same route to and from work. The usual places for lunch. A standard grocery store. Knowing these places, and being known by others at these places, is what makes them home.

Abroad, that comfort and quality of being known is stripped away, and so the field of “known” is much narrower. You know where you get off the bus, and where your hotel is. That’s often it.

Abroad, I end up exploring further and pushing my limits, even in tiny ways.

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When traveling, I would totally ride into the sunset for parts unknown.

Case in point—in northern Chile last month, I set out in the morning from my hotel thinking “walk,” which nearly immediately turned to “bike.” The man at the rental store assured me a lovely little town awaited just 9km up the valley with only a “more or less” hard up-hill slope.

Sold, I looked at my half-full water bottle and thought, “this should be enough.”

Now this is a rookie mistake anywhere—why in the world would you not just take the two minutes to go back to your room and fill up the water bottle? I literally passed by my hotel again on the way out of town.

But this is impatient me, who can’t wait to explore a new place, even if it means just two more minutes.

Backtrack for water? No way! I’m 100% sure there will be shops along the way where I can stop if I need it. And there are some clouds in the sky—no problem!

So let me step back now and describe where I was when I made this brilliant decision.

Pisco Elqui is in the heart of the Elqui Valley in the middle-north of Chile, in the high desert foothills of the Andes.

The average temperature in January is around 74F at 1300M (4265ft), with a whopping .2mm of rain that month. In a year, Pisco typically gets only 107.5mm (4.2in) of rain.

This clear, arid climate makes for stunning star-gazing, so Elqui Valley is home to some of the world’s most important observatories.

It is a desert nearly empty of many types of vegetation, other than an occasional cactus and some low-lying bushes. The valley is framed tight in steep shades of tan and pink-rock slopes. Improbably green pisco vineyards cover the skinny valley floor, pressed for water the last few years as snow cover has declined by 60 percent and reservoirs depleted by 80 percent.

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The beautiful Elqui Valley, as seen from Pisco Elqui, where — you guessed it — Pisco vineyards abound.

The key word in all of this is, of course, desert.

I started my bike ride, which quickly turned into walking with my bike up the “more or less” hill (read: mountain.) Beautiful views framed every direction, and even though January is the height of tourist season, I felt completely alone in this beautiful place.

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Pisco Elqui gets about 4 inches of rain per year.

Of course, after some time of continuing to walk my bike, I started to get quite hot.

Those few clouds somehow decided it was time to move on.

And I had about two sips left in my water bottle.

With at least 5km left to my destination, I had a choice. I could:

A) Turn back. It was downhill, and a shorter, known distance back to the hotel.

B) Keep going and hope for the best.

A planner by nature, I went through the various scenarios within Option B.

I pictured myself passed out on the side of the road, lips cracked, barely able to breathe from lack of water.

I squinted at the cactuses on the side of the mountain, trying to decide if I had any idea how to get water from them (I didn’t).

I frowned at the valley floor, trying to decide if I could scale the loose-dirt slope to the river that had to be down there somewhere. Not that I could drink that water, but at least it would be cooler, and I could wait until dusk to walk back without passing out from heat.

ScenarioB_faintfromthirst
Totally likely Scenario B: I faint southern-belle-style from lack of water and some very kind but confused (next town only 5km away) strangers find me.

Shaking my head, I looked at the road ahead.

Yes, I decided, I can go on. 5km (I really need to learn the conversions!) can’t be more than a 30-45 minute walk, and with two sips of water, that’s totally doable.

Really, I thought, the chances of me passing out of thirst were probably 1 in 50, at best.

Fear, you are not winning today.

I am woman, and I roar.

Even when slightly thirsty.

My reward: a little convenience store with ice cream and water not 30 minutes away, and very pretty town.

And a super fun downhill (read: mountain) bike ride back to my hotel, where a pristine pool awaited.

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Pretty sure this was heaven on earth.

Getting to Re-know Me on a Solo Hike in Patagonia

To walk alone is to know your whole self — without titles, without a gaggle of friends to text, without all the usual services of daily life. What makes your heart thump in fear, your jaw drop in wonder, and where your limits really aren’t the end.

In January, I went on my first-ever solo overnight trek — and because I don’t do anything halfway, I made it a big one:

Five days, four nights. 40 miles. 2,296 feet elevation gain in one day alone.

In the heart of Chile’s Patagonia, in Torres del Paine National Park, where four seasons in one day is routine and the wind is so fierce it knocks a person to her back.

Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park is in Patagonia, Chile, past the end of a road that calls itself “The Highway of the End of the World.” And yes, that’s Antarctica not so far away.

I needed this, desperately.

Between major life changes and an intense job, I had lost little pieces of me the last few years — locked away or beaten down in the routine of daily life. I needed to recover myself, re-ground, and know again those parts of me that went missing.

So I promised my friends and family this trek was totally, absolutely safe to do alone (I was decently sure it was) and booked the trip.

Now, as I write with this pen on paper* on the edge of a slate cliff, overlooking the mountains I “W”-ed over the last days, I am so happy to say hello to my whole self once again — and I even found a few jewels I had no idea existed within me.

Torres del Paine National Park
*This was my view when I wrote this post on paper, while looking over my shoulder once in a while for lurking pumas.

You are so much stronger than you think.

As I came to the Base of the Torres, I passed a 70s-ish woman hiking alone, and she was my hero. This was a 9km (5.6mi) mountain climb with an elevation gain of 2,296 feet — 36 percent of which is in the last 45 minutes of hiking.

Nearly everyone took pauses to get up that mountain. But the reward we all knew was there, just another step, and another, and another — worth it. So, pause and climb.

And then do it again tomorrow, with a 25-pound bag on your back.

Torres del Paine Mirador, Base del Torres
Once arriving to the Base of the Torres destination, you collapse on a rock for a while, and then take the obligatory arms-wide “I made it!” photo.

You can surprise yourself.

It is an incredible gift to realize something wonderful is in you that you didn’t know existed.

I had a plan. I was going to warm up to this trek, do it in smaller pieces. But every day I went farther than I thought I possibly could, loving the strength I found in my muscles and the willpower waiting in my mind.

A trail buddy said to me, “You keep surprising me.”

I replied, without prior thought or hesitation, “I’m surprising myself.”

Torres del Paine
I hiked the sides and the middle around this, making a “W” shape. W as in WOW, me! I am a super gosh-darn bad-ass!

You can walk into the unknown.

I am a planner by love and genetic shaping. So there was no way I wasn’t going to plan the heck out of this trek.

When I booked my campsites in the national park, I made what I thought were good choices.

They were not.

In fact, I would have had to redo the hardest route one day, and compress two days into one on another. But I am nothing if not stubborn, and I’d already made that decision, so I was sticking to it.

Until I got to the first campsite on my first day, and the park workers recommended I hike NOW, today, to Torres, because tomorrow the weather was supposed to be bad.

So I went, best-laid plans constantly changing over the next days, based on weather, company and my amazing ability to sleep and recover, with no guarantee of finding space at the next campsite. And yet, I always did.

Torres del Paine Cuernos
When I changed my plans, I unexpectedly ran into an American from Oakland who I had met the day before at the night’s campsite. So the unknown brought trail buddies and spectacular sunsets.

You can be that kind stranger.

Each day, at about an hour from my destination, I reached the “am I there yet?” stage of exhaustion, and started obsessively asking hikers coming in the opposite direction how far the next campsite was.

Without exception, these hikers from everyone around the world were kind, often stopping to chat and lending encouragement.

I happily offered the same.

At the end of every day’s gorgeous hike, hikers at the campsite would relate trail stories and count blisters at a shared cookstove table. One morning, I met a friendly German over my ramen soup breakfast, and we agreed to hike together for the day along with an American from Oakland.

Torres del Paine National Park
This woman from Princeton asked me if she was on the right trail. I assured her she was — the one thing you cannot do in this park is get lost. The trail is exceptionally well-marked.

You need to be in just one place at a time.

I saw a handful of hikers with headphones, which mystified me. The sounds of this park were a symphony in itself — the rush of the wind through the tall grasses, the roar of the giant waterfalls, the birds’ songs and the rumble of avalanches.

I saw a wild rabbit one day, only because I heard its thump-thumping away from my approach.

I know, to really be present and hear and see what’s around you is not easy.

At one point on the trail, my mind was circling obsessively about a past relationship so loudly that I had nearly blocked out where I was. Luckily, a splash of bright purple broke my circling, and I turned to see a whole field of these beautiful bell-shaped flowers.

To disconnect and not multitask, and just BE, that is the harder path — but so rewarding.

Field of bell flowers
Sometimes you just need a field of beautiful purple flowers to pull you back to the place you actually are in.

You should stop and stand in awe.

One afternoon, I sat and watched avalanches calve from glaciers, each tumble of ice causing a thunder-like roll through the Frances Valley.

“Look, look!” I called to my trail buddy for the day, yelling like a child and feeling the heart-hammering flush of amazement.

To feel awe like this is to feel alive.

I want to stand in awe more often.

Torres del Paine Frances Glacier
I sat and avalanche-watched the glaciers on this mountain.

Now my challenge, as always when amazing experiences wrap up, is to thread these pieces of me into every vein and keep them near the surface, so they are not lost again in routine and rush.

Or I guess I could always go back again — and this time for the 10-day trek!

 

 

Reflection without absorption and letting go with love and tenderness

Somehow, I made it. It’s Week Zero. I step on that plane tomorrow.

I might cry with relief.

December crawled by at a turtle’s pace. I went through my what-should-I-do loop about 20 times a day. I stressed about what I was doing, about what I wasn’t doing, about what I was sure I was forgetting to do.

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i was basically a living stress ball in december.

So I desperately need Chile. I need to feel the sun on my skin and breathe sweet, clean non-big-city air, and see bright stars that make me go “wow.”

I’m hoping by Day 3 that the stress loops finally loosen, unravel, and just drop off the back of my bicycle on some mountain trail.

In my one earnest attempt at de-stressing this week, I headed to a year-end Yoga Nidra class last night (yes, I know it’s very Portland-y, and no, I don’t care! It’s heavenly and please try it!).

At the start of the candlelit practice, the instructor gave us all a few moments to reflect on 2015.

Reflect: /rəˈflekt/:

1) (Of a surface or body) throw back (heat, light, or sound) without absorbing it.

2) Think deeply or carefully about.

The lovely thing about definition No. 1 is the space it provides. It’s an examination at a distance, not a re-engagement with either best or worst moments. Just watching and noticing — without letting any of those moments bowl you over like they did the first time around, hence making it onto your year’s best and worst list.

Next, the yoga instructor encouraged us to imagine what we would leave behind in 2015, and this thought bloomed within me.

It’s not the usual “what’s your new year’s resolution” with all the baggage and expectation, but a soft, kind question to yourself:

What few things would you like to place on a little wooden sailboat on the edge of a lake, and gently push off into the sunset?

Put these items on the boat, and say goodbye with all the tenderness the moments deserve.

Now you can move on to 2016, a little bit lighter, with space for something new.

create space
imagine freeing up all this space inside of you. minus the ostrich.

My boat has three hefty pieces, each comprised of many moments from 2015 to which I’m ready to leave behind:

Unhealthy living. I started this year with no life other than work. I didn’t eat healthily. I didn’t exercise. I felt fragile – and I can’t honestly think of a thing I hate feeling more than that.

So, I’m leaving Unhealthy Living forever in 2015. I’m not saying I won’t have slip-ups and live not-so-great once in a while, but not consistently, not as a way of life again.

unhealthy jabba
i was basically as unhealthy as jabba but with none of the sidekicks to keep my company in the first half of 2015.

Silence. I can count too many times from earlier this year when I wanted to say something, but didn’t in a sticky situation. I thought I wasn’t the expert, or I was younger than everyone, or I was the only woman in the room, or I would be judged. All fear-based, mostly gender-taught.

But when I decided that I was willing and ready to leave my job for something different, a wonderful thing happened — I was suddenly free! I could say whatever I felt, whenever it felt right (in a respectful way, of course)! And I did!

All those fears didn’t matter anymore – I wouldn’t be working with these colleagues in a few months, I had nothing to lose. So why not call out a colleague who is saying inappropriate things?

it was kinda like the monty pyton god said to me: i’m giving you a task to keep you busy. your purpose is to go forth and say stuff.

This opening within myself kept getting better and better. I realized no one judged me, and in fact, they wanted me to say what I wanted to say (well, sometimes). By the end of the year, colleagues even said this is what they admired about me – that I spoke up and challenged people when needed, respectfully and with persistence.

So I am leaving Silence in Sticky Situations forever in 2015. You do not serve me, you serve only Fear, and that is not who I am.

Perfection. Mostly, I just can’t strive for this anymore. My nearly life-long obsession with perfection – I was a newspaper copy editor, for goodness sakes, which is just about a perfectionist’s dream job to look for tiny errors and get paid for it – has just become too exhausting. Like a box I created for myself, but I’ve grown and the box hasn’t.

I’m done.

Perfect IS the enemy of the done. And sometimes, I just want to be done.

So, I’m leaving Perfection forever in 2015. You served me well many times. I bid you a fond farewell, and best of luck in finding a new copy editor in 2016.

perfection in book form
i literally slept with this under my pillow in college. seriously.

Now with all of this beautiful space, this empty shore and wide-open lake, I am welcoming a few things with open arms. In fact, it’s more like I’m running at them in a crazy happy tackle:

Saying YES. Research shows we regret what we DON’T do much more than anything we do try. So I’m saying YES every chance I get.

Finding balance. I’m changing my life to put work on equal footing with relationships and the other things that nourish me. One of which is…

Creating things. Starting to write again, here on this site, has been one of my many great joys of 2015. Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic that there are little jewels of creativity in all of us, just waiting to be found. It doesn’t matter if absolutely no one likes or reads what you create. You create something because you can’t not create – and that’s what writing is for me. It’s who I am. I love the electricity it lights inside my skin, the warmth it sends from my toes to my fingertips.

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what lights a brilliant explosion of creation in you?

What are you gently leaving in 2015 and welcoming at a run in 2016?

 

Prepare Yourself for the Highs and Lows of Something New

Something big and new is starting and I am excited, and nervous, and all butterfly-stomach and obsessive. This endorphin rush is the BEST and I want it to last forever and ever.

I’ve felt this thrill every time I’ve moved to a new place or started a new job. Every new person is the smartest, most amazing individual, and every new street is exciting and full of wonder – and look! Over there is a sparkly unicorn shitting a rainbow that ends in a pot of gold-shaped hearts!

[I will happily draw that image if anyone requests it.]

But then, usually around the one-month mark, all the rosy wonderful new things dim a bit, and I miss my old room/friends/routine/job, and I can’t find the unicorn anymore.

I just really want a grilled cheese with a pickle on it, and my own super comfy pillow, and this new place doesn’t have pickles or my pillow. Or I want my old officemates back, who had their issues, sure, but at least it wasn’t this issue, which I really can’t stand.

Grilled-Cheese-Pickle
if you’ve never tried a grilled cheese with pickles, stop reading and go eat one right now…. welcome back. and, you’re welcome.

In living abroad, this phenomenon of a high honeymoon stage followed by a steep crash to a crisis point is called the U Curve of Cultural Adjustment (according to some old men named Lysgaard and Oberg, among others).

U curve of adjustment
the U Curve of Adjustment with my highly accurate depiction of complex emotion via emoticon.

I’m pretty convinced this experience is applicable to more than just moving abroad. Think about it – everything from a new house (beautiful bungalow –> the roof needs repair) to a new city (every street is amazing –> every street is dirty) to a new career (best job ever –> nothing here is functional) requires a similar emotional adjustment process.

As much as I’d like going after my new goal to be rosy and wonderful for the full year I’m pursuing it, I don’t think I can make that honeymoon phase last longer.

But I do think some preparation can make that crisis trough a lot shallower and the recovery a lot speedier.

So here is my recipe for pre-new-thing preparedness:

Know that you WILL hit bottom.

That’s right, just acknowledge that rock bottom is going to happen. You can’t avoid it.

Recognize that this whole experience is helping you grow into a more authentic you. It will hurt at times, it will definitely be hard, and it will put you through the wringer.

When you hit bottom, greet that low point with the wisdom of expecting its arrival, and a Warrior 2 stance.

Yoga_WarriorII_02_300x350
bring it, crisis. i can warrior 2 all day. or for 5 minutes while sobbing.

Get enough sleep.

Studies routinely show we need somewhere around 7-8 hours of sleep as adults. When we get less than that, we start making poor decisions and our focus is compromised.

Meeting your goal is a marathon. You need to be in top shape and not make a sleep-deprived decision to give up when you hit bottom.

Make sure you are making decisions with a clear mind. If you’re having trouble sleeping, ask your friends or family for advice. Or try one of my tried-and-true remedies in the picture below.

things to help you fall asleep
things that help you fall asleep.

Go look at something beautiful.

When you hit bottom, you will need something comforting and completely separate from what you are pursuing. Keep your eye out for this beautiful thing while you are in the honeymoon phase – maybe it’s a sun-filled spot outside your new house, or the tall pine in the town’s park where you feel at peace.

Then when the bottom arrives, head to your beautiful thing as often as you need it. Spend 15 minutes just looking at this beautiful thing, leaving your goal aside.

When you’re ready, head back in, feeling a little bit stronger.

happy spot
i find a hundred beautiful things in this spot.

Make an adjustment.

Do you need to move closer into the city, so after you work on your goal all day, you can visit friends instead of commute for an hour? Admit to yourself what’s not working, and fix it.

In looking at my plans, I know where I can be flexible in my budget and timeline, so if I need to adjust, I’ll be ready to do so.

halfway between home and gym adjustment
probably you just need to be nearer the ice cream shop.

Immerse yourself in at least one fun, social thing twice per week.

I believe satisfaction in life is directly correlated to the friends you have, so nurturing friendships and creating a support group while you pursue your goal should be a top priority. Call your friends to do something you love – biking, hiking, a glass of wine.

Especially when you hit bottom, don’t hide yourself away. Go out with your new or old friends. Call family. You are not alone in your crisis, so lean on your support group.

Be extra conscious of your negative traits.

When you hit the bottom of your adjustment curve, you’ll be in a bad mood, and your negative traits may be amplified.

Being conscious of your negative traits can help you separate out what’s a momentary reaction to hitting the bottom vs. something you actually need to address.

For example, maybe you are an impatient person. So when you hit bottom and you’re in a bad mood, you obsess about how you’re entirely behind on your goal and you’re all snappy and unpleasant to be around.

Fortify yourself against this known upcoming reaction by:

1) finding a gym to work out and pump in positive endorphins;

2) keeping a big calendar of by-the-week plans so you can see you are on track and not behind; and

3) taking an overnight trip somewhere to clear head space.

4) buying your friends drinks to remind them that they still love you, even when you’re snappy.

patience
somehow this quote is supposed to help me be a more patient person.

Write postcards to friends and family.

Especially if you have moved to pursue your goal, writing postcards when you hit bottom is an easy way to reconnect, and give yourself a short boost in mood.

Each part of this will leave you feeling better: Choosing a postcard you know a particular friend will like, spending a moment to write a message just for them, and the satisfaction of dropping it in the mailbox.

Then there’s the extra happy boomerang effect of hearing from that person when they receive your postcard.

postcards
i love writing postcards. and receiving them.

While there’s no amount of preparation that can completely erase the low that follows the initial thrill of starting something new, I just need to remember:

As much as it sucks in the moment, rock bottom is the start of a new upward curve.

Six weeks!

8 Things You Need to Feel Relatively Okay Enough to Quit Your Job

If your job isn’t horrible, and you want to quit for hard-to-explain reasons, it’s pretty difficult to get to a level of 100 percent confidence. At its core, quitting means you believe there is something else out there for you – unknown, and as of yet, unseen.

It’s a leap of faith, a need for freedom, a little burning point in your chest that you can’t ignore any longer.

Getting to this point can take years. Or at least a really aggressive six months filled with a painful amount of introspection.

In my experience, you need a few minimum things to be comfortable enough to finally have the “I’m quitting” conversation with the boss.

this is a very accurate depiction of how I quit.
this is a very accurate depiction of how I quit.

1. Find a goal that you feel in your gut.

I’m not quitting just to sit around or go on cruises. That, I believe, is called retirement. Figure out what you want, and give yourself time to get it right. I went through about 15 different iterations of what I wanted over the course of two years before I finally figured out my goal at the bone-deep level.

Once you have the goal, focus on it, like a cat goes after a laser point. Be willing to run up and flip off walls for this thing. Some days will feel like it’s not possible. Stick with it.

start with a clear destination, then use Ways to route your path. unless you are independently wealthy, then you can wander and waste all the gas you want. but please don’t do that because it’s bad for the environment.
start with a clear destination, then use Ways to route your path. unless you are independently wealthy, then you can wander and waste all the gas you want. but please don’t do that because it’s bad for the environment.

2. You definitely need a timeline.

Assuming you don’t have unlimited funds, you need to set a time limit for trying to reach your goal, if you’re quitting your job fully.

I’m deadline-driven, so I’m setting a deadline of one year for seeing if and how I can meet my goal, rather than procrastinate and just travel around and visit 108 temples all over Asia.

Actually, that sounds heavenly.

BUT that will not get me to the point I want at the end of one year, and would just put me back in the position of needing to find a full-time job that treats me mildly okay.

3. You’ll want a budget.

I know, blerg.

BUT! What if we call it a SEXY budget (Halloween just passed, so I’m feeling inspired) and put Ryan Gosling on our budget spreadsheet?! Now this is motivation.

Cut out all the fat in the budget – be super honest about wants vs. needs, figure out the range of housing, food, transport. Be realistic and stay cat-laser-focused on that goal. Total up what you need against your timeline, and add a cushion for just in case this all falls apart.

Then start saving like crazy.

it’s okay, Ryan, I know numbers are hard. let’s do them together, that will make it better.
it’s okay, Ryan, I know numbers are hard. let’s do them together, that will make it better.

4. You’ll probably want a worst-case scenario.

This can function as both a comfort (you won’t live under a bridge, even a nice one) and an incentive to spur you on (you probably don’t really want to live in your friend’s unfinished basement).

So go through this exercise – if at the end of your timeline it doesn’t work out, and you can’t reach your goal, then what happens? You should have that cushion in your budget, so you’ll have a little money. Who can you live with, if you need to, while you apply to jobs in your previous or new field? Can you wait tables or work at a shop?

I’m not saying it’s ideal, but probably your worst-case scenario isn’t so bad. And you’d completely regret not taking this chance. And you’re awesome, so you’re not going to end up in that worst-case scenario anyway.

no way will your worst-case scenario be as bad as this day was for Alexander.
no way will your worst-case scenario be as bad as this day was for Alexander.

5. You’ll definitely need a support group.

As in, your friends, family, and other like-minded people. Whoever is supportive of your goal. Push those nay-sayers to the side for a while — they will not help you with your focus.

Talk to your supporters regularly. Buy them drinks and be liberal with hugs in exchange for support.

6. Lists!

With the amount of planning you’ll need to do to pull this off – if you can do this without a list, please let me know how.

Breaking big, scary things down into steps on a list makes quitting a job manageable. And then you can cross it off when you’re done with it, and doesn’t that feel amazing?! Put your end goal at the top of every list.

Admittedly, I love lists. I usually have a minimum of 4 sticky notes plus random other papers filled with lists on any given day, both at work and home. When I was around 10, I had a list of “places to go and things to do” on my wall. Something in staring at that list every day must have clicked in my brain, because 2+ decades later, I’ve visited and done almost everything on that list.

this is a list of things i love to make lists of.
this is a list of things i like to make lists of.

7. You’ll probably want to know at least one person toward your goal.

Before you quit, make sure you know at least one person in the field you are going into or in company you really want to work for. Probably you spoke to some such people when you were figuring out your goal. If not, now’s the time to find at least one.

I have a friend who really wanted to work in environmental resources for the state of Minnesota, and he went after that job with everything he had. He quit his just-okay job and just worked day and night being connected into the organization and applying to jobs and getting advice on applying to the jobs, until he got the position he wanted.

8. You’ll want a few intangibles too.

Stubbornness and flexibility. Stick to your goal and timeline, even when you’re inevitably told it’s not going to work. Recognize when you’ve got to shift and bend, and when you need to stay firm. Remember there are likely multiple routes to your goal.

A happy place. For the days when things go wrong, have a happy place to go to for a few minutes. This is mine. Or this. Both repeatedly if it’s a really bad day.

And maybe most important of all: Courage. The first step is the hardest. Nothing will stop your stomach from rolling over when you go to your boss and say “I’m quitting.”

But nothing will feel as free as the moment you’re out of the office after that conversation.

Seven weeks!