The Process: Finding Yourself In The Pursuit Of Perfect

Lately I’ve been talking with some friends about the importance of process.

Let’s be honest, as Millenials we’re pretty used to instant gratification. We enjoy products we never see created, from places we’ve never been, made by people we’ll never meet.

It’s not our fault—we were born into this world. But it can become really dangerous when we start to believe that things are born into existence without any type of struggle.  

When people approach me asking why traveling is “so easy” for me, I have to sometimes stop and wonder. Should I talk more about the horror stories that have happened while I’ve traveled? It’s so easy to see the results of my adventures, without seeing the very real blood, buckets of sweat, and actual tears it takes to get those pretty Instagram photos.

But nobody wants to hear about the struggle of being robbed, or losing your credit card, or being sexually harassed in a city. Nobody wants to hear about getting horribly lost or running out of money.

But, here’s the thing: All of that mess? It’s real. The struggle is real (I can’t believe I just worked that into an actual blog post).

Here’s the good news: It’s an invaluable foundation to build dreams on. It teaches us balance, it teaches us discipline, and it teaches us how to sustain success when we reach it.

Reality check: It’s usually not a fun process.

But you NEED to go through those years of making terrible mistakes. Think of it like high school (or college, for me). Remember trying out those weird piercings and ridiculous outfits? THAT is what helped you learn. Without that process, how would you ever know what was you?

My biggest piece of advice: Don’t let people push you into one mold. Trying to fit will only break off the most valuable parts of who you are.

For me this looks something like:

  • Being okay with supporting local indie musicians, while knowing the words to every Taylor Swift song.
  • Rocking my Nikes while being able to catwalk in five inch heels.
  • Loving Legos, conventions, and comic books while ALSO loving pink, unicorns and glitter (let’s be real, sometimes those two coincide).
  • Refusing to allow people to tell me what I should like based off of my skin color.
  • Being just as proud of my African American heritage as I am of my Native American, Scandinavian, Irish and German.

I travel because I want to…because I NEED to, not because people tell me I should or shouldn’t go somewhere. And guess what? It hasn’t been all fairy dust and roses getting to the point where I can find that balance.

Don’t lose yourself in the pursuit of this imaginary perfect. You are uniquely you, and you’re equipped for more than you know.

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When Your Life Doesn’t Look Like It “Should”

I have 112 unpublished blog drafts. That means 112 times I started writing, got frustrated and stopped. Yet, I am still a blogger.

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, lately. A friend and I were talking about how in college you’re asked 101 times,”What’s your five year plan?” But after college? Nah. Nobody asks me that anymore. Life a decade after college is something halfway between eye-rolls that I don’t have 2.5 children and people gasp-asking how I do everything I do (Hint: I don’t have 2.5 children).

My life is couture, I’ll admit. It’s custom cut to fit me.

And as I sit here drinking copious amounts of tea, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve made my life what it is—the decisions that brought me to where I am. Once upon a time I was offered the white picket fence life, but instead I chose to travel.

And here’s a little insight into why:

 

Because doing what you’re “supposed” to do, just to keep up with societally imposed schedules (based off of age/ gender etc.) does not guarantee you any more success or happiness than waiting to be personally ready.

 

Live your life on your time. When you’re ready to travel, travel. When you’re ready to get married, get married. When you’re ready to adopt a dog, adopt a dog. But please please don’t do these things to make your life look “right.”

My life right now is nothing like what I thought it would be. In fact, according to my child self, I’ve failed spectacularly (still not the lead singer of a band). But, you know what?

That’s okay.

My little under-developed freshman SPU self wouldn’t have even been able to imagine the wild adventures I’d go on. She wouldn’t have had a clue how many amazing people I’d meet, or how many bucket list items I’d check off. She wouldn’t know that I’d be able to build a life where I did what I loved…and got paid to do it.

Easy isn’t the answer.

Amidst the stress and crazy, I really really love my life, and I’m really f*cking happy (sorry, mom). I’m starting a new career at a beautifully brilliant company where I get to help women all over the world. I live in a beautiful 1928 vintage house, full of strong independent women, in one of the most beautiful cities. I get to geek out over things as much as I damn well please, and I write for a living. Let me repeat that so my child self can hear it back through the sound waves of time: “YOU GROW UP TO BE A PAID WRITER!”

Life doesn’t look like it “should,” but I’m okay with that. It’s not about predicting outcomes five years down the road. It’s about taking what life throws at you and creating beauty out of it. That’s what makes life this messy and magnificent thing.
Obviously there are times when things get absolutely frustrating. Curve balls get thrown. But being frustrated doesn’t mean you give up on building the life you want. It might mean you walk away from things for a bit, but it does not mean you stop.

 

I like to think about it this way: Growing up I always thought I was going to reach adulthood and be handed this telescope with which I could see my future. It would be clear, and entirely in focus. But, in fact, it’s so much more beautifully intricate than that.
My life is a kaleidoscope. There are shapes and colors and weird little speckle things that I haven’t even discovered, yet. Yes, my past plans for the future failed spectacularly, but they were replaced by experiences I literally could not have dreamed for myself. And that’s beautiful.

A group of friends used to say, “Yesterday’s ceiling is todays floor.” And I honestly believe that. The best is yet to come.

Now pardon me as I go buy tickets to a zombie ball. 

 

Why You Should Stop Waiting To Be Happy

When I was in fourth grade I learned the meaning of my name.
My little introvert self was at sleep-away camp, which I distinctly remember hating because I was constantly surrounded by other girls. Well…I loved camp, I just hated the giggly-socialness of pre-teen girls 24/7.

One day, while I was in the camp snack shack, I found a little bookmark that I fell in love with. On the front there was this magnificent floral design (let me tell you how much I love floral designs) and my name, on the top there was a pink braided string, and on the back there was a bible verse. The verse was Proverbs 30:31 and the definition said this:

Emily: “Diligent one.” One who strives. One who is eager to succeed. 

I was pretty happy to find out I was given a strong name. To this day I’m a huge fan of name meanings and giving kids names with a legacy they can grow into. I guess my mom did a pretty good job because I felt like someone had just told me I was actually Wonder Woman. I bought the bookmark from the little shop and kept it in various books for probably close to a decade. Ever since, I’ve done my best to live up to it.

One slight problem. Constantly striving is great for the short-term, but how do you make this into a sustainable lifestyle? How do you keep pressing forward to the next big thing, without having a mental breakdown?

Simple: Find balance.

Not simple: I’m not naturally gifted with the ability to enjoy life.

I know, I know, that doesn’t seem to make sense. But, bear with me. See, I’m a fighter. And while that’s great (sometimes), it also means I’m hot-headed and impulsive and I’ll take a swing even when life is trying to help me. It’s a family curse: mistaking turmoil, for authenticity.

I come from a very hard working family, and it’s a lot to live up to. We were raised being constantly reminded of our family name. It meant something. It still does. Most importantly, we were constantly reminded so we would aspire beyond the limitations of past generations.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not a blog post about not working hard, because I do and I advocate for others to do so as well. BUT. Lately, I’ve been challenged to learn another lesson: How to be kind to myself. Maybe this sounds too full of fluff for you, and maybe you’re like “What does this even have to do with a travel blog!?” but I think it’s really important that you all understand that the girl behind the keyboard is a mess under construction, as much as she is a world traveller and general bad-ass (your words, not mine).

I push myself really hard. And sometimes that’s great, because feeling like you’re moving forward is one of the best feelings in the world. But what if you’re moving forward in the wrong direction? Over the past six months I’ve had to make some really huge decisions and I’ve had to let some really important things in my life go. We’re talking foundation pillars being pulled out of the life I thought I was building. It was rough, and took a lot of tears and prayer to make the decisions.

But here’s the thing. As cliché as it might sound, letting go of those things has allowed my life to be filled with so much more substance. More laughter. More opportunities. More love. More books. More Art. More friendship. Just more.

I’ve always been the type of girl who likes to have a plan. But in the past six months I’ve been challenged to walk by faith, and faith alone. We’re talking, I had no back-up plan. Just the conviction of my heart and a million and a half prayers into my pillow at night. Something please work out. 

And it did. And I can honestly say I’m happier today than I’ve been for over two years. The future is looking bright, I’m regaining the use of my right arm (#crylaughsmile) and I have some absolutely awesome things to share with you guys in the near future.

We’re gonna be okay. Listen to that little voice that tells you what you really should be doing. Chase happiness, and most of all: be kind to yourself. I’ll be here to cheer you on.

Invincible Me

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Memories are funny things. Childhood memories can be filled with imagined wonder, or overwhelming pain. And, looking back at my crazy bookworm artist braided hair younger self; I see so much more insight into who I am, and who I am becoming, as an adult.

Looking back, I see all of the laughter, the imagination, the beauty, the pain, the curiosity, the anger and confusion – and I sometimes think I was so much more intact when I was a child. Because, back then, I didn’t worry about being filtered. I laughed and danced because it was time to laugh and it was time to dance, not because I had been told by society to do, or not to do, one or the other.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about when I was 11 years old.

My grandma, who I had only met once, had died and I was laying on my bed, curled in a crescent shape. Alone. And wondering if I should cry. At the time, I suppose it would have been the right thing to do. But all I could do was sit there, curled up, wondering whether I was supposed to do it.

That was the beginning of a pretty unhealthy relationship with tears.

You see, I was raised in a very non-emotional family. We didn’t cry, hug, say ‘I love you’ or talk about emotions in pretty much any other way. We were strong. We were invincible. Or, at least, in my naivety, that’s what I thought.

Over the next decade I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry at sad movies, funerals, when pets died, or when sad things happened in the world. I was invincible. I was strong. Or that’s what I told myself.

I still can count the number of people who have seen me cry on one hand. It’s a pretty rare occasion, and like any natural phenomena it’s usually brief and then gone, like it never happened in the first place. Crying just wasn’t ever an acceptable means of communication in my life.

Then I moved to France.

Americans make fun of the French, a lot, for how emotional they are. And, to a certain extent, those jokes aren’t always wholly unfounded. In my one year in Paris, I saw more tantrums, and crying fits than I had in my entire existence. And I’m not talking about from the kids.

Maybe it was the culture that was surrounding me, or maybe it was the trauma of being alone in a country 5,000 miles away from your next closest friend. But, when I lived in France I cried – quite a lot. In fact, I wouldn’t even say ‘cry’ is a solid enough word. I wept. A lot.

And while it still wasn’t in front of people, and there still weren’t tantrums involved, I think I have to thank France for giving me back my tears.

You see, something I’ve realized, since being back in the US, is how much more emotional I am. When shit is sad, I cry (sorry, for the swearword, mom). When I’m upset, I cry. When I see something heartbreaking in the news, I care…and sometimes I cry.

And while I may not be single-handedly supporting the Kleenex industry (yet), that’s a really big deal for me. But what’s more substantial, in my opinion, is the realization that for so long, I believed a lie.

Crying and caring hasn’t made me weaker.

It has made me so much stronger. I’m able to invest so much more in the people and relationships around me. It has pushed me forward, and allowed me to focus on creating a solution, rather than trying to control the problem.

I hear a lot about people who don’t cry: they’re tough, they’re cool, they’re manly, they’re invincible. But the truth is that we are broken. And don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – brokenness builds beauty all the time.

But, speaking from the other side, I’ve learned so much more about my own ability to rise higher, dig deeper and pursue and dream more. There’s something empowering about the ability to cry. In a way, I like to think of it like a phoenix burning. It can hurt to feel pain, and to allow your body to process it. But, in the end, it creates something even more beautiful; something renewed.

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Broken Hearts And New Beginnings

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When I was a kid I had this idea for my life. I thought I would grow up, go to college, graduate, meet this perfect person who would change my life, fall in love and check that off my list of successes – next step, world domination. Needless to say, life didn’t happen that way.

It got messy. Relationships got messy. And I got my heart broken.

I remember sitting in my room and wondering what I had done to have brought this upon myself!? I felt tainted. I felt like I should never be accepted or loved again. I remember my heart feeling like it had been put through a shredder. I remember feeling so much shame and so much despair.

But I shouldn’t have.

Because human heartbreak is something we all experience. Whether it’s from people, circumstances or the realization that dreams we once had aren’t turning out the way we had hoped. It’s a fact of life – and it’s one that I don’t think is talked about, enough.

Heartbreak is something you can write books about, warn people about, lecture about and it will still happen. And it will still hurt just as much.

But the story doesn’t have to stop there.

Heartbreak isn’t the end. It’s merely an evolution and transformation of who we are, to who we will are meant to become.

When I went through my first particularly bad break-up I remember calling my mom, snot-nosed and weeping, and her saying, “Emilee. This does not define you.”

I’m pretty sure those were the best words she could have said. In all of her Scandinavian directness (*cue Elsa singing “Conceal, don’t feel.”*) she hit on a valid, logical and very poignant point.

At the moment I wanted her to weep with me. I wanted her to pity me. But now I realize the wisdom of those words. My current situation didn’t define me. What did, was what I did with it. And THAT is what the conversations about heartbreak should be about.

Fast forward two years. Life is a lot better.

I took my heartache and I bought a plane ticket. I wrote about the journey. I found a community and met people who changed my perspective on life. I got some tattoos. I lived in a different country. I joined Twitter. I wrote about my travels. I rediscovered my love for writing and story telling – and you know what?

I did meet a “perfect” person who changed my life. And I did learn, slowly but surely, how to fall in love with them – the only thing was, the person I learned to love was me.

It might sound like the corny line at the end of a Disney Channel original movie, but when I look back, I’m not sure that I would have changed the way things happened (except I might not have stopped myself from slashing the tires of my ex). Life had a way of pushing me in the right direction, and I’m happier on this path than I ever was before.

Heartbreak taught me to love myself. It taught me to push forward even when I felt like I was being sucked backward into a vortex of despair. I didn’t know it at the time, but those experiences were paving a way for me to find my own purpose and meaning.

It’s been a while since I took that first backpacking trip. I had no idea what I was doing as I stepped on an airplane, headed to the UK. All I knew was that I was worn out emotionally, and I needed to get away. And now, just a month after my two-year anniversary of that trip, I’m headed back in the same direction.

It’s amazing how much can change in such a short period of time. This time the plane ticket wasn’t bought because of heartache; it was bought out of love. I’m not traveling alone I’m traveling with two of my closest friends, and I know quite a bit more about what the travel experience will be like, having now lived in, and travelled frequently around Europe.

Life has changed. It has kept moving forward. And the dreams that I have now are so much bigger and deeper and so much stronger than they ever were before. Heartbreak is not tarnish; it’s a badge of honor. It means you risked. You dared to love, dared to dream and dared to ask life for more.

So risk. Risk your heart, risk your dreams, risk your expectations and then rise. Regardless of the outcome of your daring ventures, make the outcome excel you to new heights. Because heartbreak is merely a transformation. And, like a phoenix, your circumstances only prove that you now have the opportunity to soar.

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