Something to Ponder

“I’m probably hopelessly out of date but my advice is get real-world experience: Be a cowboy. Drive a truck. Join the Marine Corps. Get out of the hyper-competitive ‘life hack’ frame of mind.  I’m 74.  Believe me, you’ve got all the time in the world.   You’ve got ten lifetimes ahead of you.  Don’t worry about your friends ‘beating’ you or ‘getting somewhere’ ahead of you.  Get out into the real dirt world and start failing.  Why do I say that? Because the goal is to connect with your own self, your own soul.  Adversity.  Everybody spends their life trying to avoid it.  Me too.  But the best things that ever happened to me came during the times when the shit hit the fan and I had nothing and nobody to help me.  Who are you really?  What do you really want?  Get out there and fail and find out.”
Steven Pressfield, when asked what advice he would give a smart, driven college student about to enter the real world.

I’m currently reading Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss and man is it a gold mine of wisdom. I’m only 20 pages in and I’ve already got notes out the wazoo. This one really hit me.  I’m not so fresh out of college anymore, but sometimes it still feels like I am and in any case this kind of advice always gives me some kind of comfort that the decisions I’ve made in the last 5 years have been the right ones.

I’ve also been practicing mindful reading.  We’re bombarded with so much information everyday, it’s easy to become immune to the characters on the page or screen.  But when advice is involved, I have been trying to really zoom in on what that person is trying to say. There is a reason and a feeling that made these words come out of someone’s mouth, especially in a book like Tribe of Mentors where successful people are sharing part of their soul.  It cannot be ignored.

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Sitting here trying to think of a title is reminding me of what our twenties are like in general. I have no idea.

There are no warnings. No after school specials. No instruction manuals. Nada. Zilch. When I was a teenager, I don’t remember anyone telling me, “Yeah being a teen is tough, but your twenties will kick the crap out of you too!” The difficulties of being a teen and a 20-something are two sides of the same coin (there is a completely different slew of social problems teenagers face but that’s a whole other conversation). You’re trying to figure out who you are, what trail to follow, why exactly do we have to wear pants, you know, all those questions. The difference is that the expectations change. In high school, everyone kind of goes through it together. It doesn’t matter if you’re tall, short, jock, smarty-pants, everyone is riding the teenage wave. But then you go from being clumped in with a bunch of other kids trying to figure it out to being, well, on your own, except with the expectation that you have something, anything, figured out. If we’re lucky, we have a nice support system through friends and/or family. But either way, we’re suddenly alone, and it’s no longer cool if your mom calls to make your doctors appointments for you (ah…the memories…).

Personally, it has taken me a very long time to figure out what I’m doing. For the last four years, I’ve had about 51 career ideas that have amounted to basically… me studying photography in Poland. It’s as random as it sounds and it pretty much sums up my twenties. Granted, the goal I had after graduation in 2013 was to travel, so a career would have been on the back burner anyway. And I don’t regret any decision I’ve made as I’ve done so much in the process of figuring it out that by now I’ve been on more adventures than teenage me had ever dreamed. But I didn’t realize this whole being-in-my-twenties process would be so similar to riding Kingda Ka on a 104 degree day after eating 6 plates of funnel cake- awesome, sweaty, and nauseating.

My friends who have solid careers seem to be in the same boat. The frustration of being in your twenties stems from being in your twenties. We’re the young ones of the adult world. We’re still in the “building block” phase of who we will be. That’s what makes it so difficult and what no one warns you about- these are the days that lead to who we become later in life. Many might think of high school and college as these building blocks, and they certainly are, but I went through both of those things having no idea for what purpose I was studying and yet the days I’ve felt the most lost all happened after graduation. And here’s the thing: most of us feel this way in one form or another. It’s just not as obvious anymore. Today social media shows everyone’s daily highlight reels. It can feel isolating, like everyone else has it together and somehow you’re lagging behind.

But what I’ve figured out is no one, or at least 99.999% of people, in their 20’s has it figured out (not sure about the other decades but if anyone wants to chime in here, feel free). And those who claim to have it figured out are either delusional or LIAHS or part of the mythical 0.001%. As you can probably guess, most of my friends are in their twenties, and I’ve had the same conversation in all different circles- we don’t know what the heck we’re doing. Salaried, hourlied, studying, unemployed, doesn’t matter. We are all just trying to answer these 6 words: Who do I want to be?

And it’s only to ourselves that we must answer this question. I don’t care what society is telling us to do or where we should be in life; fulfilling our own goals that actually mean something to us is the task at hand. And it’s MESSY. The world is so open now, the possibilities quite literally endless, that it can make you dizzy if you think about it too much. So, in my very limited knowledge at 27 years old, there’s only one piece of advice I offer my fellow 20-somethings because it’s advice I try to follow myself: make yourself proud. Wake up every morning, and do one thing to make yourself proud. Work out, help someone carry their groceries, make your bed, take a photo, sit down to write for 15 minutes, reverse climate change. Something little, something big, who cares, just do something. And acknowledge this pride once it happens. Those little proud moments add up to a life of proud moments, and you never know which small moment ends up being big in the long run.

In short, the twenties are as exciting as they are challenging and thank God we aren’t 30 yet. Yikes.

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A pensive shot of me at 24.

Author’s Note: I also feel the need to add that I’m grateful for the experience I’ve had in my twenties. I’m not fleeing a war-torn country. I’m not wondering where my next meal is coming from. I’m not working in a factory for $1 a day. And chances are if you’re reading this, you aren’t either. So yeah, the twenties can be frustrating, but they could also be much, much worse. Peace, love, and chicken…hugs?… Ignore that.

Zakopane and Yeses

The mountains create realizations. I don’t think I’ve ever been surrounded by mountains and not felt an indescribable peace. Venturing into them makes me feel human; like the ancient part of my brain recognizes them as home. When I arrived in Zakopane on Tuesday, I had this inkling that the next few days would bring this sense of calm I’ve been missing in the city. And I couldn’t have been more right.

Zakopane is a small town in the south of Poland near the border of Slovakia. Surrounded by the Tatra Mountains, it’s a popular destination for hikers, winter athletes, and anyone else who is in the mood for a mountain view. Walking around the town, you can find a ton of shops, cafes, and dozens of stands where the locals sell regional products, especially a traditional smoked cheese (pictured below- it’s beyond). Three years ago I did one of the best hikes of my life in the Tatra National Park and I was excited to have the opportunity to explore it again in snow.

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But because of the snow, our hikes were quite mild. The first day, we tried hiking to a peak not far from our hostel only to be met with huge gusts of winds and snow that made us turn around 15 minutes from the top.  On the upside we had a Canadian forestry major with us named Dan who could tell us about why all the trees were down (wind) and other fun facts that I have been sitting here trying to remember for 10 minutes (I do remember from an unrelated conversation that the best maple syrup comes from Ontario nomnomnom). So although the hiking ended up being less than expected, it was only a part of what made this trip so special.

The hostel. I had one of the best hostel experiences I’ve ever had there and I learned more about Canada and Australia than I thought I would being in the south of Poland. I hadn’t stayed in multi-person room since 2014 and had no desire to ever do that again (5 months of hostels will do that to a girl), but this was an exception and I had a good feeling about it. We stayed in a small hostel made of wood called Goodbye Lenin, and although is was close quarters, we were met with a great bunch of folks (mostly, you guessed it, from Canada and Australia). Going out for traditional Polish cuisine, playing card games, watching Black Mirror all together before going to bed, and all around good conversation, it was what you want from a hostel experience (especially if the New Year celebrations in Budapest were too rough and you need 3 days to recover- looking at you, Mikaela and Emma). Also two of the guys were both named Daniel Joseph and born in the same area of Canada and that’s just weird. AND a girl showed up who went to school in Australia with one of the guys working at the hostel- by coincidence! Whaaat??

But back to the realizations. I went out for a solo walk one day to take pictures. I was alone and surrounded by mountains. I couldn’t hear anything except the running water of the river. Then I was hit with a wave of “yes”. Yes to new possibilities, yes to change, yes to where I should go next. And just like that, it was all clear to me. 2018 just got a little more interesting. Details to come.

Note: I wish I had gotten a “yes” in terms of career, but my brain is still keeping that as a nice surprise for me. Isn’t she great

Corrections: I’ve just been informed by Daniel Joseph 1 that the best maple syrup is from Quebec AND Ontario. My bad.

Top 5 Books I Read in 2017

New year, new reading habits? I should clarify that I only read 14 books in 2017, so this is over 1/3 of my complete list, but if you’re like me and one of your New Year’s resolutions is to read more, here are some seriously great suggestions.

Top 5 books I read in 2017:

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell talks about that moment in society when everything shifts. How do trends start? What makes crime rates go up or down? What makes an idea “stick”? I found it an interesting and easy read.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger
Excellent read about belonging and warfare. It gave me an entirely new perspective on war and it’s role in human society. I couldn’t put it down.

The River of Doubt by Candice Miller
I loved this book so much that I bought it (I usually get all of my books from the library, Ryan Holiday would be disappointed. I’m a student. Sue me.). Theodore Roosevelt is one of my favorite figures because of this story. Miller does an amazing job describing his expedition through the Amazon and I can’t believe it’s all true. Puts our current “president” and his tiny hands to shame.

Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It by Kamal Ravikant
This took me no joke 45 minutes to read. It’s quick, concise, and inspiring to the max. And since it takes less than an hour to read, there’s no excuse not to give it a go.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I found this to be so beautifully written that it was like reading poetry. A fictional World War 2 novel about two kids from two different places whose stories intertwine. Doerr knows how to write and I’m curious about the rest of his work.

Honorable Mention: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. GENIUS. But it received so much attention this year that I decided to highlight other works.

And that’s it! Any suggestions for must-read’s in 2018?

The Fear

“Whenever I was afraid to do something, that meant I had to do it.” Bam. Takes 3 seconds to say. Changed my whole life. I feel like I hear these words all of the time now, but the first time I heard them was in my 10th grade French class. Or at least that was the first time I was really paying attention to them. My teacher had just finished describing her 5-month backpacking trip through Europe in the ’80’s and this final sentiment would stick with me for as long as she probably hoped it would. It was then and there that I decided I too was going to make a similar trip as soon as I graduated from college. Eight years later, there I was, strapping on my backpack in the Milan airport, ready to explore what would end up being the first of 62 cities.

I tell this story about my French teacher because it shows the power of words and their impact on a life. As a natural-born introvert, excursions like these did not come to me automatically and definitely not easily. I had to fight my natural instinct to stay put and do what was comfortable. But alongside my introversion, there has always been a stronger voice inside of me telling me to do it, not despite but because of my fear of the daunting and unknown road ahead.

Ultimately I didn’t just backpack through Europe; I did so much more. I spent my first year after high school living in a small town in Transylvania, studied abroad in Athens, took part in an archaeological dig off the coast of the Black Sea, studied German in Dresden, the list goes on. And every time I would tell myself, “I’m afraid. This is uncomfortable. I have to do it.”  And truth be told, by the time my backpacking trip began, the fear was barely more than a pinprick (we’re not talking plane rides here though, that’s a whole other situation, come on). Plus a friend and my iPhone were by my side to stomp out any straggling nerves I had about getting lost, always a bonus. My life would be very different had I not been really listening that day in class.

So, there’s something to this “discomfort” thing. What are we capable of when we lean into the anxiety and fear? When we do the very thing my teacher did? What do we miss out on when we let fear take control? I think of all the things I would have missed if I hadn’t told fear to shove off (Ex. “Thanks for the warning but I’m not interested. Shove off.”).  And It doesn’t just have to do with traveling; any change can be frightening. Quitting a job, asking him/her out, showing your “before” pictures when you decide to lose the weight. Anything that forces us to grow begins with discomfort, like growing pains for the mind. So I’m passing my teacher’s message along.  What are you afraid of? You’re capable. Go do it.

Sidenote: Please don’t walk down any dark alleys alone at 2am or drive into a tornado to see what it’s like inside. This is NOT that.

IMG_5596Gower Peninsula in Wales. If I had listened to my fear, this photo never would have been taken. That’s sad.

The Beginning

So. I’m doing this. This is happening. I’m really writing a blog. If you told me this a month ago I never would have believed you. How could I have anything original to say? Who would even read it? Who the heck would care? But that’s not the point. The point is to do things. Sometimes we get so caught up in the “what if” that we forget about the “so what”. Seriously. SO WHAT. I’ve always been a big advocate of “do it anyway”, so when it came to creating a blog, I had to practice what I preach. I realized that every time we let doubt and fear make decisions for us, our lives get a little emptier. I don’t know about you, but I prefer my life filled to the brim.

So here you go universe. Here is my passion project, my creative outlet, my so what. This is where I’ll be sharing my wanderings, my thoughts, my photos, things I learn everyday that I find interesting- from podcasts and books to how good pierogies taste and how long I have to wait for the elevator in my building (elevators from hell, really).

This is the beginning. Come wander with me.