The Paradox of Settling

settledown - 1“When are you going to settle down?” As a wander of more than 20 years, this is the question I’ve learned to field at least once a week. Friends, family, people I date, random acquaintances, and readers of the internet inquire about my ability to “settle” all of the time.

“Settle down?” It’s a simple question, and most often  curious and well-meaning. Yet, on most occasions whenever these words enter my ears this question triggers my inner world into a mild state of panic.

Part of my brain screams “YES!”. Part of my brain screams “NO!”. It’s paralyzing.

What does settling down even mean for goodness sake? As a traveler who has built much of her existence on the premise of not being long-term geographically committed to one place, this question instantaneously triggers my self doubt to the very core.

For a long time I thought this inner struggle was a sign I must be broken, but eventually I realized that this is a trick question.

You see, there is no right answer to the “When will you settle down?” question, because, my friend, there’s a paradox in the very concept of settling.

In the strange universe of the English language, the word “settle” has multiple and very different—perhaps even contradictory–meanings.

Settle: verb

1) To stop, let something rest, to build a place to dwell
2) To accept or agree to something less than the best, less than satisfactory, or below what you want or deserve

When I hear, “When will you settle down,” my panicked brain translates these mystery words into a variety of other things like:

Why can’t you to commit to anything?” or “When are you going to stop chasing your dreams and start doing stuff like regular people?” or “Will you ever grow up?”

After 20 years of breaking out in a sweat trying to make sense of this question I’ve finally learned a couple important things:

1. The Question is Actually Not About ME

If you’re a traveler, most people actually don’t care, beyond a mild curiosity, where you go or how long you stay there. The asker is usually just wondering “Are you going to stick around for awhile?” This usually isn’t a question that comes from a place of judgment, rather people want to know where they fit into your life.

When you don’t see the people you love very often, “when will you settle” is often an indirect way of stating “I really hope you’re going to be around more.”

2. The Real Question is for All of Us

While wanderers commonly gets asked this question most often, the real question is a little different, and it applies to all of us:

Can you be settled without settling?

Maybe the question for you is, “Can you be in a fixed location without taking less then you deserve”, or perhaps, “Can you be at a place of contentment and stillness without being in a fixed location?”

I’ve lived a very non-traditional life for most of the last 20+ years. Although it seems to some on the outside that I’ve been wandering aimlessly, I have been very “settled” into a global community and cause. I have been at home in my purpose-driven wandering. I have been settled without settling for years.

Three years ago I chose to move to a place where I could build a more sustainable geographically-based home and community. While I’ve unpacked and settled into Portland for now, I’m less about “settling down” and more about extraordinary living from a fixed address. It’s less settling and more striving for the new things that I want–making decisions for important things that are bigger than me—community, home, relationships, roots, etc.

A permanent address or our drive to be location interdependent doesn’t determine a settled or un-settled life.

Perhaps you’ve lived in the same home for 20 years, yet have given up on your dreams to be a painter or a writer or a supreme court justice (I hear there’s a job vacancy). If where you live makes you happy, great, but perhaps it’s time to choose to change something if life circumstances have driven you to settle for something less than what you were born to be.

We only have one chance in this life after all.

Stop settling. Start living your dreams.

When What You Have Isn’t What You Want

nofear - 1

We’ve all been there. In situations we’ve made from our own doing, or in situations dictated by circumstances we haven’t chosen–We desperately want something different than what we’ve been dealt. Or at minimum would like to alter our circumstances a bit to make life a little more comfortable.

I’ve been here myself, and it sucks. If you’ve waded into or treaded these waters, I’m sure you’ll agree. But, there is some good news: You don’t have to be miserable.

In most* situations, what you have isn’t what you want, you’ve got 3 choices:

1) Change Something.

If you don’t like something, Don’t sit around and complain about it. There’s a lot of stuff in our lives that we can change. Big stuff and small stuff.

If you aren’t good at changing things, start with the little things and get some experience. Anytime you find yourself complaining about something. Do whatever you can to change it.

  • Noisy neighbors in the hotel room you’ve been assigned?Ask to move.
  • Hate your job? Polish your resume .
  • Afraid to leave a relationship you should have gotten out of a long time ago? Start the conversation.
  • Don’t like the way your kids act since they turned into teenagers? Well, you probably shouldn’t give them away. (Keep Reading)

Even a small step in the direction of change, has the power to propel you into forward motion.

2) Choose Contentment

Unfortunately, we can’t change everything we don’t like. Sometimes we just have to live with it. But what can you do with the things you cannot dismiss or give away?

Enter contentment. You must change the way you think about it and experience it.

Now, I realize to most people “choosing contentment” sounds like an awful option—it seems like a fancy way to say, learn to live with it, pretend you’re happy, and stop hoping things could be different.

I’d be lying if I didn’t agree with this a little bit, but the trick to contentment is recognizing that is it a practice, not a solution. Contentment is like yoga or meditation–you will suck at it some days, probably most days, and that’s okay. It’s not about fixing yourself or fixing anything. It’s about learning to be at ease in your situation.

3) Wallow in Complacency

Option three when what you have isn’t what you want, is to do nothing. Seriously, people, this really shouldn’t ever be a choice. But I put it here because it is the default that I choose so often (and perhaps you too).

When you really should change something but you just don’t have the chutzpah, time, energy, or [insert your own excuse here], this is what you are actually choosing. If it’s a circumstance that isn’t exactly changeable, but you’d rather be miserable and let everyone else know it than work on your contentment practice, you have picked door number three. Woe is you.

This stuff isn’t easy my friend. We all have baggage and we must choose wisely basing our decisions on our own motives, circumstances, and options we are presented.

What’s it going to be? The choice is yours.

——–

** Note: I say most situations here, because life sometime throws us really big stuff like death, tragedy, abuse, disaster, and long-term stuff that we can’t change as much as we’d like more than anything to have a magic wand to reverse. Please know that I’m not suggesting changing your attitude as a fix to any of these situations. If these types of scenarios are what you’re experiencing check out the work of Megan Devine at Refuge in Grief.

4 Habits for a Highly Effective February

FebruaryWritingFebruary has always been my favorite month. While the weather is not nearly aMAYzing as May (unless you live in the southern hemisphere). February has a not-so secret superpower that makes it the best month ever to start new habits. (Drumroll) It’s short.

I like to call February the small month, but the length of it isn’t its only power. February is awesome because it is no longer the new year; therefore, the pressure of not messing up your fancy resolutions is off. Plus, the days are getting longer, which is a sure sign to your soul that you WILL survive winter.

We’ve all heard that it takes “21 days” to make a new habit stick (or to kick a bad one). While it turns out that this magic number is actually more of a motivational marketing tool than real science, its foundation is factual: To form new habits we need to conduct repeated action consistently over time. It may take you 21 days, it may take you 200 days. For me, I like to believe the magic number is 28, and this is why February is the best habit making month around. Oh, and this year the universe has given us a bonus day just to make sure whatever we’re trying to achieve sticks.

If you want to join me for a habit forming February, the formula is pretty simple. First, you’ve got to pick the thing you’re going to work on, then you do it today, and repeat it tomorrow (or according to whatever schedule you choose). It isn’t magic, but you can build habits that stick.

Here’s 4 habit building tips I’m putting into practice this month:

1. Be Specific and Actionable

Start with something very easy and exact to measure. Less of get in better shape, and more of complete one month of the 100 pushup challenge. Less quit eating junk food and more of eat something green at every meal.

I’ll personally be working on writing this month. It’s my favorite February challenge because I can do it in the morning in my warm bed when it’s cold. More specifically the habit I’m working on is to commit my time in the early morning to get my most important work done. Less waking up checking Facebook on my phone. More waking up to completing one written work every day.

2. Be Consistent

The most important thing you have to do to create a new habit is to show up everyday to your action. You did it yesterday; you do it today; and, yep, tomorrow too.

I like to think about it like the star chart that hung on the wall in my elementary school classroom—the one where you got a gold star for everyday you completed a certain task or had good behavior. You had to complete the task every day to get the star. Habits are like this, you have to reset everyday while you’re building them. Make your own star chart for February if it will help you. Even as an adult they are oddly motivating—I’ve made one every time I’ve trained for a marathon. Consistency works.

3. Be Nice to Yourself

We often fail at habits because we inevitably screw up, miss out target, and then quickly determine we’re never going to be successful so why bother. While consistency is key, you also have to lean the art of giving yourself grace.

If you have a bad day and accidentally eat a chocolate sundae for dinner instead of kale salad, move on. You aren’t going to die and your goal doesn’t have to die either. Wake up tomorrow and drink a kale smoothie for breakfast. Resets are okay, just try not to use them everyday. (See point 2).

It’s also okay to do something awesome for yourself to keep motivated along the way. I like to buy flowers when I’ve successfully completed a week of gold stars. Massages work well to motivate me too.

4. Tell Someone You’re Doing It

Misery loves company—so does successful habit making. Tell a friend about your goal, write a blog post and tell everyone you’re going to write this month, and then you don’t have any excuses!

I’ve recently convinced 3 friends to download the 100 pushup app because I want to do more pushups. Sure, I want all my friends to have great arms, but mostly, I know that I’m more likely to be consistent if someone else is going to ask me how my habit-making is coming.

Don’t have any friends who would think this is normal? That’s not a good enough excuse. You’re welcome to tell me.

So, Happy February.

You’ve got 29 days to something great. What’s it going to be?

Capture the Things that Move You

w4gcapture - 1I have a love hate relationship with my smart phone and my computer. One minute I want to hurl them both off a cliff, and then two minutes later, I accidentally drop one of them or forget one in a restaurant, and my breath gets caught in my throat, and I suddenly feel like my life is going to end.

There are lots of reasons to hate the technology that surrounds us every moment of every day. But, then again, there are lots of reasons to love it too. Maybe you’re firmly in one camp? Or maybe you straddle the technology lover/hater line like I do.

I love that technology allows me to live an untethered life. That my work can travel. That I can literally have an office wherever my laptop can go, and I can easily stay connected to the people I love. I wrote Upgrade Unlocked while eating pad thai in the street in Bangkok. I’ve written thousands of words from 37,000 feet in the sky. I’ve Facetimed into family holiday gatherings from far aways squares in Cambodia and Colombia. I’ve even been known to hike into the forest with my computer and my hammock when I need to get away to a “quiet” office to think. I’ve been able to build the life I have because the world is more connected than ever.

Yet, sometimes I miss the days when my computer was as big as the desk it sat on, and there was no chance that I’d ever try to pack it in my carryon for a trip around the world. I miss the days when a vacation was a vacation, when you checked out paper books from the library, and going out with friends included more time spent in deep conversations than in checking in and live posting every moment from the evening on instagram or snapchat. I miss the days when my friends were in my neighborhood and stopped by for a cup of coffee rather than liking the picture of my coffee in my social feeds.

As my new year has been starting out, I’ve been contemplating this paradox. I want to make sure I’m living fully in the real-life present, and using technology as a tool to capture the memories I want to keep, rather being captive to them–living tethered to my phone and awarded for my loyalty with notifications of pavlovian likes.

This year, I will choose to be at my sister’s wedding, rather than live stream it to Facebook. I will choose to share dinner conversation with my friends rather than posting the play by play demolition of our magnificent four course kale salad on instagram.

I will be present in the moments.

I will capture the moments that move me.

I will share memories.

I will not make memories for the sake of sharing.

 

If you don’t see me online every minute of every day this year, don’t worry. I haven’t died. It’s just a sign that, I have rather chosen to live, a little differently.

I hope you will join me. I think we’ll all be a little happier this way.

###

 

 

7 Lessons from 7 Continents: Asia + Worldview

A single phrase, commonly heard across Southeast Asia, sums up the biggest lesson that six years on this continent taught me: “Same, same, but different.” 

After my first dream trip to Europe and the consequential discovery of travel’s possibility, it didn’t take me long to figure out how to venture even further afield. Within a few months I had signed up for a summer exchange program in China.

At 19, I’d not yet been anywhere in the “developing” world, I’d never heard the phrase “culture shock”, and I had no idea at all what to expect in China in 1994 (way before the Olympics and Starbucks came to Beijing). To say I was fresh-faced and unprepared is an understatement. 

My very first memory in Asia was the van ride from the airport to the town where I’d be spending the summer. For the first hours we made our way through endless rice fields across the rural countryside. I stared out the window in amazement spotting farmers in bamboo hats and water buffalo.  It was all one big, wondrous moving picture.  And then it got dark.

The sun set, the sky turned black, and we kept driving into the night. Oddly, however, the driver didn’t turn on the headlights. We were flying through the streets into the pitch black, and every minute or two the driver would honk the horn to let people (and presumably the water buffalo) know he was on the road.

Every few minutes he’d flash the hi-beams to make sure the road was clear ahead, but apart from those split seconds, the stars and moon were our only light. I shut my eyes and prayed that we get there alive, and chalked this up as kind of dangerous—and insane.

In the next days, I quickly realized that most things I would experience on my first trip to China felt insane to me. The things I was served for dinner—what? The hole in the ground that was the toilet—no way! The way everyone spit on the ground in public—eew! The number of students crammed into a dorm—how do they live like this? And the endless search and bargain for every day necessities—really? Where is the mall?

Everything was different, I was overwhelmed, and my western mindset immediately went into overdrive considering how I could fix all of these obviously broken things.

As a new traveler, I had not yet acquired the skill to see “same, same but different”, in what appeared to be a total logic free zone.

I didn’t master this skill on that trip to China. In fact, I can’t even say that I’m always able to maintain this perspective after having lived on the continent for many years.

But Asia has taught me a few lessons about viewing the world through the wisdom of eyes that strive to recognize the same and appreciate the different.

1. Look at the intention rather than the action

While I’ll never be a fan of driving across rural China (or anywhere else) in the pitch dark without headlights, it turns out the driver had a reason.

Headlights in rural China in 1994 were very difficult to replace. By using his light sparingly and relying on his knowledge of the road, the driver was ensuring that he’d have some light long term. His intention was to drive safely–even when it felt like the most dangerous thing in the world to me.

When we’re new to a culture (or even a confusing situation in our own culture), there are always things happening behind the scenes we aren’t seeing. Rather than observing actions we don’t understand and immediately filing them under “These People Are Nuts,” ask some questions, discover the intention. You’ll be able to respond with understanding rather than react in frustration.

2. Compare to learn, not to teach

It is not our job to fix everything that appears to be broken. In fact, everything we think is broken, is not. It’s amazing what we’ll learn by approaching situations in life and travel as students rather than know-it-all’s.

Worldview operates similarly to two people in their early years of marriage—we all think we’re the one who is right in most situations, and that life would function better if the other person would just adapt and do things our way. 

What if we compared cultures and points of view in search of good instead of gaps? We’d probably recognize a lot of what make us the same, same- the need for love, family, opportunity, acceptance, well-being, and dignity.

I’m pretty sure we’d make all of our worlds better.

3.  Be open to view your own world as an outsider

My first year in Asia, I spent a lot of energy fixating on all the things that were different and unusual to me. It wasn’t until I had been living there for a while that I finally realized that most people around me thought I was actually the most different and unusual one.

The ability to see yourself and view your own world through the eyes of others is eye opening. You may actually realize that many of the things you do may not actually make sense.

If you’re new to this concept and want to practice seeing your own world from an outside perspective, start a conversation with a taxi driver.  By some strange universal law, most subjects that are taboo at dinner tables around the world are completely appropriate in taxis—politics, religion, relationships, and everything the driver believes is wrong with your country.

I used to think it was only other countries that were absolutely bizarre, and now I’m beyond convinced that the U.S. is pretty bizarre in its own right. (If you don’t believe me, take an afternoon off of work and watch some American Reality TV).

Being able to view your own world through the objective outlook of another is a powerful tool in relationship building. It’s as powerful as learning to laugh at yourself.

Asia challenged me with a little humility and a lot of frustration, but eventually showed me that our one world wouldn’t be nearly as amazing or colorful without so many different world views to keep things interesting. Learning to reconcile the different as different changed me. 

I wish you the same, same. 

PS.  Don’t forget to check out the lessons I learned on the other 6 continents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens in Vegas can Change Your World

They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but that’s not always true. Sometimes what happens in Vegas changes your whole world.

I don’t come to Las Vegas often. Today I’m here because an 18 hour stopover saved me 400$ on a plane ticket. Two years ago I came on a travel hacking adventure to see how many different hotels I could stay at in a long weekend, and 18 years ago I made a trip to Vegas that changed my life. 

Walking down the street today, I was thinking about that first trip I took to Vegas, and what I could share if I wrote a story about it. The first lesson that popped into my head was the familiar quote–“Leap and the net will appear.” 

“That’s so cliché, and you’re supposed to be writing your 7 Lessons from 7 Continents story this week, not a nearly two-decade-old story about Vegas,” the critic and control freak inside my head said. 

And just as I had this thought, a person dressed in a Spiderman costume leaped out in front of me from behind a building. Although Spiderman is more about webs than nets, I took that as a confirmation from the universe that this week you are supposed to be hearing the lesson of how Las Vegas taught me to leap into the unknown world of my dreams.

My first trip to Vegas was in 1997. I was a budding account executive at a high tech PR agency and visiting Sin City to manage media interviews at my very first big tradeshow. Even though I secretly hated many parts of my first real job and had been actively exploring other opportunities, I’d prepared for the show for months and was excited to go. And then unexpectedly, five days before I left for Vegas, I got offered my first international job in Thailand. And they needed me to be there to start in exactly four weeks.

I was in a conundrum. I knew if I quit my job, I’d miss out on the career opportunity of managing the project in Vegas. If I said no to the opportunity to go to Asia, I knew I’d always regret it.  So, I decided to contrive a plan to do both.

Here’s what happened and the lessons of leaping that I learned from the process: 

1. Accept the Offer

Staying at the agency was easy to envision and it was a safe career path. Going to Thailand was a whole sea of mystery, but I was enticed by the adventure and the possibility. I had no idea what to do, so I said YES.

I’m not advocating for leaping blindly into everything that comes you way, but sometimes you have to start with the yes even when you don’t understand every detail that comes with an offer. Some people like to wait until they have all of their ducks in a row before taking action, but if you’re waiting on the ducks to sort themselves out, it is never going to happen. I’m certainly not an ornithologist, but I’ve never once seen a flock of ducks waddling around in a line. Listen to your gut and say, “hell, yes!” when the offer you’ve been day-dreaming about in your cubicle knocks on your door. Only dead ducks hang out in rows. 

2. Put Things in Motion

Remember our lesson on the laws of physics and the laws of possibility? You need an action to get the process going.

I accepted the job in Thailand, and I got on the plane to Vegas. I was in motion. I needed to finish my project well, and find a way to be in Asia in four weeks.

I spent the next four days in the Las Vegas Convention Center managing media interviews and sneaking away to use the payphone in the hallway every time I had a break. I studied airline listings in the yellow pages, dialed the toll-free numbers for international reservations agents, and put tickets on hold until I had figured out the best and cheapest ways to get to Bangkok. 

In the unassuming lobby of the convention center, surrounded by swarms of corporate conference attendees labeled with large-font name badges, I successfully arranged my escape plan. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. My colleagues thought I really loved Vegas.

3. Pull the Trigger

Once you’re in motion, it’s much easier to gain the speed you need to do the more difficult tasks.

I returned from Las Vegas with a successful media trip under my belt and a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia in my pocket with a departure date just 16 days away. Since I had to give two weeks notice at my job, I had no choice but to walk straight into my boss’ office and let him know that I was leaving.

My immediate supervisor was amazing and told me to follow my dreams. The boss who ran the agency, however, told me in a few words that he wasn’t surprised at all, and I didn’t have what it takes to be successful in the field of PR and communications. I was too young and polite to tell him to F*&@ off, but I knew at this moment that I was making the right play, and that saying yes to this opportunity would be one of the most important decisions I’d ever make for my long-term career success. 

4. Dance

After you pull the trigger, you’ve got to jump all in. It’s like dancing, once you’ve taken a step away from the security of watching from the sidelines, you’ve got to give it all you’ve got—even if you’re worried about looking a fool. You have more to gain than you have to loose.

The 16 days between quitting my job and packing up my life to move to Thailand were a blur, but one moment remains crystal clear. As I waved goodbye to my friends in the airport and turned to walk down the jetway, I remember in slow motion taking the step over the threshold between the airport and onto the plane. 

“What if this is the biggest mistake of my life,” the scared part of me hesitated in that split second.

“The worst case scenario is that you absolutely hate it, and then you buy a ticket and fly home,” the brave and more rational part of me responded.

That step onto the plane was an important one, and the next years included a lot more steps forward, sideways and backwards—all part of the dance.

I’ve done more than my share of tripping and stepping on peoples’ toes in the last 18 years, but not a single part of me regrets jumping into the unknown and the path that my leap landed me upon. Life is less risky if you stand still, but you’ll never live your dreams if you aren’t willing to fumble around on the dance floor.

Your story probably won’t contain a payphone, convention center hallway, or even a big fat book of yellow pages, but I’m sure it will contain conundrums, controversy and courage. I wish you well as you take your leap, and promise from the other side that you most certainly won’t regret it.

Viva Las Vegas.

 

 

7 Lessons from 7 Continents: Europe + Possibility

I didn’t grow up traveling. In fact, I didn’t even grow up believing that international travel was an option for me. 

The family of my childhood defined travel as road-tripping from Pennsylvania to Florida twice a year. Our “vacation” ritual including driving down the I-95 corridor, sitting on the beach, and stopping by Disney World to have breakfast with Mickey Mouse.

Each year when we made the pilgrimage to the sunshine state, my highlight was getting to ride “It’s a Small World”, my favorite Magic Kingdom ride, over and over again. It was as if somewhere deep in my DNA I already knew that my soul was destined for something bigger than the Eastern Seaboard.

As I grew older, I knew the world was out there, but it never felt accessible. As a student of French in high school, I used to think, “If I could only get to Paris once before I die, my life will be complete.”

Travel was in my heart, but it wasn’t in my practice. 

As a sophomore in college, I got my chance and set out on what I believed at the time was going to be my once in a lifetime adventure of studying and traveling in Europe. I was young and impressionable, but I had no idea how much this trip was going to change my whole perspective on the world.

Possibility was biggest lesson I learned during the five months I spent in Europe on my first trip abroad. Getting across the ocean to a place I’d never been was a high hurdle, but once I reached a new continent, being there was easy and the opportunities felt endless.

While I’m not very scientific, one of the laws of physics presented by Sir Isaac Newton in 1687 and memorized by most of us in eighth grade science, teaches this:

A body at rest will remain at rest until an outer force is applied to it to cause motion.

For the first time in my life, this opportunity allowed me to experience what it was like to see travel from the “in motion” perspective, rather than from the sidelines of something I hoped to do someday.

Once I was in the UK, Paris felt possible. Once I was in Paris, Spain and Italy and Austria were all right there too. And if you’re in Austria, why not pop over into Prague?

Law #2: An object in motion remains in motion. 

There’s no way I would have ever even thought to travel from my Alabama college town to Czechoslovakia during the fall of communism as an 18 year old, but once I was already so close, and the possibility was dangled in front of me, it didn’t feel difficult or crazy at all (although I didn’t tell my parents until after I did it).

I had discovered both motion and possibility, and the powerful combination of these forces changed my entire trajectory.

It was a big lesson for me, but the lesson for all of us is this: Whether you travel or not, living in that sweet spot where motion and possibility meet is the key to whatever you want to accomplish.

You want to experience the possibility of the world? It’s not going to happen by sitting on your couch and watching the travel channel. Buy a plane ticket. (Or learn how to go places for free)

You want to experience the freedom and possibility of working for yourself? Change careers? Move to a new place? (Or fill in your own dream here) Whatever desire you have–it isn’t going to happen until you put action into your intention.

Making your dreams come true is a possibility. And once you’ve committed your feet to motion, I’m sure you’ll be surprised how much more in the world is out there beyond what you’ve ever imagined.

It’s a small world after all.