Travel is our Teacher

Travel is a very wise teacher. She has taught me more lessons than all of the combined professors and instructors I’ve sat before in a lifetime of classrooms. 

It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you travel, I can promise that if and when you choose to step out into her school to see the world, you will learn lessons.

When I took my first international trip in 1993, I remember being confronted with a quote which I carefully transcribed into the crisp blank pages of my very first blue and green plaid covered travel journal. It read:

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

It has been 22+ years since I first heard those words, and looking back, it’s crazy to me that travel has officially consumed more than half of my life. While it’s easy to count the countries and continents to which I’ve traveled and to tally the activities that have been struckthrough on my bucket-list, time has taught me that these quantitative metrics will never measure up to the sum of my travel experiences.

I’ve slowed down the pace of my coming-and-goings a little over the past two years while I’ve worked to establish a new homebase for my life. This mostly-staying-still time has been full of gifts—of which two of the biggest have been the mental space to reflect on who I’ve become after two decades on the road, and enough margin in my calendar to dedicate a full 3 weeks to conquer a long-outstanding dream to visit Antarctica, my seventh, and final continent. 

To celebrate this milestone, and to honor my teacher, travel, I’ve compiled a list of the 7 biggest lessons that I’ve learned from traversing each of the 7 continents. Over the next 7 weeks I’ll be sharing these with you, so make sure you stop back.

And just in case you’re a little impatient like me, here’s a sneak preview:             

7 Lessons from 7 Continents 

  1. Europe: Anything is possible
  2. Asia: One world, many worldviews
  3. Africa: Resilience—finding the power to keep going
  4. North America: Love your neighbor—even if you don’t understand them.
  5. South America: Dance like your life depends on it.
  6. Australia:  Rest and retreat
  7. Antarctica: Shut up and listen

Keep your ears and eyes open friends, there is always something to learn.

See you next week!

PS. Do you follow me on instagram? Starting April 1, I’ll be posting a 90 day series of some of my favorite travel photos from around the world. Come over and check it out!

No 2015 Goals? No Problem.

I love new starts, new years, and everything about resolutions. But I’m here to tell you a secret. If you haven’t made any life changing goals for 2015 yet, you aren’t destined to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.  In fact, you may be setting yourself up for your best year ever.

According to the source of all modern wisdom (the internet) 25% of people who’ve made New Year’s resolutions won’t keep them through the first week of the new year. If you’re part of this percentage, don’t worry—you don’t have to wait another 51 weeks to try again.

I’ve been a serious New Years goal setter for as long as I can remember, but it took me awhile to realize that everyone is not like me (yes, you are different! And you are amazing!). Goals are good, and there’s a good chance that the practice of reflecting on the year gone by and setting an intention for the year to come will help set you up for success this year. But the process doesn’t work the same for everyone.

If traditional New Year’s resolutions haven’t worked for you (or if you just haven’t gotten around to it yet this year), here’s a few things I’ve discovered that may still help you on your goal-setting way in 2015:

  1. December 31 isn’t the most important day of the year for goal setting.

 A few years back I totally gave up goal setting in tandem with the New Year. The truth is that holidays exhaust me: I lose all routine, I’m overwhelmed with the acute awareness that life doesn’t live up to my expectations, and I find that I’m often dragging myself out of December in survival mode. I can’t think of a worse time for myself to make ambitious goals which challenge myself for the year ahead. 

The goals that we make during the exhilaration and/or exhaustion of the holidays are commonly the ones that quickly fall to the wayside because they aren’t based in reality. Then one year it occurred to me—what if I just wait a week for my life and my brain and my work schedule to go back to “normal”? Since then I’ve scheduled to set aside January 10th to think about and write my annual goals–it’s still close to the new year, but far enough removed that I feel re-grounded. If it jazzes you to set your goals in tandem with the countdown in Times Square, go for it. If you’re need another week to come out of your Christmas cookie coma, feel free to wait a week or two. Or pick a day that means something to you—birthday, summer solstice, or even Chinese New Year.

 2.    Trust your own process

Just like you get to set the day, you also get to set the rules for your goal setting. There are as many tools out there for new years goals setters as there are self help books–but it doesn’t mean that any of them will fit your personal style. Pick whatever tool helps you, or make up your own (goal setting is not rocket science). If you’re a creative type, draw pictures of what you want your life to look like in a one year, make a dream board, use your camera, create a playlist of songs that remind you of the things you hope to work on in the months ahead.  If you’re a left brain goal setter get giddy with logical planning—use Gantt charts, logical frameworks, and spreadsheets to keep your year in line.  Make one goal, a whole list of them, or don’t make any goals at all. One year, I had a goal to not set any goals (because what I needed was to give myself a break instead of a to do list). Do whatever is right for you, do it with intention, and don’t judge yourself based on someone else’s annual plan (remember: keep your eyes on your own paper).

3.    The reset button works all year round.

Believe it or not, every year has 365 days (and some years you even get a bonus day). If you forget about your goal or mess up on your intentions a bit, don’t get too worried about it, you can always restart no matter what day or month it is. I try to revisit my goals at the start of every season and again on my birthday in October (that’s when I set my fun goals for the year). When I revisit my intentions I can reevaluate what I’d planned in the context of the life changes that inevitably happen throughout the course of the year. This isn’t a cop-out, it’s an intentional realignment with reality. Sometimes I even realize my goals should have been bigger and this gives me a chance to ante-up.

 4.    Don’t underestimate yourself.

I like to check things off of my to do list, and for a long time I was afraid to add goals to my annual plan that I might not be able to achieve. Although I did this to set myself up for success, the reality was that I was setting myself up to fail at my bigger intentions. The purpose of a goal is to stretch yourself to a new place, not to solely complete a bunch of tasks that you know you’ll be able to do. Big thinking is where magic begins and if everything on the list isn’t checked off in 12 months, the reset button works for next year too.

5.   Work now = Success later 

Most of us like instant gratification and the whole concept of setting and sticking to year-long goals is a bit contrarian in the age of the iPhone. News Flash: If you set a big goal this month, you probably aren’t going to achieve it by next month (sorry). But the good news is this: if you actually spend a whole year working on that project or your dreams- you will get results.  If you commit to the work, this year’s intention will be next year’s reality.

It isn’t about wandering aimlessly through another year. It’s about setting your own path and intentionally choosing your steps. Do it now, and do it as often as you dare.

Happy 2015!

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ― C.S. Lewis

An Unconventional Invitation

 Today I left a meeting that was dismissed with this unusual benediction:

Go, Make Your Life Unexplainable.” 

I pulled on my coat and paused as I processed these words. Was this a challenge to go out and do something insane today? Or was this another invitation from the universe reminding me to be authentically me?

I spend a lot of time trying to figure things out. Trying to explain my life to others, and very often trying to explain my choices to myself. I’m a bit of mystery, and I know it. I’m guessing you probably do too.

For almost two years, I’ve had “Order New Business Cards” on the top of my to do list. I haven’t been able to check it off because I always get tripped up when I try to find that one word to put under my name to that explains me. I’m a traveler and a humanitarian. I give away money, I run a hammock company. I just wrote a book (For real! I’ll tell you about it Tuesday!). I’m a seeker, a friend, a sister, an adventurer, and a pretty damn smart professional.

But how do I fit all those things on a little square piece of paper that make sense to someone else? And does it matter if my descriptors pack up neatly into a title in order to make sense to the beholders of my wondrously confusing life?

Perhaps an invitation to be unexplainable is actually an invitation to be ordinary, authentic and vulnerable. Truly me, and truly you. Because we’re all extraordinary at the core, aren’t we? Every little, living, unexplainable beautiful bit.

So, I invite you too.  “Go,  Make your life unexplainable.”

Beauty and the Beholder

From the time I was a child I remember hearing that ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.  It’s a catchy phrase, and one that teachers and parents have used for years to instill in us tolerance and acceptance of other peoples choices. Today, however, I’ve decided to declare: This is rubbish.

Yep, I’m throwing this truth out with the trash. It certainly isn’t because I think tolerance and acceptance are bad. Acceptance is what we all hope for… and this, my friend, is exactly where the problem with this “lesson” lies.

You see, somewhere along the course of my many years on this earth, this truth has been twisted and tangled in my psyche, and perhaps yours too.

Inherently, there is beauty in most everything and everyone. Yet life and culture has shaped us to believe that our beauty only exists if and when it is recognized by another.

We spend years comparing our beauty to those around us, and struggle with the resulting belief that we aren’t enough and will probably never be enough. We get so busy altering our lives to be acceptable that we forget how to live authentically as ourselves. The only time we feel even a smidge adequate is when someone reaches out in a moment of their own vulnerability to declare that they have beheld our beauty.  And even then we’re programmed to wonder if they really mean it.

We’ve robbed the power of inherent beauty from the “beauty-filled” and have given this power of bestowing beauty to the judgement of another.  This, my friend, is rubbish. 

I’m beautiful, whether you like the way that looks or not.

And so are you.

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People, Portraits and Prizes

PRIZES?  Yes! Keep reading.

Back when I lived in Sudan (and couldn’t run), I was working as a story writer and photographer.

The land in Sudan was as barren as barren could be. There wasn’t much to work with in the way of landscape photography. The roads were dirt, the homes constructed of sticks and mud, and the milky white sky blended straight into the desert most days without a hint of horizon.

The people on the other hand were the most colorful sight I’d ever seen, an apparition against the backdrop of the dusty land they called home. And it wasn’t just their rainbow colored robes. I’ve never met so many individuals who exuded such a deep gratitude and joy for the little that they did have. I was humbled.

I returned to the U.S. at the end of my contract, but I never forgot the faces. These weren’t the same images of war and destruction that were showing on the news. These were the faces of beauty and resilience. Yes, there was a war going on there, and there is still conflict in the region today. But a nation’s politics are not the same as its people. The smiles are as real as the statistics.

I showed these faces in a traveling exhibit called “Portraits of Darfur” for the years in Washington DC following my return. Prints were sold to benefit the villages where the images were taken.

I packed up the prints in 2009 when I moved on to a new season in Cambodia, but these faces I have never forgotten. They’ve hung on my wall for years now reminding me of how brightly joy shines in darkness.

Yesterday I dug through the boxes in my basement and pulled out these portraits. You see, I have a crazy idea. I love these photos so much that I’m going to give them away! Yes, PRIZES! Original prints, matted, and signed.

First, have a look at the photos and you’ll see what I mean. The smiles are just as amazing and inspiring as they were back when first saw these scenes through my camera’s eye.  Now skip to the bottom and find out how you can get one for your wall.

So, how do I get a PRIZE?

The prize game here works like a Kickstarter incentive. I still need lots of people to support me for my Hood to Coast run! If you make a donation to my crazy running efforts for Sudan, I’ll send you a prize.

  • $10 or more -> All my love and gratitude. And a Sudan photo card thank you (if you send me your address)
  • $50 or more -> Matted and signed 5×7 portrait of your choice with its story (finished size 8×10)
  • $100 or more -> Matted and signed 8×10 portrait of your choice with its story (finished size 11×14)
  • $300 or more -> Matted and signed 11×14 portrait of your choice with its story (finished size 16×20)
  • $500 or more -> Whatever you want. I’ll even send it to you framed.

(If you’ve already made a donation, don’t worry, you’re still prize eligible if you’d like one. And if you want to up your donation to reach a new prize tier, that works too, just let me know).

Give here at my fundraising page, and I’ll email you with instructions to claim your reward.

Who said that giving can’t be fun?

Running: For So Many Reasons

Yesterday I ran ten miles in Paris. I circled the arc, passed under the Eiffel tower, and wound my way along the Seine to Notre Dame. I dodged tourists, tripped on cobblestones, and spent a lot of time thinking as the French summer sun shone on each of my steps.

I often run in cities as an alternative to sightseeing. Over the pat 20 years, jogging tourism has become my wandering way of choice. It’s pretty amazing how much ground you can cover in a half marathon in Havana, and how well you’ll know Amsterdam for the rest of your life when you’ve studied its streets in anxious anticipation in training for your first marathon.

I’ve run in dozens of countries. But yesterday I wasn’t thinking about any of them. I wasn’t even thinking about how pretty Paris is on a sunny summer Sunday. I wandered the arrondissements with my mind focused on one unusual and far away place: Sudan.

I called Sudan home back in 2005 when it was one big country with a half dozen or more major conflicts. Living there was both amazing and oppressive. I’ve been a runner as long as I can remember, but Sudan was the single season I can remember where I never ran a single step.

Sudan wasn’t a running country. Sudan wasn’t safe. Anywhere we went, two blocks or two hours across the desert, we traveled in convoys of Land Rovers. Walking was forbidden. Running wasn’t even remotely an option.

Sudan is two countries now, but pretty much little else has changed. When 2 million refugees and displaced people become the status quo for a decade, the national news doesn’t really make the news anymore. And I sadly have to confess that as the years have passed, Sudan has mostly slipped my mind–until three weeks ago.

Hanging out at Halima’s House, West Darfur 2005

Worlds Collided

Nearly 15 years ago, way before I ever went to work in Sudan, I first heard rumors of an amazing relay race in Oregon called Hood to Coast. Teams of crazy people work together to run 199 miles from the top of Oregon’s Mt. Hood all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Since I’m crazy and I like amazing races, I added it to my invisible bucket list. I never imagined that I’d someday call Portland home, and I doubly never imagined that one day I’d get a call from a former colleague asking me to run this race to raise money and awareness for Sudan.

Sometimes you know things are meant to be. I immediately said yes.  I barely stopped to consider that I’d have to train to run at least 20 miles and that I’d have to work pretty hard to raise thousands of dollars.

As you’ve probably experienced in your own life–even when things are meant to be–there is no guarantee that they are going to be easy (or even fun). Most of the great things we accomplish will require the most blood, sweat and tears. When I lived in Sudan I knew I was in the right place, yet it was still the hardest place I’ve ever been posted. Running 20 miles on August 22-23 is going to be hard (and hopefully fun), but because it is for Sudan, I know it will be worth it.

Truth: most things that are worth it are hard. They will cost us something.

The cost to give access to clean water to one person in South Sudan is approximately $50. (In Paris that’s about what it costs to get 3 bottles of Evian in a restaurant).  My goal is to raise enough money to give clean water to 10 people for each of the 20 miles I’ll run.

What access to clean water in Sudan looks like

Would you join me? You can sponsor a mile and give clean water to 10 people ($500). You can sponsor water for one person ($50). And of course, if you’re budget is smaller than your heart, you can always #Give10.

(note: if you want to give an amount that isn’t listed in the donation choices, scroll to the bottom and select other. It shows $50 as a default but will let you designate any amount when you select the option).You can donate online here or message me if you have any questions. It’s all tax deductible and the money will go to World Vision- and organization I know well having worked with them for more than 7 years!

Just as it takes a team to complete a relay, it takes all of us working together to make a difference.

Just Do You.

About a year ago I wrote about keeping your eyes on your own paper. Surprisingly, this post is my most popular entry here of all time– a metric which teaches me an important lesson: I’m not the only one that struggles with measuring their value against the accomplishments and perceived perspectives of others.

When we’re surrounded by people who we imagine to be more successful than we are– in family or work or travel or just life in general–we typically do one of two things: we compare or we compete.

If you aren’t exactly sure which camp you fall into, pay attention to how it feels when you’re having a bad day and scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed, or read a blog written by someone who does what you want to do, or better yet, check yourself into a weekend conference of 3,000 inspirational people intent on changing the world. Do you judge yourself based on what someone else has done, or do you concoct a plan to one up your virtual neighbors?

This weekend I conducted this very experiment. For the third year in a row I attended my dear friend and colleague Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit in Portland. If you can conceptualize what would happen if you could mix steroids with world changing inspiration and inject it into 3,000 people you’d get the crowd at this conference.

I love this crowd and the energy and the mission of this summit, but a strange thing happens to me every year on the Monday after WDS. I wake up with an inspiration hangover. I don’t want to rise and shine and start dominating the world. I want to crawl back into my bed and cover my head.

I am a comparer.

I peruse the #WDS2014 twitter feed and am confronted with a stream of hundreds of people walking away from these amazing days floating on clouds and dreaming of unicorns and new business ideas. And I feel like I suck.

In my head I know I don’t suck. I love inspiration and travel and creating new things and changing the world. I’m well established in my world and work. I have an amazing hammock business. I’ve been to more countries than most of the people I know combined and people actually pay me money to teach them to travel. I just finished writing a book manuscript. I currently get to call some of the most amazing humanitarian organizations that I’ve dreamed of working with my clients. And I’m training for an amazing race to raise $10,000 for clean water in South Sudan.

Damn, my world is pretty amazing. Yet, there is something strange about too much inspiration that whispers in my psyche “you are not doing enough.”

In true “comparer” fashion when I’m confronted with the successes and ideas of 2,999 other people, all I can see are my own inadequacies. And of course, I also convince myself that I’m the only person in the world who can turn inspiration into black holes instead of unicorns and fairies. I want to hide. I want to give up.

Lucky for me, this weekend I had some great conversations with some other truly outstanding people who seem to suffer from this same acute inspirational illness. Bookwriters, business owners, parents, travelers and trainers. Dozens of successful people I dearly admire who deal with feelings of failure and fraud behind their smiling and wildly dancing facades.

It helped me to know that there are other people out there who may not get out of bed today to change the world. And just in case you are one of them, I thought maybe you should know that you aren’t the only one with your head covered in pillows.

As I continue practicing not to compare, I keep these words scribbled on the chalkboard in my kitchen “What can you give the world today?”

I wish that every day I was able to wake up and give the world something inspirational. But the truth is that most days the best I have to give is my ordinary. This feels uninspired until we finally learn that true extraordinary comes from an ongoing commitment to show up and do the regular work. To give the world our best each day no matter how little or uninspiring it feels.  A book starts with a single sentence. Businesses are built on a lot of ordinary emails. And families are built one dinner at a time.

This morning as I stumbled to the kitchen with a full blown inspiration hangover this question on my chalkboard confronted me as it does every day.  I thought for a moment as I poured hot water, ‘getting out of bed may be all I have to give today’.  And as I put the tea bag in my cup I realized that the tea leaves seemed to sending me a messages from the universe again. The tag spoke these simple words:

“Be who you wanna be. Not who they choose to see.” 

It’s some pretty good advice. Be remarkably you today no matter what it is or how much that you’ve got to give.

Today may look like a nap and a cup of tea. Tomorrow you may have rainbows and mountain tops. 

Today is enough. You are enough. Stop comparing and competing.

Just Do You.