Plans vs. Possibilities

Tonight at dinner, my friend Ruthie asked me the best question ever. It was so good that it caught me off guard. All week long, I’ve been catching up with friends over lunches and lattes and attempting to answer the obvious inquiry to someone in my current state, “So, what are you going to do next?”

This evening was different. Though I had arrived all geared up with my usual arsenal of answers to justify what I thought I might do post-employment, none of these canned responses were adequate to address the question that fell into the conversation before me.

 “What is it that you are most excited about right now?” she asked.

I paused a moment. I wasn’t sure what to say. My prepared answers all talked about my sort of “plan”.  But as I sat in silence for a minute of thinking, I realized something amazing.

The little bit of a plan I’ve concocted in order to socially engage in conversation about my employment status doesn’t make my heart race with excitement. What I’m really most excited about right now, if I must be honest, is this:

I really have no real plan at all.

The state of lacking a plan may feel paralyzing and frightening to some, but I see it differently. What I’m excited about right now is living in the expectation of what is to come. I’m excited about not having a plan, because its absence extends the boundaries of possibility.

As I think about all of the stories that I’ve shared during this small month, there is an obvious thread of learning and reflecting. Looking backward at my own history, I can’t help but remember that every time I’ve made a major transition, I’ve done so without knowing where the path ahead of me led. (An invisible journey of sorts)

Although the living in the unknown is never uncomplicated, I’d be remiss if I failed to note that each of those occasions where I’ve had to step out in faith eventually led me to something beyond what I could imagine.

Emily Dickinson penned it poetically, “I dwell in possibility…” 

While I may not have a real plan for what is ahead, I do know that what comes next will be bigger and better than anything I have dreamed. I’m excited when I’m able to get my eyes off of the unknown and dwell in this place of possibility. 

What are you most excited about these days?

Riding a Bike and Homecoming Survival Skills

Last week I dusted off my road bike that spent three lonely years in storage while I was living in Cambodia. I tuned her up, fixed her flats and took her out for a spin around the city.

When I first clipped my cycling shoes into the pedals, I felt a little nervous. It had been a long time since I’d ridden and I knew I was rusty at clipping in and out. I didn’t want to fall in the middle of traffic and I certainly didn’t want to die, but there was little I could do to prevent it other than getting back on the bike and attempting to find my groove.

If you’ve ever ridden a bike with clip-in pedals, you know that hesitating only makes things worse. You are much more likely to topple over when you are stopped or moving slowly than when you are moving fast forward. As soon as I got on and started pedaling, things fell into pace pretty quickly. I didn’t need to relearn any skills, I just needed to face the initial anxiety and be on my way.

Twenty two miles, a sore rear-end, and no falls later, it occurred to me that my return to bike riding felt a little bit similar to my recent return to America. As I’ve been catching up with family and friends this week I’ve been asked dozens of times how my adjustment to being home is going.

The truth is, being home is just like, well, being home. It’s like riding a bike.

Routines and relationships can feel rusty and perhaps in need of a tune up after a long time away. Often I discover I’ve changed and I need to adjust my own attitude and perspective. Clipping back into home-life can be a little intimidating, but I’m working out the kinks. Things have a way of falling into place when I stop hesitating and just start pedaling forward.

And if you don’t believe me, you should at least believe Einstein:

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”

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PS. Just in case you’re wondering, I’m not talking about the bike that’s in this picture. See non-photogenic photo of me riding  real bike here

 

#18 Rainy Day Wave Riding in Cambodia

It’s wet outside where I am wandering today, and the weather has me reminiscing about rainy days in Cambodia. Since it helps to laugh when the sky is grey, here’s an embarrassing tale about mixing monsoons and motorbikes.

Living in Phnom Penh, I drove a mildly beat up blue Honda “Wave” motorbike. When I first got my wheels I didn’t have much moto experience, but with fear of death as a great motivator I mastered quite a few skills quickly.

In just a few days I’d learned normal driving, riding in the dark, riding in rush hour, riding on the wrong side of the road, riding through roundabouts, riding with passengers and parking in a crowded line of other motos without knocking them all down like dominos. After a week the only thing I hadn’t yet attempted was riding in the rain. The rainy season was coming, but I wasn’t worried. I figured everyone else survives driving in the rain, I could too.

I was wrong.

The primary thing to know about riding a moto though a flood is that you must not stop once you start driving or your bike will stall. You also learn some other important things very quickly, like:  

–       you must learn which streets will flood

–       you shouldn’t wear shoes that fall off in the rain

–       you have to know where you’re going because you can’t turn around

–       you must know where the potholes are because you can’t see them

–       sometimes it is just better to stay home.

Here’s how I learned all of these lessons:

One afternoon in Phnom Penh the sky fell out just as I was leaving to go to a dinner at a friend’s house across town. I looked outside at the flooded street and thought, maybe I should skip. Then I looked at myself and said- to hell with it, you’re strong and brave and unstoppable, jump on your moto and go; the worst you can do is get wet.  I put on my flip flops and rain jacket and set out.

I got one block before I hit an intersection flooded too deep to cross. I turned around, reconfigured the route and headed a different way on streets with higher ground. Within minutes I was soaked, but feeling  exhilarated from braving the monsoon on a moto.

The wetter I got, the more problems I began having. My shoes were too wet to shift gears and my feet kept slipping off the pedals. But I drove on.

As I got closer to the neighborhood of my destination the waters started rising. Several times I drove down a street only to drive straight into a knee deep intersection requiring me to about face. After five or six denied crossings I was drenched and beginning to feel discouraged. I’d attempted every entrance to my friend’s street with no success. The last place I stopped was so deep that someone had tied a rope across the road to stop people from even attempting. I stopped my moto and stood there looking as I contemplated my next move. Someone watching me, thinking I might attempt to drive into the deep end came over to me and assured me with “No. No. No. No. Cannot go there”.

In my own drenched determination I decided to circumnavigate the neighborhood and enter her street from the opposite side. It it was still pouring and I was in very unknown and unmarked territory. While I claim to have a pretty savvy sense of direction, I was pretty much lost. I knew I needed to turn left into her street, but I had no way to know which street that was unless I drove down each one.

Every street was flooded. Flooding my engine was basically inevitable, and that’s exactly what I wound up doing. Knee deep in murky, smelly street water, I stood in the road on my dead moto contemplating my next move.

The electric starter was fried and I couldn’t see to kick start my bike because the pedals were underwater. A few people drove by, but no one could help because if they stopped, they would also stall.

I couldn’t get the bike into gear and kept losing my shoe into the grey water in the process. I got off the bike so I could use my stronger right leg to kick it into gear. It worked. Only problem was that my bike took off, and I wasn’t on it.

I lept forward to catch my run away moto with cat like reflexes. Although I was successful, I accidentally caught it with my right hand on the accelerator and just as I thought I might have control, it lept away from me and threw me backwards. Completely backwards onto my back in the flooded street.

I stood up, utterly drenched in stinky street water.  With tears in my eyes I picked up the Wave and attempted to push her to some dryer ground. The damages sustained were minor. My motorbike had a broken handbrake and my ego took a serious bruising.

And my lesson: sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself so you don’t add tears to the already flooded streets.

Just for the record, after three years in Cambodia I became a much accomplished monsoon moto driver. On the odd occasion when I did stall out in a flood I’d cue old school Milli Vanilla on my life soundtrack and hum “Blame it on the rain.”

A Love Affair with Music

If you’ve actually met me in real life you know I suck at music and it’s obvious. I know nothing about popular tunes. I have no clue who is who at the Grammy’s, and if I sat next to the most famous singer in the universe on a plane I probably would have no idea (unless it was Bono).

But I have a secret. Though my life screams #MusicFail from the outside, I have a secret love affair with songs.

You already know that I’m a nerd about reflecting and evaluating the past as a way to move forward. What you don’t know (until now) is that this whole process in my head comes with its very own accompanying score.

Like every good movie, every life should have a kick ass soundtrack. I’ve been busy compiling mine, and I hope you’re working on yours too.

There is always a song playing in my head. It doesn’t matter if the song is old, or popular, comes from a genre I hate or has a bad tune. If the words resonate with my moment, they are playing in the background (usually on repeat). 

I love words (cue: You and I Both / Jason Mraz) and I grew up in the era when giving someone a mixed tape was the ultimate expression of endearment (cue: St. Elmos Fire – the feature song on my favorite college mixed tape entitled “around the world at z speed”). 

Music has a way to take you back. You can close your eyes and listen to the words of song that you loved ten years ago and return in an instant to the time, space and emotions of that moment. It’s kind of powerful.

I’ve never read the book “Love is a Mix Tape”, but its author Rob Sheffield said a few smart things.

“Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they add up to the story of life.” 

Since we’re in 2013, I’ll allow you to substitute the word playlist for mix tape (as long as you promise to recognize that sitting by the multi-deck tape recorder crafting a mix tape was a much greater labor or love than rocking out a new playlist on iTunes and uploading it to the cloud).

I make a lot of playlists.  In January I make a playlist for my year ahead based on whatever theme word I’ve chosen for my year. On my birthday I compile all the songs that remind me of the year of my life that has just passed. Every big trip, life transition, and long race I train for gets its own soundtrack. I even have a special playlist for surviving rainy season in Cambodia.

“There are all kinds of mix tapes. There is always a reason to make one,” Sheffield says, and I couldn’t agree more.

As I was enjoying a run in the freezing cold rain in DC yesterday I found myself singing along to a mash up of two random tunes I recently discovered: “Stand in the Rain” and “This is not where I Belong” (Superchick / Building 429). I’m clueless if these bands are old or new or awesome or lame, but they are singing the stories of my current transition. And I love that the stories they are singing to me are so much better than the soundtrack that was playing when I ran these same streets years ago.

I love music. It doesn’t just accompany our story, it tells it in its own special way.

Life deserves a playlist. What tune are you humming today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Forward by Going Backwards

Today I landed in Washington DC, my official hometown according to my drivers license. On my quest this year to discover what home looks like for me, I’ve decided to start somewhere familiar- in the past.

This doesn’t mean that I’m moving to DC, I’ve just come here to start the unraveling.

On the agenda this week is sorting through what remains of my DC past and presence- a city full of memories, a bunch of great friends and a storage unit full of things that I probably should have gotten rid of a long time ago.

When I moved to DC in 2006, I was in a similar state of mind to where I am today: starting over, anticipating my next steps and living in the questions.

In my favorite café today I have a moment of panic.  How can I be sitting in the same place I sat seven years ago and still be trying to figure out the same things?

Then it hit me, I’m not. Circumstances may look similar, but I’m a different person than the girl that used to walk these streets.

Sometimes we need to return to the static places we’ve been in order to recognize just how much we are the ones who’ve changed. Returning can be a physical way to find your reflection.

When I recognize how far I’ve come and what I’ve overcome, I regain my confidence that all will be well.There is beauty in the backward. Standing in the past allows me to believe in the way forward.

From my vantage point on a corner near the capitol today I’m reminded…

The best is yet to be.

Bridge Crossing and Facing our Fears

We’re all afraid of some things. I don’t like to admit it, but this includes even me.

Earlier this month, I told you I was scared about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. This fear wasn’t exceptionally hard to admit or justify, because climbing Kili is big and adventurous. This fear was worth its airtime. 

Our greatest fears, however, aren’t usually the ones that accompany our biggest challenges. The fears that are most debilitating tend to be the small ones that nag at us daily and stop us from ever getting around to the big things we should be a little bit anxious about.

I was reminded of this today, because I had to face one of my own silly fears head on. Though it is embarrassing to admit, I absolutely hate driving over tall bridges.

My family often reminds me that it does not make sense that I’m afraid of bridges but I’m not afraid to bungee jump off of one, fly across a country at war in an old Russian helicopter, speak in front of hundreds of people, or hang glide off a mountain.

But who ever taught us that fear makes sense?

My fear of bridges is not rational. My mind knows that I have absolutely nothing to be scared of, but my heart still races, my palms get sweaty and I subconsciously death grip the steering wheel when I have to drive over a tall one.

Unfortunately for me, my current “home” in Florida happens to be less than a mile away from what feels like one of the tallest bridges in the universe. I can’t actually go south of my house without having to cross this bridge and be reminded that I’m not invincible.

In attempt to justify my fear, I shall let you know that this bridge, the Sunshine Skyway is both tall and creepy. If you don’t believe me read this.

I tend to avoid feeling this fear by routing my errands north whenever possible to avoid the bridge.  Today I didn’t have another option, so I mustered up my courage, put my foot on the accelerator and started the rollercoaster-like climb up the bridge and into the sky. The view was beautiful and I lived through it twice (since I had to come back home).

When I talk about finding my courage, I think about the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz. The story tells us that the Lion was afraid of everything because he didn’t have courage. I think they’ve got it wrong. The Lion was afraid of things just because he was alive. As Mark Twain so wisely put it:

 “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

We’re all afraid things, it is part of being human. Though we don’t get to choose what we fear, we do get a choice in how we face our fears.

We can live on the safe side of fear, or we can drive into it head on with trembling hands. For we will only discover what beauty lies beyond these fears if we cross the bridge when we come to it.

What’s your fear today, and how are you going to face it?

 

The Art of Reflection

In addition to being the odd sort of person who gives away money, gives up things and finds joy in personal challenges like climbing mountains and running marathons, I’m also very nerdy when it comes to another thing- reflecting.

If you ask me where I was or what I was doing a year ago today, I can usually remember. Not just because I have a pretty good memory, but because I’m intentional about not forgetting. Living a life worth remembering is important, but just in case my memory goes some day, I always write it down.

Should you care to know, a year ago this week I’d just finished running the Bangkok half marathon, I spent Valentines Day wandering the streets of Hong Kong alone, and was excited to be taking off on my second trip the land down under.

For more than 20 years I’ve kept a journal. Not a diary of what I do everyday, but my own book of stories about what I’m thinking, where I am and where I might want to be going.

My first journal was felted with blue and green plaid, and I carried it with me on my first trip abroad. This journal and the dozens that have followed have pages penned with lists and letters of hopes and dreams. And of course, they also carry their fair share of tales of failures, sorrows and lessons learned.

More than writing in these journals, I love going back and reading them. Even though it is sometimes embarrassing to relive the things I was thinking, looking back on the pages reminds me that I’m going forward (and it gives me a kick in the pants when I’m not).

When we think of reflecting, we typically focus of the looking back part.  Yet a reflection is more than a view from behind, it is a mirroring of the present. When we learn to see these views together, it becomes easier develop a clear vision for the future.

Reflections aren’t just a treasure chest of memories, they’re the key to our treasure map ahead.

Where were you a year ago? More importantly, where are you headed now?