Laughter, Beer and Business at 23

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I’ve simply got to get the details of this day on paper, this day was just too much! At the moment I am sitting on a bus, I’ve just passed through China customs and I am waiting to pull out, drive around the building, get out and go through Hong Kong customs, then finally make my way home to Aberdeen. Just another day at the office! Oh this crazy place. 

I met Jimmy at Kowloon Tong this morning where we grabbed the KCR into Shenzhen and met Kiefer and Peter. From there we battled the Shenzhen traffic to the candy factory where I would be performing a pre-production inspection. The management team eyed me warily upon arrival, and barely said a word to me as we strolled through the factory. After a morning full of meetings and a factory inspection, we headed off to lunch, arriving at a fancy Chinese restaurant where we were taken into a private room on the fifth floor. In our “dining room” sat a typical large, round table with a glass center piece that spun, a bathroom, a few couches, a TV and a view overlooking 40′ shipping containers stacked so high I couldn’t see past them.

So there I sat at a table of five Chinese men- Kiefer to my right, Peter to my left, beside him sat our factory guide who spoke no English, then Mr. Fune who spoke what I call “selective English,” and then Jimmy. Jimmy and Mr. Fune sat together with their heads down, giggling quietly when suddenly Jimmy looked at me directly and asked, “Greta, how old are you?”

I immediately recalled my conversation with Enmin about how Chinese businessmen typically discriminate against age even more than race or gender. This was important.

I could tell the men were evaluating the level of respect they were going to give me, and somewhat justifiably considering I am quite young to be out here doing business on my own. I smiled a bit and tilted my head responding, “A woman never tells,” winking. They all laughed loudly and conceded- Jimmy saying, “Yes of course you can’t be expected to divulge, he just thinks you look young.” To which I responded,”Thanks for the compliment, but let’s just say I’m old enough.” Peter joked that they had asked because they wanted to know if I was old enough to drink beer. After inspiring a round of laughter at Peter’s joke, they all got excited and pulled the waitress aside. Although they were speaking Chinese I heard “beer” several times.

As the food was brought out and placed on the glass centerpiece Mr. Fune pointed all of it toward me and gestured that I be served first. We began with lanyou(likely spelling that wrong), a fruit that has a grape-like consistency but a skin that must be peeled first. They grow on trees and taste similar to a combination of grape, plum and melon. Different. I move on to the tofu smothered in some type of gravy.

Then comes the beer. Everyone chuckles as James says, “He wants you to have beer so you give us your age.”

To which I reply, “Well they better have a lot of beer!”

All of them roar with laughter, holding their stomachs and rocking back and forth. We all toast, standing slightly and clinking glasses. A few bites into lunch, Mr. Fune asks with an uptick in his voice, “Twenty?”

He is clearly not letting this go. Everyone laughs as I dramatically gesture “up” with my finger. James and Mr. Fune point down. The next toast is to my age. I thank them graciously saying I must be doing something right if I can manage to appear so young.

We continue to eat, the contents of my plate constantly being replenished as they bring forth a seemingly endless array of food. They insist I try everything, and I do, for the most part. I avoid the things I have tested before (or should I say detested…), chicken feet were never a favorite of mine, nor pig knuckles. Chinese food can be quite messy for the novice and is still nearly impossible for me to eat gracefully as many dishes are very slimy, greasy or too big to eat in one bite (a challenge when using only chopsticks). Even though my chopsticks skills are much improved, I still feel clumsy eating in front of Chinese people.

We continue to toast and as drink levels get low Mr. Fune signals for more beer, pointing at me saying, “Ladies first.”

Despite my small size, I’ve always managed to hold my own when it comes to putting back beer. I keep my composure and graciously accept more beer as they top off my glass. I know they were judging, evaluating me the entire meal and I wanted to remain professional, but also relaxed and witty, comfortable dealing with them and not intimidated. I was, after all, a very young professional woman all alone in the depths of China just learning the ropes of the way things worked doing business out here. I had no mentor at this point, no act to follow, I was learning the dance right there at the ball.

After all the food had been brought out and I took a big gulp of beer, our factory guide suddenly said “Yum sing!” He slammed his half-filled glass down on the table and stood up ready to cheers- everyone followed suite, touching their glass to the center and raising it upward. We clinked a final time and I drank, watching Mr. Fune and our guide finish off their beer. I had never hear “yum sing” before, and although I assumed what it meant, I didn’t want to mistakenly chug my beer. Instead, I took a big gulp and looked at them questioningly.

“Oh, you don’t know.” Jimmy said and gestured to finish it. I smiled and said, “Oh, down the hatch!”, raise my glass and finished my the rest of my beer in one gulp- they all clapped and cheered.

As we sat around the table nibbling on the fruit platter I see Mr. Fune gesture toward me, look at James, smile and give an approving thumbs up. I have no idea what it really meant, but I had passed exceeded some expectation, passed some test, and came out with camaraderie on my side. I am still buzzing from this day as I jot this story down, oh what an experience every day is over here!!

I pulled this tale from one of my journals I kept through 2006-2007, as my early education of business abroad was reaching new heights. I went on to continue working with this factory for several months, and my engagement with factory management was starkly different after this lunch. The selective English of Mr. Fune suddenly became more conversational English, and we ended up working closely together to solve problems and figure out solutions that came up when we hit production barriers. I never did end up divulging my age to him, which at the time was a nice young 23. He never again asked.

Through all of the years I’ve spent in so many different working environments across various countries and cultures, maintaining a genuine sense of humor has always managed to defy the boundaries of cultural stereotypes and judgement. Simple interactions involving joy and laughter go an incredibly long way when we embrace and engage cultures and people different from those we already know, as well as embracing new situations and challenging circumstances. What a beautiful gift we all have within us, the capacity to laugh with one another. It also doesn’t hurt to be able to hold your own when the beer comes out 😉

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Documenting my adventures while living and working in China

Arms Wide Open, But Far Too Full

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Weeks before the new year arrived I stood on mountain summits in Patagonia ready to embrace all that came along. At the time I had no idea just how full my arms would be in a few short weeks.

The wind forcefully whipped my hair back, pulling it straight out behind me as I leaned back and tried to slow my runaway horse. The heavy clapping sound of his hooves pounding into the packed earth set the rhythm of our gallop. Tears were tugged from my eyes, even as I let out short breath of laughter.  The excitement of the gallop tickled my heart, distracting me from the fact that I was bareback on an ex-racehorse galloping with no bridle or real method of control. Still, I tried to coax him to slow, pulling hard on the lead line that was attached to his halter. Without a bit in his mouth my efforts only seemed to encourage him, his speed picked up and he charged ahead. I gripped Doc’s bare belly with my knees, grabbing fistfuls of his mane, my heart suddenly in my throat as I looked forward and saw the outline of the high-tensil fence.  I yelled to him to slow down, pulling again, my words taken away on the wind and thrown behind me. As I realized there was no stopping him I leaned in, close to his neck, I could hear his heart pounding as loudly as my own, my knees came up, clutching his withers as I prepared for him to soar above the five foot fence.  I committed to the jump, smiling quietly and now urging him on. Suddenly, there was only darkness.

Life has a funny way of picking up speed when we are caught up in the moment, things begin coming fast, almost as though by domino effect, and as they do we embrace, we lean in, and we think we are ready for everything all at once. But who is ever ready for everything at once? How on earth can you be? We are, after all, only human.

As I ushered in 2015 the momentum of things here in Chile was palpable- the swiftness with which opportunities arose, took shape and became things was almost surreal. It was a swift transition from traveling around a foreign country to getting down to business and actually living in one. And yet through it there was that little feeling in the pit of my stomach saying wait. Slow down. That small tug on the lead line as I was blasting full speed ahead was easily ignored as so much that was happening felt as though it was just falling into place as it should.

The rapid pace of the past four weeks reminds me of this memory galloping my ex-racehorse Docerty’s Legend through that field one late evening. The feeling of excitement to be moving at such speed, was comparable to the speed at which I had found a work opportunity in Pucon, and with it a work contract in Chile and temporary residency. With my work in Pucon I was suddenly fully immersed in Spanish, speaking, reading and writing daily, feeling energized by the prospect that this was going to push me and my Spanish to the fluency I had hoped for. Yes! It went hand in hand with the exhilaration I felt when I was contacted to do some outside consulting work- work that I had missed during all these months of travel. So of course I said yes.  Then came the inspiration to establish my brand as an independent consultant as I began doing work with a start-up company that was bringing exciting and fresh perspective to an industry I am so passionate about. Yes, yes yes! Bring on the opportunities! I kept embracing, but my arms were full.

I hadn’t written a word for this blog since my last post just before the New Year. I was working in Pucon 6 days a week, getting to bed around midnight each evening. By the end of the day I was mentally exhausted from the constant translation to cope with Spanish; meanwhile my brain felt as though it was doing somersaults as I learned the ropes of this new company, tried to contribute to the broader corporate strategy, taking on the stress that is tied to the success of any company I join. I skipped meals without thinking, trying to keep pace with my new work schedule and find time to climb, do yoga or get in hikes. I dug into any creative energy I had left to build a website for my personal consulting projects, and wrap up the consulting work I had picked up on the side. Even as I felt I had my mind in too many places, I was thirsty for the inspiration that was coming from my conversations with the start-up in the States, and I pushed for that to continue. Somewhere in between I was trying to be a supportive wife, and struggling with the still temporary living situation we had pulled together shortly after landing local jobs.

I just kept telling myself I could power through the first few months and things would settle down. Feeling as though I was doing a whole lot of everything without clarity of where any of it was going, the speed just kept picking up and rather than bailing or simply saying no, I tucked up my knees, grabbed the mane and leaned in, until I was once again surrounded by darkness.

When I hit the ground I couldn’t breathe and was disoriented. I pushed myself into an upright position, spitting the dirt from my mouth, looking back just in time to see my beloved horse on his back, his legs flailing in the air, his moans filling my ears as the power of the fence not only stopped him but sling shot him backwards. I had landed on the other side, flying straight over his neck, clearing the fence and landing in a manner that somehow managed to spare me any broken bones or injury. As I raced over to Doc I found he was not so lucky, struggling to his feet he hung his head low and shook it softly. I approached him with a soothing voice, picked up his lead line and surveyed his bloody legs. Oh my poor beautiful friend, what had you done to yourself? Slowly we walked back to the barn together, to get bandaged up and recuperate.

The darkness that overtook me here in Chile was in the form of pain. Pain that stopped me in my tracks entirely, just as that high-tensil fence had halted Doc’s advance so abruptly. It silenced the emails, deleted the texts, drained the batteries of all my devices. I didn’t hit a fence, I didn’t crash or have a major accident. But I did experience an attack on my nervous system that has been one of the most painful things I’ve ever dealt with. With its assault it brought a clear acknowledgement that my immune system was depleted and I had not been managing the stressors that I had convinced myself were smaller than they were. The stressors I had justified because the opportunities seemed too good to say no to.

Why is it so hard to say no sometimes?  I have an incredibly difficult time saying no, especially when I think I can help, or I think I should help. Especially when I think I can handle everything all at once, as long as I am making time to get out a hike, or climb, or do some yoga. The problem is, when you say yes to everyone else, you stop listening to yourself. You only hear the needs of others, and it can overwhelm, consume, and overtake.  The clarity of mind that can be found from time spent within can be overcome by the busyness of everyone else’s demands.

I am still in the midst of the physical pain, but as I emerge, I do so with a much clearer mind. Sometimes it is essential to say no, it is the thing that can keep our head above water. One of the dangers to being open to all opportunities that come from all angles is that you can easily lose focus and exhaust your energy trying to keep up with seeing everything through. Your mind can keep saying yes even when your body is screaming no. Sometimes, most times, that is simply too much.  Personally, I have to begin by saying no to some things, and setting boundaries for others. I have to draw my focus back to the intentions I set before I moved down here, the intentions for this big beautiful life I am so blessed to live, and those things that are not helping me on a path toward those intentions, they have got to go.

We only have so much space in our arm’s embrace- so it is essential we always leave a little space in there for our own retreat. And when all cylinders are firing at once, when the sound of galloping hooves racing across the dirt can distract with the excitement they invoke, don’t forget to pause and see if there is a tug on the line, if there is a voice in the wind asking you to slow down, just a bit, for your own good.

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Slowing thigns down and getting back to the intentions I originally set when I moved to Chile

Seek Those Awe-Inspiring Places

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Standing in the midst of giants- Humboldt County, California

I am awake, uncertain of what provoked it but my eyes are open and I look up at our orange tarp shielding our hammock from the morning dew.  The light of day is still just creeping in, softly waking up the world around me.  I peer over the edge of the hammock, gasping slightly as my eyes catch the glowing mountain ridges in the distance, the vibrant pinks and oranges lining the crest, like icing atop cupcakes, all various shapes and sizes.  I smile to myself.  It is a lovely morning, and I am in a wild place. I slowly unzip my side of the sleeping bag, pulling my legs out and over the edge of the hammock, rocking it softly but not enough to wake up Ale.  I tuck the sleeping bag around him, he rolls over in his sleep paying little attention to my dawn exit.

I slip on my boots, grab my yoga mat and run up to the mountain ridge just above the quiet hidden grove where we’ve strung our hammock for the night.  The sun has still not risen above the ridges to my left, and as I trot along I steal glances at the vibrant hues painting the horizon as the day unfolds. I reach a small flat ledge overlooking the deep river gorge where we had set top ropes to climb the day before.  The flat ledge is nearly level, wide enough to stretch out easily, just long enough for my mat to lie flat without taking me too close to the edge.  Oh what a lovely little spot! I had spotted it yesterday as we wrapped up our climbing session and were hiking out along the ridge.  I remember thinking, ah, the perfect spot for a sunrise yoga session!  I drop down on my mat, my legs folded, hands rested atop my knees.  I breathe deeply, eyes closed, then opened, and I smile, drinking in the expansive views of far reaching green valleys and wild places as far as my eye can see.  In the midst of this vast place, I feel small, but far from insignificant, I actually feel quite significant, filled with gratitude for this moment, this place, this morning and this life.

There is something pretty magic about being in a place that has the power to make you feel small. Perhaps this is what pulls me to wild places, but it is almost indescribable how precious these places feel when you are in their midst.  Whether it is amongst the enchanting giants in the Redwood National Parks, the incredible granite towers and massive waterfalls of the Yosemite Valley, the breathtaking scale of the glaciers of Alaska or the vast wilderness dotted with volcanos and waterfalls I’ve been most recently exploring here in Chile, these places all take hold of your senses, captivating your mind and heart in the rawness of their sheer existence. The vastness of these places make you feel utterly present. In the daylight, you enter the groves, dance beneath the waterfalls, climb the granite slaps, paddle out to the vast walls of ice and often catch yourself simply staring with wonder at the greatness of these places.  In the darkness of night, your breath is again stolen as you look up to a sky like none possibly witnessed amidst the neighborhoods and cities most of us call home.

When we lived in California, we had some pretty incredibly awe-inspiring places right at our fingertips, and we made it a point to play in them.  I would return from a weekend spent amidst the redwoods feeling as though I had taken a two week meditation retreat.  Three days in Yosemite would have me buzzing for at least a week and those massive glaciers in Alaska had my head in the clouds for a good month or so.  As we currently wander across Chile, through the countless deep river valleys and winding dirt roads with massive volcanos on our horizon, I find myself constantly in a state of gratitude to be lucky enough to explore this place.

Places like this ignite my soul.  They drive my creative process and inspire me with wonder, they bring peace and quiet to the noise of the ever-present distractions that taunt us constantly in this digital age.  When I choose to go back into the woods, to hike the steep path up to the ridge, to put my fingers and toes to the cold rock walls, to paddle down a river or into an ocean, to coast down a snowy powder bowl in the falling snow- each and every time I am reminded of the natural order of things, of the simplicity of the existence of life.

In this day and age, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of society’s priorities. We set incredibly unnatural expectations for one another- companies must show profitability every single quarter, professionals are expected to constantly climb corporate ladders with no moments of rest, with no opportunities to stop, to look around and perhaps walk another path for a while.  The expectation of constant growth and lack of opportunity to rest and reflect is overwhelming. Parents are expected to raise wholesome well-rounded children while they themselves are struggling to feel like half the person they were before taking on all this responsibility of life. Pressures of debt and rising prices, higher taxes and lower wages all weigh heavily on the need to constantly be earning more money rather than more experiences.

In nature, all of those pressures dissolve. The purpose of existence is simple, it just is. Everything experiences cycles of life, trees lose their leaves which fall to the ground and feed the soil and ecosystem below, they rest in the winter in order to be vibrant and productive in the spring and summer. The rivers swell with the rain and retreat with the draught. The snow falls softly, gathers, melts and feeds the soil, rivers and creeks surrounding. Everything is interconnected, and even though it is functioning independently it is all supporting the life surrounding it in some significant way. It is an incredibly complex system, and yet it functions so simply. It just is. Going into these places and witnessing this simplicity, it can be a powerful reminder for us to remember that we are also part of this ecosystem, that we are intimately connected with the natural order of things and with one another. We gain so much from this acknowledgement, and it can inspire personal fulfillment while challenging us to radically shift our societal priorities. Who knows what solutions to the massive challenges we face could be discovered if more of us, both leading and following, were filled with awe by nature a little more often. If more of us were willing to seek those awe-inspiring places, and to let ourselves feel small within their vastness, yet significant within their presence.

Today, we hit the road and head to Northern Patagonia and I am simply bubbling with anticipation.  There is a childlike glee that has taken hold of me as Patagonia has lived in my dreams almost as a mythical creature all these years; and while this is just a brief encounter I hope that it is the first of many adventures there. Either way, I know that inspiration awaits, to both motivate and to challenge- and I can’t wait to see what ideas are borne in the midst of this next wild place.

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Feeling incredibly inspired in the midst of this wild place during my morning yoga. Gratitude simply becomes second nature in the midst of places like this.

 

The Choice That Changes Everything

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A shot we captured westward bound on the open road.

I sat in the front seat of the U-Haul watching the sun set on the cold Kansas plains. I longed for the darkness to swallow up the road, as the desolate, flat landscape had been toying with our sanity for hours.  We were ready to get through this state, cross the border into Colorado where we would be greeted by friends, family and a nice cold beer.  Our dog Check sat beside me, looking back and forth between Ale and I, she was also ready to get out of the car and play.  We had been on the road for two days, just beginning our week long journey across these United States.  We carried with us all of our belongings as we left the east coast in our rearview mirror, ready for a new adventure beginning with a San Francisco address. Although, what address that would be was still completely unknown, as we were arriving with no jobs, no apartment and one friend who would be moving back to Venezuela at the end of the week.  But we had our U-Haul, for 13 days, so at the very least we could claim this as our home for the time being.

To say we were in transition seemed an understatement at this point. It had been a long, wild journey getting us to this place in time, and a year ago I could never have imagined I would find myself battling boredom across Kansas with all of my belongings in tow. Thirteen months earlier I was running between the China/Hong Kong border; nine months earlier we were stepping onto the Appalachian Trail with everything we needed strapped to our backs; four months earlier we were stepping off the trail, onto a plane and into the streets and mountains of Venezuela; one month earlier we couch crashed our way up and down the entire east coast collecting all belongings stored with loved ones. I was ready for a home.  I was ready to unpack my bags, to find my treasures that had been boxed up for safe keeping, to rest my head on a pillow in a room I could call my own.

Just before the darkness fell heavy we caught a glimpse of the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign and let out a yelp of excitement and loud cheers.  Whew, we were finally out of Kansas and the horizon changed almost immediately with the promise of mountains. I felt a tickle in my heart, by the prospect of seeing my sister and friends from college who had transplanted themselves here in Colorado, but also by the realization that we were here, we were doing this. Once we had decided to move to California somehow, against all odds, everything had aligned to make this possible.

By nature, I am one of those people who is used making things happen.  When I was a little kid, I learned the value of hard work, and the reward as well.  I always believed I could accomplish anything if I was willing to work hard, not complain, stay focused and committed and get the job done.  I appreciated my own self-sufficiency, my ability to take care of myself no matter what happened.  I valued my own independence, and considered it to be one of my greatest assets.

However, these past nine months of constant travel and a good dose of vulnerability had opened my eyes to the power of letting things happen as well.  Sometimes when you are so heavily focused on making things happen, you close yourself off to the countless other twists and turns that are available for you, some of which may be the path of least resistance, or the path less traveled, or basically a hell of a good time. When making things happen, you have to rely on what you know already, what you have learned over time and what others around you have mapped out already.  But when you are letting things happen, literally anything is possible.  You are in uncharted territory, and essentially open to see every little angle that may present itself in unexpected ways. 

This realization was pretty massive to me, and it was essentially what made it possible for me to approach this move to San Francisco in such an easygoing, trusting way.  I avoided my knee-jerk reaction to first heavily research the neighborhoods of the new city and send off my resume to countless companies; to spend hours of my life stressing over an apartment and job search from 3,111 miles away. Instead I was embracing the present, ready to take on the tasks at hand as they came up, but ultimately knowing that all that we needed would be made available to us upon our arrival.  We had decided to go to California, and that was enough. For now, we should focus on the present and soak up all of the life immediately in front of us.  Tomorrow, we would be snowboarding in Colorado.  The following day, cruising to visit my sister and climbing up mountains for some backcountry powder. From there, we would continue west and embrace all that awaited in San Francisco, whatever that may be.

With our decision to move to Chile this year, a dear friend of mine recently shared a quote with me that I think truly encapsulates the essence of this balance between making things happen and letting them happen. The beauty and truth of these words resonates so deeply, as I have lived their truth each time I have stepped off that ledge, made the first big move and then sat back and watched as the unexpected supports were thrust forth, and I reached out to embrace them:

“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”– William Hutchinson Murray

By no means did this shift in perspective mean that I was no longer ready to roll up my sleeves and put in the time and effort to make things happen.  Actually, quite the contrary.  It is much more of an acknowledgement of the need to balance these two- to be able to get clear on what you want, to understand your why, to commit to making it happen and be ready to show up when called to do so.  At the same time though one must be willing to be open, to accept that we don’t have all the answers and that is okay, and in fact that we don’t need to know how something will work out before we decide to do it.  There is huge power in jumping into something before you have figured it all out, that is where the magic happens, that is where the creativity ignites, and we see things through a different lens.

The point is, we need to show up, we need to make the choice that changes everything, but then we need to remain open to the flood of opportunities that will unravel as a result of this choice. Every single time I have taken a leap of faith with a bold move or a risky decision it has worked out in a way that I never could have expected.  That’s not to say it has always been easy, but looking back, incredible things happened as a result of those moves. 

When we arrived in San Francisco five days later, we spent the first day driving around the city looking at studio apartments found via Craigslist, which mostly consisted of converted dingy basements, just as we had expected. Our one friend in the city who I mentioned was moving back to Venezuela offered for us take over the last two weeks of his lease since he was moving mid-month, this bought us a little time.  Little did we know that we would become fast friends with his roommates, all decide to get a big house together, shortly thereafter find and move into a sweet three bedroom with views of the Golden Gate bridge in the lovely Inner Sunset and suddenly find ourselves in a place that felt like home, as though we were always meant to be there. 

Over the course of the next few months I would find my rhythm in the beats of the city.  I would wander the streets and the parks that surrounded. I would continue to balance the urge to settle for any job rather than wait for the right one, to feel as though I was putting in enough effort to “make things happen” while still remaining patient and open enough to “let things happen.”  And you know what? It was a struggle, that in between, being so ready to take action yet not entirely knowing the best course to do so.  And yet, it truly worked out exactly as it should.

It took some time, the work stuff, it didn’t happen overnight like our little home did. I had built up a very unique skill set while working as a manufacturing manager in China, but I had also come to realize that there were many aspects of that work that I couldn’t bring myself to do again.  I spent a lot of time understanding what my priorities were for my career, how I wanted to spend my time during work (the large bulk of my life) and imagined what the right company and career might look like.  It was an interesting moment because I knew very clearly what I didn’t want to do, but I couldn’t exactly see what the next “right” job looked like for me.  I knew I had a lot to bring to the table in terms of experience, but I didn’t exactly fit into the tidy job descriptions and titles posted on websites.

I had to get incredibly creative, which was actually quite fun. I began to reengineer my work experience through volunteer work and engaging with various industry groups and networks. I got out and I met people, never entirely sure how the connections would shape up, but talking about the work I wanted to do and seeing what could be borne of it. But I also did everything I thought I should do. I spent countless hours combing job websites and researching companies, I prepped cover letters and resumes, but didn’t send them off. There was just something inside telling me to wait.

When I look back now though I realize it was all a matter of timing. Right place right time. When I saw the job posting, something clicked. I researched the company and felt something else click. The job and company had not even been on my radar in my initial search, nor in my network of contacts I had been building, but it felt right. Within two days I had the job and I spent the next five years of my life pouring my heart into work that I absolutely loved growing a company that I deeply appreciated.  It had taken me four months of patience, four months of questioning my approach, of feeling a bit guilty when I was out exploring rather than on my computer searching for jobs. I realize now that I found this work regardless all of my “job hunt” efforts, instead I had found it by digging in and really understanding what it was I wanted to do.  So in the end, it was a matter of letting the right thing come to me, believing it would and remaining steadfast until it did. When it did come, I knew without a doubt this was what I had been waiting for. 

Sitting in that U-Haul driving into the setting sun with the mountains on the horizon and an open road before us…it was both exhilarating and frightening. I knew we would ultimately be okay, but didn’t exactly know how. I looked over at Ale and smiled, thankful to have him by my side, and gave Check a pat as she lay down in my lap.  Tonight we would celebrate with friends, we would catch up and tell stories, relishing in the brief moment we had to hug and enjoy one another’s company in person. Ultimately it all came back to that decision to move to San Francisco.  Many of the things that fell into place afterward were often beyond our control and for our benefit. We had made this happen though, we had set all of this in motion with that single decision to go for it, even when the “how” seemed so unclear; and for that I am forever grateful.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now. These words are incredibly powerful, and great ones to carry with you through every twist and turn of life.  What are you waiting to begin?  What have you always dreamed of doing but never tried simply because you didn’t know how it could possibly happen?  What is that one choice that could change everything?

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Ale and I soaking in all the beauty that awaited us in San Francisco

The Fears That Dwell In The Break

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Crashing waves along the coast of southern Chile, the surf just beyond the rocks awaits.

The cold water wraps itself all around my body, threatening to find a way into my wetsuit and overwhelm my senses further. I paddle hard toward the break, the heavy waves crashing upon my head and back as I work to overcome them. Suddenly I’m lifted from below, my surfboard abruptly torn out from under me, my ankle roughly pulled to the surface and my body thrown into a backwards somersault. I swim to the surface, gasping for breath; another wave crashes down on me and I again find myself under water- eyes closed, holding my breath. I kick hard, back to the surface I go, frantically grabbing my surfboard and sliding atop it, just in time to be rolled over by another wave.

I have to get past the break, I have to get through the crashing waves to the calmer waters beyond, where I can sit upon my board with a clear, quiet mind and watch the ocean as she moves. In this moment, I must dig for every ounce of strength to keep coming up for air while being rolled over by the heavy, powerful water.

I feel fear creeping in, slowly, like the cold saltwater entering my wetsuit, making its way through the hood of my suit as I’m barreled once again. As the water rushes down my back and legs, my mind begins to feed into the fear and discomfort.

I should get out, I’m not strong enough. I am tired, the ocean is too rough today and I cannot do this.

The comforts of the shore beg me to retreat- I can feel the ease of the motion of the wave pushing me forward instead of against me, feel the relief to those first few solid steps as my feet touch sand again, feel the warm sunshine on my face without the spray of saltwater burning my eyes. My mind pulls my attention to the warm towel that has been gathering heat on the dashboard in the front of the car, I long to feel the liberation of my skin as I pull myself out of the heavy, flooded wetsuit. It would be so easy to swim back to the shore, it would be so easy to just come back another day, to try again some other time, when the break isn’t so long, or the waves aren’t so persistent.

Pulling us into the present, I write this post in the midst of confronting my own moments of doubt and fears and longing for the comfort of the familiar shore as I embrace the act of “paddling through” the break. And by break, I mean literally, as I’m currently on a “break” from my career. It’s one that I orchestrated myself, even with great opportunity at a great company, doing work that I loved, I decided to walk away.

While I’m a passionate believer that you should do work that matters to you, I also believe that we are more than our careers, and that there are times that we need to reconsider what we value most in our current state of living.

We have one life. One.Precious.Life.

We’re on this planet for an incredibly short amount of time, in the grand scheme of things, and therefore if you don’t feel that the dots are connecting in your life, and by that I mean ALL the dots, it’s up to you to change that. For me, there was a restlessness in my heart, an intuitive “knowing” that it was time for some significant evolution, it was time for me to look beyond the safety of an “employed” status, beyond the comforts of a steady paycheck, beyond the familiarity of a daily routine. Innately, I knew that I needed a break, I needed an abrupt challenge that would push my boundaries and would usher me to the next chapter of my life, one that could not be statistically predicted based on my income, my age and my marital status. Perhaps I could see too far down the road of my future for my own comfort. Perhaps I really did just miss spending hours on end in wild places without the constraint of a two day weekend window. The point is that I decided to choose the path with no road map, and as a result I now face all the opportunity (and the challenges) that this decision brings.

Just because I chose this path doesn’t mean that moments of fear don’t creep in. They always do, and always have whenever I have embarked on a journey such as this. At every large crossroad I have faced in my life, there have been fears dwelling in the break, fears that remain no matter how conscious I am of my own ability to overcome anything that lies between me and living the life that I love.

In this particular case living on the road does get tiresome.  There are days I miss having my own kitchen where I can cook up lovely things like freshly baked pies and yummy meals comprised of fresh ingredients rather than the standard rice or pasta mixture of the day.  Days I would love to simply wake up late, see the rain outside and decide to spend the day in bed with Ale and our dog Check. Although we’ve had a few days in the mountains where we awoke to rain and decided to stay holed up in the tent all day, the comforts of a soft bed and lazy movie remained absent. There are days I miss engaging in thought-provoking work that is familiar, where I can flex my expertise and eloquently communicate my thoughts rather than fumbling my way through a simple conversation in a language that still feels foreign on my tongue and frustrates me in my lack of ability.

And yet, it’s the break that pushes us in unexpected ways; it’s the break that can test us in exactly the way that we need to be tested, even when we are unaware of how desperately we need it. It’s in the break that we can retreat to the restorative practice of taking our minds away from the norms that we use as the foundation for the walls of “perspective” we’ve constructed to funnel our vision of the world. And when you are trying to “be the change you wish to see”, sometimes you need to tear down the funnel in order to shift your perspective enough to be inspired by that which you couldn’t previously catch in your peripheral.

Over the years, I find that I’m much more willing to face my fears head on, to challenge them and their substance when they feed on momentary doubts. Through meditation and yoga I’ve found it easier to connect internally with my intuition, to immediately reconnect with my “why”, and I can draw strength from this practice when I’m anywhere in the world. The point is not necessarily that the more balanced/energetically conscious/self-aware you are the less likely you are to face fear, although I do believe you are better prepared to face it, and better able to quickly disarm it before it wreaks havoc on your hopes and inspiration.

The point is that we should never choose not to do something simply due to fear- because the fear will always lie quietly waiting for us no matter what.  Whether we embrace the unknown or we choose the familiar, it will find a way to taunt us, to distract and discourage us; and sometimes, should we choose to perceive it as such, it can also inspire us. It challenges us to go inward, to understand our “why”, to understand what is driving us and what is worth living for. In that sense, I can’t help but dive headfirst into the pursuits that might draw these fears out, so that I can fully face what might silently be holding me back without my even knowing.

So, I pull myself from the tempting thoughts of the shore, the thoughts of comforts I know await me eventually, but currently only distract me from my present endeavor if given too much contemplation. I appreciate the fact that those comforts are there, when I need them. But I came into the ocean today to surf. I came into this ocean to push myself, to take myself out of my comfort zone, to face another challenge in a part of nature that still feels foreign to me.

I lie on my board and reach forward into the icy water, counting my strokes, focusing only on the strength of my arms as I paddle forward and scan the coming waves for the low end of the break. Once I’ve spotted it I paddle ferociously, with all my strength, powering the board forward swiftly, my eyes searching for the next wave on my left, calculating the seconds I have before I must turn again and face the wave head on. The water begins to pull; I point myself into the wave and push down into a duck dive as the water rushes at me. Without nearly as much grace as the duck dives you have probably seen in surfing movies, I somehow find myself still on top of my board when I resurface. I quickly wipe the salt water from my eyes and paddle hard, head down, body balanced, catching momentum. I face one more wave, this time smoothly sailing up over the top, and suddenly I have arrived, I am in calm water, the break is behind me now.

I take a deep breath, several deep breaths.

I pull myself up into a sitting position and blow warm air onto my fingers which are numb from the cold water. I smile. Broadly. My arms are burning a bit, but they feel good. They feel ready. The shockingly cold water that had entered my wetsuit has been warmed by my body heat and it no longer makes me cold. I look out over the vast body of water I now sit quietly in and I’m overwhelmed by all that lies before me.

The surface of the water about ten feet from me suddenly breaks and I see the large, smooth fins and backs of three dolphins pop up. They swim in quick succession, the third one significantly smaller, a baby. I laugh out loud as I see them catch the next wave, swimming into the shore just like surfers, with ever so much more grace and power. They pop up again after having swum back beneath the water’s surface, proceeding to play nearby for the next hour. I catch my breath, I rest my arms, I watch the coming waves.

As I see the water gathering, the wave building, I begin to paddle, my fears in the break have been silenced; my concentration with the experience at hand taking full hold of my senses. I am on top of the wave, it is time to tip the board, time to stand back up, time to drop in and ride this wave. There’s a very good chance I might fall, there’s an even better chance I may end up back in the middle of that break.

There’s also a chance that I will succeed, that I will move with the energy of the ocean, that I will feel the gorgeous adrenaline pumping in my veins, experience the beauty of this wave in a way that will forever live in my memory. But even if I fall, I know I have the strength to get back up. I know I made it past the break before and I can do it again. So, I take the chance, and I go for it.

Here in Chile I have my moments where I’m fighting for breath in the break. I have my moments of intense frustration with my challenges in communicating. I’m learning to dance with my uncertainty that when I do decide to stay put again, I will manage to do work that I love as deeply as before, that I will build the lifestyle that takes me out into wild places whenever my heart desires, that I will protect wild places I love and have a positive impact in the world.

At the end of the day though, when I go inward, the “why” is solid, the doubts and fears dissolve when I look back on what I left and why I left it.  At the end of the day, I can face my fears with a steadfastness that I believed I had, but have only now been able to put to the test. And for that, I have the break to thank.

surf

A photo I took of myself after the day I describe in this post, I was exhausted, but so blissed out from spending the afternoon in the surf with the dolphins.

A Little Lesson Learned While Falling Down Mountains

Tears welled up as I felt the hard, slippery root slam into my hip.  As I looked up at the cloudy sky, I decided to lie still for a moment, take a deep breath and just let the rain fall on my face.  I was soaking wet and exhausted. Ale and I had been making our way through the Hundred-Mile Wilderness in Maine, we were nine days into our Thru-Hike of the Appalachian Trail and to say the least, it was kicking my ass.  Literally.  After days of constant rain, it felt as though the trees surrounding us rapidly growing around us, and with their growth their roots seemed to rise from the Earth and trip me at every turn.  At the beginning of our hike, I was actually counting the number of times I fell down, although when I think back on it now I have no idea what motivated me to do so.  When the number began to climb to embarrassing heights, I decided it might be better to just focus on getting back up rather than keeping count.

Although every muscle in my body ached during the ascents, it was the descents that really took me out.  I think I fell down more mountains than I hiked down those first few weeks.  Dirt covered my rain gear, my pack pulled me down heavily into the muddy trail, anchoring me and forcing me to learn the art of the “turtle roll” in order to actually be able to stand again (until you’ve mastered this, lying on your back with a heavy pack feels something like this).  At this particular moment as I stared up at the clouds and rain, I was contemplating the best direction for me to angle my turtle roll so that my heavy pack would not tumble me further down the steep pitch.

“Are you okay?” Ale yells up to me.  “Yes,” I half-heartedly grumble as I roll onto my chest and manage a push up-warrior pose, grabbing the nearest wet tree trunk to brace myself and survey the trail ahead.  My boots squish, feet soaked after too many rainy days and flooded trails.  I’ve learned that Gortex can only withstand so many drownings.  Raindrops form on the front of my hat and splash on my face, blurring my vision momentarily.  I readjust my hat, wipe away the water, tears and dirt from my eyes and choose my next step carefully.  The trail holds and I gain confidence, stepping with slightly more momentum and reaching forward with my walking stick. I manage to get four more steps in before I am again crashing down the trail on my backside.  “It’s not how many times you fall Greta,” I think to myself as I grit my teeth and prepare to roll again, “It’s how many times you get back up.”

It feels a bit cliche but I literally had to embrace the essence of this saying while hiking those steep, wet, black fly and mosquito ridden, root-covered mountains of Maine.  There was plenty of opportunities to dwell on the misery, to think only of the awful black fly that bit you until you bled; the constant swarm of mosquitos that never left your side; the strong slippery roots that sent you careening down the mountainside; the fast flowing, freezing rivers that had to be crossed; the incredibly uncomfortable first moments of putting on your cold wet socks, pants and shirt from the day before that had not dried in the night; the tired, sore muscles and blister-covered collar bones.  But there was also the stunning embrace of being in wild places everyday.  The beauty of it was that I awoke each day, despite the hardships of the day before, filled with gratitude to be in such a magic place.  The pristine wilderness that I was living in took my breath away (when it wasn’t knocking the air out of me).  The early mornings I awoke just before the moon retired…before the rain clouds would unleash the torrents of the day, when I would crawl from the tent and hike out to the rock slabs, sit with my journal and the dew-soaked spider webs and the songs of the morning birds, the soft mist blanketing the forest around me.  Every one of those little moments felt like an incredibly precious gift, and the struggles of the day seemed a small payment to make in order to relish in the experience of living this way.

Those months spent hiking the AT broke down my complex perspective of the world.  At the age of 24, I had worn myself down into a perception of the world that was overwhelmed by our endless thirst for consumerism, an unexpected understanding of the “reality” in which most of the products we bought were made and the environmental and social impact of that reality.  My perspective of the world involved countless airplanes, hotels and city streets with no rest in between, daily border crossings, encounters with masses of humans that I had never imagined as a child growing up in the woods and fields. It involved bribes and pollution, it involved poverty and construction, it involved gender discrimination and culture shock, it involved growing cities and shrinking wild places. The world I was living in was shaping my priorities, and before I had known it I was so caught up in the grind that I had lost my purpose and the intention of the path I was blazing with this precious thing called life. I had lost that flame of inspiration that is necessary to overcome moments where hopelessness threatens to take hold. Without realizing it I had fallen, and I didn’t know how to get back up.

The wilderness whittled away the priorities of my former life so that the most bare of essentials were all that mattered.  To be warm, to be dry, to have food, to have water.  To retreat into the essence of the love that I had for my partner who had chosen to walk beside me as we were both finding our way into the next chapter of our lives.  To get up every time I fell down, no matter what, because that was literally all I needed to do that day, and everyday, for 2,180 miles. I was constantly confronted with the choice between misery or perseverance, the choice of dwelling on the difficulties or celebrating the accomplishments, no matter how small they might be.

The day before I began my Thru-Hike, I recall stressing out about how I, as a young woman just beginning her career, could have an immediate positive impact in the world of business, how I would ever find the “right job” where I, despite my youth and gender, could influence change among broken systems and how the gap in my resume would be perceived when I finished the trail.  In the wilderness, I had to instead draw my focus to the grand accomplishment of managing to stand my 108 pound frame up beneath the 45+pound backpack that I was carrying (don’t worry, I quickly learned to prioritize gear and by the time I finished my thru-hike my pack was a mere 28 pounds with 6 pounds of water and 6 days of food). At the end of the day, the answers to all those other fear-induced questions really didn’t matter.  I was forced to focus on my present state of being, to let go of the weight of the unsolvable (seemingly) problems beyond my reach and instead manage only the weight that I could carry on my back.

I had to dig deep, I had to confront the fact that I was too hard on myself, I was literally keeping track of the number of times I fell down for goodness sake, and I had to learn to let go.  I had to learn how to simply acknowledge what I had immediate control over and put my energy into that.  What I could not control, I must accept and move through, and turn my eye toward the positive hues of the environment around me.

While I was digging, I also found that my perspective of the “real” world had become so overwhelming for me because I was focusing only on the falls.  I was focusing on the problems and the challenges so intently that I could not possibly see any solutions, or have any room for creativity. The first few times I fell on the trail and was confronted by the weight of my pack and the difficulty in getting back up, it took me a little while to find the right twist, the right maneuver to put myself upright again.  Eventually, I figured it out, and I became pretty damn smooth with my turtle roll moves (well, as smooth as you can be when literally using the same technique as a turtle to get up).  I still fell, but I got better at getting up, and as I did the falls weren’t nearly as discouraging, they weren’t nearly as overwhelming and my recovery was faster every time.

When I stepped off the trail I was ready to “get back up” when it came to my work.  I was able to see beyond the overwhelming expanse of problems that lie within the arena I was going to enter again, and instead I could focus on my fundamental strengths and hone in on opportunities to contribute the way I wanted.  I had learned the importance of letting myself trip, of taking a tumble but not forgetting to look around in the midst of it and feel gratitude for the place that the path was leading me.

Although the early years in my career had taken me down a path I had never expected, it was exactly the path that I was meant to walk.  And even though I felt as though I had failed in my ability to influence change in those early days, and I saw myself contributing to more problems than solutions, I would learn later how this experience would become the fundamental driver of one of my greatest passions, and would lead me to do work that I loved with an incredible company for many years.  When the industry had pushed me down I managed to find a way to get back up that inspired, rather than discouraged, and as a result I continue to believe in the endless possibilities we have before us to come up with creative solutions to the vast and complex problems we face in this day and age.  Should we only choose to get up and persevere.

How have you confronted the challenges in your life that threatened to discourage your perseverance?  What moments are you most proud of your recovery, of your ability to get back up even when you have fallen?  What drives and inspires you to continue on a path that might not be easy, but that you know with all your heart is right?

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A moment of absolute gratitude as I came down off this summit along the Appalachian Trail, miles of untouched wilderness before me and a momentary clearing of rain clouds. By now I had lost count of the number of times I had fallen down mountains, but I was getting more inspired to get back up with every tumble.