The Most Delicate Dance

It’s a delicate dance, the act of acknowledging a dream, envisioning it, pouring loving energy into it, allowing it to grow and expand and be guided by intention and intuition. At the same time to roll up your sleeves, show up for the heavy lifting when there is heavy lifting to be done, and make time to do something each day that brings your dream closer to reality. To plant your dream and give it roots on this earth, while also giving it wings. To embrace this delicate act of trust and effort simultaneously. It’s likely the most delicate dance I’ve ever attempted, and my latest dream that I’m dancing into reality has taken the most effort to remain balanced and open through it’s evolution.

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Hatching up dreams on tops of mountains

We exist in this dynamic state of being, in an incredibly dynamic world. We need to believe in the power and beauty of our dreams, we need to be able to visualize them to the point of almost being able to reach out and grasp them. Yet, on the other hand, we cannot grow attached to this dream, we cannot set expectations for how it may come into reality, we cannot latch the dependence of our happiness to the realization of this dream. We must somehow manage the belief that our dream will happen, and it will be amazing, with the realization that it may not happen, and even if it doesn’t, life will still be amazing. Delicate? I’d say so.

I’m by no means a master of this dance. Seeing as this is the most conscious I’ve ever been of its existence, I’m a beginner at best. Still, I’ve chosen to approach this dance the way I approach dancing in real life- I feel the beat of the music and I move to it, I don’t worry too much about learning the steps. I don’t care if others think I look ridiculous, I move with the music, with my partner, and I laugh and twirl and enjoy. For me, when I’m dancing, if I put all my focus on memorizing steps, I overthink things, I lose my rhythm, I make one misstep and then another and another until I am so discouraged I stop laughing, I stop enjoying, I stop dancing. And I LOVE to dance.

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I love to dance, and luckily I married a man who might love dancing even more than me!

That’s not to say learning some basic steps doesn’t help. When I was a little girl my mom enrolled me in ballet and tap dance. I did gymnastics and taught myself to trick ride while galloping my horse bareback across our fields. My parents are musicians, so I also grew up with music in my house. I learned to read music at a very young age and was blessed to be able to study piano, clarinet and violin before finally settling on the cello. Balance and rhythm have come pretty naturally to me. All of that music and body movement of my youth has definitely supported me in my rebellious dance techniques that throw caution to the wind. So, even though I can’t salsa to save my life, my husband and I often receive congratulations from perfect strangers whenever (and wherever) we start dancing.

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People tend to enjoy watching us dance with wild abandon; probably because we so enjoy it too

 

I’m taking a similar approach as I cultivate this latest dream of inspiring curiosity about where the things we buy come from while riding horseback across Patagonia. Now, I think it’s safe to say that this type of dream probably doesn’t come with an instruction manual. In fact, I think most dreams don’t come with an instruction manual, and if they do, you should be suspicious of them- or at least of that manual. Throw it out the window. You already have all you need to know within you, you just have to take the time to ask.

As I dance this dream into reality, there are a few steps I’ve learned along the way that are helping me. My teachers?

Past life experiences- most of which I wasn’t even aware were dreams in the first place. Shifting my work away from something that contributes to the degradation of the planet and society, toward something that contributes to solutions that improve the impacts of business on society and the planet. Walking for five months, through 14 states, carrying everything I needed on my back. Moving to foreign countries with little or no contacts or “conventional opportunities” and finding friends, adventure and grand stories awaiting me. Finding the love of my life in this crazy world, and building an adventurous life with him. Looking forward to each day the way I used to look forward to the weekends. Wholeheartedly feeling alive and present most of the time, rather than only during an hour of meditation or yoga.

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Sunrise hikes don’t have to wait until the weekend, this magic happens every single day, we just need to choose to be present in order to witness them

All of these experiences, as well as many others, are constant teachers for me; and they hold within them the secrets of this dance I’m currently dancing. They give me the beat, the rhythm, the flow. They give me my foundation from which I can draw confidence while rebelliously throwing the rules out the window.

We’re now in the midst of the final prep for our journey across Patagonia on horseback. A lot of things remain open and unknown, and on one hand that could be stressful because if feels unfinished. On the other hand that aspect is incredibly exciting as it means there is still so much opportunity for unexpected and wonderful things to happen. I’ve given this dream a lot of attention, a lot of time on the dance floor. We’re spinning and twirling and I’m getting ready to let go, to throw my hands in the air, tilt my head back and just set it free.

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Ready to gallop off into the horizon

Perhaps this dream will achieve all that I’ve imagined, and perhaps bringing it forth and realizing it will make things happen well beyond my imagination. Maybe only part of this dream will actually be realized, and other aspects will fall away. The point is, I have no way of knowing exactly how it will unfold. And I can’t control it anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

All I know for sure, is that I want to contribute to the world in a positive way. I want to take risks that push boundaries- professionally and personally- and move us toward positive solutions. I want to face my fears and answer the calls of my wild heart. I know, at the very least, that I can do these things by pursuing this dream. I’m not getting too caught up on the other confines of a pre-defined “success”. Let the success of this journey define itself as it evolves. And it will. Because no matter what, it will be amazing. No matter what.

That last bit has me smiling as I remember a favorite quote of mine. These words are great to keep in mind as you play with the idea of bringing forth your own dream, as you learn the steps of your own delicate dance required to take it from a dream to a reality. As you balance the delicate embrace of trust and effort, of intention without expectation.

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”~Albert Einstein

No matter what, everything is a miracle. Now, go dance your heart out!

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Welcome Home

Home

My many “homes” in the last 18 months- San Francisco apartments, tiny tents, two person+1 dog hammocks, and Pucon properties owned by others (just to name a few)

The customs agent looked down at my passport, turning the pages until he reached the last one. After a year of constant travel and daily border crossings from Hong Kong to China, I had effectively filled my entire passport with stamps and needed to add pages while I was in the States for the next three weeks. I looked up at him, somewhat disheveled from the 13 hour flight and the jet lag that was my constant travel companion. He smiled at me, stamped my passport and handed it back to me.

“Welcome home.”

Home. There have been a few chapters in my life where the concept of home seemed to be an elusive idea, playing hide and seek with me as I bounced around the world living out of a backpack or a suitcase. Chapters spent literally flying around the world every three weeks, living in hotels, airports and temporary bases- finding homes wherever I happened to be. Chapters spent climbing mountains and crossing rivers for five months, living out of a backpack, carrying my home on my back. Chapters spent in that in-between travel mode that was a mix of couch surfing, country-hopping, friend and family visits and constant movement for weeks on end. And chapters like this last year, spent living on the road, on the trails, and care-taking the homes of others here in Chile. It has been a chapter where home was not a destination, but instead a creative venture- one of pure flexibility and freedom, and one that constantly challenged the traditional idea of the word.

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Finding myself at home in the air, on the road, or on the trail!

Personally, I don’t consider myself a nomad, even though I probably travel more than the average person. I have never thought of myself as one of those people who can constantly be on the road and on the go. I like home-making sometimes. I LOVE to cook, and I love to host and celebrate friends and family in our home. I love to have the things that give me comfort available. And I am one of those weird people who actually enjoys cleaning and organizing, so I adore those cold rainy days that motivate me to sweep up the house, light some candles and pick some fresh rain-soaked flowers for the kitchen- ideally from my own garden. I love sharing in the abundance that having a home allows.

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Cooking in my house kitchen and cooking in my road/trail kitchen- I’m happy as long as I’m cooking 🙂

On the other side of the coin, there is an invigorating freedom that comes with releasing yourself from the responsibility of home and taking to the “road” (or sky, or trail) and living light for a while. I equate this way of life to something that one of my favorite poets, David Whyte, discusses when he talks about how essential it is to “go hungry” at least once a day, to say no to everything that is not a yes, so that when you finally dig in, when you finally say yes, it is such an incredible experience you are overwhelmed with gratitude for it. Regardless of its simplicity or complexity, the experience is, in and of itself, a reminder of what it is to live.

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Backyards with sweeping city views are sweet, but so is having remote tiny towns or endless wilderness out the back door (or tent door).

There are two key things I always look forward to when giving up my home to explore and adventure into the unknown.

First- the discomfort that comes when you let go of the comforts of your home. It is in this space of discomfort that I experience so much growth, it is here that I face my fears so fiercely, as if my life depends on it, becomes it often does. Letting go of the trappings of your home makes you seriously appreciate the bare necessity. To this day, I cannot tell you how deeply I appreciate every single time I stand in a shower and feel hot water come out of the faucet. Before I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, where I had to endure cold splash baths in icy ponds and otherwise go without showering for a whole week at a time, I never gave that hot water a second thought. Now, even seven years after my hike, the appreciation for this simple thing is still so intense.

When I start to crave this discomfort, that is usually when I realize it is time for a shift, it is time to let go of something in order to make space for something else. And often I need to let go of something big, in order to allow for something bigger to arrive.

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The comforts of home can take many shapes and forms

Second- the physical act of letting go of what I do not need in order to be comfortably mobile for any extended period of time. I like to refer to it as “living lean”. You cut away the excess, you purge your closets and your cabinets, minimize your belongings to the bare essentials and the things you love so deeply you would run into a burning building to save them. The rest you let go of. And afterward, you actually feel physically lighter. It’s like this invisible weight that you were never aware of is taken away- and it feels amazing.

As thru-hikers, we called this “pairing down”- and it was an essential lesson during our hike. When we first started, Ale and my packs were so incredibly heavy. We quickly learned the lighter your pack, the less physical pain and suffering. It’s funny how this lesson can be applied to the way we choose to fill our homes with “stuff” we may not need or have the money to pay for- the less of that we have, the less credit card debt we have, and therefore the less stress (i.e. pain and suffering) we have to manage. There is a higher level of consciousness of the physical things we consume, and with that comes a confrontation of why we consume them, and if we really need to in the first place.

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Ale and I cut the weight of our packs in half while thru-hiking. The photo top left is Ale’s pack at the start of the trail, the one on the right top is midway through after serious pairing down. We also paired down heavily when we moved to Chile. The Uhaul on the left was filled with all of our belongings when we moved to San Francisco 6 years ago. The photo on the right, is us driving our 1998 Subaru Forester here in Chile, with all of our belongings packed in the back (we moved to Chile with 6 bags total).

I am not suggesting that everyone out there must abandon their home, sell their belongings and hit the road in order to really appreciate life. That isn’t the point. The point, is that there is humility, beauty and strength awaiting us all when we actively participate in some form of letting go of what makes us comfortable in order to embrace what makes us uncomfortable. Whether that is choosing to do one thing each day that scares you, making more space in your home by giving away or selling the things you no longer need or love, or simply giving yourself time away from the clutter of your daily existence.

Today, I write this post from my kitchen table. After 18 months on the road, having roughly 27 different places that could be described as “temporary homes” in six different countries, we once again have a home in the traditional sense. On this day one year ago, Ale and I got on a plane and flew to Chile with hearts and minds wide open, and the idea of home a distant intention. The focus at that moment was embracing the discomfort and pairing down to travel with ease.

Mission accomplished. Our focus and intentions shift as we once again retreat to the comforts and responsibilities of this home. Although I don’t have any intention to start filling this place with more stuff, it sure feels good to take all of my belongings out of their weary and worn packs and finally have a place of belonging. It feels good to have a consistent space for creative ritual, to have a place to do yoga each morning that overlooks the mountains and trees filled with hummingbirds. I am filled with gratitude to retreat to a mattress each night after a tough day of climbing mountains, instead of my thin Thermarest. Oh, and how I adore having a kitchen again, where I can cook up lovely things to share with my husband and visitors. Best of all, we have space to host friends and family comfortably, something I longed for while living in our tiny one bedroom in SF, and couldn’t even imagine as we lived on the road these past 18 months.

The culmination of all our experiences here, all our travels, and now having a place of our own once again, all of it has been instrumental in building this feeling of home here in Chile. And it feels good to be home.

Road Home

So, on that note, who’s coming to visit?

So, what do you do?

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Me posing with Volcan Villarica after an invigorating climb on a crisp, beautiful July day.

“Oh you live in Chile? Wow, so, what do you do there?”

“Well, mostly I climb mountains and surf.” I say with a smile and a little laugh. I laugh because this response inevitably always draws a quizzical look and a flurry of follow up questions. I smile because this simple little statement is a true reflection of how I’ve been spending most of my time lately, which was my intention when I closed the last chapter and began writing this one.

By now when someone hears that I live in Chile, they typically first assume that I am here for my job. That is why I stopped telling people what I do for a living when they ask me what I do in Chile. I didn’t come here for my work, I came here for my life. Their next assumption is usually that we moved here for family- also not accurate since neither my husband or I have any family here. I get it, I’m in my thirties, most people don’t just up and move to a remote part of the world for reasons other than work and family, but I also kind of love the fact that we did.

I remember the pangs of fear that crept in when I initially decided to quit my job and move to Chile, fear about answering that question, “what do you do,” as so much of my identity had felt tied to my work. I remember thinking about how I should update my Linkedin profile, how I could validate my credibility as a capable and successful professional without the title that went with my role. Even with those questions and doubts causing concern, the greater concern for me was that I would spend the majority of my life in an office, in front of a computer screen, finding time to do the things that brought me the most joy only around the edges of my life, not within the focus. I didn’t only want to experience joy in the edges, I wanted it to be flowing constantly.

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Pre-surf yoga always helps me clear my mind and connect with my intention before heading into the waves.

It’s funny how we subscribe to society’s definition of success, and learn to build our goals and dreams about achieving it through that lens, rather than the lens of our own souls. It is a practice to refrain from pursuing success in this manner, it is a practice to go within, to listen, to understand what ignites joy within you, what makes that feeling of love and gratitude just overflow to the point of uncontrollable giggling and mile-wide smiles. I don’t think this is a struggle, but I do think it is a practice. But when we engage in this practice, oh wow. Wow what unbelievable beauty can unfold!

In the past month, I have hiked through the backcountry of the incredible and ancient snow-dusted araucaria forests of southern Chile, climbed to summits where I had 360 degree views of wild landscapes filled with volcanos, waterfalls, lakes and a huge variety of forests. I have explored the southern coast in search of clean surf breaks, perfect for a cold but sunny winter surf session. I have spent days meandering down dirt roads, deep into unknown territory with my favorite person on the planet, laughing and finding magic places that only we know about, where we can someday bring our loved ones to share. I have put skis on and skinned up a smoking volcano, overlooking massive jewel-toned lakes with craggy mountains on the horizon, then turned around and skied down, back home in time to make a fire, do laundry and cook up a feast. I have also put in a good bit of time working on some exciting consulting projects, logged the necessary hours on my computer, all the while feeling creatively energized. As much as I love the work that I do, I still relish in the fact that I can step out my back door and huff and puff my way up a mountain that will totally have me giggling with childlike glee when I reach the top. This is my bliss, and now that I have it within arm’s reach, I try to embrace it daily, on some level.

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With this as your backyard, it is hard to justify spending a day inside in front of a computer screen 😉

So, when someone asks me what I do, my gut reaction is no longer to tell them about my work. Although I love my work deeply, it no longer feels as though it is the most important part of my identity. Instead, I want to share what I actually do, what makes my heart sing, what invigorates me and reminds me that THIS is living, and I should be doing what makes me feel most alive as much as possible while I am able to.

How would you answer the question “what do you do,” if you were referring to how you spend the majority of your time? Does your answer excite you? Does it make you smile and laugh? If not, what would it take for you to pull joy from the edges of your life to the focus?

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

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.

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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.