Before I left for Spain, I’d written, “I hope I find a reason to not come home…. But I’m also terrified that I’ll find that reason.” It seems I was feeling stagnant, ready for change, wanting something big to show up in my life and blow me away, but also deep down I knew that I wasn’t the type of person to leap into the unknown or to take chances. An interesting dichotomy that I was aware of, and yet unable or unwilling to fully address. Yet.
It’s November 2008, I’m barely a week into my third decade, and I’m alone in a foreign country. More than alone, I’m lonely. Making my way through Spain I’d seen and done some amazing things, but without someone to share those moments and memories with, there was a spark that was lacking and the novelty of travel was wearing off.
I got off the bus in Lisbon, Portugal, too disoriented to be charmed by the cobblestone streets. I didn’t speak a single word of Portuguese, and I didn’t know which direction to head to find my hostel. Also, my last few hostel experiences had been less than ideal – they were cold, both physically and emotionally. I was tired, a little under the weather, and missing human connection. I’d come up with a plan to stay a couple nights at the hostel in Lisbon, then head north to Porto where I was looking forward to staying in a home with a local CouchSurfing host.
I arrived at the hostel, thanks to a kind man who saw I was lost and walked me all the way to the door, and quickly realized that things were going to be different. As I entered the lobby there was someone coming down a stairwell, who took one look at me and disappeared back up the stairs. Odd. I checked in and as I turned around the guy from the stairs handed me a drink – my first caipirinha – and said, “Follow me.” He showed me to a room with an open bunk, “Leave your bag here, come on!”
He took me to the common area, and a dozen other travelers all looked our way: “Hey! What’s your name? Where are you from? Come join us!” This. This was what traveling was meant to look like.
I dipped a cup into the communal vat of sangria, joined the massage train, and a couple hours later found myself laughing in the streets as we explored Lisbon’s night life.
A very young backpacker who’d been staying at the hostel for a while was our unofficial guide through the narrow streets. He was impish and impulsive, too much of an open book to be charming, but still intriguing. I quickly learned that he was the type of guy who didn’t think twice before jumping in with both feet. By the end of the night he’d asked me to marry him, and I had no doubt that if I agreed he would have immediately swept me into his joyous whirlwind, which would have blown us to the nearest chaplain’s office, then off onto some wild adventure.
I was awestruck. I’ve always been overly cautious and yet I’d been yearning to break free, do something wild. I didn’t accept his proposal that night, or the next few nights when he continued to ask. I did spend more time with him, more curious than anything, and he truly lived his life immersed in each moment. It was fascinating, and totally foreign. However, I soon realized this usually meant he was doing what felt best for him, regardless of the people around him. He was open and caring, but totally unfazed by most social norms or potential consequences, and that made me uncomfortable.
I realized that I didn’t, in fact, want to live my life like that. I’m rational, and sensitive to people and situations around me, which I (eventually) decided are strengths, not weaknesses. Sure, I still wanted to learn to open up and embrace opportunities, but in hopes that it would bring more connection and intimacy into my life. Despite this guy’s fascination with me, I felt in no way connected to him. Apparently a willingness to make sweeping split second decisions was not synonymous with commitment. I no longer envied his carefree being. It’s funny how much relief you can feel, when you realize that you actually like yourself the way you are.
There were others in our makeshift group of new friends who were just as interesting: a couple of American girls with hippie names, a sweet Australian girl traveling solo, a Portuguese guy and girl who it was unclear whether they worked at the hostel or just enjoyed the atmosphere, a trio of Aussie guys who were traipsing through Europe, and a handful of other fellow nomads.
I never made it to Porto. My couple of nights in Lisbon stretched to over a week, and I didn’t leave until I was in danger of missing my flight from Barcelona back to Calgary. Even then I didn’t want to go – by that point there was a very specific reason why.by McKinnley
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
I wasn’t supposed to be in Portugal. First of all, I’d never had any desire to travel Europe. Secondly, when my friend invited me to come visit him in Spain, I certainly didn’t plan to end up alone in another country.
It was 2008. In the past decade I’d been a bit of a gypsy, living in four countries, moving to different cities 11 times, traveling, teaching, going to school, following some dreams, letting go of others, running away from who I didn’t want to be, then finding myself again.
I was about to turn 30. 30! I was living in a city I’d sworn I’d never live in again. I was single. I’d just finished college for the third time and still had no idea what I wanted to pursue as a career. I don’t know that I’d ever sat down and envisioned what my life would look like at 30 years old, but I was pretty sure that this wasn’t it. And despite all of that, I was EXCITED to turn 30. For the first time I actually felt comfortable in my own skin, and that was enough reason to be celebrating.
My best friend was in Spain for a semester, and although Europe wasn’t even on my travel list, when he invited me to come visit Barcelona, it seemed the perfect place to spend my birthday. Another friend and I hopped on a plane across the ocean, and so my 30th birthday consisted of Spanish markets, paella and wine for dinner, and an incredible celebration with almost 15 friends! It was perfect.
Then my girl friend flew back to Canada, and the boys were in school, so I decided to get on a train and go explore the Spanish countryside. I walked the halls of a castle. I spent hours photographing incredible graffiti. I met a Catalan gypsy who didn’t speak English, but somehow we connected (he gave me a special stone that I still carry). I shared meals in a cave carved into the mountainside. My Spanish improved in leaps and bounds. I also got sick when it was pouring rain and the hostel didn’t have any spare blankets. And I was crushingly lonely.
I was in the South of Spain, intending to circle back north, but I kept talking to people who said, “Go to Portugal instead, it’s incredible.” And so, I got on a bus to Portugal. As I crossed the border I suddenly realized that this was not in the game plan, nobody knew where I was, and I didn’t speak a single word of Portuguese. What was I doing??
But I arrived in Lisbon, and my life changed forever.by McKinnley
“But what do you WANT to do?” my friend asked me, as we sat enjoying the spring weather after devouring giant bowls of ramen for lunch.
There are a lot of things I want to do, however, it didn’t take me long to come up with the number one item on that list, “What I really really want, almost more than anything right now, is to take some time off work. I would be soooo happy to just NOT WORK for two months.”
“So, why don’t you?” .. And I started to cry.
Wisdom. Insight. The gentle nudgings of those who know you best.
I’ve known for awhile that I need some time off. Time to indulge in housework and yardwork and organization. Time to finally catch up with the friends who work opposite schedules from me. Time to visit my Grandma. Time to research all the crazy business ideas I’ve got rolling around in my brain. Time to cook. Time to lavish attention on my handsome man. Time to sit back and enjoy the upcoming summer weather and all the summer activities that go along with it!
For the past few months, every time a friend or customer tells me they’re not working right now, my response has been, “Funemployed?! Awesome!!” It’s garnered a few raised eyebrows, which I’ve barely noticed since I immediately slip into daydream mode. But I know how The Universe works: The things you focus on, think about, wish for, are the things that start showing up in your life. “I can’t keep telling The Universe how much I want to not work, because then that’s going to happen, and what on earth will I do if I lose my job??” Cue anxiety, stress, and despair.. because although work hasn’t been the same lately, I didn’t have a back up plan, I didn’t want to leave, I was resisting change.
But funny things happen when you open yourself up to possibility. “Maybe I need to come talk to your boss,” I continued our lunch conversation, since her boss happens to also be a previous boss of mine, and I’m confident he’d be open to the idea of my return. And then he walked in the door. For reals. We had a quick chat. “Call me any time,” he told me. Ok then. Next, as I walked to my car, I decided to pop into a place nearby to say hi to another friend. I sat at the bar while she worked around me, and we chatted. And then I realized how comfortable and happy I always am there.. “Hey, would you hire me part time, starting in August?” “Uh, absolutely!! In fact, I was just putting out into The Universe that I need more people that I know and trust to come work for me!” And then I knew that this was really really for reals what I want, and need.
I went home and typed up my resignation letter. I didn’t even write a draft, just typed it and hit Print. Less than 24 hours later it was official.
Sure, it’s a little scary, and it’s a little sad, but it feels so damn good! It feels right. And it’s the right way for me to leave a company that’s been so important to me – on my terms, and on a positive note. And it’s hella exciting!!!! There are big opportunities coming down the pipes to me, I know it with every fibre of my being.
So that. Life. She’s a funny one.
A couple of gems to wrap things up: The first was posted by a friend, a quote from an article about Mercury being in Retrograde (yeah yeah, hippies everywhere..)
“Our lives will only be as amazing as the chances we let ourselves take.” Yes. 100% Yes.
The second was my Note From The Universe, sent to me yesterday:
“You can “dance” with the illusions of time and space, McKinnley, choosing your “steps” based upon things and events as they now are, or you can dance with your dreams, choosing your steps based upon things and events as they will be.
And I bet you can guess which steps will perpetuate today’s illusions, and which ones will change everything…
I was at work during the afternoon of New Years Eve, and one of my regulars asked me what I was going to do that night.. But before I could reply he continued, “If you said you’re going to jump on a plane and fly to Bora Bora to watch the sun set, I wouldn’t be surprised.” I, however, was both surprised and amused by his comment.
In reality my plans were far less exotic. Does this mean I need to get cracking at planning my next adventure so that my life can keep up with the expectations? Or does it mean that my life thus far has been so filled with awesomeness that it doesn’t matter what I do, perceptions about me and my life now automatically default to thrilling?
Methinks it’s a bit of both: My life is super rad, but it’s definitely time to get adventuring!!by McKinnley
Who wants to do something every day that scares them? Not me!!!! Doing scary things is, well, scary, and I’m not really a fan of being put in unpredictable situations. I like to be in control. I enjoy activities more if I have a pretty good idea of how they’re going to progress. I don’t like feeling nervous, uncomfortable or stupid.
However, I am a big proponent of trying new things, I mean, what’s better than a good old fashioned adventure?! I may not like doing something scary, but I adore doing things that are exciting.
And yes, adventures, new things and excitement often mean stepping a teeny tiny bit outside of my comfort zone. But that’s cool, you know why? Because even if I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff, with heart pounding, adrenaline pumping and my stomach slightly nauseous, I know that once I jump, the rush is going to be unbelievable and totally worth the moment of discomfort.
Do you know what happens when you put yourself on that edge every once in awhile? Not only do you usually end up with a sweet adrenaline rush and a sick story to tell, but you learn a little something about yourself, you expand your views of the world, and sometimes you end up truly surprised by the outcome and where that adventure leads you.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of a night spent on the couch, in my comfy pants, with a bowl of popcorn and my kitty purring nearby, while I get into a few episodes of Dexter, but those nights do nothing to help me grow.
If you really want to expand your world, and who you are as a person, you have to DO. Try new things, and make it a point to do old things that you love but avoid for some reason. Want an awesome, inspiring example of how to do this? Check out Matt Cutts’ TED Talk “Try Something New For 30 Days.” It will be the best 3:47 minutes you’ve spent in awhile: http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_cutts_try_something_new_for_30_days.html
See? I told you! Amazing, right?! Even if you’re not feeling ambitious enough to do something for 30 days in a row, tell yourself you’re going to DO at least one adventurous thing every 30 days. Choose your adventure challenge, then set a specific date (this is important!) and whatever happens, do NOT let yourself wiggle out of it. You’ll be surprised at how you feel afterwards: excited, definitely, but you’ll also likely feel some pride, accomplishment and a desire for more.
So instead of following the old adage “Do one thing every day that scares you,” go ahead and avoid the scary stuff, just head straight for all those things that excite you!by McKinnley