Creative Space

StatueIn the 3 months since my last post, I’ve basically struggled with finding a comfortable place to do the creative things that I love (cooking, writing, playing guitar, etc).  Hence the hiatus from contributing ideas to my blog.  Yet the need to create persists, and I’ve come to realize that this is something that I need to make time for.  Recently, I came across the article on Chris Guillebeau’s Art of Non-Conformity site aptly titled Why You should Write and realized how fulfilling it is for me to get my ideas out there.

In May of this year, I joined a co-collaborative, co-networking group called CoCo.  I basically took a risk and joined with the hope that I’d network with new people in different industries and would soon be well on my way towards establishing my own career identity.  I’ve scrambled to fill the gaps in how I effectively network and am still hoping to see the fruits of my labors.  Networking is a full-time endeavor, one which I have a lot more respect for.

Along with the challenges of networking, I’ve come to realize the importance of creative space.  When I was younger, I used to think that musicians paying rent on a place that they could store their instruments and practice, a jam-space if you will, was quite foolish and unnecessary.  But now I get it.  The space to create is an extremely important component of the creative individual.  A place where musicians can leave their gear as well as define the type of work that is created is very important to the overall mental health in moving their artwork forward.

A couple years ago, a friend of mine who’s director of a small IT company embarked on what I consider a really amazing project.  He decided to build a tiny house.  Initially, he found a warehouse 30 minutes south of St. Paul, Minnesota to begin the construction of his house.  For about a year and a half, development went well, before construction got to a point where the house could weather the elements on it’s own.  Soon after, he terminated his lease with the garage and moved the tiny house into his backyard.  Financially it was a very wise decision.  At the same rate, after the move, new construction on his house almost completely ceased and he found difficulty in working on it.  Priorities had obviously shifted, but he readily admits to me that without the garage he used to work in, he finds that he’s not as excited to work on his project anymore.

After moving into my current apartment a couple of months ago, I’ve struggled to work on anything creatively.  I don’t own much at this time, and am reluctant to go out and purchase anything new due to my uncertainty of what I want out of life next.  Do I want to get a new home, or do I want to leave next year on another grand adventure?  Unfortunately, the complacency and inability to commit to any direction has forestalled any progress in making my apartment into any kind of creative space to work on my ideas.  It wasn’t until recently when I finally moved my table out of my friends storage unit that I felt like I had some kind of work-bench again.

Recently, I heard about a friend that moved into an apartment complex that was designed to cater only to artists.  They have an intense and thorough interview process where you have to prove that you’re the type of person that would benefit from living there.  With the emergence of co-working spaces, living spaces catered towards artistry, or places where one can go create, learn, and collaborate, like The Hack Factory in Minneapolis, it makes me wonder if we’ll see more and more creative spaces pop-up in an effort to provide needed work areas for people looking to be creative and explore.

My eyes have been opened to the importance of creative spaces.  People cannot confine themselves to any 4 walls and expect to be creative.  In many companies, there’s an expectation that one can be seated in a cubicle and expected to produce stellar work.  However, that’s not the case.  I’ve found that by exposing myself to other creative individuals, at least once a week, at least helps me to keep my creative juices flowing.  Creative output is a difficult thing to measure and often takes a period of time to manifest, but I do believe that the environment that we place ourselves directly impacts our ability to be creative.

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Of Native Masks and Khaki Pants

Native MaskMy muse is getting the better of me tonight.  It’s Friday and I feel tired and ready to sleep.  Yet, when I attempted sleep, a curious memory crept into my head.  A memory that I feel compelled to write about.

It starts with an exercise that my life coach, Gracie had given me the year before.  We were discussing my fear of leaving Minneapolis for an extended trip, and the opposing arguments that were battling for control over that decision.  Her instructions were to first assign an object that represented each of these opposing arguments.  For the first argument, I chose a native mask, similar to the one that my friend Jo had bought for me when he traveled to Bali.  The native mask represented the side of me that wanted an adventure.  It was the voice of risk and adventure.  For the opposing argument, I chose a pair of Khaki pants.  These pants represented my comfortable life where I was gainfully employed and living a stable life.  It was the voice of reason.  Or at least I thought.

Next in the exercise was to visualize a confrontation between the two objects.  Each object has the opportunity to present their truth and convince me why I should listen and side with their reasoning.  The pair of Khaki pants obviously cited the risks of giving up my stable life and regular income.  Compounded with leaving my friends behind and adopting a life that resembles something akin to homelessness, really put some fear in me.  The native mask counteracted these assumptions by reminding me that 1) I could re-acquire all of my belongings when I was ready, 2) It was unlikely that I’d stay homeless and due to my intelligent nature would likely find a job when I returned, and 3) that I had proven to myself time and time again that with traveling, there’s really nothing to worry about.

Lastly in the exercise, the two objects were to “size each other up” and consider establishing some type of common ground between their philosophies.  In the end, we agreed that while both sides looked a little weird and odd to each other but they could both live harmoniously and be non-judgmental towards each other.  And of course, the native mask won out and I skipped town for four months on my grand adventure.

Flash forward 4 months after I return.  I’ve finally landed some work with a small company that I think will offer me some flexibility with my time.  I’m making less than I was before, but I’m also much more relaxed with the people that I’m working with.  Up to accepting this opportunity, I really struggled with interviewing for work. None of the opportunities felt like they were that perfect or interesting to me.  In fact the current opportunity I’ve taken is not perfect either.  I know I shouldn’t expect so much.  But it’s Friday night and I’m lying in bed thinking about the native mask and the khaki pants and realize that the khaki pants don’t even resemble khaki pants anymore.  I’m not even sure they exist.  If they do exist, they’re probably brightly colored with Polynesian hieroglyphs painted all over them.  It’s an indicator.  I don’t feel comfortable dressing up in a business suit that doesn’t represent who I am as a person.  And then trying to create the best impression knowing that I must be careful in how I represent myself.  Talking about taking off for 4 months will only be met with curious looks, glazed over eyes, and worry by the corporate establishment.  It could very well look like someone in khaki pants looking down at me dressed in a native mask and a loin cloth.

It’s interesting when you finally realize that no company is ever going to give you the life that you want.  You need to create that for yourself.  In the interim, I’m trying to surround myself with other people that have scaled back their life and exited the corporate world to work for themselves.  I have projects and passions that I hope to dedicate more time to.  And of course, there’s travel.

There will be other adventures.  With each step on my journey, I hope to do things better and to open myself up more to what this life has in store for me.  It’s an odd feeling returning home.  When you initially return home, nothing feels different.  Everyone and everything around you feels the same.  In fact, you’re so happy to be home, that even you feel very much the same.  And then it hits you, 4 months after you’ve returned home, you realize that nothing is the same.  Like those khaki pants, you’re now unrecognizable.  Your personality and feelings are now brightly colored and painted with the hieroglyphs of the experiences that you’ve experienced along the way.

Acceptance, Nebraska

“It’s better to have an amazing relationship with your house plant than a horrible relationship with another human being” — My sister

The weekend after Memorial Day, I decided to go on a little trip and visit my sister and nieces in Gering, Nebraska.  Wanting to make time for myself and have a little adventure along the way, I opted for renting a car and driving to Gering, Nebraska, rather than take one of the puddle-jumpers from Denver.  Also, I wasn’t keen on the possibility of getting sick flying in a small, unstable plane like I had the year before.

IMG_7657Upon arriving in Denver, I picked up my car and headed out on Interstate 76 and up County Rd 71 to Nebraska.  I happened upon a farm of windmills unlike any I had seen before. It was amazing considering I’ve always been fascinated by renewable energy, and had never seen more than one or two windmills in a particular area.  I took a quick break, stretched my legs a bit, and finally took some pictures.  I continued onward towards Nebraska.

I arrived at my sister’s house in Gering around 1pm and after dropping off my luggage, gave my sister and nieces a hug.  Next, I gave my nieces some handmade necklaces my friend from Minneapolis had made for them at my request.  With family reunited, I settled in for a long weekend of accomplishing absolutely nothing while enjoying the company of my family.  The afternoon was spent catching up. My sister quickly gave me the ground rules of conversation topics.  No politics or religion – this was obviously due to my left-ish leanings.  But I respect my sister for working to maintain the peace.  Early in the evening, my brother in law arrived back at the house and we all congregated for a pizza dinner and watching Napoleon Dynamite.  My nieces and I couldn’t even get through the opening credits before starting to quote the movie.  Channeling my best Napoleon, I offered “IDIOT!”.  My nieces responded in their best Kip voice “Napoleon, you know I’m training to be a cage fighter.”  Giggling, my sister shouted “No quoting the movie while it’s playing!”

IMG_7677I should mention that my sister does not have WiFi in her house.  Actually, this isn’t that weird, but for someone that spends a lot of time on their laptop, it would be a challenge for me to get through the weekend without checking my email.  So, I headed out to the nearby coffee shop, The Daily Grind for some work.  I was surprised to see they offered Chai tea latte’s on the menu.  I set down my laptop and began to do some work.  I like staying in places where the pace of life is slower, however, because the pace is slower, you can expect the businesses to close early, even on a Saturday.  So, I wasn’t surprised to find out the coffee shop closed at noon, which was fine considering my sister was planning on taking my nieces and I for a walk along the river in the afternoon after I returned.  So I returned to the house and we all piled in the car for an afternoon of skipping rocks in the river and catching glimpses of Nebraska wildlife, namely some frogs and even a small turtle.  Once we finished, we headed back for afternoon naps.  Later that evening, we had barbecue pulled-pork sandwiches and some potato salad.  While looking through my bag, I discovered that I had forgotten my mouse at the coffee shop.  I could only hope to retrieve it on Monday as I was heading out of town.

Sunday was spent chauffeuring my sister around to do some errands.  After returning, I took a long nap and then continued reading my book A Guide to the Good Life {the ancient art of stoic joy}.  Later, my youngest niece and I finally went head-to-head playing some Mario Kart.  It wasn’t much of a competition as she beat me what seemed like 95 percent of the time.  I wish I could say that I let her win, but alas, I am no match against my niece on a turbo-powered scooter that shoots turtle shells.

IMG_7681My sister and I closed out the night catching up and talking over a glass of wine.  We talked about our family, the state of our lives, etc.  Among all the topics we discussed, I found my sister discussing the topic of Acceptance to be one of the most interesting.  We talked about some of the frustrations in our lives and the need to be accepting of the things that we cannot change.  I’ll be honest and say I’ve always had a difficult time accepting things.  Being someone that is passionate about many things, I’ve often picked battles that were completely unnecessary.  I found the conversation interesting considering the book I was reading had a chapter on not expending energy on the things that you’re powerless to affect.  We wrapped-up the conversation around 11 and bid each other a good night.  I pulled a blanket over myself on their incredibly comfortable couch and after feeling a cold breeze reach through the window to kiss me goodnight, I fell fast asleep.

IMG_7682The next morning, I awoke, showered, and hung out with my nieces one last time before shoving off.  I wasn’t sure which way I was going to take to go back to Denver.  I hugged my nieces goodbye.  I left my brother-in-law with a firm handshake and my sister with a kiss on the cheek before driving off.  I stopped at the coffee shop before leaving town and happily discovered that they remembered me and had held onto my mouse. After ordering a celebratory Chai, I left the coffee shop and Headed south on Highway 71.  After seeing the sign for the turn onto Highway 88, I thought “what the hell”, and decided to turn west to head towards Cheyenne, Wyoming.  I had 8 hours before my flight took off and I felt like squeezing in some sight-seeing before jetting off.

It’s interesting – I don’t really care for driving anymore, especially in the cities.  But, driving long distances through beautiful country is still very enjoyable and meditative for me (as long as the traffic is light).  I arrived in Cheyenne, poked around for some lunch, and after deciding I wasn’t that hungry, decided on Starbucks instead.  I ate a fruit bowl while I quickly checked my email.  I wasn’t feeling Cheyenne too much.  Thinking that maybe I could find something that would strike my fancy for a late lunch in Fort Collins, I decided to continue my adventure elsewhere.

IMG_7685I stopped at the Colorado Visitors Center outside Fort Collins and received some restaurant recommendations.  I finally decided upon the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant for lunch.  Driving through Fort Collins, I made a note to myself to return someday as it seems like a fun town to experience.  I was running out of time, so, I quickly inhaled my crab and shrimp enchiladas and left the restaurant to make my way to Denver.  I returned my car and headed to my terminal.  With my adventure over, it was time to return home.

This, I believe is why I love travel.  No matter now long your trip or how exotic the location, it gives you time to reflect and meditate.  Travel opens up your senses and helps you welcome the world with open arms.  That’s a difficult thing to do when you’re inundated with work and daily chores or distracted by people and things.  It reminds you of your role in this world and prompts you to perform to the best of your strengths and abilities while reminding you to accept the things that you cannot change.  I need to accept that everyone has a different perspective than I do and that perspective is borne from that person’s personal history.  I am starting to accept that despite my many offerings, there will always be people that don’t want anything from me.  Yet, it reminds me to focus and run towards those people that do want my talents.  I accept that no matter how hard I try, I cannot be happy and content all the time, so maybe it’s better if I don’t try so hard or at least try with less intensity.  And lastly, I accept that given this life, I am obligated to try and make this life the best and most interesting life that I possibly can.  Next stop: Home, where I’ll need to accept that to my next big adventure will not be attainable without at least another year or more of work and strict savings.  I’m looking forward to whatever life has in store for me.

Coffee, Tea, or Beer?

In the month that I’ve joined CoCo, the Collaborative and Co-Networking space in downtown Minneapolis, I’ve come to realize that I know next to nothing about networking and selling myself for the kinds of opportunities that I’m interested in.  When I started my career, I would send out resumes for full-time opportunities with a cover letter detailing why I thought I was a match for the company, hoping that I said the correct things to get noticed.  Later, after I became a contractor, I’d rely on recruiters for both contracts and later full-time roles.  After 17 years, I’ve found myself disillusioned at the effort I feel I need to make to “fit-in” and be accepted.  My pool of effective recruiters continues to implode on itself as I discover less that provide me with any kind of relevant feedback.  And as my intent has changed from finding a job to finding something I enjoy doing, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I can network properly, I’m more likely to find success in that.

Kelly is a freelance developer for the Agriculture industry that Matt, a fellow confidant working at CoCo, has connected me to.  Kelly’s about my age and has been working in IT for a little longer than I have.  He has found himself in roles, mainly as a Software Developer and at times as Project Manager.  Kelly has been successfully freelancing for over a year now.  After stopping by his solo desk near the back, we both grab our cup of tea and head off to the lounge area to chat.  I’m looking forward to picking Kelly’s brain about how I can better market myself as a freelancer, or contractor for that matter.

We spend the next hour talking about everything ranging from our own personal work histories to networking oneself and finally finishing on a more philosophical note of where Technology is going and where we may find ourselves functioning in that technology space in the next 10 years.

Kelly confirms some of the information that I’ve been given by other individuals.  I need to be more assertive about what I want, and start working with my network more effectively.  To my surprise, he’s found LinkedIn to be much more helpful than I have, although I don’t find myself networking as much as he has on there.  He reaffirms for me that creating a set of business cards that market my skills as an individual will probably be beneficial.  I’m also under the perspective that scrambling to create a portfolio website at this time will not help me much.  Kelly also talked to me about why recruiters post consistently with links to articles on LinkedIn all the time.  While not extremely relevant all the time, the effect it creates is to keep that person “at the top” of the list.  He didn’t suggest that I employ the same mechanism, but that posting on my linked in on a semi-regular basis could help me stay relevant and generate more interest in my skills and needs.

What I found even more helpful is when we talked about when Kelly was just starting to go freelance.  At one point, he says, he rented out a small, shared office space in downtown Minneapolis hoping to be among a more entrepreneurial crowd that he could network with.  Instead, he found himself among divorce lawyers and insurance salesman.  The only positive thing from that experience, he states, is that he could call the aide at the front desk and have copies of documents made.  It’s lonely striking out on your own, and we both agreed that you need people to interact with.  We also agreed that some of the best networking that we’ve encountered came out of the beer networking events hosted by CoCo every week.  I’ve come to realize that I really enjoy the socialization and networking that comes from either having a coffee, tea, or beer with someone.

Of course, the best part of our networking came when Kelly validated everything that I’ve gone through thus far.  Having experienced all the same uneasiness in marketing himself and having so many questions surrounding how to do it correctly, he reassured me that everyone striking out on their own experiences the same fear.  I’ve come to realize the most important thing derived from networking – not feeling alone and stupid.  In the end, Kelly recommended two books for me.

Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port

It’s a good thing that I’m a sponge for books, because I WILL read these books and hopefully be the better for it as far as networking goes.  I’ve also come to realize that networking for me is becoming so much more than finding my next opportunity, but for getting ideas.  With each person I talk to, I get more ideas to play with, or books to read, or a better perspective about things I’ve originally thought were useless or didn’t apply to me.  And while it seems, for the moment, that all I’m following is a trail of breadcrumbs, I am moving in some direction.  I feel positive about that.

Homework

Dreams Banner

Weeks before my friend Lynn left to travel for 6 1/2 weeks, she posed the following question for me as “homework”: “What would you do if you had no fear and money was no object?”  When she first said those words to me, I immediately thought of that Tragedy and Hope video of Alan Watts where he questions “What makes you tick?…”  Five weeks later, having brushed this assignment aside, I believe it’s time to finish this assignment.  Partly because I love dreaming and scheming, but mainly because my posts as of late have been somewhat dark and serious.  And I need to focus on more positive things.

I think for many people, questions like this may be interpreted as having infinite amounts of money.  But, money being no object isn’t about having all the money in the world, it’s about having your basic necessities taken care of.  And after you make that realization, you understand what the question is really about.  It’s really about overcoming fear.  Since many of our hangups are about having insufficient funds to support ourselves, we tend to eliminate dreams before we examine them fully for feasibility.  But once we eliminate that particular fear, we can fully concentrate on dreaming big.  We can fully consider the dreams that cause us the most fear.  And as I’ve always said – “It’s the opportunities that scare you the most that you should pursue.”

So, “what would I do if you had no fear and money was no object?”  Here’s an incomplete list of things that currently come to mind.

  • I would do another prolonged trip.  In fact, I already have ideas swirling in my head.  I’m certain that I’m going to go travel again and for a longer amount of time.  I spent only 4 months traveling on this last trip, mainly, to test the waters.  I didn’t know if I’d be able to adapt to being away from home for so long, but I’ve come to realize that long-term travel is really enjoyable and fits me quite nicely.
  • I would have many more adventures which include, but are not limited to, the following:  I would go skydiving, learn to fly a plane, go into the depths of Africa on an safari, spend 4 months diving with Wicked Diving out in Southeast Asia, do some Wwoofing on farms throughout the world while practicing my language skills, dive the Great Barrier Reef, take sailing lessons and sail around the Caribbean, learn to play the violin, spend time in the rainforest, take cooking lessons from great chefs around the world, learn Arabic, and do humanitarian work in Africa or Haiti.
  • I would be an entrepreneur, focusing on my gifts and ability to create my own art to serve the world somehow.  To create something without focusing on the income is the most pure form of creation that I can imagine.
  • To have a small vineyard and create wine.  I’m a bit of a romantic.
  • To organize a charity running event.  I’m not interested in races or winners.  I’m only interested in gathering people that enjoy running and would like to donate their time and money towards a good cause while networking with other active runners.
  • It’s been a dream of mine for sometime to run a Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast.  I don’t see this as something that I’ll want to pursue until my wanderlust has waned a bit.  I see this as more of an early-retirement venture.
  • I would be an influence in a child’s life.  This may take the form of being an active participant in a Big Brothers, Big Sister program, possibly an educational opportunity, or potentially even adopting a child.
  • To be a mentor and/or coach other people towards following their dreams, or in the very least to construct a life based on fulfillment, rather than monetary wealth.

So there you have it – my bucket list, not in it’s entirety, of course, but some of the things I dream about on a regular basis.  What would you do if you had no fear and money was not an object?

What now?

question-markTo say that things have been challenging as of late is an understatement.  I’ve spent the last couple of months slowly easing back into my previous life while at the same time having trepidation of what that life is going to hold for me.  I’ve used IT Recruiters in the past to help me find work, but using them recently has left me feeling incredibly underwhelmed.  I’m already tired of them telling me what I need to say and asking me to “tweak” my resume because they don’t think it will produce an interview.  This is despite the fact that I’ve never had issues with my resume generating interest in the past.

Going to interviews only produces a sinking feeling in my stomach as I walk into the building and feel like an animal being corralled into its future pen.  Even with work environments that are located in trendy downtown buildings, I can still tell within 5 minutes of being there whether I will have anything in common with the people that I work with.  I feel like such an outsider most of the time, knowing that my interests and stories from abroad only produce blank stares and questioning looks.  “You mean, you don’t go home to work on a project or watch TV?”.  How could I possibly convey to these people that I enjoy living my life creatively and trying to experience as many things that this life has to offer and *that* in no way affects my ability to be engaged and successful at work.  Nor does it cloud my ability to produce quality work.  And then when the rejection comes, it tears through me, reminding me that I don’t fit in.  Some days, I wake up with renewed energy and defiance resolving to use that energy to move forward and forge my own path.  And other days, well, I just wake up tired.

So I’ve been a bit melancholy lately while struggling to get moving.  In.  Any.  Direction.  I’ve started to look at volunteer opportunities. A friend from Swing Dancing put me in contact with the Latino Economic Development Center.  It would give me a chance help people in the Spanish community learn English or computers while allowing me work on my already poor Spanish.

Coco door smallAnd then, out of the blue the other day, another thought struck me.  Maybe I should check out CoCo.  CoCo is a Co-working and collaborative space for independent workers.  You must be a member to use the space.  At first glance, it may remind someone of going to a trendy coffee shop sans the cute barista working behind the counter.  But CoCo provides many networking opportunities for individuals seeking to connect with people in other industries.  The first day I arrived for my tour, I met a young woman striking out on her own.  We provided each other encouragement, understanding exactly where the other person was at in their career.  Returning the next week, I talked in length with the Community Manager about whether it would be worth my time to become a member.  I was almost holding back tears as she validated almost everything I was feeling at the time.  It’s moments like that when you feel like you might be onto something special.  Maybe you’ve found your tribe.  The feeling that you’re not alone and struggle is a common trait among us all.  My first Networking Happy Hour went well, where I was introduced to Matt, a member that has created hist own start-up, and Paul, an independent recruiter.  Matt was a fellow traveler like myself.  Talking with both men at length, I had the feeling that both gentlemen understood my frustrations and challenges.  It’s too soon to tell if CoCo will be part of my growth or not.  But I have hope.

My days are up and down a lot as of late.  Some nights I can’t sleep.  There have been a couple mornings I’ll wake up around 4am, unable to get back to sleep.  I’ll go for a 5 mile run, just to calm myself down.  But then there’s also that feeling of never going back.  That in all my adventures and risks, a seed has been planted.  And while that seed has barely grown into a one-inch stalk with two leaves, there is indeed growth, however small it may be at this point.

I know that I need to keep trying things and putting myself out there.  The rejection is difficult sometimes, but I know I’ll find something….. or hopefully create something of my own.

Adjustments

Before I left on a trip, I had been told that coming back would be an adjustment.  I had heard stories of travelers coming home only to break down and cry while staring at numerous options for one item in the grocery store, seized by an inability to make a decision between all the available choices.

Yet, I’ve had friends come back from long adventures only to restart up their old jobs and move forward with their lives like nothing is different.  At least I’ve made that assumption.  When I returned from my trip, I admit that I felt fine for the most part.  The first time I went to the grocery store, I didn’t have any issues selecting food.  Obviously, I’ve had a much more laid back lifestyle since I’ve returned.  I’ve taken my time looking for a job that will better suit me and hopefully provide me with the ability to lead my life in a more leisurely way.  I’ve been going to the gym and for the most part, I feel like I’m in good health.  So it has led me to believe that I’ve adjusted fine.

That was until this week.  I’ve finally started to notice that I’m having difficulty dealing with some things.  For example, the first month, I didn’t have a car.  Before that, I hadn’t been driving for 4 months.  I’ve since bought an old ’99 Toyota Corolla from a friend of mine and started to drive.  Now, after 5 months of no driving combined with a more leisurely approach to life, I’ve noticed that I drive like my grandmother.  The interstate speed limit around Minneapolis is 60 mph with a minimum limit of 40 mph.  Before my trip, I would typically drive between 65 and 70 mph.  Now, my speed is usually around 45, and sometimes drops below 40.  People on the highway scare the crap out me when they drive up my ass.  Most speed around me, and I’ve caught a couple glances from people like “Who let grandpa have a license to drive.”.  Of course it’s then followed by a shocked expression when they see me driving.

I’m somewhat nervous and anxious lately.  While spending time looking for work has it’s benefits, the thought of going back to a corporate, structured work environment has me feeling a bit dreadful.  The big smile I had plastered to my face after arriving home has been replaced with the numb expression I think I had most of the time before I left on my trip.  I feel tired and overstimulated, even more than before.  I’m not quite sure where to go from here or what to do with my life.  In an effort to give my life some momentum, I’ve started looking into volunteer opportunities.  For the most part, those interviews have left me feeling somewhat excited.

I thought after 2 months back home, that I’d be settled and comfortable, but I’m the opposite.  I left hoping to clear my head, and have found that after my return, my head is full of new options.  Some are exciting and others leave me fearful for my future.  There’s a new found pressure that I sense coming from myself.  A pressure that this time around, I need to do things better, and with more intention to what I really care about in life.  Yet, I know better now that I need to loosen that grip on life as well.

I worry about transitioning the theme of my blog from one that has mostly been exclusively about travel to my original purpose: my adventures and journey on my way to finding myself.  I want to write about the things that are important to me, and the other adventures that I have (not related to travel) that I hope will open up new doors for me.  My blog has lately taken a more serious tone, one that I hope to lighten over the next couple of weeks.

It’s the growing pains of growth, I guess.  Exciting and Scary.  I’m not settled nor am I content, yet.  I fear that I may never be.

Getting there

compass on map artisticWhenever I’ve talked about my recent trip with others, I’ve encountered many responses including:

“Wow.  That’s incredible.  I wish I could do something like that.”
How are you able to do this?”

I feel like my explanation has become somewhat of a mantra where each verse indicates a sacrifice or life choice I’ve made to make my dream a reality.  I’ve stated over and over again that this decision and plan did not come about overnight.

If you haven’t read my earlier posts, I’ve mentioned that one of my prime areas of inspiration came from reading the book Vagabonding by Rolf Potts.  I suggest anyone that has a desire for long term world travel to pick up a copy and read this book.  But the question still remains.  How did I get here?

I started by taking stock of my possessions and expenses.  To perform any trip of considerable length, I knew that I would not want to be shouldering the cost of my mortgage while away.  I was in the middle of finishing off the basement of my house and knew that I would need to complete that before renting it out.  So, I prioritized many of my resources for the next year into finishing the basement and making some upgrades to my house to prep it for rental.

During that time, I also started looking at everything that I owned that was not getting used often enough.  Starting with a major spring clean, I donated most of my things in storage.  After clearing out my storage area, I started going through the rest of the items in my house.

I changed my lifestyle and stopped using my desktop computer.  I found that I preferred the mobility of a laptop computer.  Getting rid of my desktop computer allowed for me to get rid of the desk I used for my computer.  Also realizing that I rarely went back and re-read any of my books, I decided to get rid of most of my paperback and hardback books.  Other books, I stored in boxes and then got rid of my book case.  At the time, I started to get my books exclusively from the library.  Being an avid reader that bought books on a regular basis, this decision helped me to eliminate a monthly or bi-monthly expenditure.

I should mention that I do not watch TV.  Many years prior, around 8 years I believe, I had decided to get rid of cable television.  This saved me at least $50 a month.  But now, I started to realize that I could watch movies on my laptop and really didn’t need the television at all.  So, I sold the television and the entertainment unit associated with it.  With each item that I removed from my premises, I started to see how little of my house was getting used.

My house is a modest 1300 square foot house in a twin-home setting.  It has 3 stories, and I started to see that I really only utilized 1 floor.  It was at this time that I discovered that I no longer wanted to maintain a house that I didn’t utilize and wanted a smaller living arrangement.  Any desire that I might move back into my house after returning from my trip disappeared.  It made more economical sense for a couple or family to live in my house.  Selling was not and option for me.  Renting my house, legally, required me to take a class with the city and have my house inspected so that I might obtain a renter’s license.  I also found a very reasonable property manager to manage my house while I was in another country.  I soon moved out after finding renters and lived among friends before setting off.

As lifestyles go, I want to also mention that I love to cook.  I’ve nurtured this interest and cook for myself as often as I can.  I’ve spent years cultivating skills that allow me to cook well enough that I don’t feel it necessary to go out and pay at a restaurant often.  I do allow myself the luxury of eating out once or twice a week.  However, I make it point to cook myself many of my meals during the week.  Typically, I cook myself a big meal every Sunday and then package the leftovers into meal-size portions.  On Mondays, I cook another good meal which also gets divided into meal-portions.  These two meals typically carry me through the week for dinner and lunches and keeps me from eating out all the time.  This eliminates a huge expenditure from my food bill.  And don’t be surprised if your co-workers look at your leftovers in envy while they’re heating up their cup of instant Ramen noodles in the microwave.

The interesting thing about all these choices is that after returning, I’ve continued to carry these choices into my current lifestyle.  I have no desire to obtain back all the things that I’ve gotten rid of.  Traveling is truly a lifestyle choice, one that I think is very positive to the overall growth of the individual as well as the collective impact to our society and culture.

While I know these points don’t allow for everyone to travel for lengthy amounts of time, I hope that it does prompt readers out there to evaluate their own lives to determine what they really need to survive and eliminate the excess so that you may find more time and money to do the things that you love.  I’ve read inspiring stories of other individuals that have done the same, or families that have traveled extensively together.  I’ve had the good fortune to meet people challenged by some handicap or problem and found a way to overcome it to do what they love.  For almost anything you desire, I believe you can achieve it.  It really comes down to our choices in life and the sacrifices you’re willing to make for them.

Simple

Settling back into my life in Minneapolis has been time spent reflecting, adjusting, and pondering what I want my life to look like moving forward.  I’ve spent the last 4 years making adjustments to my life, scaling back the number of hobbies and interests that I attempt to fit into my life, or ridding myself of all the things that weigh me down.  I’ve done this not really knowing where it’s leading me except for the ability to pack up and travel someplace with more ease and security.

You see, I’ve often spent my life thinking in terms of destinations.  I’ll convince myself that once I arrive at someplace, I can finally think of my life as successful or that I’m well on my way to achieving happiness and contentment.  I’ll often think about that next skill or success that will open up a door to greater success and happiness, while only whittling away more free time from just being or enjoying the time that I have.

I rented a car for the first week that I arrived home, thinking that I would find an old clunker to drive around within the first week.  I had intended to adopt all of the interests that I filled my time with before leaving on my grand adventure.  But a peculiar thing happened during that time.  I came to realize very quickly that I didn’t really miss having to pay for all the things necessary to operate a vehicle such as gas, title, insurance, etc.  I also didn’t miss having to fight for my safety against all the other idiots on the road.  After a week, I gave up my rental car with no other options than to ride the metro system.  My roommate also gave me a Go-To card for the metro so that I could get around.  We posited that if I could just get through the next couple of weeks until the snow melted and it became easier to be outside, that I might get used to the metro system.  Coupled with buying a bicycle, I might even be able to adopt a new healthy lifestyle where I might not even need a vehicle in my life.

It’s been a noble quest.  After almost 5 weeks of using the metro system, I’m finding that I have become more tolerant of the metro system and am finding it to be a viable source of transportation around the cities.  Obviously, anyplace that I want to go now requires more planning and effort.  But that is surprisingly okay.  I’m now forced to make a decision as to how much I really want to go somewhere.  I’ve now removed many situations where I go someplace only to be disappointed that I spent the effort and time to go.  And with limited space in which to carry things, I now shop for food in much smaller quantities.  I am finding that not only am I using less space to store food, but this constraint is also helping me alleviate the problem of food getting forgotten and spoiling.  Using the metro also requires me to walk a lot more than I normally would.  I’ve spent more time enjoying the scenery around me, and getting exercise without having to make an effort to get to the gym.  I’m starting to consider getting rid of my gym membership as well.  My world has become smaller in terms of where I go and what I do.

However, Minneapolis is no Chicago.  We lack an extensive subway / lightrail system that other large cities offer.  I don’t always feel safe riding some of the buses late at night, or even the lightrail for that matter, when the stop is right outside some bars.  I can pass the time easily during the day reading a book or my nook between destinations.  That is as long as the other patrons are relatively quiet and not screaming into their phones, or trying to pick a fight with someone, or arguing about sports or which is better, Kentucky Fried Chicken or Popeyes.  “I’m talkin’ bout the colonel!!  The colonel, man!  He’s responsible for all those hot sauces.”  It’s distracting to say the least.  And unfortunately, when I consider my own tolerance to the white noise of life, I find that I’m starting to lean towards buying a car for myself.

I mentioned in the last post, arriving at my friends storage shed only to discover that after living out of a bag for the last 4 months, that I could easily dispose of many of the things I had stored while away.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks organizing and determining which things I’m going to rid myself of.  Being back and anticipating making some roots for at least the next 6 months to a year has caused me to fight my impulses for lightening my load a bit.  I try and convince myself that I will now need many of the items in storage.  But I know in my heart, I probably won’t.  I can probably get rid of my snowboard.  When I only snowboard once or twice a year, it doesn’t really make much sense to keep a snowboard around; especially when I can rent that equipment at a resort.  I’m finding that I don’t need near as many of the kitchen supplies that I think I do to make a good meal.  And I definitely don’t need all of the clothes that I’ve acquired over the last decade.

All of this has been an exercise in quantifying how much I need to be happy.  We make excuses for why we cannot have the type of life that others have.  Or, we make comparisons and assumptions about the quality of life that other people have without having the perspective of actually experiencing life in another way.  Rarely will we put ourselves in those situations by choice, but once placed into those situations either inadvertently or by circumstance, we readily adjust and find that what we had before wasn’t all that great and that how we live our life now is quite simply, better.  And that is the crux of my education.  I’m finding that rather than happiness being found by arriving at a destination, it is instead being found by simplifying my life so that I might spend more time enjoying the simple things in life.

Clarity

sky

I remember having a beer with my friend, Geoff, before leaving, and lamenting how disappointing it would be to go off on my adventure and return without having found what I have been looking for (purpose, vocation, etc).  Being one of my many wise and astute friends that I surround myself with, Geoff readily responded that my goal should not be to “Find Myself”, but only to find clarity in my life.

So there I was, 4 weeks before making my return home when my mother questioned me “How are you going to process this trip after you get home?”.  The truth is, I had already been sifting through my memories, looking for the truths and feelings that resonated with me the most.  I knew that upon arriving home, my friends and family would be curious to hear about my favorite adventures and hoping to understand some of the things that I took away from those experiences.  Personally, I find it difficult to define my favorite adventure or experience.  There were so many fantastic experiences that to choose one or two would somehow De-emphasize the others, and that unfortunately is something I’m unable to do.

For me, travel is about the people.  The places, adventures, and activities are just the icing on the cake. Those experiences really do not mean so much without the people that you encounter along the way.  The validation that I received from people was incredible.  Everyone I met, understood what I was doing and why I was doing it.  And everyone was full of ideas and untapped creativity.  It spurred me to think about my pursuits in an entirely different way.

Connection in this world may be the single most important quest in this life.  I don’t want to say that I have the answer to life, the universe, and everything (42), but it seems to me to be one of the most important quests I’ve ever undertaken; and one of the most enjoyable.  While on my adventure, I became very inspired reading about the Connection Economy in The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin.  The only way we are able to achieve anything of value in life, and to create the art that we’re capable of, is through the connections that we make along the way.  These connections can be personal, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual.

I’ve learned that we have it good in this country.  I’ve seen so much poverty.  People selling their handiwork on the streets with their children sitting beside them.  I’ve met so many people with the drive to try and make something / anything happen. The excuses that I’ve been making for myself cannot stand moving forward.  While I’m fearful of falling flat on my ass for trying something ambitious and crazy from time to time, I have a really good track record of walking away from such events with a minimal amount of injuries, both physical and emotional.

Attitude and perspective go a long way.  While we cannot control all the challenges that pop up in our lives, we can control how it affects us and how we treat other people along the way.  Treating people badly because we’re upset (even if the person in question is the one making us upset) never leads to anything positive. And getting upset or worried does absolutely nothing for us, except take away our peace of mind and cloud our judgement.

I’m much happier living a smaller or more simple life. Before I left, I sold many of my belongings and then stored the remaining things in my friends storage shed.  When I returned home and then traveled to his house to fetch some of necessary items, I was immediately struck by the number of items I had stored, that I now realized I could live without.  After living out of a backpack for 4 months, you realize how much you really need to be happy.  I think I’ve also started to look at ownership in a completely different way.  What good is having something when you only use it a fraction of the time?  Convenience?  Yet the “weight” of ownership bears down on our shoulders.  By “weight”, I mean the need to store said item; or the responsibility of keeping said item in good, working condition; or the worry we have if someone may steal it while we’re not present.  It doesn’t make sense to me the energy we expend to have so many things.  Understand though, I’m not suggesting we give up all our valuable possessions.  I’m only suggesting that we trim the excess of that which we do not use often enough.

I believe that it is necessary that we have passion in our lives.  I feel there’s an uneasy trend where passions are stifled, because it causes fear.  To feel so strongly about something that you would risk almost everything can seem a bit childish or impulsive.  But, coupled with wisdom; the wisdom gained from failure; passion is essential to pushing us forward and past all expectations and assumptions.  You cannot create something great without passion.  And we need to focus on our passions more.  More passion.  Less monetary gain.  We should concentrate on the things that we love, rather than the money or gain that we hope to achieve in the future.  Nor should we fear failure, for failure produces wisdom, which only makes us better at the art that we create.

And lastly, slow down and savor the moments in your life.  Appreciate them.  You will not always be happy.  You can escape and travel the world for four months; or maybe a year; but things will not always be what you expected.  You’ll be disappointed from time to time and you’ll be challenged by forces beyond your control.  To savor the truly amazing and memorable moments in your life is to appreciate the challenges and hardships that you’ve endured; and that my friends is what living life is all about.