All Posts By

Erin Sullivan

INSPIRATION JOURNAL

How to Do it All

_DSC8037

You may have noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I don’t love that– it’s unlike me. I stick to deadlines, even when I set them myself.

This is about balance, something I have been thinking about a lot lately. I knew this summer was going to be a hurricane; I mean, I designed the storm myself. I pushed the boulder down the hill in the first place, so I can’t be surprised that it picked up momentum. I balance my photography gigs, this blog, social channels, trip leading, a coaching practice and my life (i.e., my car getting totaled in a hail storm). I don’t always do it well, but hi, I’m here, so I’m obviously doing it in some general capacity.

An alternate title for this article might be “How to Keep Your Shit Together,” and SPOILER ALERT!!! I don’t actually know the answer. But if you continually launch yourself into the deep end, well, ya better learn how to swim.

“How do you do it all?”

Clumsily. Blindfolded. And on too little sleep.

My attempt at balance is messy. It’s a lot of throwing spaghetti at the wall— a metaphor I use all the time because what a visual… and that’s how it feels. It feels like pasta everywhere, with my laptop and cameras somewhere buried in there too.

It seems glamorous to travel the world and write and take photos. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it feels easy. Do not mistake this article for a complaint. I am in love with what I do for work and I wake up thankful every day. I also recognize the great privilege that has been present in my life allowing me the opportunities that got me to this point. But you can get run down or burnt out doing literally anything, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be fun or easy all the time.

Sometimes life turns up the volume on every channel at the same time. Sometimes you wish just one thing would slow down. Sometimes you just want to catch one little break, but the punches keep coming. You cannot always control the volume. It becomes really important to look at what is actually in your control, and act in your own best interest, because nobody else can do it for you.

The following points are written in the first person, as affirmations. That’s on purpose.

I NEED TO ASK FOR HELP

I’m accustomed to being a one-woman show. I over-commit, over-volunteer, over-extend. I can do it all! WATCH! Then upon finishing “it all,” I promptly start laugh-crying into a large pizza (that is, on good days).

Sometimes even the highest achievers need to ask for help. Willingness to ask for help is a strength. And shocker… sometimes you can even hire people who will do something better than you can, allowing you to spend your time doing the things you are best at.

Ask your friends for help. Ask specialists for help (and, ahem, pay them accordingly). Ask the people in your life for help who have told you over and over that they are here for you. It’s usually not an empty offer.

I NEED TO SAY NO

Time and energy are the most precious commodities we possess. You do not have time for bullshit, you do not have time for people who do not show up for you, you do not have time for things that drain your energy and give you nothing in return. You do not have time for people who poke holes in your dreams. So say no to all of it, because it’s not making you better. And it’s most definitely not helping you keep your shit together.

Say no to jobs that do not pay you what you’re worth, say no to people who suck up your time and energy, say no to shitty food and giving up on yourself. Say no to the wrong things so you can make space for the right things.

I NEED PERSPECTIVE

When was the last time you felt small? When was the last time you reminded yourself that we’re all just floating on a rock in Space? When was the last time someone reminded you that your problems are just not that big?

It’s not always about you. And don’t allow yourself to feel bad about that fact– that’s not the point here. The point is that this world, your life, everything you’re connected to, is much bigger than whatever is stressing you out. Listen to a podcast. Watch a movie. Read a book. Do something that puts things in perspective. Remember to celebrate your wins when you can. Remember that this isn’t the first time you’ll have to deal with something hard. And remember that you are not in this alone.

I NEED TO STOP COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHERS

Comparison does not make you better. It doesn’t. It puts out your fire because it convinces you that other people have better ones. It dilutes you, makes you feel small, and makes you feel like you’re not enough. Comparison does not improve you or your work– it doesn’t lighten your load.

I do not know a single person who does not struggle with this. I compare myself to other people in my industry, to people I know and people I don’t know, to my best friends, to people my age. It has never helped. We have to just stop. Don’t get sucked into it, and notice when you do so you can pull yourself out.

I NEED TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF

You must have energy to do work that matters. So take the requisite time. Decide to eat well, to exercise, to devote time to your spiritual practice or mental health, whatever that means to you. Notice what you need– do what you can to make rest possible. If you’re working multiple jobs, I feel you. It’s hard. It sucks. It feels impossible. Do what you can.

I don’t believe in Hustle Till You Die. If The Hustle is killing you, change what you are doing. It doesn’t matter how “successful” you are at the top if you sold your soul or your health to get there. You have a limited amount of time and energy. Spend some of it on your personal well-being.

I NEED TO STAY FOCUSED ON MY VISION

Why are you here? What makes you feel fired up? What gets you out of bed? Maybe you don’t have a super passionate idea of what that is right now, and that’s OK. But follow the clues your life is giving you. And stay focused on the purpose-driven stuff. Don’t get distracted by the shit other people are doing, gossip, negativity, or the million reasons people will tell you your goals won’t work out.

Listen. The storm will never stop, it just changes form and intensity. That’s life. Life will bring you challenges, then push you into the deep end and throw the entire pool off the cliff. It’s your job to learn to swim regardless.


 

Thanks for reading. If you liked this post, or if you know someone who would find it helpful, please share it– handy share buttons below.

JOURNAL ON THE ROAD

The Home in Everywhere

This post is sponsored by Zappos.


I haven’t lived here– really lived here– since I was 17.

This is where I grew up. There have been weeks I’ve come back in my in-betweens in the past ten years. But not to stay. Since I left, I have carried the feeling of home with me wherever I go, and I think it makes every place hard to leave. This place taught me the meaning of home so thoroughly. I learned it well. And leaving anywhere is rarely easy as a result, because I see magic everywhere.

Home is the smell of the second floor of my parent’s house in the summertime. Home is the sideways light on the grass at sunset. It’s conversations with my grandpa at his kitchen table where I used to sit and eat boxed macaroni and cheese after school. He’s sharper than a tack without even trying.

Home. Where I don’t feel guilty for getting up late or just taking care of myself– something I have never been good at. Where the regulars at the old coffee shop remember me– and why on earth did I ever think I could get work done there, when I know I’d be happily stuck in an hour-long conversation– a recap of the past year of my life and theirs? Home is where I walk to the beach for a sunset, only this time I’ve got a camera in my hand and each time, more weathered skin, more wrinkles around my eyes, more freckles on my arms given to me by the same sun I know here.

Home is the same salad my mom makes every September when the tomatoes are ripe and red. Home doesn’t care when I leave and it doesn’t care when I come back. It’s a feeling anyway, like a memory, like nostalgia. And I take that with me everywhere.

Sometimes home is found at the bottom of my suitcase, the airport armchair I fell asleep on. Sometimes it’s journaling on the subway. Passport stamps and taxi rides and 40 cent fish soup on the side of the road next to a temple in Bagan. Sometimes home is restlessness in hotel sheets. Home is the endless hike down the mountain in the midnight sun. Sometimes it’s breakfast with someone I just met. And I’ll swear I knew them in a past life as we finish the blueberry pancakes.

Every place becomes a part of me, this one just carries more weight. It was the first place I knew, and for a lot of my life, it was the only place I knew. It taught me to know others– like your first best friend. Home is a deep exhale. I come here in the transitions now. I come here for a kind of grounding. A kind of reverence for the in-betweens and the closing of chapters and the starting of new ones.

I am wearing Teva Original Premier sandals, mom is wearing Teva Original Universal Rope sandals.

 

I knew the feeling of home here first so I could learn to feel it and hold it everywhere else. So I could find Home in every place I have ever been– in a park in London, in the blue and white tiles of old church walls, and under a waterfall of frigid snowmelt in New Zealand.

This was always home first. Sometimes I miss it. Sometimes I miss the shortcut to the house from the train. So I’ll take a few days out of the year to be here, and I’ll be home somewhere else the rest of the time.

I know this place by heart. But I know home is more than one place. After all, understanding that home had a feeling is what allowed me to leave it in the first place.


Our Teva sandals are from Zappos.com. Zappos’ free and fast next-day shipping and excellent return policy is perfect for my nonstop travel schedule. I am wearing the Teva Original Universal Premier Leather in Indigo– great for the beach or walking around London, wherever I happen to be. Mom is wearing the Teva Original Universal Rope in Cognac.

TRAVEL

Traveling with Anxiety

Trigger warning: this post talks about my experiences with anxiety, including dermatillomania and bulimia, and could potentially be triggering.

When I started this website, I imagined it as a travel blog. It started because my friends and family were constantly asking me how I traveled so much and so cheaply– so I figured I’d write the answers in one place. I have since written about a wide range of topics, but my experiences traveling inform my writing regardless of what it’s about.

For the first time since starting this blog, I’m going fully nomadic for a little while. I’m not a stranger to the lifestyle– I did it for three years– but it’s still a change. And unsurprisingly, as with any uncertain transition, my anxiety is making itself known.

I have always struggled with anxiety, but I didn’t know what it was. As a kid, I didn’t know how to name it– I just thought something must have been wrong with me. The other explanation I had was that everyone was struggling, and nobody was talking about it. I didn’t actually seek help for this stuff until I was in college.

In high school, I developed an eating disorder. It was something I thought I could control even when everything else felt crazy. With the eating disorder came a skin picking habit– I would stand in front of the mirror and scrutinize my face, trying to pick and pop at just about anything. I justified it as normal teenager stuff, but it wasn’t.

I remember being frozen in my dorm room, dreading my next class– not because I didn’t like the class, but because I had to physically get myself there. And I’d go, but what should have been easy just wasn’t. I’d walk through campus and feel like everyone was staring at me. I’d sit down in the studio or lecture hall, ears ringing, heart pounding, exhausted.

This is nowhere near all of it, but it should give you an idea.

So I started seeing a therapist. I heard a lot of new words– official names for what I struggled with. And the more I learned about what I was experiencing, the more I wanted to learn. The more I wanted to work on it. And I promised myself I would not let my anxiety get in the way of my life.

It’s one thing in theory, and another in practice. My first opportunity at solo travel came when a colleague of one of my professors invited me to come intern at a marine lab in Portugal. I was thrilled, and immediately started putting a plan in place. This was going to be my first time abroad– and I was going to do it by myself. I pictured my life there, what it would look like, what my friends would be like, all the cool outfits I would wear and all the European trips I’d be able to take.

A few months later, I flew to Porto. And when the novelty of everything wore off, I felt like I had made a horrible mistake. My anxiety was big. For the first few days, I didn’t even leave my apartment.

With routine, things improved. When I was busy, my brain didn’t have the space for anxiety. But it took a few months in Portugal for things to feel normal, and I learned it the hard way. Nobody told me I’d feel scared and nervous all the time. Nobody told me how intimidating it would be. Nobody talks about the harder part of travel.

I kept pushing. I figured I was already in Europe, so I was going to go see it regardless of if my anxiety wanted to tag along. So I traveled, and so did my anxiety. We went to Barcelona for a weekend. We went to Amsterdam. We went to Paris, but didn’t even go to the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t eat dinner that night, and instead retreated to my hostel dorm bed and tried to wait out the wave and the tightness in my chest.

My anxiety is very physical. My heart feels like it’s being squeezed. It’s a dull ache and it’s very, very real.

But I decided a long time ago that my anxiety is not in charge of my life– I am. Here are the tools I use, often daily, to manage my anxiety in my adventurous life, especially while traveling.

PLAN AHEAD & PREPARE

My outdoorsy folks will recognize this as the first principle of Leave No Trace. It applies here in a big way. Travel involves many unknowns, and anxiety does not like unknowns. So plan for it as much as you can. When you’re thinking about your trip, if you feel stressed about a certain aspect, plan for it. If I suspect I’m going to be stressed about a particular thing, I probably will be. So book your accommodation for the first few days at least. Look at maps, create a list of things you want to do or see, and make a plan for how you’re going to get around. Equip yourself with information. Unknowns are inevitable, but when you’ve done the research, your anxiety has less to hold on to.

FIND ROUTINE

Anxiety can make decision-making very difficult. But when part of your day is already planned, you have less decisions to make. Routine doesn’t mean you have to be boring– it just means streamlining part of your day so that it is generally consistent. When traveling, finding routine can be complicated due to place, time zone, food, and tons of other circumstances. So what is in your control? Getting up at the same time every day, journaling before bed every night, exercising, meditating– anything that is independent of place. Start small with the goal of eventually having a basic structure to your day.

HAVE A SUPPORT SYSTEM

Online or offline, know who you can count on if you experience anxiety on the road. Support systems don’t typically land in your lap, so you have to plan for this. Tell people who care about you what you might struggle with while traveling. Think about what would make you feel supported, then tell them how they can be there for you. Reach out when you need help– text or call someone, use a Facebook group, or even writing a letter to someone can help if you don’t have access to power or wifi.

DEVELOP HEALTHY COPING MECHANISMS

You will not always have immediate access to your support system, so it is important to develop skills and tools you can use when anxiety hits. Intentional breathing exercises, journaling prompts, podcasts, calming music, yoga– whatever sounds good to you, get into a habit with it at home so that it’s a natural go-to when you are on the road.

SPLURGE WHEN YOU NEED TO

Have a fund you can dig in to when you just need some self-care. Knowing you’ve got some cash set aside for mental health days is reassuring– it’s comforting to know you can go get yourself a room if you need some space. And if you’re ready to call it, you can use the money to get home sooner than you were planning on. Having the financial cushion here will take some of the edge off.

BE GOOD TO YOUR BODY

Everyone is different, so I will speak for myself here, but I am always more anxious when I am drinking. This sucks (I am a huge fan of craft beer), but I can’t deny it. Hangovers for me are always accompanied by some kind of anxiety or feeling of absolute dread. And although nights out can be fun, they aren’t always worth it. If this is you too, my advice is to limit your drinking, and to drink a lot of water regardless. I also notice that caffeine tends to make me more anxious– and unfortunately, I really love coffee. Overall, notice what your body needs and what it doesn’t. Notice what makes you feel good and what definitely doesn’t. And act accordingly.

GET OUT AND DO SOMETHING

When you get stuck in a worry loop, anxiety wants you to curl up in a ball and not do anything ever again. Thing is, nobody is going to wake you up from your anxiety “nap” (aka laying in bed looking at the ceiling)– so you have to force yourself to do something, even if it’s as simple as walking down the street or sitting in a cafe. Most of the time, getting started on one thing will lead to something else.

DON’T GIVE ENERGY TO WORRY OR STRESS

Many anxious people are very self-aware. You probably fall into that category if you’re reading this. So when you notice yourself worrying, recognize that the worry isn’t really all that useful if it isn’t translated into action. Realize that worry doesn’t usually change outcome. Only worry about what is in your control, and take action on those things.

KNOW YOU CAN ALWAYS CHANGE YOUR MIND

This is your trip and your life. No one decision you make is set in stone. You can always change your mind, so give yourself this freedom and remind yourself of it often. If the plan sucks, change the plan. You can always cut things short or go home.


Anxiety can run your life if you let it. It’s not your fault that you have anxiety, but it is your responsibility to deal with it. I still struggle with my anxiety and all of the manifestations of it, and I know that it’s never going to go away, but that it can be managed.

I am happy to share all of this with you because I want you to know that living an adventurous life with anxiety is possible. I know it’s easier said than done. And it’s not a one-time thing either– this is recurring stuff. Things are allowed to suck. Things are allowed to be really difficult. Know that you have more control than you think you do.

OUTDOORS SUV CAMPING

Guest Post: How to Turn Your RAV4 into a Camper

A few years ago, I converted my SUV to a camper by building a platform bed in my 2009 Honda CR-V. It’s still a super popular post on this blog– link to the post here. Every so often, folks reach out to me by email or Instagram DM with their own stories and how-to’s on how they converted their car or SUV, so I decided to start featuring them.

Here’s Aric Sparmann on converting his 2008 Toyota RAV4 into a camper. All photos courtesy of Aric.


Image-1

Four years of sitting behind a desk for sixty hours a week starts to make you wonder what you’re missing after awhile. The idea of waking up someday as an old man with nothing to show but a lifetime of paperwork is sort of terrifying to me.

I spent most of my time staring out the window, so I decided that’s where I was headed.

I work as a kayak guide on the weekends now. A slow transition away from the dealership I still work at on the weekdays. When I have more free time I prefer to bicycle tour. But the location of the kayak shop is almost two hours away! There’s no sense in driving back and forth everyday, and it’s tiresome to do anyways. Hotels are expensive after awhile. What else could I do?

I’ve literally been driving the answer around every day. I became inspired by Instagram posts of people traveling full time in conversion vans or busses that they’ve made into homes. I didn’t see any reason I couldn’t manage something similar with my 2008 Toyota RAV4.

THE HOW

I removed one of the backseats and laid the larger of the two down flat. Old comfortable couch cushions wrapped in sheets make up the bed. A sleeping bag and pillows on top. Sitting where the other seat was, is a wooden shelf. There is plenty of storage for towels, books, and clothes underneath. A fan, some silverware, obligatory bottle opener, a candle, and an iPod speaker are on top of it. The warm glow of Christmas lights strung around the headliner make it even more cozy. My surf board fits along the side and reaches back between the shelf and the door. My kayak rides on top of the vehicle, with the seat and paddles stored in the lower storage area in the trunk next to back up survival gear, first aid, water jugs, jumper cables, and dehydrated food (ya know, just in case). There’s even a Playstation Two under the seat that plugs into my cars radio unit for rainy days.

Most campsites don’t cost more than $20-30 a night and offer power and water. An extension cord and a power strip light up the interior and charge my devices. The car battery gets disconnected once I park as the rear gate being open keeps the BCM awake and drawing power. But campsites aren’t always available and sometimes I get to rough it with no luxuries. Sometimes that just makes the weekend more exciting!

It’s a tight space, but a cozy one that I call home on the weekends. It makes the weekday drag more tolerable, and has only provoked a strong desire for more.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0109.JPG

Image-1 copyDCIM100GOPROGOPR0118.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0114.JPG


 

Check out Aric’s adventures on Instagram at @asparmann. Questions for Aric? Email him at asparmann@me.com. Have a car or SUV to camper conversion you’d like to submit for me to feature? Shoot me an email at info@erinoutdoors.com.

BLOGGING INSPIRATION

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Pursuing My Dream Job

I don’t know what your dream job is, and this article definitely has to do with blogging, but it’s also applicable to you if you want to start anything.

Three years ago, I bought a smartphone and downloaded Instagram. I bought this domain name and thought it might be rewarding to start a blog.

I used to spend hours reading the work of other adventurous people– folks who made a career out of their travels. It seemed unrealistic and a little outrageous. And when I started, I didn’t intend to make this a full-time thing. But I’m here, three years later, and it’s a full-time thing.

“What do you actually do for work?” is a question I receive a few times a week. I am mainly a writer and photographer, working in the travel and outdoor industries. I document incredible places and experiences, working with brands making awesome stuff, hotels with beautiful properties, and non-profits doing meaningful work in their communities and in the world. It’s my dream job, it’s a lot of work, and in pursuing it over the past few years, I have learned a few things.

1. IT’S STILL WORK WHEN IT’S YOUR DREAM

“When you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

I disagree. Just because you love something doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Just because it looks glamorous from the outside doesn’t discount the more difficult moments. Passion and drive will never fully soften stress or worry. It’s still work, and as a result, it still feels like work. When you do what you love, you’ll work many days in your life– it’ll just be more enjoyable.

In fact…

2. IT’S OFTEN HARDER THAN SETTLING

I struggle to think of a time in my day when I don’t think about my work. I juggle a lot. I have writing projects, I have photoshoots, I edit those photos, I pitch new ideas and trips, I run a coaching practice, I write on this blog. I spend a few hours a day doing things for my businesses that I don’t necessarily get paid for– reading, researching, making connections, writing blog posts like this one, answering non-job-related emails. And I don’t have one boss to report to– instead, I have a dozen of them, all with different needs. It’s more complicated. It takes more energy. Frankly, my 9-5 was way simpler and easier.

3. YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN

Believing in yourself is part of this job. You have to be your number one fan. This is on you. It’s on you to make it happen. Even if you don’t believe in your success, act like you do. Find a new confidence and let it lead you everywhere. Tell everyone about your thing. Get business cards. Be proud. And please, identify yourself by whatever you are trying to be– nobody hires people who are “starting out in photography,” or “trying to be a blogger.” People hire photographers. People hire bloggers. Your title is whatever you decide it is. Believe it.

4. IT TAKES DISCIPLINE

If you want this to be your job, you have to treat it like a job. Be on time– even if you work from your couch. Have a schedule. Know your calendar. Have boundaries. I don’t believe in the “hustle till you die” strategy. I believe that we need to re-charge sometimes and we need to stay in touch with ourselves when we are working toward something big. Discipline means you know when you are working and you know when you are not working. But when you are scheduled to work, make sure you actually work. And when you are working, always always do your best.

5. THERE IS ROOM FOR YOU

This is so important. It’s easy to look at everyone else in the field you want to be in and to decide that there simply isn’t room for one more. But there is. You are the only one who has lived your story. Nobody can create exactly like you can. I remember a few years ago, looking at all of the people who were doing what I wanted to do. At the beginning, I didn’t think I’d get there. And looking back, I actually didn’t have a solid reason to discredit myself. When you keep going at it for a long time, you’ll have these moments of “this could actually happen,” followed by moments of “this is actually happening.” Know that there is room for you.

6. YOU WILL GET REJECTED

In order to really succeed at this thing, you’ll have to reach out to a lot of people. And you will have to be your own best fan, because you will get rejected. A lot. And as you make your way up, you’ll experience bigger levels of rejection. Some will start to matter less, and some you will take personally. Understand from the beginning that it’s never personal, and that you’re signing up for this. I still get rejected often. It means I’m trying, and I’m constantly reaching higher. It’s just part of the process.

7. YOUR CHOICE: FUN OR STRESSFUL

This whole thing can be fun, or it can be stressful. Honestly it’ll definitely be a bit of both– that’s what happens with uncertainty. But what if it could be fun? What if you could play in the unknown? What if you loved it? Let it be fun, understanding that your worst-case scenario probably doesn’t mean the world will end. The whole entrepreneurial journey is full of unknowns, and that’s a given. It’s on you to decide how you will cope with them.

8. YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS WILL CHANGE

When you are defining your own career, success is a moving target. It changes as you change. It evolves as you become more skilled and explore new avenues. You might be surprised how your ambitions shift. A goal you had a year ago might feel really easy now. It might feel just as far away. Set benchmarks and check in with yourself. Stay ambitious, but always remember where you started and how much you have learned.

9. YOU HAVE TO LOVE THE PROCESS

Why are you actually in this thing? Is it to get a lot of followers? Is it to work from a beach? Is it to get famous? Are you just as in love with the process as you are with the result? If you don’t love the process, it will feel old pretty damn quick. If you don’t yet know if you love the process, you’ll find out as soon as you start, I promise.

10. IT’S WORTH IT

And honestly, there are times when I really wonder about this. There are late nights and early mornings when I’d simply rather sleep. There are weekends I’d rather do a million things than respond to emails or edit photos. There are weeks and months when I wonder if I should go get a more stable job so I didn’t always have to think about my next project. But I know what I want my mark on this world to be– connection, motivation, beautiful images, stories that enrich and empower. So I do this. Every day. And it’s worth it.

photo by BC Serna.

photo by BC Serna.


Know that this isn’t an overnight success kind of thing. And know that you most definitely are not alone. Going after the things you truly want is hard work, and nobody ever promised it’d be simple or easy. It might feel impossible, but you will never know unless you start.

Whatever your dream job is, and wherever you are in the process, I’m rooting for you.

Thanks to Katie Boue and Tiffiny Costello, who helped me brainstorm for this post. Feature photo by Rebecca Slaughter.

INSPIRATION

The Forces of Nature I Know

This post was written in partnership with REI and the Force of Nature campaign.

A lot of you reading this know me well.

You might have read my thoughts on this blog. You might have seen a few of my YouTube videos. You might have seen me goofing off on my Instagram story with my roommate. You might be completely new here. Regardless of how you got here or how well you know me, this is where I write what I know to be true. Everything I write, the things I have learned, and my willingness to share– these things are not inherently in me. They have developed over time. They have developed over time because I was able to look ahead to women who have gone before me– who courageously shared their stories, or who blazed new trails, who took big risks and who were willing to fail, or to be wrong.

So I wanted to write an ode to the women who have showed me what a force of nature is, what that means, what it looks like. These are the women who made me feel a force of nature myself. The women who inspired me, who showed me courage, who taught me what it really means to try. The women who took chances on me though they didn’t have to. Who gave me their time, their patience. Who listened. Who stayed on my team. Who showed me how deeply rooted beauty is within strength and humility.

They came from every corner, and they showed up consistently for my whole life.

My mother is where I learned confidence and tact. She taught me how to raise my hand, and that I can raise it as often as I want to. She showed me how to advocate for myself– how to show and tell people that I was next up, that I was valuable and that I didn’t have to prove it to anyone. I learned grace from my grandmother, who puts others before herself not rarely, but every day. And though I didn’t know her, I learned risk from stories of my great-grandmother, who arrived on Ellis Island with no family at age 19 to become a nurse.

I learned from women I have never met in person. Women of history and women of today. Women who started movements and who drive them, with or without credit. Women who have suffered great loss unjustly, and walk with grace and vulnerability. Women who face marginalization in a way I never could, and still persevere in the face of high risk. Women who continue to fight the injustices they live through every single day. And I want to be clear: I don’t understand their experiences, because it is simply not possible for me to live them. My life is easier many ways. Resources, race, circumstance. And words do not equal action, but they matter.

I learned grit from the women I met on the road and on the trail. The woman who runs her own beef farm in New Zealand, 65 years old, hauling ass on an ATV down a dirt road cussing like a sailor. The women who were told they couldn’t, and did anyway.

I learned what was really important from the teenagers on trips with me. I talked them through their first time peeing in the woods, and I laughed with surprise when they told me it meant a lot to them– really. I learned about vulnerability when a high school freshman told me about her eating disorder, when she confided in me, when she let me share in her firsts. I learned from her when she cried angrily on the side of the mountain she believed she could not climb. But she would get there. She did. And she’d get to many more and I’d watch along proudly from my computer screen, thousands of miles away.

I learned compassion from women on the internet. The bloggers I silently stalked for years before starting my own website. The women who fearlessly shared their experiences of being differently abled, homeless, fat, queer, scared, anything at all that was real for them. Women who have experienced trauma. The women who were honest because they knew it could help someone else.

I learned about listening from nature herself. She thunders loud and rains down hard, and still surprises you with hot days and cold nights. Her greatness will tower over you like what you know is God. Like love. She’s a heartbreaker and a healer and her genius is found in seasons. She’ll blow down your barriers. She’s wind in the trees, she’s your face in the snow, and you’re in the eye of her hurricane.

And those who may not identify as female, or who may be questioning, I see you.

I want them to be seen. I want them to be heard like the way I’ve heard them.

Watching them fail and get up gave me permission to try. Watching them laugh at themselves. Watching them risk and lean into discomfort. Watching them give themselves to others– their creativity, their passion– more than they had to. I have watched them speak on what they know is right. I have watched them be too loud, too outspoken, too crass, too much. I have watched them in the face of the criticism. And I have watched them fight and love fiercely throughout.

If I didn’t have these women to look up to, I don’t know what I would be. And I don’t compare myself to them, because that wouldn’t be fair. But I didn’t learn these things on accident. They inspire me to be a force of nature because that’s just what they are, and what they showed me to be.

These are the forces of nature that I know. They are everywhere. And they are worth far more than infrequent praise.

 


 

 Thank you to REI for making a comprehensive effort to change the imagery of people in the outdoors, for committing $1 million to community organizations that create opportunities for women and girls in the outdoors, and for sponsoring this post. 

Feature photo by Raja Iliya.

INSPIRATION

Cheers to the Chapters of Your Life

Two and a half years ago, I moved to Colorado in search of a new chapter.

Before the move, I worked as an adventure trip leader. It was how I traveled– I’d pick a place I wanted to go to, find a job there and book a ticket. The job was complicated and dynamic, but after a while, my life felt relatively simple. I’d get a job that lasted a few months, travel in between, then get another job, then travel.

Temporary houses, airports, living out of a backpack.

It was an amazing way to see the world and those years are invaluable. But I got tired. I was ready to put roots down. I was looking for home. I was looking for friends, for community, for routine, for consistency, for a new story to write.

I had a full-time job offer in Colorado, and it seemed like the next step– like a safe place for me to build a foundation. And that’s what I did, just not in the way I thought I would. I thought I’d move out here and start my job. I thought I’d find a group of friends who liked what I liked. I thought I would get into some hobbies on the weekends. I thought that was what putting roots down would be like.

_DSC9089

There was the plan, and then there was the amazing, blessing-in-disguise, wonderful and massive wrench thrown into the plan. The wrench was getting let go from my new but-it’s-the-reason-I-moved-here job. And thank goodness. It was the first unknown of many. It was my permission slip to backflip off the diving board into the deep end of something I knew nothing about.

I said yes.

I said yes to sunrise, to parties, to internships, to things I thought I was too old to try and things I wrote myself off from– things I felt disqualified from. I said yes to hard work, to wine, to friendships I felt were unlikely– some of them the most important and honest friendships I’ve had.

An example of Yes: Rebecca and I and a Kenwood Sonoma County Pinot Noir in Nederland, CO.

I wasn’t home all the time– I wasn’t home, because I was on a plane or driving 6 hours to the desert. I wasn’t home all the time because I was going somewhere with the people I met here. Because we decided Tuesday was the perfect day for a picnic. Because we were on the road to somewhere or nowhere, and none of it was according to my plan.

I wasn’t looking for an adventure when I moved to Colorado. I was looking for stability and I found adventure anyway. I learned that it just takes many forms. I now know that I don’t need a permission slip to take risks. I learned that I can’t outplan the lessons life has for me. I couldn’t have planned this– the friendships, the jobs I found and then quit, the communities I have been a part of, the ways I learned to engage, the travel schedule to keep up with, the love in so much of it. And I wouldn’t want to try to plan any of that. I would do a really bad job at it anyway.

For a long time, I was the person who knew how things were “supposed” to work out. But I couldn’t have predicted or planned how these years have unfolded. I never could have imagined the moments they were made of.

Adventure comes in many forms. Be open for it when it comes to you. You can try to plan as much as you want, but life is richer and better than your plan. And you will discover yourself over and over again along the way.

So cheers to you. Cheers to these chapters. The ones that form you, that challenge you, that ask you why you’re here and make you better.


Thank you to Kenwood Vineyards for sponsoring this post. Kenwood’s spirit is defined by avid curiosity, a love for the land and above all else, a belief that there’s always something more to discover. Passion for adventure and the thrill of discovery is at the core of Kenwood’s wild experience. Some favorites:

  • 2014 Sonoma County River Valley Pinot Noir raspberry, cherry and red currant aromas, with spice notes of nutmeg and vanilla for a smooth and elegant finish.
  • 2013 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, plum and cherry flavors, joined with notes of nutmeg and star anise.
  • 2015 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc – aromas of passion fruit, lychee and white peach, with subtle notes of lemongrass and fresh ginger root. The intense bouquet is complemented by zesty citrus and tropical flavors that give way to a crisp and refreshing finish.