All Posts By

Erin Sullivan

INSPIRATION

Life Lessons from My Restaurant Job

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I’m laughing, because this is a really personal piece for me. Does that seem weird? Does this seem off-topic?

Since I started this blog, it has been the place where I have expressed the discovery of my true self– through travel, the outdoors, and pursuing a path that might be a little more complicated than most. I’ve shared honestly about my freelance career, about figuring out next steps, and about taking risks when you don’t even know if there’s a reward on the other side.

I have had many side jobs on this path. Many of them had cool titles, or seemed glamorous. But the best side job I ever took on was working at a restaurant.

I needed the money and I wanted to tick it off my bucket list. I had been working on the blog a lot and doing some social media freelance work– it was all screen time, and all solo. I wanted something social for the weekends, so I started looking.

The goal was to work at a brewery, and there are lots of options in Colorado. But I didn’t want to work at just any brewery, I wanted to work at the best brewery, so that’s where I applied. And well, that brewery also happens to be a restaurant. A big restaurant.

I was honest– I didn’t know a lot about beer. But I was enthusiastic and willing to learn, and they hired me.

So for the past year, I worked 20 hours a week at a restaurant. And this is what I learned.

I learned how to efficiently do a lot of things at once, because there is no other option. The only room available in my brain while I was at the restaurant was for things that had to do with… being there. It was a constant exercise in prioritization and mental organization. Always figuring out the most efficient way, always reconfiguring and re-inventing.

I learned to listen to people and gracefully navigate conflict. It’s in your face in different capacities all the time– both with guests, and with the people you work with. You can’t delete it and you can’t avoid it, so you better learn how to deal with it or things are going to be really uncomfortable for you.

I learned not to dwell on mistakes. I broke pint glasses, I garnished dishes wrong, I dropped drinks at the wrong tables. My bad. Let go, learn, and move on– that’s what everyone expects of you. It was so weird to me that everyone moved on from my mistakes so quickly when I was used to being hard on myself. It seems simple, sure, but it gave me permission to let go.

I learned not to take things personally. Because it was never about me– it was about the bigger picture. Everyone was doing their best. And most people wanted to make my job easier. Nothing was personal. Everything was about the team.

I learned what happens when a group of people come together who love something a little or a lot (but mostly a lot), and when they are committed to being great. I learned that when it’s for the right reasons, people proudly take more responsibility than they have to, because they know that they can, and that they are supported.

I learned what a real leader does. How a real leader acts when nobody is watching. And how closely a real leader listens to people and actually hears them. I watched with joy as real leaders led, no matter the size of their arena.

I learned what a team actually is. What it looks like, how it behaves. How a team shows up for each other when someone is overwhelmed, when things get complicated, or when life happens. Not because they feel obligated, but because they understand their place within its fabric, and because they know that it’s important.

I was reminded of the story within every individual; the things that make us tick that other people might not get to see from the outside. I wanted to know about the dishwasher’s trip to Australia and the line cook’s Master’s degree and the host’s daughter’s favorite coloring books. How the chef got married standing knee-deep in a glacial lake on a sunny day in the mountains.

We are so much more than people think we are.

And of course, it wasn’t perfect. No company is. But I learned that it’s possible to very quickly become very attached to a large group of extremely different, unique people. That it’s possible to not only call them family, but to feel it and believe it.

I was reminded in a big and bold way, that lessons are found everywhere, especially in places you never think to look for them. And that I have to remember to leave room for surprises– to know that they are not only possible, but probable, every single day I walk this earth.

I learned more in my part-time restaurant job than on any rugged outdoor photoshoot or fancy media trip. No “cool job” I’ve had could ever stack up.

I’m not saying that every restaurant experience is like this one. But I want you to know that it’s out there.

And above all, I want you to know that in life and in any side job you might have, there are always opportunities to learn, and always opportunities to be surprised. They are endless.

It’s just on us to see them.

 


 

Feature photo by Rebecca Slaughter, and my deepest thAnks to the team at Avery Brewing Co. for all of the above and all the other stuff I couldn’t put on the internet.

INSPIRATION

Getting Out from Overwhelm

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“I just can’t. I’m just stuck.”

I have felt this way more times than I can count.

This week, a writer friend of mine had an assignment. A big assignment. A career-changing assignment that she’s been working toward for years. When she got the assignment, she celebrated– and certainly, she deserved to celebrate. It was a milestone.

But then she had to write it. And that was a different story.

She built it up so much in her head that she felt completely paralyzed when it came to writing the damn thing.

I am sure this has happened to you. Planning a trip, writing a thesis, booking a huge job. It’s all very exciting when you find out you’re going to do it. You think about how great you are, and how great the outcome will be. You think about what it means in the context of your success.

And then you realize that you actually have to do it. You look at the other things on your to-do list. How are you supposed to prioritize? What will happen if you fail? What will happen if you don’t? What does success mean? And what is its place in your life?

I find that the people who really don’t want to be stuck tend to fall into Overwhelm for one of two reasons.

1. WE DON’T KNOW THE “RIGHT” WAY TO GO

You have some idea of your endgame– some idea of where you want to end up. But you have no clue how to get there. If you only knew the right way to go, the right path to take, the right

I hear this one as it relates to travel. People don’t know how much money they need to save, so they don’t save anything at all. Options are overwhelming, so they don’t plan.

We seem to think that successful people are successful because they had a plan. Like they had a magical ability to always make the right decision.

I promise, they didn’t. Everyone is just doing their best.

Most decisions don’t become “right” until after they’re made. There aren’t right decisions– there are creative and intuitive people.

2. WE ARE AFRAID TO FAIL, SO WE AVOID RISKS AT ALL COSTS

Dreaming about booking a huge gig? Awesome. Fantasizing about your dream career? Easy.

Dreaming is easy because it requires no follow-through. It doesn’t require action or risk. But when you actually try something out, you also actually risk failure in a major and often public way. You materialize and admit to your intention, and that’s scary.

Usually, we really care about our dreams. Obviously– they’re our dreams. So, we also really care if they don’t work out like we hoped and planned.

Our big dreams are also tied intimately to our sense of ourselves. Our big dreams are woven delicately with our identities. So it’s totally understandable that fear of failure is a real thing– a real, paralyzing thing at times.

WHAT IS THE SIMPLEST WAY TO GET UNSTUCK FROM OVERWHELM?

Today I’m giving you some tough love.

Do something. Do anything. Momentum is real. Eventually, you’ll find something that works. And when you do, you’ll do more of that thing.

When you are in the process, when you’re distracted by it, you don’t have time to look up and see how far you have to go. You celebrate your accomplishments amongst the failures, because that’s what you have to do in order to keep moving.

Overwhelm happens. It should be celebrated. It means you have big dreams. But in order to change a direction or find one that feels good, you have to be moving. So get moving.

 


 

Feature photo by Elisabeth Brentano.

BLOGGING INSPIRATION

Why I Went to Maui (and What I Did)

If it weren’t for the Internet, I’d have way less friends. Seriously, credit for most of my friendships goes to the Internet. Specifically, social media.

The relationships I have made as a result of social media have challenged me, they have brought out the absolute best in me, they have taught me a lot. And they have also gotten me to see some pretty amazing places. One of those places is Maui.

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I met Elisabeth Brentano at the Outdoor Retailer trade show last summer. We chatted for a few minutes and went our separate ways. That was it. But fast-forward seven months and we’re sleeping in a Jeep together on the top of a volcano. What?

Life is full of connection, and connection is awesome. Connection is the reason I do most things in life.

The trip came about because we’re both freelance bloggers and photographers, had some free time, and wanted to go to Hawaii. We kept in touch on Instagram and started talking about our plans. February was open. We both had airline miles to spend, so we bought flights and got curious. We outlined an itinerary, emailed places and people that seemed interesting, flew to Maui, rented a Jeep from Avis and hit the road.

Elisabeth and I both work with sunglasses brand Sunski, and one of their team members lives in Maui. Huge thanks to Raja and Rachel for letting us crash for a few nights! Their house was our first stop, then it was off to Heleakalā for sunset.

Haleakalā is an incredible volcano that I struggled to pronounce on more than one occasion. We drove up for sunset, slept in the car (campground info here) and drove back up to the top at 3am to attempt some star photos and catch sunrise. You have to do this if you go to Maui.

Next up: the road to Hāna is a famous for its stunning views and waterfalls around every (hairpin) turn. There are plenty of places to stop and marvel– do some research here and you will be rewarded. The drive takes 2 hours, but more if you stop at places like Wai’anapanapa State Park like we did.

It’s worth staying overnight in Hāna– a day trip would feel like too much time in the car, especially because the roads are windy. We had a beautiful stay at Travaasa in Hāna. Our bungalow was straight-up gorgeous.

snapped by Elisabeth at Travaasa

Kihei is another place you’ll probably visit when you’re in Maui. We spent a lot of time on Big Beach, aka Makena Beach, where we saw a couple of beautiful sunsets. For food, we had a recommendation for MonkeyPod in Wailea from a few people– and we ended up going back more than once. It has an awesome beer selection for a craft beer nerd like me, plus great food (butternut squash pizza please).

In Kihei, we stayed at a couple of beautiful vacation rentals. I never think about searching for rentals before a trip– I always go straight for AirBnb or to looking at campsites. This was a reminder that sometimes it pays to reach to to individual property owners. I saw Tracy’s Tropical Treasures online and sent Tracy an email. She got back to me right away. We stayed in two of Tracy’s locations, and had the opportunity to photograph a new property for her. The only thing nicer than Tracy’s properties was Tracy herself! I highly recommend that you reach out to her if you’re planning on going to Maui.

Next up we headed to Lahaina. I took surf lessons with Abner at Hang Loose Surf Club. Abner is a rad dude– a go-getter and native Hawaiian who runs 3 businesses. I was super inspired by him. It was also my first time ever *really* standing up on a surfboard. I’ve taken surf lessons before… more than once… but never actually had much success. I recorded the lesson and will be sharing it on YouTube in the next few weeks!

In Lahaina, we stayed at the Plantation Inn, a lovely B&B with gardens and a picturesque pool & jacuzzi. Dinner at their restaurant, Gerard’s, was one of the best meals I have had in recent memory– they’ve been serving some of these dishes for over 30 years. Breakfast was also delicious (get the french toast) and a great start to our last full day.

We had heard amazing things about the Iao Valley, but it is currently closed (Feb 2017) due to heavy rains a few months ago. We opted for the Waihee Ridge Trail, and it did not disappoint. Lush green jungle and views from an impressive ridge. We didn’t hike to the top– we were too busy marveling at the view of the valley below the clouds.

Overall, this trip came about because we got creative with the resources we had, and ultimately because we made it happen. We asked around and stayed flexible.

I wanted to write this post to give you an idea of some of the things we did, but also to share the “Why” behind the trip. I went to Maui because I was curious and because frankly, I didn’t have a good reason not to. On the trip, I took photos all day and edited at night. On more than one occasion, I pondered the idea of a 9-5 job so that I could go on “real” vacation and not have work obligations follow me around everywhere I go. But it’s all about chasing and building the life you want to create, and this is the life I am creating.

A life of adventure. A life of Yes. A life of defining my Why. My lifestyle wasn’t something that happened overnight– it’s something I’ve been working toward ever since I realized I had a choice. You have choices, even if they look like small steps right now. What life do you want to build?

INSPIRATION

The Person You Want to Be

I have never found motivation in comparing myself to someone else.

And I am really good at comparing– I seem to do it a lot, especially when I’m feeling insecure or when work is slow. Maybe it’s a product of society, my own insecurities and doubts, my own judgment. My own hopes and dreams and the ways I’ve realized them, or the ways I haven’t.

There are still moments when I am diluted by the trap of comparing my struggle to someone else’s success.

One day in college, I was sitting in this loop of comparison and judgment. I already knew I had a long way to go, I just didn’t really know where I was trying to get to. I wrote down this question:

 

Who is the woman I want to be? What is she like?

 

I made a list of things about the person I wanted to be– the things I wanted to be defined by.

The woman I want to be is gentle. She does not judge others for their demons. She does not judge herself for her failures.

The woman I want to be is graceful and confident. She doesn’t wait for new cards, but plays big with the ones she already has.

She knows her greatness, and doesn’t waste time on those who undervalue her. She is tall, so she wears heels. She sings in the car and the shower and the grocery store.

She is humble. She seeks feedback and listens. She wants to be better and knows that self-improvement does not always flow easily.

She gives graciously even when she does not have much to give.

The woman I want to be wakes up and is thankful before she is anything else. She makes her coffee before the sun rises. And at midnight, she drives up to the lookout above town, just to be closer to the stars.

She is a firecracker, but she is tactful when it matters. The room feels different when she walks in.

She has strong boundaries. She understands her needs and makes them known. She does not settle.

The woman I want to be asks questions. She asks them well and she asks them often. She listens to the experiences of those who are different than she is, and she takes no answers personally.

She is thoughtful with her friendships and with her love. She gives neither away without consideration. She invests deeply, but is not afraid to walk away.

She is willing to be wrong. She is willing to sound stupid. She knows that she isn’t right all the time and that she never will be. She finds strength in vulnerability.

The woman I want to be says no when she is overextended and asks for help when she needs it.

She stands up and speaks out for what she believes in, even when it is tiring, because it is the right thing to do.

She chases her dreams, every day, without apology or restraint. She looks doubt in the face and declares, “I see you, and I’m moving past you.”

She is a powerhouse; a warrior for her truth. And I will work to be more like her every day.

You are living in the space between the person you are and the person you want to be. The only one worth comparing yourself to is past versions of you. Who are you today? Who do you want to be? Who will you be tomorrow?

 


 

Feature photo by Ali V. – website and Instagram.

BLOGGING INSPIRATION

Do The Thing

One question I have consistently gotten over the past two years goes something like this:

I want to blog. But where/how do I start?

This question is bigger than blogging. It applies to any new thing you want to do– anything you want to launch, anything you want to say to the world. A freelance career. Traveling for the first time. Launching a new business. Anything at all that you haven’t done before. Anything that’s a little scary and a lot unknown.

When I started this blog two years ago, I was a 25-year-old about to enter into her first full-time office job, trying to shift an existential quarter-life crisis into a quarter-life revelation. I had spent the past three years living out of a backpack guiding adventure trips. It sounds glamorous, but I was really hard on myself for not having a “real job” and not knowing what I was going to “do” with my life, as if it was that simple.

I started this blog from parent’s couch over Christmas. My first few posts aren’t my best work, but I haven’t changed them. Because it takes guts to put yourself out there, and looking back, I’m proud of 25-year-old me. Because there was a time when this felt really awkward. There was a time when I had to stretch myself to do something that feels easy now. If you want to start your thing, whatever it is, you will need to stretch yourself too.

It’s uncomfortable, I promise. It feels weird. You’ll doubt yourself, you’ll feel anxious, you’ll invent all the things people are saying about you. But don’t worry, nobody gives a real shit about your struggle. The only thing most people see is courage, and that is remarkable.

Just starting your thing is enough to inspire someone. Acquaintances from high school will take interest; they’ll watch your come-up from afar and wish they had the guts to do their thing too. And remember that successful people fail. We fail hard. We get up. Over and over again. You will too.

And we commend successful people for failure because being publicly real and honest is hard. Taking risks is hard when you have the option to be comfortable. But it’s way worse to have to answer to that part of you that knows what you truly want to put into this world– to have to tell that part of you that you chose comfort, instead of following your truth, is heartbreaking.

I want to tell you exactly how to do the thing. But I can’t. Because I don’t have that answer, only you do.

And it’s not really important how you do the thing, it’s just important that you do it.

The most important aspect of starting, is that you start. Begin with your whole heart and get truly invested. Investment leads to progress and failure, in bigger amounts than you can imagine. Both offer invaluable learning.

Do the thing.

 


 

Feature photo by Garrett King.

INSPIRATION

How to Get Lucky

People used to call me lucky all the time. Not as much anymore, probably because I am transparent with which parts of my life are actually luck, and which parts of my life are just hard work.

I believe that luck has been a factor in any success I’ve experienced, no matter the venue. But I have noticed something important.

Luck that really matters only happens when you’re moving.

Luck often looks random from the outside. By definition, sure.

But I’m talking about the times when you couldn’t believe you got this lucky. The big things. The big luck.

Big luck is a helicopter looking for a place to land. You have to clear the space so it can find you. You have to open your hands, and keep them open, in order to receive it.

And indeed this isn’t really luck at all– it’s just the result of work you did. It’s something you invited into your life by investing in it and building a foundation for it, even if you couldn’t have even named it yet.

But let’s just call it luck for now.

Notice the times when you have seen big luck in your own life. I guarantee that it found you at a much higher rate during periods where you were actively doing or seeking something. Luck that matters rarely finds us when we are sitting at home watching reruns of Maury eating whole bags of kettle corn. Chase your dreams, actively, passionately, boldly– and you’ll see this contrast.

It doesn’t come without fear. When we invite really big luck into our lives, we also invite the possibility of failure, of hard decisions, of challenge that could be avoided if we took the easy way out. Only you will know what this means for you. When we pick a more complicated route, there are more variables and more things that could go wrong. It is less comfortable. Decide for yourself where the value falls.

As you work, you will unlock new levels of luck that will find you seemingly effortlessly. When you do more to begin with, you are also creating opportunities for things to just work out. I feel lucky every day because of the life I have created for myself, and indeed, I have noticed that as I work harder, luck flows easily into my life.

If you want to get lucky, you have to get moving. When you do, you’ll see that it was never luck at all. It was just you, getting the opportunities you worked for.

 


 

Feature photo by Ali V. Check out her work here and on Instagram at @alisonvagnini.

TRAVEL

I’m Traveling. Why am I Having a Bad Time?

Travel: it’s magical, life-changing, soul shifting, beautiful, fun, and freeing. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be, right? That’s how it looks from the outside. All highlight reel and no struggle. All mountaintops and no sweaty climb. All peaceful sailing trips and no violent puking off the side of the boat.

There are countless lists on why we should “just go”, and it totally makes sense for these things to be inspirational and aspirational. Travel is all of those things. But nobody tells you about the doubt, anxiety, or depression– and loudest of all, guilt– that comes with the amazing stuff.

It’s easier to talk about what’s easy, and it’s more fun to share what’s beautiful. But you have permission to struggle.

On my first big solo trip, I felt like I was failing. I was drowning in doubt, and I felt so guilty about it. It was hard and I was surprised. I didn’t expect it to be hard. I was going down and I was bringing my dreams with me.

I wondered what I was doing wrong. I had it all planned out: a place to live, an internship, cheap flights to neighboring cities on the weekends. But I didn’t factor in my own loneliness and inexperience. It didn’t occur to me that it was at all possible that a wide range of emotions and challenges would still exist in this new, more photogenic setting.

Nothing was wrong with me. Nothing is wrong with you either.

We are human. It’s unfair to assume that all of our challenges will evaporate just because of a change in location. In fact, the stuff we’re working on at home will often get a lot louder for us when we travel. When we’re in a new place, when we’re living in circumstances that are different than what we are used to, all of our self-critique, bad habits, and anxieties are magnified. And travel is the zoom lens. It’s the microscope.

You are not doing anything wrong.

A few places I have had a bad time: Portugal, Spain, Australia, China, New Zealand, Costa Rica. Mountains, beaches, waterfalls. Postcard-worthy locations where my anxiety drowned everything else out. Add in the acute awareness that travel is a massive and wonderful privilege in the first place, and guilt will follow you around like a cartoon raincloud. After all, you chose to be here, so why are you whining? I’ve often asked myself that.

Look. You are allowed to have a bad time. It is normal, and it is most likely temporary. And if it isn’t, you can go home. Going is just as much of a choice as staying is.

For most people, including me, travel is hard. Especially solo travel. There are a lot of logistics. Unknowns. Language barriers. Lost luggage. Questions within yourself that you thought you’d addressed. Feelings you thought you dealt with but surprise, here they are again.

Things will go wrong. You’ll look around like, “daaaang, who is gonna deal with this shit right now?” and realize… oh, it’s me. Yep. I am going to deal with it.

You will stress out about making friends, and you’ll wonder how everyone else in the hostel already knows each other. You will rehearse openers and practice them in your head. And maybe you’ll try convince yourself that you don’t need to make any friends– at least then you wouldn’t have to put yourself out there. You wouldn’t have to take the risk.

Travel is full of risk. And at times, you’ll feel inadequate, you’ll get lost, you’ll wonder why you put yourself in this situation to begin with. So let the guilt go– it’s not serving you. Feel what you’re feeling. There is no shame in admitting that you’re having a bad time. Let the shame go too.

Maybe you’re reading this because your trip isn’t seamless. Know that it’s normal, and perfectly so. It’s part of the process. It’s not supposed to be easy, and there isn’t one quick fix, because these matters are complicated. They are matters of the heart. They are matters of the self. They are woven within our identities and our connection to the world. It’s no surprise– we are just trying to find our place here.

It’s OK to have a bad time. It’s OK to wonder why. Be kind to yourself. See it, own it, and get on with the show.