I spent the first half of my life experimenting with who I am. Born an adventurer, I’ve done extensive backpacking, canoeing, biking, and hiking. I even jumped out of an airplane once. I’ve lived on four different continents, learned to speak various languages and so has my family. For a long time, I was an achiever. I did an individualized major in college, then a Master’s degree, and wrote several books and popular articles. I managed to get a second degree black belt along the way, competed in martial arts tournaments nationally, and taught self defense and karate to people. On top of this, I built a respectable career in study abroad. My energy was out of this world, and then I lost it on a journey that taught me much about myself and changed the course of my life.
Recently, I turned 45 and woke up with the word “quality” ironed on my brain (from “qualis” which means “how constituted, of what sort, of what nature, what kind of a”). I had spent years talking about it on a journey that I had taken. I thought I had found other people who wanted the same things that I did, but I was wrong. People can be beautiful and we need them, but they can be destructive, too. What I’ve learned is that life will always find a way to live. Living, really living, is quality time, quality relationships, quality work, quality food, and a quality lifestyle to bring it all together. It doesn’t matter how many things you can do or how many places you see before you die. Henry David Thoreau said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” I get it now, and more than “get it,” I have the building blocks to make it real.
First, you have be courageous. You have to be willing to fail if you want to succeed. You have to be willing to feel pain if you want to feel love. Other people in your life may not want the same things that you do, and you have to find the courage to let go. As a study abroad director, I wasn’t afraid to stand up for what I thought was right. I wasn’t afraid to face difficult faculty. I wasn’t afraid to leave the country and start again when the opportunity presented itself. I wasn’t afraid to take my own children abroad and enroll them in Italian public schools. I wasn’t afraid to challenge things that I thought were bureaucratic and wrong. I wasn’t afraid to be honest with myself, my mistakes, and what I really want and need in life. Not one leader on the face of this planet ever became a leader by following the status quo. And I’d go so far as to say that not one person can really be happy like this.
Second, you have to be true to yourself. I’m at a crossroads in my life. Rather than working in study abroad right now, I’ve decided to take some time off and write a memoir. In doing so, I’ve been reading and studying other memoirs, teaching myself how to extract who I really am and what I think and feel through writing. I’ve recently read modern-day memoir authors like Cheryl Strayed, Terri Jentz, Glennon Doyle Melton, and Torre DeRoche. They’ve helped to me to think more broadly about the possibilities for a memoir and think more deeply about the experiences I’ve had and how to share them with people. Most importantly, I see examples of their words, and how they’ve opened themselves, and it helps me go deeper. It feels like an archeological dig to go deep into myself. I’m excavating me, and I keep finding more and more treasures. It’s important that this memoir be great, for me, not for anyone else. It’s my past, my hope, and my future.
Third, you have to surround yourself with everyday people on the same path. Do not give up on your values, interests, and dreams for someone else. You are on a unique path and if the everyday people in your life are stopping your walk, then you need to keep going somehow some way while they find a path of their own. Some people think their path is to change others. If you encounter them, run for the hills! Life is too short to give up on yourself to please others. Not only is it unhealthy and destructive for you; it’s damaging to the people around. If you are a bear, you cannot be a fox, and if you try to be a fox, you will end up confusing a lot of bears and foxes in the process. Some people try to be both the bear and the fox and really make a mess. We cannot be who we are not. The sun cannot revolve around the earth. It’s not natural. Surround yourself with people who love YOU for who you are inside, but figure out who you are first.
I love this quote. It’s my compass, my map, and it’s what I’m now doing with my life. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…” ― Henry David Thoreau