Happy Thanksgiving 2019!

Happy Thanksgiving 2019! Last year I wrote that I thought that year was the oddest year of my life. I was wrong. This year. 100%. Odd isn’t bad, though.

I have a lot to be thankful for. There’s all the usual, but there are some things I’m especially, newly thankful for this year. An odd year makes an odd list, I guess.

 

Starting with this will probably help the rest of my list make sense: I’m thankful for therapy. Life is weird. Different ones of us have more weird, less weird, different weird, fun weird, scary weird, exhausting weird, scarring weird, confusing weird, or just plain weird weird. I should probably have started seeing a therapist way back when I was an unusually anxious little kid. I should probably have started seeing a therapist as a young adult when I felt so much loneliness and hurt that I hated and hurt myself. I should probably have started seeing a therapist as a little-less-young adult who finally learned to keep my balance surfing the waves of life by pretending like I didn’t need anything. But I didn’t. I waited until I had a concussion last year that knocked all the “okay” out of me and I could hardly make it through each day because everyone and everything scared and hurt me. Shortly after starting with him, my therapist teased me (a little bit honestly, though) that hitting my head was probably going to turn out to be one of the best things to happen to me, because it shook my feelings back into view. Turned out I still had lots of feelings. Like . . . think a long, confusing, lonely, depressing childhood’s worth of feelings, but with ten additional years for the mess to simmer while I added more hurt to my life by using the crutches I learned to get through said childhood. Moral of the story, I needed a therapist. Thank goodness that I have one, and thank goodness for the one I found. Therapy has ended up being absolutely the healthiest thing in my life. It has changed so much in this last year. It has helped with so much healing. It has given me so much more hope and freedom. It has made so much more sense of the world. It has made life safer. It has made me more confident. It has given me permission to be myself. It has explained so many scary things. It has helped me know myself, finally. And it has helped me to take care of myself, in a way I never thought I was allowed.

Hey, you, person-reading-this: If you are having a tough time deep down inside, feeling depressed or anxious, or even if you’re “totally fine” but know that actually something’s not quite right and you’re a year or two away from having to stop playing strong . . . please know that talking about it is okay. There is nothing weak about seeing a therapist. Actually, I hate that sentence. It doesn’t matter if there is anything weak or strong about seeing a therapist. “Weak” isn’t bad. “Strong” isn’t good. You have a real heart. Your heart is the same exact heart you had as an emotional little 3-year-old, an adventurous little 7-year-old, a confused little 12-year-old, an angst little 16-year-old, and as a lost little 21-year-old. It doesn’t matter if you’re a female or a male. It doesn’t matter if you grew up poor or wealthy. It doesn’t matter if you have a cushy life or scrape by week to week. It doesn’t matter if your big feelings and scars come from getting physically abused, bullied, emotionally neglected, molested or assaulted, or from going through a terrible experience that left you with PTSD. Or from none of the above, so you feel like you have no right to be struggling. Please know that you are not silly or dramatic for having feelings. Sure, some of your feelings may have a little silliness or a lot of drama-ness, but hurting, being scared, feeling weak, feeling helpless or hopeless, confused, sad, angry–all those big feelings are okay to have. And if you need help with how to navigate them and how to take care of yourself at this point in your life, therapy is just a really good idea. It’s like a doctor or a personal trainer but for your feelings. You have those. That’s good! Please don’t feel any shame in taking care of them. Therapy is GOOD.

Being open with your people is good, too. Being real about your humanness. We’re all in this together. A lot of us think we’re alone, but if we talked about all this weird stuff more, we’d all discover that we’re very much not alone. It’s amazing what it does for your heart and for your life to allow yourself to stop being alone about who you are and what you think and how you feel.

So I’m thankful for therapy. And thanks to therapy I’m thankful for . . .

Myself. Weird, right?

Tears. Healing. Even though tears don’t feel like healing. Healing apparently doesn’t feel like healing either. Nobody warned me on that one, what the heck. But for real, tears are good. No matter how strong or adult or male you think you are. You’re just a person. People need to cry sometimes. Sometimes a lot.

Imperfection. I’m thankful for imperfection. I guess the okayness of imperfection or the freedom to be imperfect.

Guilt-free pleasure. I grew up feeling guilty about fun. Guilty about anything that felt good for me. Hobby stuff, social stuff, body stuff, braggy stuff, self-care stuff, freedom stuff, me stuff. Everything had to be “worthwhile” or “productive,” and I existed to serve others. I’m thankful for the freedom I’ve found as an adult to just love and enjoy stuff, without having to wonder if it’s “selfish” or if I’m “wasting time” or if it’s “too indulgent.” Life has good stuff. Have it!

Weirdness. My weirdness, your weirdness, people’s weirdness. Weirdness is something I’ve really come to appreciate this year. Weirdness is like cooking with salt and pepper and thyme and rosemary and cilantro and chili powder and maybe a dash of ketchup for those weird-people who put ketchup on everything because it makes them happy. Being normal, doing everything the “right” way, is bland if it’s not you. So embrace the spice of weird in your life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as confident or thankful for my weirdness as I do this year.

Freedom. Freedom. Just freedom. Freedom to choose, freedom to be, freedom to talk, freedom to be silent, freedom to feel, freedom to be angry, freedom to be happy, freedom to be sad, freedom to be tired, freedom to be bored, freedom to not feel a thing. Freedom to be who I want to be. Or just freedom to be who I am sometimes without having to want to be something else. Freedom from things that I used to think I had to serve or protect or acknowledge or care for or fix. Just freedom to do life and not look back and not spend every day handing out band-aids to everyone and everything that might not like me.

Friendships. Thank you to my friends. I have never realized the value of friendships as I have this year. Friends are good. Friends are needed.

And emotions. One of the most helpful of all my sessions with a therapist was when he taught me the little chart-of-emotions that little kids learn: Happy, Sad, Angry, Fearful. These are normal. These feelings are okay. You should have them. I should have them. I didn’t know that. Especially, especially, especially anger. I didn’t think I was supposed to have anger. I thought that if I felt any anger I had to real quick stop it, put it away, take responsibility for it, solve it, protect everyone else from it. I thought that anger meant that I wasn’t being a good enough person. I learned how to be angry this year. I learned that it is okay. Like, I won’t be an ass hole about anger. But I can actually say when I’m upset now. I can express anger. That’s a new thing and boy is it life-changing. Do you know that it’s okay to be angry? To be sad? To be happy? Or to be afraid? Or even to have multiple emotions at the same time, like being happy AND mad? You can do those emotion-things without recklessly and viciously taking them all out on the people around you, but you absolutely can do those emotions. You have to have emotions. You do have emotions. Let yourself be you. So this year, for the first time in my life, I’m really thankful for all the emotions.

Therapy has done so much for me this year. I recently wrote a letter to my younger self, an experiment I highly recommend, and I’ll link to it here because I hope that you can find a little encouragement and hope in a few of the words and if they resonate a lot with you, I hope you’ll take care of yourself and see a therapist, too, if you also have weird stuff you need help with and if you don’t already see one.

If I could send a message to 18-year-old me

Thank you therapy.

 

I’m so thankful for all the good things in my life. I’m thankful for evenings laughing with friends. I’m thankful for interesting things to learn about the world. I’m thankful for languages. I’m thankful for cheese. I’m thankful for piano. I’m thankful for music. I’m thankful for an absolutely amazing SYML concert. I’m thankful for travel. I’m thankful for for a body that can move. I’m thankful for people like chiropractors and massage therapists who can help when your body’s not moving quite right. I’m thankful for the Canadian Rockies and road trips. I’m thankful for poetry that says what other things can’t. I’m thankful for books to read, especially books by Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury. I’m thankful for Iron Man, which is a painful subject. I’m thankful for adventures. I’m so thankful for cooking and food and especially food. I’m thankful that I got to go to my first Yankees game and then book tickets for the next night which turned out to be a past-midnight nail-biter with the wildest ending. I’m still thankful for cheese and just want you to know that hasn’t changed since the beginning of this paragraph. I’m thankful for really good movies to watch and really great buddies to go see movies with. I’m thankful for quiet time. I’m thankful for Toastmasters, a place where I have felt myself come alive and felt connected and engaged and passionate, learning to help people through words, and helping people find their own words. I’m thankful for Santa Barbara, even though Psych wasn’t actually filmed there, for its waves to play in, its nearby winding mountain-top-roads, and for its little taquerias. I’m thankful for coffee, which is weird because I never was before. And, as always, I’m thankful for The Office.

I’m thankful for this blog. At the beginning of the year, I committed to write five blog posts every month, because blogging, writing, and helping and inspiring people is a dream I’ve had for a long, long time. And my experience blogging this year has taught me that consistent action builds good stuff. I’ve been so honored that some of the things I have written have deeply resonated with lots of people, helping them feel understood and like they’re not alone, helping them find the right words for their own experiences they want to share, helping inspire them with big life stuff or the little day to day odds and ends. Thank you all for being with me on this journey. If one little thing I write helps you with one little thing, that is all the motivation I need to keep writing.

I’m thankful for my friend Lyssi. I’m thankful to have a person who really likes me and wants to be my friend and is on my team and supports me so much.

I’m thankful for a life of adventures.

 

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your life is weird and full of zest!

 

Colorado Rockies Adventure

A - Title pic

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir

If there were one thing I could convince everyone to do more of, it would be going outside and being in nature.

In the great outdoors you can find peace and rest, freedom and clarity, challenge and excitement, beauty and awe.

So in the interest of inspiring as many people as I can to go find their adventures, here is the little story of another of Lyssi’s and my biggest adventures: The Colorado Rockies.

August 2018, Lyssi and I took a 5 day roadtrip to Colorado. We booked the coziest Airbnb suite in Boulder. Days 1 and 5 were long drives from and back to Minnesota (14ish hours both ways!), leaving us 3 full days to explore! Here are the highlights for you.

Enjoy! I hope that you get to find beautiful, happy places to visit. And if you can’t right now, I hope the pictures from our adventure bring you some of the happiness and wonder of nature! :)

BEAR LAKE TRAILHEAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

20180816_070458

After arriving in Estes Park at dawn, we kicked off our first hike in the chilly morning air. We started at Bear Lake Trailhead with an 8-mile loop planned, taking us to a bunch of pretty lakes and waterfalls. No strenuous hiking this day, though the first hour or so we definitely felt the effects of the elevation!

NYMPH LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

20180816_072759

Our first stop was at Nymph Lake. Aptly named, it looked like a scene from a fairy tale. The next leg of our hike took us to an overlook directly above the little lake, and it couldn’t have been prettier!

20180816_073629

DREAM LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Dream Lake is the second of the three lakes in a row along Emerald Lake Trail. It’s a long picturesque lake with the trail running right along the edge.

20180816_081325

EMERALD LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Emerald Lake, the end of its trail. You can see where the Rocky Mountains get their name.

Emerald Lake

DREAM LAKE AGAIN

Once past Nymph Lake, the trail to Emerald Lake becomes an out-and-back, which means you get to hike by Dream Lake again on the way back.

20180816_091609

LAKE HAIYAHA, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Here’s where the trip got fun. Or . . . interesting. ;)

Lake Haiyaha was just to die for. I’d go back and just sit there for hours. Halfway back to the trailhead from Emerald Lake, you can turn off onto the longer Glacier Gorge Trail which eventually loops around past Alberta Falls back to Bear Lake Trailhead. Somewhere along the way you can take Haiyaha Trail out to the sprawling Lake Haiyaha. Its shore all around is made up of big rocks and boulders to clamber over and hide behind. I think this was the most peaceful spot we found all day.

We found to another side of the lake and found a quiet spot to just be alone and happy for a while.

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

20180816_100819

The thing is, to get to and from the trail takes some climbing over rocks, and when we left the lake, there was a little hiccup. Without looking up to see what was above the brim of my hat, I launched myself up onto a rock to hop over it, and I could just feel and hear this CRACK run straight through me. I’d slammed my head directly into a giant rock-solid tree branch hanging over the trail. Blacked out and sat down hard. Said a choice word–sorry families with little kids that were there! I could immediately tell I’d done something legit.

Not only did I give myself whip lash, but it turned out I’d gotten a concussion as well. Which explained the foggy and emotional state I was in for the rest of the trip, and the fact that I couldn’t walk in a straight line too well for a while. But we were four miles out, so we kept on trekking, in between pretty frequent sit-down-and-feel-dazed breaks. And my whole shoulder and arm weren’t too happy. My epic best friend Lyssi insisted on carrying both of our backpacks for a while–and these were heavy backpacks, loaded for an entire day on the trail. Thanks Lys, you’re a champ! ;)

intro link

THE LOCH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

20180816_122129

A ways past Lake Haiyaha Trail on Glacier Gorge, you can turn off on The Loch Trail to head up past beautiful green hills with streams and falls. Eventually you get to another big, picture-perfect lake, The Loch.

20180816_125550

ALBERTA FALLS, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

The rest of the day as we finished the loop back to Bear Lake Trailhead, we got to see some beautiful mountainous views, some beautiful streams, and Alberta Falls.

20180816_134808
Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

20180816_135917

20180816_140051

Alberta Falls

SOUTH SAINT VRAIN CANYON

IMG_9593
Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

Day 2 we started by driving South Saint Vrain Drive along South Saint Vrain Creek in South Saint Vrain Canyon. Memorable names. Just a beautiful drive, roads winding through brown cliffs and boulders, rushing creek on the side of the road. We hopped out at one spot and enjoyed the rushing water.

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

PEAK TO PEAK HIGHWAY

At the end of South Saint Vrain Drive begins one of the most beautiful scenic byways we’ve ever driven: Colorado’s “Peak to Peak Highway.”

20180817_110452

MOUNT EVANS

IMG_9704
Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

After we reached the south end of Peak to Peak Highway, we headed down to Mount Evans. Absolutely worth it, but hands down the scariest road I have ever driven in my life. Up to the peak of the 14,265′ Mount Evans runs the highest paved road in the United States.

20180817_150536

A mixture of fast elevation game, concussion symptoms, and just generally being halfway to space, meant I almost passed out on the drive back down. It was rough. And scary. But man alive what a view! In the picture above, you can see in the upper right corner the road cut out of the side of the mountain. Right along the edge of the road the entire way was just a steep mountainside that just kept going and going and going.

Mount Evans was just . . . massive.

PEAK 12,150, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

We got to see some Elk sparring at dawn across from Poudre Lake at Milner Pass. We arrived to the trailhead just as it was starting to get light, and the drive there was absolutely incredible. It was foggy, dark, and stormy as we drove Trail Ridge Road from one side of Rocky Mountain National Park to the other. The Alpine Visitor Center lies at the top of Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved through-road in the United States. When we pulled into the Visitor Center at around 5 or 5:30 AM, there was lightning all around us. The fog all around us was flashing yellow and pink. Up above the treeline, where the world is huge. What a morning!

20180818_065126

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

Our plan had been to hike from Poudre Lake Trailhead to Mount Ida, but more incoming thunderstorms meant a last-minute change of plans. We would have just enough time to get as far as Peak 12,150 and back down below the tree line before the rain started. The mountain we hiked is called Peak 12,150 because it’s not considered its own mountain. Because of the saddle between it and Mount Ida, Peak 12,150 just lacks its own distinct prominence just barely enough that it doesn’t get its own name. However, at 12,150 feet, it is an epic spot!

20180818_071204

To this day, I think this was the most awe-inspiring place I have ever had the pleasure of walking. Above the treeline in the Alpine Tundra with the occasional marmot or glacier, and endless views of the Never Summer Mountains to the east. A long, beautiful walk. Very uphill. What a picturesque path!

20180818_073429

Oh man, the colors! Other-worldly.

20180818_074412

Ragged.

20180818_074814

In the picture above, you can see Mount Idea on the right. And on the left is Lyssi taking the last few steps up to the tip-top of Peak 12,150.

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

IMG_9784
Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

20180818_085912

Back below treeline just in time for the rain to start!

IMG_9837
Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

ALPINE VISITOR CENTER, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

20180818_110013

Glaciers in the fog at 11,800′.

OLD FALL RIVER ROAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Pretty stream along Old Fall River Road. The road is a one-way precarious drive on dirt and gravel from the east side of the park up to the Alpine Visitor Center. Very beautiful!

TRAIL RIDGE ROAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Near Forest Canyon Overlook on Trail Ridge Road. Goodbye, Rockies! We miss you!

IMG_9893
Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge
IMG_9921
Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

Happy adventuring, everyone!

There’s lots of beauty out there, and lots of thrill! Chase it down!

 

P.S. As always, thank you Altra Running for being a big reason my feet love hiking miles and miles up and down mountains! :)

P.P.S. And thank you Airbnb and Enterprise Car Rental for making so accessible a life of exploring our big, beautiful world!

P.P.P.S. And thank you Panic! at the Disco for great tunes to sing on our 14 hour drives and thank you Neil Gaiman for writing and narrating Norse Mythology to keep me awake and enthralled for the drives before sunrise. :)

Canadian Rockies Adventure

0 TITLE PIC

Hello again! It’s been a while! I was away on an adventure and now I get to share it with you, which is almost like getting to relive it again! :)

My wife and I drove from Minnesota (home) up to the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and stopped through Glacier National Park in Montana on the way home.

Road trips are our favorite, and it was an exciting one! We had a week and a half of hiking on the agenda. Life had a different adventure in store, and we spent the first several days visiting the emergency room and recovering due to an infection that randomly turned up in my wife’s wrist. It was a little scary, and it meant we had to throw our whole schedule out the window. But it also meant we got to relax more on our vacation than planned, so–silver lining. ;)

0 ANIMALS

It also meant we had time to explore the hip little town of Canmore, Alberta (with all its extroverted little bunnies). Great place to book your lodging if you’re visiting Banff and its neighboring mountain ranges!

Bunnies were just one of the adorable species we spied on our adventure.

When we finally did make it out for some mountainous adventures, it was EPIC.

Here are some highlights for you. Enjoy the views, and I hope you’ll drag yourself on ridiculously extravagant and exhausting and make-it-up-as-you-go-along adventures! There’s a whole big world to explore out there. :)

KANANASKIS, ALBERTA

Highway 40 down through the Kananaskis mountain range south of Canmore was our first easy excursion after a recovery day off.

20190628_152204

Mostly just drove the Kananaskis–the views couldn’t have been much better. We stopped halfway down south for a little scenic walk in the Kananskis village. And we stopped several more times to wait for crowds of moulting bighorn sheep chilling on the highway. And they just couldn’t be bothered. They had no time for all the traffic. Didn’t even notice us. Until we finally made it past, when without fail they’d suddenly whip their heads up and glare at us as we drove away as if they couldn’t have been more just disgusted with us. They were legit hilarious.

20190628_151752

Watching storm clouds roll in at a surprising speed.

BOW LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

20190629_121833

Bow Lake was our first stop in Banff, just off the Icefields Parkway, north of Lake Louise. That day we drove in and out of sunshine, rain, clouds, and even snow. Amazing how quickly and dramatically the weather changes in the mountains.

20190629_125046

Haunting.

PEYTO LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

20190629_140217

The iconic Peyto Lake is a little ways north of Bow Lake and was our second stop.

20190629_141304

Our first attempted hike was down steep switchbacks from the Peyto overlook to a flat rock surface by the water’s edge. We turned back halfway down to be responsible and not overdo it with Alyssa’s recovery. Good call, but what a spot to miss!

20190629_141441

20190629_150552

My favorite little adventurer :)

LAKE LOUISE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, CANADA

20190630_062705

SENTINEL PASS, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

20190630_121056

20190630_125104

Our first big hike was about 5.5 miles up to Sentinel Pass from the trailhead at Lake Moraine. This was just incredible. 360° views of the grandest looking mountains.

20190630_125841

Up in the alpine tundra–snowy hiking with icy lakes and the occasional nervous marmot.

20190630_130107

Sometime when we’re not recovering from a medical scare, we’ll hike the rest of the way up the switchbacks and snowy rock scramble to that final peak on the right.

MORAINE LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

20190630_150218

The shocking turquoise blue of the glacier-fed-lakes in the northern Rockies is one of the most breathtaking sights in the world, I think.

TENT RIDGE HORSESHOE HIKE, PETER LOUGHEED PROVINCIAL PARK, ALBERTA

20190701_104432

Tent Ridge Horseshoe–our most challenging hike, finally feeling better enough for a pack and some serious uphill. Still a bit of a stretch for a recovering hiking warrior.

20190701_105205

After the first mile or so we came to a clear valley in the middle of a horseshoe-shaped mountain ridge. This shot was just after crossing a deep snow-packed area with downed pine trees where an avalanche had crossed the trail.

20190701_111602

So this rock scramble was possibly the most intense we’ve done yet. Half a mile of steep (and sometimes wobbly) rocks to pick your way through. Not for the faint of heart. But also there’s only one way to become not-faint-at-heart–come try!

After we reached the first peak we turned to the right and hiked down and back up a saddle to the highest point of the hike.

20190701_122753

Tent Ridge to the right, Mount Indefatigable and The Fist to the left.

20190701_130442

From the highest peak with views of Mount Indefatigable and other nearby snowy peaks, we turned right for the long Tent Ridge walk/scramble. The initial descent may have been the most nerve-wracking part of the hike. And the wind gusts. Oh man.

20190701_134251

Breathtaking.

20190701_135341

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA

20190703_110439

On our way back from Canada we spent a day hiking in Glacier National Park, Montana. I remembered why quiet woods and rushing water is so magical to me. Good to sit and breathe it all in.

20190703_115309

20190703_123418

Views from Going-to-the-Sun Road. Recently opened for the season, cleared of snow. Our day in Glacier was so overcast and rainy that we could hardly see a thing–except the couple hours we spent on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and up at Logan’s Pass. The clouds parted and we got sunshine and mind-bending views. Thank you!!

20190703_123458

20190703_140253

Logan’s Pass

20190703_124608

P.S. Hey friends–Nature is magical and healing and inspiring, and is open to everyone. Get outdoors! :)

P.P.S. See you soon, mountains!

P.P.P.S. Thank you, Altra Running, for making hiking comfy! And thank you All Trails for great maps to follow by GPS!

Waking Up in Addis Ababa

I climbed down the stairs out of the plane and walked across a big runway and in through a little door into a big warehouse-like building. Mobs of people crowded the little airport, all speaking languages I didn’t understand. I had arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Scanning the crowds, I finally found my host. Accompanying him was a young Ethiopian man who kept laughing nervously. I got a weird vibe. We found my luggage and left the airport, walking down the long ramp to the parking lot, where Giovanni’s big brother the Taxi Driver was waiting to give us a ride.

Suddenly I heard a sound behind me I’d never heard in my life: Ear-piercing, high-pitched, “Le le le le le le le le!” Like a siren. I turned around to see women with their faces covered, wailing alongside a coffin that had been carried out of the airplane. Others were sobbing or even screaming. I later learned the sound I’d heard is a very common ritualistic song of sorts called “ululation.”

Everything was dark, and everyone was beautiful. I was in the most foreign place I’d ever been.

I hopped into the little blue and white taxi and felt like I fell straight through to the concrete below. The entire back bench was caved in. I reached up to buckle my seat belt, but who was I kidding, there were no seat belts. Off we went, careening at an uncomfortable speed up and down windy roads, through a dark Ethiopian night. Coming around one bend, my door flew wide open and I held onto the seat in front of me for dear life.

I could see very little in this darkness—there were no lights like you see in the night here. I could make out the occasional shack or shed we passed and saw a few wild dogs. Eventually we turned down a dark dirt alleyway and arrived at my new home, a little house on a compound with high walls. We barred the iron gates behind us and I was shown up to my bedroom to sleep after the longest journey I’d ever taken. I was in a very different place. Very new.

 

Let me pause my story to tell you about what I knew of Africa. You see, I’m from America, and I had grown up in a home where I learned only very specific things about Africa: That everyone was poor and uneducated. That everyone was sick and desperately in need of help. That I was on my way to save them.

 

Back to my story. They warn you about jet lag, but you have to live it to really understand. The next morning I tossed and turned, barely waking up only to fall back into restless sleep. I dreamed dreams that you would only dream if you were waking up for the first time to the beautiful and enchanting sounds of Muslim prayers being chanted over a loud speaker from a nearby mosque. I kept gasping for breath as I adjusted to the high altitude of Addis Ababa.

Suddenly I woke all the way up. Something wasn’t right. I was hearing a sound that didn’t fit. The American pop-rock band Train has a song called “Hey Soul Sister” that was all the rage in America ten years ago, and it was now being broadcast on loudspeaker all across Mekanisa, Addis Ababa. Maybe Ethiopia wasn’t quite as far back in the dark ages as I thought. I went to the window and looked out to see very normal people doing very normal things outside a nearby apartment complex.

I went downstairs for breakfast and chatted with Kidane, the kid that made me nervous the night before. Turns out he was just a cool guy. The coolest! Very “normal” and just the greatest person! We talked about normal stuff, like music, relationships, and favorites.

My host sent me with Kidane to explore my new town. Sure, there was stuff I’d never seen—like a freshly severed cow head laying on the road. And yes, Kidane had a sad, scary story that included being beaten and robbed in Nairobi, Kenya. But there was more to Africa. There were skyscrapers and advertisements. People dressed in clothes far more stylish than mine, listening to their iPods, playing on their smartphones. Kidane introduced me to a local business owner in a fancy suit. We stopped at an internet café, crowded with young Ethiopian adults, browsing Facebook, looking at pictures of them and their friends partying.

It was not what I expected to see. At all. Here’s the thing, guys. The west is rich, though we have our homeless. And Africa is poor, but it has wealth, education, and progress the TV doesn’t always show you.

Don’t trust clichés and stereotypes.

 

I love traveling and exploring new cultures more than almost anything else in the world. Reflecting on my first big cross-cultural experience the other day, I found this summary from a blog post I wrote about my first day waking up in Addis Ababa:

“I can’t really explain it, but it was like my mind stood up, stepped straight out of my inexperienced head, and said, ‘You are finally beginning to understand the world. Never put me back in that narrow mind again.'”

Ethiopia 2

Scary till you do it

H P Lovecraft - Fear of the unknown

I find that things can be scary to me until I do them. If not scary, at least intimidating or overwhelming. Giving a performance, running a marathon, making new friends, confronting a coworker, or even just a little handyman project at home.

“It’s scary till you do it” seems like a good general rule to me, and one that can be very helpful to remember.

I say “general rule” because on occasion, things we are scared of get even scarier after we make ourselves do them. Case in point: Giant crowds or loud parties can get worse and worse every time for an especially introverted introvert.

But this really is a more common theme in life than we may first imagine. Sure, most things in life don’t scare you right now. But they used to. When you were a newborn baby, meeting a new face scared you. As a toddler, dogs scared you until you had met a few of them. You were scared of riding your bike without training wheels until you finally just went for it. You probably used to be scared of the pool. And even though you’ve gotten used to most things in life, there are probably a few things that still really scare you. Interviewing, mortgages, or maybe even spiders.

A perfect example: My wife and I were hiking the other day and found a snake. She assured me it was harmless. She and her siblings used to catch them in their yard. In my head I believed her. But when she reached down and grabbed its tail, I just about had a heart attack. The thing is, she had plenty of experience at this. I did not. Easy peasy for her. Not for me.

More applicable to day-to-day life–and what got me thinking about this in the first place–is car shopping. Last Saturday I went with my brother-in-law to a dealership to look at cars. The entire process was brand new to him, whereas I had bought from a dealer twice before, loans and all. More than anything, I was really there to help make it less overwhelming, to lend some confidence. After a day at the dealer, my brother-in-law talked about how much easier it would be next time around for him. He knew what to expect now. It was no longer uncharted territory. And someday he’ll be the experienced car shopper helping someone who’s a little scared because they haven’t tried it before.

 

Understanding that things are less scary after you do them doesn’t magically make things not scary. It just makes scary okay. It helps us do the scary thing anyway so we can have the big reward.

Planning our entire wedding and honeymoon trip to Italy by ourselves, when neither of us had traveled far in a long, long time, was very nerve-racking. I just kept feeling like something wasn’t going to work out. Like we’d get there and realize we hadn’t gotten our plans quite right. Like we weren’t actually going to be able to pull off our dream wedding. But there was also a little part of me that remembered traveling to Africa alone when I was younger, and how much easier and less scary it was than I thought it was going to be. So we took a leap and did it. It was absolutely incredible, and now travel planning is a lot less intimidating.

 

Understanding this general rule helps us to do scary things anyway. Understanding a bit more about how it works might make life even easier. So here are a couple more things I’ve noticed:

The longer you put something off out of fear, the scarier it gets. Standing at the top of a cliff, staring down into the water below, friends daring you to jump in–you realize just how high it really is. You take a step back and start to launch yourself. Halfway through you freeze. You panic. It’s too far. So you wait and wait and wait. You keep preparing yourself to jump. But for some reason, it gets harder and harder and harder the longer you wait. Sometimes life is easier when you just do the scary thing quickly.

It might still be scary after you do it–just probably not quite as scary as before. Doing something you were scared of doesn’t guarantee it won’t be scary anymore. In fact, with many things it will probably stay scary even if you’ve done it a number of times. Like starting a new job. It could be your tenth employer and you’ll still be nervous. But I’ll bet you’re not as when you started your first job.

The more you do the scary thing, the easier it gets. If you want to be less scared of something, do it again and again. I have come to love public speaking, but I was definitely not a natural at it. The first time I ever tried, I lasted about 10 seconds, did more squirming than speaking, and cried in front of an audience. Then I kept doing it through the fear. After a few times it was still awful, but a little less. I kept doing it through high school, and then later on through a Toastmasters club. Eventually, public speaking became so familiar and comfortable it just wasn’t scary anymore.

It is okay to be scared. Just let yourself be a human. You’re going to do better than you think.

 

Courage isn’t not being scared. It’s doing something even though you’re scared. And the more you exercise your courage, the less scary things get.

When you were laying in bed as a kid, the coat hanging in the closet that looked like a monster got a lot less scary when you got up the courage to go check it out for yourself.

Now that you’re an adult, remember: Big scary things life things usually aren’t so scary once you get to know them.