Sadly, this is a message I get far too often from strangers on social media. But fear not, I have some super top secret highly classified advice – don’t be, your life is whatever you make it.
If you want to see a place, see it. If you want to climb a mountain, climb it. If you want to quit your job, quit it. If you like someone, tell them. If you want to be a better daughter, sister, brother, son, friend, be one. If you want to dance in the middle of the grocery store, dance. If you want to learn how to turn craft beer bottles into flying saucers that travel through black holes to different dimensions in space and time, do it – even if all you learn is it isn’t possible.
Everyone has a different story but we all have one thing in common, options. Options lead to choices, choices lead to change, and change can be scary. Sometimes so scary that we convince ourselves we don’t have options which abruptly eliminates choice making change impossible. We create a self imposed prison.
There is no limit on what you are capable of. I promise. That cell you think you are stuck in, it’s a mirage.
Then: I failed math in high school; algebra and geometry. I spent two summers in a hot box retaking both. I graduated with a 2.5 GPA and was told by a broken system that I wasn’t smart and probably wouldn’t amount to much. I believed this for a decade.
Now: I am three semesters away from graduating from Colorado School of Mines, one of the best engineering schools in the nation. I am studying materials engineering and chemistry on full scholarship and am on par to graduate with honors.
Then: I smoked cigarettes, used drugs, and drank alcohol. I used substances to help me avoid dealing with my self imposed prison and anger towards the universe. I blamed circumstance.
Now: I trail run and climb mountains, mostly alone. The time I spend moving through wild places guided by only the sound of my breath and patter of my heartbeat has given the scattered chatter in my brain a clear voice. There will never exist a place better than the mountains – indifferent to your pain – to confront the fists you wrap around invisible bars and the palms you press against ghostly walls. Solo back country travel pushed me so far out of my comfort zone I eventually realized I don’t have zones. Comfort and discomfort are silly human terms. There are only things to try, success or failure is strongly due to chance. When you sever the tie to expectation there is no room for disappointment, only lessons to be learned and growth to be had.
Then: I dated men and held onto relationships that brought no meaning or growth to my life and I let these relationships completely define me. One after the other until one day, I just didn’t.
Now: I don’t need a lot of friends, only a few great ones. I am single. I go on dates (not often) and I read red flags. I am not ready to be in a relationship unless I feel the person is right. I have not yet felt that and I am not going to be with someone just to be with someone. I taught myself how to read a map, climb a mountain, do math, solo road trip across countries on a budget, trail run, backpack, make a fire, rock climb, fix a vacuum, patch a tire, and survive in the back country. I know that by myself I am capable of creating anything I want. Not only do I know this but I am happy, satisfied, and fulfilled doing so. In fact, I love being alone. Being comfortable with myself has taken years to master and still every day I learn how to do it better. They say you cannot love another until you love yourself and I believe it. My relationships with my family and friends have so much more strength and depth now.
Don’t ever be jealous of another person. Do not envy a life you see only from the outside. Comparing yourself to others is a complete waste of energy. Draw inspiration if you must but embrace your journey. You will never really know what it took another person to get where they are or what they must do to keep going.
There is tremendous beauty in the struggle of figuring it all out, and by figuring it all out, I mean who you really are and what you really want. If you wish you came pre-made like a certain person you admire then you are denying yourself the best parts and your story will never be written.
I recently returned home from a three week solo winter road trip. Daylight fades quickly leaving plenty of time for thought and reflection. I receive a lot of messages expressing jealousy towards my life and questions regarding “how” I do it all. I mostly thought about the how.
Changing your thought process requires courage and a lot of effort. Learning how to live in the present moment is not innate to human behavior. Human beings have worrying minds. Human beings have planning minds. Human beings believe if this doesn’t happen, then that won’t happen, and if that doesn’t happen then all of this was wasted on that and everything is a failure. We bury ourselves in self doubt. I have spent the past four years actively training my mind to live present in each moment and because of this I have learned how to smoothly adapt in nearly any situation. This is paramount in my ability and willingness to try anything regardless of success or failure. I am able to enjoy my existence even on the most mundane or disheartening days.
It isn’t about where you go, what you see, or what you do, it is about how you choose to experience and process it all. Once you understand this, the logistics to creating the life you want come easy.
Here are some of my favorite photos from my latest trip to Yosemite and back. They are images, they do not capture the struggle of the cold, the harshness of the weather, the sleepless nights in a car frozen from the inside out, or how hungry and nutritionally depleted I felt for most of the trip. They do not capture the joy that can be found in the emptiness of a winter landscape or the unimaginable solitude I found in places normally bustling with people. Perhaps they capture the peace I felt in the middle of two chaotic semesters of school. These photos are the skeleton outline of three weeks I spent alone probing deeper into my soul and processing another year of my life. Thank you for reading and Happy New Year!
Arches National Park (Utah)
Dead Horse Point State Park (Utah)
Bryce National Park (Utah)
Zion National Park (Utah)
From a Gas Station (almost Nevada)
Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)
Red Rocks National Preserve (Nevada)
The Mojave Desert (California)
Kern Canyon, Lighting Peak (California)
Sequoia National Park (California)
Yosemite National Park (California)
” I took a little journey to the unknown and I came back changed I can feel it in my bones.”