Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Spanish 101

Arriving in Santander, Cantabria, Spain
Traveling has been incorporated in many of my decisions as it is one of the most influencial aspects of my development. Even still, until recently, I never made the commitment to learn a new language. I knew that understanding language would make my travel experiences richer, but I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by the thought of learning to communicate in a new way instead of being inspired by it.

In both my personal and professional life I am a communicator. I pride myself on using words to express sentiment, provide others with an experience, and build connectivity. It has taken years to develop my vocabulary and voice in the only language I know. Learning a new language would require that I take the one thing I excel in most and release it. Learning a new language would force me to let go of a major part of my identity. Yet if I wanted to grow, I needed to release what was familiar and take on a new and richer identity.

This year I decided to do more than add stamps and pages to my passport. I decided to experience a culture through more than its cuisine and famous landmarks. The best way to ensure that I would grow was to travel in a new way. It was time to invest in studying language. I began taking Spanish classes in January and making the commitment to learn Spanish has not only started to add a language dimension to my life, but it also provided me with another opportunity to do what I love—travel—as I just finished a two-week language and culture class at the University of Cantabria in Santander, Spain.

Everything we are attached to and depend on provides comfort. When we force ourselves to grow, we force ourselves out of familiarity. Growth lessens attachments and dependencies. Growth demands reflection and innovation. Growth also requires taking risks of feeling foolish and failing. While in my Spanish classes and out enjoying Spain, I have had many moments where I had to release my attachments and dependencies. My strength—being able to communicate—was gone. Suddenly, I only had the vocabulary of a six-year-old. It has been humbling and frustrating. However, it has also been amazingly wonderful. I challenge you to force yourself to grow. Let go of your attachments and dependencies. Learn something new. My lessons took me to Spain. Where will your lessons take you?

Visit the photo album from my trip!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Limited Sight

I recently enjoyed a perfect day on the beach in Santander, a coastal city in northern Spain. While there, I noticed a more meaningful sight that will remain with me much longer than the finely-grained sand, transparent water, comfortable sun rays, and gentle breezes I felt. After enjoying the relaxing waves of the bay, I noticed an elderly woman experiencing the beach and appreciating its beauty just as much as I was. The only difference was that as she stood in the refreshing water, she had a cane in each of her hands.

The older we get the more we are presented with challenges. Each challenge presents us with a valid excuse to stop fully living. After leaving the beach I rode a bus through town and noticed two young girls fixated on me and my obvious skin discoloration. One whispered to the other, as they kept their gaze on me, and then burst into laughter. I told myself not to be concerned, but there was a moment when I felt they were discounting me. It felt like an injury to my soul. How could someone who didn't know my name, my history, my story, or anything about my character find my skin condition, something I have no control over, laughable and amusing? How could someone take one minute part of me and decide that it was the only defining part of me? Sadly, I told myself that I was done riding the bus in Spain. I was convinced that I did not have to subject myself to the ridicule of someone else's laughter while having to watch. I could walk wherever I needed to go. 

You may not be the "right" age, race, ethnicity, religion, or weight by someone else's standards. You may have a health condition, physical disability, or unique appearance. As much as it may be a part of who you are, none of that defines you in your totality because none of it is your only characteristic. You are still a person with dreams, kindness, laughter, and worth. You still have a heart that can give and receive love. You are made up of more than your challenges, heartaches, mistakes, and physical attributes. You are a total being, comprised of more than what can be seen. You are someone whose totality can only be felt after numerous transparent and open interactions. You are not defined solely by any one characteristic.

If an elderly woman can take her walking canes to a beach and allow the refreshing water to cleanse her soul, I can go out and get on a bus in an unfamiliar country. The elderly woman may have been told or even felt that she was too old, too needy, or too weak to experience all that the beach had to offer. However, she did not let that stop her from feeling all the benefits of the sun, sand, and water. Those girls on the bus may have hurt my feelings, but I cannot let their youthful insensitivity stop me from feeling all of the benefits that exploring the beautiful and rich culture that Spain has to offer. I challenge you to get back on your bus or force yourself in your ocean, even if you have to take your walking sticks with you. Life is much fuller and richer if you experience it completely, just as you have to accet that you are much fuller and richer than what others can see.

Read next week's post, Spanish 101.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tell Yourself

Friday morning I got in a cab and headed to the airport. Once I arrived, my cab driver didn't have enough cash to give me change nor could he process a credit card payment. I ran into the airport only to discover that the ATM was out of money. I would have to find another ATM in order to pay my fare, but that meant I could be charged extra for the mileage and time. Still, I walked out thinking, "It doesn't matter. You're going to Spain today."

After finding an ATM and paying the taxi driver, I checked in for my flight. It was delayed, and continued to be delayed, for two hours. I am pretty good at passing time, but the airport I flew out of had less activity than I have in my apartment. Plus, I was facing an eight-hour flight so I didn't want to waste my reading and writing on the ground. Instead of grunting I told myself, "It doesn't matter. You're going to Spain today."

While it is great that I didn't get frazzled by the elongated cab ride, flight delays, or nearly missing my flight from Madrid to Santander--another blog for another time--what if I wasn't going to Spain that day? What if on a typical Friday I was met with challenges and delays out of my control? Did I need something as big and unusual as a 4,000 mile trip to help me keep life in perspective?

Life often presents us with detours and speed bumps. Even when we have done all we can to prepare and anticipate challenges, circumstances out of our control jerk us into back-up plans and at times, we need to create a back-up for our back-up. What mantra do you tell yourself to get you through the uncertain times? How do you encourage yourself through challenges and maintain proper perspective?

On Friday I was able to get through 24-hours of traveling hiccups and changes by telling myself I was going to Spain, but on a normal day, when I am simply planning to go to work, buy groceries, cook dinner, and pay bills, it is even more important for me to have a mantra to get through issues in the office, the sad phone call, unexpected expenses, health concerns, or rejection. In order to keep challenges in perspective I need to keep what is more important in my life at the forefront of my mind. While I spent more time in a cab and more money on the outbound trip than I expected, I still had the ability to travel. Although my flight didn't leave at the time it was scheduled, I was still going to have an amazing experience in country I'd never visited. Even though my day did not go exactly as planned, the end result was the same--I was going to embark upon a life-changing journey. How wasteful and sad would it have been if I allowed my journey to be hindered before it fully began?

Your journey is filled with a range of experiences. There will be excited times when you greatly anticipate what life has in store. There will be times when you are thankfully reaping the benefits of good decisions and hard work. There will also be times when you gracefully live out greatness when your choices could have warranted less. Just as often there will be moments when you are unsure, thrown off course, confused, and upset. Difficulty and relentless struggle can seem to follow you more closely than your shadow. You may feel stagnant and like you cannot make progress no matter what you do. During these challenging periods it is more important than ever that you remember not to lose focus or faith. You cannot spend more energy on 200 difficult miles of your journey when there's 4,000 miles in total. Do not get caught up in the preliminary pieces and uncertain moments when greatness lies just beyond your fears. Tell yourself, it doesn't matter. You are intended for more joy, fulfillment and love today, and it all begins with the messages you tell yourself and believe.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Highlight Experiences

Fourteen years ago I walked up a gangway and ventured out for a 100-day trip around the world. I viewed this unique study abroad program as a once-in-a-lifetime experience because I didn’t think that someone like me—from my neighborhood, with my history, with my financial situation, with no personal example to mirror where I was headed—could live “this way” for life. In fact, at the start of the journey I flirted with feeling like I didn’t deserve to be there and as a result, I didn’t allow myself to consider the possibility that I could achieve such greatness again.

Far too many of us don’t allow ourselves to dream in variations of greatness. That’s why we hear remember-when stories so often. Get a group of people together and suddenly, we are ear-deep in stories that begin with, “Remember that one time...” Trips down memory lane can be entertaining and fun, but they are detrimental if those trips are the only time we feel accomplished, satisfied, or fulfilled.

You may have had a phenomenal childhood and life hasn’t been as kind to you since. It’s possible that your childhood was challenging and your adult life has not been much better. No matter the circumstances please know that you are not limited to one highlight experience. You do not live for that "one time" during high school or college. Living with the belief that your best years have already passed constrains your behavior because it has already constrained your mind. Once you believe that you can’t have better you surrender the will to hope for and to do better.

I will always fondly think back on my study abroad experience. It generously provided me with a comparative look at nine cultures, gifted me with beautiful friendship, helped me discover some truths about myself, opened my mind to the possibility of greatness, and taught me the greatness that exists in the concept of possibility. Even still, when I stepped off of that ship at the end of that voyage, I never conceded that I had reached my quota for highlight experiences. With that greatness fresh in my mind, I carried the desire and hope to create and be open to many more highlight experiences for the rest of my life.

You can still have highlight experiences, but each one of them starts with your thoughts. Discover your self truths. Open your mind to the possibility of greatness. Welcome the greatness that exists in the concept of possibility. Hope is not to be feared.