What Do Adventurous Women Know…and how do I learn it?

I am a devourer of true life adventure stories by the women who lived them. It started casually, with travel anthologies. Then I discovered Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman and I had a new hero and a new secret passion. Of course Eat.Pray.Love.  More recently, Wild.  And it hasn’t just been books. My friend Wendy and I obsessively watched the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” the summer it came out on DVD (based, if loosely, on a true life adventure story). I’m a sucker for blogs by women on adventures – Travel Destination Bucket List, for example. I began following this blog while its author, Anita Mac, was chronicling her solo trans-Canadian bike journey and have since travelled to Croatia and on pilgrimage to Santiago de Campostella with her. My latest avidly followed blog is My Meandering Trail, where I am following Jordana on her solo through-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Each of these women have great stories to tell, and they tell them well. And while each gives space in her storytelling to moments of fear or self-doubt, by and large the overriding impression I come away with is of admirable courage, self-efficacy, and joie de vivre. They have moxie, pluck…and whatever other old-fashioned words are reserved for women who have a little something out of the ordinary in their make-up. With my life in transition, my jumping-off point only three weeks away and no firm plan in place yet, I find myself looking to these women and wondering if it might be possible to channel the skills and qualities they embody and which I so desperately need. With that in mind, I’ve identified some things adventurous women seem to know that I’d like to get more conversant with:

Adventurous women know how to manage their stuff

I’m mostly talking actual, as opposed to figurative or emotional, stuff here. These women know how to organize, manage and corral the daily items that fill our lives: furniture, linens, shoes, and tchotchkes. They ruthlessly purge, pack, or otherwise pare down much of what they own in order to begin their adventures unencumbered. So far, I have managed to recycle three small cardboard boxes and shred a pile of old credit card bills. To say “I haven’t hit my stride yet” is to make a prize-winning understatement. Here’s an example: I have a decorative item which was given to me as a gift. It isn’t the kind of thing I’d look at, much less choose to purchase, in a gift-shop. But the person who gave it to me is beloved, and it was given to commemorate a special occasion in my life. In an effort to decide if it is worth packing and hauling to storage, I’ve carted the darn thing into every room multiple times this week. It has surely travelled more miles within my house than the paltry few between here and my storage unit. (Which, by the way, I haven’t actually reserved yet.) And I still can’t decide whether to keep it or put it in the “donate” or “regift” pile. Thankfully, my adventurous friend, Sue, came to visit one evening this week. She walked me through the best ways (and which containers to use) to pack my house. Her advice about what to keep and what to divest myself of: “Be ruthless”. Ruthlessness in the management of stuff – the first thing I need to learn to become an adventurous woman!

Adventurous women don’t hesitate to ask

In the past nineteen years, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said to me, “I could NEVER do what you do!” Often they follow this comment with something about how they hate conflict. And it’s true – my career has been full of high-conflict, high-stress moments when the issues at hand have been incredibly difficult to navigate. And I am proud of how I’ve handled these difficult situations. But I have a secret to share. In spite of a reputation for direct and honest communication, I cannot make a cold-call to a business to ask questions. Additionally, I am terrible at asking people for help if what I need help with carries an emotional component. Adventurous women are curious, and ask questions because it is part of their nature. Part of how they successfully navigate their courageous lives is their willingness to ask for what they need. How can I plan a whole new more adventurous life when it takes me three days to work myself up to contact storage companies? I think of Jordana, contacting companies to ask for sponsorship of her trip – and getting some awesome support and swag as a result. I definitely need to get me some of those questioning cajones! (Hey, has anyone heard of companies willing to sponsor a middle-aged woman’s career/life change?)

Adventurous women have a specific plan

Well, I’m just plain screwed on this one. I can’t seem to think past vacation, which is the first step of my journey to a new life. I have a vague plan. No specific dates, no specific locations. Just a gut sense that I have to take most of the summer to feel my way – unless right livelihood presents itself. In which case, I’ll know it and change my trajectory.

At this point, my parents and many of my friends are reading this post and beginning to hyperventilate. Please don’t. I am holding enough fear, panic, and fear- and panic-induced motivation at bay to satisfy all of us. But it is back there, behind the voice telling me to take my time. Cheryl Strayed had never tried to lift her backpack until the morning she planned to set off hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Foolhardy? Probably. But did she survive? Hell, yes – even thrived. Sometimes, adventurous women know what they need, and they move toward it even if they haven’t got all the answers in advance. My whole life, I’ve been an answers (and fool-proof assurances) in advance girl. This feels like my opportunity to step forward with trust instead of surety. Eek!

Adventurous women don’t sweat the “solo” part

When I’ve lamented being alone in life, my friend Layne has tried to comfort me by asserting that everyone is just as alone. Her approach is unique; most of my friends try to convince me that I’m not alone because of the large number of people who love me. The truth is, when it comes to making decisions and living the consequences of those decisions, I’m on my own. I have no idea whether it would be easier if I was part of a couple, or if it would be harder. I look at the women whose adventures have inspired me, and I see that they have struggled with the same things – and yet, they’ve found ways to be empowered by the solo nature of their adventures. Empowered because they’ve remained open to meeting new people, to having new experiences, to learning about themselves and the world around them. I’ve lived “smaller” out of fear in the past. One of the things I want to learn from adventurous women is how to live “larger” in spite of the fear. As one blogger says, “I will never be fearless, but I can choose to fear less.”

Adventurous women dare to go “all in”

In every one of the true-life adventure stories I’ve come across, women have let go and jumped in with both feet. For some, this has meant the start of a completely new life. For others, it has been a shining experience which stands out from the ordinary life lived both before and after the adventure. Perhaps my coming adventures are on a smaller scale than selling my home and all my belongings and living the rest of my days as a world-travelling nomad – but they are still a stunning departure from my previous life-choices. My friend, Sara, put it this way for me, “You’re not really the ‘leap of faith’ type, are you? But you’ve been risk-averse for so long, you’ve probably stored up some really good risk karma, so why not use it now?” Not exactly an “all in” mentality – but close enough to get me started!

So, I have my work cut out for me – both with the actual activities associated with leaving my job and my house and with the mental and emotional preparedness for leaving. I’ll figure out the stuff, develop the plan as I go, and remind myself to cultivate curiosity so that asking for things (even if it is only information) gets easier. I’ll continue to be inspired by other women who’ve taken courageous and adventurous paths, hoping that the reality of living with less fear of the “what ifs” will translate into living more completely, more fully. Maybe someday other women will be reading my “true life adventure story” and deciding they can choose differently too. That would be an amazing end to this story, wouldn’t it?! I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what happens with each turn of the page.

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Dare to be powerful.

When I dare to be powerful…

Mostly, I forget that I have power. I forget or stop believing that I have volition, choice. What I remember is what we were all taught to remember: to follow the rules, to play nice, to do what I’m supposed to do or have been told to do. I don’t take issue with having been taught these things – they are one part of the equation of being a person with character and integrity. But there is another piece we should all have been taught – that part of being an adult of character is knowing when and how to break rules that are inappropriate, to play hard when it is called for, to say “It is MY responsibility to decide what I’m supposed to do”. The rare occasions when I dare to be powerful truly require every ounce of emotional strength I can muster, to go against the programming of my youth. However, I’m beginning to learn something important – like all muscles, it gets stronger when used. The more I exercise my power, my choice, my voice, the more powerful I become.

To use my strength in the service of my vision…

My vision? To use anything in service to my vision, I need to have a vision. Friends, for so many years I confused “vision” with “fuzzy daydream about the future”. They are, unsurprisingly, NOT the same! What differentiates a vision, for your life and/or the world you hope to live in, from a daydream? One, steadfastness. You have it and are able to hold it in front of you. Two, actions. You are able to identify – and TAKE – steps necessary to achieve the vision you steadfastly hold before you. Three, a convicted heart. Each step you take convinces your inner being that you are moving in the right direction, no matter how hard or how much it requires you to exercise your power.

Then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

Because I AM afraid. Afraid I’ve made the wrong choice, chosen a vision that wasn’t my highest calling. When I exercise my power in service to my vision, I stand alone to bear responsibility for the consequences of my choosing. I’d rather blame someone or something else if it doesn’t turn out well. (But she told me to do it! I was only following orders. That’s what we were instructed to do in training. Its in the policy manual.) I like having someone or something else to blame, it feels more secure, less exposed. Really? Accepting responsibility for my own life is what makes me afraid? (Until I wrote that, I didn’t know I felt that way. Now I have a mental picture of myself, the “cheese” standing alone, quaking in my boots.)

However, as Cheryl Strayed says in Wild, fear is a story we tell ourselves. We can tell ourselves a different story – one in which fear is less significant because we are using our power in service to something important. We can tell ourselves an empowering story. We can tell ourselves, “I’m not THAT afraid.” (True story: I once talked myself out of a panic attack while driving cross-country alone by telling myself this story over and over – ‘The sun is shining. I am well. I didn’t run over the turtle. I will be safe.’ The only parts I knew for sure were true were the shining sun and the lucky, still alive, turtle.)

What is so important that we should practice using our power in service to it? What is important enough to teach ourselves the contours of courage (which, contrary to some inspirational quotes, doesn’t come naturally to most of us). Simply this: to be who we were meant to be. To live the life we were born to live. That is the ultimate personal responsibility we bear – to be fully the unique and sacred persons we were created to be. When we dare to be powerful, to use our strength in service to our vision, fear becomes irrelevant – still painful, still hard – but irrelevant. Because what is relevant is the vision we are bringing to life in our lives and in our world.