Be You

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Alright, I’ll admit it: I have a great appreciation for quotes. I began collecting them when I was young. I spent hours flipping through inspirational books, folding over corners on pages I loved and highlighting ideas that struck me as true. They were things I wanted to remember. When I grew a little older, this time was spent on the computer, which I learned can be a bit of a rabbit hole in of itself. It’s funny, I began to realize, after a time many quotes began to say the same things, just in a different way.

Still, I continued to collect new ones. Quotes would be written down, transferred to notebooks and sticky notes and plastered all over my walls. There were quotes that became like mantras written on the inside of my mind – I would repeat to myself over and over again, particularly during challenging times. This particular quote was first said by Dr. Seuss, and it’s one of my all-time favourites. There is something in those words I find so comforting, even if I’ve struggled to validate their truth.

I would like to tell you I’ve never struggled to be myself, but if I did, I would be lying. Simple doesn’t always mean easy, and I seem to like to make things a lot harder for myself than they actually need to be.

My brain is like a sponge. I am constantly amazed by the amount of information it can soak up and retain. Sometimes this skill can be an incredible asset – I have endless amounts of data filed away for the day it might be useful, studying was never that hard, and I can pick up on new dance choreography with relative ease, so long as I am actually paying attention.

That is the key – focus. Our brains are truly powerful machines that process tens of thousands of thoughts every single day. How do you spend your thoughts? With so much going on in my mind at all times, I know I am very good at entertaining myself. This also means I am at risk of checking out of the present moment if I am bored by what I am doing and losing track of time if I’m interested. This is only sometimes funny when a professor asks you a question and you realize you were actually a million miles away, what were we talking about again?

At other times, my sponginess can be incredibly annoying. I can pick up on the fears, habits and beliefs of the people around me easily, without a conscious thought. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with – we all are. I find I adapt and change in ways I don’t even notice until I do something completely out of character and someone calls me out.

I lose myself in others.

Speaking your truth and living by your values shouldn’t be difficult, but it often is. Not because these things aren’t important to us, but because we have an instinctual desire to be accepted by our tribe, by the people we surround ourselves with. The notion of stepping outside of that can be terrifying. Fear works real hard to get us to fit in, or at the very least do something sensible like following along some predetermined path, we can do that, right? Not always. There comes a point in any life where you have to leap without the assurance of what comes next. You have to live your own story.

It’s funny to look back on my goals from the last number of years, how they’ve changed and shifted course. I can see how the media I was consuming and the people I looked up to at any given point directly influenced the steps I thought I should take.

As a young gymnast, Nastia Liukin was my idol. I watched her fly to Olympic glory in 2008 and dreamed that I would do the same…one day. A little older, I watched acrobatic duos on Instagram attend one of the most prestigious schools for circus arts in the world and I wanted to be just like them…one day. When I discovered author Julie Kagawa’s series, The Iron Fey, I absolutely fell in love with the characters and the way her writing compelled me on a journey filled with romance and plot twists. For a while, my writing began to sound just like hers, but I never took note of this small fact. I would publish a novel and be successful just like her…one day.

I latched onto the dreams of others because admitting to my own dreams made me feel foolish. And vulnerable – too vulnerable. What if someone laughed at me or thought less of me because of what I aspired to become? It’s one way to live with your living, beating heart on your sleeve, and that my friends, is terrifying. So for many years when my dreams came knocking, I politely declined. I took steps on the paths others had laid down before me because, if it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for me?

My own dreams do exist. They’re there. When I think about them, I can feel my face light up…but then there is the Fear.

I feared my dreams might seem selfish or stupid or insignificant in comparison to the aspirations of those around me. Even as recently as the last few months, I looked to the people who have inspired me to see how they reached their level of success. I considered going to regular university even though my gut told me otherwise. I tried on styles and patterns and platforms like one does hats – which one suited me best?

The answer, it turns out, was none of them. Often the road to our dreams can appear daunting – we see the goal looming over us on a snowcapped mountaintop, distant and far beyond our reach. We have no idea how we’ll get there. The path is unclear, riddled with fog and forks in the road. We are fully aware that some of these paths lead to dead ends while others will help us get further up the mountain. We just don’t know which one is which.

You could follow a path someone laid out before you. You could take every one of those steps and maybe you’ll find success…for a time. This option may seem logical or easy, but the truth is, life doesn’t work this way. The exact combination of steps that worked for others will not work for you because you are not them. You are your own person with your own experience, memories, circumstance and desires. Because you are your own person, you have your own journey to take. Yes, do listen to your elders and learn from those who have gone before you. But do not try to copy their story word for word because I can promise you this: it will not work.

If you can see the whole path laid out before you, it isn’t your path.

For much of my life, I have struggled. I have felt this constant pull: I am simultaneously too much and never enough to fit in. I’m a little different than the people around me, but never quite different enough to be considered a freak. I am a creative but I am also an intellectual…but I am also a hand balancer and baker and entrepreneur and friend. I am passionate about so many things it makes it nearly impossible to become too obsessive about any particular one, because if I spent my time feeling guilty for the time I spent doing handstands or writing or researching all the ways we can help reduce pollution, I would never get anything done.

No, I’m not the right combination of just enough and not too much to fit in or be anyone that I’m not. But I AM the perfect blend of elements to create a very unique compound: I am perfectly me. And you are too.

I hereby declare that you have permission to stop being anyone you’re not.

So go be you.

Be Here Now

Some days, my mind can be a very noisy place. Today is one of those days.

It can be extremely hard to write when my brain is busy trying to process a million things at once. As a matter of fact, it can be extremely hard to do anything at all. Making to-do lists and filing memories into the appropriate file cabinets so that they-may-not-be-lost-when-I-should-wish-to-retrieve-them takes up a lot of mental space. I am moving in less than a week, I have no idea what my life will look like in six months and holy shit, where did the last year go?

I swear, sometimes my thoughts travel at a speed that gives Light a run for its money. There is no way to keep up with them all, so I find myself just sitting here watching them pass as I try desperately to focus on the task at hand.

There are fruit flies buzzing around my kitchen as I stand here this morning, and today I feel like I share their attention span. Either that or I have evolved to possess the mental capacity of a goldfish. Go figure. Go Fish. Maybe I should go play cards or clean the kitchen instead. That sounds like a good idea… or not – maybe not.

Sometimes people tell me they admire what they call my “self-discipline.” They covet the ability to choose a task, to focus and get it done, something that is not so easy in a world riddled with distractions. But let me tell you something, it is not what it looks like at all. Where they see someone who has mastered the art of motivation or productivity, I am aware that the one thing that keeps me going are habits.

I know I must do handstands six days per week if I wish to grow as a hand balancer, so I do. If I want to be able to move with any level of ease, I know I must stretch every day, so I do. I have been making my bed every day at the very least since the age of ten, so it is not a question of whether or not I should do it when I get up in the morning – my hands are pulling at the sheets long before my groggy brain has a chance to suggest otherwise.

According to the University College London, it takes 66 days to wire in a new habit to the point of automaticity.This is just a fancy way of saying it becomes easier to do the new habit than it is to skip a day out of laziness, fatigue or lack of motivation when the time comes to do the thing that you know you should do.

Often times, we set goals for ourselves then forget about the thousands of tiny steps it will take to get us there. We imagine ourselves at the peak of the mountain before we’ve even begun our ascent. When it comes to actually do the work required to get us where we want to go in life, it is much easier to give up near the start than it is to stick it out past the messy middle and trudge through the trenches to our dreams.

As human beings, we are wired to avoid discomfort. It is how we survived for so many years when the elements were against us and an array of predators sought to see us dead. As tribal beings, our instinct tells us to do almost anything to avoid being cast out of the tribe. We seek the approval of others, and would often rather go places in groups than strike out on our own.

Spending time alone can make us feel deeply uncomfortable. When you have nothing around to distract you, you have no choice but to confront the thoughts that follow you around all the time. Sometimes these thoughts upset us or make us question our decisions in life. As uneasy as this process may make us feel, it is invaluable to step back and observe the patterns of your own mind.

I’ve noticed there is a cyclical nature to my thoughts – my brain likes to run itself in circles around the same ideas, like a dog chasing its tail with little success and no end in sight. These thoughts usually circle back to either the past or the unknown future, things over which I have virtually no control.

If it takes only 66 days to wire in a new habit, we must be careful what habits we choose to wire in. Even the way in which we process our thoughts and the things that happen to us in life can become a habit if we are not mindful of where our brain routinely wanders to.

There is a point when looking to the past in order to sort through your feelings is no longer healing – it becomes rumination over things you cannot change. There is a point where planning and dreaming about the future becomes a habit of living in a time you cannot yet see.

At some point, we just have to let go and be present, as scary as that may seem. We have to accept the choices that have brought us here and make peace with those forces we cannot control. If we don’t, our life will fly by before our eyes, before we have a chance to grasp the beauty that was right there before us all along.

Over the years, I have become intimately familiar with the process of creating habits. Writing is one place where I have struggled to keep these habits more than anything else. Creative endeavours require their own special brand of motivation, and sometimes I go to the shelves to find it is simply out of stock.

I have never quite mastered the art of stillness – there is much I have yet to learn in the ways of calming the brain. My ability to write relies heavily upon my ability to exist in the moment and be present with my thoughts. If I worry what people might think of my work as I am trying to get it out of my head and onto the page, there is no way I will be able to write what needs to be said. I have to give myself the permission to wander down unknown avenues, to be in the moment and trust that the process will take me where I need to go.

It is only recently I have been able to recognize these patterns that live within my mind. When I notice I have spent a period of time stuck in the past or worrying about the future, I force myself to slow down and come back to the moment.

Your five senses are a gift. Use them. Try to distinguish the flavours of your food each time you take a bite. Take note of textures and subtle sounds. What does the air feel like today? What colour is the sky? What do you smell when you first step outside, what noises do you hear?

This is what it is to be truly alive. When I notice I have been absent from my life for a time and pull myself back to where I am, I feel like a literal weight has been lifted off my forehead. It is a much happier, lighter way to live. I am working on being a little more present every day.

As Hagrid once said, “No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

On Getting Started

Just start.

I tell myself this every single day. More often than not, I find deciding what to do and then taking the first step to be the most challenging part of any process, particularly when I am doing something creative. Which is, let’s be honest, pretty much every day.

There are a million different ways to be creative – creativity is not limited to the first few vocations that come to mind when you hear that word.

People often assume if they are not a writer, designer, or artist of some kind that they are not creative. This is a false pretense that comes from a society that loves to throw everyone and everything into neatly-labelled boxes and then tosses away the key. I find this assumption highly irritating. I would challenge you to take a closer look at the things you do every day and tell me you are not being creative in some way or another, whether that is cooking dinner for your family or finding a solution to a colleague’s crisis at work. Creativity is a hallmark quality of the human species, thank you very much. We would not be here today without it.

Maybe I am a little bit biased on this topic, but I don’t think that’s the case. I would consider myself a highly creative person in the more traditional sense of the word. I am an artist. I always have been, from the time I was very young. I loved making cards and drawings for the people in my life, for special occasions or just because I felt inspired to do so. In second grade, I was thrilled by a class we had called “Writer’s Workshop,” in which we would go from the idea phase of a story to producing an actual physical book. When I was ten, my Opa taught me how to sew, and I started my first company, Heart Balloon Ink. It was then that I learned my first lessons in branding and product design, and I would give all my friends handmade Pillows with a Purpose. (It was one way of marketing my creations, you know.)

Even as I spent hours with my mother, stitching together tiny felted creatures or crafting necklaces of hemp cord, holey seashells and beautiful beads, I grew to appreciate math and science all the same. I have a soft spot for solving formulas, and I loved my high school physics class. This analytical side of my brain goes directly against the philosophy that you can be skilled with a paintbrush or good with numbers, but never both.

I’ve always had the tendency to be a little rebellious, but not in the way you would think. I have never fit the mould of what is considered “normal.” Both an artist and a nerd, I am neither left brain nor right brain dominant, but instead, I like to sit somewhere in between. Making things is intrinsically satisfying for me, and my life is incomplete without it.

Maybe my love of creating comes from some genetic coding written into my DNA. Maybe it’s been passed down through my blood from the generations before me, from a time before computers and iPhones and TV.

I grew up in a close-knit family, the only kid among adults who loved to exercise their creativity in unconventional ways. My Opa was a bricklayer who then founded a construction company and built his own house. My Opa and Oma then established a world-class artistic gymnastics centre in the prairies so my mother could achieve her goal of reaching the Olympics, all without moving away from home.

After a successful career as an artistic gymnast and a stint of a few years where she coached in Guatemala, my mother went on to build her own space. What began as a dance studio has evolved into a vibrant training centre for the circus arts, none of which would have been possible without the help of my father. Dad is a creative engineer who did his masters in Robotics. He now spends his free time doing the rigging for the studio, designing and building original apparatus’ to compliment my mother’s wildest visions. They are a dream team come true.

In my family, if you want to do something, you find a way to make it happen.

This mentality was installed in me at such a young age that I never considered my entrepreneurial tendencies to be bold or rebellious at all. It was just the way things were done. Everyone in the inner circle of my family has lived many lives and is good at many things. I was taught that if you put in the time and worked hard enough, you could accomplish anything you set your mind to. Simple as that, right?

Except, sometimes it’s not so simple. When you’re young, you only see how brave or smart the adults in your life are, you don’t see everything they’ve struggled through in order to get to where they are. You don’t see their doubts and fears and the times they fought hard to make ends meet while working away at their dreams. You can’t understand why they encourage you down the “safer” of the paths laid out before you, why they say you should pursue the more logical of your aspirations when it’s because they don’t want you to have to struggle as they have. You can’t understand it, because you haven’t experienced it for yourself, and there are some things only living can teach us.

Creating things is extremely rewarding, but I will acknowledge there are days when it is also extremely hard. An idea can be so perfectly packaged in your head that you’re scared to take it out into the real world for fear that it may not live up to your lofty expectations. You can sit for hours with a blank canvas before you and a hand that refuses to move across the page, or fingers that refuse to type.

I find the first sentence is often the hardest for me to get right – I can most often fight my way through the middle of a piece, and there’s a burst of energy when you know you’re approaching the end. But without those first few words, I’m at a loss. I may have a vague idea where I’m going, but I haven’t found the right mode of transportation to get me there and I’m stranded until I do.

So some days, I tell myself, just start. Put something down on paper. It doesn’t have to be good. If it’s no good, no one ever has to see it. But you can’t edit what you can’t see, and I know there’s something in there just waiting to come out. C’mon, work with me.

Inspiration shows up every day you show up to work – some days it may just look a little different than others. Sometimes he’s wearing a suit, top hat and tie, and sometimes she shows up in baggy sweats and her ex-boyfriend’s t-shirt. And some days, the best days, Inspiration bursts into the room wearing hiking boots and a fully stocked backpack and announces the two of you are going on an adventure without further ado, are you ready yet? She’s been waiting all night and can’t wait to get on the road.

I don’t think I will ever fully understand how the human brain works. We are all wired so differently, and it is important to take the time necessary to figure out what makes each of us tick. For a long time, I struggled with the fact that I am passionate about so many things. I desperately wanted to narrow it down to just one or two, because somewhere along the line it got drilled into me that this was the only way to truly become world class at anything. The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither. Or at least, so they say.

The problem was, whenever I would try to jettison my many passions in favour of just one, I would end up restless and deeply unhappy.

I saw this as an affliction or some vital flaw in my wiring, and so I fought it – hard. In the last number of months, however, I’ve come to realize that maybe I’ve been looking at the “problem” all wrong. Maybe my love of many things is not my weakest point, but my greatest strength.

I am learning to be okay with the fact that my life may work in cycles. There are periods when I find I am drawing from an ever-flowing spring of words. Other times, my creativity is purely visual – I am all photography and illustration and graphic design. And then there are days beyond that where my mind is not working at all. I crave working with my hands or being in my body, knitting or dancing or sitting still. All are equally valuable acts of creation as I am working on the greatest piece of art my life will produce: the person I want to become.

But in order to get where I am going, I must take the first step. I must make a decision, any decision. Then I must begin.

We Look At the Same Sky

I have a deep fascination with the sky.

I have for a long time, actually. It’s hard to say when exactly our love affair began, but from the time I started writing poetry in third grade, there has been a crucial connection between my creativity and the natural world. It is a recurring theme throughout my work – I always feel most inspired outdoors, generally walking and frequently observing the sky.

My love of the stars came when I read a book by one of my favourite childhood authors, Wendy Mass. I was eleven years old at the time. The novel, Every Soul a Star, is about three young strangers brought together on a campground to watch a total solar eclipse. The chapters are divided into their three different perspectives of the events that take place throughout the book. All the characters came alive in my mind, but I could best relate to the girl whose family had run the campground for several years, so long she could hardly remember anything else.

We read books to make us feel less alone, and these characters became my best friends in a time I felt quite lonely in a world that didn’t understand who I was. This girl did not know a traditional childhood, but rather she and her brother were brought up in the best classroom man never made, but one that existed long before the industrial revolution. She was engaged in an intimate relationship with the natural world, but her deepest love lay in the night sky.

It was in this book that I found my first astronomy lesson; I have taken great comfort in constellations ever since.

Having grown up in Winnipeg, I am more accustomed to sunny days than I am cloudy ones. I find it quite depressing to have the sun hidden from view for more than a few days at a time. The weather in Manitoba is rather intense, yes – this is what happens when you live in the middle of what was once a giant lake. It is extremely flat, so much so that you can see for a twelve-kilometre radius if there are no buildings to obstruct your view.

Because of the lack of change in elevation, the weather tends to stick around until a system comes through that is strong enough to move it along. Or there is a change in seasons. In winter, we get temperatures as low as -40 degrees C and then add the windchill. Let me tell you, that is cold. At the same time, in summer temperatures can climb above 30 degrees C. But no matter the season or time of day, you are more likely than not to find clear skies. It is one of the advantages to living in Manitoba.

If you’ve never been to the prairies, it may be hard for you to understand why anyone would live in such a bipolar climate. You may not be able to imagine the vastness of empty space that exists in a place where the sky is a canvas that lasts forever, further than the eye can see. There are entire stretches of uninterrupted land with nothing but farmers fields, rusty railroad tracks, and one or two rogue gas stations dotting the horizon. Even Winnipeg itself is sprawling – it can take more than three-quarters of an hour to get from one area to another in a city populated by less than a million people. It may not be the most exciting place to live, but it does have its own charm. I am grateful to have grown up there.

Now that I am living and traveling thousands of miles from the place I grew up, I find I instintively look to the skies for a piece of home.

It’s reassuring to know that, no matter where we end up in the world, the sky will always be there. I once saw a live movement production that told the stories of a few families of immigrants and their struggles in moving to a new land. After the show, we were privileged enough to meet the creator and listen to him speak about his inspiration for the show.

Because of a variety of factors, this man had spent long periods of time travelling. This took him away from his family and friends, scattered as they were across the globe. Distance can be quite hard on the heart, so this man found his own unique way of staying connected to the ones he loved. Each time he travelled, he would locate a park, sit down on an empty bench and look up at the sky. He would find comfort in the knowledge that somewhere, someone he loved was looking up at that same sky, even if they were a million miles from where he was.

The world may feel big at times, but it is also incredibly small. When we look to nature, we find this sense of connection that exists between all living things and resides within our hearts. We can reach for it when we find ourselves overwhelmed, tired, or unbareably lonely. It will always be there.

These days, I find myself looking up a lot. I am frequently distracted by whatever the sky is up to at a given moment in time. It’s quite comical, actually: I can be walking to a friend’s house at night, and I will stop dead in the middle of their back alleyway, just a few steps shy of their doorstep. The air is crisp with a winter’s chill or thick with the heat of summer. Sometimes I have words on the tip of my tongue that must be transcribed before they slip away, but most often I am simply sidetracked by the few stars that have managed to burst through the light pollution to pierce a gorgeous navy blue sky. I am overcome by a sense of wonder – the world is so utterly beautiful it literally takes my breath away.

Our world is built on patterns that repeat themselves time and time again. Take the number three, for example. Our days are composed of three distinct periods: sunrise, full light, sunset. In our solar system, the trio of the sun, the moon, and planet earth are necessary for life to thrive. There are three atoms that combine to create one molecule of water, three colours that combine to make visible light, and three main states of matter. The same could be said of the number seven, the hexagonal structure of a snowflake, or the ever-present golden ratio. Patterns are everywhere.

Patterns may be common in nature, but they can also teach us a thing or two about ourselves – what do you find yourself being drawn back to time and time again?

The best way to recognize these patterns within yourself is to spend some time alone with your own thoughts, to try things and gather data and then reflect on what you find. I find I am constantly pulled back to create and be in spaces with these three things: a body of water, a forest of green trees, and a breathtakingly beautiful sky. There is something in these elements that soothes my soul and lets me allows me to feel at peace in the world – I am home.

Listen to the signals your body gives you. Listen for what your heart has to say. Life is the process of rediscovering yourself as you wander. Have faith, you will find your way.

Uncertainty

Recently, I’ve observed an interesting pattern that seems to recur throughout life. That is, nothing ever goes the way you expect. Even the best-laid plans can go awry sometimes. Or often. Or all the time.

If there is anything life has taught me in the last number of months, it is this: there is great value in being able to go with the flow and adapt to whatever comes your way, for better or for worse. Something that seems like a tragedy at the moment can be the best thing that ever happened to you – and vice versa. Uncertainty is part of the beauty of life. You never really quite know what is going on until you can look back and say, ah, I see it now.

There is no way to anticipate the future, and there is no one straight path to get where you’re going in life, whether you like it or not.

You make a decision, and that decision leads you down one avenue or the next, which in turn leads to the next fork in the road and on to the next. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, but more a matter of choices.

There was a time in my life when I created a highly regimented schedule and set of rules that I used to govern every decision I made. It was all self-imposed; I thought I knew what I wanted, and I was convinced I knew the best way to get there. I suppose every teen goes through a phase of thinking they know best, and mine just looked a little different than most people my age.

While my peers began to explore an ever-expanding world of choices, I confined myself to a shrinking prison of discipline and all the things that I knew were safe. They went to parties and tried alcohol, and I stayed home and played with new restrictions I could add to my diet. I had a set of exercises I would do each night after I came home already exhausted from a five-hour training session, and I wouldn’t let myself go to bed until they were done. Heaven forbid I touch a piece of chocolate or bowl of potatoes. If I did, the guilt would consume me until I did some extra cardio, even if I had already spent twenty-six hours at the gym that week. Or I might just explode.

It was an extremely limited, stressful way to live, one that was  entirely unsustainable in the long run.

I missed out on a lot during those six years of adolescence. I became increasingly delusional in my pursuit of a goal that was not my own, but rather one I’d adopted from some gymnasts I admired. There was no more passion in gymnastics for me – I was burnt out and tired beyond measure. People I hardly knew were worried about me, but I stubbornly refused the facts staring me in the face until I couldn’t any longer. The illusion came crashing down, and I had to start from scratch.

What do I really want to do with my life? I asked myself again and again. At the time, I had prided myself on being so self-disciplined. I had claimed it made life easier, not to have to make so many decisions. But now I look back and think, maybe I was just scared. Scared of the unknown, scared of failure or doing something undoable I might regret.

It’s funny to think about this now. Within the span of four months following a big decision in January, I had my life turned completely upside down to an extent I did not see coming. I tried to anchor myself to something that was ultimately not meant to last, at least not in the capacity it had existed up until that point. And so it collapsed beneath the weight of so much pressure, and I was free. It was time for a change, yet I was once again terrified of having the world at my feet with nothing to hold me down.

Freedom can be terrifying.

We constantly search for external anchors in life when really, the only anchor we can rely on is the one within ourselves. At our core, we all know what we truly want, whatever that may be. We’re just too scared to go after it because doing so feels exceedingly vulnerable. We tell ourselves it is impossible because we don’t know if it has ever been done. Or at the very least, we don’t know how to accomplish it. Or we’re too busy, or too tired or comfortable for such shenanigans.

Uncertainty makes us uncomfortable, and maybe rightly so. But nothing in life is ever truly fixed or certain, and acknowledging this can give us the courage to take steps where we’ve never been before, to travel and explore.

When we are young, I believe travel is the ideal way to learn and expand the brain. I was so fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel as much as I did growing up. It is a large part of the reason I am who I am today. The world can be one of the best classrooms. Now, during one of the most formative parts of my life, the thought of being tied down to any one place for too long makes me anxious. Travel is the thing I crave.

While seeing how people exist in different parts of the world is invaluable in any capacity, flying solo increases that by tenfold. Solitude enables you to reflect on your experiences and rediscover things about yourself in a way that you cannot do when you are surrounded by the people and places you know well. We need space to hear our ourselves think.

I say “rediscover,” because I believe life is largely not a process of learning about who you are but uncovering the things you already know.

No one can ever know you better than you know yourself, as comforting as it can be to let yourself think otherwise for a time. I am in the process of learning to separate my opinions and emotions from those of the people around me. You will always be influenced in one way or another by the people you spend the most time with, but being aware that it is happening gives you the power to question whose words are coming out of your mouth and dominating your brain.

These days, I am learning to let go and trust in the process a little more. I still believe there is value in setting a direction for your life, but I also believe it is important to take opportunities as they arise. So I’ve decided to do just that, to have ideas and dreams then focus on taking baby steps and the occasional leap of faith when the cliff arrives. We’ll see where it takes me next. So far, it has led me down one pretty beautiful path.

An Exercise in Stillness

In all the time I’ve spent in transit, I’ve noticed there are many different ways to approach travel, but most people tend to fall at either end of an extreme spectrum. You can be constantly in a rush to check everything off your meticulously planned to do list, because there is so little time and so much to see and you must do everything. Or, you can just show up, go with the flow and see where your days take you. Both have merit, but my worry with the former is how stressed we can become. This is a problem, because you go on vacation to get away from stress, right? Right. Just checking to make sure you knew that, because I know I sometimes forget.

My first time on a plane was as a tiny baby only nine months old – I caught the travel bug very early on in life, and I don’t think it ever really went away.

My family was heading to Sweden with a team for the 11th World Gymnaestrada. I received a lot of love from the girls who just thought I was the cutest thing in my custom-made Canadian tracksuit. Apparently, I was a fussy eater back then: I refused to eat anything but mashed potatoes (good thing Göttenburg had a lot of those) and maybe a little applesauce, if you were lucky. But I did have the best seat in the house, cuddled up to my parents wherever we went. That’s one of the benefits of traveling as an infant, I suppose.

Almost nineteen years later, I am back in Northern Europe for a trip of an entirely different nature. I’m a young woman traveling on her own for the first time. I’m in Iceland in the midst of a chilly spring, and I’m a slightly less picky eater than I was back then. But it’s an eye-opening adventure, all the same.

After so many years on the road, I like to think of myself as a fairly calm traveler, that I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. There are times, however, when I am admittedly quite the opposite. I can be stressed and hurried and obsess over tiny details until my brain hurts. Let me tell you, it isn’t enjoyable for anyone if you’re uptight all the time – yourself included.

I know this so well, yet still sometimes I forget. Yesterday, my plane landed at 5:00 AM; despite the lack of sleep, I was filled with such a sense of joy and possibility, I walked around with my head in the clouds for the next couple of hours. Things just worked. It was magical. I stepped off the bus into a whole new world. I walked through quaint streets to find a place I’d read about for breakfast and admired the character in the colourful houses lining the street. I arrived at my destination a few minutes later, starving and ready for food.

By 8:29 AM, reality began to set in.

I quickly realized this cafe was not the place for me. Two minutes later, as I rushed out the door, I embarrassed myself further my tripping on the ledge, nearly landing flat on my face with my heavy backpack on top of me. Out on the street again, I brushed off my hands and it dawned on me that I was missing something. I’d stupidly decided I would carry two books with me in my hands, and I’d left them on the bus. They were gone, and I wasn’t getting them back. I continued to walk, taking out my frustration on my poor rubber boots. A short while later, I found a cute cafe (Bergsson Mathús) and began to plan my day.

I spent a majority of the rest of my day in a flurry of activity and indecision, overwhelmed by everything I felt I had to do in a week. It takes time to figure things out when you’re in a new country for the first time and I was acutely aware of every minute I spent getting acquainted with this different way of life. On top of that, everything is so much more expensive than I’m used to. How was I ever going to do everything on my to-do list? How was I ever going to pay for it all?

It wasn’t until I was sitting in one of the city’s infamous “hot pots” that I began to relax. All over Iceland, there are geothermal hot springs. The power of these hot springs is harnessed through public pools and spas, among other things. Each one has basins of varying depths and degrees of temperate. There are some warm regular sized pools, one or two cold pools, and a few hot tubs. Instead of going to regular pools to swim, the people of Iceland come here, where the water has endless healing health benefits.

Iceland is one of the happiest nations in the world.

It is an interesting place for me to visit, because some parts of their culture feel like home, while others are foreign and strange. The weather is damp, cold and moody (albeit much more so than I’ve experienced before – and I thought Montreal was bad.) For a foreigner, their language is impossible to understand. But the people are incredibly open, helpful and kind. As I was walking down the street yesterday morning, a gentleman driving past noticed my backpack had come undone. He stopped, rolled down his window to let me know, and continued in his way. Where I’m from, that does not just happen, people! Everyone is too caught up in their own worlds to notice such details, let alone tell you about it.

Maybe in such a harsh climate, people learn to accept and take care of the people around them, whether they know them or not. The host of my Airbnb is incredibly thoughtful and gracious, going the extra mile to make sure I enjoy my stay. Iceland was one of the first countries to implement democracy, to elect a female president and legalize same-sex marriage. They have a vibrant night life, and their art scene is bursting with talent and innovative ideas.

Most of all, Icelanders know how to work hard, but they also know how to relax. They take the time to look others in the eye when they talk to them, or make sure a neighbour gets the groceries he forgot. And they have this tradition of going out to sit in nature’s hot tubs at the end of of the day, to unwind and be with people they care about, or just to sit with themselves. They know how to plug into nature, to take a moment and recharge.

Maybe this ability to go with the flow comes from living in a climate that is so unpredictable. Whatever it is, it’s starting to rub off on me.

As I say there in that hot pot amidst the chaos of chatting adults and squealing kids, I closed my eyes and let the noise wash over me. All I saw were opposites: the contrast of cold rain drops and the warmth of the water, cloudy skies and laughter echoing through the steam. Chaos and calm. For the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to lose track of time. In that moment, I began to truly enjoy myself, and I gave myself permission to let this trip be whatever it needs to be.

When we travel, it is so easy to plan our days, to make endless to-do lists and schedules in an attempt to make this memory a perfect one, that we may treasure it forever. We want everything to be just right. We feel like if we’re not doing something all the time, we’re wasting valuable time, and we’ll regret it later. We come home feeling like we need a vacation from our vacation when in reality, it doesn’t need to be this way at all.

Be a little more gentle with yourself and give yourself some space to breathe. Perfection is a myth, so stop trying so hard to achieve it.

I am very good at giving others these words of wisdom, but I am not very good at taking them myself. Often (or always) I write these posts because I have something to share, but also because it is what I need.

I need to be reminded that I am not some machine who is expected to produce and create and do things all the time. I need to be reminded that sometimes doing nothing is not a waste of time, sometimes doing nothing is what I really need. I need to be reminded to let go, to go with the flow and let things happen, because Serendipity is quite good at her job, if you haven’t noticed, but you need to give her space to do her work.

Repeatedly in my life, I find when I enter a situation with no expectations, that is when the best things occur. My favourite memories are things that happened by accident, or periods of time when I wasn’t doing much at all: I was sitting on my favourite beach in Hawaii watching the sunset while my father sat beside me, or lying in bed reading next to my mom. When I step out of the shadows of judgement and expectation, that is when I truly begin to live.

I am in the process of learning to let go and spend more time in the spaces that let my heart be light. It’s a much more interesting way to go about life. We’ll see where Serendipity takes me next.