Friday, May 28, 2010

Thirty before Thirty

Along with big life changes like moving back to the US comes a lot of thinking. Naturally, I'm a thinker. And though I try not to be, a worrier. It depends on my mood and the day, but overall, I've done so much thinking and pondering about life in this past year! I could go on and on about all the things I've thought about, but it would be long and a lot of incoherent and unconnected thoughts. But, I just thought that I would share one of the things that I've been thinking about lately.

My friend Brian and I seem to have a lot in common, but we live a little far away and don't really get the opportunity to hang out without doing a lot of planning ahead. Nevertheless, we chat online and video chat from time to time. Awhile back, he recommended a blog to me called The Art of Non-Conformity. I was instantly enamored and couldn't stop reading. I read so many of this guy's articles in the first week. It's his personal quest to travel to every country in the world (see his map here). He also writes a lot about free lance writing, blogging, entrepreneurship, and following your dreams. I'm digressing, but all the articles there have helped me assess my dreams for life. Helped me to realize you can only achieve great things if you dream big dreams. I'm perfectly willing to share these with you if you ask, but I'll get back to where I was going.

But first I do have to mention another inspiration I've had recently, from the most unexpected place in Worthington, MN. I started subscribing to and old friend's "inspirational" emails he was writing, figuring "who couldn't use a little inspiration and motivation!" I've been shocked to see what he's been doing with his life and it turns out that he's got a book deal to publish 3 books, one coming out soon (he's only recently started blogging, but check it out here). I've started to see what people who I've deemed ordinary (like myself) doing extraordinary things, and I want to join them. Things that seemed so far into the future are no longer that. I'm 25 and not getting any younger. I'm no longer a teenager thinking of my life in terms of potential, but need to start living my dreams and working towards the others. I don't want to look back at my life and have to say that I've "just made it through."

On that note, back to Brian -- he also has a goal of "30 before 30," visiting 30 countries before the age of 30. To some of you that read my blog this might sound crazy, and to others it might not even seem like a big deal. I don't think it's all that uncommon of a goal among travelers, but it was new to me, and also seems like an admirable and realistic goal. I started pondering it and I think I've solidly decided that I want this to be a goal in my life.

Another friend I chat with regularly is Kavita. We challenge each others' thoughts and ponder the mysteries of the universe. You think I'm joking, but I'm not :) Today we were talking and we discussed what people's goal is with traveling the world these days. I think it used to be something really rare, and that's why people were interested. It's become much less rare, evident in that such a small town girl like myself has studied abroad more than once and now lived abroad for two years. But, I think that in places like Minnesota, it still is something a bit rare. Kavita made me realize that it's important to assess my reasons for such a goal. Otherwise, am I actually just doing it because "everybody's doing it"? Is it only my passion because I've encountered people who have these plans? So here I assess some of my own reasons, some of it nostalgic, so I apologize. Bear with me if you're interested.

Though becoming more of a norm, especially among new friends I've met along the way, I do like travel and learning about another culture. I actually have been thinking a lot about fate vs choice in life recently. I haven't decided that one and not sure I ever will, but I remember one specific night where I think my whole life took a different turn. For some reason I decided to go to the Study Abroad Open House on my campus. I don't remember why, but no one in my family had ever traveled abroad and none of my friends from home either. I may have been inspired by my roommate (and best friend now) Nicole who had gone to Greece the May before, but frankly I don't remember any one thing influencing me. I went and learned about a program, and instantly knew it was the one I wanted to go on. I vividly remember coming home with the brochure and telling Nicole all about it and being so excited. I remember calling my parents, I think that same night. I was met with some surprise and "Why would you do that?" So apparently Mom and Dad, I'm going back to the drawing board on that "Why?"

Going to Chile changed a lot about me. I think it changed my values, helped me move on from my first love, made me think about what I wanted about life, and most of all instilled a love for travel and piqued my curiosity about other cultures. After I came back, I think it further turned the direction of my life after I quit volleyball. Though I couldn't have said it so clearly back then, my priorities had shifted. Sports were no longer the thing that filled my void, but learning about new places, planning trips and the exhilration that comes along with finding my way around a new city or subway system, getting myself out of a bind in a country where I don't speak the language, overcoming obstacles like snowstorms in the mountains that cancel buses back to the country I'm supposed to be in, and daily life is a list in itself here in Japan. But it is exhilarating and I love the feeling I get after having succeeded and survived the mishaps I encounter.

So I guess in a nutshell, there's my answer. The exhilaration. The reward of taking positive risks. Surviving the negative risks and learning from them. Seeing how people live in different places and taking a little bit from each place I visit, allowing it to change my thoughts and perceptions. Seeing a beautiful sunset , a place rich with history and culture, strolling through a garden in the afternoon. Helping other people whether it be giving directions or recommendations to a fellow traveler or playing with kids in an orphanage and giving them much needed attention. So here's to the next 21 countries in 5 years. See the sidebar on my blog for a running list. Thanks for your never ending support and love!

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