Last year, on an early-November night, my mom and I drove down a dark and near-empty U.S. 31 from Traverse City to Frankfort. A few days prior, my grandpa had undergone surgery on his aortic valve. That evening, after a day at the hospital — the surgery was successful and my grandpa was recovering well — my mom, grandma, uncle, aunt and I went out to dinner in Traverse City.
Wanting to spend time with me before I moved south to Argentina in two days, my mom came home for the night instead of staying in Traverse City. With an uninterrupted chunk of time together and country music as our soundtrack, my mom and I talked about a number of things, including my upcoming move to South America.
“I’m really going to miss you, Em,” she said.
When I was in college, my swim coach often told me and my teammates to swim our own race. “You need to swim your race in your own lane,” he’d say. “You need to swim with blinders on.”
Back then, I didn’t understand the significance of those words beyond competitive swimming. I didn’t think of them as being applicable to life in general. But the metaphor is there — and I’m so grateful for it.
In swimming, it’s important to stick to your own race plan and pace. Looking from one lane to the next is an inefficient way to swim and an easy way to lose sight of your race and fall apart. There’s a time and place, usually toward the end of the race, for letting those around you motivate you and your race. There’s also a time and place, typically the majority of the race, for swimming with blinders on. For swimming your race in your lane. Yes, others can push you, but really, your pace and your push should come from within; they should come from you. It’s a strategic balance between swimming your own race and racing those in the lanes surrounding you.
To do that, you’ve got to be clear on your goals and how you’re going to pace your race — and train to be able to swim the race you want and need to swim — to achieve those goals.
This lesson and its relevance to life in general is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
Today is a Nuquí day. A reminder that travel, and life, does not always go according to plan.
I woke up at 5:20 a.m. today to catch a 7:00 a.m. bus to Osorno, Chile. (I need to cross the border to renew my passport.) I brushed my teeth, washed my face, got dressed, packed my backpack and then walked to the neighborhood bus stop to catch the local bus to the terminal in town. It was 5:50 a.m. Mornings are slow, still and silent in Argentina, especially 12 kilometers out from Bariloche.
At the bus stop, I stood in the little shelter as rain drizzled outside. I waited 40 minutes for any bus heading into town to appear. I counted four or five buses heading in the opposite direction, but there was nothing coming my way. For 40 minutes. Nada.
At 6:30, a bus came into view. It wouldn’t take me directly to the terminal, but it was the first bus to show up in the direction I needed to go and I figured it would get me close.
Life is not always easy. It’s messy. It is a balance of ups and downs and everything in between.
Sure, it seems obvious, but I sometimes think it’s worth stating the obvious.
Throughout this journey, this journey of living abroad and this journey of living life, I think it’s just as important — maybe more important — to share the pieces that are tougher than tough. Because while I’ve had my fair share of exciting and inspiring adventures since moving to Argentina and traveling in South America, the moments I’ve shared on social media are not my everyday life. They’re pieces of my life; they’re a fraction of my life. They’re moments I chose to share, and they’re part of a much greater story.
I choose to share moments and thoughts with those around me — whether that’s in live conversations, in emails, on social media or somewhere else entirely. We all do. They’re often my better moments.
But don’t be fooled. Those moments are not my entire life.
I returned to Buenos Aires last night after spending the month of March in Medellín, Colombia with Unsettled.
It was a fast, intense and incredible month, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I quickly fell in love with Medellín — what’s not to love about a city tucked in the beautiful Colombian Andes — but within a few days, I found my love, admiration and respect for the people I was in community with taking over. So after a month, you can only imagine how deep that love is. How hard it was, and still is, to realize I won’t be seeing them on a daily basis anymore.
I’ve never been around a group of people that was so ready to dive in, especially upon first meeting one another. This group was so willing to embark on this adventure together. We were willing to embrace the unknown together; willing to be open, honest and vulnerable with one another; willing to trust one another.
Within a matter of days, 21 strangers became friends, and within a month, those 21 friends became family.
“The truth may set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.” — Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
I recently uncovered this quote in Steph Jagger’s Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery, and it feels fitting to not only this post but to where I’m at in my life right now, so I’m just going to leave it here — if for no one else but me.
This morning was our first official orientation as a group, and as Jonathan, Liza and Simmone introduced our group to both Unsettled and Medellín, I couldn’t help but be struck by something Jonathan shared. Among Unsettled’s principles is a commitment to being true to yourself. For me, among the exploration, the community, the friendship, the adventure, the intentionality, the unknown, the learning and the growth that this month will inevitably bring, I think this idea of being true to myself hits at the heart of what I want to get out of being here.
“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask ‘What if I fall?’
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?” — Erin Hanson
It’s 4 a.m., and I’m sitting at Puerta 14 at AEP in Buenos Aires. I got about an hour of sleep last night, and I’ve got a long day ahead of me — four flights. Buenos Aires to Mendoza to Lima to Bogota to Medellín. I get into Medellín, Colombia around 7:30 ET tonight and then have roughly an hour drive down into Medellín.
It’s early, but I’m using this time to reflect — to think about where I am, what I’m doing and how I’m feeling. There’s a lot to this moment. This moment of leaving Buenos Aires for a month and embarking on an entirely new adventure in Medellín. For so many reasons, I am a mix of so many emotions. Excitement, uncertainty, adventure, fear, sorrow, patience, etc. etc.
I’m feeling every emotion under the sun, and most of them spring from this lingering sense of “not knowing.” Not knowing what the next month holds. Not knowing what the months that follow it hold. Between going to Medellín, returning to Buenos Aires and whatever comes next, there’s a lot I don’t know at the moment. For me, that’s simultaneously exciting and slightly terrifying.