Mission Control

Every serious quest needs a base. You know, a big map on a table in the middle of the room where men with heavy brows inexplicably move chess pieces around to plan their next move. Last week, we built the mission control centre for our biggest quest yet: our big dream.

If you haven’t heard, we are working toward opening our own dive centre and guest house somewhere in southeast Asia. We aren’t sure where yet and we are far from knowing how.  All we know is that it is what we want more than anything, and we’re working hard on making it happen.

This weekend, we sat down and broke the mission into the biggest challenges we’ll have to conquer. For anyone else out there working on a big goal (or even a small one!), this is a really good practice for two reasons:

  • As you go through the list – scary as it might be – you start to see how one goal leads into another. Put more plainly, it makes your next steps very clear!
  • It shows you where your fears lie. And lie they do! As you begin to lay out your challenges, you’ll hear yourself think of a million reasons why you won’t be able to do this, that or the other. Pay close attention because that’s a key moment! This is your fear talking – and we know that, while fear is often the loudest voice in the room, it is not the most clever. Good news though, it’s very easy to calm your dear friend Fear with a simple statement and a question: I know you’re freaking out, but we’re still going to do this anyway. What will make you feel more comfortable with that?  You’ll often find that your fear gave you the solution when it spoke.
    • An example from us: we haven’t worked in the dive industry before so we feel we’re going in a little blindly. FEAR FREAK OUT! But when we asked the fear what would help, the answer was clear – get a little industry experience. It’s as easy as that!
    • a quick word of advice: some things cannot be fixed this way, most notably fear’s worst enemy – risk. All the things that matter most will involve some risk. That’s what makes them worth it. As much as your fear wants the risk to be zero, it is just not possible to make that happen. The only way forward is to tell your fear that you understand it’s scary and you wish it would be otherwise, but that the reward of trying far outweighs the risks, so you’ll have to take the leap together, holding hands if necessary. Your fear won’t be happy, but at least it will feel acknowledged and you can move forward as friends.

So, without further ado, here is what arose from our meeting over the big map. Perhaps seeing how we broke our dream down will help you deconstruct your own goals so they feel more achievable!

  • get Chris to Instructor level – this one is nearly in the bag! In order for us to run a centre with training facilities, one of us will have to be an Instructor. I only started diving this year, so with his nearly 400 dives, Chris is the obvious choice. He’s studying for the course now and will take his exam in June when we go to Bali. Woot!!
  • get some experience in the industry – (aka help our fear out a little!) while I know the hotel side really well and Chris knows the diving side, we have a gap in the dive business knowledge and experience. While business is business the world-wide, every industry has it’s own quirks and needs that we’d be smart to be aware of. Two good bits of news here:
    • This is very tentative and early, but there is a chance I could do some work with a dive centre here. Even a few months there would teach me a lot about doing things right with our own place. Fingers crossed!
    • After his Instructor course, Chris can possibly stay on and do some intern work with the dive centre in Bali. That would help him gather some great information about doing it full-time.
  • find the funding – tricky. scary. intimidating. This is our biggest obstacle and yet the one that feels so silly to be set back by. We are, after all, tiny dots on a small blue dot that is one of countless dots in an ever-expanding universe. That makes those scraps of paper that we move around to get things done seem pretty irrelevant. And yet…they make things happen. So we’re stuck with trying to figure out how to gather enough bits of paper to invest in our dream! There are a few options here:
        • save up – it would take bloody ages, especially as I can’t find a job here! We don’t really want to wait five years for this to happen. I really don’t, that’s for sure! I’m 33, after all, and there are other ideas that are starting to creep into the realm of possibility. I won’t give details, lest my mother is reading this, but I would like to be settled in somewhere in the next couple of years. I’m also very ready to be more in charge of my destiny. It’s been really hard to have so many limitations on what I have been able to do for the last few years. I am a go-getter but there is not a lot to go get here. I want to be working for myself because I will always have something to do!
        • ask for donations – people are surprisingly generous and I’ve already had a couple of friends mention that they want to contribute. That is so incredibly kind and heartwarming. We’d graciously accept any donations people are willing and able to offer. It really means a lot to us. It probably won’t fund the whole thing, but every little counts, eh?
        • borrow money – a few catches with this one as neither of us have an income in our home country. It’s unlikely they’ll lend to us without that. That leaves borrowing from a bank in a foreign country (possible once we have a business plan) or from people we know who have the reserves. My list of millionaires is fairly limited, but perhaps we can cobble together a few different contracts and bridge the gap with other means.
  • go on a research trip – We will have the very unfortunate fate of travelling around to several potential locations to see what might be possible for us. Damn. Life is hard.
  • decide what to buy – we have a few options here:
    • buy a place outright that is already set up – a pretty good option since it comes already tried and tested and the set up is done for us. Some places even add to the contract that the current owners will stay for a set time to help you with the transition. Could be a good option.
    • work as a franchise or branch of another business – another good possibility. A little less freedom to do what we want as we’ll have partners, but partners also means help, and we could probably use some help with this one!!
    • buy a small plot of land and build it all– the hardest option of all and one that I am not totally keen on. I love the idea of making it exactly what I want it to be from the ground up, but man, that is a lot of work. I don’t know if we have the time and energy for it. We’ll see. Maybe it’ll be different on the ground, but for now it looks like the other options are stronger.
  • set sail! – no matter which option we choose, there will be a first day for all of them. A day where we start running the ship on our own. That is a scary and exciting day – possibly more scary than exciting, but all the best things are, right? Right….?

So that’s our current breakdown – subject to change as we figure out what we’re doing! To be totally honest with you, I’d love to think we always look like the Rob Stark at the top of this post, focused and clear and ready to take on the world, but in reality we spend quite a bit of time looking more like this.

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Oh well. Gotta start somewhere, right?

What about you? What are your goals? What are you working toward? Any fears that are holding you back? I’d love to hear about what you’re up to!

Until next time, my friends!

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PS. If you’re interested in donating to the cause, any amount you can spare would be much appreciated! I’ll be sure to let you know what your money bought. For example, $5 could buy us a meal on our research trip. $10 would buy us some snorkeling gear  (that you might use when you come visit!). $20 would help with visa costs.  A little goes a LONG way in Asia!

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Riding the Tide

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There’s a great big ocean out there, and I sometimes feel like we’ve been dropped right in the middle of it.

In many ways, that’s exactly what we want. We want a sea-filled life, full of fishy wonders and underwater adventure. But attempting to turn our hobby into a business – and doing it in far-flung corners of the world, no less – can sometimes make me feel lost at sea.

We have so much to do to make our dream a reality. Way back in January, we made a list of all steps we’ll need to take, the decisions we’ll be faced with, and the vision we hope to achieve when it’s all said and done. Then we promptly tucked that list far away because it was completely overwhelming. We need to book courses. We need to plan research trips. We need to learn about our business, gathering all the information we can from those who have gone before us.

Until this week, we were a little paralyzed by the immensity of it all, not sure where to start or which direction to head in. But suddenly our course has started to take shape. This June, we’ll be off to Indonesia for five weeks (five weeks!) for a diving extravaganza. Chris will work on his Dive Instructor certification while I complete my Rescue course, after which we’ll stick around for a couple of weeks to enjoy some fun, non-academic diving in some of the weirdest, most beautiful sites in the world. I cannot wait.

Most exciting of all, we’re slotted to spend some serious interview time with the owners of Blue Corner Dive, our home-base for the trip, learning the in’s and out’s of dive centre management. I’ve got stacks of notebooks at the ready! And better yet, they aren’t the only dive centre letting us pick their brains. I’m also set up to do some internship work with Global Scuba here in Muscat, where they’ll let me ask all the questions I want and fill as many tanks as my little heart desires.

Slowly but surely, we’re starting to drift along in the direction of our dreams. I know there will be unexpected diversions (especially if we pass by a reef that we’re tempted to explore) and scary moments of sheer panic at the scale of it all. But for now, at least, I’m putting my feet up and happily riding the tide.

Starting Your Day With Intention

My grandma went for a walk nearly every morning until she was 92. She would leave when the sun came up and stroll around the neighbourhood for an hour or so every morning. She’d say hi to passersby and to neighbours working in their gardens. She’d stop to watch the leaves fall or the flowers blow in the breeze. She’d spend a whole hour enjoying the sounds around her, waking up with the world, watching it rub the sleep from it’s eyes. Then she would come home, hang her jacket on the coat rack, make herself a cup of coffee and sit down to read the paper.

I loved this about her. And I respected the fact that, no matter how much she loved me and enjoyed my company, I was not welcome then. That was her time, no questions asked.

When she was finished with her morning routine, she would go about her day in her characteristically sweet and unflappable fashion – working in the garden, making wool, patiently attending to her overly curious granddaughter. That was the case, at least, on the days when she went for walks. On the rare days she couldn’t, we we all felt the difference. She was easily irritated and cranky. Her sweet demeanor remained, but it was tinged with a hint of passive aggression, leading to snarky remarks and mutual frustration.

It wasn’t until recently that I realised the power of these morning routines in her life – the serenity and perspective they provided her – and the emotional consequences she suffered when she couldn’t start her day the way that suited her. I realised it because my own morning routine was completely obliterated by our move last year and it wasn’t until I lost this part of my day that I saw how essential it had been to my emotional well-being.

As my grandmother’s granddaughter, I too find morning walks the best way to start my day. In London, I would walk most mornings in the cemetery behind our house. I loved watching the fog roll in, I loved playing with my dog friends, and I loved watching the seasons change – seeing the old flowers die off and the new ones take their place. It was as nourishing to me as a full English breakfast, if not more so.

Muscat, however, is not a pedestrian friendly city. Sure, we live near a gorgeous park where I could walk in the morning, but to get there I have to cross some busy roads where I will inevitably be honked at by taxis trying to save me from the drudgery of experiencing the world on foot. That’s neither peaceful nor serene. I could go for a morning swim at the nearby beach, but that involves gear and sun cream and extra showers. It’s a lot of work, which offsets the relaxation element of the whole exercise.

Without the option of my ideal morning routine, I found myself growing grumpy and irritable, just like my dear old gram. I felt a profound difference in my ability to handle the day. Everyone annoyed me. Nothing went right. I felt like I was chasing my days instead of navigating my way through them. I rushed around being busy, trying to justify the loss of that time by being hyper “productive.” I lost my perspective and let little things get to me in a big way.

I realised I had to find a way to get that serenity back in my life. I needed to find a way to start my day in a slow, purposeful, nature-filled way because, without it, I was simply not myself.

It took some time develop a non-walking morning routine, but I have finally settled into something that mostly scratches that itch. Every morning now, I get up with the sun and sprinkle food on our windowsill for the wild parrots. Then I write, do some yoga and meditate while I listen to them eat breakfast and bicker over pecking order. I only spend an hour doing these things, but by the end I feel rejuvenated in mind, body and spirit. I begin the day feeling centred and intentional about what I want to do and why. I’m nicer to everyone, myself included.

Building this routine has made all the difference for me. Just like watching autumn leaves fall in the crisp morning breeze was essential to my grandma’s soul, watching parrots eat on my windowsill while I do yoga is essential to mine.

Happy February!

I love February. I might be slightly biased because it is my birthday month, but I think it’s a pretty great one. Sure, there is still snow on the ground (not if you live in Oman, though!), but the really dark days of winter start to evaporate, the sun comes out more and, depending on where you live, you might even start to see some signs of life returning to the garden. I hope that wherever you are, the veil of winter is lifting and you can see warm days ahead!

As one month is officially over, I thought it might be a good time to round up all the things I have done so far this year. I mentioned at the beginning of January that I didn’t make any resolutions for 2016 and, instead, I am working on doing what seems really relevant and valuable to my life at the moment. I’d like to share with you what I was able to accomplish with that approach because I am really pleased with myself and, I’ll admit, even a little bit proud.

Here we go. In January, I:
  • Got new eyeballs – It was scary, it was gross and it was the best thing I have done for myself in years. I can’t believe how instantly different my life was after the big surgery. If you are thinking about doing it, stop thinking and do it. It’s incredible.
  • Read three books – I used my new eyeballs to do some reading. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and two books by Haruki Murakami (Wild Sheep Chase and Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World). I enjoyed them all too, particularly Big Magic, which helped liberate my creativity in a wonderful way.
  •  Travelled – We spent a night camping on a cliff side (spectacular) and a weekend in Dubai (not quite as spectacular, but necessary). We’ve also booked our next holiday (Sri Lanka!) and are soon to book our summer excursion to Indonesia for a diving extravaganza!
  • Wrote – For years I have said I wanted to write one post a week on my blog and every week when I’ve sat down to write I’ve felt burdened and heavy. Without that one-a-week demand hanging over me, that “have to do” pressure of sitting down to write something every week, I have written 9 posts! That is crazy to me! I wasn’t stressed and frustrated. I didn’t feel I needed to do it. I just wrote because I had things I wanted to say. It’s been lovely.
  • Met new friends – Part of the reason I have written so much is because I have thrown myself into the blog community in a truer way than in the past. I’ve found people I love to follow –Happy Fish TarotSabiscut’s Catalog, Two Brown Feet, Violet’s Veg*n e-comics, Travel-Stained – and I love catching up with them online. It’s great to meet real people who have valuable things to add to the online world and to see life through their eyes. It is because of reading about their lives and their experiences that I have been to write so much more than I ever could before. Thanks, guys!
  • Created a Morning Routine That I Love – I started to write about all the things this means to me and how I went about it but it is starting to become a post all of it’s own. It looks like I will be writing about this shortly, but in the meantime, know that this is by far the thing I am most proud of accomplishing this month and the thing that has made the biggest impact on my life, although it is probably the most mundane. Weird how that works, isn’t it?

That’s about it for January!

What about you? How did your January go? What were you able to accomplish that you are proud of? Even the smallest things are fabulous to stop and appreciate. I hope it was a good month for you!

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A Night on Jabal Shams

A couple of weeks ago we spent the night on Oman’s highest mountain, Jabal Shams (in English, that means The Sun Mountain). It was a remarkable experience and one I won’t soon forget. I haven’t had the chance to show you photos yet but, as I finally have my new laptop (yay!), I can now give you a glimpse into our camping adventure. Enjoy!

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This road doesn’t mess around. While the grade on the sign might be slightly hyperbolic, it wasn’t too far off.

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Chris does the driving on these roads. I am a huge wuss about them, particularly when we’re going down. I don’t do well with edges.

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Once we made it to the top, we got our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon of Oman. They say it’s over a kilometer from where we’re standing to the bottom of Wadi Ghul.

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To get to our campsite (that’s our little blue tent there), we hiked a trail called the Balcony Walk, which took us down from the top and along the edge of the canyon into an old, abandoned village. It’s a long way in and we kept thinking about just how remarkable it was that people used to live here, particularly when we finally got a glimpse of their farming strategy. If you see look at the last terrace there on the bottom of the farm above, the next step from would drop you off a sheer cliff thousands of feet long. From our first vantage point of the village, we could barely even make out that it was there, it is so small in comparison to the grandeur around it. Our tent is even less significant.

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I must say, the heights did lend themselves to spectacular views and we got the best camp site in the canyon. This was what we saw out of our tent.

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After we set up camp, we roamed around in the abandoned village for a while. I still don’t know how people managed to live here.

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The next morning, we woke up to this. Clouds formed in the canyon and floated up as the sun warmed the air.

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Above our campsite was the water source that made this whole village viable. Water drips from the rocks constantly, filling this pool with fresh, clear water. When the rains come, the pool overflows and cascades in a waterfall to the village below. There they collect it and distribute it out to the farms. Quite a handy system.

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My favorite part of the whole adventure may have been the caves behind the pool. They were so surreal and out of place in Oman. Nothing is that wet here. There were ferns and moss and I am almost certain I even saw a fig tree. It was gorgeous.

We only stayed one night but it was such a perfect experience and so deeply relaxing we felt like we’d been out of the city for a week.

Sigh.

Until next time, Jabal Shams.

Just Because

I am currently working on a project that has been stirring in my periphery for years. I don’t know why I feel compelled to do it, I’ve just kept coming back to it over and over for so long, and now feels like the right time to take it on.

It’s a project that will probably bring delight only to myself and a very small handful of other very specific nerds. It is taking up hours of time every week. I am not getting paid for it. It is something that other people have done versions of already, but none the way I want to do it. No one told me I have to do it. No one is waiting for the finished product.

So why am I doing it? Just because I really want to do it.

This isn’t my first time to the Just Because rodeo. When I was making my way through the Congestion Zone project, I was constantly asked, “Why?”

There were two camps of people who wanted to know.

Some dove in with questions: why do you find it interesting, what made you want to do it,  how are you going about it, where do you walk, how do you record it, what do you see, who do you talk to, what is it like??? Tell me all the things!!

Those were the people who, although they wouldn’t necessarily want to do the same thing themselves, enjoyed experiencing it through my eyes and wanted to feel like they were there doing it with me. They were the ones who got it. They were the ones who lit up as much as I did when we talked about the process of it all, the pleasure of doing it just because it sounded fun. They were my people.

The other side of the coin were the people who just couldn’t get their head around doing something Just Because. These people jumped straight to the end result. What happens when you’re done? What will you sell? What will you make? How will you validate this project when it’s done? How will you show that it was worth your time and energy? How can you monetize this?

These people were very confused and frustrated when I couldn’t give any other reason than, “Just because. I’ve really want to for a long time.”

Had I read Big Magic before this adventure, I would have had a nice little canned response for them. A real zinger that would make me feel good about myself, that would make me feel okay about there not being a “good” reason to give them. It would have been this:

If you can’t see what I am already getting out of this, then I’ll never be able to explain it to you.

How succinct! How lovely! How liberating!

That is not at all how I replied, however.

Sadly, I totally bought into their money-driven view. I completely capitulated and let them run wild with their ideas about what I should make or should build or should sell at the end (I have developed an allergy to the word should in my life now. Be wary of it, my friends!).

Their adamance about what I should be doing with my project, their very strong opinions that I was missing the plot, that I was going to have nothing to show for myself, made me question my approach. Maybe I did need to consider the end result. Maybe I should write a book, or make a map, or make an app. Which meant I should be taking more notes along the way. And doing things differently on my walks to gather all the information I would need.

I would love to say that I stood my ground and that I was able to see through these people straight away, but I would often leave these discussions feeling really stressed out. Depending on the strength of the person’s opinion, it would knock the whole project off kilter for days, sometimes weeks. I would work myself up into a frenzy of Things I Should Be Doing and as, a result, nothing got done.

Why? Because I would start to feel trapped by all the things I should be doing. I didn’t want the project to be about the end result. It was something I was doing just for my own pleasure. I would stop walking just to avoid this inner conflict and began to mourn the loss of this project that brought me so much joy. But, thank god, when I caught myself grieving, I snapped out of it and remembered that it was, in fact, MY project and they could all fuck off.

I would strap on my shoes and walk out the door to explore the streets of London. Just because.

What I want to say to you – you friends out there who are working on projects that you are doing just because you really want to – is not to be like me and buy into this crap about projects needing to have a “purpose.”

Find a big can of fuck off and throw it in the face of anyone who tells you your project isn’t valuable because they don’t understand why you are doing it.

The people who get it, the people who get excited about it with you, who cheer for you even though they don’t really understand it, they are your people. If you don’t think you have those people (though, I can almost guarantee you do) you are still doing for you, just because you want to. And that is enough.

Know Your Agenda

Last week I realised that I have the power to take on work that aligns with my agenda. What I had a hard time pinning down was exactly what my agenda is.

I’m a creative person so, at any given time, I have about a billion and one ideas about what I could spend my energy on. I’ve got ideas for blog posts, podcasts, videos, books, products, businesses, you name it, rolling around in my head constantly. I never have a hard time filling my time.

What I do have a hard time filling my time with is things that are actually important to my life overall. I’ve gone off the rails a bit recently and started bingeing on junk food projects instead of focusing on the meat and potatoes that will sustain me emotionally, physically, mentally and creatively long term.

The thing about meat and potatoes projects is that they fall into the icky category. Not icky in their purpose but icky in their execution. They matter more, but they take more time. Lots of time, usually. They need to be broken down into smaller chunks and you need to be patient and keep your eye on the prize. I would rather eat a whole tube of Pringles, Cookie Monster-style*, than wait for a pot roast to simmer for seven hours. I’m not a patient person.

If you’ve ever read Wait But Why – particularly his posts on procrastination (links here for 1, 2 and 3) – you might pin me down as an Impostinator. And you’d be totally right. I can find a dozen things that I want to be doing right now because they feel urgent for one reason or another. It often cripples me from doing the actually important things for my life as a whole.

So this week, I sat down and really looked at the important stuff in my life, the big-ticket items that will take some time but that ultimately provide a well-rounded diet for my life.

Here are the Top 3 things I came up with:
  • Opening our dive centre – This is huge for us. Chris and I have talked about it for ages and it is something we both want in a very real way. We’ve started laying out our plans and making decisions that will take us in this direction. It’s scary, it’s complicated, it’s exciting, it’s the biggest, most important thing in our lives right now. I’m crazy excited about it.
  • Enjoying our time in Oman – Things here are slightly unstable, not for us so much as for the country as a whole. While low gas prices are great for many people, for those selling the gas it means a huge financial strain. We know we’ll be here for this year. We don’t know what will happen after that in the job market. That means we want to really explore and enjoy the country for the time we know we have in it. There’s still so much to do!
  • Quality time with my peeps – This one is slightly tricky as most of my peeps live across a really big pond. It is incredibly important for me to nurture my relationships with my friends and family, no matter how far away they are. It means a lot of Skype dates, a lot of texting at inconvenient times, and a lot of navigating through the world of keeping-in-touch apps that never seem to do exactly what I need them to do for everyone I talk to. It’s a pain. But I love them enormously and I can’t do any of the other things in my life that matter without them in it.

Narrowing my agenda down to these three actually important things means that I can now check any opportunities or project ideas I have against this list. If they push these things forward, I’m on it. If they take away from them, no way. It’s a really useful tool for knowing what to say yes to and, much harder for me, knowing what to say no to.

It also lets me see how I can double up on my energy. For example, if I had an opportunity to work at a dive shop in Oman it would benefit both our future dive shop and my enjoyment of Oman. Bonus! If I had a chance to explore Oman with my friends here, it would be a double win. Sweet! And opening our dive centre means having a place where friends and family can come visit on the cheap. Fabulous!

Knowing what my agenda is has made it crystal clear what I need to be working on – and what I don’t. It gives my work a focus and my energy a direction. It cuts through the crap and gets to the heart of my desires and hopes for the future.

It also makes me feel exposed. Seeing what actually matters to me has highlighted how much energy I’ve spent on other things in an attempt to avoid diving into some icky jobs. It’s so much easier to sit on the couch and eat junk food than spend hours in the kitchen slaving away. But I’m finally hungry for some meat and potatoes, no matter how much work it takes to make them happen.

*Cookie Monster knows his agenda.

What will it be?

There is something I feel compelled to make. It’s been simmering in my subconscious for almost a year now.

The catch?

I’m not really sure what it is or how to go about it.

I know this: it’s a story. I woke up one day and watched the whole thing unfold in front of my eyes. It was a weird experience. But I saw it. Fully formed. There in front of me. Made. Done. Dusted. Out in the world. And I somehow knew that I was the one who made that happen.

Here’s the thing though. That’s all I know. It could be a book. It could be a short film. It could be lots of things – all of which I have absolutely no idea how to make.

The second catch?

It has no words.

Everything I see about it is illustrated. It’s all in images, no dialogue. But I am NOT an illustrator. Okay, I spent a lot of time last year practicing illustration because of this idea. I took drawing classes. I sat every day and doodled. I practiced drawing my breakfast, the view from my window, anything I saw. Still, I don’t know that my skills are up to this task.

That means I have three choices: get my skills up to the task (that could take a really long time), do it anyway even though I don’t think I have the talent, or find a collaborator, someone who does know how to illustrate and who could capture the idea in the way I saw it.

All of these things are freaky for me.

I really have no idea the best way to go about any of those. I don’t know that I will ever have the illustration style I envision for this project. I don’t know if I would be happy with it if my attempt doesn’t capture what I see in my head. And I don’t know if I trust someone else to feel the essence of the story clearly enough to draw it out.

It’s a conundrum. But I do feel really drawn to this project (pun accidental, but I’ll leave it). So I guess I don’t have much of a choice. It’s either do it or don’t do it, and the doing it will happen as it happens. I’ll just have to see where it goes and how it unfolds.

Watch this space.

Being an Expat – The Real Deal

There are a lot of things people don’t tell you about being an expat. You see these world travellers, people out there “living their dreams” and it seems like the most romantic, fulfilling life in the world. I’m not here to tell you it sucks. I’m here to tell you it’s just another way of living life.

Expats get a lot of, “Yeah, but you live in London!” or “Yeah, but you live in Oman!” or “Yeah, but you live in Bali!” The key word there being live. We live in those places. We have jobs in those places. We pay rent in those places. We get stuck in traffic jams in those places. It’s life. It’s our actual life. We don’t spend every minute of every day gallivanting about barefoot on the beach or backpacking our way through the countryside. We do those things on the weekend. When we have enough time and money. Like everyone else in the world who has to work for a living.

And another thing. We don’t just plop down and live somewhere. No, no. There are visas. There are papers that need stamping. There are rules that change at the drop of a hat. There are hidden fees and shady deals and who-you-knows. We have to purposefully commit to being the places we are. We have to decide that we want to be somewhere badly enough that we are willing to put up with all the shit that comes as part of the package. Visa runs. Hiring moratoriums. Regulatory chaos.

I put up with more crap, more bureaucracy living abroad than I ever did or ever would at home. In many, many ways it’s far easier to stay home where you know the system, where you are part of it and not an outsider, where your voice might actually have an impact on the rules that govern you.

It’s not an easy life. It’s not a stable life. Friends come and go in waves. You will come and go, having to get your feet under you again every time. Places that were easy to live in, full of opportunity and growth can turn. The industries propping up the country can break down and the whole game can change over night.

Being an expat isn’t a wonderful, magical escape from the frustrations and inequalities of life at home. If anything, there are more of both. Enough more to sometimes make you question why you do it at all.

But then you remember that every day you meet people who make you see the world in a new way. You laugh with them about how you’re completely different. You smile with them about how you are exactly the same. And every once in a while you have enough free time to explore the majestic landscapes that brought you here in the first place.

Those are the things that make it all worth it.

Have Your Own Agenda

Ira Glass wrote something that stuck out to me. Have your own agenda.

We all want to work for ourselves. That’s the dream. But even when we are working for other people, we can still have our own agenda.

I used to do this all the time. I saw my jobs as tools that I leveraged to get the things I wanted. I got a nearly-free Bachelor’s degree from one, cheap hotels from another and all the chocolate I could eat from yet another. I always took jobs that  gave me more than a paycheck. Even my application decisions were calculated. I didn’t see any other way of doing it. If I was going to give them my time and my energy, I wanted to get things back that added to my life as a whole. Free books. Free public transport. Whatever it was, I always had an agenda. There was always an angle I was working. And why not?

Now that I am not working in a traditional way, however, I find that I am all over the map. I throw out energy hither and thither with no real reason or purpose. I have things I want to achieve, yes, but I seem to latch on to anything that promises a little bit of money in the short term and I no longer weigh big picture factors as heavily.

I haven’t had as much choice in my jobs lately, so much of it has been a matter of survival. I get that. But I realised today that even in the midst of this situation, even when I really need a job just to pay the bills and save up for the future, I still have a choice. I can still find ways to get more than a paycheck out of the jobs I am doing. And if a potential job doesn’t match my agenda, I can say no to it and use my energy more effectively, putting it into things that serve the bigger picture, not just the next paycheck.