Love your body pact

There’s nothing quite as liberating as being naked and being ok with it. For those of you who are cringing and groaning, that’s probably because somewhere in your mind you are harbouring ill feelings toward your body. You need a ‘Love your body pact.’ I can hear your thoughts: “I’m too fat. My thighs touch. My boobs sag. I don’t want anyone to see me like this. What if I don’t look the same as the others? I have scars. You can see my ribs. I have no bum. My boobs are like grapes with nipples.”

Oh ladies (said in my sympathetic, soft voice) … let me tell you something.
Listen closely, promise?

It is time that you stop talking negatively to yourself about your body. It is time that we all stop talking negatively about other people’s bodies. It is time for you to renew the self confidence you had when you were two or three and everything was better when you ran around naked.

No matter what it is that you don’t like about your body, I can almost guarantee that you don’t like it because the media has told you (or your parents who then told you) something else is more beautiful. I can also guarantee that you are not the only one with the same concerns. Although all of our bodies are unique, we all have the same parts. Some are bigger or smaller than others, some are dark, some light. Some parts have become ill and have scars, battle wounds or angel kisses. And you know what the best part is? Those are your unique traits! If you tell other people these traits are ugly, they will probably commiserate with you about their own body ‘faults’. But, what if instead of talking negatively about our bodies we just loved them for what they are? Imagine if instead of saying, ‘Oh I hate this birthmark on my right shoulder because I can’t get a tattoo there.’ you say ‘That’s my mark! I can’t be mistaken for anyone else!’ What if instead of telling the world you are ugly and not good enough, you were to hold your head up high and believe that you are good enough and that your body does not define you?

It is time to love your body ladies. The sooner you stop criticizing your own body, the sooner you will stop wondering what everyone else is thinking about your body. Besides, do you really think they are worried about your body when they have their own insecurities to worry about?

Alright, I know that there’s this whole ‘fat-shaming’ society thing happening and yes, sometimes people can be cruel and criticize others. I am aware this exists. But ladies, don’t be part of it! Don’t fat-shame yourself, your friends or your neighbours. Don’t make comments on someone’s weight (heavy or light) on the street. It’s really that simple.

Just. Don’t. Do. It.

And, we’re all adults here … at least I think! So, when your friend starts talking badly about her own body, or that of someone else … don’t agree, don’t get wrapped up in the game, don’t respond with your own faults … STOP HER! It may be difficult at first, but just stop her. Politely tell her that you don’t feel right talking about someone else’s body as you wouldn’t want them talking about yours. Tell her that you’re trying to look at your body more positively and maybe you should both work on it together. Make a love-your-body pact! #LoveYourBodyPact

It’s a movement folks.

The first step is to recognize it when it happens. Whether you are saying negative things to yourself or you have friends who talk about their own bodies negatively. Be aware of this.

Once you are aware of this you’ll be amazed at how often it happens. Not monthly, not weekly, not once a day. You’ll hear it over and over and over.

Once you see how often it happens and how nothing good comes out of saying bad things, then maybe you’ll stop those thoughts in their tracks. Maybe you’ll meekly tell your friends that you don’t want to talk that way anymore.

Time will pass and you’ll grow stronger because you aren’t beating yourself down all the time. Your self-confidence will improve. The next thing you know, you won’t have to stop yourself from talking badly about your body because bad thoughts will rarely cross your mind.

And then … you won’t be so meek when your friends are talking negatively because you won’t want to let that negativity into your life.

Eventually, you’ll make a positive change in the way your friends see their bodies.

Imagine if we could all just do that, one little bit at a time. Support one another with positivity. Imagine what your daughters and the young girls of the world would think? What if they never ever learned from you and I, that their bodies aren’t good enough. Because you know what? That is something that is taught, not something that you are born with. No baby cries because their tummy sticks out or they have a cow lick. Four year olds run around naked because they haven’t learned shame of their body yet.

Yes, I know, everyone can’t run around naked all the time, but I think there are ways to teach your kids about this without making them ashamed of their bodies.

I’m not a skinny person. This is subjective, of course. It also depends on my (and your) definition of skinny. I also don’t consider myself fat. Well, quite honestly, I don’t consider my body to be anything except my body. I’ve been called ‘gordita’ (chubby in Spanish) in a beautiful and loving way, sexy, and most recently, I was told in Turkey that I am beautiful, but I would be very beautiful if I lost 20 kilos. Yes, folks, someone felt the need to portray their beauty standards directly on me. Luckily I don’t care if she thinks I’m beautiful. That’s the benefit of being self confident. My body is only important to me. Hmmm … interesting concept isn’t it?

I, like many of you, have been up and down in weight all my life. I played sports all throughout school and was good at them. I won lots of awards, played on championship teams and was always active. Somehow, I was still not skinny like many of my team mates.

I struggled with uniforms that didn’t fit properly because my bosom was too big or my legs too thick. Nothing like making someone feel self conscious by making them wear a uniform that’s too small for them! And, even worse, having the largest uniform available for the team and it still not being large enough. And ladies, I was really not that big! I played basketball and volleyball like a champ.

Jump forward a few years to when I was in my early 20’s and started my photography business. I was busy taking family portraits, children’s portraits and wedding photos. I began to see, very clearly that people generally disliked having their photo taken. Why? Well, because it was never good enough. Even if it was a beautiful photo of them, they wished they could look like someone else. Almost always stemming from someone wanting to be a thinner version of themselves because of course that is more beautiful! *sarcasm*

As the years wore on, this attitude tugged at my heart and eventually I couldn’t keep ignoring it. The more women would tell me to take 20 lbs off them in photoshop or to get the best angle to get rid of their double chin, the more I wanted to cry for them. What kind of life is it to live if you don’t believe in your own beauty? And, for those skinnier than me, who do you think you are complaining about being fat to someone who weighs 40 lbs more than you? At first, that hurt me. If you think you’re fat, you must think I’m a disgusting blob! And then I realized their opinions of their bodies had nothing to do with my body, nor did it change the way I see my body. This was a very big life lesson!

I can remember being frustrated with so many women during my photo shoot days. They had hired me to be a professional photographer and capture their family (or business shots … whatever the case). They were paying me to take photos of them. About 95% of the time, before I ever lifted my camera to even get light readings, the women were telling me ‘Oh. I hate having my photo taken. I never look good in photos.” Followed by one of the following qualifying statements, “I have a double chin. I don’t want my freckles to show. Make sure I look skinny. You can edit to take 20 lbs off right?”

80% of the time when I showed them their photos they were pleasantly surprised with them (and unedited at that!) and relaxed for the rest of the session. The other 20% of the time were women who either didn’t care what their photo looked like because it wasn’t important, or who had already made up their minds that it would be so ugly that they didn’t even want to look. If you are one of those women, please, give yourself a break. Beauty is so much more than outward appearance.

In the midst of all of that, I told myself I would never ever point out my shortcomings or body criticisms to someone else. For one, I don’t want to talk negatively to, or about myself. And two, it makes other people uncomfortable when you talk about yourself negatively! From that point forward, I would not be ashamed of my body, I would not talk negatively to myself and I would walk proud in the skin I am in. Seven or eight years later, I still live by this rule. Sure I slip sometimes, but I overcome it. Sure there are times when I would like to lose some weight, but if I choose to do that, it is for my health and comfort, not to look beautiful for someone else. There is a big difference.

I also decided that if someone was kind enough to give me a compliment, I would accept that compliment with a ‘thank you’. No more of this ‘Aw, no. I’m ugly’ crap. It really isn’t that difficult to bite your tongue, swallow those negative thoughts and spit out ‘Thank you.’ Once you get used to it, amazingly you’ll get more compliments. Funny how when someone compliments you and you react negatively, they aren’t as likely to compliment you again. How backwards are we women who want others to see us as beautiful and then we turn our backs when they tell us what we wanted to hear?

One day, I had had enough with women bullying themselves and dragging me into it.

My polite, politically correct statement for nearly every woman I ever worked with who expressed her concerns about having her photo taken was as follows, “I am a profesional, I will use the best lighting and angles to make sure you look your best.”

Inside my head and my heart I was screaming. “No, I am not going to stroke your ego. No, I am not going to argue with you that you aren’t too fat or too skinny. No, I am not going to commiserate with you that your body isn’t perfect. What is it that you want from me? If I tell you that you are beautiful you will only deny it. Oh, right … you want a beautiful photo! Well, let me see if I can help with that because I cannot be your psychologist.”

Eventually, I started explaining to women, “If I tell you there is an elephant to your left, would you look for it?”
“Yes,” they all replied.
“If I put a ball cap on right now and then asked you if my hair was natural or died and if I had roots, would you know the answer?”
“Um, probably not,” most of them would say.
“Well, I want to share a little life lesson with you to put you at ease. I am a professional photographer, who you have trusted to capture beautiful photos for you. I am going to do my best, as I understand lighting and techniques that are great for portraits. It is my job to capture the best you; a photo you are happy with when we are done, not one to cringe at. I am not here to take bad photos of you and I’m not just pointing and shooting like snap shots that your friends take. In order for me to do my job, the one that you are paying me for, I need you to be comfortable. I promise any photos that do not represent you beautifully, I will delete. Please, however, I want you to know this … If the first thing you point out to someone is all of your faults, what do you think they are going to see? Yes, that’s right, your faults. If you don’t want someone to focus on your faults, the best thing you can do is not point them out! It’s like saying ‘don’t look for a blue car’ and then all you can see are the blue cars on the streets. If you tell the world you are fat, they will see you in one of two ways, either fat, or insecure. If you say nothing, the world will see you as you. Even better, if you see yourself as beautiful, so will the world. I think you are beautiful. Now it’s your turn.”

Reflections on Religion, Racism and Judgements

Preface: Education by Travel
I am not a religious person. I very rarely discuss religion as, quite honestly, it frustrates me. When there are wars being fought based on what ‘power’ you believe in and people being killed in the name of religion, my heart aches over the irony. How ever you choose to believe in a God, or whether you believe in science, we are all here on this same big planet together. Although this blog discusses religion, it is not about trying to change your belief (or non-belief) in a higher power, simply a reminder of how to live as a good person. For me, it is a testament (pardon the pun) to my love of travel and the education that I earn every day by opening my mind to new cultures.

I hope you’ll take time to comment and discuss after you’ve read the following.

Reflections on Religion, Racism and Judgements

It was late afternoon when I was standing in the doorway to my private room-rental in the local community of Fatih in Istanbul with the sea breeze wafting past me into the kitchen. I was engulfed in a conversation with Babek, the building owner, who I had met only a few short hours earlier.

What started out as me asking questions about the week-long Bayram festival to understand more of the culture, as well as arming myself with knowledge about closures over the next week, turned into exactly the type of conversation that drives me to continue traveling.

Although my correspondence leading up to my stay in Fatih had been with Sourena, the son, Babek was the one to greet me at the un-numbered wooden doors. My transfer driver from the airport had chatted with Sourena only minutes before, so I was (fairly) confident I was at the right place despite not seeing a number on the building.

I was welcomed with Babek’s warm smile and then Sourena quickly peeked down from upstairs to say hello. Then the two men carried my heavy suitcase up the narrow staircase to their second floor home. I immediately noted that both of them had really good English. Of course, there is an accent and words here and there get confused or lost in translation, but overall, I was surprised at the level of their conversation skills.

Sourena showed me around the small apartment and then led me to the roof top to see a spectacular view over the Balat area and toward Emininou. Indeed, the view is worth seeing and was a great way for him to point out the attractions of the area, along with giving me directions. He welcomed me and offered me a Iyran (mixture of yogurt and sparkling water) to drink, which I promptly devoured in the heat of the midday sun.

I spent only 15 – 20 minutes with Sourena gathering information for my stay and then I settled in, cleaned up and took off for a meeting in another part of town.

After a busy afternoon I walked back home surprisingly, without getting lost. Babek came to offer tea, which is a staple of the Turkish diet and hospitality. Although I was too hot to drink tea, a conversation arose.

I asked Babek about the Bayram festival that I had been hearing so much about. My local contacts are expats, so I thought I would ask a local for the inside scoop. He explained that Bayram is a sacrificing festival, often celebrated twice per year for families. Many people who live in the city go to the countryside to be with their family for this week-long government holiday. Families buy (or raise) an animal to be sacrificed and then they share the meat with friends and relatives. Traditionally the meat was divided into thirds; one part for the poor, one part for friends and one part for family. The festival is all about sharing what you have with others.

Although I can’t say I agree with the practice of sacrificing a live animal, I do try my best to respect other cultural and religious beliefs. I was interested in seeing the ceremony and photographing it, as I had heard that it may take place in the streets or backyards in the communities. However, now-a-days, law requires the slaughterings to be done by a butcher, rather than just by anyone. In all honesty, it is likely more humane than many of our practices in North America with the way animals are treated before going to slaughter. And, it seems, that at the root of this festival, at least from my understanding, is the kindness of sharing with those you love and those less fortunate.

As I chatted away with Babek about what stores may or may not be opened and closed over the next few days and if there was an area that I could watch a sacrifice (horrified, but with camera in hand), he ended up telling me that he wasn’t really sure because he is not Muslim and it is a Muslim festival. I tried to hold back my surprise. Not Muslim in a Muslim society?

Many questions begged to be asked, but where to start!

Come to find out, Babek and his family are Iranian, not Turkish. Six years ago they moved to Turkey to escape punishment in their own country for their choice of religion. Three years ago, they relocated to Istanbul. They were Christians in a dominantly Muslim society in Iran. For this, they had been persecuted and they could have been killed. In Istanbul, although dominantly Muslim, they are more tolerant and accepting of Christianity with the religions existing side by side with little conflict.

Immediately, my heart sank for them, knowing that they had left their home because of fear.

Immediately, I also asked myself ‘If I had known the family I was about to live with was Iranian, how would I have reacted? Would I have made a different choice?’

I like to think that I am not prejudiced or racist. I like to think that I am open-minded. And, I truly believe that good people come from every country of the world. But, that belief was challenged when I found out that this family was not what I had ‘expected’. If I had known they were from Iran, would I have chosen another place to stay? I am sure that many people would have. For me, I also asked myself, if I knew they were from Iran, wouldn’t I have assumed that they were Muslim? And, if that were the case, what would be the difference between staying with a Turkish Muslim family and an Iranian Muslim family?

If my friends and family knew this (which now they do!), what would have been their reaction? It is so easy to say ‘Nothing would be different’, but I am positive that some of them would have a heightened concern for my well-being based on the fact that I am staying with Iranians and all we know about Iranians is the bad news that the media shares about war, terrorism and death. We never hear about their caring side, their hospitality or that they aren’t all the same! Imagine for a moment thinking that all Canadians were terrorists. Doesn’t that seem more than just a little ridiculous?

Luckily, in asking myself these questions, I also realized that in booking my stay with this family, religion never once crossed my mind and for that I am thankful. I try to be open to religions and cultures around the world and I try not to pass judgements, but treat it as an opportunity to learn about other beliefs. Having said that, it is not something that determines my comfort or happiness. Whether I stay with a Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or Jewish family, for me, I will look for the opportunity to learn from the experience. Will I agree with all of their practices and beliefs? No, but I will be respectful as I understand that is what they believe.

Learning of their background led to a particularly deep conversation with a man I had only met a couple of hours earlier, sharing our thoughts on religion. He thoughtfully explained to me that at the heart of everything, his core belief is to not judge others. “Judgement can only be handed out by God. It is your job to live and love under God and not to act as God by judging other people.”

Seems simple enough.

In Canada, we hear about refugees in the news. We see them in our communities, some Canadians more accepting than others. We (as a society) often pass judgements on these people without knowing anything about them.

Now, let’s take God out of the equation for a moment, as not everyone believes in ‘a God’. One of my core beliefs is to treat others with kindness. And really, isn’t this similar to not judging? Who am I to pass judgement on someone else. I don’t know their story. I don’t know their struggles. I don’t know their beliefs. It is not my business to judge them based on their beliefs and upbringing, as I would hope that they do not judge me for mine.

I think what makes our world so beautiful is the differences in opinions, the million ways that people can do the same thing but in different fashions, our different religious beliefs that really all come from the same core, yet they are interpreted and taught differently.

Be kind.

In any religion that I can think of, at the core of that religion is a message about love and being kind. So, why, if all religions want the same thing, can’t we all get along?

Isn’t that the big question?!

For Babek and his family, like millions of others, believing in kindness and love has led to persecution. Since moving to Turkey, he and his family can never return to Iran for a very real fear of being killed, as they have chosen to believe in a different teacher than the mainstream of that country.

Regardless of my religious beliefs, I applaud these people for standing up for their beliefs. Regardless of our religious similarities and differences, Babek and I were able to have great conversation about religion and the world as we both try our best to ‘not judge’ one another.

At no time did I feel that Babek was trying to convince or convert me to believing in God, or ‘his God’, but yet it was clear that he is a religious man. It was in this, that we discussed how backwards it is in many cultures that you are forced to believe in any one thing. In Iran, his government and the community were busy trying to force people to all believe in the same thing. This force came through fear and persecution. For Babek and his family, this was not acceptable. Babek expressed his frustration that the leaders in his community were trying to forcefully get people to follow their religion.

Believe or die.

Rather than conforming to the beliefs of the people around them, they fled. Had they conformed, they would have been doing themselves an injustice, as they would have been living a lie. Sure, they would have been able to stay in their country, but if they stood up against anything they believed to be wrong, they would have been killed. If they in any way rebelled against or questioned Islam, they would have been persecuted or killed. Can you imagine living with this fear? Not just a fear of being outcast by your community, but a real fear of you and your family being killed for having a mind of your own.

The problem with the world and religion is not religion itself. The problem is the leaders of the religion who have manipulated the teachings of the religion to benefit themselves in the form of power and / or money. If you read the ‘book’ of most religions, they talk about kindness, love and being brotherly to your neighbours. This message is not the problem. I think everyone can agree that this is a good rule to live by. The problem is those who manipulate this message to gain power and then use their influence to teach people differently. Funny how religion and politics seem so much alike at the moment … or is it just me?

For me, on my first day in Istanbul, regardless of my religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), ‘Don’t Judge’ is a reminder of how travel has opened my mind in the last few years. It is a reminder that people do things differently and that is ok. It is a reminder that there are more good people in the world than bad. It is a reminder that we are human-kind and should not be defined by our color, country or religion.

Despite having fled his own country for fear of being killed for his religious beliefs, Babek did not speak ill of the community that did not accept him and his family. He simply spoke of judgement and that it was not his place or right to place judgement on others.

A lesson that we should all live by, starting with the smallest of things in our lives. You only know your own story. Leave your judgements behind and ensure that you are living your life with kindness and love.

I hope that next time you meet someone from Iran, that you let go of your hesitation, put your secret, media-driven, prejudices behind you and see these beautiful people for who they are as humans and all they have to offer.

Dare to Dream

It’s approaching 2am and I’m awake.
My heart is beating faster than normal, I can’t calm my thoughts and they are bouncing around like pin ball in my brain.

No, I haven’t had a horrible nightmare!

Instead, I’ve come up with this crazy amazing dream for the next year of my life and I’m so excited about the potential it has that I can’t sleep. After an hour of trying, I decided that writing would be a better use of my time then laying in bed wide awake.

When I started this whole un-plan journey over a year ago, it was just that, unplanned. I didn’t know where it was going to take me, how I was going to get there or how long it would last. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing or not, but I knew it would be the wrong thing not to try.

I’ve always said I’m more of a doer than a dreamer. Some people day dream their days away and never take action. Me, I get an idea in my head and I make it happen. Often though, I don’t really consider my ideas to be dreams. They are just the next step in my journey.

Tonight, I must admit, I feel differently.
The last time I remember having this strong, anxious-happy feeling was when I met Nora Gross and Brenda McAloney who inspired me to do my social awareness project – Young & Fearless – Inspiration of Cancer Survivors. The project started small and grew into two art shows and a published book. It gained a tonne of local media attention over the two years that I worked on the project, along with solidifying a strong connection with the Photosensitive project which gained me national exposure and publication in several other books. Now I feel like the time is right to follow this gut feeling again.

I’ve visited 11 countries in the last eight months. I’ve been on the road or in the skies more than I’ve been home. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities and experiences that many of them have never been told because I don’t have time to write about them all.

I feel like I have truly lived life in the last eight months. I’ve met amazing people. I’ve seen our beautiful world from boats, planes, trains, automobiles, bicycles, motoconchos and a hot air balloon. I’ve challenged myself and I’m sure I’ve challenged others (for better or worse!). I learned to surf. I can hold my own in Spanish. I’ve built life-long relationships with people I’ve met all around the world.

It’s not all roses though folks. I’ve been sick. I’ve dealt with the loss of important people in my life. I thought I found potential for love, but found out I was wrong (the hard way). All of this while being away from family and friends back home. Through all of the ups and downs though, I’ve learned an amazing amount and I have lived with my heart open.

After a short rough patch where I was feeling a little confined, sad and suffocated by the people and events surrounding me, I’ve emerged again. As I read about the devastation caused by the April 25th earthquake in Nepal, I was drawn to the images, the news, the search for survivors, the pain and the suffering of locals and volunteers who are living this horrible nightmare right now. I pondered if I could drop what I am doing in Argentina and head to Nepal to help out. However, two factors slowed me down. 1. I don’t do so well at altitude. 2. Nepal needs money not extra people at the moment. The thoughts of going to help these broken communities have been nagging at me, but I knew Nepal was not the best option.

I now feel like I’ve broken free from the confinement I had been experiencing and my brain has room to breathe. My mind went on overdrive in the opposite, but positive direction. After reading several articles about the Nepal earthquake, I found myself looking at volunteer options with a Canadian based organization Volunteer Abroad / Basecamp. I’ve worked with them before by sending travellers through their programs to work, including one girl to Nepal two years ago. I started meandering through the website and looking at placement opportunities.

There were two incredible volunteer opportunities (out of close to 100) that screamed for my help, my skill set and my attention.

The first one to catch my eye was the one that made the hair on my arms stand up and thoughts start jumping with excitement. It is a placement in Ghana, Africa to help educate women, children, and the community about the importance of education, to help stop the process of child and human trafficking and to discuss sexual health issues.

For quite some time women’s issues in Africa have caught my attention (from the missing girls in Nigeria to genital mutilation). I’ve often looked into various organizations or contacted people that I might be able to work with. Sadly, nothing has ever worked out, but maybe it just wasn’t the right time.

The second opportunity is in Tanzania, working with an orphanage to build a website / social media, including photography and writing. Then moving on to teaching local staff how to maintain it. This opportunity would give me hands on time with the local volunteers / teachers, as well as getting to know the children and their stories. Telling stories of people through photographs (and through blogging) is one of great passions. Here’s a chance!

Tonight as I chatted with a couple of friends on Facebook, my mind decided to dream …

What if I actually did decide to go to Africa and volunteer? What would that look like?
I’ll be in Nova Scotia this summer to get my yellow fever vaccine. I was already looking at the potential of staying away for a full year, just no solidified plans. And, I’ll already be in Europe for my Turkey Photo Tour come September / October which is a lot closer to Africa than I am right now!

Is this the year that I’ll see Africa and I’ll spend time making a real difference in people’s lives through a volunteer placement? Volunteering and travel together have been very important to me for quite some time, but somehow I haven’t made time recently to make it a priority. I’ve said for a long time that I should change this. Tonight the thought scurried out of the depths of my brain and had a little dance party.

 

NOTE: Initially this post was written at the end of April 2015 and I’ve revised it as of the beginning of June 2015 as I never got around to posting it. Shame on me!

Quick update: I have been in contact with Volunteer Abroad and am looking into several options for working with them later this year. I also have several new ideas that I am currently working on for potential projects with other Not for profit / Non-Government agencies.

Update coming very soon on my revised unplan for the next year of my life.

If you’ve been considering voluntourism, maybe this is your year too! Feel free to drop me a note to chat about your plans, or I’m happy to assist you in finding the right NGO/NPO to work with. Don’t be afraid to take the first step and get in touch.

Travel with your heart, not just your camera.

Hot air ballon, Cappadocia, Turkey
Hot air balloon ride over Love Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey

The above photo was taken on an amazing hot air balloon experience in Cappadocia, Turkey, thanks to Experta and The Gallipoli Artist. It captures perfectly what my heart was feeling … The appreciation of wide open spaces, the beauty of autumn in Love Valley and yet a few other balloons off in the distance to remind me that I was not alone.

Your camera is an object.
It is devoid of feelings.
It only works when connected to a human hand, which is connected to a human brain and human heart.
It is not the camera that takes amazing photos, it is the person behind the camera.
It is the person behind the camera whose eyes you are seeing through.
It is not just the emotions of the subject that you see, you are feeling the emotions of the photographer and how they saw the subject. You are connected to the photographer’s heart.

When you are traveling the world, it is exciting to capture everything with your camera. It’s wonderful to be able to share what you see with your friends, family and social media followers. Everyone loves photos and stories of far away places.

When you travel though, I urge you to go first with your heart and second with your camera.

When I travel, I go first with my heart.
I travel for the love of other cultures and for the open mindedness it has instilled in me. I travel to understand other people, their struggles, their way of life and their joys. I travel with my heart because no matter where I go, I still care about people, about humans.

I don’t travel to take amazing photographs, those are simply the byproduct of what my heart feels and my eyes see while I am there. I travel to have experiences that change my life, and hopefully change others’ lives for the better.

There are days when I am on the road that I leave my camera behind. It is so easy to get caught up in taking photos of all of the new and amazing things that you see everywhere in a new city or country. It is normal for a photographer to want to document them because that is what we do. But, sometimes I make a decided effort to leave my camera behind so that I am fully present in the moment and spend time learning, feeling and seeing the country, the people and the history without trying to ‘capture’ it.

If you are in a country for seven days and you spend all of your time wrapped up in taking photos so that you can ‘remember’ it, what is it that you are remembering? Simply the photos that you took. Instead, what if you took time to enjoy the country you are visiting and let the photos help remind you of the amazing people you met and things you did instead of missing out on the real country just to capture the outer layer.

If you just can’t bear to leave your camera behind, here are a few tips on how to travel with your heart, not just your camera, but still have your camera in hand.

1. If you are photographing people in another country, remember that YOU are the invader of their privacy. It is not your right to take their photo. If you approach people with your heart, with a true interest in them, they will be more relaxed and more willing to let you photograph them. If you stick a camera in their face without even saying hello, you are invading their space and intimidating them.

2. Get to know the people who you are photographing so that you don’t just have photos of random people, you have stories and experiences to share.

3. If you are traveling with a tour guide, I know this is hard, but try listening to what the guide has to say about his / her country and the location you are at rather than snapping away. Once you hear the history and stories behind the location you will look deeper for photos with meaning rather than snap shots of ‘interesting things’. You will photograph from the heart because you will understand the history, the struggles, the achievements of the place you are standing in. Listen and learn, then photograph to tell a story, not just to have photos.

4. Take days (or hours) off from photography. Choose to do something of interest and enjoy it fully without your camera. Maybe this is going for dinner in the evenings. Do you really NEED a picture of every meal? Will you do anything with the photo of that restaurant? Do you know how to properly take night photos so they are not blurry? Don’t take your camera with you because you feel you have to. Leave it behind you so can be present. It will give your brain (and neck) a break and you’ll be more refreshed for shooting the next day.

Your camera is an extension of your heart. You have the power to capture both your emotions and the emotions of your subject in one single moment in time. Make the most of it. Shoot from your heart.

The Wind in her sails

When a good opportunity presents itself, you should just take it … You’ve all heard that advice before, right?
Grab all of the good opportunities that you can and be whisked away by what might be the most amazing journey of your life. Sometimes that is in the form of a job opportunity, a un-planned, but much anticipated child, a broken-hearted stray that finds it’s way to your home …

All of the love, learning and happiness that can come from these opportunities abounds, just be open to it.

And, funny how when you are looking for opportunities and put them out to the universe, sometimes the universe lifts you up and takes you along like the wind in her sails …

Ah yes … I’ve literally been talking to the universe. Now that you think I’m officially crazy, that’s ok. Being ‘Normal’ is overrated anyway.

Everyone knows about the law of attraction and surrounding yourself with positive thoughts and positive people. Not everyone believes in it, but most people know about it. For me, I’ve been busy planning my upcoming travels. Several times I’ve said ‘oh I wish this …’ … Then I take a moment, stop and think about it and then just put it out there. I don’t know how or why it works but sometimes those wishes come true.

When I originally made the decision to go travel this fall, my loose plan was Central and South America. However, I called it the Unplan because I wanted my plans to be fluid and be able to change. I didn’t want to be tied into any commitments too far in advance because I knew that while planning for approximately eight months, my thoughts would change. And, they have.

A friend and fellow photographer from Norway who I traveled with in Burma, is now living in Vietnam. When I was in Vietnam on my photo tour in April, we went for coffee and got caught up. A couple of months after that, he put me in touch with his ex-boss, an Australian fellow who was living in Turkey. Through various discussions, this little Canadian girl gets invited on a tour of Turkey. Now, I wouldn’t say that Turkey is top of my list for places to travel, but certainly in the top 20 countries. The problem was that the tour would only be available in October which is when my Peru: Through the Lens Photo tour was scheduled for. Flying from Europe to South America with one or two days leeway before leading a photography tour was do-able, but not ideal. None the less, I took the opportunity that presented itself. Can you not see how the universe was working for me?

My Unplan for Central / South America then evolved to unexpectedly include Europe. Not many people from Nova Scotia travel all the way to Europe for just seven days and I wasn’t planning to either! Again, my unplan evolved into covering some of my other top-list countries. Namely, Croatia and a little bit of Greece since I was in the area anyway.

I spent hours researching and trying to put together options for dates and tours that would fit into the timelines that were set out. I had my loose schedule and tours decided on and my flights on hold and then two things happened.

1. With only a few people signed up for the Peru tour and only a few days before the deposit deadline, I made the difficult decision to post-pone the photo tour and look at dates in Spring of 2015. This would give me more time to sell the trip. After all, there was lots of interest in the tour, but many people weren’t able to go on short notice either due to vacation time or finances.

2. The day that I put all of my flights on hold, I received a late afternoon phone call that changed the Captain’s course. The rep from Star Clippers was on the phone, so excited she could barely contain herself. The exact trip that I had previously inquired about, was being offered to a select few agents who had shown interest in their products and she was calling to invite me to be one of her special guests.

I didn’t even know what to say! Of course I had to *think* about it, because I’m not overly impulsive … but honestly, what was I thinking about? When an opportunity presents itself, you take it.

I hesitated a bit because I get sea sick very easily. I’ve been horribly ill on several big ferries, mildly ill on many others and inconsolably ill on a ferry crossing from Miquelon to Saint Pierre and also when I did a Norwegian Cruise from Boston to Bermuda. In all fairness though, Boston to Bermuda is a rough crossing at the best of times and we were riding the tail end of a hurricane in September 2006.

I love the water though! I love the wind in my hair and the raising of the sails. I go out on the calm Halifax harbour a couple of times every summer and occasionally out with friends in their boats and I never get sick. I’ve been on lots of 1/2 day boat tours in various countries and I always seem to be ok, although sometimes a little nauseous.

The thought of sailing intrigues me. The opportunity to climb to the top of the crow’s nest and see the view from that high scares me, but I can’t wait to do it! Maybe I’ll learn to tie some knots and assist in hoisting the sails. It’s an open-deck policy on board, so I can’t wait to chat with the staff and hear about life on the water.

I love vacations where you unpack once, but get to do lots of exploring. Cruises, sailing and river boats are great for this. With a big long journey and lots of moving around ahead of me, the thought of being home-base on a boat even for just a week makes me happy.

I also can’t wait to share my first time sailing experience with all of you! I’m excited to take pictures and uncover stories to blog about.

Now back to this whole big universe of ours … in March 2013 I wrote my Adventure & Travel Bucket list – Subject to Change. This is from just over a year ago. Here’s what I had on my list (and notes as to what I’ve accomplished).

1. Me to We Volunteer Trip (Kenya or India) – It is at the top of my list as it is extremely important to me, yet I don’t expect to go on this adventure until 2014. UPDATE – Still very interested in this, but Africa is not on my 2014 list.

2. Vietnam – including Sapa, Mui Ne, Halong Bay, taking part in the Full Moon Festival, cycling in the countryside.
UPDATE: I’ve now been to Halong Bay and participated in the Full Moon Festival in Hoi An.

3. Burma / Myanmar – I really want to go before it becomes an in demand destination. Cycling is on my to do list here as well as lodge at a monastery (not a hotel). UPDATE: Amazing destination. I visited in August 2013. I got to cycle and visit monasteries, but did not stay in one.

4. Croatia – including Split & Dubrovnik UPDATE: Will be visiting Dubrovnik and Hvar in September 2014. Split will have to wait for me.

5. Spanish school (Guatemala / Belize / Honduras / Nicaragua) UPDATE: This is still on the tentative list for Winter / Spring 2015. Or, I might just continue Spanish school in the Dominican Republic as I’ll be there in December 2014 / January 2015.

6. Gorilla Trek (likely in Rwanda)

7. African Safari (South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania or Botswana)

8. Cape Town, South Africa – because of Nelson Mandela

9. Hot Air Balloon ride – over Cappadocia, Turkey or the Maasai Mara, Kenya UPDATE: I will be doing a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey in October 2014. Super excited. Definitely one of highlights that I’m most looking forward to.

10. Bhutan – Because of the happiness factor

11. Celebrating New Year’s in another country UPDATE: I will be in Dominican Republic for New Year’s Eve 2014 & ringing in the new year!

12. Italy – Tuscany / Venice UPDATE: September 2014 I’ll be visiting Venice and Tuscany!

13. Greece – Cinque Terre UPDATE: Cinque Terre is not in Greece! Apparently a year ago I didn’t know that. It is five communities on the northwest coast of Italy. I had seen photos and want to see it in person. Apparently I just didn’t know where ‘there’ was! I’ll be visiting in September 2014.

14. Colombia UPDATE: I’ve decided not to go in 2014, but this is really high on my list and there is a good possibility I’ll be there in early 2015.

15. Morocco

So, a full year ago I was dreaming of these 15 places and now I’ve visited many of them and have many more of them on my fall travel schedule. This is not at all by chance though. I started looking at options, talking about wanting to go, asking questions, doing research and then things started coming together. I had decided that Turkey / Croatia and Greece would be my Europe travels for 2014, based on the opportunity in Turkey. Then that day when my rep from Star Clippers called, I added a couple more weeks and now my Italy travel dreams are coming true too! The universe is working in my favour. Let’s hope she’s kind on the sea-sickness front as well!

I feel like it is time for me to be the Captain of my ship and let the wind lift my sails.

Star Clippers – Royal Clipper
– The largest full-rigged sailing ship in the World.

PLANNED
Sep 18 – Depart Halifax (my flight is booked!!!)
Sep 19 – Arrive in Venice (9:05am)
Sep 19 – Explore Venice – activities TBD
Sep 20 – Embark on the Royal Clipper – My itinerary
Sep 21 – At Sea
Sep 22 – Kotor, Montenegro
Sep 23 – Dubrovnik, Croatia
Sep 24 – Hvar, Croatia
Sep 25 – Rovinij, Slovenia
Sep 26 – Piran, Slovenia
Sep 27 – Return to Venice
Sep 27 – 29 – Venice

UNCONFIRMED
Sep 29 – Oct 2 – Tuscany (Florence / Siena)
Oct 2 – 6 – Cinque Terre
Oct 6 – 7 – Rome

Feel free to leave comments with your favourite preventative tips for sea sickness. Believe me, I’m not going without taking something! I certainly don’t want to be ill and not able to enjoy this fabulous journey.

Bittersweet

It’s 11pm on June 11th and I’m sitting on a blanket on my bed writing this post. I’ve removed the sheets to wash them so that I can pack them first thing tomorrow morning before the movers come, bright and early, at 8am. The windows are open with fresh are drifting in an I hear the clunk-swish-hum of the washer and dryer going.

It’s a reflective time for me and in that reflection I have gone through pretty close to every emotion you can imagine … except maybe anger … I don’t have much to be angry about.

Sad – Although this was not my first home, it was the first one that I purchased and maintained by myself. Previously I had owned a house in Truro with my ex husband, but this is the first one that I’ve had on my own. I’ve had good times and bad in this house. A lot of squeals of excitement and a lot of tears of sadness, frustration and just simply ‘because’ tears. I’m sad that I had to part with my beautiful kitty, Morgan in order to make this all happen. I’m sad that this will be my last night sleeping here … forever.

Tired (is that an emotion?) – I am simply drained from this whirlwind that has been my life for the past six months. 2014 has been constant turmoil for me. Self-inflicted, but none them less tumultuous. From the decision to start renos, through the whole process of deciding who to hire, what needed to be done and how I was going to pay for it … to the nightmare of living in a dismantled condo for many weeks with no actual livable space. Rushing to get my condo on the market, still finishing final touch ups at midnight, only a few hours before leaving for Asia to lead a photo tour. Coming home to a condo that I barely recognized, all cleaned up and putting on it’s best for show and then having an accepted offer on the condo in less than one month from it hitting the market. Next came the choosing where to live, all of the organizing that goes along with moving and for the past week, the packing.

Relieved – All of this chaos is almost over. I can see the end. My body, mind and spirit are relieved that the end of this tunnel is near and soon I will have more time to relax and enjoy a life that I have just begun to design myself instead of just going along for the ride.

Thankful – I am thankful that through all of this I have had great friends to call on to help me with many things from renos to cleaning to shopping and most importantly just a shoulder to lean on when it was all a little too much.

Happy – I am happy that I’ve had a great five years in this home and that now it will be a great home for someone new, who will have many emotions of their own that only the walls of this condo will see.

Proud – I am proud that I’ve survived these six months with my sanity. Honestly, it would be a feat for anyone, but I know that I can be easily affected mentally by stress and turmoil. I am proud that I’ve grown over the past few years and have learned to better handle the crazy situations that I get myself into.

I am beyond proud that I’m so close to accomplishing what I set out to do which is become debt free, simplify my life and travel the world (a little bit at a time). Officially the money won’t be in my hands for one more week, but all is in order from the lawyer’s perspective and right on track. There are no issues anticipated.

Excited – Besides being proud that I’m about to accomplish this huge debt-free goal, I am excited. I could jump for joy and do a little happy dance (if my back didn’t hurt from lifting boxes lol). I have so much to look forward to, so much life to live, so many places to see, so much to give! I’ve accomplished some pretty amazing things in my life so far and I’m excited to see what the ‘over 35’ years have in store for me.

What really happens when you put all of those emotions together though? You have a girl shedding probably more than a few tears as she lays down for her last night in her own bed for who knows how long. Tears of happiness, of sadness, of excitement and pure exhaustion.

One thing I can tell you for sure is that no matter how difficult it has been, I’m happy to say that I’ve done it and I will live life with no regrets.

Now, do me a little favour … Know someone who needs a little boost of motivation or inspiration? Or maybe you know someone else who on a get debt free to travel path? Take a second and share this post with them directly, or post it to your Facebook or twitter. I’d appreciate the love, and you never know who might see this and start to believe that they can do it too!

The Unplan – Life Changing Decisions – Part 10

For the last couple of years I’ve certainly had wanderlust. Since I first got back on a plane after surviving a plane crash in December 1997, I’ve gotten stronger and stronger and have wanted to explore further and further.

First, a trip to Bermuda to see if I would lose it completely on a plane. (2008)
I didn’t.

Then a trip to New York to celebrate turning 30 and that I didn’t lose it on a plane! (2008)

Then on to Costa Rica and Nicaragua – a whole new continent for me. Also the first time that I started thinking about studying Spanish.(2009)

Next thing I knew I was traveling to photograph destination weddings. (2010)

And then another new continent as I flew to Germany and Poland to photograph Coalition for Kids International, granting wishes to terminally ill children in Poland. (2011)

My little wings that had been weakened by 11 years of non-use, were getting stronger.

Why not take it further and create Photo Tours in far away places like Peru and Vietnam? (2012 – 2014)

With all of those great destinations under my belt, a lot of take offs and landings and no further plane crashes … I decided it was time to really take a leap and off to Southeast Asia I went with my longest flight being 12 hours and 50 minutes from Narita, Japan to Chicago, USA.

Looking back, it’s incredible to see that all of this (and much much more) has happened in the past seven years.

So, it really shouldn’t be any big surprise to anyone what I’m about to tell you …

I’m sure if you’ve been reading my series of Life Changing Decisions, you are starting to put it together.

1. Decision to get debt free.
2. Work at a job that can be done anywhere in the world (or confirm that your current job can)
3. Do renovations & put condo on the market
4. Dream of travel

What do you get when those things all come together?

You get the UNPLAN! (and a really happy Shari)

In my head, and to my close friends and family, my plan since the beginning of this was not really to have a plan at all, hence the UNPLAN.

What exactly does the UNPLAN look like?

Like a leaf in the wind (or a paper airplane), I can go wherever the wind takes me. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Well, it’s a semi-calculated type of crazy if that makes it any better!

I am setting my life up to be debt free and with fewer commitments. This will allow me to travel when and where I want and discover our amazing world. I don’t want to live my life waiting 12 months for my next vacation. I don’t want to be on vacation all the time, but I do want to live my life to the fullest and for me, a big part of that is seeing this amazing, vast, beautiful world we live in.

The UNPLAN has always been somewhat calculated. I’m not jumping off a cliff without checking for a soft landing. From the beginning, although extremely hard for other people to understand, I have made very few decisions about where / when / how long I would travel for. I would tell people I’m getting debt free so I can travel and they would of course ask ‘Where are you going to go?’ Although I had narrowed it down to a starting point of Central and South America, that’s as much as I was willing to commit to. When they asked me ‘How long are you going for?’ My answer has always been ‘I’m not sure. An undetermined amount of time. I’m not debt free yet.’

I have flitted back and forth between ideas such as a year-long around the world trip, a SWAP working holiday in New Zealand, settling in for a couple (or several) months somewhere in Central or South America, or simply living in Nova Scotia and traveling whenever I possibly can. These are big, amazing options. Don’t you dare say I’m ‘lucky’ to have these choices. This has nothing to do with luck folks, I am making these choices, they aren’t just magically happening.

You see, there are doers and dreamers in this world. I’m a doer. Yes, I have big dreams but I don’t sit and daydream unless I’m actually going to make something happen. So, being realistic about it all, I absolutely, flat out refuse to make any travel decisions until I become debt free. (with one exception – see below)

Although I still dream of where I want to visit, where I might like to stay for a little while and what great adventures are out there waiting for me, until I achieve my first, and most important goal of being debt free, I can’t move forward with achieving this undetermined amount of travel. This is a calculated UNPLAN!

I’m designing my own life. I’m making choices for me, based on my passions, what’s important in my life and how I can find happiness. Isn’t the true meaning of life to live it to it’s fullest?

So, let me give you the big announcement(s) …

1. Knock on wood, my condo has sold. Barring any complications with the condo financials, it is a done deal with a mid-June closing date. It was on the market for less than one month. I got reasonably close to asking price. I got slightly more than I needed in order to get completely debt free, set aside my down payment for my next home purchase and set aside a bit of money for travel. I think the universe is encouraging me to continue with the UNPLAN!

2. I confirmed a long time ago that I would be able to continue to be a travel agent, but work from anywhere in the world with my current employer, The Adventure Travel Company. Today, May 15th is my last day working in the office and as of tomorrow I will be working remotely. I’ll post a blog about this transition in a couple of days, but for now, all you need to know is that I am still a full service travel agent, specializing in adventure travel. I am affiliated with the amazing Adventure Travel Company and I hope you’ll support me by trusting me to help you plan YOUR next adventure. You can email me at stucker@atcadventure.com

3. I have been accepted on a travel agent familiarization tour with Intrepid Travel for one week in Chile and Argentina in November. This is the one concrete travel plan that I allowed myself to make before all of my other plans came together. I knew that once the condo sold, I would likely head to Central or South America, so this was a natural fit and gave me dates to work with when I would already be in that part of the world. This trip is free (except airfare) and gives me the opportunity to experience these two countries with a great supplier. I knew that even if my condo did not sell, that I would be able to either find the money for the flights or I have enough Aeroplan points to get me there. There were too many benefits for me to pass up. I had originally applied but it was full. A couple of months later, someone had to cancel and one little spot opened up. It had my name all over it! I applied within minutes of finding out a spot had opened up.

4. Having confirmed that I would be heading to South America in November, I shortly thereafter made the decision to launch a new Peru: Through the Lens Photo Tour. I’ve just released details to my photo email list and full details will go public next week. On my first day to announce the new tour, I already have the first person signed up! Tour dates are Oct 18 – 28, 2014. If you’d like more information, please contact me, or sign up for my photo tour newsletter.

There it is folks …

My condo has sold.
I start work as a home-based travel agent on May 16th, but remain under the umbrella of The Adventure Travel Company.
I have a tour booked to Chile and Argentina in November, so if nothing else, I know where I’m headed in late fall.
I am about to go full force promoting my next Peru: Through the Lens photo tour for October 2014.

My UNPLAN is starting to shape up.

Now, of course, in the spirit of an UNPLAN, I have not decided how long I am going for or what other countries I will visit. And, as with everything else, those decisions all depend on many variables. My condo sale still needs to finalize and all of my debts must be completely cleared. I need to find a place to live for the summer and early fall. I must find at least eight people to travel with me on the Peru: Through the Lens photo tour. And, let’s not forget that nice man who walked into my life back in February (see Part 8 of this series). I can’t leave him behind for a year while I go gallivanting around. And no, sadly he can’t come gallivant around with me for a year due to commitments here! It’s still new and early, but it wouldn’t be fair to him or me ignore him in all of this!

Like I said … it is still an UNPLAN with many choices and decisions yet to be made and too many variables still lurking around. Don’t worry, I’ll be blogging about it all along the way!

Now that the big news is out there … let the questions begin! Feel free to post questions and comments below on this post … share with your friends … send it to other people you know who are currently on extended travels or those who dream of doing so …

I’ll be posting updates about my struggles, preparations, decisions and triumphs until departure day (whenever that may be). After that, I’ll transition into sharing my travel adventures of whatever fantastic countries I visit. Some will be exciting, inspirational and likely funny. Others will be boring and simply there for me to keep track of my thought process. I invite you to sign up for my blog updates (top right of my blog) and follow along as often (or not) as you wish.

The first five months of 2014 have certainly been filled with amazing challenges, laughter, tears and some of the biggest decisions of my life so far … but wait … at least all of those things are my choice … so really, how bad can it be?

Just like a leaf in the wind … I’m about to go on a crazy ride.

I hope its a warm, southern wind not a Nor easter!

Fear vs Bravery

A lot of people know that I am heading out on my next big journey. This time to South East Asia, where I have never been before. People, for the last couple of weeks, have been asking ‘Are you excited?’ I know they’ve all been expecting a resounding ‘YES!’, but they’ve all gotten a different answer.

‘No, I’m not excited. Right now I’m scared. I’ll be excited when I actually make it to Yangon, Myanmar.’

Yes, you heard it, straight from me. I’m scared.

For those of you who seem to think I’m an old pro at traveling the world, you’re only seeing the outside. Inside, my stomach has been churning for weeks. In fact, I nearly had a panic attack when I booked the flights in May, confirming that I would actually be going. Since then, the fear has grown. I try to keep it under control and not let it overtake my life, but I have to admit, it does overtake my excitement.

So, right now, no, unfortunately I’m not excited. I’m stressed.

For years, on and off, I’ve seen a counsellor for many reasons, not the least of which is to deal with issues from the plane crash that I was in, in 1997. I know not everyone knows that I was in a real live plane crash (well, now you do), and sometimes people just forget, but EVERY SINGLE TIME I go to board a plane I think about that crazy-scary night in December 1997. It’s been 16 years, but it just isn’t something that you forget. And, with each day as my departure gets closer I think about it more and more.

A couple of weeks ago I was in talking to my counsellor and she said something to me about my fear that made sense. (She often does make sense, that’s why I see her!)

She had said that it’s very brave of me to be going on this big journey alone. I wasn’t feeling very brave, I was overcome with fear. What she told me is that the difference between the two is that someone who is brave isn’t any less scared, they just choose to face their fear and move forward, rather than letting their fear consume them.

Well, how could I argue with that?

Hearing this from someone else made it so clear to me that having fear is actually alright. I can’t push it away because it is natural, but I have accepted it and stopped beating myself up over it. And, most importantly, I’m not giving in to it.

I’ve struggled with this for 16 years. It is a big part of me as it was a life changing event. For nearly 11 of those years, I let the fear consume me and I refused to fly. I wouldn’t even consider it.

For the last six years, I’ve faced that fear. The fear doesn’t ever go away though.

I am about to embark on the longest journey (in distance) that I have been on. The farthest away from home, the longest flights and the most plane / airport changes to get to my final destination.

When I get back home to Canada in September, you should give me a hug … I’ll need one after all of this travel.

It is not going to be easy, but I am going to do it.

Maybe the biggest lesson I learned from the plane crash (and have been reminded of through regular travel), is to be thankful. Thankful that I survived that plane crash so that I have the opportunity to see the world. The crash wasn’t meant to hold me back, it was meant to catapult me forward to bigger and better things, new adventures, new opportunities, new challenges and most importantly, living life.

Finding my Life – Part 3 – Sometimes the Stars Align

The story of how I went from Aspiring to be Inspired in August of last year, searching for my life, to a complete career change. And, how sometimes the stars just align at the right time.

If you’d like to read these in sequence, start with – Finding my Life – Part 1 and Finding my Life – Part 2 – This is MY journey.

Where do you find a new perspective on life? For me, it was the Dominican Republic, but truly, it had nothing to do with the destination and everything to do with the journey. I could have been in South America, Asia, India … it wouldn’t have mattered. It was not the Dominican Republic that taught me lessons, it was the series of events and people I met. Had I gone to another destination, I would have met a different group of people and had different events, but I truly believe the outcome would have been the same. I believe that the right people would have come in to my life to help me make my way through my own journey.

While in the Dominican, my goal was to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. How did I want to run my business. Did I want to continue to run my business? Pretty big questions to be answered on so-called vacation.

After realizing that I was in charge of my life, that I could say yes or no to anything that came my way, I was able to move forward. It’s funny how people tell you this but you don’t believe them until one day the light just turns on and you think ‘how did I not see this before?’

For months I had been struggling with the idea that I might not want to run my own business anymore. It was a vicious circle and internal struggle. My business was successful, I was well-known and I was doing well for myself.

I wasn’t happy though.

I had already timidly mentioned to a couple of my friends and family members that I might not want to run my own business any more and of course was met with lots of ‘what do you want to do? how are you going to do that?’ Simply, I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions. I just knew that I wanted something different.

One afternoon while in the Dominican Republic (almost one year ago) I wrote an email to a travel agent who I had worked with before, asking for her thoughts, advice and input on the travel industry as a whole. At the end of the email, I mentioned that I knew she was really busy and would she ever consider hiring an extra person, even for the administrative assistance, not necessarily for selling travel. For me, I just wanted to know if it was a waste of time to consider being a travel agent. After all, with all the online bookings, wasn’t it a dying profession? Come on, I know many of you are thinking that! I’ll write a good post on why that’s not true one of these days!

Her response surprised me. She told me that she was looking to expand and that she might be interested in bringing me on as an agent, we should discuss further when I got back to Canada.

Well, my little heart started racing. Wow! Here I was, offering to do something, anything to get out of the cycle I was in and suddenly, it was turning into a real possibility that I could change careers.

When I returned home in September (2012) we continued our conversations and I took the opportunity very seriously. I spent a lot of time weighing the benefits and downfalls of switching careers. This particular opportunity would have me still be my own boss, but working under an umbrella company. Was this a benefit or a downfall though? I spent MANY hours deliberating this. I would have to work hard to build my own clientele and I wouldn’t get paid for quite some time as it would be commission based, so therefore I would have to juggle running my photography business and my travel business until I was able to make a living from travel. But, not being 100% sure that I wanted to completely give up photography, that was a bit of a benefit.

So, I had pretty much made up my mind and was in the process of signing up for the travel training, but before I moved forward, I had one big task I had to follow through with and it scared me to death. I spent many days avoiding having a conversation that I thought was going to be incredibly difficult. I didn’t even know where to begin so I wasn’t beginning at all.

I had already made plans with the Adventure Travel Company for my second Peru Through the Lens trip. We had already worked on it and had the itinerary planned, the marketing done. We were really just waiting for my return to Canada to put a big push on selling it. I knew if I were to switch careers and become a travel agent for another company, I wouldn’t be able to run this photo tour with The Adventure Travel Company as it would be a conflict of interest.

My mind was made up that I wanted to change careers, but oh, how I dreaded contacting the manager at the Adventure Travel Company to tell her I was going to become part of the competition. My throat tightened and my heart pounded just thinking about it. So, I put it off another couple of days.

When I finally made the phone call and spoke to her, I explained the situation. I didn’t want to drop the photo tour, but I understood that it wouldn’t work if I took the other job. Once again, I was astounded by her response. She said, “Have you ever considered coming to work for us, here at the Adventure Travel Company?”

Actually, I had considered that option, but on their website it stated that they were looking for people with training on certain programs and travel industry experience. I had neither.

She explained that it still could be an option and suggested that I meet with her before making my final decision. So, I did.

We met for coffee and she explained all about the Adventure Travel Company and the opportunities they offered. In fact, they had an option for work from home, but be under their umbrella as well … exactly the same as the first company I was considering. Well, the benefits and commissions worked slightly different, but overall, the same concept.

Wow. Now I was really confused. I now had two options because both companies were both stating that they were interested in having me. How did this happen? I thought my mind was made up to go with the first company and then I landed back in the same spot with no idea what to do. Working for The Adventure Travel Company would mean I could sell more of the type of travel that I was interested in and I could continue my photo tour.

I thought about it for days … maybe even a week. And, I don’t just mean thought about it in passing … I wrote lists of positives and negatives of each company. I ran some scenarios of how much money I would make. I asked more questions and I cried.

And I cried.
And I cried.

I cried because I couldn’t figure out what was the right choice. I cried because I felt bad that the first company had taken so much time to talk to me and explain everything and welcome me with open arms, but then the second company did the same. I felt like no matter which I chose I was somehow betraying the other.

And then I stopped and decided that was a really silly reason or way to make a decision … based on who I thought I would offend less. Going back to the lesson I learned earlier … I could say yes or no to anything that came my way.

So, I changed my way of thinking. No more worrying about who thought what or who I’d be letting down. I wasn’t making this decision for anyone else. This decision, to change my career and my life was all about me. As it should be!

When I cleared my head and re-started my thinking process I realized that both jobs were wrong.

What? After all that, you say!

Yes. Both of the jobs that I had been encouraged to take were at home office jobs where I would be my own boss. I would work from home, build my own clientele, set my own hours. You’d all love that wouldn’t you? Well, think again … For the past 10 years I had already been running my own photo business from home, building my own clientele, setting my own hours (which often meant, simply too many!), I was lonely and isolated.

As much as I wanted to change careers, and believe me, my heart ached when I made this decision, NEITHER of those jobs were right for me.

I contacted the manager at the Adventure Travel Company again. I told her that I had decided that I really didn’t want to work from home, based on commission. Part of my reason for wanting to change careers was to switch to an office job, to have regular hours, to see people every day and to have someone else be responsible for the overall well-being of the company. Not to mention a regular pay cheque that I didn’t have to chase down (entrepreneurs out there, you know what I’m talking about!) I asked if there was any possibility of an office job, to which she didn’t have a clear answer for me at that time.

I put the travel job on hold for a couple of weeks, allowing myself time to reconsider just how badly I wanted to do it. Did I want to do it badly enough to start my own business again from scratch?

One day, I wrote a Facebook message to the travel agent that I worked with for Peru Through the Lens trip. Just a message to say ‘Hi. How are you?’. Moments later, she was telling me that she had just resigned from her job and she was leaving in a couple of weeks.

My response? True story….
‘Congrats on the new job. That’s awesome, very happy for you. Um, does that mean your job is up for grabs?’

Sometimes the stars just align.

Immediately, I was back in touch with the manager at the Adventure Travel Company to see if she would be interviewing to fill that position, and indeed, she said she would be.

A couple of weeks later, I had an interview (middle of October). It went well. I was excited. I knew that it felt right.

Several weeks later, a decision still hadn’t been made. I didn’t know what the hold up was, but I knew that I would soon have to start looking for other options if that was not going to be my career move.

I had come home at the beginning of September and started the process of trying to change careers. Here it was early November and I didn’t have a new path yet, but I was lacking inspiration and motivation to continue on my old path. Those two months felt like a year.

Another week or so passed and finally, I got the job offer. The one in office, not home based.

Holy! Now this whole thing was really real.

We talked about salary, benefits, the Peru Through the Lens photo tour. We discussed at length the differences of working in an office versus working from home and I was 95% ready for it. The other 5% was me shaking in my boots. This was a HUGE decision to make. Was I really ready for it? Could I really switch from being my own boss to working for someone else?

I guess it was time to find out!

I started my new job as an Adventure Travel Specialist at The Adventure Travel Company on November 19, 2012.

It took me nine months from the time I sat atop the Lost City and Found myself, through a break up of a two-year relationship, seven weeks traveling solo in the Dominican Republic and learning Spanish, learning to kick people off my energy bus and truly being on a bumpy journey to find my life, before a tangible change took place.

Here I am. A world away from the person I was at this exact time last year. Last year on July 23rd I was dancing in a barber shop with my friend Kelly and his nephew in the Dominican Republic. I was trying to have conversations with my two weeks worth of Spanish classes but most of the time I had no idea what was going on. It was good for lots of laughs though. And, the boys took good care of me, despite them being ‘typically Dominican men’. I visited the ‘real’ Dominican Republic, outside of the city, hung out on the streets where neighbours gathered, kids played street basketball, bachata was blaring from every little corner store and I was welcomed in to their homes with open arms.

Now, I’m proud to say that I have changed my life and my career and am happy about it. All that soul-searching from February 2012 in Peru through until now paid off.

And, instead of running away to the Dominican Republic for seven weeks to figure out my life, I’m living my life and doing my job while preparing for my first trip to Asia in just 23 short days.

Amazing how it takes so long and feels so slow in the moment, but looking back, it feels like I’ve come a million miles from where I was.

The journey continues though … life is a balancing act and some days I still feel like all of the plates I’m holding up are falling and breaking all around me. Some days I lose my balance and fall with them, but I know that if I continue to search for myself and take steps in the right direction, I will learn important lessons along the way and will find ways to have fewer plates breaking. (Finding my life – Part 4 – Plates in the air – coming soon-ish)

PS – I can’t believe it honestly took me a year to write this Part 3 blog post. I guess I just wasn’t ready until that one year mark hit. I guess it was just the right time. Funny how sometimes the stars align.

Finding my Life – Part 2 – This is MY journey

This morning when I was getting ready to write this post, while on twitter, I stumbled across this video. It was so powerful to me that I had to share because it is exactly what I am talking about in my previous post. I’m still amazed at the power of this message in someone else’s words.

So, just where do you start to look for a new perspective on life? How do you find the time to change? How do you jump off that hamster wheel?

Step 1: Give yourself permission to do something for yourself.

When I decided to take the trip to the Dominican Republic this summer, it was clearly a selfish trip and I do not feel bad about this, not for one second. I needed time away from, well … from myself … or at least the ‘self’ that I had carved out, here in Nova Scotia. I was stuck in a rut. I had been running a successful photography business for over 9 years. I was well known, well paid, respected and had done a load of charity work that I thoroughly enjoyed … Truly, I felt that I was successful at business. What more could I want?

Well, I guess that’s the question now isn’t it … What more could I want?

As I struggled with being unhappy and fidgety in business, not knowing what the next step was, seeing lots of opportunities but not finding the motivation for any of them, I began to look further into where my motivation had gone. What more did I want?

Eventually, I came to the realization that somehow I had fallen short on the most important piece of success … the part where you work to live, not live to work.

All of my success in business and I wasn’t happy. I felt drained. I didn’t feel creative. I didn’t feel motivated. I had worked very hard to take my business in a new direction over the previous year, was successful and then didn’t know what to do with myself. I had decided to focus on corporate photography and to let weddings and family portraits go. I felt they were draining me and that I would be happier doing corporate work.

Which I was!

Until I wasn’t.

I got wrapped up in the busy-ness of business. I jumped on that hamster wheel and started running. I was more focused now because I was only taking corporate photography work, right? So, if someone called from a business, I was there to help them with their photography needs. Big or small.

Holy. I’m getting out of breath. This little tiny wheel spins so fast. The momentum just keeps you moving all the time. I’m tired, but the wheel keeps turning. I bet there are lots of people reading right now who know this feeling all too well.

STOP! PLEASE! I WANT TO GET OFF!

When my legs got weak and my head was still spinning from how to get from one project that I didn’t like to the next … I finally realized enough was enough. All of a sudden, I decided that it was time to do something for me.

So, where do you look for a new perspective on life?

My first step was to really learn and be ok with doing something for myself. Taking time away from my business to take time for me. Don’t get me wrong, I had to trick myself a little … I decided I wanted to go away to study Spanish. I had wanted to do this for 4 or 5 years and now I needed the break, so it seemed like a good fit. Even though this decision was supposed to be all about me, I still had to trick myself and think of all the ways that learning Spanish would be good for my business. Somehow I still needed this justification that although it was for me, it would still better my business.

When I finally made the big decision to go away and learn Spanish, oh what a relief! Wow did it ever feel good to just have made that decision. To give myself permission to do something for me.

Sure, it was a little crazy.
No, I didn’t really have the money to pay for it.
Sure, I was scared.

But, just like every other challenge I’ve ever faced in life, I knew that somehow I’d make it.

More than anything, I felt like I had no other option. Staying home and living the same way I was, was not an option. Something big had to change.

Step 2: Follow through on that ‘something’ for yourself with no regrets.

So, away I went to the Dominican Republic for seven weeks with a suitcase that was too big, all of my camera gear, a sense of adventure and a desire to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life.

Looking back at my experience it seems like a distant memory even though I’ve only been home for three months.

Before I went, I sat with a coach and a counsellor and decided that I would try to work on a business plan while I was away. I would try to figure out how I could make my business into exactly what I wanted it to be. How I could have a very specific niche market and make a good living. This is what I had been wanting to sort out while I was in Canada, but could never find the time.

Step 3: Have a plan, but give yourself permission to change that plan.

This thought process takes more (at least for me) than just sitting down at a desk and thinking about it. Before I could even wrap my head around business planning, I needed to get outside of my business and clear my head. This wasn’t a one day thing … for me it took weeks. In fact, I can just about pin point the moment when I realized that my head was clearing. It was when I wrote the blog post Aspiring to be Inspired.

In short, I spent my first two weeks in Santo Domingo totally uninspired and struggling with why I didn’t want to take my camera out. The post above goes in to much more detail, but bottom line is, once I figured it out, I was able to move forward. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I certainly felt a latch release and a door open. It was at this time that I really began to see things a little differently.

At this point, I realized that I was on my own, I wasn’t tied to anyone else’s schedule and it was up to me what to do with my time. I hadn’t spent any time thinking about my business, nor did I really want to … yet. I didn’t like Santo Domingo, so I switched to a school on the north coast of the island in a community called Sosua. It was here that I continued to gain new perspective.

Step 4: Stand up for yourself.

Looking back, I feel like things in the Dominican Republic, although not ‘as planned’, happened for a reason.

My first few days in Sosua were wonderful and frustrating all at the same time. But the frustration forced me to look within and to whole-heartedly revisit my reasons for leaving Canada for seven weeks to begin with.

I disliked Santo Domingo, so I changed my plans and continued my trip in Sosua.
I got annoyed with someone who was bringing me down (Get off my Energy Bus). This forced me to look inside, find some strength and believe in myself.
I fought with a friend who was continually telling me that I HAD to make up my mind about what I was doing for the next few weeks and who kept reminding me that I hadn’t made any decisions yet. After shedding tears on more than one occasion over these conversations, I finally stood up for myself and refused to be rushed into making plans or decisions that I wasn’t ready for. I refused to live my life based on what someone else was expecting of me and chose to do what was right for me.

And then … somehow, after taking this stand, both in my head and out loud to my friend, over the next few days, my head started to clear. I think this is truly when I found a new perspective, when I made the decision to do what was right for me.

Step 5: The Answer

So, where do you go to find a new perspective?

I believe the answer isn’t in the destination, but it is hidden within the depths of the roughest moments of your journey to get there, wherever ‘there’ is. I believe that new perspective is found in leaving your every day life completely behind until you unravel and embrace the new challenges and frustrations head on. I believe that my new perspective came when I realized that I was in charge of my journey. When someone tried to break down my transportation or make me follow their journey, I found the strength to say ‘No. This is my journey.’

Stay tuned for Finding my Life – Part 3 where I will talk about what my new perspective showed me, how I put my new plans in motion and where I am now because of it! You can sign up for my blog updates to come to you by email at the top right hand side of this page!