4 Reasons Self-Care When Traveling is Important + A Day Trip to Salzburg

Last week, I experienced food poisoning for the first time.
It was horrid—apparently my body had a severe adverse reaction to the vegetarian chicken wrap I’d had for lunch from McDonald’s, in an effort to be budget-conscious in an expensive city like Salzburg, Austria. I did a day trip to the picturesque city from where I was staying in Munich, and it certainly put a damper on the tail end of my week in Germany.
The nausea lasted around five days, during which I visited Salzburg, Munich, and Venice. I didn’t want to be in bed by 8 pm and avoiding food all day long… but there I was, anyway, taking breaks to return to my hostel during the day to drink Sprite and eat three Ritz crackers in silence, so I wouldn’t exacerbate the ranging headache that came from dehydration.
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The food poisoning put a bit of a damper on my trip, but I still have fantastic memories of Salzburg… how could I not?! Look at this beautiful place!
I wanted nothing more than to be at home while I was feeling so sick, but instead I was by myself back at my hostel in Munich.
When you’re sick and away from home, it’s hard to take the time away from your day to recover. Even when you’re perfectly healthy, it’s still important to take time every couple days to do something different—read, write, watch a movie, things like that.
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The architecture in Salzburg.
It’s so easy to feel guilty about doing the mundane things while traveling—aren’t you supposed to be on the grandest adventure of your life? Well, yes, of course—and that’s why it’s just that much more important to work on self-care, even in the middle of travel.
Here’s why.
4 reasons self-care when traveling is important
1. Cultivating hobbies. 
When you’re traveling for an extensive period of time, you can’t forget about the person you are at home, too. When I’m at home, I love to cook, do yoga, and write. While I can’t cook most of the time here in Europe, I can do yoga and write. It’s beneficial to keep nurturing and growing in your basic sense of identity and daily life, if only so you have something to return to at home. Spend an hour a couple times a week to remember who you are aside from travel.
It’s beneficial to keep nurturing and growing in your basic sense of identity and daily life.
2. Avoiding travel burnout. 

This is common on longer trips. I’ve felt it a couple times: the disinterest in travel, while traveling. Basically, for me, it looks like sleeping until 10:30 or returning to my hostel at 4 in the afternoon, just to close the curtains and watch Sex and the City for eight hours (yes, I did that). It’s not necessarily homesickness, but it’s kind of similar…. you’re just bored with travel. You’re tired of new experiences. You’re annoyed.

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Shopping in Salzburg.
It sounds like such a privileged problem, doesn’t it? Oh, boo-hoo, you get to travel all over the world and you don’t even want to! But it’s not like that. It’s a real thing that is preventable and curable. The more you focus on self-care, even while abroad, the less travel burnout is likely to happen.
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Taking care of yourself is so important – it allows you to more deeply experience all the great new experiences, like this beautiful cathedral in Salzburg.
3. Allowing time for your mind to subconsciously process all the new experiences you’re having. 
As I wrote above, each day is packed with NEW NEW NEW. Cultures, food, transportation, people, languages, architecture, etc etc etc. If you spend a couple chunks of time each week without the new new new, your mind soaks in the experiences and you’re able to retain them better.
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The view was so incredible after the clouds parted and the snow stopped falling!
When I went to India in August, I never took time to slow down and appreciate what I was experiencing, and I do dearly wish I had. Even an hour or two a week makes a huge difference—just to reflect, to meditate on the wonderful things you get to experience, to even watch a movie and let your subconscious work its magic.
4. Reenergizing.
Travel is exhausting! Every day, you’re figuring out how to get from your accommodation to the attractions, you’re waiting in lines, taking photos, learning new information, eating new food, and trying to remember it all. It’s easy to get tired. Taking time to just ~chill~ allows you to really absorb all the new experiences you’re having to the fullest extent.
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The steps on which the children in the “Sound of Music” danced on while singing Do, Re, Mi!

Travel is a unique and honorable privilege, and it is not to be taken lightly. To allow yourself to fully soak it all in, let yourself rest. Sleep. Eat well.

How do you care for yourself when you travel?

tess (1)

Feminism and Prostitution: My Experiences in the Red Light District

Ahh, good ole’ prostitution. The oldest profession in the world.

I’ve been working on this article for about two weeks (sorry for the delay in posts, friends) because it’s an issue I consider to be really important. The conversation I’m trying to have here goes much beyond the scope of what can be contained in a single blog post, but I’ll do my best to shrink it down into less than 1500 words.

feminism and prostitution

There are 40 million prostitutes working in the world right now (source). The average age a female begins work in the sex industry is 12 years old (source). There’s a LOT of money involved–the sex industry in Atlanta, Georgia alone has a net worth of $290 million (source).

And just for the sake of this article, let me personally define and distinguish:

Prostitution is when a woman over the age of 18 actively chooses to receive compensation for sex or sexual acts.

Sex trafficking is the illegal, immoral act of soliciting sex or sexual acts from a person under the age of 18, no matter the circumstances, in exchange for money; and a person over the age of 18 against his or her will. These people are often kidnapped and sold into the international sex trade, and are forced to interact with clients day in and day out–giving most, if not all, their earnings to a pimp.

So basically, I’m using the term “prostitution” to strictly mean a legal adult who consensually trades sex for money. Anything else is illegal, counts as sexual assault, and should be treated as such. I do realize that there’s a lot of discrepancy about the vocabulary surrounding the sex industry in academia, and I want to be cautious about this. One cannot always tell when the term “prostitution” refers to a woman who has chosen the sex industry, because it’s often used interchangeably with “sex trafficking”.

The question I’m posing, then, is this:

Is it more feminist to support women who choose the sex industry, or more feminist to help “these women” choose a different career path?

Or, even worse, if you support women who work in the sex industry, are you in turn supporting the notion that women can be commodified? 

I went on a date this fall, and I was musing with the guy about the future. I jokingly recall saying, “I could literally do anything with my life. I could like, even be a stripper,” and he responded by saying, “Oh, you’re not one of those girls.”

I remember thinking so clearly Those girls?! I’m sorry, but what are those girls like, and what do they have that I don’t?! Confidence? Self-sufficiency? I’m sorry, but where can I get some of that??

There’s still a significant underlying stigma against women who work in the sex industry. So, is it more feminist to support these women, or to help them move away from what many see as a degrading industry?

I’ve considered this question for years.

I’ve been on both sides of the argument.

To outline some specific arguments I’ve seen, heard, or personally held:

1.On one hand, women are over-sexualized. This is not a debatable topic, really–it’s just fact. Walk around any mall: there are gigantic advertisements plastered on every window, highlighting women’s chests. There’s the idea that nursing mothers shouldn’t breastfeed in public (an entirely different debate). In Hollywood, women are often portrayed with tight outfits, and in positions below men, such as a secretary or assistant instead of the boss.

2. Women are marginalized in societies all over the world, as they have been throughout history. One way that women find power and money is through the sex industry. Sometimes, women are driven to the sex industry for no other reason than she can make a lot of money quickly–for herself, for a child, for school… for any number of reasons. Verily Mag has a great article on this.

3. We’ve also seen statistics that show that when prostitution is legal, sex trafficking rises, as well.

On the other hand, there is a big movement fighting against the stigma surrounding sex workers, for the exact reasons listed above. A lot of times, women actively choose the sex industry, in any avenue–pornography, camming, prostitution, creating “private Snapchats”, etc. It’s an empowerment thing, at the core: women capitalize on the market that’s there anyway. It’s motivated from self-confidence and a drive to succeed, not self-loathing and as a last resort.

Numerous news sources have written pieces on the empowerment of prostitution, including the Economist and the Huffington Post (not including the countless more). I particularly love the article from the Huffington Post, because it’s written by a prostitute.

When women choose the sex industry, are they playing into the societal undercurrent that they are sex objects and nothing more?

It’s a complicated question. So, let’s back up.

When I arrived in Amsterdam, I was completely taken by the quaint cobblestone streets, the breathtaking canals, and hundreds of bicyclists, ringing their bells about two seconds before you’ll get demolished in their wake.

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I did the Sandeman’s free walking tour that I’ve done in almost every city I’ve visited, where we passed a lot of historical monuments, learned about why the houses sink, and the awesome progressiveness of the city. (It was the first place to legalize gay marriage–all the way back in 2001! Plus, I’ve never seen so many vegan food shops in my life. And marijuana “coffee shops”.)

I paid for a tour of the Red Light District that night, because I’d heard it was ~spooky~.

Okay, maybe spooky isn’t the right word.

I’d heard about the Red Light District for years. Sex trafficking and the international demand for sex workers has always been an interest of mine, and I’d always associated the Red Light District with a) child sex trafficking; b) sad, lonely, poor women; and c) gross men.

This is not at all what I learned from my tour guide, from my research, and from my firsthand experiences there. Mostly.

First of all, the Red Light District is not a dirty, dark, back alleyway with drunk men stumbling around and spitting on the ground, with lingerie-clad women standing on the corner, soliciting their services (this is really what I was picturing).

It’s actually a really popular tourist neighborhood, filled with bars and restaurants and nightclubs, as well as little cafes and disco bars. There’s a huge church. It’s on one of the canals. It stretches quite a few blocks. It’s very well populated with men and women out for a beer or pizza. Honestly, if I didn’t already know it was the Red Light District, I probably wouldn’t have recognized it as any different at first glance.

There are, however, the distinguishing marks that truly make it the “Red Light” district: the “Sex Palace”–a small neon building where a 2 euro coin will give you a one-minute window (literally) view into a couple having sex, the countless sex toy and lingerie stores, the countless full-body windows with a red fluorescent light above them (or blue, indicating a transsexual). And of course, the ubiquitous women standing in the windows they’ve rented for 150 euros for their eight-hour shift, wearing glowing white lingerie under the blacklights. Some women work the audience and wink as you walk by, or seductively lean against the window and beckon with a “come hither” motion of their fingers. Some also scroll Instagram while casually smoking a cigarette, just waiting for a customer.

Just depends on your preference, I suppose.

The women typically wear lingerie, although some wear costumes (think policewoman or nurse). They all had on heavy makeup and had styled their hair.

To use the services of a prostitute, one just has to go up to the window and knock. Negotiations follow, and you’re either invited in, or not.

At first glance, it might be a little uncomfortable. It’s a bit shocking, actually. I tried to steel myself to be insensitive, but I couldn’t. As a young woman, my first instinct was to feel pity. I learned that in order to be a prostitute in Amsterdam, you have to be 21 years of age (18 to be a customer), and I’m 21. Theoretically, these women are my age. And they’re all someone’s daughter!

Then I asked myself… why?

I know we’ve all had these thoughts at one time or another.

Why should we “feel bad” for these women? It’s a long-held sentiment: women are to be pitied if they work in the sex industry. But just because it’s not something you’d do, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I learned that the women who work in the Red Light District are all part of a union, meaning they receive workers’ rights and other benefits. There is a standard price–50 euros for fifteen minutes (and of course there are better packages available for purchase). Each room is equipped with a panic button that contacts the police the moment something shady starts happening. The women have come up with their own system of support to let other workers know about the “bad guys”. They pay taxes. Pimps are illegal–each woman works for herself and herself only. Photographs aren’t allowed, which is why this post is pretty bland in the visual department. It’s really a great web of support that Amsterdam has cultivated.

So, my argument is this: if a woman chooses, freely and without persuasion, to work in the sex industry, why not fully support her? Sex work is work.

I argue that if sex is normalized, the sexualization of women will decrease.

If conversations about sex and the sex industry are not forbidden, sexual assault will decrease, unplanned pregnancies and STDs will decrease, and healthy attitudes about sex will increase.

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A t-shirt I purchased from a non-profit organization located in the heart of the Red Light District, supporting women who work in the sex industry.

Humor me: say we honor women in such a way that they can choose their industry of work. If you believe sex work is wrong, but we continue to empower women to choose their careers, wouldn’t more women begin to choose paths other than sex if they believe they have access to better careers (assuming this frame of mind believes that sex workers only choose this industry because they believe they don’t have any other paths)?

Sex is always in our face–advertisements, on television, on the streets. We might as well begin to normalize it.

Then again, when prostitution is legalized, sex trafficking increases. I can’t help but wonder, though, if we normalized prostitution and empowered women to choose the sex industry; if we more heavily regulated the profession; if it weren’t such a taboo topic… if sex trafficking would decrease as a result.

Just something to chew on.

Sex is always in our face–advertisements, on television, on the streets. We might as well begin to normalize it.

Moral of the story:

Just because you don’t see it as moral, as confidence-boosting, as fulfilling… doesn’t mean others don’t. Your truth is not everyone’s.

Again, this topic is so much broader and deeper than can be covered in a single discussion. Thanks for bearing with me.

What are your opinions? It’s certainly a difficult topic. It has many, many sides. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

tess (1)

 

EUROPE PART ONE (& a bit of nyc)

Hello readers!! I am writing to you from the Newark Airport in New Jersey. My flight for Barcelona departs in three hours! I have been waiting eleven months for this day, and it has finally arrives *heart eye emoji*.

I realized the other day, however, that I never wrote about my Europe trip on this blog.

Why am I going? What am I doing? Why on earth would I buy a one-way ticket to a different continent… alone… with only two carry-ons?

europe part one (& a bit of nyc)

Well, friends, let me tell you!

Last year, I transferred universities. I wrote a lot about this. I wrote about how I was still feeling stuck, uninspired, unsure, and doubtful. In short, I was confused and bothered.

I loved my school, my friends, my major. Why wasn’t I loving the experience of it all?

Why wasn’t I loving the experience of it all?

I knew I loved to travel. I loved traveling throughout the USA as a child, and I had been to Guatemala three times. I had a trip planned to India in August. So, why not take some time to travel?

I knew I had the option of studying abroad at some point in my undergrad career. But I wanted to be able to travel without bounds, without homework and studying, just with myself and my ideas and my wishes. I didn’t want to go to class in Italy, I wanted to travel Italy. I didn’t want to do homework in Tokyo, I wanted to explore Tokyo.

So, I almost half-jokingly put on Facebook in March 2017: “Who wants to drop out of school and travel with me?” A few girls responded, but throughout the year, other life opportunities arose for them, so I decided to go alone.

Which might end up being, like, the most amazing, most radical act of self-care I’ve ever done. Or I might end up totally crashing and burning and running home with my tail between my legs.

We’ll see. 😉

I dropped out of university (I’ll go back at some point, grandma and mom and dad and professors and teachers and every other person who has made sure I know I need a degree). I quit my job. I sold and/or got rid of a LOT of my things.

I decided upon Europe as my first solo travel excursion because I’ve never been , I have a lot of friends there, it’s a relatively easy area to travel around (especially if you’re American–no visa requirements!), and it’s so rich in history and culture and excitement. I eventually want to see all of the world, but I have to start somewhere!

So! Here I am, at the Newark Airport, about to depart for Barcelona. Basically, I bought a one-way ticket, travel insurance, and ten stops in two months with a Eurail pass.

With no real plans.

I’m starting off staying with one of my best friends (from India!!) in Barcelona, and our mutual friend is coming from Moscow to meet us! Then I have a ticket to see Bon Iver in London. After that, I have no solid plans. I have some hopes and some places I’d looove to see, though!

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left to right: mireia (lives in barcelona), me, lera (lives in moscow). this photo was taken in august 2017 at the red fort in delhi, india.
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mireia and me on the banks of the river behind the taj mahal, at sunset, august 2017.

I’ve spent six months–essentially, since I returned from India–working my ass off and saving and planning my solo trip. I’m planning to write a fully detailed financials blog post about how I’m funding my trip. (assuming all goes well, lol. Maybe I’ll run out of al my money in three weeks because I drastically underprepared.)

Right now? I’m feeling kinda… steady? I am excited and nervous and unsure. But I think I’m feeling confident… I think? I’m wondering if I should have planned a little more. I’m nervous for the flight (I have flight anxiety, in case y’all didn’t know). I’m exhausted from spending two jam-packed days in NYC.

My mom and I spent the last two days hanging around Manhattan together! I originally booked my ticket out of Newark because it was SO much less expensive than flying out of Minneapolis or even Chicago. We stayed in an awesome Airbnb, where the host was the manager of an amaaaaazing Italian restaurant literally BELOW the apartment. We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, Jazz at the Kitano, and shopped around 5th, Madison, the Rockefeller, and Park Avenue. We also ate SOOOO much good food and drank a lot of wine. Check out the photos below; I’ve heard my mom is like, my twin or something? 🙂 Each of the photos has an individual caption if you click on them.

I hope to be writing two times a week, and I cannot wait to share this experience with you all. Be blessed, loves.

tess (1)

Honoring Your Body — What’s That All About?

What does it mean to “honor your body”? Does it look like dressing modestly, being ever aware of the opposite sexes’ eyes on you? After all, modest is hottest, amiright? Does it look like keeping your skin clean from unnecessary, self-indulgent piercings and tattoos? Does it mean refraining from sexual encounters until marriage?

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When you google “honor your body”, the first four hits are quite different. The first: a massage therapy place in Pittsburg. The second: a blog post from mindbodygreen about loving your body. The third: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 from BibleGateway. And the fourth: a poem about honoring your body’s signals from an eating disorder recovery website.

Could these hits be a little different?

I first heard the phrase in church, similar to the third website above. The popularly-quoted verse comes from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. I’ve quoted the New International Version (NIV) below, from BibleGateway:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

If there’s anything I learned in church, however, is that context is key. So, let’s expand our area of analysis to 1 Corinthians 6:15-25:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

………..That’s sharp. Weighty.

I’ve heard this verse used in many ways. Obviously, it discusses sexual immorality. I’ve also heard it used as arguments against body modifications, such as tattoos and piercings or even hair dye. I’ve seen it used with regard to dressing modestly, so as not to encourage others to have impure thoughts.

It’s a difficult term to wrestle with, that’s for sure. What is included in “body”–is it limited to the physical being? And is it possible that “honoring your body” could mean different things to different people?

I spent years hating my body. I spent years struggling to love myself–my body, mind, spirit, personality. I still struggle with that. Self-love is hard. I flip-flopped from don’t wear yoga pants because it causes men to have impure thoughts to wear whatever the fuck you want because you’re your own person, or you’re fat so you shouldn’t wear that to fuck what they think!! It’s exhausting, quite frankly.

Over the years, I’ve kind of realized that people are so wrapped up in worrying about what others will think of them that they forget to judge others. I spend the bulk of my time wondering what others will think of my outfit, my words, my art, my life, instead of just living my life. I worry what others think… while everyone else is worrying what I think of them.

People are so wrapped up in worrying about what others will think of them that they forget to judge others.

At the heart of it all, we want to be accepted as we are.

And I think that’s where “honoring your body” comes in.

All of that flip-flopping I’ve done exhausted my mind to such an extent that I think I just kind of broke one day, and stopped caring at all. I literally just stopped cold turkey. I don’t think it works that way for everyone, but it did for me; one day, I just got so exhausted by and annoyed with the notion that we must live up to this invisible, impossible standard to impress other humans and I just didn’t care anymore. I stopped dressing for other people, I stopped following rules imposed on me by others, I stopped caring about how my social media looked, I just stopped. I realized that I cared more about what thought of me than what others thought. 

So what does honoring your body look like?

For me, honoring my body looks like wearing whatever I truly feel comfortable in. That looks like not wearing a bra. That looks like saying no, sometimes. That looks like creating the time and space for yoga, cooking, singing, writing, reading, watching Grey’s Anatomy. That means acknowledging that I am a dynamic being with interests that are always changing.

Maybe, for you, it means finally going for that dream you’ve been too scared of, because it’s difficult financially or your family doesn’t support it. Maybe it means travelling. Maybe it means being brave enough to recognize when you’ve had enough of a negative, toxic relationship. Maybe it means recognizing that you aren’t ready to wear certain clothes, but you’d like to one day, so you’re taking your time allowing yourself to be comfortable in your own skin. Feeling your true emotions, not what you think is right, is an exercise in honoring your body.

“Honoring your body” means staying true to your thoughts and feelings. That means listening to when you want to do something and when you don’t, in any sense of the word–sexually or otherwise. That means listening and responding when you hear someone give you instructions that don’t line up with your values. When you truly open your eyes to this, people are preaching messages everywhere–in houses of religion, in politics, in education, in the workplace, in grocery stores and Targets. Notice when you are being told something that doesn’t resound as true for you, and respond accordingly. Walk away, confront it, work to change it. Question your surroundings.

I think it’s one of life’s great challenges, and it’s really, really, really hard to do, but it’s one of our sacred callings as human beings. I mean, we tell others to do this all the time, but then judge and gossip behind closed doors when this is fleshed out in reality.

I think that means we have to check ourselves.

Honor your body by speaking highly of others. Honor your body by only surrounding yourself with people who lift you up–you know when you are around those kinds of people; your energy just feels like it’s on the same field as theirs. Honor your body by honoring others’ bodies.

How do you honor your body? What rules and boundaries do you have for yourself that you hold true to? What’s the hardest part of it for you? I’d love to hear your story and walk with you on your journey of health and redemption.

tess (1)

Growth, Constants, and Uncomfortability: An Exercise in Listening to Ourselves

PrefaceAs I wrote this post, I was unsure where to begin. I began and rewrote and scratched out and deleted over and over again. The final post is much longer than typical posts, so stick with me to see my thoughts on these last two years of my life, some things I’ve learned, and where I’m going next.

First: hello! It’s been a few (intentional) months. I took some time away from this space to both reevaluate its place in my life and create a new vision for where I want it to go.

When I began this blog, I was about to make the biggest change in my life to date: I was moving from Minneapolis to Denver, a 900+ mile move, for college. I was going alone, with no real idea of what my life would look like in the coming months. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I would be forced to grow. To evolve. To question, to dream, to fight.

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I am writing this piece at one of my favorite coffee shops in Denver, Backstage Coffee. I used to study here solo and with friends a few times a week–it’s on 14th Street, just two blocks off of the famous 16th Street, and it’s located at the heart of the Theatre District. I thought it poetic, almost, that I write about how much I have grown since moving here two and a half years ago in this treasured, old space of mine.

Growth has always been an important part of my life. I try to stare doubts in the face and laugh–without growth, we rot. We stay stagnant.

I refuse to rot.

I refuse to rot.

And of course, growth is hard.

We like to believe that our lives have constants: whether that be relationships, places, routines, jobs, beliefs…. Essentially, we assume that our lives are constant, unless we make the conscious choice to change those constants.

But our constants can always fall away. One of the foundational beliefs of Buddhism is that suffering exists because we assume our lives to be constant–we get our happiness from these constants, but in reality, these things can all change in a matter of seconds.

Accidents happen. We get laid off. Relationships end. These things happen unexpectedly, and our world is absolutely rocked to the core.

And that’s when the growth happens.

I experienced that kind of soul-shaking a number of times when I lived in Denver, and it caught me completely off-guard every time. It was an intensely difficult time of growth for me, and it brought me to a very uncomfortable conclusion, and consequently, a question:

Everything I assume is constant, truly, is not. This brought me to Are there any true constants we can rely on?

I still don’t know the answer to that question.

It is a dreadfully uncomfortable realization, isn’t it? Routines, beliefs, relationships, hobbies, jobs, habits, and similar comforts are so easy to rely on. The things we hold true might not always be that way for us. Even things such as the choices we make for our wardrobes are comforting, let alone practices such as a religion.

So then, what defines us, if not for these things? How do we find value in ourselves, in others? 

I don’t have these answers. But I have learned to find comfort in being a wandering soul, if you will. I have grown to find comfort in the knowledge that I am not a constant being. I am a fluid, sacred, nomadic soul, as are you.

I am a fluid, sacred, nomadic soul, as are you.

Take me, for example. Two and a half years ago, I moved to Denver with the intent to graduate in the spring of 2019 with a degree in International Studies. Live in Denver. Get married, have kids, and work a job that makes me (hopefully) happy.

Last year, I moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, with the intent to graduate in the spring of 2019 from a different university with a degree in Social Work. Get married. Travel. Maybe have kids. Work a job that will make me happy.

Six months ago, I finally realized that maybe I am not meant to live a typical life with a four-year Bachelor’s degree, a 9-5 job, two kids, and a yard for our dog. In fact, I shudder when I think of these things. I have wondered for many years if there might be another path for me, but it’s so fucking scary to take those steps and actually do something different.

We are so quick to assign life paths for ourselves, aren’t we? We are not taught to challenge the progression of K-12, college, work, marriage, and kids. Have you ever wondered if there are parts of this that shouldn’t apply to you? I remember the first time I realized I could choose to not have kids during my freshman year of college–which is an obvious notion, but it was not until college that it actually occurred to me I could just… not be a mother someday.

And it’s all nice to talk about and say, yes! I agree with that! Not everyone must attain a college degree and have children! but how do we react when people actually choose other routes? Oftentimes, there’s the idea that they won’t reach their full potential. That they maybe weren’t academically successful. They probably won’t make a lot of money, and will probably be unhappy and regret their young decisions.

When I completed my second year of college at my second university, I didn’t recognize myself. I was kind of a shell of a person, just kind of going through the motions that were expected of me. I was, at the most basic level, unhappy with my life.

So, I decided to do what I knew in my heart of hearts I should do:

I took a gap year (or more?) to reevaluate. To travel. To search for myself again.

And I have done these things. I am still doing these things! I traveled to India and taught in a slum school. I swam in the ocean on the southern California coast with a friend from Denver. I attended the homecoming football game at Stanford with a friend from India. I drove to Iowa and Wisconsin. I visited Denver for the first time since moving away. Next month, I am spending two days with my mom in New York City before embarking on my three-month solo backpacking trip through Europe. This fall, I found a love of yoga (yes, really). I embraced a fully vegan lifestyle. I purchased a new D-SLR camera that I’m learning how to use. I did not settle for a job I felt stuck in, and instead switched to a fulfilling job with coworkers I love. I spent a lot of time alone.

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watching the sunset on carlsbad beach in california
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at the staford homecoming football game with hamzeh
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from the rooftop of a cafe in jaipur, india
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grace, mary grace, & i with vegan pastries in denver, colorado
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the banks of the st. croix river, wisconsin

As for this blog, I will be writing twice a week, on topics that I’ve found a passion for. I am focusing specifically on ethical/conscious living, including topics such as minimalism, intentional eating, conscious fashion choices, emotional and mental health, spiritual fulfillment, and the like.

I don’t know what I will be doing in the fall. Perhaps I will return to school. Maybe I’ll just stay in Europe. Maybe I’ll audition for Disneyland in Paris or Anaheim, or maybe I’ll become a certified doula. There are a million possibilities, and my encouragement to you is to take a moment and listen to your body. I did that, and I have not regretted it for one second.

Ask yourself these questions:

Are you surrounded by people who make a positive influence in your life?

Are you where you want to be? Are you where you’d thought you’d be?

Are you where you want to be physically? Emotionally? Mentally? Spiritually?

Are you happy?

If not, why?

As cliche as it is, we really do only have this one life (that we know of). We have a sacred obligation to serve ourselves and others in the truest, best way we know how.

 

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The Soul Year: Confronting Expectations, Redefining Success, and Laughing in Failure’s Face

Hello everyone! It’s been a hot minute.

I’m intentionally taking a step back from my blog right now, to refocus my life on what’s truly important and what I want this space to look like moving forward.

That being said, I’ve been talking to other young twenty-somethings from around the world over the past few months, and I’ve made some maybe-conclusions (???) about a few things.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m taking a break from college right now, for at least a year. Before I made this decision, I spoke with professors, classmates, friends, family members, and other mentors for guidance. Many cautioned against taking a year (or more) off, warning that I wouldn’t return. That I wouldn’t “reach my potential”. That I wouldn’t be happy.

Ultimately, however, the decision was mine alone, and I knew it was necessary.

Calling this a “gap year” doesn’t really seem right, so I’m opting to call it a soul year. A year (or more) where I can truly listen to my heart, without feeling like everything I do should be resume-worthy, grad-school-application-worthy, or interview-worthy.  Instead, I just want my life to feel worthy. 

Finding a new home can be difficult. It doesn't have to be.

There are so many expectations placed upon us at such a young age. Our lives are essentially laid out for us from birth: SchoolCollegeJobMarriageKidsDeath. With some other stuff in there, maybe.

Instead, I just want my life to feel worthy. 

I thought about taking a year off before I began college. I thought about it again after my freshman year. After my sophomore year of college, I knew I had to just take the leap and do it.

I was drained.

Annoyed.

Tired.

Wrestling with feelings of unworthiness, sadness, and failure.

As someone who always performed well academically, I was incredibly weighed down by expectations of greatness. I placed expectations on myself that were influenced by society and adults I admired, both of which spoke goodness and failure into my life.

I wrestled with questions like Does an accomplishment matter if it isn’t grand enough for my resume? If I can’t write a twenty-page research paper about it with twelve APA sources and six points to prove my argument? and The major I’ve chosen won’t result in a high paycheck…. is there still a point in majoring in it if it’s not impressive? It got to a point where I was constantly comparing my accomplishments to others’. I was deeply unhappy at school, and I felt as though I could never do enough.

I was deeply unhappy at school, and I felt as though I could never do enough.

On the flip side, if I took some time off, it’s statistically unlikely that I would return to school. This meant that I was signing up for a lower salary, less scholarship money when I did return, graduating later than my peers, and being labeled as a “college dropout”.

Both sides seemed dreadfully undesirable.

Eventually, I knew I had to make a decision. I chose by mentally placing myself in both arenas. The first: remaining a full-time social work student, overwhelmed by comparison and questions. The second: working full-time, traveling, and making intentional time for the pursuit of new hobbies and self-development.

The choice became clear.

I am choosing to make this year about personal development. I want to stare the questions, the comparisons, the doubts that constantly plague my mind right in the face. I want to develop new hobbies and invest time in the things I already know I love. I want to learn to let go of both material and emotional baggage. I want to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.

I want to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.

Then came a bigger question: how will I define personal success, if not through academic accomplishments?

My entire life has been categorized and defined by awards, scholarships, roles in theatre, titles in after-school clubs, and report cards. How would I feel successful without such a definitive measurement of it?

I’m still figuring out the answer to this question.

Here’s what I have learned so far, though, and a bit of advice for those who also feel stuck.

We all have expectations, both internal and external.

It’s not wrong to have expectations. I think they’re a good thing, actually. Another word for this is goals, which we all know I’m a huge fan of (hehehe). Before I went to India in August, I made a list of goals for this fall that I wanted to work toward. I refined the list when I returned, and added a list of hobbies I wanted to pursue, some personal development questions I wanted to answer, and a sort of bucket list for these few months.

The key is to recognize when expectations become unhealthy. I expected myself to graduate with a degree in International Studies from the University of Denver in the spring of 2019, and y’all, that is not what happened (PTL, amiright?). When I transferred and was still unhappy, I realized that perhaps it was not solely the school environment that I was uncomfortable with. So, I adjusted my personal expectations, and I’m ignoring societal expectations, for now.

Be gentle with yourself.

I was brokenhearted when I realized by big dream of living in Denver was not going to be realized. I was confused when I transferred and still hated school. I was in love when I traveled, and that’s all I knew. I’ve fallen in love with many more things over the past few months, and I’m still falling.

I think the most jarring thing about this whole process was realizing that the plan I’d made for myself a little over two years ago was so, completely, wholly wrong. And it’s taken me a long, long, long time to come to terms with this. At first, I bullied myself into staying in school, because I felt as though I wouldn’t be successful without a degree. After a while, I learned that having a mean spirit won’t get you anywhere either. Recognize when you are pushing yourself too hard.

Follow your heart.

Fam, I’m not trying to be cliche. At all. But had I stuck with my original plan, I would be dreadfully unhappy.

So, instead, I listened to my heart. I spoke to my soul. I responded to the whispers from the universe. I now work in the customer service industry, which I love. I get to meet new people and have interesting conversations and talk all day at work and honestly, the energy from other people fuels my happiness more than the energy from textbooks.

I am endlessly thankful for the opportunities I am provided every day to improve myself, even if I am uncomfortable and stretched and awkward in the process. There isn’t really a way to do this thing smoothly, is there? (If you know how, hmu pls.)

And finally, the biggest thing I’ve learned: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Literally, everyone is comparing their accomplishments to everyone else’s. There are SO. MANY. PEOPLE. who are unhappily running through life at a million-mile-an-hour pace because that’s how we operate here in America.

Breathe.

Love.

Find joy in small moments.

We’re all having this crazy experience of life together, and we need to support each other. Know that there are other paths and opportunities for you, if you allow them to come into your life. Hear this: You will never be alone in any of this. Your heart will not lead you astray–let’s listen in together.

Wait to Date: Why the “Date-to-Marry” Mentality Can Be Toxic

For all of high school, I subscribed to the belief that dating without the intention of marriage is pointless. Why would you waste your time with a significant other if you couldn’t see yourself marrying them? Why invest time, money, emotions, resources, etc. if you didn’t picture a future with them?

This largely stemmed from my religious practices in high school. I was (and still am) Christian, and I read a lot of books by Christian women who advised dating only when ready for marriage, whenever that may be. I followed Christian influencers on social media who had similar ideas. I knew all the sayings and quotes about saving yourself (sexually or otherwise) for the right guy. I had conversation upon conversation with my Christian female friends about “protecting your heart” and “praying for guidance” when it comes to dating and marriage.

Essentially, I was the girl waving the flag shouting, “ALL RELATIONSHIPS END IN BREAKUP OR MARRIAGE!!!!” 

Which, at its core, is true. Romantic relationships will, inevitably, end in a breakup or a marriage (unless you take a break or don’t believe in marriage or a thousand other scenarios, but I’m talking conventional here). I do still sometimes give this advice to younger girls who ask me for it.

I also know I am not the only girl (or guy) who has adopted this approach to dating. The Internet is full of hercampus and the Odyssey articles about this topic. There are checklists titled things like “differences between the girl you date and the woman you marry”. There are formulas for “dating the right way” and how-tos for “dating to marry”. There are thinkpieces on when it’s appropriate to let your children date, because you want them to be marriage-ready when they first step off your stoop and into a car with someone else.

Newsflash: there is no one formula that will get you the perfect relationship. There is not a checklist, an equation, a perfect approach.

I have come to realize that there are some very toxic mentalities that accompany this “date to marry” mindset, and I am here to lay some of those out today. And as always, all opinions and experiences expressed are mine… if you had a different experience than I did, that’s awesome! I’d love to hear about it. These are my thoughts on this, and we can differ. What a privilege to be human and different, amiright?!

Why the -Date-To-Marry- Mentality can be Toxic

I didn’t date until the very end of my senior year, and it was a short relationship that ended before I moved to Colorado (while he’d be staying in Minnesota). My second relationship started soon after, the autumn right after I moved to Colorado. Although it was also relatively short, it was brimming with passion and probably-too-soon “I-love-yous” and planning for the future together, like, two months in. In fact, all of my relationships have followed this path: falling for each other incredibly quickly, saying “I love you” in a matter of weeks, planning for the future waaaaaayyyy too soon, etc. Then when we would break up (after only a few months), it was heartbreaking. Soul-crushing. Absolutely, downright horrible.

For a long time, I wondered what I was doing wrong.

I was invested. I was loving. I tried to spend time with them, to plan, to pray, to align my dreams with theirs. Wasn’t I doing everything right?

I started to notice something. I see a cute guy and RIGHT AWAY I am already picturing our wedding, our five kids, the photos of our world travels adorning the walls of our kitchen. And I’m sure some of that is just personality: I’m a dreamer, a planner, and a wedding lover. I can’t help it! But one day, after relationship after relationship was failing, I realized something:

The “date-to-marry” mentality puts too high of expectations on imperfect people in a new relationship.

You’re both figuring the other person out. You’re both stumbling through life. So you found someone similar enough to spend this time in your life with–that’s fantastic! Now spend this time with them, and let the future come when it does.

Spend this time with them, and let the future come when it does.

For the control freaks in the room (aka me!!), that’s fucking scary. You want to control the future ASAP. You want to lock them in (lol), get that commitment, hear that “I love you”. You don’t have time for games, you want need this one to be The One.

Below, I’ve listed some bullet points that include advice, reminders, suggestions, and tips for dating without this expectation of marriage. And of course, there is a time and place to talk about the future, especially as your relationship grows lengthier and you start to blend your lives more and more. But don’t let that become the main theme. Don’t begin talking about marriage two months in. Don’t get caught up in expectations.

Things to Consider, Advice, Mistakes and Lessons… etc.

1. Dating more than one person allows you the space to figure out what you want — and what you don’t — in a significant other.

If you date one person and end up marrying them, that’s so amazing and I am so so so happy for you! You’re pretty much living my high school dream life, lol.

BUT for the rest of us whose first relationships didn’t work out…. that’s okay. I learned lot from my past relationships. I learned so much about myself, and what I need to work on. I learned about what kind of expectations are realistic… and what isn’t. And best of all, I got to know another person. Isn’t that the entire point of life? To form relationships and make memories and enrich your life the best you can?

2. Learn to let go of some control.

This is always so hard for me to hear, but it’s so so so necessary:

Having too much control is never a good thing.

Allow the relationship to run its course… whether it’s awesome or shitty, or maybe (probably) both. Just enjoy it! Don’t worry about whether or not (s)he’s The One. If he/she has a habit that annoys you, don’t sit up nights journaling about whether or not that’s a dealbreaker or will fuck up your kids in the future or whatnot. Honestly, just let the relationship happen. Enjoy getting to know the other person! You are into someone else and someone else is into you! Isn’t that just amazing in and of itself?!

My advice for this? Don’t blend your lives too quickly. Y’all don’t need to be into all the same things, do everything together, or even have the same core values (unless that’s hella important to you… which then by all means, stick to your guns!!!). I actually had a guy once mention my love for poetry slams while we were breaking up. Like?????? That’s why I have poet friends?????

Let the relationship happen. Don’t force the future. If it’s meant to be, it will be. Rest in that.

3. Don’t!!! Save!!! All!!! Your!!! Firsts!!! For!!! One!!! Person!!!

What is a “first”?

This could be anything, but I know HELLA people do this.

A “first” could be physical/sexual, experiential (visiting places, etc), relational (saying “I love you”, etc), or anything else you consider to be significant.

Banking all your relationship “firsts” on one person is not only stressful for both parties involved, but it’s a hotbed for shame, regret, and heartache if 1) the experience doesn’t live up to what you’ve built it up to be in your head and 2) you break up. Here’s the truth of life: some relationships just don’t work out. If you saved everything for one person and you break up, how will you feel? I know I felt used. Angry. Broken. Like I’d wasted everything I’d always considered important on the “wrong person”. Honestly, I felt dumb.

In addition, if you saved firsts for someone with the expectation that someone else would be waiting for you too, you honestly never know that you’ll find that. Ask yourself honestly: if you knew you’d be saving your firsts for someone who wasn’t, would you be saving them? This could honestly be anything from sex to roadtripping. Decide what you’re waiting to experience because it’s important for you, versus you want someone else to have that first with you too. Because truthfully, that may never happen. Will you be disappointed if you saved your firsts and they didn’t?

4. There’s nothing wrong with expectations… but check yourself.

The “date-to-marry” mentality, at least for me, has always bred SERIOUS expectations. This is in both myself and the other person.

In the other person, you might subconsciously expect that they’re instantly going to be this incredible person that’s just made of spouse material. They will put you first. Love you unconditionally. Incredibly. You will be their first priority behind God.

In yourself, you expect that your firsts will be with them (see no. 3). You expect that you’ll have this amazing, movie-like connection. You’ll prioritize them, love them endlessly, become instant spouse-material (as if you weren’t already!!!).

As Joshua Fields Millburn from the Minimalists said in a podcast I heard yesterday:

Lower your expectations, but raise your standards.

There is nothing wrong with expecting certain things from your significant other. This might be amount of time spent together, the way they treat you alone or in front of others, how much you have in common, the amount of money they spend on you, literally anything.

But you have to recognize that they (and you!!!) will mess up. No one is perfect. And if you live your life with this “date-to-marry” mentality, when they inevitably mess up, you’ll be left gasping for air, wondering if this is really right. If they’re really The One. You’ll be crushed, because your expectations were too high. If you’re thinking about marriage from square one, is there really isn’t room for mistakes? Is there really room to wonder if the other person isn’t right?

5. And finally, know this: being in love more than once is okay.

It’s possible.

You aren’t used up.

You are not a slut.

Love isn’t constricted to one person. I remember once Googling “is it possible to love more than one person in a lifetime” when the first guy I loved had been in love with someone else before and I was terrified that he wouldn’t be able to fully love me.

What???????

I laugh looking back at that. But honestly, it’s a true fear I had. Ladies (and gentlemen and any other people of other genders), hear this: it’s okay to be in love more than once. In fact, it’s pretty fucking common. It’s normal as hell. You’re amazing and worthy of love from more than one person.


All in all, I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences with dating to marry. That mindset has NOT worked for me, and I wanted to caution others away from this mentality. But again, these are my opinions, thoughts, and experiences. If you had other experiences, that is so awesome. I’m so glad for you, honestly! But for those of you who have had relationships fall apart, I wrote this for you. If you’ve ever felt like you wasted your love, I wrote this for you. If you ever had your expectations come back and hit you hard in the face, I wrote this for you.

I’ve been there, and it’s not fun. It’s pretty fucking shitty. But know that you will find happiness. You will find happiness. You will find happiness.

You’re fucking gold. Hear that today.