It’s All Connected

DSCN0425For as long as I can remember, I’ve been more fascinated by the connections between things—people, places, events, thoughts, emotions, etc.—than by the things themselves. For me, it’s always been about the journey between points A and B. As a result of my fascination (okay, to be honest it’s more of an obsession) with connecting paths, I immediately start looking for the next path—the next connection—as soon as I’ve arrived at some destination or another.

It’s not surprising then that connections are at the heart of virtually all of my creative interests. Chain mail, wire-wrapping, stained glass, needlepoint: these are all art forms that are based on connections. When I weave chain, I strive to close each individual ring perfectly so the connections appear seamless. When wire wrapping, I strive for tight, even wraps that look as beautiful as they are strong. The key to a structurally sound and visually striking stained glass panel is all in the solder joints; and needlework is essentially painting a picture with colored thread, one stitch at a time. Even my interest in dressage, which requires a finely tuned physical, mental, and emotional connection between horse and rider, is more about the connection between horse and rider for me than winning ribbons. Professionally as a project manager, I rely heavily on connections and dependencies to create order out of chaos and to keep forward momentum going even while connections are missed or broken.

Some people call it wanderlust. Many have accused me of being flaky. When I was younger, I used to think of it as a thirst for adventure and knowledge. Today I realized that all I’ve ever sought was to make sense of a seemingly chaotic world, and the best way I’ve found to do that is through understanding the ties that bind one thing to another. One heart to another. One event to an emotion. One planet to a solar system. It’s always the connection between two points that make any point relevant, and the answers that we seek are almost always found in the space between the mile markers of our lives.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m in the process of purging several boxes of old paperwork that date back to the years I lived in Alaska. It was in the eleven years I lived in that wild and beautiful state that I grew up. Sure, I was raised in a small town in southeastern Colorado, but I left that town with a childish and immature head filled with theoretical answers to questions I didn’t fully understand—questions that couldn’t be answered through any means but practical life experience. It was during those critical years in my 20s and 30s that I was free to truly explore who I am and how I fit into this strange world in which I live—a world I never truly felt connected to until I stripped away everything I thought I knew and threw myself into a completely foreign and unknown environment.

I moved to Alaska on a whim when I was just 24 years old. Today, some twenty years later, I realize that my journey to Alaska was inevitable; but at the time it seemed crazy and impulsive and wildly irresponsible. I quit a steady job, listed my house (which I’d just recently purchased) for sale, and moved 3,000 miles northwest to Seward, Alaska where I planned to marry a man I barely knew. We met while I was on vacation that spring, and after a whirlwind romance and two months of long distance phone calls, I found myself driving the Al-Can Highway, bound for Alaska where I didn’t know a soul except for the man I’d agreed to marry. Before we made it half way through Canada, I realized I didn’t even know him.

That romance didn’t work out, but it was the catalyst for an eleven-year love affair with nature and the most intense period of personal growth I’ve experienced until recently. If I could give one piece of advice to young people today, I would recommend that they do exactly what I did—take a wild leap into a strange environment where nothing and no one is familiar, and learn how to interact with that strange new environment.

As I’ve unpacked those boxes of old paperwork, I’ve rediscovered pieces of my past that I haven’t thought about in a long time. I’ve found old journals, letters, and emails that have reminded me of some of the amazing connective discoveries I made during those years. I’ve gotten back in touch with the adventurous young woman I once was. I’ve marveled at the tremendous strength and fortitude it took for me to get back on my feet after a devastating loss, and I’ve been both surprised and amused by the turbulence of my emotions through those years.

One significant advantage of being single through that period of my life is that I was free to indulge in some incredibly intense self-examination, and I think I came out of those years with a far better understanding of myself than most people achieve by their mid-30s because of that freedom. What’s most fascinating to me about those years, though, is how simply and elegantly I traced connections between certain formative people and experiences from my childhood and the new people and experiences I had in Alaska. Reading through those old journals and letters reminded me of one of my favorite Confucius quotes:

And remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

We rarely recognize without the benefit of hindsight that the places we go and the people we meet are all part of a much bigger picture. We tend to believe—especially in those critical formative years of our 20s and 30s—that we’re alone in a chaotic world and that we’re subject to seemingly random events that shake us to the core. As someone obsessed with connections, however, I can assure you that there is far more order than chaos in this world and that very little that happens to you is truly random. It’s important  to be goal oriented, but don’t forget to pay attention to the space between your goals, for there along the paths that connect one goal to the next is where you will truly discover who you are and what you’re made of.

Life is short. Do what you love. Celebrate your achievements, but don’t forget to simply enjoy the journey.

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