Laptops & Tablets & Smartphones, Oh My!

I spent nine years of my former life as a corporate drone working for a telecom company in Alaska. During that period, the company went on to become one of the first fully integrated telecom service providers in the country. Professionally, those were some of the best years of my career. Personally? Not so much.

I was wired to the hilt. Even back then when wireless technology was relatively new and still extremely limited in rural Alaska, I was virtually accessible to my employer around the clock. I worked from home. I worked from the office. I traveled to some of the most remote regions of the state, and I was always tethered to my job by technology.

To say my personal life suffered would be to imply that I actually had a personal life. I didn’t. I was married to my job, and not necessarily unhappily so. Not for the first seven or eight years, anyway; but as unbalanced marriages inevitably do, mine eventually crumbled. I was struck with the harsh realization on a redeye flight home to Alaska after visiting family in Colorado that, for someone so thoroughly connected through technology, I was woefully disconnected from the things that actually matter in life: friends, family, nature–the kinds of relationships that actually feed a spirit rather than isolate the spirit with the illusion of connectedness while slowly starving it to death.

That startling realization marked the beginning of the end of my marriage to my employer. I quit my job a few months later, and I spent most of the following year getting reacquainted with myself. I disconnected all but the most essential communication services, and I refocused all of my attention on things that actually mattered, like my hopes, dreams, and creative impulses. I also moved back to Colorado that year, and thank goodness I did because I’d have never met and married my husband had I not cut those cords.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my return to Colorado. Ten years of being mostly unplugged from technology, and now I find myself being steadily reeled back into that tangled web. I suppose that’s a hazard of starting an online business–or any business, for that matter. This time, though, I’m determined to maintain a much healthier work/life balance because this time I do have a personal life. And a pretty wonderful one at that.

 

 

Advertisements

Jeanne’s Jewelry

Sometimes you just know. It’s the perfect fit. The perfect color. You’ve finally met the right guy (after dating far too many of the wrong guys for more years than you care to admit). Whatever it is, the knowledge that it’s right rings through me like a bell–it’s an unmistakable sensation of vibration that I feel in my gut.

This sort of sensation doesn’t happen often when it comes to jewelry, but it did happen with this particular piece. By the time I made this necklace, I’d known my best friend Jenn for a few years, and I’d had the good fortune to meet her wonderful parents, Jim and Jeanne Snyder, a few times. I never got to know the Snyders as well as I’d have liked, but I always enjoyed spending time with them when they came to visit their daughter and grandson in Colorado.

303347_3671647671495_1559578393_nWhen I finished this particular necklace, I knew immediately that Jeanne was its rightful owner. That unmistakable hum rang through my body and Jeanne’s name popped into my head. She’d wanted me to make something for her for a while by this point, but I hadn’t been able to come up with anything that I felt suited her. When I started making this necklace, I didn’t have anyone in particular in mind. The moment it was finished, though, it basically told me it was for Jeanne. It’s funny how intuition works. It’s impossible to explain, and it always sort of surprises me when I get such strong intuitive kicks in the gut, but I’ve learned to simply accept them as the divine guidance they’ll inevitably reveal themselves to be in hindsight at some point down the road.

In addition to being my best friend, Jenn is also my muse when it comes to jewelry design. We have similar styles and interests, which certainly helps, but it’s more than that. There’s just something about her that inspires me to create some pretty fabulous designs. Three of my all-time favorite pieces of jewelry happen to be pieces I made for her. It’s also through jewelry that I formed an important connection with Jenn’s mom. Jeanne always admired my jewelry and encouraged me to sell my work. As she had a strong design background, I appreciated her support and encouragement more than she’d ever know.

Sadly, Jeanne passed away last year, so I never got the chance to properly thank her for encouraging me to pursue jewelry making full time. When I finally decided to get off the fence and open Door 44 Jewelry a couple of months ago, however, I did so with a strong sense that Jeanne would approve. It may be too late to personally thank Jeanne Snyder for her support and encouragement where my craft is concerned, but it’s never too late to honor our guiding angels.

I never made this design again after I made Jeanne’s necklace because I felt so strongly that it was her design. In talking with Jenn, though, I realized that Jeanne would want me to share her design. And then it happened again–that intuitive kick in the gut–I knew immediately how I could share Jeanne’s design and honor her memory in a meaningful way: Jeanne’s Jewelry!

I’ve created a special section at Door 44 Jewelry called Jeanne’s Jewelry. This section will be regularly stocked with pieces based on Jeanne’s original necklace design along with a selection of other pieces of my work that I know Jeanne would have loved. 25% of the purchase price of all Jeanne’s jewelry will be donated to her favorite charity: the St. Vincent De Paul Society of Ann Arbor. All donations will be made in loving memory of Dr. James C. Snyder and Jeanne Snyder, beloved parents, grandparents, friends, and life-long patrons of the arts.

I Have a Thing for Connections

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt compelled to connect the dots all around me. As a child, I remember observing strange and erratic behavior in many of the adults in my life. My childhood was, well… let’s just say it was chaotic at best. The way that I coped with the chaos is that I learned to order it.

I started paying attention to the nature of cause and effect, and the more I paid attention to those things, the more I began to see how all things are connected. The more I understood those connections, the more I was able to create some semblance of order in a world that could erupt in chaos at any moment.

Creating jewelry is, for me, a personal expression of my understanding of connections. I suppose that’s why I’m so intensely (perhaps even compulsively) drawn to art forms that involve connections. As I look around at my workspace and the materials I choose to work with, what jumps out at me is that they all have one thing in common: they’re all used for various forms of weaving.

The chains I weave are intricately connected together, link by link, in various forms that are as pleasing to the eye and to touch as they are mechanically strong and sound. The wire work that I do is similar to basket weaving in that it allows me to create forms that are both functional and beautiful. More importantly, it allows me to create forms that will last. Pieces that are timeless.

As I begin my foray into working with knotting cords and micro macramé, I find myself once again exploring an art form that centers on connections. What starts out on my workbench as a chaotic jumble of individual cords gradually comes together to form a cohesive, ordered design. The sum of those once chaotic and disconnected individual parts join together as one to create a beautifully ordered and functional whole.

 

I create jewelry in order to make sense of the chaos around me. And through the process of creating, I rediscover daily how I am connected to everything and everyone else around me. When you like a piece of Door 44 Jewelry that you see on Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter, I feel an instant connection to you. When you buy a piece of Door 44 Jewelry, I’m acutely aware of all the connections that might come from that single exchange–from my hands to yours–for better or worse.

Perhaps that piece will go on to form another link in a chain of sisterhood, from your hands to those of someone you love. Maybe even on through multiple generations from you to a daughter, granddaughter, or niece who may pass it on again to the next generation of women of your family–all of whom will be irrevocably connected to me and perhaps my own daughter, should she choose to follow in my footsteps.

Jewelry, as it turns out, is a wonderful means for me to connect with my 12-year-old stepdaughter. We’ve only known one another for about three years now, and we still have a great deal to learn about each other. But I do know for certain that we share a common love of jewelry. Teaching her to make jewelry and to appreciate it is proving to be perhaps the most powerful path toward an unbreakable bond that we share at this fragile phase of our mother/daughter relationship.

A dear friend got me thinking today about why I make jewelry, and what (ultimately) I hope to achieve by sharing my jewelry with you. I realized that the heart of the matter is this: Our mutual love and appreciation for beauty is what binds us together. We may have disparate political ideologies or wildly different world views that seem to divide us. What inevitably binds us together, though–what restores our sense of connectedness–is a return to those essential elements of life for which we all share a mutual appreciation: love, beauty and harmony. Sisterhood. Compassion…

 

Jewelry is all about connections, and I have a thing for connections.

Thanks for allowing me to connect with you today.

Three Steps to a Drama-Free Life

I’m ashamed to admit that there was a time in my life when I was addicted to drama. I’d stir it up in my relationships. I’d engage in it with gossipy coworkers and friends. I’d continually find ways to get myself spinning in drama just so I could complain about how drama seemed to dominate my life. 2005 marked a major turning point for me and my relationship with drama, however. That was the year I decided it was time to break the addiction before it completely destroyed my chances of living a happy and meaningful life.

Since then, I have been systematically eliminating all sources of drama from my life. De-dramatizing your life is easier than you might think, but it does require an unwavering commitment to your own peace of mind above all else. This is perhaps the biggest challenge because, as you work through the process, you’ll have to make the painful choice to break up with certain friends and family members who have probably been with you your entire life.

Step 1: Identify the Toxic People in Your Life

You may be surprised by how many toxic people you interact with on a daily basis, and it will undoubtedly be difficult to admit that those interactions are not serving you well. This is perhaps the hardest step of the process, but it’s absolutely necessary that you examine each and every relationship you have with friends, family, and coworkers to determine its level of toxicity.

This step also involves a considerable amount of introspection, so be prepared to discover the ways in which you either stir up the drama in your relationships or react when the toxic people in your life push your buttons. It’s not a pleasant process, I know, but it’s absolutely necessary if you hope to break free of this addiction.

Once you’ve identified the toxic relationships in your life, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Pick Your Poison

This step requires a tremendous amount of fortitude, but it’s absolutely crucial to your success. Once you’ve identified the toxic people in your life, it’s time to start sorting and prioritizing those relationships. You can do this any way you like, but I’m all about efficiency. As soon as I realized that I wanted–needed, actually–to break my addiction to drama, I sorted my relationships into two categories: salvageable and unsalvageable.

Harsh, you say? Absolutely, but this is serious business. Drama eats away at your soul. It distracts you from what’s really important, and it keeps you from achieving your full potential. It’s also the primary means through which cycles of abuse are perpetuated from one generation to the next. You owe it to yourself and especially to your children to break those cycles so you can be free to build healthier and happier home environments.

Step 3: Prune and Shape The Branches of Your Life

If you’re a gardener you no doubt understand the necessity of pruning and shaping if you want your garden to flourish. Your personal relationships create an environment not unlike a garden, so the analogy of pruning and shaping is a good one to apply here. It’s time to cut away the deadwood. For me, that means cutting my ties to those relationships in the unsalvageable category.

Pruning relationships with toxic acquaintances and those on the fringes of your inner circle is as easy as removing them from your contacts list or unfollowing them on Facebook. When it comes to your inner circle, however, you’ll have to make some very difficult choices. Some of those choices will be painful. Some may temporarily set you back professionally, but every toxic relationship you prune away will make space in the garden of your life for healthier and more fulfilling relationships to grow and flourish.

I’ve quit jobs where the management was unsupportive, ineffective, or oppressive. I’ve broken up with life-long friends as soon as I realized that our relationships were out of balance. In one case, it became plainly evident that an old high school “friend” never truly respected me or valued my friendship. In another case (and this one broke my heart) one of my oldest and dearest childhood friends mercilessly harassed and bullied a mutual acquaintance who came forward with allegations of sexual assault against one of our former teachers. I can’t tolerate bullies under any circumstances, but this situation was particularly intolerable because the bully knows the allegations are true, as do I.

Relatives, of course, can be particularly tricky to prune as these relationships are old growth. They’ve been a part of your life since birth, but the question you need to ask yourself is do they contribute to your wellbeing, or do they just bring stress and drama into your life?

My husband and I are approaching our two-year anniversary this fall, and these past two years have been perhaps the most enlightening years of my life. The remarkably healthy and fulfilling relationship I have with my husband and his family has forced me to critically examine the unhealthy and dysfunctional dynamics of my own family. And now that I am a parent, I’ve been forced to acknowledge that certain members of my family simply can not be trusted around my daughter.

In a perfect world, no relationship would be unsalvageable, but in the real world, you can only control one side of any relationship, and that’s your side. You can’t control the way that others behave, and if they’re determined to bully and abuse you, your only real choice is to cut the cord. This is essentially what I have been doing for the past two years. I’d already pruned most of the toxic friends and coworkers from my life when I started dating my husband in 2013, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I found the strength to prune my familial relationships. There are two particularly angry and bitter bullies in my family with whom I had to cut off all contact for my own sake as well as for my daughter’s sake. One of those two is stubbornly resistant to letting go, but when her attempts to provoke me continue to be ignored, she’ll eventually move on to bullying more reactive members of our family.

Life it too short for drama. It’s one thing to heal or repair salvageable relationships, but there’s no honor in maintaining toxic relationships. There’s nothing to be gained by allowing yourself to be the target for someone’s bitterness or repressed rage. Your children don’t stand to gain anything from witnessing abusive family dynamics, or worse, by being targeted by abusive family members. Sometimes choosing to walk away is the healthiest choice you can make. And for all their howling and righteous indignation, even those you choose to walk away from recognize that truth.

Shape and prune the garden of your life, and watch it flourish.

 

You Can’t (Always) Pick Your Own Relatives

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Man From Snowy River, and one of my favorite lines from that movie comes toward the end of the film when young “Jessica” learns that she has an uncle she’s never met before. “Spur”, played by Kirk Douglas, chuckles and says, “One of life’s injustices: you can’t pick your own relatives.”

I’m not ordinarily one to remember movie dialogue, which often frustrates my husband when he drops a well-timed comedic line from a movie only to be met with a blank stare from me. Yet this one line has always stuck with me because, in a way, I’ve always felt like I somehow ended up in the wrong family. Like I never quite fit in with my own relatives.

I think most of us feel this way to some degree. Pretty much everyone I know has felt like a stranger in their own home at some point or another—usually during our teenage years when it seems that no one could possibly understand what we’re going through. For some of us, though, that feeling is more persistent. For me, it’s the main driver behind my fascination with human relationships.

Relationships are the ultimate puzzle for me. Why do some work beautifully while others are disastrous? How is it that two people, such as my husband and me, who are generally regarded as “difficult” manage to get along perfectly? What is it about certain personalities that rub others the wrong way? What is it about other personalities that draws people to them like moths to a flame?

I’ve been a student of human relationships for as far back as I can remember. I clearly recall discussing world history with my mom when I was about 8-years-old in terms of children on a playground jockeying for the uppermost position on the monkey bars until only one could shout from the top, “I am King of the Hill!” My mom thought my explanation was clever. My teacher? Not so much.

Well into my adult years—until I married my husband, really—my view of relationships didn’t change much from that early impression of kids fighting for control of the monkey bars.  I still saw relationships as primarily competitive and adversarial. More frustrating than fulfilling. Hence, hardly worth the effort to cultivate. Even with such a negative view of relationships, though, I’ve still managed to meet several people with whom I share collaborative, rewarding, and mutually beneficial relationships. I have some amazing friends, and I couldn’t possibly ask for a better partner than my husband.

After receiving a scathing response to my last blog post from my sister a female relative who shall never be mentioned again lest her identity be inadvertently revealed on my “worldwide bully pulpit”, I’ve been carefully examining why certain people relate to me so easily while others are unlikely to ever understand where I’m coming from. My conclusion? Fear.

Fear of what, is the million dollar question. Fear of vulnerability? The truth? Facing one’s demons? Fear of the unknown, perhaps? For a very, very long time, I was afraid of vulnerability. My trust was brutally betrayed by someone I loved deeply once. I was just sixteen years old at the time, and it took decades (not to mention seven years of talk therapy) for me to regain a healthy level of comfort with vulnerability, so I can at least relate to that particular fear. I’ve never been afraid of the truth, however. Lies are infinitely more destructive. As for my demons, I faced them during those seven years of talk therapy, too. They’ve since been reduced to harmless caricatures from my past. Every now and again I’ll cross paths with one of them, and I’m reminded of how ridiculous they are once exposed to light. It’s hard to believe now that any of them ever had the power to manipulate me. And the unknown? Well, I’ve always been more curious about that than afraid of it.

What is it, then, that people are afraid of when it comes to relationships? Seriously, what do we have to lose by being vulnerable with one another, or by being honest? What do we have to gain by keeping our demons securely locked in the deepest, darkest recesses in our minds? In a word, nothing. Yet, so many of the people we interact with on a daily basis would rather die a slow, painful death than reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings to their friends, family, or coworkers. It’s no wonder, then, that my writing elicits such a fearful response from certain people. I am, after all, an open book.

I was born into a place of fear. I have certain memories from my childhood of being so afraid of being physically beaten that I peed my pants. It didn’t happen frequently, but it happened well into my teens. Until I was sixteen, as a matter of fact. And then someone else—my first love—wounded me emotionally so deeply and profoundly that my father’s rage and the threat of physical pain paled in comparison from that point forward.

There’s still some truth to that statement that you can’t pick your own relatives. My father and I are unlikely to ever be friends, but he’ll always be my father. The same can be said for most of my birth family. The majority of them are still as mysterious and puzzling to me as they ever were. It’s unlikely that I’ll commit the time and energy necessary to get to truly know or understand them at this point in my life, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we’re related. Fortunately, I’ve managed to find my people along the circuitous path my life has taken—the ones who really do know and understand me.

There’s the family you’re born into, and then there’s the family you choose. If they’re one and the same (as with my husband’s family), count your blessings; but even if they’re not you’re still blessed. My chosen “relatives” are scattered from Alaska to Germany, presently, so I don’t get to see or speak to them frequently. Just knowing that they’re there and that they’ll be happy to hear from me when I do get a chance to call or write is comforting, though. And then there’s the family I chose when I married my amazing husband. They’re a fearless bunch, and I adore them all the more for their willingness to tackle the hard topics head on and hash them out around the kitchen table.

Something I’ve learned firsthand over the past several years is that the human capacity for love is ultimately defined by our willingness to confront the things that scare us. Those who are afraid to explore the depths of their own souls will never know true love because it can’t be found on the surface, or even near the surface, for that matter. You can’t fully recognize or appreciate light until you’re comfortable in the dark. And because love comes from deep within, the only way to tap into it is to dive into the deepest, darkest recesses of your mind, heart, and soul. Trust me, the truth that you’ll find there isn’t nearly as scary as you think it will be. The lies you’ve been told and the lies you’ve told yourself are infinitely worse because they keep you stuck in superficial relationships where true love doesn’t exist.

Don’t let fear keep you from knowing yourself and the ones you love. And if the ones you love can’t let go of their fear, perhaps it’s time for you to make different choices.

The First Year of the Rest of Our Lives

My husband and I have been celebrating our marriage in small ways pretty much daily since we tied the knot at the Jefferson County Courthouse on a cold, rainy October day last year. I’d only been living in our shared Denver apartment full time for a few days at that point, having severed my employment in Trinidad just a few days earlier. It was a tremendous relief for me to finally arrive home for good when I left my office after my last day at work and drove three hours north to Denver.

We didn’t plan to get married the following week, but it worked out that way because the county clerk’s office was empty when we arrived. No lines. No waiting. We were in and out in less than thirty minutes. We arrived as two single people looking forward to getting married within the next thirty days. We left as husband and wife, a little stunned by how quickly and easily we’d tied the knot, but thrilled nonetheless.

I hear all the time that marriage is difficult. That it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, next to parenting; and I wonder sometimes if there’s something wrong with me or my husband or our marriage because our union has been easy from the start. I think we’d both fully committed to spending the rest of our lives together before we ever talked about marriage. When we did have that conversation, the issue was settled in a matter of minutes.

Neither of us is particularly romantic. We’re both more practical, yet there’s something sort of romantic and magical about a union, such as ours, that works so smoothly and effortlessly. That’s not to say that we don’t put any effort into our marriage because we do. I’m prone to some pretty strong mood swings, and with our daughter now living with us full time, there are three of us crammed into a tiny 2-bedroom apartment. I occasionally feel fenced in, and when I need to withdraw and recharge (introvert that I am) there’s simply nowhere to go. Those days are pretty challenging, but my husband and I are unshakably united, so we know we’ll get through them.

All my life I’ve been accused of not being a team player, but what this past year has taught me is that I am absolutely a team player when I’m on the right team. This lesson is huge for me because I believed, like most people, that life would always be a struggle. That wherever I go, there would be strife and conflict, so I’d just have to learn to deal with it. We’re told from an early age that we need to grow a thick skin and learn to tolerate being treated poorly by others, and we’re supposed to silently endure the incompetence, ignorance, or inappropriate behavior of those closest to us for the sake of “getting along”.

All of that is nonsense, of course. Those are the lies people tell themselves in order to justify staying in bad marriages, toxic friendships, and unrewarding jobs. There’s a better way. It’s entirely possible to have relationships that are based on mutual respect and appreciation. It’s equally possible to find highly evolved, competent, and intelligent people with whom we’ll resonate. We can either find or build high-functioning teams where we’ll achieve more working together than we could possibly achieve alone. The key is that we have to learn to be a lot more discerning about the people we’re willing to allow into our lives. And we need to learn to say no to those who are unwilling or unable to rise to higher standards of conduct.

I’m not sure I can convince anyone that there really is a better way to live, but I’d like to. Had anyone told me I’d eventually find a man who is a perfect match for me, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Yet I intuitively understood that the combative and dysfunctional relationships I’ve had with certain relatives, friends, and coworkers through the years may have been completely “normal” according to current social standards, but they certainly weren’t healthy. I secretly hoped to find better ways to relate with people, and I found glimpses of those better ways through a few rare individuals—an old boss, a handful of friends and even a couple of old boyfriends. It wasn’t until my husband and I started dating, though, that I fully understood that virtually all of the obstacles to lasting, happy, and healthy relationships would be obliterated if people would only choose their mates, friends, and business associates more carefully.

My husband and I are similar in many ways, but we’re also quite different in other ways. His strengths balance my weaknesses, yet we share the same core values. As a result, it is remarkably easy for us to map a course for our future and work together to achieve our long-term goals. While dividing the work of running our household, we take into consideration our individual preferences and strengths so neither of us gets stuck doing the things that we dislike most.

We argue infrequently, we rarely bicker, and the closest thing to nagging that happens in our household is that we occasionally have to remind our daughter to do her chores. The result is an overwhelmingly happy and almost effortless marriage and home life. My wish is that you, too, will find the sort of well-balanced relationship that my husband and I enjoy. Can you imagine what we could achieve as a society if we all held ourselves and those closest to us to higher standards of conduct, and if we were far more discerning when choosing those we allow into our inner circles?

Life is too short for all the drama and nonsense that most of us resignedly tolerate daily in our personal relationships and in the workplace. Choose your mate, friends, and coworkers more carefully so you can look forward, as I do, to a bright future beside someone you trust absolutely to have your back.

Thank you, Matt, for a wonderful first year of what I’m certain will be a very long and happy marriage. I love you.

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.