Flailing in Public, Necessary Messes, and Other “Bad” Things that Are Good

Up until yesterday afternoon, I hadn’t been out of the country in almost three months. More notably, I hadn’t had a reason to speak Spanish with another human being since leaving Peru  this spring. When I left I was just beginning to be able to form a sentence that slightly resembled a coherent thought in a language that seems to sound beautiful from every mouth but mine.

Today I’m in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I arrived a day ago, and am taking a writing break on this balcony:

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 This is a rooftop where one simply cannot sit without composing something, effortless in a way where I wonder if  words are instead composing me. In the same way the ivy has snuck up the bricks, syllables weave themselves into sentences and I am just here to admire whatever story is growing.

As I skim over a few articles I need to finish writing as well as a couple poems I’ve been meaning to submit the person I’m here visiting is taking a Spanish lesson upstairs. I told him I didn’t want to join because, “My Spanish is too terrible.” Which of course is exactly why I should take a Spanish lesson, but oh NOOO… I don’t want to stumble over my words in front of humans! That would be awful.

Hmmm… so either the Spanish learning I was cramming into every moment before I left was some special kind of Spanish that one only speaks to themselves, or I’m doing a silly thing where I base my actions on avoiding embarrassment. This is fairly illogical, because if barely speaking Spanish is embarrassing, it would follow that I might be equally embarrassed at the fact that I become nearly mute when in Spanish speaking countries, and don’t even say the words I do know for fear I’m pronouncing them all wrong and will sound like one of those asshole Americans who listened to one lesson of Rosetta Stone and now thinks I speak the whole language. Instead, at present I’m someone who doesn’t speak at all or lets someone speak for me, which it turns out is far more uncomfortable than the alternative of stumbling through my handful of Spanish words in public.

Maybe I would just let it go if it was just speaking Spanish that I was pulling this crazy illogical behavior with. However, it strikes me in this moment that there are a lot of things I don’t do because I’m either bad at them or haven’t perfected them, and that the reason I haven’t improved has a lot to do with… the fact that I’m not doing them. The logic is incredibly flawed, it’s the equivalent of trying to learn how to swim without going into the water, and the result of my fear of looking or acting foolishly is that I limit myself. Cringe.

The true weight of this behavior is that I realize I’ve at times applied this backward logic to sharing my passions including writing. The first few items I published this year were in my mind mediocre, things that came from a heart space, but I hadn’t put a lot of time into polishing, and had hit the send button with a trigger happy impulsiveness. There was lot going on in my life, so maybe mind was too preoccupied to worry about run-on sentences or sentence rhythm, or maybe my words were so crammed full of all that I’d been holding back that they simply exploded into existence. And while I submitted some work that upon reflection could have been improved on, the beneficial result of my lack of perfectionism was that I was writing daily, and I was sharing it, no matter how imperfect it felt.

Maybe because there was so much of me contained in those spontaneous explosions of sentences and phrases I’d put in a public space, I had what can only be described as an exposure hangover. I pulled back with the same force I had revealed myself.  Suddenly as much as I’d needed to put my words out there, I needed them back. I needed that raw pile of words I’d felt so compelled to publish to not be out in the open.

In fact it felt so itchy having my messes out there floating around that at one point I almost asked an editor to pull a poem I’d submitted. I decided it would hinder my chances at being published on that particular site in the future, so I refrained… and I’m glad that despite my resistance, I left this piece where it was, in all its messy-human-still-learning-to-write gloriousness. Getting comfortable with sharing the messy stuff is so necessary, because writing is never perfect, nor is anything we aspire to do well but are growing into.

No matter how long I spend editing it, there will always be something that could have been worded more gracefully, something I could have rearranged. I will make mistakes, and I will make lots of them.   Really, if any of us wish to share what we create with the world, at some point we have to pick a point where we are willing to let go and just say, “Okay, it’s good enough. Here it is.”

So today as I pull up the article I’m working on, I realize the folder of unsubmitted articles and unpublished blog posts I’ve felt unwilling to share have a lot in common with my Spanish language skills. They are rough, some of the word choices are not ideal, and a year or so from now I will laugh at the roughness of my attempt to communicate. And while I’m always going to be growing into a better version of a writer looking back at my writing from two years ago, I already feel the same way. But I wrote anyway, and I shared. Because this is how one stops sucking… they do the thing, flail, stumble, and in the case of writing suck out loud for others to witness. And it’s not only okay, it’s necessary. In fact the whole process has a name… learning.

The way I see it, with almost everything in our lives, we can choose perfectionism or we can choose growth. We can’t have both, because whether it be writing, learning a new language, playing an instrument, or shifting into a new way of being, growing is messy stuff. It sometimes even requires being willing to be terrible at things, knowing we may look like a fool, and acting anyway.

Fortunately my life seems to offer an almost infinite amount of opportunity to step into itchy imperfection… I’m off to go flail, stumble, and be a mess in public, just for fun. Maybe I’ll accidentally learn a little too 😉

All love, Jen

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Welcome To My ‘Office’

My ‘cubicle’ has a drink menu, my coworkers and bosses are on different continents, and today my office is furnished in hammocks, vintage furniture, and beanbag chairs.

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 …Allow me to elaborate. I don’t have a normal job- I have many jobs and they are all online. My main source of income is teaching English to students all over the world via Skype, but I also do freelance writing and editing, as well as running an online business of my own. My office… wherever I can find a decent WIFI connection. Today it’s in the bar of a large hostel in Cusco, Peru, munching on fresh bread and avocado. Later I will migrate my office to the courtyard, so I can sit in the sun while I work.

I’ve become whats known as a “digital nomad” partially on accident. By the way, digital nomad ….loosely translated, it’s just a fancy word for anyone who works entirely remotely/online, be it from coffee shops, shared work spaces, or in my case, a hostel in South America… usually one who uses that freedom to move around, travel, and explore. The internet is a beautiful thing, as far as the potential it offers for stepping outside of the traditional career box.

I personally realized that a ‘normal’ career in one place wasn’t what I wanted when I was traveling in South East Asia. But even as a kid, when we’d write essays in class about what we wanted to do ‘when we grew up’, I would rarely name a career, and instead dream of seeing the world. Dress pants, time clocks, and office walls have always made me cringe. I have the heart of a traveler, but equally important ‘the American dream’ of working a 50+ hour workweek so I could spend the weekend buying things… it felt like a trap, and never made much sense to me.

 In December of 2013, I started a business selling antiquarian books online. I had just returned to the states after teaching English in Thailand, and after stumbling upon a few valuable books in local thrift store, started as a means to support myself while I searched for my next job. I got to spend hours digging through dusty piles of my favorite thing- books!- and within a month, I ended up turning down two full time job offers because my accidental online business was already paying better… and because I was hooked on the freedom of being able to schedule my own life. If I wanted to take the afternoon off to go to the park and work later that evening, I could. If I wanted to sleep in one morning, work in my pajamas, or take a break to grab coffee with a friend, I could. Freedom AND income, what a concept….

it always seems impossible until its done

 Six months later, I decided that I wanted even more flexibility- up until that point I’d been able to schedule myself but was still tied to a location by my inventory. So I shipped my books to a warehouse where my customer orders would be shipped by a third party.  I spent the next two months road tripping across the US, camping in national parks, couch surfing, and visiting old friends. I used the travel experiences as an opportunity to start doing some freelance writing and expand my blog, started getting some of my work published, as well as getting small editing jobs.

I was hooked. I started exploring all my options- buying and selling was great, but realistically I could only do it from the US. Yet again, I wanted to expand my possibilities.

Two years later, I have rewarding work that I can do from anywhere. I teach English and various other subjects via Skype to students all over the world, helping tutor many of them towards gaining admission to American universities, as well as freelance writing and editing…while having free time to explore whatever location my happy heart decides to visit. Right now that place is Peru… my next destination is yet to be determined, but being completely open to possibility… feels amazing. 

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I’ll be honest, my lifestyle is not for someone who needs it all to be predictable, and like any job, working online has stressful moments. I’ve lost clients because of internet issues and I’ve taught English class from a hallway with my finger on the mute button in case a hotel guest wanders by speaking another language. Working on the road requires adaptability and a willingness to believe things will work out even when the going gets tough. Initially building enough online work to travel had its challenges, as did finding the resources to travel in a sustainable way. Getting to this point has been a trial and error process, and I am constantly learning. However, traveling and working can be as predictable as you choose, and the options for achieving a mobile life nearly infinite.

Along that vein, before leaving for my latest trip I decided I wanted to share those resources as well as utilize my own background in counseling to help others explore what their best life looks like, and how they can design a more adventurous and mobile existence, by launching a business, LifeCREATIVE… because I truly believe we all can create a life we love.

While I’m busy sharing my new project, my blog will feature guest contributions from friends and fellow travelers, artists, writers, and creative entrepreneurs who have discovered ways to live the life they love. BONUS- I’m also going to fill the new site with a ton of free resources for making travel sustainable, including links to many of the resources I’ve used to land online work, free and cheap accommodation, and work exchange opportunities. Feel free to share your own travel/freelance/life resources in the comments below.

If you are ready to leap, or just explore new possibility, visit LifeCreative.org.

(PS- Stay tuned, the next post will feature an excerpt from the absolutely wonderful and resource packed book, The Abundant Bohemian- Live An Unconventional Life Without Starving in the Process, written by my friend Joe Downing, a Dayton, Ohio lawyer who is using his own life to shatter the illusion that we must either choose adventure or material success… Joe’s new book highlights how we can easily have both)