If you’ve been with me for some time, you probably noticed I’m a sucker for quotes. You know, those succinct and beautiful little nuggets of wisdom from the great women and men who lived long before us, or if we’re lucky, are still roaming among us.
So speckled on my walls are words from these influential avatars. I even keep a spreadsheet on my computer dedicated to great quotes that’s ever-opened and overflowing like a New York City diner on a Saturday night. I keep these quotes around me so that in a moment when I need them most, they have the opportunity to appear. And boy, do they appear. Even before I know I need them, they seem to find me and whisper, and my only hope is that I’m paying attention when they do.
If you’re anything like me, you have a handful of special quotes — your go-to’s. Maybe there’s one quote in particular that seems to rise above the rest, like a favorite song. A favorite song that never loses its power, no matter how many times you play it. The words feel so true you swear you would have said them first, if only you could’ve found the right ones and cobbled them together even half as beautifully.
"I learned this, at least, by my experiment..."
In January 2012, I was working for IBM as a senior consultant in Chicago, making decent money and living comfortably, but doing work that felt mostly meaningless. There seemed to be a huge disconnect between the work I was doing and the work I wanted to be doing in my life. And while I wasn’t quite sure what exactly that ideal work was, I knew what it felt like…and what it didn’t feel like. I was stuck: where do I go from here?
Instead of pondering the fluffy what’s my passion? question ad nauseum, I asked myself a question that cut through to my core and revealed hidden, unrealized dreams: What excites me?
To this the answer was clear.
"...if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined..."
Travel had always been a big part of my life, but the neatly partitioned two-week vacations never seemed to satisfy my wanderlust. I always wanted to travel long-term and explore the world at my own pace, to experience life in the most stripped-down and honest sense of the word.
So I made a rash decision.
"...he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
I booked a one-way ticket to Iceland departing six months later, on June 2, 2012. I wasn’t sure what I would do about my job, my apartment in Chicago, my things, or my responsibilities.
But I had the simple confidence that things would work out.
"He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary..."
Less important than the physical act of purchasing that plane ticket was the statement I made to myself and the universe with that decision. Instead of continuing to be a passive participant in my own life, I decided to deliberately take control.
And in that moment, the world looked different to me.
"...new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him, or the old laws will be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense..."
Mountains seemed to move; seas seemed to part. I was graciously granted a 7-month sabbatical from my job. Caring, supportive people seemed to enter my life magically, many of whom helped me meet “success unexpected in uncommon hours.”
I regrettably missed one wedding, but all other “important” responsibilities and commitments seemed to dissolve indifferently as I slow-traveled around 18 European countries for the rest of 2012, meeting interesting people, reading, writing, living fully and openly, and generally just appreciating life.
"...and he will live within the license of a higher order of beings."
Staring at the words of Henry David Thoreau for months, maybe years, leading up to this leap of faith, I eventually grew to understand them: in order to live the life I wanted, I must start acting out the life I want to live.
Now, this is a scary thought. How can I start acting out a life when it’s so different from my current life? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I fail? What if end up broke, broken, and heart-broken?
Well, I mused, at least I will have lived.
Fast-forward to present day. I’m not quite broke (yet). I’ve been broken, but I’m now stronger in the broken places. And I’ve been heart-broken, but at least I know what real love feels like in the first place.
But more than this, that trip through Europe helped me become clearer on my sense of self and allowed me to reconnect with the creative person within. I found my “old laws,” my perception of what’s possible, have expanded and evolved. I decided to permanently leave my job at IBM. I resolved to focus only on projects that excite me, those that are aligned with my gifts and my dreams.
Playing to my passions for stories, humanity, and travel, I morphed my company and website GiveLiveExplore into an independent publishing company. The first story I published, Tales of Iceland, written by my friend and Chicago author Stephen Markley, is the fast, fun, yet unbelievably educational story of us traveling around Iceland in June.
The Tales of Iceland project is budding into a much, much bigger idea and something I’m super excited about. Stephen and I plan to release a series of Tales Of books — a brand of alternative anti-guidebooks that deliver useful cultural and historical context through fast and fun storytelling. Unlike guidebooks, our goal isn’t to tell you where to go and what to see — we want you to explore the world yourself. But we’ll give you a fun story to compliment your own journey. The bigger purpose, however, is that we want more people to travel.
"...If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
To be sure, I have no idea where this will lead. It’s all developing in real-time, and I plan to share it with you as it develops. Most importantly: this may not work. But none of this would have happened at all if I never took that first step — if I never advanced confidently in the direction of my dreams.
I’ve grown to believe that reconnecting with dreams and actually going after them is the quickest way to figure out who you are and where you fit in this grand story of life. For me, I see my opportunity with GiveLiveExplore as a chance to become a grassroots global ambassador, to encourage universal open-mindedness and connection, and to bring the world together, one Tale at a time.
So what I learned, at least, by my experiment: when you act deliberately in a direction and toward a place you want to be, you begin to redefine your world. By no means have I arrived, but I am closer to where I intend to be. The truth of the matter is that we may never quite arrive at that destination far away in our minds; we may never reach those castles in the air. But I know one thing as fact: we’ll certainly never get there if we don’t take that first bold and deliberate step.
"I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws will be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings...If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” - Henry David Thoreau, Walden