Grad school was probably the biggest time of growth in my life to date. It was painful, exhausting, challenging, heart-breaking - and rewarding. There had been other transitions in my life that caused huge shifts in perspective (i.e. my parent’s divorce, high school, being a freshman at a large local university), but nothing like the roller coaster of grad school. Dedicating yourself to the study of becoming a therapist – essentially to become a vessel of hope and channel for change in others – forces you to get intimate with your own internal shit real fast. Even though I now know I was born a natural healer, I had to learn how the art of self-triaging and pushing through the pain. It was an experience I would have said I couldn’t do when I started, but now safely whole on the other side I am so grateful for the strength, grace and insight it gave me. I feel like a bad ass emotional warrior goddess.
These days, I find growth and expansion in travel. When I am fortunate enough to afford an actual vacation, I am packed and out the door quicker than you can say “bananas”. When I can’t escape, I settle for a car ride with windows down and music up. Traveling through towns I’ve never been to in my state, or even just unfamiliar roads in my town, pushes me out of zombie-like routines and patterns that cause stagnation. The sensation of going somewhere unlocks my brain and problems are magically less impossible to solve. When you really can immerse yourself in a completely different culture or way of life is the best education this world can offer you!
So naturally, when friends invited us to come visit them in Chicago, it was an easy “YES!!” These particular friends are especially fun to visit as they too are world travelers. Their eldest son traveled farther in his first year of life than I have in my 30+ years, to give a frame of reference. We figured spring in Chicago was a safe bet, and booked our flights. Little did we know, mother nature decided this would be the spring weekend she needed to water the lawn, and most of our trip was cloudy and rainy. Alas, our adventures were soggy, but no less amazing!
Being from New England, and raised by a father who worked with severely and dangerously violent people, I tend to be naturally suspicious of others. Having strangers stop on the street to give us directions while we were fighting with Siri to find our breakfast place and looking like obvious tourists was completely foreign. Receiving my iced venti peach green tea lemonade (3 pumps) with a smile was weird. And why the hell was everyone at Trader Joes so damn happy?? (Beside the fact that it’s Trader Joes. I mean, duh.) I don’t typically notice on a day-to-day how withdrawn and suspicious people are in my hometown. But when I travel, it becomes glaringly obvious that we are not the friendliest bunch. I had a similar experience years ago traveling to Ireland, which is quite possibly filled with the nicest people on the planet. It must be a requirement to immigrate there. Stepping out of my normal surroundings and being around all those nice people forces me to slow down and return the pleasantries, resulting in genuine connections with others. Double win!
A rainy Saturday also gave me the opportunity to connect with the wife of our friend duo. She is someone with an amazing life story whom I highly respect. I met her through my husband and have “hung out” with her maybe five times total in 11 years. Yet I recognize a kindred soul in her, and conversations tend to go something like: “Hey! How are you? What soul-changing things have you been up to lately?” Yeah, we don’t do well with “small talk”. I always leave my time with her with some new outlook or insight. Or a new kitchen gadget. Once they inspired me to get an egg poacher, another time a vegetable steamer. This time I left with delicious gourmet popcorn (can we say strawberry-balsamic heaven in my mouth?!).
Chicago itself is GORGEOUS. The architecture is absolutely stunning. Set right on a lake, the views are phenomenal (even under cloudy skies). Like all big cities, it also boasted some cool techie conveniences (like parking meters you load from a cell phone app). Chicago also is home to numerous museums, aquariums, parks and conservatories. We missed afternoon tea at the historic Drake hotel and water taxi’s on the river, but it won’t be long before we head back for another visit and get to try out all we missed.
While this trip may not have provided any drastic mindset shifts, it did serve to remind me that kindness is a practice – something to be consciously working at each day. It doesn’t take much effort, or cost a thing, but has a profound impact. Since I’ve been home, I catch myself being more present when I’m out in public. I make more of an effort to make eye contact and smile. I ask “How are you?” and wait for the answer. I avoid getting swept up into the hectic New England pace and savor each moment I can.
It doesn’t have to be big; any change in routine can provide insight, growth and expansion. So I invite you to take time and do what challenges you today. Go for a ride, read a book, engage in meaningful conversation. Seek out ways to slow down and connect.
With gratitude and a passport,