Should you find a wise critic to point out your faults, follow him like you would a guide to hidden treasureĀ 

It is very rare that you meet someone in today’s society that tells you something you don’t want to hear (but what if you do want to hear it, you just don’t know it yet?) Unfortunately I think far too many of us have become people-pleasers to say the least, and in a lot of situations, dare I say it, fake. Or maybe to put a lighter touch on it we just don’t want to over-step boundaries or upset people. But it’s only in stepping outside boundaries that we allow each other to learn about ourselves and grow, so is this really as nice as we think it is?

There are not enough people out there that challenge others, whether its with friends or strangers, so as not to upset the status quo we have become a generation of yes men. Whether it’s not telling people what you actually think or much worse.. social media ‘liking’ (flattering) someone but not actually liking the person, I’m not saying this applies to everyone, but there are a lot of offenders out there (I definitely used to be one of them). Is there something so wrong with keeping the social peace? Is it such a terrible thing? Are we actually all just severely nicey-nice people and ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ saints at heart? Or is the real reason we act this way because that’s just how we want to be perceived and not who we actually are? 

It’s ok not to like everyone and it’s ok that not everyone will like you. The sooner you accept this the happier you will be.

I personally stopped engaging in people-pleasing a short while ago. You can feel more alone in a room with 20 not so well-intentioned friends than you would if you were all by yourself. It’s important to surround yourself with people who make you a better you, people that challenge you, people who love you and aren’t afraid to be honest with you, especially when you really need someone to be honest. The realisation that it’s ok to disagree with people you care about sometimes because everyone is different, is a crucial one. I used to be very stubborn and slightly disillusioned into thinking that if I had a disagreement with someone, that was it (this was my childish ‘my way or the highway’ trait coming into play). The best thing that ever happened to me was when a close friend said to me “if something doesn’t go your way you think the whole world is upside down, but in real life things really aren’t going to go your way all the time, so you can’t just push people away because of it”.

It was harsh at the time but it was true, I realised it’s ok to disagree with people, its human nature, it’s real, we are not built to merely get by and agree on everything, we were designed with different opinions so that we do challenge each other (and what a boring world it would be if we didn’t). Like I said, that’s how we grow.

I’m a slight control freak and I love planning, organising and order in general (or used to maybe I should say) but at least I’m aware of it. My former self has evolved into someone who actually barely ever falls out with people now, my self-awareness of that irrational stubbornness has blossomed and continues to (I’m sure it still has a long way to go). But this isn’t to be confused with me not disagreeing with people anymore, i just accept disagreement now, I look at it very differently, with an inside smile (try it and see how your next dispute goes). 

I do have a slight OCD that I like everything to be done exactly how I’d do it, but now I’ve learnt to enjoy letting go of that control. In fact it’s kind of exciting. It feels uneasy and then it feels like growth, then before you know it you’re a care-free nomad with no structure, consistency, continuity or real control over how your days or weeks pan out. Choosing each destination as you go, never knowing who is waiting on the other side of the inter-State bus journey in the peering opposite hostel bunk-bed for you. They say the best way to conquer your fears are to face them. Well I guess you could call being out of control and living in the un-known a ‘fear’ of mine, so equally you will now understand more about the journey I’m on. Funny how life plays out isn’t it? 

Self confessions aside, the reason behind this blog was a gentleman I met two weeks ago on the east coast. He was from the infamous LA and we will call him ‘treasure’, you will see why shortly. Treasure had so much personality that it could fill any room, a flamboyant, larger-than-life character with more emerging layers than a crisp onion. There was an outer layer of swag and charisma, an inner layer of outstanding intellect and perspective and a heart of gold right at the centre. He spoke 5 (or more) languages, he was previously a professional dancer (he’s danced with Justin Bieber and Chris Brown), and did I mention he was only 30 and part-owned a chain of hostels? Well, I was fortunate enough to be a guest of his. 

He had an interesting story, a real-life Will Smith that (genuinely) grew up with his auntie and uncle in Bel-air (It gets me literally every time). Masters educated in computer graphics and previously pursuing a career in a reputable, not to mention impressive job at Pixar. Alike me, he gave it all up for something more, to chase his dreams, to live a fulfilling life, to have ownership of his own daily choices, to be surrounded by new and different people every day. An open book and yet enigma at the same time, he offered various facts about his life but facts are all they were, there was little opinion or emotion at first. I probed, as I do, and unveiled why, and it turns out he was keen to do some probing himself. Little did I know that every minute I’d been intrigued and psycho-analysing him, he’d been doing the same to me.

Treasure challenged my reasons for doing many things, in a way a lot of people don’t. Sometimes abruptly, almost always thought-provokingly, but never rude, I found it endearing. He wasn’t afraid to say that he saw certain behavioural traits in me, but instead of just telling me, he made me actually think about it myself and more to the point dig deeper as to why. He planted the seed and then let me water it. A cryptic message in passing in the corridor, a riddle on the stairs, I found myself slightly bedazzled. Not to be mistaken for someone mentally antagonising another, It felt healthy, and I’m not talking physical health or internal bodily health, I’m talking mentally. My mental health was being exercised, it was going for a work-out followed by a relaxing spa weekend. My mental health ordered the full brain therapeutic massage and it didn’t disappoint. I found myself thinking about things that I probably already knew in my sub-conscious but maybe just haven’t given enough light to.

In challenging my thinking the way he did, I not only came to some important realisations about myself, but what I noticed is that when he then complimented me, it was the most fulfilling compliment I could possibly receive, because it came from a place and a person that was honest and real.  No force or fakeness behind it, and no alterior motive, plain and simple sincerity from a guy who truly believed ‘knowledge is power’ and endeavoured to empower people every day. Thank you Treasure for making my stay, truly unforgettable.

I guess my lasting message is; if you people-please your way through life, liking everything and everyone, and all they do, how do you think your compliments and good wishes are received? Are they rare and deserving? Or are they so commonplace they have become a mere greeting? Expected? A way of now saying hello? Will you have the same impact on someone that treasure had on me? I’m not insinuating we shouldn’t compliment people, compliments make the world go round, a better place, but do it with sincerity. Do it for the people you love or admire, do it for the people who inspire you, and challenge them alongside that too. Make your compliments gold dust and allow your challengers to enable other people to grow. Every man’s treasure is different. Be the treasure in someone else’s life and you may find treasure yourself.

‘Should you find a wise critic to point out your faults, follow him like you would a guide to hidden treasure’ ~ Buddha

As always, comments welcome and appreciated. Sent with love from Chicago/photo taken goofing around in Adler Planetarium in Chicago last week (I heart space).

Allow your passion to become your purpose, and it will one day become your profession

The catalyst for my first blog may have been a woman I met on my plane to Chicago, but the truth is I’ve be travelling for four weeks now and I’ve had several life-changing encounters already. It seems only fair then to take it back to the first. 

The first stop of my Round-America Trip was the all-singing, all dancing New York, New York where I ate and drank my way through two weeks in the city, at least that’s what it felt like anyway (It was my birthday out there so I was allowed). However it was upon my arrival to Washington DC that things ceased to exist as I knew them, at least in my mind anyway. 

We’ll start with the Cancer research clan. As it happens the week I spent in Washington was also the week the capital city played host to the largest cancer research convention in the world. This meant circa 20,000 researchers (maybe more) were in town, staying in hostels and hotels all over the city, several of which were in mine. The makeup in my hostel consisted of 2 guys from Canada, 2 girls from France and a guy from Argentina (at least the ones I got close to anyway, I’m sure there were plenty more). The combined intellect between this group of people was commendable, several were working on their PhD’s, most had already finished theirs and were based in research labs. They stressed the importance of the convention was to present their research and findings that they’ve been working on for years or more, to provoke interest from pharmaceutical companies and seek investment in their research to take it to clinical trial stage (pretty important then). 

Get a few drinks down these highly impassioned scientists and in no time you’ll be discussing the biological makeup of a cell, how it reproduces and more to the point how cancer cells defy that. Don’t even get them started on the debate of preventative medicine versus cure medicine (you’ll be there all night, literally).

I learnt a lot from these fantastically educated people, why you shouldn’t rely on antibiotics too much every time you get ill, not to OCD wash your hands as it legitimately makes them dirtier due to the 5% of germs that antibacterial hand wash can’t kill & how they reproduce even stronger, how the immune system actually works, new vaccines that prevent cervical cancer that aren’t yet widely publicised (which you can get for free in Argentina), the list goes on. I won’t bore you with a list of scientific facts, fascinating as they are (I’ve always been a science dork at heart), that’s not how these people changed my life. 

My biggest takeaway came from the lab worker from Argentina, this time I know his name but for fun and to continue my previous blogs theme, let’s call him Meraki’ (Meraki – to do something with soul, creativity or love. To put something of yourself into your work).

Meraki was slightly older than I am, and certainly far wiser as I was about to find out. He was in my hostel for 4 nights of my stay there, each of which we all spent on the patio (not just the cancer research clan there were several of us), drinking, debating and conversing in general. Many people were interested in my story, mainly because I’m a 24 year old girl from England that packed up her cushty life and career to travel America on her own (we’ll go into more detail on me another time). 

Meraki was especially interested, he asked a lot of questions which I was happy to answer, the child in me that asks ‘why’ that one time too many enjoys meeting people equally curious. I loved hearing him talk about his research, he delivered the news with such passion that I believed in him, even though I have no actual knowledge of his research nor have I ever seen it, his eyes lit up to such an extent whenever he spoke about it, I had no choice but to believe him. I congratulated him on this innate and rare quality, I continued that he was ‘lucky’ to be doing what he is passionate about every day. To which he asked me ‘And what are you passionate about Sophie?’ I was slightly stunted. Its the first time I’ve been asked that in a while. I think my response was something along the lines of ‘I guess that’s what I’m here trying to figure out’. He proceeded to ask when I’m happiest and I showed him the journal I carry around with me and have written in every day since the start of my trip. He urged me to start writing a blog there and then, but I don’t think I was ready yet. I needed Sanguine for that.

Meraki proceeded to offer an insight into his quality of life…

Life in Argentina is very different. We don’t have as many opportunities as in the westernised countries, the government lies about our average salaries to make us sound better than we actually are, giving us less benefits, but the truth is it is still very much a developing country. The one great thing about the country is that education and university are free, so we can choose a field we enjoy and better ourselves. Many of my friends chose the corporate world too (id told him I was in a corporate role previously), and they are doing very well in their fields, they have fancy cars and briefcases and a better salary than I do, but every time I meet up with them they are unhappy and moaning about something.”

I asked him what he meant by this and I can still hear his Argentine accent in my head all the while speaking effortless English..

 They drive a fancy car and carry a fancy briefcase to a job that they hate, and every time I see them they have complaints about something. I do not have a car, because I cannot afford one. I ride my bicycle to work, with a rucksack on my back, to a job that I love, and i have no complaints. I only make enough money to get by, but I’m one of the few people I know that can say they can’t wait to get to work each morning, I love and am fulfilled by my job every day, and I would do it even if I didn’t get paid.”

Smack me in the face why don’t you, I felt close to tears. How does this stranger I barely know evoke so much emotion in me? Is it because I envy his life? He earns 1000 dollars a month which even in Argentine pesos is not enough to get by. And yet he is the happiest, most fulfilled and grateful person I have ever spoken to. Thank you for the life lesson Meraki; ‘Allow your passion to become your purpose and it will one day become your profession (and you’d do it even if you didn’t get paid)’.

I guess the lasting thought of this blog should be; What are you passionate about? Are you working in that field? I’d love to hear your thoughts if this inspires anyone.

Also please comment if you liked it and I will message ‘meraki’ and let him know how many lives he’s touched šŸ™‚

Photo below taken in Boston downtown of a plaque dedicated to Bill Russel, Boston Celtics Captain who ‘redefined the game of basketball, leading the Celtics to an unparalleled string of eleven championships in thirteen years’.

Be the change you’d like to see in the world

I was in two minds and had several reservations about blogging whilst I’m away (I’m currently on my journey travelling North & South America). I knew it would be my greatest adventure to date, but I was warned about the commitment to blogging frequently that makes it feel like a chore. *Quick note about me – I love writing, so this was less than appealing to me if it ever turned something I love into a chore*. I also didn’t just want to blog for the sake of it, sharing day to day stories of my sight-seeing with little cause or purpose, that’s what Instagram and Facebook are for (a well-edited picture is worth at least 1000 words right?). Everyone blogs for different reasons, but I wanted mine to mean something, to serve a purpose. My personality is such that. I look for meaning in everything. Sometimes I find it, sometimes I don’t. On this occasion it was shown to me.

I’d say my main hang-up or preventative from blogging was that I doubted if people would read it anyway, i’d be such a small URL in a cobweb of electronic mass. How would anyone ever even find it? I’m a chaotic dreamer with insatiable curiosity, a wild imagination and an inability to switch off my 100mph active brain (there’s positives and negatives to it). In summation I’ve always had a lot to say, my perception, my take on the crazy world we live in, how i’d like it to be, how I think it should be. But would I ever reach enough people to change anything? I used to think no, and that may still be the case. But then I met Sanguine

Now, Sanguine is not her actual name, I don’t know the woman’s name, but everything about her was Sanguine, so that’s what we’ll call her. It was a brief yet meaningful encounter, I met her on my flight from New York to Chicago. She said something to me that I’ve heard a thousand times before, but never like this…

Be the change you’d like to see in the world’ 

I know, I’ve heard it countless times before too. But she really meant it. She lived it and breathed it, her charisma and all-encompassing warmth left much to be envied, and yet her down to earth and selfless nature would never allow it. She was the friendliest woman I think I’ve ever met (without an agenda), but not to be mistaken for being soft. She had a calming determination about her as she proceeded to tell me her line of work. She didn’t mention the title, but she works to enforce that tax money is spent where it’s supposed to be, with a particular focus in the educational sector. She then volunteered that she home schools all four of her children at her home in Alabama. The reasons for her doing this being twofold – Firstly because we all learn and retain information completely differently so why should we all be taught the same? And secondly, because the regimented school curriculum teaches kids more about Henry the 8th and how to remember the names of his 6 wives than it does about politics, how the country is run and actual topics that will affect them growing up; e.g. Teaching about recreational drugs in a safe environment rather than them learning they exist and how not to use them on the streets. She follows a curriculum of both life lessons and  academia, but not learning for the sake of learning, or to ace a pop quiz. Learning to advance her children as people, with tangible, useful,  sought after skills and knowledge. Sanguine offered that her 6 year old little boy has such a love and thirst for reading because he is learning about things that interest him, at his own pace. 

The issue with a lot of classroom learning is that everyone learns at different paces, there will always be someone who reads the fastest, learns the fastest, writes the fastest. Just like there will always be the person who takes a little bit longer to grasp and really take in things. Either way there will always be someone who’s full learning capacity is not being utilised, whether it’s the person trying to catch up to the rest of the class, or the person that finishes first and has to wait for everybody else. This way, her little boy doesn’t have to slow down or speed up for anyone. His own pace doesn’t mean a slow pace, it just means one which is customised to him. Apparently he can recite any capital city and the names of all the rivers and mountains flowing through the States. I mean, I know I certainly can’t so I take my hat off to him. Especially at 6 – keep doing what you’re doing little genius!

*Embarrassing confession* ~ I was once put on the spot in a quick fire question round at my last job and asked the capital city of the States and I answered New York. I don’t like being put on the spot. I mind-blanked. Highly embarrassing. Especially when I then announced I’m travelling the States where I apparently don’t know the capital (I’m not stupid by any means, just a knee-jerk word vomit kind of moment where you wish you can take it back the second it leaves your mouth)

This random stranger, Sanguine, was truly inspirational and thought-provoking without even trying. Simply by being the change she wants to see in the world. And she really is. She doesn’t like the educational system, so she’s done something about it. I think we all forget sometimes that we have a choice, a lot of choices in fact, every day. We are told there’s a right way to do things but it is not the only way and it is not always right. Challenge the norms. Before we parted ways, she said to me “sometimes you are going to wonder if you are actually making a difference, and on those days the Lord will send you a sign”. I asked what she meant by this and she proceeded that the last time she had a bad day, a day where doubt had seeped in, a little girl that she had helped through her line of work came over, tapped her on the shoulder and said ‘you’ve changed my life’. I wish we’d gone into more detail with the luxury of the time to discuss how she changed this little girls life, but there wasn’t time, so for now, it’s enough. 

I don’t personally believe in God, but I do believe and have faith in something, I’m just not sure what exactly it is (to be discussed another day). I do know what she means though, my take is that we have ‘spirit guides’ that give us a boost when we need it or re-direction if we’re lost. I don’t mean actual walking dead spirits, or ghosts, nothing spooky, I think its the universe. They come in the form of strangers, just like that little girl to Sanguine, and I guess like Sanguine was for me. It happens all the time actually, you’ve just got to be looking for it. Seek the good and it will come to you. A random compliment from a stranger on a day where you’re feeling insecure, a good deed from someone for no reason at all, gaining some free advice from a passer-by that you might not have asked for but it was everything you needed to hear and more. (Start looking out for the random serendipities that occur when you may not be aware you need them, and it will put a smile on even your darkest days).

Anyway, to summarise the introduction to my blog, it was a combination of Sanguine in all of her Sanguineness (Sanguine – the ability to be postive and enthusiastic even in a difficult situation, remaining faithful and hopeful always that everything is going to work out), a highly passionate guy from Argentina that asked me what my passion is and a thought-provoking, psycho-analytical guy I met from LA that prompted me to finally start my blog.

I’m not going to blog about the things I see. I’m going to blog about the things I feel. The things you can’t take pictures of. The experiences and memories that change you as a person. The encounters that change your world. My thoughts about these encounters and about controversial topics in general. Thinking outside the box. Breaking away from norms. I want to remember these crucial people I meet along my journey, the good and the bad, and share what they teach me, in the hope someone else might learn from them too. If anyone has anything to add on their thoughts on the educational system or anything else I’ve written about, whether it’s inspired you or outraged you, please comment or get in touch below. Discussions always welcome.

Sent with love, from Chicago Xx (pic taken in the beautiful Boston last week whilst exploring Harvard University grounds)