5 Things I’ve Learned from my Solo Cross Country Move

Yesterday marked my 6 month Californiaversary. Each day that has passed has solidified the fruits of my labor. This is what I have been dreaming of, since I made my AIM screen name calixdreamiin in 2003. I’ve always talked the talk, but actually walking the walk, it’s a scary leap to take!

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Here are 5 lessons that have made themselves available throughout my mindful meditations on these past 6 months, and everything that has led me here: 

  1. Fuck your comfort zone

Excuse my sass, but a born and bred New Yorker can’t help but to curse when feeling passionate, and escaping my comfort zone has been an endeavor I’ve passionately pursued as my remedy to overcome a life of anxiety. 

Being a student of psychology has allowed me to open my eyes, and have some cathartic experiences leading me to understand emotions I’ve masked for many years— with anxiety being the band leader.

If anxiety is like praying for what you don’t want, what happens when you focus on what you do want? 

That mindset shift made me stop and think, what is it that I want? If the things that you want scare the living hell out of you— good. This means you need to jump out of your comfort zone to go get ‘em. 

So, little by little, I hopped, I leaped, and then I jumped, landing exactly where I wanted to be. Building my comfortable nest in a world outside of my comfort zone. What seemed so far out of reach is now the life that I’m celebrating today.

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2. Those who love you will love you no matter the distance

Want to know who’s cheering for you? Who’s learning from you? Who is inspired by you? Start living for you, and trust the love and friendships that you’ve fostered. 

Being further in distance has allowed my relationships with my friends and family back home to grow stronger in depth. 

I hate the “I’m busy” excuse. We’re all busy. But you prioritize the things that are important to you. 

The people who want to know how things are going. The ones who you’ll text on your good days, and maybe even more importantly, on bad ones. Whether they’re down the block or a 6 hour flight away, those are your true friends. 

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3. Don’t take no for an answer 

Last spring I visited San Diego, and had an appointment at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness, where I brazenly walked in and said, Hi, I’d like to work here. 

Well… that’s not really how things work. 

Could I have been discouraged that I didn’t so easily get what I wanted? Of course. But rather than getting what I wanted, I got something so much better— an opportunity to dig deeper.

In learning the businesses who were partnered with the center, I found Owaves— the app that not only helps me schedule my life, but through conversation and relationship building, had led to a position that was curated just for me. A position where I can not only bring my research to life, but am able to coach college students about media mindfulness. 

Sometimes no is the best thing someone can tell you. It allows you to think twice about what you really want, why you want it, and how you’re going to get there. 

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4. Surround yourself with the people you want to be like

The owner of my gym has ran 100 mile marathons on every continent. The CEO of the company I work for is an MD/MBA. My landlord is a woman, and my closest friend here is studying for her bar exam.

I came here to level up. In order to do so, you’ve got to surround yourself with others who are leveling up in their own lives. 

They say you become like the 5 people you spend the most time with, so choose your circle wisely. 

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5. You are so fucking capable 

I’ve traveled solo more times than I can count, but this is my very first time living by myself. The thought of it kept me up some nights. Am I really going to be able to make it? How will I be able to balance finishing my dissertation, with working, having a social life, and maintaining a fit lifestyle? 

If you want something, you make it happen. 

Physically, emotionally, financially, you are capable. If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re a coward, a bully, and are only trying to dull your mf sparkle. 

Six months later, here I am. In love with the life that I’ve created for myself, and the circle I’ve surrounded myself with (near and far). I’m grateful for the hard moments and dark times that have allowed me to shift my focus to the light, leading me to exactly where I needed to be, when I needed to be here. 

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Why I Travel

Traveling serves many purposes. It allows for a chance to see the world outside of your hometown perspective. It gives people the opportunity for vacation, and gives those working in the field of tourism a job. For me, traveling has become something different.

Travel has become a prescription for my mental health.

The first 18 years of my life were spent fighting demons, both internal and external. Mental health was never a concern of mine, because I had already accepted the fact that my home, my reality, and my “comfort zone” would always be one of mental anguish. One where a good day is “just good enough.”

That’s a really sad reality for a someone to accept. Let alone a child, an adolescent, or a young adult.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and let me tell you, I’m pretty damn strong. I feel proud to tell my story, because it is one of perseverance, of self awareness and self discovery. It is a story of using everything in your power to change your reality, in order to change a mentally unhealthy life, to a life of flourishing, growth, and mental wellness.

The best decision I’ve ever made was going to school for psychology. I would have never sought help otherwise, because my reality was my norm. I didn’t understand how starved for positive mental health that I was, until I learned the true definition of mental wellness. Of abnormal psychology. Of mental abuse.

I’ll never forget the day I left my classroom in tears. The day my professor defined and described my home, my family, and my life, straight out of a textbook. I nearly vomited when I realized all the lies I was forcing myself to believe. I was faking happiness for 18 years.

After speaking with my professor, the wheels that moved the rest of my life began to trek forward. In 2011, my new life began. I sought the help that I needed. The help my family needed. I learned that it is not ok to be mentally abused. Ain’t that a funny thought.

Parents are just people. We’re born under this notion that parents are suppose to shower us with unconditional love. But what if you have a parent that can’t love them self? Or a parent that loves them self too much that there’s no room for anyone else. What if you have a parent with a caring, appeasing soul, born under the notion that they are suppose to do whatever it takes to make their spouse happy. Even if their spouse is incapable of happiness. What becomes of a child raised in such an environment? What happens when a child is told not to tell?

I am what happens.

After 18 years of being constantly criticized, of suffering threats, walking on eggshells, and feeling the weight of a parent’s regular suicidal threats on my shoulders, I learned that this was not the life that I deserved. That is not a life anyone deserves. And man, what a powerful realization that was.

So, why do I travel?

Sure, I escaped the mental prison I once existed in. But such a hellish reality comes with repercussions. Anxiety is a very real part of my life. Once I was able to actually focus on my own mental health, I learned that anxiety is one of the building blocks of what has made Lauren, Lauren. It was one of those “a ha!” moments of that’s what that feeling is!

One of my favorite quotes about anxiety is that anxiety is like praying for what you don’t want. It’s a constant worst case scenario playing in your mind on loop. It’s a constant worst case scenario playing in your mind on loop. It’s a constant worst case scenario playing in your mind on loop.

I began to test myself, pushing myself further and further out of my comfort zone, until I was on a plane from JFK to LAX with a 2 month solo agenda. I have never felt so alive. I finally felt free to be me. Nothing was holding me back.

I travel because I am strong, brave, and capable. I travel because there is such beauty in this natural world, and I deserve to experience it. I travel to make up for lost time, for those 18 years that I forced a smile on my face, as I carried the weight of my parent’s personality disorder upon my shoulders.

If you are reading this and any of my words feel all too familiar, if you are living a life of accepting abuse, pain, and anguish, and have been forced to believe that you deserve it.. I am telling you, you are so much more than your circumstance. It’s never too late to seek the help that can set you free. Let 2018 be the year that your new life begins.

Happy World Mental Health Day. I love you, life.

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The Path You Pave

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Tough as a rock,

strong as a stone;

take a deep breath, 

and go alone. 

Luck favors the bold,

so go and be brave; 

you never know who’s following

the path that you pave.

Whenever someone says, “Travel solo?! I could never do that!” I say, “…not with that attitude.” 😏 There’s a tremendous amount of empowerment that comes with going somewhere on your own. Somedays often turn to nevers, and if you spend your life waiting to coordinate with the schedules of others, you may never climb that mountain, or see that beach, or taste that poutine. It’s ok to be nervous, nerves are cousin to excitement. Embrace time spent with yourself; the Earth is awesome, and so are you. 🌎

Which Way is Up?

There are 7.4 billion people in this world, and each of us are experiencing life in our own way. On our own journey. On our own path.

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Sometimes these paths cross. In fact, they cross many times, with many different people, at times when paths are smooth, and times when they are rocky.

When I was younger, I looked for guidance along my path through religion. Maybe God is responsible for my path, but how do I know what God wants? Or who God is?

I was told that God is that Father, but I didn’t really have much faith in those.

If God is the one who created me, why did he make my path so dark? I often thought God was mad at me. That maybe I had done something in a past life that present day Lauren was paying the price for. That’s why my path was steep, rocky, and had no light at the end of it.

My path was peppered with hurdles, as all of ours are. But my hurdles seemed disproportionate to my size. It had seemed that God had collected hurdles from quite a few others, and stacked them on my path, one by one.

But, this only taught me how to climb. I stayed valiant on my quest for answers, for who God was, and what He wanted from me. I eventually grew curious about the teachings of Eastern religions, and God began to feel a bit more familiar. A bit more compassionate.

I felt a sense of God in the trees. In the dirt. In the fresh spring air. God wasn’t this almighty plan-maker who dictates the shit storms that blow you off course. God wasn’t the path at all, but instead, was the compass.

The more in touch I felt with this notion, the clearer my direction became.

The paths that each of us are on, that’s called life, and we only get one of those. The only thing that we’re promised in life is that it will end, at some undisclosed point, for each and every one of us.

So, which way is up?

How do we strut down our paths confident that we’re headed in the right direction?

Awareness. 

Awareness, first and foremost, that we are on a path. Awareness that your path is not my path, and it is not meant to be.

It is often in good practice to tap back into the imaginative mind of your younger self. if you can still do this, that’s great news! For it means that you have not strayed too far off your intended path.

My younger self was inquisitive, which is a trait I fear will die out as questions are so swiftly answered by Siri and Alexa. But I don’t think either of them would be able to answer the questions that little Lauren had.

Hey Siri… why am I here?” 

I look back on my path, and I feel grateful for the darkness I have trekked through, for it has made me aware. Those whose paths were quite similar to their neighbor’s never really had much thought to question them. Their paths were pretty straight forward. Neither light nor dark, a few bumps, a few curves. So they carry on in whatever direction, lacking awareness of their inner compass that may be screaming, “don’t go THIS way, go THAT way!”

These folks typically end up sideways, surrounded by other sideways beings, who are all convinced that their way is up. Because they are unaware otherwise.

Then, there are some individuals who end up down. These are the ones whose paths were filled with obstacles, but rather than looking for answers, became buried in their darkness. Consumed by it. They internalized their hurdles, rather than seeking creative ways to jump over them. They don’t even question which way is up, because they have stopped caring.

Finally, there are those who are the up-most uppiest individuals. Those whose paths have been woven by the very fabric of their being. Whether their journey has taken them through the mud or through the clouds, they have been open-eyed to how each string of moments dictates the next, and so one and so forth, into all of eternity. They know that their path is uniquely their own, guided by their inner compass, leading them to exactly where they need to be.

“Awareness is therapy, per say.”  -Fritz Perls 

We as a society have been conditioned to not give ourselves enough credit. We’re told what we should want, and when we should want it. We’re told what will make us happy, and how much it will cost. With all of this streaming through our consciousness, it is not surprising that so many of us stray so far from our intended paths.

We end up in jobs that we hate, or in relationships where we are miserable, because of the facade that this is how it should go.

Now, with social media, we’re constantly being shown the likes of the paths of others, that makes us think, “Hey! I want that!”

But how many of these paths that we’re seeing are the ones that know which way is up? Not just those tricky tricksters who are sideways and saying, “Look! This is up! I guarantee it!”

A mindful eye changes everything. Begin to think of those moments you’ve experienced that seem rather inexplainable. Call it fate, call it God, but I’ll call it a timely notification from your inner compass saying, “Keep on heading in this direction! THIS way is up!”

The way up may be dark or it may be light. It could be sharp and filled with twists and turns, or it could be fluid with a couple of bumps in the road. But as long as you follow your own path, it will get you to where you need to be, when you need to be there.

It will make you your youest you. 

10 Things I Learned From 10 Cities in 2017

In 2014, I made my first New Years Resolution – to travel to five cities I’ve never visited before, and to fly solo on at least one of these trips. Since 2014, I’ve visited over 35 new cities and 10 countries, with more than a handful of these being solo adventures. There’s something about traveling that makes me feel like I’m not just living— but that I am truly alive. I’ve pushed further beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone than I could have ever imagined, which has given me a sense of confidence that has trickled down to every aspect of my life.

Each year, I reflect on my trips and the pearls of wisdom they have brought me. This has become my favorite post to write, for it forces me to mull over the moments that have been marinating in my mind as the months have gone by.

  1. Savannah, GA. | I’m my Mother’s Daughter

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This year I realized that I am one bob haircut away from turning into my mother. We’re two ENFJ’s in a pod, who have walked through fire to live a life of sunshine. Savannah was the first time my mom and I traveled together— no Tammy, no Grammy, just us. On the first weekend of January, my sister attends a theater conference in Upstate New York. My mom and I seized this window of opportunity to do something we’ve never done before: go on an adventure. The combination of a short flight, open containers, and River Street made Savannah the perfect destination.

My Mom has not been bitten by the travel bug as I have, however, we have both been plagued with a different beast: anxiety. Sharing my love of travel with my Mom goes so much further than showing her some of my favorite destinations. I am deeply indebted to travel for allowing me to realize that I can tame my own anxious mind. Our weekend in Savannah was spent going with the flow of what River Street had to offer. Not everything in life needs a plan— which sounds blasphemous when you’re as type A as we are. We didn’t have an itinerary telling us to take syringe jello shots at the dueling piano bar… those things just happen.

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2. Boston, MA. | Embrace change

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I don’t feel completely ready to say goodbye to 2017. My baby sister is a senior in high school, and will be going off to Emerson College in the fall. I’m not completely sure how that’s even possible, because I feel like I graduated high school 20 minutes ago. Going away to college is the experience that transitions you into adulthood. It’s the years that you’ll build relationships that will bring you into your next phase of life.

We visited Boston this summer, and it was such an obvious fit for my sister’s college experience. This trip allowed me to face reality. The truth is that I’ll never be ready to let my sister go (ammi right parents?!), but I have faith in Boston, and the happiness this city will bring my sister. 

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3. Montréal, QC  | Fly solo (and do some pull ups)

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Sometimes you gotta go, where nobody knows your name. ☝🏻🎶 Montréal is my first Canadian adventure, eh, and certainly did not lack in poutine, friendliness, and maple syrup. Once you travel by yourself, it becomes something that you crave. I love to immerse myself in a new location, and flying solo forces you to dive in differently. One of my favorite things to do is take classes at different gyms, so I can learn from different trainers, and trainees wherever I am! On this trip, I visited Studio Epix for their HIIT morning workout. This was the first class that pushed me to try pull ups… and life has never been the same.

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4. Austin, TX | Be Genuinely Curious

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A professor once told me that the key to being a good listener is in being genuinely curious. That was a tip that has always stuck with me, and has been brought to life during my time in Austin. This year on my solo adventures, I grew quite fond of hostel life. During my time at the Firehouse Hostel, I went on daily adventures with interesting others, traveling from as far as Australia. It wasn’t hard to be genuinely curious about the paths that my new traveling posse have taken, that led us to the same place, at the same time. It makes me think of all the people we cross paths with on a daily basis, that we may be inspired by if it were for just a little bit of curiosity. We’re not cats, after all…

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5. Pilanesberg, South Africa | Life extends beyond ourselves

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This year I took the trip of my dreams, and went on safari in South Africa. Being smack dab in the middle of the animal kingdom was a consistent reminder that the universe does not revolve around us. We humans get caught up in our own lives, and don’t often sit and ponder about the lioness that is hunting to feed her cubs. This trip was a refreshing culture shock, that allowed me to disconnect from the human world. Albert Einstein once said, look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. Albie, you weren’t kidding buddy.

[Read more: Lessons learned on an African Safari]

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6. Cape Town, South Africa | Don’t talk about it, be about it.

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Many of our dreams are reserved for laters and tomorrows. I prefer to-do lists to bucket lists, because as much as I’m a dreamer, I’m also a doer. South Africa was a destination that I always considered a “someday” trip. One of those majestic places that I’ll visit “one day.” Until my best friend said- I’m going, you coming?

We should all dream big, but don’t be afraid to jump up and make things happen. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have travel buddies with travel dreams similar to your own! This trip will hold a special place in my heart, with each moment affirming my love for planet Earth.

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7. Atlanta, GA | You can always count on Waffle House

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This year, two of my trips were rooted in the nuptial love of my college friends. In September, my prom date, his girlfriend and I traveled as sister wives to Atlanta, where we celebrated the wedding of my cat’s namesake, (human) Jordan. Did we lose you, yet?

There a couple of things in life you can depend on. You can depend on the New Yorkers to be the loudest ones in the room.  You can depend on your best friends to travel as far as it takes to watch you walk down the aisle. You can depend on your road trip buddies to keep you belly laughing the whole drive. You can depend on Turbulence by Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke to get you pumped up. And, most importantly, you can depend on Waffle House to make sure you will fall asleep with a full belly.

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8. New Orleans, LA| Don’t jump in the Mississippi

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New Orleans was the scene for another nuptial adventure, that was fueled by Hurricanes and sleep deprivation. But oh, I’m sorry… I thought we were here to party.

This trip wins the award for most fun had in 2017. It has been four years since my friends and I graduated college, so this celebration also served as an epic reunion. There is nothing quite like a New Orleans hotel doubling as your old dorm. Our strong bonds was made stronger with the topsy turvy times that Bourbon Street introduced us to. If you look deep down to the bottom of the Mississippi, you may find some memories that were meant to be forgotten. But, take it from the itchy skin of my friends… you may not want to take that plunge.

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9. Miami, FL | If they don’t tell you how much, it’s probably $300

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South Beach has officially made its way to the top of the leaderboard on my list of cities visited. This year, I visited on my own in February, and as a birthday celebration for one of my best friends in November. We are a crew who would not snub our noses to the likes of a happy hour, and are a group of gals who don’t back down from a challenge.

On one South Beach Saturday night… we got got. If the hot waiter looks too good to be true, he probably is trying to sell you something. Heed our advice and ask how much, and how big, one Coronita is before ordering four of them. But, my friends, if you do order four of them… you don’t stop until the last one is empty. Remember, your body can do this, don’t let your mind stop you!

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10. Denver, CO |  Get high

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I get by with a little help from my friends, and I get high with a little help from my friends. Denver was one of the last cities I visited this year. It was one of those Google Flights cheap rate induced decisions that I’ll never regret. The Rocky Mountains were calling my name, and I was like, u up?

We visited Estes Park on the last day the road to highest peak of the mountains was open for the season. In less than an hour, we were in a completely different climate. There was a ridiculous sense of tranquility that came with the altitude. I felt like an astronaut that was exploring a totally different planet (ok, maybe that was the edibles talking).

My faith is something that I often struggle with, but I always seem to find answers in nature. This year, I have been coping with the reality of the progression of time. My sister is growing up and going off to college. My grandparents are aging and have been ailing. We’re born, we grow up, we do some things between A to Z, and then life ends. Depressing way to end such an uplifting blog, huh?

Sometimes I feel stupidly optimistic, clinging to silver linings. But, my mindset so often comes from considering darkness, forcing me to exude light. I believe that the role I play in this world is dictated by my ability to be present, be appreciative, and be mindful. Sometimes it takes standing at the highest peak of a mountain to remember that you’re braver than you think. Take this time as we begin the new year to really reflect on the world and your place in it. Try to give more than you take, feel as much as you think, and smile at as many humans as you cross paths with.

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10 Lessons Learned from 10 Cities: 2016

10 Lessons Learned from 10 Cities: 2015

5 Reasons Why Sharks Deserve Their Own Week

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Shark Week! Typically, I’m not one to give into hype. I still have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones, and I probably never will. So then, why is Shark Week such a big deal?

I’ll tell ya why, because sharks are f*cking awesome.

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1. They’re Earth’s OG 

Sharks first appeared over 400 million years ago, meaning they outlived FIVE massive planet extinctions. Not even the dinos can keep up with these underwater ballers.

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2. They Get Hangry

Talk about being #relatable. Sharks that are on the hunt for their food will stop at no cost until they are fed.. sounds a lot like me when I’m ready for lunch. But, unlike us, sharks will only eat once or twice a week.

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3. They’re misunderstood

Don’t judge Jaws by its cover. Sharks are often depicted as mindless killing machines. In reality, sharks don’t hunt humans. They actually think we taste pretty gross. But, if a shark mistakes you for a seal, the only way for them to know the difference is to take a bite.

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4. They live in awesome places

To get up close and personal with these bad boys, you have to visit some pretty badass places. The “Great White Shark Capital of the World” is located in Gansbaai, South Africa. Located about 2 hours south of Cape Town, Gansbaai offers experiences where you can dive into their environment. These excursions are very safe because the most dangerous animals are in the cage… the humans.

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5. They’re both feared and loved

Niccolo Machiavelli has said, “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” Sharks say, “You can love me, but you’ll also fear me.” While yes, sharks are far less ferocious than we are led to believe- I still wouldn’t want one sneaking up on me. But how can you hate such a beautiful beast, whose presence keeps an entire ocean ecosystem balanced?

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So, I will not only give into the Shark Week hype, I’m adding to it. Follow along with our #SharkWeekSaga if you think sharks are just as Jawsome as we do!