The Unplan – Life Changing Decisions – Part 10

For the last couple of years I’ve certainly had wanderlust. Since I first got back on a plane after surviving a plane crash in December 1997, I’ve gotten stronger and stronger and have wanted to explore further and further.

First, a trip to Bermuda to see if I would lose it completely on a plane. (2008)
I didn’t.

Then a trip to New York to celebrate turning 30 and that I didn’t lose it on a plane! (2008)

Then on to Costa Rica and Nicaragua – a whole new continent for me. Also the first time that I started thinking about studying Spanish.(2009)

Next thing I knew I was traveling to photograph destination weddings. (2010)

And then another new continent as I flew to Germany and Poland to photograph Coalition for Kids International, granting wishes to terminally ill children in Poland. (2011)

My little wings that had been weakened by 11 years of non-use, were getting stronger.

Why not take it further and create Photo Tours in far away places like Peru and Vietnam? (2012 – 2014)

With all of those great destinations under my belt, a lot of take offs and landings and no further plane crashes … I decided it was time to really take a leap and off to Southeast Asia I went with my longest flight being 12 hours and 50 minutes from Narita, Japan to Chicago, USA.

Looking back, it’s incredible to see that all of this (and much much more) has happened in the past seven years.

So, it really shouldn’t be any big surprise to anyone what I’m about to tell you …

I’m sure if you’ve been reading my series of Life Changing Decisions, you are starting to put it together.

1. Decision to get debt free.
2. Work at a job that can be done anywhere in the world (or confirm that your current job can)
3. Do renovations & put condo on the market
4. Dream of travel

What do you get when those things all come together?

You get the UNPLAN! (and a really happy Shari)

In my head, and to my close friends and family, my plan since the beginning of this was not really to have a plan at all, hence the UNPLAN.

What exactly does the UNPLAN look like?

Like a leaf in the wind (or a paper airplane), I can go wherever the wind takes me. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Well, it’s a semi-calculated type of crazy if that makes it any better!

I am setting my life up to be debt free and with fewer commitments. This will allow me to travel when and where I want and discover our amazing world. I don’t want to live my life waiting 12 months for my next vacation. I don’t want to be on vacation all the time, but I do want to live my life to the fullest and for me, a big part of that is seeing this amazing, vast, beautiful world we live in.

The UNPLAN has always been somewhat calculated. I’m not jumping off a cliff without checking for a soft landing. From the beginning, although extremely hard for other people to understand, I have made very few decisions about where / when / how long I would travel for. I would tell people I’m getting debt free so I can travel and they would of course ask ‘Where are you going to go?’ Although I had narrowed it down to a starting point of Central and South America, that’s as much as I was willing to commit to. When they asked me ‘How long are you going for?’ My answer has always been ‘I’m not sure. An undetermined amount of time. I’m not debt free yet.’

I have flitted back and forth between ideas such as a year-long around the world trip, a SWAP working holiday in New Zealand, settling in for a couple (or several) months somewhere in Central or South America, or simply living in Nova Scotia and traveling whenever I possibly can. These are big, amazing options. Don’t you dare say I’m ‘lucky’ to have these choices. This has nothing to do with luck folks, I am making these choices, they aren’t just magically happening.

You see, there are doers and dreamers in this world. I’m a doer. Yes, I have big dreams but I don’t sit and daydream unless I’m actually going to make something happen. So, being realistic about it all, I absolutely, flat out refuse to make any travel decisions until I become debt free. (with one exception – see below)

Although I still dream of where I want to visit, where I might like to stay for a little while and what great adventures are out there waiting for me, until I achieve my first, and most important goal of being debt free, I can’t move forward with achieving this undetermined amount of travel. This is a calculated UNPLAN!

I’m designing my own life. I’m making choices for me, based on my passions, what’s important in my life and how I can find happiness. Isn’t the true meaning of life to live it to it’s fullest?

So, let me give you the big announcement(s) …

1. Knock on wood, my condo has sold. Barring any complications with the condo financials, it is a done deal with a mid-June closing date. It was on the market for less than one month. I got reasonably close to asking price. I got slightly more than I needed in order to get completely debt free, set aside my down payment for my next home purchase and set aside a bit of money for travel. I think the universe is encouraging me to continue with the UNPLAN!

2. I confirmed a long time ago that I would be able to continue to be a travel agent, but work from anywhere in the world with my current employer, The Adventure Travel Company. Today, May 15th is my last day working in the office and as of tomorrow I will be working remotely. I’ll post a blog about this transition in a couple of days, but for now, all you need to know is that I am still a full service travel agent, specializing in adventure travel. I am affiliated with the amazing Adventure Travel Company and I hope you’ll support me by trusting me to help you plan YOUR next adventure. You can email me at stucker@atcadventure.com

3. I have been accepted on a travel agent familiarization tour with Intrepid Travel for one week in Chile and Argentina in November. This is the one concrete travel plan that I allowed myself to make before all of my other plans came together. I knew that once the condo sold, I would likely head to Central or South America, so this was a natural fit and gave me dates to work with when I would already be in that part of the world. This trip is free (except airfare) and gives me the opportunity to experience these two countries with a great supplier. I knew that even if my condo did not sell, that I would be able to either find the money for the flights or I have enough Aeroplan points to get me there. There were too many benefits for me to pass up. I had originally applied but it was full. A couple of months later, someone had to cancel and one little spot opened up. It had my name all over it! I applied within minutes of finding out a spot had opened up.

4. Having confirmed that I would be heading to South America in November, I shortly thereafter made the decision to launch a new Peru: Through the Lens Photo Tour. I’ve just released details to my photo email list and full details will go public next week. On my first day to announce the new tour, I already have the first person signed up! Tour dates are Oct 18 – 28, 2014. If you’d like more information, please contact me, or sign up for my photo tour newsletter.

There it is folks …

My condo has sold.
I start work as a home-based travel agent on May 16th, but remain under the umbrella of The Adventure Travel Company.
I have a tour booked to Chile and Argentina in November, so if nothing else, I know where I’m headed in late fall.
I am about to go full force promoting my next Peru: Through the Lens photo tour for October 2014.

My UNPLAN is starting to shape up.

Now, of course, in the spirit of an UNPLAN, I have not decided how long I am going for or what other countries I will visit. And, as with everything else, those decisions all depend on many variables. My condo sale still needs to finalize and all of my debts must be completely cleared. I need to find a place to live for the summer and early fall. I must find at least eight people to travel with me on the Peru: Through the Lens photo tour. And, let’s not forget that nice man who walked into my life back in February (see Part 8 of this series). I can’t leave him behind for a year while I go gallivanting around. And no, sadly he can’t come gallivant around with me for a year due to commitments here! It’s still new and early, but it wouldn’t be fair to him or me ignore him in all of this!

Like I said … it is still an UNPLAN with many choices and decisions yet to be made and too many variables still lurking around. Don’t worry, I’ll be blogging about it all along the way!

Now that the big news is out there … let the questions begin! Feel free to post questions and comments below on this post … share with your friends … send it to other people you know who are currently on extended travels or those who dream of doing so …

I’ll be posting updates about my struggles, preparations, decisions and triumphs until departure day (whenever that may be). After that, I’ll transition into sharing my travel adventures of whatever fantastic countries I visit. Some will be exciting, inspirational and likely funny. Others will be boring and simply there for me to keep track of my thought process. I invite you to sign up for my blog updates (top right of my blog) and follow along as often (or not) as you wish.

The first five months of 2014 have certainly been filled with amazing challenges, laughter, tears and some of the biggest decisions of my life so far … but wait … at least all of those things are my choice … so really, how bad can it be?

Just like a leaf in the wind … I’m about to go on a crazy ride.

I hope its a warm, southern wind not a Nor easter!

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Fear vs Bravery

A lot of people know that I am heading out on my next big journey. This time to South East Asia, where I have never been before. People, for the last couple of weeks, have been asking ‘Are you excited?’ I know they’ve all been expecting a resounding ‘YES!’, but they’ve all gotten a different answer.

‘No, I’m not excited. Right now I’m scared. I’ll be excited when I actually make it to Yangon, Myanmar.’

Yes, you heard it, straight from me. I’m scared.

For those of you who seem to think I’m an old pro at traveling the world, you’re only seeing the outside. Inside, my stomach has been churning for weeks. In fact, I nearly had a panic attack when I booked the flights in May, confirming that I would actually be going. Since then, the fear has grown. I try to keep it under control and not let it overtake my life, but I have to admit, it does overtake my excitement.

So, right now, no, unfortunately I’m not excited. I’m stressed.

For years, on and off, I’ve seen a counsellor for many reasons, not the least of which is to deal with issues from the plane crash that I was in, in 1997. I know not everyone knows that I was in a real live plane crash (well, now you do), and sometimes people just forget, but EVERY SINGLE TIME I go to board a plane I think about that crazy-scary night in December 1997. It’s been 16 years, but it just isn’t something that you forget. And, with each day as my departure gets closer I think about it more and more.

A couple of weeks ago I was in talking to my counsellor and she said something to me about my fear that made sense. (She often does make sense, that’s why I see her!)

She had said that it’s very brave of me to be going on this big journey alone. I wasn’t feeling very brave, I was overcome with fear. What she told me is that the difference between the two is that someone who is brave isn’t any less scared, they just choose to face their fear and move forward, rather than letting their fear consume them.

Well, how could I argue with that?

Hearing this from someone else made it so clear to me that having fear is actually alright. I can’t push it away because it is natural, but I have accepted it and stopped beating myself up over it. And, most importantly, I’m not giving in to it.

I’ve struggled with this for 16 years. It is a big part of me as it was a life changing event. For nearly 11 of those years, I let the fear consume me and I refused to fly. I wouldn’t even consider it.

For the last six years, I’ve faced that fear. The fear doesn’t ever go away though.

I am about to embark on the longest journey (in distance) that I have been on. The farthest away from home, the longest flights and the most plane / airport changes to get to my final destination.

When I get back home to Canada in September, you should give me a hug … I’ll need one after all of this travel.

It is not going to be easy, but I am going to do it.

Maybe the biggest lesson I learned from the plane crash (and have been reminded of through regular travel), is to be thankful. Thankful that I survived that plane crash so that I have the opportunity to see the world. The crash wasn’t meant to hold me back, it was meant to catapult me forward to bigger and better things, new adventures, new opportunities, new challenges and most importantly, living life.

Finding my Life – Part 3 – Sometimes the Stars Align

The story of how I went from Aspiring to be Inspired in August of last year, searching for my life, to a complete career change. And, how sometimes the stars just align at the right time.

If you’d like to read these in sequence, start with – Finding my Life – Part 1 and Finding my Life – Part 2 – This is MY journey.

Where do you find a new perspective on life? For me, it was the Dominican Republic, but truly, it had nothing to do with the destination and everything to do with the journey. I could have been in South America, Asia, India … it wouldn’t have mattered. It was not the Dominican Republic that taught me lessons, it was the series of events and people I met. Had I gone to another destination, I would have met a different group of people and had different events, but I truly believe the outcome would have been the same. I believe that the right people would have come in to my life to help me make my way through my own journey.

While in the Dominican, my goal was to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. How did I want to run my business. Did I want to continue to run my business? Pretty big questions to be answered on so-called vacation.

After realizing that I was in charge of my life, that I could say yes or no to anything that came my way, I was able to move forward. It’s funny how people tell you this but you don’t believe them until one day the light just turns on and you think ‘how did I not see this before?’

For months I had been struggling with the idea that I might not want to run my own business anymore. It was a vicious circle and internal struggle. My business was successful, I was well-known and I was doing well for myself.

I wasn’t happy though.

I had already timidly mentioned to a couple of my friends and family members that I might not want to run my own business any more and of course was met with lots of ‘what do you want to do? how are you going to do that?’ Simply, I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions. I just knew that I wanted something different.

One afternoon while in the Dominican Republic (almost one year ago) I wrote an email to a travel agent who I had worked with before, asking for her thoughts, advice and input on the travel industry as a whole. At the end of the email, I mentioned that I knew she was really busy and would she ever consider hiring an extra person, even for the administrative assistance, not necessarily for selling travel. For me, I just wanted to know if it was a waste of time to consider being a travel agent. After all, with all the online bookings, wasn’t it a dying profession? Come on, I know many of you are thinking that! I’ll write a good post on why that’s not true one of these days!

Her response surprised me. She told me that she was looking to expand and that she might be interested in bringing me on as an agent, we should discuss further when I got back to Canada.

Well, my little heart started racing. Wow! Here I was, offering to do something, anything to get out of the cycle I was in and suddenly, it was turning into a real possibility that I could change careers.

When I returned home in September (2012) we continued our conversations and I took the opportunity very seriously. I spent a lot of time weighing the benefits and downfalls of switching careers. This particular opportunity would have me still be my own boss, but working under an umbrella company. Was this a benefit or a downfall though? I spent MANY hours deliberating this. I would have to work hard to build my own clientele and I wouldn’t get paid for quite some time as it would be commission based, so therefore I would have to juggle running my photography business and my travel business until I was able to make a living from travel. But, not being 100% sure that I wanted to completely give up photography, that was a bit of a benefit.

So, I had pretty much made up my mind and was in the process of signing up for the travel training, but before I moved forward, I had one big task I had to follow through with and it scared me to death. I spent many days avoiding having a conversation that I thought was going to be incredibly difficult. I didn’t even know where to begin so I wasn’t beginning at all.

I had already made plans with the Adventure Travel Company for my second Peru Through the Lens trip. We had already worked on it and had the itinerary planned, the marketing done. We were really just waiting for my return to Canada to put a big push on selling it. I knew if I were to switch careers and become a travel agent for another company, I wouldn’t be able to run this photo tour with The Adventure Travel Company as it would be a conflict of interest.

My mind was made up that I wanted to change careers, but oh, how I dreaded contacting the manager at the Adventure Travel Company to tell her I was going to become part of the competition. My throat tightened and my heart pounded just thinking about it. So, I put it off another couple of days.

When I finally made the phone call and spoke to her, I explained the situation. I didn’t want to drop the photo tour, but I understood that it wouldn’t work if I took the other job. Once again, I was astounded by her response. She said, “Have you ever considered coming to work for us, here at the Adventure Travel Company?”

Actually, I had considered that option, but on their website it stated that they were looking for people with training on certain programs and travel industry experience. I had neither.

She explained that it still could be an option and suggested that I meet with her before making my final decision. So, I did.

We met for coffee and she explained all about the Adventure Travel Company and the opportunities they offered. In fact, they had an option for work from home, but be under their umbrella as well … exactly the same as the first company I was considering. Well, the benefits and commissions worked slightly different, but overall, the same concept.

Wow. Now I was really confused. I now had two options because both companies were both stating that they were interested in having me. How did this happen? I thought my mind was made up to go with the first company and then I landed back in the same spot with no idea what to do. Working for The Adventure Travel Company would mean I could sell more of the type of travel that I was interested in and I could continue my photo tour.

I thought about it for days … maybe even a week. And, I don’t just mean thought about it in passing … I wrote lists of positives and negatives of each company. I ran some scenarios of how much money I would make. I asked more questions and I cried.

And I cried.
And I cried.

I cried because I couldn’t figure out what was the right choice. I cried because I felt bad that the first company had taken so much time to talk to me and explain everything and welcome me with open arms, but then the second company did the same. I felt like no matter which I chose I was somehow betraying the other.

And then I stopped and decided that was a really silly reason or way to make a decision … based on who I thought I would offend less. Going back to the lesson I learned earlier … I could say yes or no to anything that came my way.

So, I changed my way of thinking. No more worrying about who thought what or who I’d be letting down. I wasn’t making this decision for anyone else. This decision, to change my career and my life was all about me. As it should be!

When I cleared my head and re-started my thinking process I realized that both jobs were wrong.

What? After all that, you say!

Yes. Both of the jobs that I had been encouraged to take were at home office jobs where I would be my own boss. I would work from home, build my own clientele, set my own hours. You’d all love that wouldn’t you? Well, think again … For the past 10 years I had already been running my own photo business from home, building my own clientele, setting my own hours (which often meant, simply too many!), I was lonely and isolated.

As much as I wanted to change careers, and believe me, my heart ached when I made this decision, NEITHER of those jobs were right for me.

I contacted the manager at the Adventure Travel Company again. I told her that I had decided that I really didn’t want to work from home, based on commission. Part of my reason for wanting to change careers was to switch to an office job, to have regular hours, to see people every day and to have someone else be responsible for the overall well-being of the company. Not to mention a regular pay cheque that I didn’t have to chase down (entrepreneurs out there, you know what I’m talking about!) I asked if there was any possibility of an office job, to which she didn’t have a clear answer for me at that time.

I put the travel job on hold for a couple of weeks, allowing myself time to reconsider just how badly I wanted to do it. Did I want to do it badly enough to start my own business again from scratch?

One day, I wrote a Facebook message to the travel agent that I worked with for Peru Through the Lens trip. Just a message to say ‘Hi. How are you?’. Moments later, she was telling me that she had just resigned from her job and she was leaving in a couple of weeks.

My response? True story….
‘Congrats on the new job. That’s awesome, very happy for you. Um, does that mean your job is up for grabs?’

Sometimes the stars just align.

Immediately, I was back in touch with the manager at the Adventure Travel Company to see if she would be interviewing to fill that position, and indeed, she said she would be.

A couple of weeks later, I had an interview (middle of October). It went well. I was excited. I knew that it felt right.

Several weeks later, a decision still hadn’t been made. I didn’t know what the hold up was, but I knew that I would soon have to start looking for other options if that was not going to be my career move.

I had come home at the beginning of September and started the process of trying to change careers. Here it was early November and I didn’t have a new path yet, but I was lacking inspiration and motivation to continue on my old path. Those two months felt like a year.

Another week or so passed and finally, I got the job offer. The one in office, not home based.

Holy! Now this whole thing was really real.

We talked about salary, benefits, the Peru Through the Lens photo tour. We discussed at length the differences of working in an office versus working from home and I was 95% ready for it. The other 5% was me shaking in my boots. This was a HUGE decision to make. Was I really ready for it? Could I really switch from being my own boss to working for someone else?

I guess it was time to find out!

I started my new job as an Adventure Travel Specialist at The Adventure Travel Company on November 19, 2012.

It took me nine months from the time I sat atop the Lost City and Found myself, through a break up of a two-year relationship, seven weeks traveling solo in the Dominican Republic and learning Spanish, learning to kick people off my energy bus and truly being on a bumpy journey to find my life, before a tangible change took place.

Here I am. A world away from the person I was at this exact time last year. Last year on July 23rd I was dancing in a barber shop with my friend Kelly and his nephew in the Dominican Republic. I was trying to have conversations with my two weeks worth of Spanish classes but most of the time I had no idea what was going on. It was good for lots of laughs though. And, the boys took good care of me, despite them being ‘typically Dominican men’. I visited the ‘real’ Dominican Republic, outside of the city, hung out on the streets where neighbours gathered, kids played street basketball, bachata was blaring from every little corner store and I was welcomed in to their homes with open arms.

Now, I’m proud to say that I have changed my life and my career and am happy about it. All that soul-searching from February 2012 in Peru through until now paid off.

And, instead of running away to the Dominican Republic for seven weeks to figure out my life, I’m living my life and doing my job while preparing for my first trip to Asia in just 23 short days.

Amazing how it takes so long and feels so slow in the moment, but looking back, it feels like I’ve come a million miles from where I was.

The journey continues though … life is a balancing act and some days I still feel like all of the plates I’m holding up are falling and breaking all around me. Some days I lose my balance and fall with them, but I know that if I continue to search for myself and take steps in the right direction, I will learn important lessons along the way and will find ways to have fewer plates breaking. (Finding my life – Part 4 – Plates in the air – coming soon-ish)

PS – I can’t believe it honestly took me a year to write this Part 3 blog post. I guess I just wasn’t ready until that one year mark hit. I guess it was just the right time. Funny how sometimes the stars align.

Failure. No Thanks.

One day, not too long ago a photographer that I know from Halifax wandered into the Adventure Travel Company having seen the sandwich board outside announcing the Peru Art Show. As she started to have a look at the photos, I said hello to her and she recognized me. She then sat down and we had a chat as she gazed around at the photos.

The little chat of course quickly got to the fact that I had changed careers and she stated ‘I don’t blame you. The photography business is horrible. A bunch of us sit around and bitch about it all the time. There’s no work. No one values you. Some people just can’t take it and make any money at it, so I don’t blame you for changing careers.’

Bite your tongue Shari … bite it hard!

I politely told her that I hadn’t changed careers for any of those reasons and that it was just time in my life for a change. She skimmed over it and continued on about the death of the photography industry and so many people doing photos on their own with point and shoot cameras. She never heard a word I said because she was too wrapped up in her own negativity.

The fact of the matter is this …

If you sit and bitch about your job, that there is no work and no one values you … maybe you are the problem not the public at large. Maybe the industry isn’t dying, so much as it is looking elsewhere for better service. Or, maybe you simply aren’t selling your value. You can’t assume that people should think you are valuable! You need to prove your value to them.

I changed careers seven months ago for all kinds of reasons, but not for any one of the reasons that she was complaining about. I had no shortage of work. I had great clients who appreciated me and treated me well. Loyal and kind. You get what you give.

I changed careers for a different lifestyle, for a change in my life and although it is hard to believe, about a third of the money. That’s right folks. I make less than 1/2 of what I used to running my own business and I made that choice (not easily). Money simply does not equal happiness.

It has always amazed me from the time I was in photo school (many moons ago) at how negative the photography industry is as a whole. I can remember one of the photographers in our speaker series just before I graduated coming in to tell us about his part in the photography industry. After two years in school, he all but told us we wasted our time and money because there was no work and he was starving. I remember it so clearly. I was so angry that he had such a negative message for us when we were hoping to be inspired and excited to use our creativity. Not to mention that I had just put myself through school, while traveling every day from Truro, by doing photography on the side. I didn’t have any student loans to help support me and I had a mortgage to pay. Somehow I was making money, who was he to tell me that I was going to starve?

I knew from that moment on that in the photography business lots of people would fail and I did not want to be one of them … I came to learn that the photography business would be a bit catty and negative, so I avoided getting involved in a lot of that and concentrated more on the business aspect than mingling with fellow photographers. Although, there were positive conferences and get togethers it could be quite “clique-y” and sometimes very negative. Most of the well established photographers (5-10 years ago) were scared to death to talk about anything business related with someone up and coming. It made it difficult and un-welcoming to newbies, so you just had to find your own way.

I always shared everything I could with students, taking several on over the years as interns and then hiring several of them to work for me as well. If they asked me a question about the business I answered. I didn’t hide my ‘secrets’ of good business. I took some of them networking with me, others I sent on shoots by themselves. I wanted them to have a positive influence in the photography field rather than the often negative, jaded ones that are out there.

Now, there are several of the ‘younger’ generation of photographers who do the same and are willing to talk about business and how things work behind the scenes. The stuff you don’t learn in school.

What I learned through a lot of struggles was that my photography business would survive and thrive on three things:

1. My work being good. Although I have never been ‘the best’ photographer in Halifax. My work is good and appeals to a lot of people. And, photography is an ‘art’, so who can really determine ‘the best’ photographer in Halifax?
2. How good I was at running a business. This is where most photographers fail. They think that they can just be good photographers and everything else will fall in place. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. You have to be a business person as well as a creative. Not everyone can pull that off.
3. ** MOST IMPORTANTLY ** How much people like me as a person, connect with me and trust me. No one wants to hire a photographer whose work they love but who barks orders at them, asks for final payment at awkward moments in front of wedding guests, is disorganized or unprofessional.

In my 10 years in business, I have grown as a photographer, I have become a successful and respected business person. However, more than anything, the reason that people hired me is for me. It may sound cocky … which any of my friends and colleagues know that I am not … So, if it isn’t me just blowing my own horn, how do I know that’s why people hired me?

It’s simple. Two reasons.

1. My clients were loyal and still are. Many of my clients from 10 years ago were still clients when I decided to make my career shift and many of them treat me like part of the family. I’ve crashed on the couch in Ottawa at a wedding client’s home, I’ve travelled abroad with a portrait client, I’ve been invited to birthday parties, new year’s eve celebrations and much more … and not to take photos, but simply to enjoy. I’ve also photographed many clients children from maternity to 10 years old. I’ve watched their kids grow.

2. When I went to casual photography instead of full-time, many of my photography clients have now turned to me as their travel agent. That has nothing to do with me being good at photography … it has everything to do with the relationships I built with those clients over the past ten years.

When photographers who are starting out or who are struggling with their business ask me for advice … my advice is build relationships. Be good at your art and learn to run a business. If you are only good at one of these things, then your business will not succeed. Your option is to struggle through it and become bitter, or to hire someone to help you with the parts you aren’t as good at.

While some people out there assume that I failed or closed up shop as a photographer because I couldn’t make it work, I know that I succeeded because I ran a successful business for 10 years and then changed careers before I became bitter and jaded. I made a change for myself and I kept relationships with people who I will continue to do business with in a different capacity. Failure to me would have been to stay in an a job that I wasn’t passionate about and end up treating clients poorly or not delivering on what I promised.

Failure? No thanks.
New opportunities and moving forward. Yes Please!

My Travel & Adventure Wish List – Subject to Change

In order to fully understand the depth and importance of my travel and adventure wish list. You need to understand a little about my past. Let me catch you up …

Up until 2008 I thought I was never going to explore anywhere outside of the US and Canada. I had been in a plane crash in 1997 and was afraid to fly. In July 2008, I took my first flight since the plane crash. I still regularly find myself anxious over flying and scared during take off and landing, but I have vowed to travel far and wide and see as many places as I can see in my lifetime. In the past six years, through these challenges, obstacles and achievements, I have become a new person.

From July 2008 until today, I have visited the following places (by plane).
July 2008 – Bermuda – my first flight after the plane crash
October 2008 – New York City – 30th birthday celebration
January 2009 – Costa Rica & Nicaragua
August 2009 – Newfoundland
October 2009 – Bermuda
April 2010 – Cuba
June 2010 – Ottawa
August 2010 – St. Pierre & Miquelon, France (although it is off the Coast of Newfoundland)
November 2010 – New Orleans
March 2011 – Mexico, Germany & Poland
February 2012 – Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands, Peru
April 2012 – Dominican Republic
July – August 2012 – Dominican Republic
January 2013 – Toronto

As much as my perception of life changed because of the plane crash in 1997, my perception and perspective on life changed again as I sat admiring Machu Picchu in Peru in February of 2012. I was slowly embarking on a change of thought process, a better way to live my life and a self-discovery journey.

A year ago, my travel and adventure wish list consisted of Central and South America. I love Spanish. I love Latin culture and I wanted to explore this region in depth. I didn’t even really know which countries were located where, just that I loved the culture. It was a pretty broad wish list, honestly, with very little depth.

I went to the Dominican Republic for the summer (2012) to learn Spanish so that I could communicate better while traveling in Central / South America. I loved it!

While I was away, my life continued to change and my perceptions and perspectives were regularly challenged.

When I came home in September (2012), life changed, as it often does and I embarked on a journey to change careers. The journey had really started in February 2012 at Machu Picchu, but the first seven months were me figuring it out. Then from September to November, it was about me taking action to make a big change.

Since I started working at The Adventure Travel Company in November 2012, my broad and shallow wish list has exploded with energy and curiosity about places I never even knew existed!

Below, I am sharing with you my travel and adventure wish list as of March 2013. I have limited the list to 15 items that are top priority for me at this time. I look forward to writing another wish list in March 2014 to see what has changed, what I have checked off my list and where my dreams have wandered!

Shari’s Travel and Adventure Wish List
Very important to me are: sustainable travel, supporting (not harming) communities during my travels, living with locals, volunteering when possible, practicing my Spanish language skills, getting off the beaten path and not spending a lot of time in large cities.
*In their current order of importance to me.

1. Me to We Volunteer Trip (Kenya or India) – It is at the top of my list as it is extremely important to me, yet I don’t expect to go on this adventure until 2014.
2. Vietnam – including Sapa, Mui Ne, Halong Bay, taking part in the Full Moon Festival, cycling in the countryside.
3. Burma / Myanmar – I really want to go before it becomes an in demand destination. Cycling is on my to do list here as well as lodge at a monastery (not a hotel).
4. Croatia – including Split & Dubrovnik
5. Spanish school (Guatemala / Belize / Honduras / Nicaragua)
6. Gorilla Trek (likely in Rwanda)
7. African Safari (South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania or Botswana)
8. Cape Town, South Africa – because of Nelson Mandela
9. Hot Air Balloon ride – over Cappadocia, Turkey or the Maasai Mara, Kenya
10. Bhutan – Because of the happiness factor
11. Celebrating New Year’s in another country
12. Italy – Tuscany / Venice
13. Greece – Cinque Terre
14. Colombia
15. Morocco

Care to share what’s on your travel & adventure list?

Finding my Life – Part 2 – This is MY journey

This morning when I was getting ready to write this post, while on twitter, I stumbled across this video. It was so powerful to me that I had to share because it is exactly what I am talking about in my previous post. I’m still amazed at the power of this message in someone else’s words.

So, just where do you start to look for a new perspective on life? How do you find the time to change? How do you jump off that hamster wheel?

Step 1: Give yourself permission to do something for yourself.

When I decided to take the trip to the Dominican Republic this summer, it was clearly a selfish trip and I do not feel bad about this, not for one second. I needed time away from, well … from myself … or at least the ‘self’ that I had carved out, here in Nova Scotia. I was stuck in a rut. I had been running a successful photography business for over 9 years. I was well known, well paid, respected and had done a load of charity work that I thoroughly enjoyed … Truly, I felt that I was successful at business. What more could I want?

Well, I guess that’s the question now isn’t it … What more could I want?

As I struggled with being unhappy and fidgety in business, not knowing what the next step was, seeing lots of opportunities but not finding the motivation for any of them, I began to look further into where my motivation had gone. What more did I want?

Eventually, I came to the realization that somehow I had fallen short on the most important piece of success … the part where you work to live, not live to work.

All of my success in business and I wasn’t happy. I felt drained. I didn’t feel creative. I didn’t feel motivated. I had worked very hard to take my business in a new direction over the previous year, was successful and then didn’t know what to do with myself. I had decided to focus on corporate photography and to let weddings and family portraits go. I felt they were draining me and that I would be happier doing corporate work.

Which I was!

Until I wasn’t.

I got wrapped up in the busy-ness of business. I jumped on that hamster wheel and started running. I was more focused now because I was only taking corporate photography work, right? So, if someone called from a business, I was there to help them with their photography needs. Big or small.

Holy. I’m getting out of breath. This little tiny wheel spins so fast. The momentum just keeps you moving all the time. I’m tired, but the wheel keeps turning. I bet there are lots of people reading right now who know this feeling all too well.

STOP! PLEASE! I WANT TO GET OFF!

When my legs got weak and my head was still spinning from how to get from one project that I didn’t like to the next … I finally realized enough was enough. All of a sudden, I decided that it was time to do something for me.

So, where do you look for a new perspective on life?

My first step was to really learn and be ok with doing something for myself. Taking time away from my business to take time for me. Don’t get me wrong, I had to trick myself a little … I decided I wanted to go away to study Spanish. I had wanted to do this for 4 or 5 years and now I needed the break, so it seemed like a good fit. Even though this decision was supposed to be all about me, I still had to trick myself and think of all the ways that learning Spanish would be good for my business. Somehow I still needed this justification that although it was for me, it would still better my business.

When I finally made the big decision to go away and learn Spanish, oh what a relief! Wow did it ever feel good to just have made that decision. To give myself permission to do something for me.

Sure, it was a little crazy.
No, I didn’t really have the money to pay for it.
Sure, I was scared.

But, just like every other challenge I’ve ever faced in life, I knew that somehow I’d make it.

More than anything, I felt like I had no other option. Staying home and living the same way I was, was not an option. Something big had to change.

Step 2: Follow through on that ‘something’ for yourself with no regrets.

So, away I went to the Dominican Republic for seven weeks with a suitcase that was too big, all of my camera gear, a sense of adventure and a desire to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life.

Looking back at my experience it seems like a distant memory even though I’ve only been home for three months.

Before I went, I sat with a coach and a counsellor and decided that I would try to work on a business plan while I was away. I would try to figure out how I could make my business into exactly what I wanted it to be. How I could have a very specific niche market and make a good living. This is what I had been wanting to sort out while I was in Canada, but could never find the time.

Step 3: Have a plan, but give yourself permission to change that plan.

This thought process takes more (at least for me) than just sitting down at a desk and thinking about it. Before I could even wrap my head around business planning, I needed to get outside of my business and clear my head. This wasn’t a one day thing … for me it took weeks. In fact, I can just about pin point the moment when I realized that my head was clearing. It was when I wrote the blog post Aspiring to be Inspired.

In short, I spent my first two weeks in Santo Domingo totally uninspired and struggling with why I didn’t want to take my camera out. The post above goes in to much more detail, but bottom line is, once I figured it out, I was able to move forward. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I certainly felt a latch release and a door open. It was at this time that I really began to see things a little differently.

At this point, I realized that I was on my own, I wasn’t tied to anyone else’s schedule and it was up to me what to do with my time. I hadn’t spent any time thinking about my business, nor did I really want to … yet. I didn’t like Santo Domingo, so I switched to a school on the north coast of the island in a community called Sosua. It was here that I continued to gain new perspective.

Step 4: Stand up for yourself.

Looking back, I feel like things in the Dominican Republic, although not ‘as planned’, happened for a reason.

My first few days in Sosua were wonderful and frustrating all at the same time. But the frustration forced me to look within and to whole-heartedly revisit my reasons for leaving Canada for seven weeks to begin with.

I disliked Santo Domingo, so I changed my plans and continued my trip in Sosua.
I got annoyed with someone who was bringing me down (Get off my Energy Bus). This forced me to look inside, find some strength and believe in myself.
I fought with a friend who was continually telling me that I HAD to make up my mind about what I was doing for the next few weeks and who kept reminding me that I hadn’t made any decisions yet. After shedding tears on more than one occasion over these conversations, I finally stood up for myself and refused to be rushed into making plans or decisions that I wasn’t ready for. I refused to live my life based on what someone else was expecting of me and chose to do what was right for me.

And then … somehow, after taking this stand, both in my head and out loud to my friend, over the next few days, my head started to clear. I think this is truly when I found a new perspective, when I made the decision to do what was right for me.

Step 5: The Answer

So, where do you go to find a new perspective?

I believe the answer isn’t in the destination, but it is hidden within the depths of the roughest moments of your journey to get there, wherever ‘there’ is. I believe that new perspective is found in leaving your every day life completely behind until you unravel and embrace the new challenges and frustrations head on. I believe that my new perspective came when I realized that I was in charge of my journey. When someone tried to break down my transportation or make me follow their journey, I found the strength to say ‘No. This is my journey.’

Stay tuned for Finding my Life – Part 3 where I will talk about what my new perspective showed me, how I put my new plans in motion and where I am now because of it! You can sign up for my blog updates to come to you by email at the top right hand side of this page!

Finding my Life – Part 1

Imagine being really really good at something, but not wanting to do it.

Imagine putting 10 years of your life into something and then just walking away.

Imagine going from freedom to structure.

Yup, that kind of sums up what I’m going through.

In February, when I went to Peru and sat in silence and tranquility at the top of Machu Picchu, I felt like I had found myself. My true self. The self that really wanted to be balanced and happy and whole. I came home from an amazing life changing trip wanting sooooo badly to change, but ending up in most of the same old ways I was in before I left. The difference was, I was now very aware of those same old ways. I came home yearning for a more simple life. I hadn’t been shocked to see the poverty and simpleness of life in Peru, I was shocked to see the complication and selfishness in my own.

I began talking about change. I came home with one of the biggest realizations of my life … that I had WAY more than what I needed and I had it for the wrong reasons. I came home feeling guilty because I have so much. A condo, a new vehicle, lots of clothes and shoes, a refrigerator full of food, some of which I don’t use and end up throwing away. I have heat and access to good medical care.

I have, I have, I have.

And, don’t get me wrong, I am thankful that I have the opportunity to have! However, I’m also frustrated because I have too much.

It was then that I realized how materialistic my life had become and that I have so many things for the wrong reasons. And, overall, in the grand scheme of things I am not a very materialistic person … so some of you out there, well, Wow. I have a brand new vehicle, which I love. I bought it because I could afford it and I needed to cart around my photography equipment more easily. Good reasons at the time. But, when I came home, it made me sick to think of this huge brand new, incredibly expensive vehicle that I didn’t NEED. I wanted it for good reasons, but now all of a sudden I looked at it differently and not only regretted my purchase, but felt almost shameful for the waste of money when I really truly just didn’t care about it.

I had spent many thousands of dollars on something that I didn’t care about.

BIG realization!

Why did I do that? I did it because this is what our society does. I did it because I could, there was a reasonable need for it and now I’ve realized that I really don’t give a damn about a new vehicle.

Life looked a little different coming home. Wait … a lot different.

I looked at the clothes in my closet and realized that even though I have a lot less than many women out there, I still had four times as many clothes as most people Peru. I decided that wearing the same shirt twice before washing it would be a good plan. After all, I just spent three weeks traveling with only a few pairs of pants and shirts. Why couldn’t I do that at home too?

All of these thoughts of guilt and confusion led to me being angry with myself and the biggest realization of all.

I was working my ass off, running my own business, doing all kinds of things that I didn’t like so that I could have lots of money to pay for stuff that I didn’t want. But, I was successful (financially and in the eyes of my customers)!

WOW! Does that make sense or what? *sarcasm*

So, after this huge realization, I decided that things needed to change. I started thinking about how to change my business to only do the things that I loved. If I was going to work hard, I should do so at something I loved, right? As I started to move forward and formulate thoughts on how my business was going to change I realized that I had still missed my own point. I didn’t want to work so hard. I didn’t want to have lots of money just so I could spend it on things I didn’t need. I wanted to find balance. I wanted to live a good, happy life.

Switch gears … rather than thinking about how to change my business to fit my life, I needed to figure out my life! Life is what we are here to live, right?

I didn’t do all of this thinking on my own … business coaches, counsellors, friends, family … everyone heard bits and pieces of all of these different things at one time or another between February and June of this year. I can remember telling friends that I was contemplating if I wanted to continue to run my business. At that time, I really couldn’t see myself doing anything else, but I also knew that something big had to change. I remember talking about needing time for myself (as in not being in a relationship). This was a new concept for me. And, I came up with the idea that I might like to be a travel writer, so I needed to do some research. Maybe there was a way to continue photography and combine it with travel writing … maybe.

I got to a point in April where I just couldn’t take it any more. I was a hamster on a wheel, running in circles. I was taking in more and more work … some I liked, some I didn’t. I was piling on the hours of work all to make money so that I could pay for that car that I didn’t really want … I knew that I wanted to change things, but the wheel didn’t seem to have a stop button. I couldn’t seem to get out of the cycle.

It was then that I realized, in order for me to figure out my life, I had to get out of my life. There was no way for me to stay here, work from home and take time out to change things. My brain could not separate business and pleasure. A weekend away wouldn’t be enough time to sort out my life. A week away would only leave me wondering what work had to be done when I got back. The only way I felt that I could make significant change in my life was to remove myself from my current life in order to get a new perspective. I could see what I was doing wrong but I was too busy trying to keep up to find time to change it. Because, let’s face it, one of the biggest fears out there is change. And, one of the biggest fears surrounding change is that it takes a lot of hard work, time and effort. If change was easy, we’d all jump on board. Change, my friends, is not easy. Even when we are open to it and want it … sometimes we can’t find time to allow it to happen.

So, just where do you start to look for a new perspective on life? How do you find the time to change? How do you jump off that hamster wheel?

Let me share with you some of the things that I did … Finding my life – Part 2 – This is MY journey.