Friday, May 26, 2017

My Advice for Those Abroad? Get Lost on Purpose.


The other night at my local climbing gym a few of us bid farewell to a friend who is embarking soon on a trip across the world to live abroad for awhile. In conversation about her upcoming travels I could tell she was nervous, excited and straight-anxious. I would be too if I were packing up everything I owned and hopping on a plane in a few days. I wanted to give her one piece of advice that I always try to follow when I'm in a new country, city or state: get lost. I tell this sole piece of advice to just about anyone I know who goes abroad for an extended period of time because it's such a treasured, important suggestion.

When you arrive in a new place for an extended period of time- you're trying to do everything in your power to acclimate and assimilate. What clothes should I wear? What social cues and habits do I need to learn and master? Where do I buy my food? How do I ride the public transit system? Should I bow in a gesture of thanks every time I enter a room? You ask yourself millions of similar questions in an effort to settle your excitement and nerves.

Back in 2011 I lived in Vietnam for four months while studying abroad with Loyola University Chicago. It was a special opportunity, as we were the first group of American students permanently studying abroad in Vietnam for a long duration of time, according to the U.S. Consulate a few blocks down the road from our hostel/dorm/Vietnamese government-sponsored housing. I remember the weeks, days and the minutes leading up to arriving in Saigon, being just astronomically stoked to be half-way across the world in South East Asia for the next four months...but also crazy nervous too. I was a skinny, 6'2 tall snowman from Wisconsin that didn't know more than "Hello" or "Thank you" in Vietnamese. I was going to be living, working and going to school in a country where there were very, very, very few other Westerners. I luckily met a somewhat healthy handful of Europeans and Australians but I saw almost no other Americans from January till May (truth be told, I was okay with that). I couldn't read Vietnamese, didn't know the currency or where to go to do what or get what. This was going to be a full-on, cultural immersion and shock. Bring it on, I thought when grabbing my suitcases and getting into a white, air conditioning-less Vinasun taxi cab. I had been wearing for the past twenty-two hours wrinkled dress pants, black dress shoes and a button-down blue and white-striped shirt. It was in the mid 90s, humid, and dusty. The air thick from a combination of motorbike exhaust and industrial smog.

But none of that scared me. If anything it gave me fuel to get out and explore that fascinating, incredibly beautiful and wild country that is Vietnam. I've always had a sense of adventure growing up, being in Vietnam was the chance to really unleash it fully, with no boundaries or limitations. One of the frequent ways I broke-into adapting to life in Vietnam was on days where I didn't have class or working at an NGO (non-government organization relief organization)- I would pack a daybag (with my camera, water bottle, cheapo travel phone, a few Vietnamese dong and my Lonely Planet guidebook), leave our residential compound, past the usually drunk, armed security guard and just go for a walk around Ho Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon, which is what I still refer to it as). Ho Chi Minh City is a sprawling, never-ending, constantly growing metropolis. It's a loud, fast-paced, busy and urban jungle home to nearly ten million people. All living within about 809 square miles of each other. But it wasn't just a walk. I would purposely set-out to get lost. I'd think to myself, "I'm going to walk straight for twenty minutes, than take a right, keep going for ten minutes, take a right, than a left and then a right....etc, etc..." It was so much fun. For hours at a time, I'd just be walking around the biggest city in an entirely new country, on a completely different part of the globe taking in the surroundings, talking to people and learning what life is life over here first-hand. It was absolutely wonderful. I'd carry a journal with me, jotting down notes and thoughts or observations. Snap photos on my obnoxiously large Canon Rebel DSLR. I'd throw-down a few coins at a petite iced coffee shop, indulging in gloriously good iced milk coffee as I watched the world go by outside in front of me. On some turns I'd walk down a quiet alley lined with shops selling everything from knock-off, black-market iPhones, whicker baskets, clothes, motorbike parts, foods of all sorts and colors...you name it. On some turns I'd walk along a stream, polluted with mysterious colors and smells- with tin-paneled huts on stilts perched above. Some turns I'd walk straight into a roundabout, buzzing with buses, taxis honking, and the endless whirring and crackling of motorbikes dancing around it in circles. It was like it was all in perfect sequence and harmony.

Sure there were plentyyyyyyyy of times I was definitely lost and had no clue at all where I was. But that was the fun of it. It was that adrenaline rush of being in a foreign country, not just one that you're visiting but one that you're actually a resident of and calling home. Yeah, I was lost and not really knowing how to speak proficient, accurate Vietnamese, there would be times I felt kind of hopeless. But those were the times where you really figure out just how capable you are on your own. I'd look for landmarks or towering skyscrapers of glass, shed my shy shell and just attempt to ask for directions or advice in bits of broken Vietnamese mixed with hand gestures or dive-in to my Lonely Planet guidebook that was littered with scribbles of notes and underlines, paging to the back for maps. I never once, got lost to the point where I couldn't get home. You just have to breathe, smile, realize where you are and go forth to make the best of it.

So go get lost, on purpose, walk and wonder for as far as you can and as long as you can. Do it alone, too. Take it all in and don't be scared, each foot step you take in unfamiliar territory is only helping you grow and appreciate the vast, diverse world we're apart of. I did the same thing, getting lost on purpose, while in Reykjavik, Iceland this past fall.

Cheers,
Robby

P.S. Stay tuned, I'm going to be re-publishing all of my blog posts from when I lived in Vietnam in 2011 on the blog soon.
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Monday, May 22, 2017

Life Update: Getting Over the Plateau

Greetings, hello and howdy all- It's been quite a long time since I've posted anything on my blog so I wanted to put together a post updating you all on what's been going on in my life.

First thing, I moved! I'm now living in an apartment (with an abundance of hardwood floors) in a neighborhood north of downtown Milwaukee called Shorewood. After living in rural Ozaukee county for a few years, it was about time to move down to the city to be closer to my best friends, family, hobbies and just that 414 life I miss. And to my benefit, my apartment is within a quick walk of two beer gardens, a great county park and the Oak Leaf Trail which I can't wait to start biking and (err) running on. I'm about 99% moved-in and unpacked and finally have working internet. Time to get some trips planned out pronto, I've been slacking. Fun fact. the storage unit in my apartment is monstrous, therefore I don't need to feel guilty about accumulating more outdoor gear. Second and probably the most exciting news is that I'm starting a new job! I recently accepted an offer for a journalism job at a magazine. Starting June 5, I'll be the Assistant Editor at Scale Auto Magazine, a super-cool publication that covers all things model and die cast cars. I've been aching to find a 'real job' and get back into a career that allows me to use my college degree everyday. Now that's going to happen and I am so, so stoked. The third great thing is that my mother just finished her last chemotherapy treatment which marks the end of her second fight with breast cancer! I'm so proud of my mom for again being such a strong person through these past few months. It hasn't been easy on her or our family but we pulled together and she finished like a champion. And when big life changes happen, I like to reflect and write about them.

Let's talk about Steve. So when I interviewed for this magazine job, one of the questions I got asked was "Tell me about the best boss you've ever had and why?" Honestly, I knew instantly who I was going to talk about- Steve . Here's why. When I decided to jump and take a seasonal job out in Colorado for six months, I was nervous, unsure but also excited. I was literally breaking out of my comfort zone, 100%. I was ready for a fresh start and fresh challenges. When I arrived at YMCA of the Rockies, Snow Mountain Ranch in the town of Granby home to 1,808 I was given the opportunity to work on the Y's dogsledding team, under the direction of head musher and Chaplin, Steve Peterson. True, I was terrified of dogs up until October 2014 when I unloaded my station wagon and moved into the Fraser Valley for this job...but something nudged me that I had to give this a shot. That's when I met Steve and his nineteen Alaskan huskies. Steve is one of the hardest-working, most dedicated and compassionate people I have ever met. In between wrangling a dogsledding team, all the religious-based programming and services at our YMC and his own growing family, Steve keeps his head held high. I've seen him straight-exhausted, stressed, tired and angry- but I've never seen him shy away from being compassionate towards one in times of need. Whether it be a phone call, quick talk over chili and beer or inviting me over to him and his wife's log cabin for a home-cooked meal. Steve always, always makes himself for other people. He listens, counsels, strengthens and brings calm when it's needed. He taught me the importance of teamwork, patience and trust. He taught me the importance of having a faith and maintaining it. I owe so much to Steve, who has not just inspired me but helped push me through many quests and challenges in both my personal and professional paths of life. It's an upmost honor to call Steve a close-friend. Yes, that's a true Colorado bluebird sky you see when you're living at 8,000ft of elevation.... and yes I'm that tan.

I'm glad I rolled the dice in my twenties. Okay, so I'm twenty-seven and my twenties are still far from being over...but now that I'm returning to an actual adult career life, I'm reflecting back on the past few years and the choices I've made. My littlest brother Jamie, graduated from University of Wisconsin- Madison with a journalism degree last weekend. His commencement speaker? Legendary comedy writer and winner of nine Emmy awards, Steven Levitan who stressed the importance of 'rolling the dice in your twenties' to a crowd of 7,000 graduates. I blogged awhile back about chasing passion versus a salary, where I discussed how I gave up a pretty good, well-paying, white-collar office job in Chicago to follow my passion for outdoors. For almost three years, I worked at different seasonal, contracted jobs teaching outdoor education at YMCAs or diving head-first into the outdoor recreation field on the government side at our state parks. There were some awesome memories and I'm beyond grateful I got to do things I never would have pictured myself doing back in May 2012 when I walked across the stage in a maroon robe to collect my Advertising and Public Relations degree. Sure my yearly pay depressingly dropped to a crazy low but gosh I had fun and had so much time to figure out what I want in life, what I want to do and what I need to do differently. I had no real strings attached. I could bounce around from seasonal job to seasonal job, living out of my station wagon as I learned new things and met tons of new people. It was fun wearing flannel shirts, steel-toed boots, harnessing huskies in the Colorado mountains, teaching pond science to groups of elementary school kids, eating gross and questionable cafeteria food and living for dirt cheap in community housing. I'm glad I had the chance to try out living and working the seasonal jobs lifestyle. It was so much fun and a chapter of self-discovery that I really needed after getting burnt out from my first job post-college. That first corporate-y job ruined my taste for getting another office gig, but I needed to give it another fair shot down the road. I knew at some point, I had to get back into the real world. I was tired of busting my butt off, making only $9.45 per hour and having to worry every six-months if my contract would be renewed. It's fun working in parks and recreation but when the state pays you less than what one could make hourly at a fast food joint or as a grocery store bagger, it's a huge, comical slap in the face. Especially when you're put in charge of managing all of a state park's accounting and financing yet the second you go into overtime- you're at risk of being terminated. But this past fall, I felt like I hit a plateau...and it was a long, long, long plateau. It was like, boom, as soon as I returned from Iceland I had a wake-up call and realized I needed to make some big, big, big changes in my life ASAP.

I consistently set very high standards for myself and if I'm not meeting them, I have to move. For months, I felt as if I was foolishly wasting my time, not bettering myself professionally, not challenging myself. Life was 'too' easy. It was discouraging and my motivation was plummeting, affecting other parts of my life outside of work. You should never compare yourself to your best friends but at times it's very hard not to. But after a while, I realized this wasn't a comparison, rather encouragement to step it up. Seeing some of the closest people in my life rise to the top professionally and personally gave me that fuel and drive to do the same. I had to catch up. Had to. Not for their sake or approval, but for my own self. I needed to be proud again of who I am and constantly have pride for what I do everyday, on- and off-the-clock. That's why I knew deep down that I needed to get back into a career field that I know and one I'm really good at. So I started applying to various marketing, advertising, public relations and journalism jobs. Those are all things I went to school for and proudly earned a degree in. I remember in all the classes I took in the School of Communication at Loyola just killing it. Acing projects, papers and exams. Even after college and in my first journalism job... that skillset, knowledge and experience put me at my peak performance and I've been craving to get back into that 'young professional' lifestyle ever since. I'm not ashamed, nor embarrassed for taking a few years off from a 'real' career. Yeah, I tried out a different career path for a while, thinking it would build me up and help me shine in a different spotlight but realistically that wasn't the case. I wasn't meeting my standards for personal growth and it was driving me absolutely nuts. But I credit that risky life-move if anything, because it helped re-direct me towards my strengths and point me in the right, best way to better myself professionally. I'm glad I just bit the bullet and decided to turn things around in a completely different path. For years, people have told me I have a gift for writing and I should make a career out of it. After blogging in Iceland and seeing how much people enjoyed reading my travelogues, it clicked that that was where I needed to land a job again- journalism. My immediate goal was to get back into a full-time journalism job in a continuous effort to become the best writer I can be. Now I have that golden opportunity. It's hard to explain fully the emotions I have about starting a new job in a career field I've missed so much and a field I'm good at. I get to write every day!!!! I'm insanely proud to be starting a job at a print magazine. I'm really, really happy to be using my Loyola degree again (it actually makes me smile when I think of it). I'm pumped to get more into photography and editing. I'm stoked to dress in business casual and have a normal work schedule with weekends off (Yes! Yes! Yes! A real social life! More travel!) I'm relieved to finally collect a paycheck that allows me to live comfortably and enjoy some of my hobbies to their finest and fullest extent.

I'm ready to own this job and be the very best I can be.

I've reached the end of that plateau. Let the climbing begin.

Cheers,
Robby



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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

How to Make Every Day an Adventure


We need exposure to the outdoors, every single day. It makes us happier, keeps us active and allows for busy minds to turn-off and find peace.

Sure, come January I like to sit and hash-out trip plans for upcoming weekends or week-trips proposed for months ahead, but I also do everything I can to throw some adventure at my normal weekly routine. It’s not always easy or convenient and sometimes it may feel rushed- but a tiny, quick bit of adventure added into your day or week is better than no adventure at all. After a long, tiring day at work mixed with a disgusting amount of commuting in rush hour, bumper-to-bumper traffic (cue this hilarious opening scene from ‘Office Space’)- I sometimes just crave an escape into the outdoors. Here’s are the four things I do to make it happen:

Have a Go-Bag in Your Car
In the back of my station wagon is a good-size duffel bag that I commonly refer to as my 'Go-Bag'. Inside is a dopt kit with tolietries if I spend the night somewhere, gym clothes and running shoes, an extra uniform for work, a change of clothes for going out and most importantly my hiking boots. Say I want to go hiking quickly after work, or before meeting up with some friends for drinks- anywhere I am, I can just pop the rear hatch, swap some clothes for outdoor adventuring and slip-on my hiking boots. It saves me an extra trip to having to go back to my apartment, just to change for a hike. Inside that actual go bag is a small, probably less than 20L daypack from Gregory that cinches at the top and holds plenty of gear goodies. Relevant outdoorsy things in that lime-green daypack  include a Nalgene water bottle, insulated REI down vest and pretty much everything I have on in the photo above. Flannel shirts for the win. Always. I also keep a small journal and a few pens inside my hiking backpack as well as a headlamp (for those epic, sunset hikes) and even a compass.

Make Time for it and Make it a Priority
Take a look at your schedule for the day and determine, key word, determine a time to get outside. Maybe it's on you commute into work, or in between that doctor's appointment and when you have to drop your car off at the shop. Or maybe your lunch break, where you can trade an office-break room for a picnic spot at a local park.  Or maybe just on your way home from your job. I do the vast majority of my adventuring after work because it's such a good way to unwind after those eight hours of punching-the-clock. There are days where I'll tell myself as soon as I wake up and am pouring a cup of coffee "Today I'm going to go hiking after____ or before____". Make it happen once and then build it into your routine. When I move on Saturday to a new apartment just a few minutes north of downtown Milwaukee in Shorewood, I'm aiming to try and go for a little morning walk, mug of tea in hand, before starting off my day as often as possible.

Know Your Hood
Study-up and do your homework. Figure out where on the map the closest parks are. Maybe there's a state park or forest only ten minutes away from your office? Perhaps there's a super cool county park with some awesome hiking trails by your daily go-to lunch spot. If you're driving somewhere out of the norm, maybe to go pick-up something or run an errand or traveling out-of-town to a wedding or meeting, head to the interwebs and see if there's a park near you. There probably is and it's probably spectacular. I keep a state parks guide book and a few county park maps within reach, in my door pocket of my wagon for those times I get out of work and have some time for a quick adventure. Come up with a list of like, five parks close by to you that you can always rely on getting your nature fix at. Shuffle through those and add a few new ones in every once in a while too.

Always Be Planning for the Next Big Adventure
Focus as much of your attention and excitement on those quick, spontaneous adventures- but don't be shy to dream about the big trips. I constantly daydream at work, in the car commuting to work and elsewhere about grand adventures I hope to one day do, well, scratch the hope...will one day do. Like mentioned earlier, at the start of every new year, I make a list of places I want to try and explore over the course of the next twelve months. Get your rough, brainstormed, bullet-pointed list of spots you're craving to unleash your wanderlust at and go from there. In the midst of all these routine, quick little microadventures I hope you do, try to pick a few big adventures off that yearly bucket list and plot dates on the calendar. It'll give you something to look forward to, work towards financially and train for physically. You can do it at home if you're hanging indoors while a ragging thunderstorm roars above or if you're stuck at work  four-hours past close if you need a break from cramming away at that second-last item on your coffee-stained to-do list on your desk. Do it on your lunch break, that's what I do. Even if it's just ten minutes a day at lunch piecing together details and itinerary ideas for that trip in four months to (insert incredible national park here), that'll keep your motivation sparked and high. And chances are, all that planning will sway you to get outside for more adventures even more until that departure date.

So I hope after reading this you make that strong effort to throw some adventure into your life, every single day. I know I am, today after a meeting at work I plan on lacing-up my Timberland hiking boots and hitting the Scuppernog Trails in the Kettle Moraine State Forest: Southern Unit. Ahhh, sixty-degree temps, a bluebird sky and fresh pines await.

Cheers,
Robby

On the iPod...
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