Gratitude ~ November 2011

During Thanksgiving, Americans typically express gratitude for the many blessings we’ve received.  I have much to be grateful for, including the whirlwind of positive changes in my life since last Thanksgiving.  My Word of the Year for 2011 was nimble and I think I embodied that one pretty well!  Here’s the recap for those following along:

In November 2010 (twelve short months ago), I was living in Austin, Texas.  I had put my house on the market, planning to downsize into a smaller living space.  After 2 pitiful showings in 2 weeks,  I learned my position as a Business Analyst at UT had been eliminated (read: I was laid off from my secure state job 2 days before Thanksgiving).   I assessed my options and decided to rent the house fully furnished.  In early January, I moved myself and my cat to Rockport, Texas, where I spent a wonderful winter living in my parent’s garage apartment and falling in love with the many birds who migrate to the Texas coast when it gets cold.

During this down time, I thought a lot about my priorities and the concept of lifestyle design.  I made a commitment to begin crafting a job for myself that better supports the lifestyle I desire.   I want to spend my time traveling and experiencing new things, building relationships with passionate people and solving interesting problems.  I want to be in control of my time.  And I want to generate a solid, steady income.  So I decided to become an entrepreneur.  There were a million ideas rolling around in my head and I had no clue what I was going to do (or when), just why.  I named my fledgling business Nimble Creatives, because that’s pretty much what we all need to be these days (nimble & creative).

In late March, I had the opportunity to return to Austin for a 4 month gig as a software developer.  By June, I was clear that I was ready to leave town.  I put an ad on Craigslist for a summer sublet, a tenant materialized and I was free to go.   I quickly put together a trip I dubbed my America the Beautiful tour, using the National Parks Pass I won in a photography contest as an “anchor activity”.  The idea was to see more of my country’s natural beauty while scoping out my next home. If you missed it completely, you can read about the tour here and here.

In late July, I kicked off the first leg of the trip, which primarily involved visiting friends & family in the southeast and midwest.   I spent a week house sitting for a friend in Asheville, NC  and instantly recognized that Asheville had everything I was looking for in a home base: a locally-oriented community with a progressive mindset, a strong music & art scene, an abundance of great restaurants, more craft beer than I should really drink, a moderate climate and easy access to hiking in stunning mountains. The only thing missing is the beach and happily Charleston SC is an easy 4 hours away!  (note: I just spent Thanksgiving in the Charleston area – trip report coming soon)

I was reluctant to commit to a place without finishing my tour of the country.  Plus I’d already lived in nearby Boone, NC for most of the 90’s and was pretty keen to explore a new part of the country.  Still I applied for a couple of jobs that stood out and pretty soon I had secured a full-time position as a Business Operations Analyst with a not-for-profit organization.  I took this as a sign, and, in the spirit of being nimble, I cut my America the Beautiful tour short, loaded up the wagon and moved myself to Asheville.  I flew from LA to Austin on October 5, arrived on Asheville on October 11 (just in time for peak leaf season) and started my new job on October 13!  Wow!

I’ve been back in the arms of the Appalachian mountains for 6 weeks now and  I am so happy to be here!

But wait – there’s more!  I’m thrilled to announce that I’m creating a Travel Coaching and Facilitation business.  My mission is to help people travel more!  I meet a lot of people who have taken epic trips (sabbaticals, round-the-world trips, living somewhere new for 6 months, etc).  I also meet a lot of people who say “I wish I could do that…” to which I find myself enthusiastically saying “You can!”  I know it can be very overwhelming to research, plan and prepare for a big trip on your own. So I’m creating a program called Be Your Own Travel Hero that helps people with their trip planning and preparation.  You can read all about it on the Travel Coaching page 🙂

I am _so_ excited for my new adventures!  Please tune in as Be Your Own Travel Hero evolves over the next few months.

Oh and remember that lay-off?  Although it was painful at the time, it turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to me.  I’m having so much fun redefining my life (again) and I have tremendous gratitude that the universe knew what I needed, even when I did not.

Wishing you all much love and abundance this winter!

♥ Audrey

ps I’ve moved all of the content from my personal blog over to this new site and will only be posting new content here.  You can use the widget in the sidebar to “subscribe” and receive posts by email (or just add it to your blog reader)

my low- information, high-gratitude diet

The past six months have been pretty amazing. They’ve also pretty much kicked my ass. I’m blessed with a naturally high energy level, so I didn’t realize just how mentally fried I was.

Granted, I spent the better part of the winter traveling to awesome places and hanging out at the coast with my cat. I was on a fantastic high – calmed by the ocean, recovered from the negativity of my last job, detoxed from the digital overload of modern life, and excited by all the possibilities in front of me. It was a joyful, relaxed and fairly insulated existence.

But the entire time I was thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking… Continue reading

Austin-bound (winter 2011 recap)

As I write this, I am preparing for my return to Austin. Since not everyone is up to speed on Audrey’s world, the fact that I ever left will be a surprise to some of you!

My latest adventure started in November, when I learned my position at the University had been eliminated (translation: I got laid off). Yeah, I was pretty shocked too! I didn’t see it coming – although the saying that hind-sight is 20/20 certainly applies in this case. I wisely decided to hold-off “sharing” the news widely until the edgier emotions were gone. That didn’t actually take very long…but then I got busy with having fun and dreaming about the future and in the end I just blew it off 🙂 So below is the “abridged” version of my winter.

First of all, like many things that blind-side us, the layoff started out pretty awful and ended up pretty awesome. It turns out being laid off is a whole lot like being dumped – there is a cycle you go through. Initially, your emotions and ego are in charge, so you swing between feeling hurt, numb and angry. Then the panic sets in – about how to pay your mortgage, about the job search, about not having health insurance (or being single, reentering the dating pool, being flabby/bald/boring) – whatever your fears are. Then you put one foot in front of the other, deal with whatever needs to be dealt with and start moving forward. And finally, at some point, you look back and realize you are genuinely better off without that job (or person) and that everything that happened really was in your highest good.

For me, the cycle took a few short weeks. I am blessed to have kind friends who ushered me through the initial period of hurt and panic, and kept me focused on the future (thank you, thank you, thank you). And it turns out that all the personal downsizing I’ve been doing for the past year allowed me to nimbly skip out and live another life for a little while.

After my return from a trip to Guatemala last year, I started consciously simplifying my life. I got very clear about the need to free myself – mentally and physically – from my excess stuff. I’ve always moved a lot (shout out to everyone who’s helped me move…some of you multiple times 😉 so I probably have a lot less crap than the average American. But I still had quite a bit of extraneous stuff, stuff I rarely used (if ever). I became aware of how much space and mental energy that stuff requires to own and how often I am distracted and drained by caring for my stuff – demands for my time, money and energy. So I began whittling away at anything I no longer needed (this is a process, not a one-time project, by the way). I also simplified my finances, gutted my mailing list subscriptions, stepped back from extra-curricular activities, and so on.

I eventually decided that I no longer wished to put my energy into my house, and in early November, I put the it on the market. It had exactly 2 showings the first 2 weeks – dismal. But I didn’t care. I had gotten to a place where I was excited – really excited – to sell it. I had a post-homeownership vision that I could practically taste: move my stripped down belongings into a cute garage apartment near the University, ride my bike and walk to work, to the food co-op, to the radio station, to my sister’s house…maybe even sell my car and use car share or get a scooter (woohoo!). My expenses would be cut in half and I would quickly pay off my last remaining debt – my massive student loan! And THEN I would be FREE!

Why am I sharing this vision here? Because even though I had this fantastic, elaborate plan fleshed out in my head, I suppose what I most often saying was simply “I can’t wait to be free!” And funny enough, I got what I was asking for. The day before Thanksgiving break (ouch), in a short and tidy conversation, I was told my position had been eliminated. It was like the lyrics in that sunscreen song “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind: the kind that blindsides you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday” (by the way, that song is totally worth listening to right now I was initially shocked and momentarily devastated. But even in those first moments, as I staggered out of the building into the sun, I remember smiling through my tears because I understood at some deep level that a) I would be fine and b) I had been set free.

Naturally time dulls the emotions and gives us wonderful perspective. Looking back , it is clear that that position was a struggle I no longer needed to engage in. It was challenging from day one and, although I learned tremendously from the experience, I had long since wrung every bit of growth there was out of it. I believe the Universe – God, Source, whatever name you want to use – always gives us what we need. I find this to be an unfailing truth, although how it goes down is not always how we would have chosen (I learned this important concept during my divorce).

After a couple of weeks of nursing my wounds, I was able to switch gears pretty quickly. I rented my house fully furnished to a visiting professor and headed down to my parent’s property on the Texas coast. I moved to an adorable garage apartment (!) on the water – for free! And me and Jackson (el gato) spent a lovely winter enjoying a wonderful mini-retirement. See how that worked out?

It’s been a month since I wrote these words and my feelings are the same:

(February 18, 2011) As I write this, I am looking out over the bay in front of my family’s property, watching and listening to all of the birds that come to winter in south Texas. My curious and energetic niece and nephew – visiting from Austin – are playing in the yard . My harmonica, my hula hoop, my straw hat, my colored pencils and my grouchy kitty, Jackson, have all been called into duty, played with and discarded. They each endured their fates like champions – especially Jackson who originally came to live with me because he doesn’t like children at all. It’s another gorgeous day and I’m smiling about how I came to be sitting on the water in a sleeveless shirt in the middle of a brutal North American winter. I am tremendously grateful for my life and my opportunities. And I am in complete awe of my personal evolution and all that I’ve come to understand as my own truth in the past year and a half.

Looking back on the last 4 months (4 years…), I feel tremendous gratitude for the twisty turns of my life. After this latest twist, I spent 3 fabulous weeks in Mexico and the warm Caribbean waters, exercising my Spanish and my body. I also took a cruise with my mother and a road-trip to visit lovely friends, family and hot springs that I adore.

In between my travels, I’ve spent my days being relaxed and creative. I read. I write. I dream. I take pictures and take walks on the water. Every day I sleep enough, floss, carefully wash my face. I cook meals with fresh veggies and fruit. I do yoga and ride my bike. I help my parents. I brush my kitty. I practice gratitude. In short – I’m living well. Although it’s not sexy or exciting, one thing that has stood out this winter is that having the time to relax and take care of you makes for a happy and healthy existence.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine. It’s practically a full-time job to separate from the University, get health insurance, deal with unemployment and apply for jobs. None of that has been particularly fun or fulfilling. I’ve just tried to face them with grace and move forward.

So what’s next? Well, starting Wednesday I’m joining my old department for a few months. I am super-grateful for this opportunity and super-happy to be working with some of my old colleagues again. The lease on my house is up June 15 and I’ll either re-rent or list it for sale (let me know if you know anyone who might be interested). **And speaking of renting, I’m looking for an inexpensive, cat-friendly place near campus from April until late June or July. Solo living or roomies are fine. Please contact me if you have any leads. I won’t have a garage permit so bikeable/walkable is key.**

After that gig ends … I do not know. I have faith that interesting opportunities will come my way. It’s entirely possible my life will continue it’s lovely zig-zag pattern and I’m completely OK with that. A million ideas sprouted in my head over the past few months and a million more are germinating. I have to say that it’s been a lot of fun – fun to dream, fun to play with the ideas, fun to feel inspired!

And this, my friends, has been the peace-love-n-happiness version of my winter. To those of you who are in Austin, I’ll see ya soon. To those of you who aren’t, come visit! We’ll have fun…promise!