Categories: Musings

A Little Reflection … On Leaning into Uncertainty

Over the past several months, I have been quite pensive, and I keep harping on about this fact in each post. It has been inescapable; I mentioned it a few times, and glossed over it some, I tried not to overshare with you all … hoping, I guess, that I would just magically sort it all out. But, that’s not honest to the journey I’m on over here, and to recording what it’s like to travel long term. I talked about accepting that changes happen and acknowledging that perhaps it’s not wise to plan it all out; I was okay with that in theory a few months ago but I have sucked at accepting and allowing that to happen. Thing is, I have been at a crossroads because my goals and focus have shifted, and I’m being asked to lean into uncertainty, and simply accept unknown. I’m not good at that.

Photographing Victory monument in Bangkok, Thailand

Major goals guided me in the past—I was crystal clear in my desire to travel five years ago. It was the single thing I knew for certain I wanted in my life. Now though, a new baseline has presented itself, and travel is the realized dream. Yes, I do I travel, and it’s wonderful and I am grateful every day of my life when I look around me at some new location, or nuance of a culture that suddenly clicks. I’m doubly grateful to have seen so many beautiful, inspiring sites. And I’m grateful I have the ability, the gifts in my life that allow me to sit and ponder this when there are other, weighty issues in the world. But all of that gratitude (and I pile it on in heaps every day) still has me at a crossroads. Travel is still in my everyday future—in structuring my life so I could travel, I have created a foundational basis that I love and value. But now it’s the foundation, not the goal.

The original title for this post was “On All the Persons I Have Been” because it fit the tone of my reflections—I find myself looking at the progression over the past decade and longing for the single-minded focus I have had at each other stage.

Most long-time readers know that I gave up my acting dreams when I left to travel—a trade-off I have never regretted. And there is still no regret. Zero. But there is nostalgia lately for the person I was back then, for the echoes of those dreams that sound back to me at the oddest times. The entertainment industry has surrounded me in the past several weeks, it’s enveloping me in its warm, alluring embrace, whispering about its shiny side—the stuff “big dreams” are made of. It started when I watched the beautiful film Beasts of the Southern Wild; an indie flick with so much heart and shot only with a shoe-string budget and conviction that the story needed to be told. I loved the film. And so, days later, when my friends here in San Pancho launched a Kickstarter campaign for a gorgeous documentary they shot on a topic I find so deeply intriguing, I found myself swept up in their passion … in this gilded siren call of dreams put aside that found their way back into my traveling world.

And it was like happening upon a long-lost best friend. You know, you’re in the grocery store and this person walks up—the one person in the world who knew your every dream, fear, and hope at the tender age of eight. Seeing this glimpse back into the industry was equal parts sweet, and bitter-sweet. It caused a frisson of doubt. What happened to that person I was … and should I return? Should I point my compass toward that siren call because there is comfort in familiarity, even past familiarity. I know that dream well and slipping it back on would be a simple enough choice.

And while we’re on the big goals, back to travel. The majority of the people on the road who cross my path are living their dream, they are on the road for weeks or months and the thrill of travel—the absolute freedom—is intoxicating. There is this high of excitement that courses through you in the early days of travel for having beaten the odds and seized the day.

Over time, though, something happened. I touched on it in a love letter to travel I wrote two years ago, and as I mentioned in my four years of traveling post, I shifted. Imperceptibly at first, but I have shifted. And travel no longer became that sweeping passionate idea, but rather my everyday reality.

And with these shifts and Shannons echoing in my past, I find myself in a sleepy town in Mexico wondering what the heck I am doing. I have jumped projects and passions over the past decade like a serial philanderer consumes women. College. Acting. Travel. Homeschooling. Book Writing. Book Publishing. Unknown. It’s like playing “one of these things is not like the others.” Some people thrive on uncertainty, but for me it has triggered a brief existential crisis.

Did I make a wrong turn? Why I am here and feeling adrift? What is this god awful uncertainty and why is it plaguing me? I looked at people surrounding me with their passionate ideas and focus and I felt vulnerable—I liked being like them, I knew how to deal with that type of single-minded focus. But this? This feeling sucks.

Once my friends here in San Pancho brought the industry back into my life, I realized I was lost because I wanted a clear-cut “next step.” I have long thrived on logical chains of progression and yet that is no longer working for me.

And my friends advise me, “Shannon, lean into the uncertainty, don’t force yourself to find the next step.  Lead from a place of balance versus single-minded focus. ”

Sunset in Sayulita, Mexico as surfers catch the last waves of the evening and young children play in the sand.

This advice sounds foreign to me. To the persons I have long been.  To the girl who I once was, a girl so hyped up on adrenaline and naïvety that she packed up her life in a month’s notice and moved to Los Angeles for “The Big Dream.” That high fueled me for two years before I had the courage to shift dreams, to allow the bubbles of my long harbored dream to travel come to the surface. Those bubbles eventually eclipsed the dreams that had brought me to LA. Time and place I told myself, and now, now is the time to travel, to act on that dream.

So I traveled. Holy hell have I traveled.

And now, I wonder why I feel a tad unmoored these past months.

But now, I’m trusting in what has brought me thus far—to a lifestyle I love (the traveling) and to a career that fulfills my soul (the writing). In truth, I have no choice but to trust it because there are no big next steps except maybe that I learn how to relax—even taking moments to sit on the quiet beach here to watch sunset feels like I’m cheating, like I should be home, figuring out the answer to life and my next steps.

My plans, dreams, and focus still include travel; this blog will not change in that regard because travel is a part of my life, a daily part of my life. But I found myself boxed in, unable to share the travel stories you have followed for years because I wasn’t comfortable in the uncertainty, so I stayed silent. I felt like you all would castigate me for even questioning my life given that I was able to live a dream so many have on their list of “big dreams.” But honesty wins out, and in the days since I first drafted this post, already I find myself taking a tentative step toward that uncertainty and embracing that unknown. Accepting the lack of control and giving over to it.

And all those persons I have been? I am shedding those now and simply relaxing, perhaps for the first time in my life, into the idea that though “big passions” are needed at points in our lives, there are also gift in the unknowns.

A sunset in San Pancho as two little kids play in the surf in the Pacific Ocean

A Little Adrift was an unknown for me, an unexpected surprise as a community formed here over the years—thank you for your encouragement through the hurdles, enthusiasm for the big moments, and sticking with me through the changes and shifts as I grew up (and grow up) and continue to simply figure things out. It’s been a month of self-enforced exile here in Mexico, of down time to process and accept this uncertainty. And as I find and photograph my travels now, I feel more inspired than I have in at least a year to share the experiences of life on the road. For days now I have covered napkins with scrawled stories, and I bolt from the bed most mornings to write down anecdotes and ideas from my travels (it’s 5:45 am right now and a cup of hot coffee is at my side).

More travel dispatches coming asap, thanks for going on this angsty journey with me these past months. I think my brain is finally done hashing this all out—existential crisis (temporarily) averted  :)

This post was last modified on April 14, 2013, 11:55 am