Kadıköy, Istanbul, Turkey.
Tag Archives: Life
It is said that nothing happens until something moves.
A smile in return to the tip of a hat, shared stories with the person in the next bus seat, a penny left behind on a sidewalk..right side facing up.
I’ve been thinking lately about this idea of contact points, which are the most fitting words I can think of to describe the way we move and touch the world around us, how we interact with the people and moments we encounter along the way. Each one leaves an impact, big or small, positive or negative.
Sometimes those impacts are big, and those are the ones that people recognize and remember after we’re gone. But what I think are even more intriguing are the small ones, the ones that most people don’t notice, and sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve left behind. Those contact points, those small impacts, are untraceable..unattributable to one particular individual. Instead, they become a part of the world around them.
A moment in it’s unwritten history.
A note in a song.
Maybe that’s what comprises the energy of a place, that intangible thing which makes you feel at home in a far-away land. The songs woven into it. And we, as a part of that place, are the leavers of notes. The writers of melodies.
I once met a boy who could stop time. Capture a moment and hold it in the palm of his hand, focusing in on the details that might otherwise have become faded and creased as memories do, or lost in time all together left behind somewhere along a mountain range.
I knew a girl who could teleport people to dreams and far away places with the words that came from her pencil. And another who could turn anyone else into the most fascinating person in all the world. She’d do it by asking good questions and listening hard and then she’d watch the person transform before her very eyes.
Do we have super powers? As a matter of fact, I believe that we do.
And if there’s one superpower I’d like to harness within myself, it’s the power to become liquid.
I think the first inclination for many is exactly the opposite—to be solid, like a stone, rolling through life. Over time, the world around them chips away and smooths their edges, shaping them into something that only slightly resembles their previous form. But the process is slow. And the balance is off. They knock down more than they allow to knock at them.
What I’m talking about is a state that’s more fluid, a relationship with the world that’s more dynamic.
Liquids are gentle in their movements but powerful in their impact. They fill the empty spaces around them, both shaping to their surroundings and shaping them. And on the way, their components are ever-rearranging, ever-evolving, defying definitions and simple explanations.
To be liquid doesn’t mean totally losing one’s self and the core aspects of one’s identity in the journey through life, for liquids mold to their environment but never lost their substance; they are comprised of the same components, yet things can mix with them, add to them, make them better. And to be liquid doesn’t mean being powerless to affecting the environment around one’s self, for what’s really more gracefully powerful than an ocean wave?
Rather, to be liquid takes imagination—a superpower in itself. A willingness to pretend, to make believe, to become something new, even if just for today. To listen, to observe, to appreciate, to change. To make all things possible.
Liquidity is life itself. And to harness that would be a superpower indeed.
“I wonder if we have endless parts of ourselves to leave behind or an infinite amount of ourselves to paint over with experiences and people,” I heard you ponder to yourself the other day, at this point in your journey.
And at this point in mine, I’m pondering the little pieces of my heart left behind wherever I go, some bigger than others. And you saw a moment the other day where I felt their empty spaces. And I guess that can happen when you live like we do. Diving in head-first to the world around you – letting it bend you and shape you and permeate you – is ible to put a strain on your heart. And what a beautiful thing that it does.
At the same time your heart gets to feel this incredible sense of fullness that it wouldn’t get to otherwise. And you get to feel this immense fascination and curiosity and wonder and love for life that you might not be able to explain. And your mind and your strength and your courage and your dreams, they’re all kind of sparky. And sometimes you can’t remember which of your dreams were dreams and which were life. And that makes it worth it, I think. Worth it in every way.
But back to your pondering—
I’m beginning to believe that the more pieces of ourselves we paint with experiences and the people we share them with, the more multi-faceted we become. By interacting and interlacing with the world around us we give ourselves depth and color and complexities and substance.
In that sense, the more we uncover in life around us, the more there is to uncover within ourselves.
In that sense, we’re infinite.
“…two pieces of random blue sky pieces that don’t seem to fit anywhere.”
In life it’s not easy to say where one moment ends and another begins, like chapters in a book where you can pause, mark a page, and jump back in right where you left off. No life’s not like that.
One moment flows into the next and placing endpoints between them seems like a tedious task. To make things even trickier, time itself doesn’t seem to flow at a steady pace. I get the feeling that if it weren’t for clocks we’d find it moving faster in some parts and slower in others, dependent—I think—on how close in proximity our brain is wandering to where our feet are planted. I think happiness has a little something to do with that too.
Even so, moments in time do exist. Usually they can’t be defined, and neither can the impact they’ve had on us, but they’re there, they’ve happened, and they’re happening all around us right now as I’m piecing together these thoughts I’ve scribbled down on various scraps of paper.
Maybe we can’t define those moments with words, but perhaps we can in the smiles we’ve smiled, the tears we’ve cried, and the people we’ve shared them with. It seems to me that what we really are is a collection of all the things we’ve experienced up until now. In that way, perhaps the most beautiful gift someone can give us is their story, the story of the moments that make them up. And if those moments are best defined by the world around us, then maybe that’s what we are after all—the world, everything we’ve touched, and everything that’s touched us, both the good and the bad.
Maybe not. But I do like the sound of that.
There are times in our lives that are the big ones. The weighty ones. The ones that shape all the times to come next. But the funny thing is, those are often the very moments that feel simple and small while they’re happening, passing by quietly and appearing insignificant to an outsider looking in. Sometimes we ourselves don’t even know their significance until after we’ve lived them, when we stop and think about the person we were at the start and realize it’s quite different from the person we are now.
And that’s where I am today translating scribbles into type, somewhere in the midst of those significant moments, unable to say precisely where until the passage of time has given me a bit of perspective and wisdom. In this moment I myself am a collection of all the things I’ve experienced until now..the things that made my eyes wide, my mind spin, and my heart race. The people too. The ones who stopped me in my tracks, spun me around, and sent me off in a new direction. I am result of the world as I’ve encountered it and who I am now feels quite different from who I was when I began, from the inside looking out at least.
I decided to make a map. A map tracing the path from where I came to where I am.
If I drew this map overlaying the globe you could follow a line from the heart of the USA to the heart of the world, a city defined by its inability to be defined, smack dab in the middle of Asia and Europe, East and West, Ancient and Modern, Peace and Chaos. You could then trace that line across the Bosphorus, down to Israel, and over guarded walls into the refugee camps of Palestine. You could follow it behind the wheel of a beat-up old car to the corners of Lebanon and Syria, and atop the back of a camel to the Bedouin camps of the Arabian Desert in Jordan. You could run your finger from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, up into the clouds circling the misty mountaintop villages of the Black Sea in Turkey, where people live as close as they can to reaching up and touching the stars. Round and round you’d trace this map, across the Aegean to Greece, along the Adriatic to Bosnia, over ups and downs until you’d follow the path right back to where I started.
The only problem is, I’m not where I started at all.
That’s the trouble with maps, you see. What they don’t tell you is that it’s never really possible to go back to the beginning, at least not with all the bits and pieces you had when you began, but maybe with more than which you started.
So I decided that instead of a making a map I’d take a trip down the rabbit hole, to the corners of my brain and the center of my heart to figure out how it’s possible to be standing right where I began yet, at the very same time, in a place that I never could have expected.
It all started with a question, a question that was never really answered. But that question led to another. And then another. And in a way, the path between those questions is my map. It’s not an organized map, by any means, a proper narrative where things fall in order and connect from page to page, beginning to end. Rather, it’s random and weird and incomplete and certainly not entirely pretty. But I guess that’s how any good rabbit hole worth exploring should be—a little bit scribbly.
..to be continued..if I can figure out how the rest of these paper scraps fit together.
Have you ever seen rainbow colored ripples on a jet black sea? Felt the cool salty wind on your skin? Heard the sound of waves rolling, seagulls cawing, tea spoons clinking on an old wooden dock? Ferry horn sounding, engine roaring, rainbow colored ripples turning to bubbly white foam. Have you seen the men on shore casting line after line, day after day, but never seeming to catch a thing with their baited rods. From a dock in the waves surrounded on all side by a city spinning at an uncatchable pace, where it’s possible to move great distances without ever picking up your feet. Have you ever stood there hoping to understand this place one day but at the same time knowing you don’t want to to all. Because once you do you lose the magic, the wonder, the unanswered questions. You take off the tinted lenses that turn multicolored neon colored lights into rainbow colored ripples on a jet black sea.
After crossing out of Palestine but before crossing into Jordan, there is this weird stretch of no man’s land that doesn’t seem to belong to anyone. Just this strip of pavement lined by barbed wire fences in the middle of the Negev Desert. It’s a strange feeling; standing somewhere barren and beautiful, alone, not knowing quite where you are other than ‘in between.’ I think it’s kind of special—a space that can’t be defined. It’s not here or there. It just is.
And I got to thinking about this idea of spaces in between. Particularly, the periods of our lives that lie within where we came from and where we’re going. An undefinable pin somewhere on the scribbly roadmap of life.
Those periods of time are innately uncomfortable. They’re fuzzy, they lack answers. But what if we could accept them for their beautiful inexplicableness, like that strip of pavement somewhere in the middle of the Negev Desert? What if instead of tension we felt energy, instead of discomfort we felt wonder for the infinite possibilities contained in this very undefined moment?
This idea of embracing the spaces beyond definition isn’t limited to periods of time. It applies to people, beliefs, ideas—life. It’s easy to say that something is on or off, right or wrong, good or bad, but rarely is anything all one or the other. It’s more complex to acknowledge that relationships and choices and thoughts fall outside of those boxes. And maybe we can’t describe them at all. And hey, maybe we don’t have to.
When we can take that person or belief or idea or that undefined moment on our journey and simply accept it for what it is, whatever it is, life becomes less rigid. It becomes flexible, fluid. Our inclination to categorize turns into curiosity for the shades and hues of colors we haven’t see before. There’s freedom there, and truth, somewhere on a spectrum with no endpoints. Infinite shades of grey are more honest than dimensionless blocks of black and white…and lots more fun, if you ask me.
My favorite way to think about things which can’t be defined is in terms of who we are, our identity. Am I an adventurer? An artist? Am I young and reckless? No, that’s too simple. I’m something much more complex. It takes intention to live in this world without categories or labels. It takes bravery too, to say “I’m not here or there. I’m not this or that. I just am.” (And that other person is too!)
So let’s appreciate the periods of life in between milestones. Trust that wherever we’re headed is worth the journey. Accept the moments in time that aren’t quite here or there. Embrace the people and ideas that aren’t easily defined. And let’s always remember to love ourselves—whoever, wherever, whenever that might me.
Let me tell you about today.. Today I had my residency visa appointment in Istanbul. It’s something I’ve gone almost totally bonkers working towards and have been equal parts nervous and excited about! But today after 13 months living, learning, working, and volunteering in Turkey, my visa was denied and I was told I have ten days to leave the country. I left my appointment feeling shocked, a bit heartbroken, and with no clue what to do, but then I realized there’s a beautifully unexpected silver lining to this–This past year in Turkey and the Middle East I’ve met countless people whose biggest dream is to go to the very country I came from, and who have worked their whole lives trying to make that dream happen but haven’t quite been able to. As Americans that isn’t something we get to experience all that often. With the most powerful passport in the world, we don’t often get to know what it’s like to have the door to another place closed on us. My visa being denied today is an opportunity to try to understand what it’s like for those people hoping to get somewhere not quite in reaching distance, and for that experience I can be thankful. I’d like to encourage my friends in the US to have patience and compassion for foreign people around you. They are living in a place not totally familiar to them, speaking a language that isn’t their own, attempting to follow rules in a system that is probably quite different from the one they know. They are likely some of the hardest working people around you at the moment and have probably been the most intentional about absorbing your culture. Those people deserve just as much kindness and respect as those who were lucky enough to be born a US citizen, and the label “illegal” is no reason to deny them that. Maintaining a legal immigrant status is not always realistic or possible when working to achieve a difficult goal (speaking from someone who is, as of this morning, living somewhere without a visa). Rather than focusing on borders and differences and ‘us’ versus ‘them’, let’s focus on the fact that we are all humans sharing one planet and we are all trying our very best to contribute something positive to wherever we are. I feel so incredibly thankful for the people who have made me feel welcome as a foreigner so far, and I know that extending that sense of welcomeness will mean the world to whatever foreigner you meet today too. I betcha their story will amaze and inspire you if you stop and listen. As for my current state of visa-less-ness, I’m going to look at this last minute total change of plans as an opportunity for an unexpected adventure. I’ve got a week to figure it out. Wish me luck!
I’ve been here for four months.
If I didn’t have some time to kill I’d simply call ‘here’ the Middle East. But since I’ve clearly got time on my hands…The border doesn’t open for another two hours and for now I’m sitting here in the desert, outside the gate, scribbling this on a piece of paper, with no one in sight but the sun that’s about to rise over the mountaintops. So, I’ve got a little time to explain that calling ‘here’ the Middle East simply doesn’t suffice.
But back to the start: Four months ago I was packing up my backpack and boarding a plane with a one-way ticket to Turkey. I had just graduated from college. I had some questions I wanted to answer, some things I hoped to accomplish; mostly I had no clue what to expect. But I had instincts telling me to go, so I listened. And there I was, a blonde, twenty-two year old gal from the States alone in what I then would have called the Middle East.
The first friends I made were—if I was in a rush I’d say they were refugees. But again, since I’ve got some time, I’ll explain that they not too long ago called Syria home, were forced to flee, found slightly more solid ground in Turkey, were homeless there, eventually weren’t, and when I met them they were preparing to make the long and uncertain journey to Europe. They taught me how to play backgammon. They tried to teach me how to cook. They told me I smiled too much. Mostly they told me stories. Stories that were heartbreaking and difficult to understand, but stories full of strength and courage and dignity.
So there I was, living in a part of Istanbul where you simply don’t hear English. But what you do hear is music. So that’s where I started, in the streets. Trying to wrap my brain around this colorful, chaotic place by focusing in on the music around me. The musicians making that music became my friends. They taught me how to speak Turkish, unintentionally because that’s all they spoke. They taught me about the struggles of the people around us and the opportunities not quite in reaching distance. They asked me why I asked ‘why’ so much.
And there I was, taking it one moment at a time, trying to soak in as much as I could. I learned of the conflict in Israel, so I went there. I learned of the refugee camps in Palestine, so I visited those. I learned of the nomadic Bedouin people of Jordan, so I found them. I accidentally found myself in a kibbutz on the border of Lebanon. I rode camels under the stars. I met a man who never knew his birthday, or his age for that matter. I followed the seas: the white one, the red one, the dead one. I found realness in those places. A tension that creates an intensity that forces honesty, with yourself and with others. For me, those environments created a desire and immediacy for awareness, for understanding, for empathy.
I met an old woman in Jerusalem once. She told me I was dangerous, but she said it with a smile. Because I lean in when many would lean out, she said. But I don’t recall a time I was scared. I chose to take people and places for who and what they were, and by doing so I felt safe. Sure, I got some bumps and bruises – I’m noticing a new one on my kneecap right now – but people were there to dust me off. Strangers, new friends, some that became dear friends, people I never would have met if I hadn’t gone and followed instincts that I couldn’t quite articulate.
So here I am. The soldiers are arriving to open the border and looking at me like I’m lost. I’m not, and I am, but probably not in the way that they’re thinking, so I’ll wrap this up and explain why calling ‘here’ the Middle East simply doesn’t suffice.
I’ve realized that the portrayal of this part of the world is often quite monochromatic. That the picture it paints misses so many colors. It misses a lot of beauty, a lot of diversity. Often it misses that there are humans here. None all bad, none all good – because that’s how us humans are – but most fantastically passionate and many tremendously inspiring. I’ve found that this section of the globe is more like a patchwork quilt. Within it, each country is unique. Within them, each city is unique. Within those, each person is unique. At the core of conflicts spanning borders and generations are hearts and minds, all with their own reasoning. I’ve found that nothing can be generalized. Some terrible things are happening here but wonderful things are happening here too, every day. I’ve heard stories of destruction, separation, judgment; others of adaptability, selflessness, and acceptance. I’ve been harassed; I’ve been welcomed. I’ve been threatened; I’ve been embraced. I’ve witnessed intolerance; I’ve also met some of the most open-minded individuals I’ve ever had the opportunity of knowing. Amongst the chaos there is peace. Within the rubble there is art.
So I can’t really call where I’ve been these past four months ‘the Middle East.’ I’ve seen what I’ve seen, I’ve gone where I’ve gone, and I’ve met who I’ve met. I’m here. And all I can really say about here is my story. I’ve learned to approach new experiences without bringing a narrative already written out. For if you bring with you a head full of expectations or heart weighed down with fear, surely you’ll only see what you expected to find. Instead, let a place define itself: the same goes for people. Stories are shaped by what you give, and if what you give is an openness to contradictions, a willingness to be wrong, an insatiable curiosity, and an eagerness to learn, you can bet that story will be one worth telling.
So here I am, and now I’ve learned of something new. A place where the sea is black and people migrate each summer up to crumbling villages in the highlands where their ancestors have journeyed for hundreds of years–to be as close as they know to touching the sun. So that’s where I’m headed now. We’ll see where it points me next.
I want to be wrong.
I want to see, experience, learn something that causes me to question what I once thought to be true. I want to be sponge-like…absorbent. I want to say, “Maybe that’s different and maybe it’s better. Maybe it’s right and I was wrong all along.” And there’s certainly no shame in that. It’s quite beautiful in fact. I think it’s important not to hold on to too many things too tightly. We’re all just learning as we go, after all.
I want to be scared.
The kind of fear that comes from doing something I’ve never done before, that comes from not having all the answers, that comes from question marks. I want to be scared enough to begin to walk away but brave enough to turn back around. I think that kind of fear is a good kind of fear; it’s the sort that makes us better. It pushes our boundaries an inch or two further. It makes us so much more capable. It makes impossible things possible.
I want to be lost.
I want to spin around a see everything but something familiar. I want to test my senses, my faith in myself, in my surroundings, and find that in most ways we’re one in the same. I want to dig deeper, to climb higher, to be amongst it, in it. I want to spin around again and find that what once was unfamiliar now seems quite like home.
I want to be uncomfortable.
I want to encounter people, places, and situations I can’t quite wrap my brain around. To approach them honestly, intimately, and vulnerably. I want to be open and to fill those open spaces with new perspectives, ideas, and ways of going about life. Because there’s at least a million and a half of them, of that I’m sure. And I think it only makes sense to look beyond my own. It’s probably a whole lot more interesting over there.
I want to be challenged.
Challenged to love harder. To think deeper. To be stronger. I want to problem solve, to learn and grown a bit more every day. I want things to go off track, to look back and laugh at how I thought I had it all under control. – Because we all know that almost nothing is. – I want to encounter things I don’t understand, to find answers in books, in people, in myself. I want to share and give, to be a light for someone else. I want to be the best me I can be.
So far, boy, have I been wrong, scared, uncomfortable, and challenged. But I’ll tell you what, I’m all the better for it.
“What do you trust most about yourself?”
You asked me that, my friend, on a hilltop somewhere far from home. With the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair, high above the world around us, it didn’t take long to answer…
…I trust that I will always choose happiness.
One of the most startling, shaping, significant pieces of knowledge I’ve picked up along this crazy journey called life is that happiness is not a given. It’s not an obligation for life to provide, or an expectation for me to receive. It not…just there. Rather, happiness is a choice. And as is the case with all choices, it requires a decision and it requires action. To be happy I must choose to be.
And this decision has become a drive, a self-imposed challenge to seek happiness in the most unlikely situations. To push myself to find the beauty in the little, overlooked moments or the grand, mind-spinning obstacles. To take what I find and share it.
It’s an ability that stems from the contrast between light and dark, a struggle to find joy in the shadow of depression. I remember calling it a hole—one that seemed impossible to climb out of—one where I could barely see the light. Depression was my biggest opponent, my nemesis perhaps, but I am thankful for my struggles for they made me who I am.
I’m better for them.
Having experienced those depths drives me to reach the highest heights. That struggle gave me the ability to seek, absorb, and share beauty in ways that I couldn’t and wouldn’t have otherwise. Knowing the contrast between light and dark allows me to appreciate the sunshine a thousand times more, and then some.
So to answer your question, my dear friend, what I trust most about myself is that I will choose to find the light, the love, the goodness around me, and do my best to share it with others. I trust that I will be strong enough to change my course when I see that light moving in a different direction. Even (and especially) when that light moves off the beaten path, I trust that I will continue towards it at full speed.
People may tilt their heads and wonder where I’m going and why. They may ask what it is I’m smiling about, and I’ll tell them…
…It’s because I’m chasing sunshine. And I plan to soak it in and let it shine out like sunbeams through the freckles sprinkling my cheeks.
Fear. It’s a scary thing. A scary thing made up of scary things. It’s also silly. It causes us to do silly things, or causes us to do nothing at all. And there’s one type of fear that I think is sillier than all the rest. It’s the type of fear that comes from crossing boundaries. Boundaries we set both internally and externally. From breaking rules. From breaking down boxes. Why is this type of fear the silliest of them all? Because it keeps us from doing one of the most important things in life–living. This type of fear turns into routine. Normalcy. Cookie cutters. And where’s the fun in that? Coloring in between the lines is safe. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. But by doing so we miss out on page after page of line-less life to scribble all over with any color we might imagine. For that reason, this type of fear is my motivation. My motivation to live differently. To travel paths less travelled, or to forge new paths all together. My motivation to be uniquely me. For that reason, fear isn’t something to be avoided, it’s something to embrace. Some of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever encountered were found just on the other side of something that scared me. Challenging my ideas, seeking other perspectives, chasing experiences with the intent that they will expand my horizons, my identity, my concept of life and all its possibilities. Living with this intent can be seen as adventurous or free-spirited or brave. But one thing that it’s not is fearless. That particular path I took scared me, but that is precisely why I took it. And the most beautiful thing about it is that it no longer does. That is a boundary I have pushed further, and as a result have expanded my capabilities as a human being. I’ve seen, I’ve done, I’ve loved something I never would have otherwise. And as a result I’ve added depth and vibrancy and page after page of colorful scribbles to just what it means to be me.
My bookshelf is filled with tales of little princes and rabbit holes and wild things. My walls are strung with photos of sun and sand and stars. Of magic. A paper map is pinned with places I’ve been, and some places I’ve been only in my dreams. My room is the color of celery. My white linen curtains just barely shade the sun, that magnificent light I can never be too far from. In the morning sunlight streams through my windows and I know I have to chase it. I run down paths lined with trees, surrounded by a world much greater than myself. The sun never touches my skin but it touches the leaves above me, making them look like they are glowing from within. I know that my legs and my muscles can take me anywhere. I appreciate what my body can do. I appreciate the sweat running down it. I appreciate the breath within it that gets faster and heavier the further my feet take me. When I stop, my breath and my sweat and my muscles don’t. I walk out from under the leaves on the trees into the sunlight they’ve been hiding. I lift my chin and close my eyes. The sun warms my skin and fills my body and mind with light. I know that whatever the sun touches is a part of me too. I know that as long as the sun is shining I can do anything, absolutely anything I imagine. I’m eager for the future but in love with the present. I see goodness-in myself, in people. I crave adventure and fear and challenge. I want to be confused, amazed, enlightened, breathless. After the sun sets and paints the sky with color, and after the moon comes out to take its place, the world slows down around me. My mind slows down. My heart slows down. Stars sprinkle the black sky above me and fill it with the most magical kind of light. The stars remind me that the sun I love so much is just one of countless others. Of countless other suns shining light into countless other hearts across countless other galaxies. I wish I could pluck one out of the sky and hold it in my hands and press it to my chest. My imagination is a beautiful place. I know that I look at life through a child’s eyes in many ways. I know that I see it through the eyes of a soul much older than myself in others. Mostly, I know that I’m me. Just me. And that makes me happy.
It’s a cloudy afternoon and I’m daydreaming. Daydreaming of a night without a cloud in the sky. Daydreaming that I’m lying in tall grass underneath an ancient tree with bare branches reaching into a sea of black, absolutely sprinkled with stars. The harder I look at the speckled lights above me the closer they seem to be. The brighter they become. Like they are ever so slowly falling down to Earth. Or maybe Earth is spinning ever closer to them. I want to run my fingers through the sky and hear them sparkle. I want to rearrange the constellations. They seem close enough to touch. I pick one out and stretch up my hand. Just before the tip of my finger reaches it, it bursts like a firework into thousands of flecks of shimmering golden light. I reach for another and another until the whole sky sparkles. Stardust rains down and kisses my cheek. It falls into the grass around me. I close my eyes. I feel a cool breeze from some far away place. I feel the galaxy spinning around me. I feel my mind spinning just the same. I open my eyes to see that the golden flecks of light have grown wings and turned into fireflies. I sit up. They swirl around me, lifting my hair into the sky above me. I watch as they fly higher and higher, thousands of them, up into the bare branches of the ancient tree. There they glow and there they stay until they must return to their place in the sky, to light up the world.
Recently I was a bit taken aback when I was asked the question “What is the best piece of advice you have for a young, aspiring entrepreneur?”
My initial though was well, I am a young, aspiring entrepreneur. I am the founder of LaQuist, an online business providing unique pieces of wearable art to customers across six continents in the form of custom hand-painted shoes. Although I’m proud of all I’ve achieved with my business so far as a 21-year-old college student, I felt I had a much longer way to go before I was qualified to start giving out advice. I am used to reading advice articles and columns from entrepreneurs with a lot more years and dollar signs under their belt. But then I thought, maybe that’s where my advice is unique. I have a few years and a few dollar signs, but more importantly I can relate to where you are right now.
So, from one young, aspiring entrepreneur to another, here is my best piece of advice: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” –Arthur Ashe
Okay, I know we’ve all heard a million quotes in our lifetime. They’re a bit overdone, cliché, I get it. But, if you’ll bear with me, I think the beauty of this quote is best seen when broken down. And the best way I can do that is from my own experience.
1. Start where you are.
I started as a ‘young, aspiring entrepreneur’ my freshman year of college, lacking several what some might consider important things. (1) Money. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the ‘ramen noodle every night’ budget. (2) A formal business education. As a freshman, I had yet to take a business class, and especially not on the specific sectors that go into making one work. (3) Time. Having just been thrown into the world of college I didn’t have a ton of extra time to devote to my entrepreneurial endeavors. (4) Finally, and this is the one that may come as a bit of a shock, I lacked a plan. I did have a basic business idea in mind, but I didn’t have a detailed plan of what that business was going to look like. Although it may sound crazy, the lack of a specific plan ended up being one of the biggest things working in my favor. Without one, I was able to let my business shape, change, and grow organically and figure out the specific who’s, what’s, where’s, when’s, why’s, and how’s along the way.
Now that I’ve told you what I didn’t have at my start, there are three important things I did have: (1) An aspiration to use my artistic ability in a meaningful way (2) A desire to give back (3) A wish to communicate and connect with others. Those three goals sparked the process that has led to what LaQuist is today, and those three goals have shaped every decision I’ve made along the way.
So, back to you. Think about where you are right now. What are you lacking? What do you have? Your answer to the first question might be quite a bit longer than your answer to the second, and that’s okay. You may find along that way that the things you initially lack actually push you further ahead in the future. You will always be able to justify a better time or place to start reaching for your entrepreneurial aspirations, but now is the time and place. Start where you are and the rest will follow. In the words of Nike, “Just do it.”
2. Use what you have.
Besides a list of goals, one tangible thing I had was access to social media and a network of friends and family that were willing to offer their support. After analyzing my starting position the first step I took was posting to Facebook, offering to paint a pair of custom shoes for free if someone was willing to provide the pair of shoes to be painted. Surprisingly, I had more than a few takers, enough to begin building a portfolio of work.
The next thing I had was access to and knowledge of the Internet, which, luckily for me, was the best way to reach the most number of customers. I created an online boutique using the marketplace Etsy and that is where LaQuist began to take shape. As I continued to build my portfolio of work I could gradually increase prices on my products. Then, by creating a LaQuist blog and Facebook page I was able to generate buzz around my business.
As you might have noticed, the things I had at my disposal didn’t require money. Which is good, because as mentioned earlier, I needed that for ramen. The only initial investment LaQuist actually required was about $100 for a stock of painting supplies. Beyond that, it did not require additional inventory. In fact, if you were to take a tour of LaQuist you would be rummaging through a 66-quart plastic bin and a laptop that together house everything LaQuist requires to operate.
For your own entrepreneurial endeavors, I encourage you to really think about all that you have at your disposal. And if you’re lacking something, think creatively about the ways you can work around it. For example, if you don’t have knowledge of web design or coding, there are plenty of template-based resources like WordPress and Wix. If you don’t have money to invest in advertising and marketing, take advantage of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. By focusing your attention on what you do have, rather than what you don’t, you may be surprised at what you can accomplish with limited resources.
3. Do what you can.
If there is one thing I can do, it is to try my darndest.
I contacted local media outlets, pitching the story of my unique business from my unique perspective and generated word in the community about my business. I reached out to independent boutiques about offering my shoes to their clientele and have since developed mutually beneficial retail relationships. I entered business plan and pitch competitions and earned funding that allowed me to take greater risks with my business decisions. I joined entrepreneurial clubs and organizations at my university, gaining insight and advice from other students with entrepreneurial aspirations. I sought out opportunities to network at business conferences, speeches, and startup weekends, building relationships that have been vital to my achievements.
While putting the pedal to the medal there are a few things I found that surprised me, and they might surprise you too. First, there are people out there that want to see you succeed. I received support at times and places that I never expected, which came when I demonstrated the passion behind my goals and my desire to achieve them. Second, your age is one of your biggest assets. You may think that because you are young certain doors will be closed off to you. Although that may be true at times, I can guarantee that for every door that closes, not one, but two doors will open. Finally, once you get the ball rolling it will keep on rolling. Even though the actions I listed above may seem like a lot to wrap one’s brain around (and trust me, that’s not even the half of them) I took them one step at a time and the rest naturally followed. It’s not enough to just keep your eyes open for opportunities—you actually have to seek opportunities out—but once you take the first step, the next one will be that much easier.
To wrap things up…
It’s been a little over a year since I started LaQuist, and so far I have achieved more than I ever expected to accomplish. I am now the owner of a global business, having shipped hundreds of custom shoes to customers across six continents, all while benefiting children in need. It turned out that the things I initially lacked didn’t hinder me from accomplishing the goals I set out toward from the beginning. I recognized and utilized the things I did have, and then gave it my best effort to get from point A to point B and beyond. All it took was a little creativity and a lot of hard work.
So again: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” That’s my best piece of advice to you.
And remember, you’ve got at least one person on your side already (that’s me!).
Hi, I’m Lauren Rundquist, a twenty something from Saint Louis with a craving for sunshine, a spirit for adventure, and a love for all things colorful and messy.
I have a lot of questions and a whole bunch of curiosity that I’ve got a knack for following. I created this blog as a way to reflect on the places that curiosity takes me and the answers I find along the way.
My hope with Miss LaQuist is to collect, connect the dots, and appreciate the present by living intentionally in each moment.
The photos I’ve included were taken with my Galaxy S6, iPhone 6, and broken Canon Rebel T3i and the writing I’ve jotted down is my best shot at describing the hodgepodge of thoughts bouncing around in my head.
I hope you will comment, message, share, or at the very least, take the time to pause and soak up something small but sweet that you might be glancing over in your world.