38,000 Miles Later: 2013 in Review

I’ve got friends who jet-set to Bali and back and make it look like they’re spending a weekend upstate, but for a guy like me, traveling the equivalent of 1.5 times around the Earth is quite a year of travel.

My 2013 began on the heels of living in New York City’s East Village. I committed myself that year prior to living in the Big Apple and jumping in without a safety net because I believed that the energy and pressure of big city living would force my then-struggling business to find its way–or be broken, once and for all.

After three years of freelancing, a lackluster book debut and feast-or-famine client work, I knew in 2012 that I had to start making my business work for me, or it was time to go back to the drawing board.

From the fires of duress and a near-spent bank account I departed New York City in the wake of Superstorm Sandy with a second book published, God Whispers on the Wind, which silently but almost instantly outpaced my first book in mere weeks, and with a new creative venture in my pocket called The Literati Writers. I settled back into my childhood home with family in November 2012 for the holidays and sought to bide my time to figure out where 2013 might take me.

Soon, I realized I’d be traveling for two or three weddings and a couple bachelor parties for best friends in the first half of 2013, and I figured I’d be back out northwest come July for an annual conference.

So rather than rushing back into New York City as I had thought I might, I did the opposite–and dedicated this year to travel and exploration, journeying and comfort-zone-challenging.

And so journeying became the theme of my 2013: a year over which I moved 38,000 miles across 7 countries, 16 cities and 11 hours of time zones.

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As we bid adieu to 2013, it only feels appropriate to look back and pay homage to the amazing year-that-was. Ironically, the reason why I really want to look back is because I want to offer you some depth, insights and lessons that I learned this year–and did so little of that while the year was actually happening.

In 2013…

  • My work shifted from having a very public face online to having an almost exclusively private one
  • The lot of my writing moved from weekly or twice-weekly blog posts to maybe one or two a month (at best), a slow-but-steady book in progress and a slew of personal writing that’ll likely never be shared
  • Social media strategy and online interactions were trumped by yoga classes and coffee shop rendezvouses
  • Email and newsletters slipped to secondary behind meandering unfamiliar city streets around the world

So, for all that happened behind the scenes, what was it that made 2013 so special?

I’ll summarize in Instagram photos that I took along my journeys, with key lessons that I know I’ll carry in my heart into 2014 and beyond. I hope you’ll do the same!

1.) Keep Your Heart Open

From March to April 2013, I spent five weeks across the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Maui.

And although Hawaii is the kind of place that requires no reason to visit (other than the fact that it’s Hawaii), I set off to the islands with a goal in mind: if the backdrop is perfect, if the circumstances are ideal, if the setting is sublime, does the creativity follow?

One of the biggest excuses that writers tell themselves is that their creativity suffers because of outside obligations, priorities, needs and distractions–it’s not untrue, but do those things ever really disappear? I believed that going to a place like Hawaii would challenge the excuse:

If you erase obligations, priorities and distractions and replace them with palm trees, turquoise waters and tropical paradise, does creativity naturally flow?

It turns out that life had other plans in mind for me.

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When I set foot in Hawaii in March, two things were on my mind–creativity was not one of them.

Heartbreak and heart-opening were.

In 2013 I felt my heart break open and swore to leave it that way. By the time I got to Hawaii, I recognized a negative pattern that would recur with me after every breakup, screw up, failure, heartbreak or a loss: shutting down and sealing off and insulating the very mechanism that brought me to that place of pain–love.

What I learned from that heartbreak before I got to Hawaii was that love itself is the only cure for heartbreak–that the heart breaking open is a good thing, as Rumi said, because it allows more light to get in.

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Life is guaranteed to fuck up your well thought-out plans.

And it’s a gift that it does.

I had this wonderful plan in mind to take to Hawaii and hole up in isolation to write my next book, explore what it means to be creative and how the scenario of living in Hawaii might free up the depths of your natural creative energy to be poured into projects and books and business.

And life was like, “Heh, nope.”

Instead of pouring myself onto the page, I poured my heart out to people. I felt a desperate want to connect with people face-to-face–something simple that can become woefully overlooked for an online entrepreneur who sticks his face into a computer screen for 8-16 hours a day.

I wanted conversations. Eye to eye connections. To forge and share stories by breath.

That method of “creating” seemed so much more palpable and real–like it’s own means of deepening the “heart-opening” I was intent on exploring.

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Traveling alongside my good pal and fellow creative entrepreneur Jacob Sokol (Sensophy), we holed up in a beachfront cabin with the pacific ocean as our back yard for two weeks. We meandered from Waimanalo Beach to Kailua and the North Shore to Waikiki, to Maui and back to Waikiki again.

I’d take our rental car for 4 hours at a time and just go somewhere. Wherever I went I sought to find a conversation, or a passing smile. I dove deeper into my yoga practice.

We explored hole-in-the-wall bars and beach-side restaurants and struck up conversations with probably a hundred strangers, made a dozen friends, worked by day and let life guide us by night.

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The beautiful thing is this: you don’t need a Hawaiian backdrop to live like this. You just need the will.

You need the heart to be open and honest and pure.

Whether your journey is about connecting with souls or creating with soul, all you need is to journey without inflated expectations of what “should” happen or over-thought plans that dictate the steps you take before you even take them.

Hawaii helped me keep my heart open by practicing the power of human-to-human connection.

I knew that I wanted–no, that I needed–more of this from now on.

2.) Try It All On Your Own

One thing you can’t deny about Hawaii is how incomprehensibly happy people are there.

The weather is sublime, the food is amazing, and island living is distinctly “distant” feeling from the rest of America. Life moves more slowly in Hawaii. You savor the days and nights.

And, as if meeting new people on the beach, at the coffee shop or hostel wasn’t already easy because of Hawaii’s aloha vibe, it was made a lot easier thanks to the unapologetic and amiable make-up of my boy Jacob–he’ll walk up to absolutely anyone in any setting or scenario, strike up a conversation and have made a lifelong friend 10 minutes later.

Could I really do that all on my own?

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As a natural introvert, I prefer to process, recharge and create from alone and on my own. When I need to shut down or unwind, I escape into isolation. But as a people person, I really love to be around people. It energizes my soul in a special way to partake in a good conversation; to simply sit in and be around the energy of people.

But beyond being an introvert or an extrovert (whether by nature or by choice), you can do a whole lot of learning when you’re on your own.

You confront a lot about “the facts of life,” as Thoreau might say. You discover a lot about your makeup.

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As winter bled into spring, I returned from Hawaii with a tan and an itch to explore a new corner of the world, all on my own.

Come June, I arrived in the picturesque and peaceful nation of Iceland, marking my first bona fide solo trip abroad.

Twelve days later, I had a small laundry list of bragging rights, including:

  • Sleeping under the midnight sun
  • Standing at Law Rock, where the world’s oldest parliament was formed
  • Swimming in The Blue Lagoon, an eerie, martian-looking landscape
  • Standing atop Gullfoss waterfall
  • Feeling the hot mist of a 200-foot eruption at Geysir, a 10,000-year-old geyser

But more than the laundry list of natural wonders, what I remember about Iceland is the people.

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Because the people were what was there when I felt truly alone–and hated it.

When you’re on your own–especially in a foreign place where the language is strange and the streets are unfamiliar–everything is new, unknown, different, and thus, terrifying.

And as you journey on, you expose yourself to a state of raw and real vulnerability. No ulterior motives can survive when you’re exposed and vulnerable like that. You’re just trying to survive. To find some peace and comfort. So your agendas and expectations die. Preconceived notions and plans are thrown out. You’re forced to forget it all. You’re forced to look around and find comfort, peace, familiarity in other ways–through whatever is available around you.

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Like the people.

You toss out a joke or a hello. You get introduced to a friend-of-a-friend through social media, and meet up for beers. Paths crossing. Stories entwining. Moments had, some forgotten (lest a photo capture the moment, like above).

Some of the friendships might live on, some won’t, but at the end of the trip you’re left with great memories, experiences and one reaffirming lesson:

Life’s better with people. It’s all about the people.

And when you try it all on your own, you can’t mistake this fact of life.

Once in a while, try something all on your own–you never know who will meet.

3.) Keep True to Your Friends

Our closest, longest, best friends are, tragically, the ones who are easiest to take for granted. We get so busy with our own lives that we forget about the ones who have our backs through thick and thin.

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Throughout this year of ’round-the-world travels, I wanted to make a point to keep true to my friends: to see them often, keep in touch and be there for them.

Thankfully, two of my best friends were getting married in 2013, which meant that no less than four rendezvouses were in order during the late spring and summer, spanning bachelor parties on Captiva Island and Nantucket, and two great weddings in Long Island and Newport, RI.

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In all honesty, I still probably could have been better at keeping in touch with everyone than I was.

That’s one downside of modern technology:

Because we can connect with everyone instantly from the device in our pocket, we take it for granted.

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Every once in a while, give one of your friends a call just to check in and say hello.

It might scare the shit out of them–since, you know, it’s so strange to just call someone out of the blue these days instead of texting or emailing.

But it might also remind them that you remember them.

And that you care.

4.) You Can Do More with Less Than You Think You Need

One of my bigger personal revelations in 2013 was a mindset shift I went through in the late summer:

That I should be making the most of what’s already around me.

A more obvious revelation you couldn’t have–but in earnest, for all we like to preach about gratitude and presence, it’s sneakily easy to put all your eggs in the “somewhere else” basket.

You say how tough it is to meet people or date in your city, town or neighborhood–and maybe it is, but maybe you’re overlooking who’s there with you. You say that things would be different if you were somewhere else (like writing from Hawaii) or partying every weekend in New York City (maybe a relationship would fall into your lap–no pun intended).

Me? I found myself guilty of this “somewhere else” mentality without so much as realizing it.

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Since graduating college in 2008, I’ve moved six times. I’ve lived in Washington D.C., Boston, New York City and Rhode Island. Each time I moved, I was waiting for “real life” to start happening–as if the right ZIP code would be the key to meeting new people, or getting out there and exploring my own backyard, or cultivating friendships in the yoga studio, or hitting on a barista because she’s cute.

As an entrepreneur, the same mindset can suck you in:

You hear yourself say that won’t host that writing and yoga retreat this January 2014 because [insert excuse here].

That novel? Story ain’t ready.

That new project idea? Still marinating.

Emailing that hot-shot to request an interview? I’m still thinking about it.

That “somewhere else” mentality is a frictionless outlook. It’s empty of responsibility.

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In 2013, I realized that I want responsibility. More numerous and more meaningful responsibilities. More, on my own terms.

And I believe healthy responsibilities dawn from recognizing how much you’re capable of doing, creating and achieving with what abundance is already there around you.

You can do more with less than you think you need.

So I started wherever I could.

In July, I sponsored and co-hosted what I called a “charity brew” event for around 15 friends in Portland, Oregon, as we learned how to brew our own beer for charity. We raised hundreds of dollars for a mobile medical unit that serves Portland’s homeless community.

And in October, I brought an event called Do It In a Dress to my local yoga studio where as a community we raised $1,800 for nonprofit organization One Girl’s global efforts to place hundreds of girls into educational opportunities.

You know what happens when you start investing more care and responsibility into your backyard? People reciprocate. Friends lend hands. Things happen. Change starts to build.

That leads me into my next point…

5.) A Ripple Starts a Wave

Small efforts really do add up–especially when you let go of thinking that you’ll start later, you’ll commit later, you’ll dive in later, you’ll care later.

Sad? Maybe. But it’s true.

If you lack the effort from the onset, it’s really hard to muster caring as time goes on.

At least, that’s been my experience. A book idea springs to life in my head, and I’ll say to myself that I’ll start that idea when it’s ready. Unless I really start to make it happen, it never happens.

But even a small ripple can start a wave.

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This past November, I hosted my first creativity workshop.

Well, technically I co-hosted alongside my friend Lori Mancini, owner of Laughing Elephant Yoga–Lori’s not only a yoga teacher herself, but a member of The Literati Writers, too.

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We hosted 19 yogis for what we called a Sahaja Flow and Creativity Workshop.

For two hours, we ebbed and flowed between asanas and discussion on why creative self-expression holds so much appeal to us.

Why “creativity” promises so much.

Why it inspires us to be unapologetic and whole. Honest and free.

And this first small workshop–a ripple–started a wave of will and passion in me. I want to do this more, I thought. And this new website redesign you now witness here on DaveUrsillo.com is a huge expression of that desire. That’s where I’m moving now. Into a space where you and me are in a room together with a small class of others to explore, creative, express, discover and play.

Much like the story of how my writers’ group started, sometimes going on a hunch and a prayer is more honest than over-thinking and over-planning can ever be.

6.) Your Journey is Your Life’s Exclamation Point

My final lesson learned in 2013 embodies my final trip of the year: a 17-day jaunt through Wales, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

I planned this trip on a whim and only to really be an exclamation point upon an amazing year-that-was.

Come to think of it, a whole hell of a lot of my 2013 was about “doing” just because.

Because your journey is here–waiting for you to live it.

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The manner in which you live is what places all the emphasis on the beautiful fucking fact that you’re alive–and the humbling reality that you someday will not be.

We arrived here in a way that we cannot fully understand, and we know that we’ll go back to that place someday. The starting point has come and gone. The ending point is one we can’t see or select (though we try like hell to avoid it), but we know we’ll end up there.

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What has your path between those points become?

What do you want your path to resemble from this moment on?

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It’s not about figuring things out, friend. It’s about doing.

Doing, because you can.

Doing, because you’re alive.

Doing, because the journey can be walked in a straight line–or done in cartwheels, zig zags, stumbles and falls and ridiculous dance moves.

The more you do, the more emphatic your journey becomes.

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You know those people who are endlessly doubting themselves, and questioning everything, and second-guessing, and self-sabotaging?

They derail their dreams by questioning them to death.

They suck the love of out their passions by micro-examining every possibility.

They over-analyze every choice they could make and end up making no choice in the end.

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Those people?

“They” are every one of us.

We all do it.

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We’re all destined to doubt and question, to wonder and second-guess. We over-think. We try to use our thinking to predict the future–to avoid the hurt, the failure, the scary moments.

Our thinking-minds tell us that the more we worry, the less likely we’ll be to get hurt.

We think that we can out-think uncertainty.

But that’s just life.

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Life is perennially uncertain. It’s all unknown.

And an essay like this does that truth a disservice by showing you a simple highlight reel of picturesque snapshots and beautiful moments.

Because it doesn’t show the hours, days and weeks of doubting, fearing, struggling, questioning and stumbling that I felt in between (and even during) the highlight moments.

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But I learned in 2013 how we can escape that self-sabotaging behavior–even while we’re doubting, questioning and afraid.

You just keep getting out there and fucking doing.

You write and create and write and create, even when you’re sick to your stomach with what you are about to say.

You book a plane ticket before knowing where you’re going to sleep.

You say “yes” instead of “no” even if “no” is easier.

You smile instead of hiding your face.

You commit before you’re ready.

And by year’s end, you might have your own highlight reel of double-rainbows and ancient monuments, victories and incredible moments.

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By year’s end, you probably won’t be touting a low-light reel of failures, heartbreaks and tough times–but that doesn’t meant that they didn’t happen.

But that’s all a part of the journey, too.

You try a new creative project that no one cares about. You put something for sale that no one buys. You write a book that no one reads. You go on a trip and don’t learn the secrets of a brilliantly happy life–you don’t fall in love and live happily ever after.

And you just keep pressing on.

For failure or success, for better or worse, after each and every once of doing you just keep on doing some more.

You won’t ever escape fear. You won’t conquer uncertainty.

You can learn to accept that they will always be there–and that by doing more and more, you get better at maneuvering through them.

And 99% of maneuvering through uncertainty and fear is by putting your head down and trudging on.

 

I was in Boston on April 15th when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, taking three lives and brutally maiming 200 more.

I learned about the attacks when I was on a cross-country flight from Los Angeles to Boston–I watched it live on a television on board, and for 15 long seconds I thought about the very distinct possibility that this plane might be a part of some bigger attack like 9/11, or a target itself, or who the hell knows what else.

It was 15 seconds of pure uncertainty–complete, paralyzing, mortal fear.

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And when those 15 seconds pass, you put your head down to trudge on.

You fight to survive.

If someone’s on this plane to take it down, they’ll go through me, you hear yourself say.

You disembark only to walk through an airport, another likely target of attack. And then on a Silver Line bus. And then on the street by sniffing K9 units. And then by the bay with police at the ready by mounted automatic rifles. And then you’re at the train station the next morning, standing next to marathon runners, emotionless and drained, donning their medals in defiance. They’re spent. They’re hurting. But they, like you, are trudging on.

You’ll get your heart broken and decide to leave it that way. A project flops, a blog post goes unread, you make a grandiose gesture that goes unthanked. That’s okay. It’s life.

The point is that you can’t escape these things. They’re outside of your control and they always will be.

You know those people who are endlessly doubting themselves, and questioning everything, and second-guessing, and self-sabotaging?

They’re the ones who slow down when they doubt. Who avoid when they’re deathly afraid. Who hole up instead of pressing on. Who attempt to escape the heartbreak to spite the heart-opening.

In 2013, I learned that it’s the people who can fight on when they’re terrified, who confront the fear when they’re staring it in the eyes, and who pull their broken hearts open wider when they’re in more pain than they can bear–those are the ones who we envy, respect, admire and wish to become.

They’re the ones who we call brave. Journeyers. Leaders.

They’re the ones we look to and admire, who we read and respect, who we keep watch of because we know we’ll be better for it.

Instead of making a New Year’s Resolution for 2014, perhaps you and I should make a resolution to one another: to be resolute.

To journey onward with resolution. Determination. Defiance.

To do, and not over-plot. To maneuver uncertainty, not avoid it. To think things through to an earnest point, and then to let go.

Where it’ll all go? Who knows. But I’ve got a good feeling about it.

Here’s to what the journey holds for you and yours in 2014 and beyond,

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