Author Archives: Stephen Jaye

About Stephen Jaye

My name is Stephen Jaye, I currently live in Denver, CO, but have lived in New York, Chicago, Indiana, and Wisconsin. I love the weather, I love getting out, being active, and I love exploring places. In this blog are my travel writings.

When Questions Lead to More Questions

I boarded a train downtown.

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I was on it for about half an hour.

I stepped off the train in a place called Olde Town Arvada.

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As soon as I got off the train I felt this pleasant feeling of comfortable familiarity. Colorado does not have too many places like this: Suburbs with centralized downtown areas full of shops, restaraunts and bars centered around a train station. Yet, this is all over Long Island. In fact it is all over the entire New York metropolitan area.

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So, why did I feel so content to have entered an environment that felt so familiar, even if it was nearly 2,000 miles away from where I grew up?

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Questions that burn in my head often don’t go away until I have found a sufficient answer. A couple days later, I looked into why this feeling of familiarity was such a positive emotion. Apparently, there is something called the mere exposure effect, where people tend to rate more positively what they have already been exposed to, or become familiar with.

I wondered then….

Is this the same mechanism behind nostalgia?

Does finding joy in familiarity prevent us from being as open as we could be? And, is it holding us back from moving forward with our lives and culture?

Also, what is the nature of nostalgia? Do we tend to get nostalgic for a specific time in our lives? Or do we tend to get nostalgic for whatever time in our lives felt we felt a certain way?

Nostalgia has intrigued me quite a bit lately. I feel like I just reached the age where people around me are expecting me to take part in it. The problem is, I am not really that interested. I’m more interested in thinking about the future.

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Anecdotal evidence seems to point towards a cycle of nostalgia that revives time periods roughly 25 years before the present day; shows, movies and even music samples that appeal to middle aged adults with spending power reminiscing about their formative years.

In the late 80s/ early 90s, there was The Wonder Years, set in the 1960s. At the turn of the century, it was That 70s Show. 1980s nostalgia has been everywhere for some time.

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Now, the nostalgia cycle is turning to the 1990s, an era I rememberer but don’t feel too terribly attached to. I liked Seinfeld. Nirvana and Soudgarden were good bands. However, I also remember the mediocre (shows, bands and cultural developments I won’t specify as I don’t intend to throw shade right now).

Those who have studied nostalgia indicate that it is both a way to cope with things like loss, fear and disappointment, as well as a yearning for some kind of an ideal state. But…

Is this a good thing? Or are these idealized versions of periods in the past preventing us from recognizing the current period for what it is and making the most of it?

Are coping mechanisms a good thing? Or do they prevent us from actually processing what is leading to the negative emotions we are experiencing?

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Likewise, I have heard a lot recently about embracing the unfamiliar. In my little corner of Millennial Denver culture, being open to new ideas and jumping into the unknown is consistently glorified as an almost God-like way of life.

Is there a limit? Is there an evolutionary reason for us to seek that which is familiar?

Open mindedness, taken to an extreme, can lead to analysis paralysis. This is prevalent everywhere, as the amount of information input by our brains exceeds our natural decision-making capacity.

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What do we do now? Also, how did an impromptu trip to an inner-ring suburb lead me to so many questions? Then questions on top of questions?

It feels like I just lived out a quintessential example of over-thinking and analysis paralysis. It is easy for inquisitive minds to get into a rabbit hole where questions lead to more questions nearly indefinitely.

When I shut my mind off and take the experience, what I realize is that I am not as different from everybody else as I had believed. When broken down to its root cause, the psychological mechanism that causes so many people to idealize the past is the same one that gave me that positive vibe upon entering Olde Town Arvada.

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Just because I don’t have any interest in binge-watching Friends episodes doesn’t mean I am not trying to cope with life’s disappointments and find that elusive feeling that all is good and will continue to be good for the foreseeable future.

 

Exactly What Was Expected

Sometimes in life, for better or for worse, things go exactly as expected.

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An average November produces only six clear days in Chicago, compared to 18 cloudy ones. December is even cloudier, averaging 20 cloudy days.

The weather I experienced, visiting Chicago over Thanksgiving and into early December was exactly what one should expect. With the exception of a few hours on one day, it was cloudy. There were stretches where it even got foggy.

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A couple of days, it rained. Temperatures where in the 30s (-1 to +4°C) pretty much the entire time.

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It could have been worse. Chicago is prone to cold air outbreaks, and while late November into early December is not the heart of winter, it is still possible for temperatures to drop down close to 0°F (-17°C).

Thanksgiving is not about pleasant weather, being outdoors or any specific activities. It’s not even really about the food or drink. It’s about gratitude. It’s also about spending time with friends and family.

The Thanksgiving feeling is that conversation, usually around the table, where everyone feels safe, supported and not judged. Everywhere we go in life, we feel the need to prove something. We are always trying to prove to our bosses that we are worthy of pay raises and promotions. We are often trying to prove to those in our social scenes that we are worth inviting to parties and events. With social media and smartphones, much of our lives have become trying to prove to people that we are interesting enough to warrant their attention. Thanksgiving, when done right, is a reprieve from all that!

Holidays are not without their struggle. Flights to visit family are often expensive and we are often forced to make tough decisions regarding visiting family at Thanksgiving, Christmas or for some other holiday. This year’s trip turned out really well, as my time in Chicago started on Thanksgiving, November 28th and extended about a week. I got to experience both holidays, as we had Thanksgiving dinner, but also were able to set up the Christmas tree, start singing Christmas songs and watching Christmas movies.

For many other reasons, the entire trip to Chicago ended up pretty closely aligned with expectations.

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When trips to visit friends and family fall in line with expectations, it is almost always a good thing. However, in other areas of life, sometimes what we expect is not what we actually want. This is technically true of work right now. Well more than half of U.S. workers are not happy with how their jobs turn out. As of the end of the 2010s, going into any job, one would have to unfortunately bet on a poor experience.

In every area of life, from personal relationships, social endeavors, politics, to just going to the supermarket, an experience can be typical or it could be abnormal. How anyone feels after a “typical experience” depends on three factors.

1. Personality

Specifically, this often relates to how open we are and how optimistic we are. Optimists tend to have high expectations. This is generally a good thing, but can be frustrating when some anticipated better than normal experience does not come to pass. People who are more resistant to change would likely be more satisfied having an experience that falls in line with what is typically expected.

2. How one feels about the current state

This one is easy to reconcile. If someone likes where they are in life, and feels things are moving in the right direction, then they will be happy with a typical life experience. However, when someone feels like something in their lives or what they are observing around them needs a change in direction, a “typical” experience can actually lead to some level of depression.

3. Recent events in our own lives

Both ancient and recent philosophical writings have described the need for some kind of balance between the predictable and the chaotic. Too much of the former can lead to stagnation and that nagging feeling as if something is missing. Too much of the latter can lead to that feeling that everything is out of control and nothing can be counted on. Experiencing exactly what one expects falls into the category or order or the predictable. For someone whose life has felt out of control, an experience that follows the order of things can feel refreshing. For someone who feels antsy and stagnant after seven identical weeks following a constant routine, another typical experience could just add to the frustration.

 

Gratitude and Atonement

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I suck at gratitude. Forever thinking about the future and how to correct wrongs, both in my life specifically and with society as a whole, I often neglect to be grateful for what I do have.

The problem is not isolated to myself, or any specific subset of society. I can think of several people in my life that are great at showing gratitude. They make people feel good about themselves by giving compliments, and sounding grateful for anything anyone does for them. More importantly, they sound grateful to people just for being who they are and being in their lives. They are the ones that will occasionally just thank me for the way my mind works after I make some kind of comment.

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This is the exception rather than the rule. I have encountered far more people who are fixated on what they don’t have or what’s wrong. If I had to express my behavior with respect to being thankful vs. resentful, I would put myself somewhere in the middle of the curve. That is, however, not good enough. A lot of people recognize this as a problem. It’s now commonly recommend that people keep a gratitude journal in order to alter their focus.

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A decade is coming to an end. A decade full of ups and downs. A decade full of experiences. A decade full of joy and pain.

Throughout the decade, I can point to times when my behavior was positive, selfless and encouraging. I can also point to plenty of times when my behavior was erratic, self-destructive and not exactly fair to the people around me.

In the new decade, I am done with the tyranny of expectations, the fear of letting people down and the need for approval from others; especially authority figures. However, there are people in my life who genuinely helped me, were there for me during some rough times, encouraged me, and enriched my life just by being a part of it.

This Thanksgiving, it is time to

  1. Show people that I am grateful for them being in my life
  2. Tell them why I am grateful for them, and tell them that I care
  3. Show remorse for those who I have treated unfairly or taken for granted
  4. Truly let go of some things I am still holding onto

What I did can be thought of as trying to cram multiple years worth of gratitude into a single month.

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I decided to write notes to people who impacted my life in a significant way over the course of the decade. I’m sure I still left some people out. It was a list I agonized over. In the end, I wrote about 85 letters.

I spent two weeks writing what I should have been telling the people around me all decade. The notes mention specific qualities about people I enjoy. They express gratitude for shared experiences. They described the positive impacts certain people have had on my life. They express remorse for the situations I did not handle well.

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Writing the letters was quite emotional. In some cases, it felt like reliving the ups and the downs, the moments I am proud of and the ones that make me cringe. Overall, writing these notes made me feel better.

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Bringing these notes to the Post Office turned out to be even more emotional than writing them. There was something amazing about the act of dropping all these letters into the mail slot. At that specific moment, a giant weight lifted from me. I had finally done the right thing. The past could be put behind me. This season of reflection, gratitude and atonement makes me ready for life’s next chapter.

I’m not sure how anyone is going to respond to these Thanksgiving notes. Some people, especially those I have not talked to the last few years, may even be a bit bewildered.

While I am sure I will hear from some people when these notes are received in the mail, I am not anticipating anything specific. That’s not the point. I wasn’t doing this to have anyone tell me how great it is that I am finally showing some gratitude or hear from people who have not been in my life for years. The point was to tell people they matter. Assuming nothing goes terribly wrong at the Post Office, that mission is accomplished.

In Between Seasons

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The first few days of November in Colorado’s high terrain is the quintessential example of an in-between season. The first few storms of the year have removed all the colorful leaves from the trees. All of the “leaf peepers” have gone home. Snow covers the ground, but not in a manner that is deep and consistent enough to enable many of the activities associated with the winter season. Some of the ski resorts have opened, but likely have only one or two lifts operating.

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Almost everything, from the sounds of nature to the volume of traffic along the highways, is much quieter than usual.

It is a familiar place for most, and not just with respect to seasons and outdoor activities. It is present in all cycles of life. No matter how hard some may try to remain consistently occupied, there will always be that time period, when one activity is done and the next has yet to begin.

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This has become even more prevalent in the 21st Century. The world is changing faster. Gone are the days of having one job or one main activity for nearly the entire duration of adulthood. Nearly all people must periodically learn new tools and expand their knowledge base on a regular basis. The average job tenure is now 4.2 years, and it is now common for people to switch to a completely different line of work from time to time.

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Olympic Gold medalist Lindsay Vonn discussing her new line of makeup at Denver Startup Week 2019

It’s long past time people stop asking those they meet for the first time “What do you do?”  This question needs to be replaced with something more appropriate for the current reality, such as “What are you up to?” One’s tenure at a specific job, like raising a child starting a bueiness or renovating a home is a project with a finite beginning and ending.

Early November in the mountains is that time period between one ending and the next beginning. What to do?

This in-between time represents an opportunity that the manager of six groups raising two children caring for an elderly family member and building a new garage does not have. For someone accustomed to being constantly on the move, this in-between time can be confusing and even disorienting. Whether expected, like the time between fall and winter, or unexpected, like a project cancellation, in-between seasons are a great time for what often gets neglected in typical daily life.

The most important things to do during in-between seasons are…

Rest

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While it is certainly possible to rest too much, periodic rest is important to meet all of our physical and spiritual needs. Much has been written recently about the importance of getting good sleep. This is something few people prioritize.

Learn

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Learning is commonly a part of everyday life. However, learning is typically dictated by demands related to jobs or other responsibilities. During this quieter time, there is the freedom to learn anything that actually pokes one’s curiosity. Many, including Google, understand the value of self-directed pursuits.

Improve

“Be better than you were yesterday” is a common mantra. Many people, especially those that are the most successful, are constantly working on themselves. The time between the ending of one activity and the beginning of another can be a unique opportunity to give some form of self-improvement the focus it needs to guarantee it come to fruition.

Work on Relationships

It is hard to imagine something more neglected by modern society than the need for human connection. Some believe that this neglect is behind most mental health problems. Relationships of all kinds need attention in order to thrive. Breakups and explosive fights between best friends and family members garner a lot of attention. However, people lose far more relationships due to neglect, when both parties cease making an effort.

Re-evaluate

Perhaps most importably, a life that is constantly busy provides little opportunity for re-evaluation of things like time use, spending habits and priorities. During times like these, more people have the ability to clear their heads of things like daily task lists and ask themselves what really matters. This will inform things like which relationships are the most important ones to working on, what to learn, what improvements to make and what the next beginning should be.

It won’t be long before the next season is underway.

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The odds of that next season being successful is improved when individuals improve, are well rested, and have the right priorities and relationships. While this can be done in many different settings, it is often done most effectively in places like these, where there are far fewer distractions.

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The Calm Before the Storm

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This is Guanella Pass, 11,700 feet (3570 m) above sea level on Wednesday October 9, 2019. It was a warm day, one that almost felt like mid-summer. As can be seen from the photograph, the region had yet to receive a significant snow. On that day, Denver International Airport would reach a high temperature of 83ºF (28ºC). Temperatures were quite pleasant at higher elevations.

However, change was on its way. These photos were taken only several hours before autumn’s fist meaningful push of cold air would arrive in Central Colorado. The next day would see temperatures across the entire region dip below freezing, and snow fall all the way down in Denver.

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Friday morning’s low would reach 9°F (-12°C) in Denver, representing a near record breaking temperature drop.

Thanks to weather models, forecasters saw this dramatic change coming. Most Coloradans were prepared.

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Yet, even without computer models to foresee the exact day and exact nature of these changes, it is pretty well understood, especially up in the Rockies, that at this time of year, sooner or later an event like this is bound to happen. This is why many high elevation animals gather food in the second half of the summer and why the tree leaves change colors in the autumn.

Luckily, it was a Wednesday. So, the roads people usually take to go “leaf peeping” weren’t nearly as crowded as they are on weekends.

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Guanella Pass is amazing in autumn. Being only 50 miles from Denver, it is typically far more crowded on weekends at this time of year.

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I often get carried away with getting to that perfect location, many miles out of the way where the image, the sounds, smells and conditions are perfect!

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However, that day I noticed that it is quite possible to see some spectacular fall colors without even leaving the main roads. I saw bright gold trees along both Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 285!

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Few places captured the essence of life in the mountains in Autumn better than Georgetown, which is right along I-70.

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It was strange to gaze upon the Aspen trees knowing that in less than 12 hours, due to wind and snow, most of the leaves would be gone, and the landscape was about to fundamentally be changed.

Storms are part of the nature of life, not just with respect to weather and seasons. It is the first time we have a crush, and soon after the first time we get our hearts broken. It is the conflicts we have with our family, close friends and significant others. It is that person we just don’t get along with. It is losing a job, getting in an unexpected accident, or even just having a week’s worth of bad luck.

It’s facing our fears, which is what Halloween is really all about.

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In October, the days get darker and chillier, foreshadowing winter, often the most dreaded of the seasons. It is no coincidence that this is the time of year we celebrate all that is spooky; carving spooky designs into pumpkins, dressing in scary costumes and watching scary movies.

Some of life’s “storms” come unexpectedly. However, some are at least somewhat predictable, like the changing of the seasons or a coming breakup. How we respond differs quite a bit from person to person. There are those that prepare, those that embrace, those that deny and those that simply try to weather it as best as possible.

Maybe the same is true of these Aspen trees up in the mountains.

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It was hard for me to imagine why some trees at 9,000 feet (2750m) in elevation would still have green leaves on October 9th. They seemed less prepared. However, maybe they are just enjoying this calm before the storm a bit longer. I can’t say I had not done the same at various points in my life.

The key to facing the storms of our lives is to build up resiliency and self-confidence. This is part of what facing our fears is all about. Once our fears have been faced, we are prepared to have that awkward conversation where we must tell people what they don’t want to hear. We are ready to assert ourselves to obtain what we really want out of life. And, we are ready to deal with setbacks without falling apart.

The confidence not to panic gives us the capacity to enjoy “the calm before the storm” to its fullest extent.

 

Flagstaff Hill: A Quick Intense Ride

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Before embarking on this journey, I was told that Flagstaff Hill was one of the most intense bike rides in Colorado’s Front Range. The full ride has a vertical climb of just over 2,000 feet and an average grade of 11%! This makes it slightly more intense than Lookout Mountain near Golden.

Most cyclists follow Flagstaff Road from Chautaqua Park. This is the ride that has earned a reputation as “quad-burning” and “lung-busting”.

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However, there is an alternate route up, one that is slightly less steep, but also a bit less paved. It begins with a ride up Boulder Canyon.

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This part of the ride is not too intense and serves as a reminder of how easy it is to get into the mountains from Boulder. Even from the Eastern part of the City, it is only 20 minutes by bicycle to arrive at a place where the city feels completely left behind.

We did this ride on an early October day after work. So, it wouldn’t be long before the sunlight started to fade behind the mountains.

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Turning off Boulder Canyon Road on Chapman Dr., the road quickly turns into an unpaved trail. The trail is not too rocky or sandy to pass on a road bike. Still, not being on pavement certainly adds an additional challenge. This part of the ride is likely as steep as any, with wide curves rather than tight switchbacks.

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We huffed and we puffed. We burnt out our quads- just as had been promised. At times I felt as if this route may have even been slightly more challenging than the road route.

Less than an hour into the ride, we had reached a place where we had not only left the city limits, but felt as if we were completely in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.

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Most people have to travel further by car to get a a place that feels even remotely like this!

The top of this ride is at a place called Realization Point.

With limited daylight, and the Nature Center not being open, we opted out of this last part of the ride. Apparently, we missed out on the final 100 feet of climbing, but still faired quite well (I’m still certain we ascended at least 2,000 feet).

We retuned to town via the paved road, where we were able to relax, let gravity do the work, and overlook the town.

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It was one of those moments of pure joy we are always seeking after in life. It reminded me of scenes from movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Flashdance, or looking on as groups of children play in the park, good friends laugh over a great meal or that one daring snowboarder jumps off the ten foot cliff. At that moment, nothing else matters. It is a moment of pure joy. Often times in these moments, we weren’t even necessarily intentional about setting aside our worries. The experience, the sense of accomplishment, wonder and excitement has this way of overwhelming us, leaving us with no choice but to fully immerse ourselves in what is happening here and now.

Cycling is an individual experience that we often share with others. At the Adventure Cycling Association, I was told that a bike ride with n people has a total of n+1 experiences; each person’s individual experience and then the group experience. On rides like these, even among similar people, each person experiences it somewhat differently. The amount of huffing and puffing on the uphill part, which individual groves in the surface we encounter with our tires and the strength of the adrenaline rush on the descent all vary enough to make individual experiences unique.

I cannot tell you if this is the most intense ride I have ever done. My day in Yellowstone was definitely far more exhausting, and I do recall being on steeper sections of road for shorter periods of time. All I can say is that I am grateful to be in a place where this type of experience is readily accessible and to have the means by which to make it happen. I ended the day not focused on who has more money, who is in better shape, or who has more fulfillment in life. That is always a good thing.

The Next Three Months

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It is hard to believe we have already reached this point. There are only three months left in this decade! Soon, it will legitimately be the “20s”. Although there is a reasonable argument to be made that there is nothing special about milestones somewhat artificially created by our calendar, there are seasons and cycles to life. This one happens to correspond with a need to reflect. At least that is how I feel about my own life as well as our culture as a whole.

My Personal Story

Saying my life has undergone some major changes over the past decade would be a rather generic statement. It’s ten years! Of course life has changed. The idea that someone is living the same life they were living at the start of 2010 indicates a level of stagnation that would make my head spin!

Some aspects of my life were quite different at the start of the decade. I was living in Chicago working at my first “real job”. At the surface, I was living the life one would expect a 20-something in Chicago to be living.

I also, for the most part believed in the system and the institutions that we had put in place (mostly over the 20th Century). I was fortunate that the 2008 market crash had remarkably little impact on my life.

It wasn’t perfect, but I was riding high. A couple of years later, I would move to a a different part of the country. I suffered a series of disappointments, primarily related to jobs. It caused me investigate and take a more critical view of the current state of our culture.

I still love to goof off and have fun.

However, my attitude towards a lot of things have changed.

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I see our established institutions, such as work, education and social expectations as in desperate need of an update.

I started spending far more time traveling and seeking experiences, particularly in the outdoors, as well as attending the types of events that inspire people to buck the trend and seek out something more from life.

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The 2010s

I can’t help but feel like when I think of the culture of the 2010s, the first thing that will come to mind will be a bunch of people staring at their phones.

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Social media and smart phones were a major disruption to our communication and social patterns we have yet to fully process. Over the course of the decade, we continued to embrace these technologies while simultaneously worrying about the consequences. We observed some alarming trends such as increases in suicide rate, opioid overdoes and violence, and have wondered whether loneliness and depression related to social media and smart phone distraction have played a part.

Our political discourse certainly went downhill. Despite a few trends here and there I find promising, I all but completely lost interest.

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The 2010s have, in many ways, brought some level of awareness. The sad part, for some, was the revelation of truth around people formerly regarded as heroes, like Bill Cosby and Lance Armstrong. Of course, this does mean a lot more people will get treated more fairly in life.

Also, in parallel with my own personal journey, a lot more people have come to the realization that many of our institutions, from work to education and social structures, could be improved upon to create a better human experience. In arenas such as TED talks, people are discussing what that future could look like.

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The Middle of an Uneven Transition

At this moment in time it feels like both my life and our culture as a whole is in the middle of a transition, with a result yet to be determined. New enterprises are re-imagining systems such as education, healthcare and transportation. More minor adjustments like flexible hours and married people maintaining separate bank accounts are more common. In general, though, we are still trying to define this transition, what the future state will look like and how we get there.

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My life’s path is in a somewhat similar place. I’m trying to get my life in alignment with my personality, values and interests. I am only part of the way there, and have encountered resistance of my own.

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My Plan For the Next Three Months

The last 12 months of my life have been exhausting.

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With the 2020 milestone coming up, and a need to better define the direction my life needs to take, now is a good time to stop and focus on the following.

  • Slowing down
  • Processing ten years worth of events
  • Meditation and Mindfulness
  • Reconnecting with my true authentic self
  • Gratitude and atonement
  • Finding some direction
  • Personal development
  • Determining how to help bring about the changes our culture needs
  • Being there for those that matter

This unfortunately means less travel and activity. However, I am hoping it sets me up for an amazing new decade and even better adventures to come!

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