You can’t get there from here.

Physical metaphors are powerful because they help us build a bridge from the tangible or “real” to the spiritual or intuitive. Sometimes I’ll be going about the daily tasks of life and have an epiphany right then and there…like I did driving around in Portland recently.

Portland is a sweet little city and it’s pretty easy to navigate once you learn the layout (quadrants!) and the major crossroads. I, however, have never been one to take the main throughways, because they feel slower to me since there is usually quite a bit more traffic than on the back roads. I like the movement and sense of freedom (read: no cars in front of me) taking the back roads allows even if the cost is going slower. (Are you already starting to see this as a metaphor for life?) So I keep trying new routes driving the city and because of Portland’s wonky layout, I inevitably end up at a dead end. In fact, I usually make many unexpected detours before reaching my final destination.

At first I was getting really frustrated about this—apologies to my sis who witnessed these freak outs a number of times. Then, the epiphany: You just can’t get there from here. It’s nothing to fret over, it’s just a fact. You can’t drive through the house at the end of the street, so you’d better turn and keep on moving.

This is life, too. If you want to meander, learn your own way, discover and explore instead of taking the known and fast route to “arrive” you’ll be making a lot of unexpected turns, romping around on new territory, and at times taking longer than your compadres on the highway.

You’ll also be learning more, seeing more and enjoying more beautiful scenery since you’re going slower. In either case you’ll likely experience frustration—on the main thoroughfare because of traffic and lack of expediency and on the back roads because you’ll be lost a lot. My frustration started to calm when I realized that obstacles are often just guidance to a new route. And this, for me, is one of the key differences between trying out an unknown route and sitting in traffic or whizzing by on the super highway, you’re always moving and usually at just the right pace to make choiceful decisions about where you’ll go next.

I am what I do. And you are too!

As I pack up yet again for my impending travels, through organizing my things I came across a stash of letters and cards from friends and family. It was a treat to read them and I noticed how many folks made mention of things like my courageousness and adventurousness and my traveling vagabond ways. “Free spirit!” they called me.

Owning the “free spirit” label or even calling myself a traveler has been a long time in the making. In fact, it’s still in progress. Much like I can be in denial of the traits I don’t want to possess, I find that I am often in denial of the desirable traits I do possess.

I noticed that this is due in part to meeting so many other travelers on the road who are so well traveled and, shall we say, more graceful (as in, they’ve never run through dark forests trying to look like a crazy person so they didn’t get attacked). My friend J, for example, traveled around the world for two years before moving from Portugal to Italy where he got fluent in Italian in a matter of months and went on the job market in the financial sector. He is always optimistic and brimming with joy. Even more so when things go awry. Compared to J, I think to myself, I’m not a free spirited traveler at all!

But when I parse out what it is that I do (travel) from how I feel about what I do (mixed feelings from joy to utter terror), I notice that J and I are the same. Travelers travel. Some travelers (J) thrive on all aspects of their travels and others (me) travel despite bouts of fear, loneliness, and weariness. It is both in my comparison to others and in coming around to a new way of being or doing (it just takes me a while to adjust to changes with my identity), that I discount the things I do and who I am.

The truth is, you don’t have to do what you do perfectly, professional or even all that well. But if you travel, write, draw, study, etc. often and it’s inextricably a part of your life, then you are a traveler, writer, artist, student, etc.

I am what I do. And you are, too. Good, bad, or otherwise.