How in the world did you end up in Michigan?
I hear that one often. And I think about it often too.
The short answer, Scott. The long answer, it’s a pretty incredible story. One that I couldn’t make up if I tried. One that, as I begin to type this I don't even know where to being or how to tell. There have been so many moments, so many people, so many Wow! did that really happens that I'm afraid you won't feel it like I do. Feel what, you might ask? That feeling inside. Of gratitude and awe and thankfulness.
I'm determined to be alive and awake and present, right here, for all of it.
One thing I learned early, and I’m so darn grateful that I did, is that we all get a choice. We get a say in the life we want to live. We don’t have to just take what comes our way, we get to do something about it. Who you are today doesn’t have to be who you are tomorrow. As we change and evolve and grow and learn, hopefully we are different, even better than we were before.
Oof, if you can’t tell, I could go on about this for a while. I’m FASCINATED by it. How we got to where we are.
And so, I wanted to share a bit of my story, where I’m from, and how in the heck I got to where I am right now. AKA my kitchen table, in our little cabin on the lake, in Northern Michigan.
I learned that if you want to do something, you just have to go do it. There's no secret formula, nothing that other people know that you don't know. It might take a few years, you might have to save money, or practice, or learn something new but if there is something you want to do you have to GO and DO it.
I was a Division I college basketball player. My life looked a lot like practice, work out, film, school, repeat. This was serious stuff. South Dakotans LOOVVEEE their basketball and South Dakota State fans are nuts, in the best of ways.
We were a high-level team, playing at the highest level and I absolutely loved it. I’m pretty sure that time in my life will forever be some of my favorite memories.
But then, one day, it was all over.
Just like that, the thing I had worked so hard, so, SO hard at for more than 15 years was just over. Done. Boom.
I talk about this because it was so pivotal in my journey. Up until this point, most of my life was planned out for me. People, I knew where I was going to college and who I was going to play for in 10TH GRADE. I didn’t have to make many decisions short of where I wanted to eat that day.
And then suddenly I had no direction. No plan. No one to tell me what to do or where I had to be. No idea of what I wanted to do post-basketball. It was overwhelming. What was next?
The usual, go to school, find a job, get married, have kids, retire....right? That sounded nice, fine, I could be happy doing that....I think.
I ended up with a degree in Social Entrepreneurism and finished my Master’s in Sociology: Community Development. I got a job working special events and marketing for the Boys & Girls Club.
I loved that too. But there was always something inside of me that wanted more. I don’t say more as in the Boys & Girls Club wasn’t enough. I just wanted something different. Out of my comfort zone. Without any direction or plans I finally had the chance to ask myself what do I want to do.
I had the travel bug, bad. I was staying up late reading travel blog after travel blog. I wasn’t watching shows, rather YouTube videos of people traveling around the world. Every morning I woke up and instead of the radio, turned on TED talks about living a big life. At work, I traded Pandora for motivational speeches on YouTube. Without knowing it, I was getting myself geared up for an entirely new lifestyle.
One day, I was sitting on my couch, browsing online trying to figure out how in the world these people traveled, and blogged, and were backpacking their way through Europe.
I found a common theme, they all said one day they just bought a ticket and did the dang thing. I realized the only difference between the person doing these things I wanted to do and myself was that they were actually doing the things. They bought the ticket. They booked the hostels. They went and tried and failed and figured it out.
And so, after 2 years with the Club and establishing a home, friends, routines, and a pretty darn happy post-college life, I bought a one-way ticket to London, told my mom I'm not sure if it will be 2 weeks or 20 years but I'll see you soon, and got ready for my next adventure.
How did I know I was ready? I wrote a blog about that here.
I learned a lot from traveling but these 2 in particular. 1. You just figure it out. Really. Life, how to get back to your hostel, where the best sunset view is....you just figure it out and 2. How to be present. This is where the whole intentional living/present lifestyle started.
Before I left, I was talking to a life coach. He had done a presentation at the Club and gave an hour of free coaching over the phone to anyone who attended. We were talking about my plans to just go and I was telling him my fears and hesitations. He said something like, "Steph, what you're doing doesn't make sense and a lot of people won't understand what you're doing. But it sounds like YOU know what you're doing and why you're doing it so put your head down and just go." I think about what he had to say often, usually when I'm feeling any sort of doubt about what I'm doing in life.
And so, without a job nor much of a plan, I spent 3 months solo backpacking my way through Europe. I stayed in hostels, I traveled by bus and train and air. I saw the Northern Lights in Norway, I went ice skating on the Eiffel Tower, I ate WAAYYY too much food in Italy. I visited more than 19 cities in 13 countries. It was a blast. A dream. Something I’ll forever be grateful for and proud of myself for actually DOING.
When I look back, that's the key here, the whole DOING thing. Not thinking too hard or planning too much or trying to figure it all out, but just doing the dang thing.
This is also the year that I started picking one word to focus on for the year. You can read more about that here. My word(s) for 2016 were Go. Do. My word last year (when I started the blog) create. My word this year (aka NAMING the blog each day slow all about intentional living and being present) present. You're seeing a theme here right? Boom baby.
I learned a lot while I was traveling, a lot about myself too. I wrote some thoughts on that here. But even more the traveling it was the act of diving in even into the unknown. I think action, of any kind, is where you make things happen.
After Europe, I spent 3 months at a school near Eldoret, Kenya and oh my was THAT an adventure. I learned to make chapati. I danced with grandmas on the mountain. I went home with friends on holiday. I hitchhiked with a random person through the Great Rift Valley. I’ll forever cherish the people and time I spent over there.
Then, I came home for one of my best friends wedding. I had just spent 6 months traveling and had still had NO idea what I wanted to do with life. I couldn’t see myself going back to a 9-5. It would be crazy to just pack up and take off to another country….right? My bank account was fine but how long would that last?
Cue anxiety and fear and feeling like a failure and questioning what in the world am I doing with my life every other hour.
Then I discovered All Hands (and met Scott!)
That life coach also told me this, "I don't know if you have a significant other or not but just know that when you follow your heart and put yourself in situations to be surrounded by like-minded, similar people you'll find friendships for life and often times love. You'll meet people who just get it, get you, and get what you're doing."
All Hands, man, it changed my life.
All Hands, now called All Hands and Hearts, is a disaster relief organization. I LOVE THEM. I could write an entire post of what they’re all about so ask me sometime. Long story short, they believe that if you're willing and able to help in ANY form, they give you an opportunity to do that.
It was the first time since I had been done with basketball that I truly felt that TEAM feeling. These were my people. No matter where they came from or what their story was, we were all there for the same reason.
After volunteering for a few months, I ended up being on staff with them and was working on the program in North Carolina. That was when Scott came in as a volunteer. I remember Scott walking in like it was yesterday. 1. I thought he was cute 2. I thought he was capable because he figured out a simple Uber situation and 3. You could just tell that he was kind.
But the program was closing in a week and I was extra busy trying to get things sorted out. We hardly hung out beyond suppers and even that was with 30 other volunteers. Neither of us thought much of it because neither of us was looking. Go figure.
The coolest part was that since neither of us "cared" we were 100% our selves from day one. AKA I was the weird, hands in the air, high five-ing everyone, energetic and all over the place girl on staff. I wasn't trying to impress anyone and sure as HECK didn't think I'd see many of the people, let alone Scott after the program closed.
Scott came just a week before the program was closing. After, I was heading down to Louisiana to deliver the tool truck to another program and turns out, so was Scott.
I didn’t learn this until 2 years later but he literally just skipped his flight back to Michigan because he “didn’t feel done with All Hands yet”. It was a feeling he couldn’t explain and one that I think more people should pay attention to.
It was in Louisiana that we started hanging out. I always say we never dated. Communal living will do that to ya. There is no impressing when you’re on base. You see people at their worst and their best. How they do in groups, if they volunteer for chores. What they like to eat, what time they get up in the morning. How they treat people older than them, how they treat people younger than them. There isn’t much to hide when you're constantly surrounded by others.
Those 2 weeks were so special. Seriously, something happened every single day that was like “Is this real life?” And after those 2 weeks were done, and we were both getting on a plane to go back to Michigan and South Dakota, we said our goodbyes wondering if this was real. I take that back. Scott was ALL in. He had said he loved and was going to marry me and I was like yeahhhh but is this real life? It felt too good to be true. I also knew that I had no idea what I was doing in life and bringing someone in for that ride had proven to be problematic in the past.
So off we went, our separate ways, but just a few days later Scott drove out to South Dakota to meet my family.
Annnndd...we've been together ever since. (Click here to read 21 things I learned in our first year of marriage!)
Just 3 months after we met, we took off to travel 5 months in Southeast Asia, came rushing home to save Scott’s cat, and took off in an RV for a 2 month trip (this time with the cat) around the US.
Life with Scott has been like that ever since. A spoken and unspoken knowingness to go into the unknown. Take risks. Chase dreams. Live boldly and love really, really hard.
A lot of people didn’t understand what I was doing when I quit my job or my plan after or how in the world I would save for retirement. But Scott did. He understood. He knew that feeling I was talking about that I couldn't quite put into words.
Now, we live in Northern Michigan in a little cabin on the lake with our cat Gibson. Scott has had a production company in the Petoskey area for over 11 years. After traveling for awhile and trying to figure out what we wanted to do, we decided to stay in Petoskey, move our downtown office to our home, and travel as much as we can all while having a home base.
There came a point where the fear of staying comfortable with where I was scared me more than trying something new and failing.
Ahhhh now to the blogging season of life. What a sweet time it is. One I’m still writing. Literally. Get it, because I’m a blogger and I’m writing and obviously I think I’m way funnier than I actually am.
I’ve wanted to start a blog since I traveled to Europe. I was sharing a few of my stories and photos online and I had different people messaging me almost daily saying that they were enjoying my writing, so why not start a blog. I got the free platform and posted a few here and there.
But truth be told I didn’t have a vision, I lacked confidence, and I didn’t believe I was qualified to write to others.
Who in the heck would care!?
Who in the heck would actually read!?
What would I write!?
What happens when I go home and am no longer "traveling the world" I bet no one will care what I have to say then.
And then Scott and I met and I was like PERFECT! I'll write about our travels. But, same game, different name. No plan. No vision. Lack of confidence. Wondering who in the heck cared. And quite frankly trying to figure out how to put into words the life we were living.
And then the day came, when I had enough. I was trying to get Scott to do this video. I wanted HIM to be the face of it. To be fair, he never ever, not once has wanted to be the face of anything. Hence why now it's MY blog and he 100 and 10% supports all of it.
Basically we spent 4 hours (for the second time that week) of absolute torture trying to get him to record this video of him teaching about photography. Finally, I said "Fine, I'm done, I don't need you." It wasn't a negative thing, just a HUGE wake up call for me. If I wanted to make this blogging thing happen, I was going to have to be the one to do it.
There was no secret formula. The people already doing it didn't know something I didn't know...they were just out there DOING it. Writing, posting, promoting.
A week later I had set up my website and published my first blog post. And then I posted another. And another.
And now we've started making YouTube videos, which again, has been on the list for YEARS now but I haven't made the commitment to just go for it.
Sometimes though (almost every time) it’s about just going for it. It’s about sticking with it. ALL the time it’s about chasing your dreams and making big things happen.
Standing up to the fear, the doubts, the unknown and saying this is where I’m supposed to be. If I succeed or fail I’m going to learn from this and then..... actually doing it. Not just talking about it or planning for it or thinking SOMEDAY. Doing it sooner rather than later. There is no perfect time. There is just today.
I ask myself often and I challenge you to ask yourself too: Are you creating the life you want to live or just letting it pass you by?
There you have it! My story in a very tiny nutshell. Oh my, there is so much more. So many little moments, so many memories, so many things I can't quite explain, quite frankly God things.
I can’t even believe it. When I look back on my life so far I can't help but smile.
It's amazing what happens when you show up to live an intentional, present, and big life.
I hope my story encourages you in some way. To keep going, to try something new. To be present or travel or FINALLY do that thing you've been wanting to do for 3 years.
Thanks for reading part of my story, it's one I can't wait to keep writing.
Cheers my friend, and thanks for being here today.