Thursday, September 22, 2011

What gets you excited?

I have been thinking about passions, about the dedication to causes and people that sustain us. I was incredibly touched by Akhila Kolisetty's post about what gets her excited, what drives her and moves her. She was inspired by Diana Kimball's insightful musings on this issue, who in turn was inspired by Anthony Volodkin (of Hype Machine fame) asking how he gets excited about new ideas and companies. One of the ways I get excited is by reading stories. Hearing what makes other people come alive plants seeds in my head and moves me to action, while also prompting me to ask the questions.

Summer 2010: Roxanne and Meghan on a ferry to Marmaras in Halkidiki, Greece
Introducing Meghan Johnson
And so, with thanks to Akhila and Diana and Anthony Volodkin for the idea and inspiration behind this format, I am introducing you to a woman whose life story fuels my faith in humanity. We met on the first day of our first year at Harvard. Both pint-sized women, we were sharing a bedroom so tiny that it was fit to be a dollhouse more than a dorm room: if we reached our arms out when we were lying in our separate (tiny) beds, we could hold hands. Even though years have passed since those freshman days, we continue to walk by each other's side in life, holding hands, supporting one another as we unravel our stories. Meghan embodies the delicate combination of brilliant and compassionate, funny and sensitive, giving through both her acts of service and the contagious power of her energy. Until recently, she worked in the financial sector and has now opted to take at least one year off to engage in service-based travel around the world. Her first stop is Peru. In her own words, this is her story.

What gets me excited, by Meghan Johnson

I get excited about travel.
Shocking, I know.  I’ve been reading a lot about the philosophy of travel as my departure for Peru approaches, which actually breaks my cardinal rule to not over-analyze things that bring me great pleasure.  There are books and essays galore out there, full of tips and warnings:  At all costs do not behave like a tourist, but do not embarrass yourself by thinking you can be a local.  Do not wear Tommy Bahama t-shirts, but do not stop bathing either.  Do not restrict yourself to the beaten path, but don’t you dare venture off your porch without traveler’s insurance and these eighteen nifty gadgets!

As if the gravity of quitting my job to travel wasn’t reason enough, all of this nomad-philosophizing has caused me to reexamine my own motivations for traveling.  I don’t think I am traveling to “find myself”, which a few people have jokingly asked me.  I don’t need to see every country in the world.  It’s not a new desire or a last-ditch effort.  It’s the fulfillment of a dream. My younger self pored over encyclopedia articles and travel books, wondering what it might be like if I were a 12-year old girl in Cairo rather than New Jersey.  For me, traveling is akin to stepping through the wardrobe into a favorite book and meeting beloved characters in person. It’s about making sure not to disappoint that 12-year old girl and the promises she once made to herself.

I get excited about my body (and yours).
That’s right. You heard me.  I’m a big fan of it.  It hasn’t earned me a bedroom in the Playboy mansion, but it has carried me a long way, and I owe it a big thank you.  I spent a lot of years complaining about it in high school and college.  I still slip into that mentality occasionally, but now I’m mostly in awe of everything that it can do.  It has hiked small mountains, run a full marathon, twisted into pretzels in yoga class, danced through the night, and healed itself innumerable times.  I take on physical challenges because I can; I am young and I have two legs that work, and for that I am supremely lucky.  So I will keep running, twisting, dancing and playing to the best of my ability to keep this incredible machine conditioned for as long as I can.  Health is a gift I refuse to waste.

I get excited when I find that I can respond in a foreign language without having to over-think it.
Languages delight me.  Just ask Roxanne how many times I’ve tipsily begged her to teach me Greek words that I’ll probably never have to use.  I love trying to pronounce new words, the way they roll around on my tongue, how nervous and proud I feel when I finally let them leap out and greet the world.  And when words turn to sentences and then to conversations, well that's just magic.  I would happily replace Julia Roberts steeping in the bathtub with an Italian-English dictionary in Eat, Pray, Love (preferably without the depression or divorce).   In my own travel tale, language, rather than food, would be the first tasty indulgence I’d seek abroad… followed by a few madeleines and macarons to round out my pronunciation, of course.   

I get excited about art and the creative process. 
"I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the middle of distraction." - Saul Bellow

Bellow's definition doesn't exactly specify whether it's the consumption of art or its creation that achieves this stillness. Personally, it's both. Art brings me back down to the ground when I'm panicky or overwhelmed. Creating art, even more so than viewing it, settles my mind and draws out a silent prayer.

That’s not to say I’ve mastered the process.   I’m usually petrified by it.  Years have gone by without producing a single work.  On my desk sits a charcoal and pencil portrait that I drew on a whim four years ago.  It took me eight hours of very-much-arrested attention, during which I toiled and huffed and scribbled and scratched, and ultimately loved every painstaking second.  I keep it close by because the memory of the process brings me pride, despite the fact that it earned me a whopping zero dollars and few accolades.  It brings me back to the state of devout focus required to bring it to life.  It gives me faith that I can do it again.
By Meghan Johnson
I get excited about people who get excited about things.
I firmly believe that excitement and passion are contagious, as are apathy and lethargy.  I love being around people who are engaged and inspired.  I don’t care if your passion is makeup application, horseback riding, or jazz flute.   As long as it is doesn’t hurt anybody, own it. Share it.  Sing it from the mountain tops.  Let your freak flag fly.  We need people who get excited about life and live it boldly, in their own way.  By sharing your excitement with people around you, you’ll infect them with curiosity and energy (and maybe annoy them a little bit by being so darn happy).  Whatever it is that makes your soul shine, pursue it and inspire others in the process.

***
Meghan is chronicling her journey at Soulshine Traveler. Now, do tell us, what gets you excited?

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