Breaking Life Boundaries – Living a Bigger Life

I did not write a travel story to share this week. I did, however, make quite a few notes for when I do stand-up comedy in NYC next month, so it’s been productive. It’s going to be my first time although I do have performing experience from high school and university (where I studied Business but nearly had credits of a minor in Drama.) As far as I can tell it is going to be recorded, so expect to see my performance link on a posting sometime after Dec 9th! (2013)

I’d like to give a shout-out to fellow blogger, Cupitonians, who decided to push herself by writing 30 postings in 30 days and is doing a great job keeping it interesting! Well done! You can visit her here: http://cupitonians.wordpress.com/

An Update of my Life in Transition – Breaking Life Boundaries

If you are reading this you probably know that over a year ago I dumped my life in Winnipeg. The whole thing. Soon after, I decided to pursue my passions of travel and writing which began in NYC in November, 2012. Toronto became my home base between travels because the most important people in my life are here, my brother and sister. I am very fortunate that my brother and his partner have completely welcomed me into their home as part of the family, and my sister considers me the same.

I have spent more time in Toronto this visit than I originally planned. Because my current mission is to travel and write about it, I figured on having perhaps 10 weeks away, followed by a few weeks in TO and then away again. Instead, by the time I leave for NYC I will have been mostly in TO for four months!

It’s a bit harder concocting new travel stories when not travelling, although I have been writing some stories from earlier travels, such as the Turks & Caicos stories which are among my favourites. Re-writes can be endless, and I need some new material to add to the mix to keep it interesting for me. But, the past few months in Toronto have been fantastic – I’ve been moving forward on a personal level in ways I would not have expected.

In my “about” section I write about being an outgoing introvert. I am also highly sensitive, so if you meet me in a hectic street in Bangkok there is a good chance I will be wearing earplugs to quiet the noise and tinted glasses even inside to soften the light. Someone who is overwhelmed by strong stimuli, I am perhaps a surprising candidate to stumble around the back streets of our planet and write about it. But exploring is when I feel most alive.

Most people seem to misunderstand the introvert/extravert difference so here is a very brief summation. With a group of casual friends, at a party, in a pleasant social situation – an extravert is slowly (or quickly) recharging. In the same situation an introvert is slowly (or quickly) using-up their battery. A weekend-in for an extravert might feel punishing, for an introvert it might feel like a welcome reward. There are extreme extraverts and extreme introverts but most people fall somewhere in the continuum between the two.

I used to be shy but shyness became not a part of my self-concept many years ago. I still recharge by being alone (or with certain close people), but I am not shy. Introversion tends to cause one to be shy, but it is not the same trait. And I am convinced that unlike introversion, shyness is not a fixed trait.

My introversion – my need to recharge at home – caused me to become quite a homebody in recent years. An introvert trying to socialise after a busy social day can cause great anxiety. There is a threshold reached at a different place for everyone, but once that threshold is crossed – the party is over. For me, panic ensues. Fight or flight kicks-in. I need to escape. It is a horrible, isolating feeling. You look around seeing others still having fun and feel absolutely beside yourself, hardly able to breathe. It doesn’t come on all at once for me, I can feel myself approaching overload, I generally know when it’s time to make my exit.

During uni I would come to this point at a bar or club and I would need to escape immediately. If I stayed too long, the entire night would be coloured with regret. Even the parts when I had been having fun would become part of the experience that caused me overload, suddenly tainted in my memory. So that’s what I would do, I would disappear. Because my extraverted friends didn’t understand, “Don’t go, it’s early, come on!” Nope, not dealing with that anymore. Now if I go to a loud party or a bar I will tell people at the beginning. If you see me waving goodbye even before you consider the night to be over, do not challenge me on it. Many people will never understand my experience. Many people are unable to comprehend that others experience the world differently than they do. It is a narrowness of mind that I find pitiable.

If I have had a quiet day I may be able to enjoy a party or stay at a nightclub right to the end. I have learned to balance my days so that this is the case, and I have been very fortunate to be able to do this. If I was still a teacher, I would need most every evening to be quiet retreat. Likewise when I’ve had to work in a busy store all day. When I was able to limit my mall-time to three or four hours on only occasional days I was fine but by then I had an established routine of solitude that was hard to break.

We tend to establish boundaries as to how we live our days. Our boundaries hold our life together, contain it to a comfortable proportion with some safety of predictability. Some of us have flexible boundaries and others more fixed. I tend to go to bed around ten and to sleep around twelve or one lately. Sometimes I go to bed at midnight. It is a flexible boundary for me, more a preference as I know I take a long time to unwind reading, listening to audio books – “going to bed” for me more means going for quiet time before bed in my room.

We have boundaries of distance. How far do you tend to go away from home? Every day, on weekends, on holiday. I prefer to take my coffee within walking distance of home, which means I prefer to live within walking distance of a coffee shop. I have a strong urban preference. I generally don’t go across town for a restaurant unless meeting someone or for a special occasion. I prefer to choose something nearer. Going for dinner, the company is more important to me than the food. As for travel, clearly I have almost no boundary limitations. Some people only go to beach resorts, which to me isn’t travel it’s just a kind of rest that I don’t like so much myself. Some people only stay in chain hotels, I prefer a variety of hotels big and small, even apartment lets and homestays. (Although doing homestays is for me, pushing my boundaries. I definitely feel uncomfortable organising them and worry that I’ll be crowded (personally) or uncomfortable (again, personally).

We have boundaries of what kinds of things we do. Routines. These activities for most people are not a random assortment, they fit neatly into a box. The “Things That I Do” box. Make a list and you’ll see what I mean. (ex. Things I do: work, go to movies, have Sunday brunch, go to gym, watch tv, drive children to activities, go out for dinners, shop at farmers market . . . . ) How often do we push-back the boundaries of what we do, going outside our box to try something new? For me, it was very seldom. Except when travelling.

When outside of my usual surrounds I am far more likely to try something new. This is true for most people. If you decided to go for a helicopter ride it was probably when you visited the Grand Canyon, not on a random Saturday when you thought, “Why don’t I take a helicopter ride over my own city.” Would that be exciting and interesting, show you a new perspective of your own town? I think it would. Did you have more money when you were travelling? Not unless your income spikes when you are on holiday, lucky you if that’s the way your life works. No, you had the same money. But when travelling our priorities change – we give more priority to spending money on having new and unique experiences. At home we spend more money on buying “things” and home improvements and clothes and everyday bills.

“I feel so alive when I travel,” I remember saying a few months ago, “is it possible to feel so alive right at home?” Well, home is not going to have the excitement of EVERYTHING being new, but I have discovered that by pushing-wider my boundaries of what I do at home, I can make my experience of life much richer. Right here. In Toronto.

Toronto is a large city with loads of opportunities so it may be easier to push one’s boundaries than in a small town, but no matter where you are there are possibilities to try things that you have not tried before. If you’re bored of your gym routine, maybe there is a fitness class you could sign-up for. Afraid to try? So are most people the first time. Take a deep breath and walk in.

I’ve started to push myself to sign-up and go to activities that honour my self. I would never sign-up to join a basketball league because I hate basketball. But I enjoyed acting when I was younger so I went to an Improv workshop last weekend. I was a bit nervous but I went anyway. It was fantastic. Two weeks ago I went to a comedy workshop. I had little idea what it was so I felt a bit nervous about that too, but I knew I wasn’t going to die and I just showed-up. Loved it. Now I’ve signed-up to do stand-up at an open mic for 6 minutes in NYC. I think I’m going to love it and sign-up for more. Am I nervous about it? Of course I am, I’ve never done it before. Even if I had, it’s probably one of those nerve-stimulating experiences every time, I don’t know yet.

Until very recently I felt anxious to have time commitments. Having plans made me feel “trapped”. I had to push though that anxiety just to plan anything at all. Meeting someone for dinner any time apart from right now made me feel uncomfortable. What if the time comes and I am not up for it, then what? I mostly started breaking this terrible boundary during travels when I either made plans to meet people to do things, or I didn’t meet people. The discomfort of being completely alone pushed me to break my boundary. I find most change comes from discomfort.

If you’re looking to add some new zest to your life I have found fantastic opportunities through the website http://www.meetup.com . There are countless groups and activities you can join, perhaps not in very rural areas but it’s worth a check wherever you are. Like to sing? Want to meet other introverts or extraverts or other single Dads with teens or other survivors of cancer? Want to meet people for coffee, or for brunches, to go bowling or to try salsa dancing? Love the opera but don’t really go because your friends don’t? (Here I say, go anyway. I’ve been three times in the past month, by myself. So glad I did too!) The internet has pushed us away from each other on a face-to-face connection level as we text and Facebook and play games remotely rather than actually sit across from each other. But now websites such as meet-up are bringing us together again.

We evolved to connect with others. It used to take a village to raise a child, now we mostly operate very independently. Many of us don’t even know our neighbours. This is not the way we evolved, through thousands of years we relied on those around us with a much stronger sense of community. Together we survived, alone we perished.

As a sensitive introvert there is a balancing act which I have often failed. I have failed many friendships. I have pulled-back in to my comfort zone of independence. The familiar role of being an outsider (when appearing to be an insider) growing-up is one that I am now trying to break. It’s not easy. But I’m working on it.

Work on making your life whatever you want it to be. Don’t stop yourself from trying new things due to fear or inertia. Somewhere inside you know what is working for you and what isn’t. There are probably things you need to change and putting them off doesn’t make them go away. Delay won’t make it easier, the opposite is usually true. Whatever change you are resisting, consider ripping the band-aid off. Excuses won’t help you either. “It’s easy for you, you don’t have to worry about . . . . ” Maybe I don’t, but that has nothing to do with you. Don’t compare your life to someone else’s and remain stuck because of that, what good does that bring you. “I don’t have time to . . . ” Maybe you don’t, just be wary that most people fear change and most of us come up with myriad excuses why change is not possible. Most of us will not change until we reach our breaking-point. Suddenly the excuses are no longer concrete road blocks when we can’t stand it anymore. I could not take my life in Winnipeg for another moment, I felt like I was dying and I was. I was eating too much, drinking too much, not exercising at all and my will to live was actually waining. I know that I am in a fortunate situation now, I’m not deluded to think that everyone has the options I have. However, I still had to dump my entire life to start-over and I could still be sitting at home not trying new things. I had to push myself. I continually have to push myself but the more I do it the more rewards I find and the less I have to push. Trying new things and meeting new people is getting easier and easier. I’m not saying I will keep-up the pace or that we should lead even more hectic lives than we already do, but we should attempt to pursue passions.

Work on things in your life FOR YOURSELF. We are all human and I think that anyone who has it ALL figured out – is probably mistaken. If they really have, they are incredibly rare. If you’re not moving forward, then you are probably slipping backwards because life tends to go uphill. I slipped backwards for quite a few years and now I’m learning to hike again. I have a lot to fix in my own life; I have a lot to fix in my own head. I just wanted to share that I’m having fun trying new things in this growth phase of my life and I encourage everyone to try something new.

Write down something you want to try right now so you don’t forget. And make it happen.

On this topic I’d also like to recommend a book called “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”. I read this book some years ago, but I wasn’t ready to actually act on it at the time. If you want to expand your life I would recommend this book, whether you get advantage from it now or in the future it’s all about moving forward.

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Sharings from my Edinburgh Journal of 1997

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I have been trying to write some stories from my latest visit to Edinburgh. I did write thousands of words while I was visiting this past June, nearly all reminiscing about the life I had when I lived there at age 23/24. But there is too much, it is too long. It is not the type of writing that I currently espouse either; it is more rambling than should be a collection of stories about my life in Edinburgh. It’s reads like a memoir, but I don’t want to write a memoir. Not yet. The topic a bit too large for me to yet breech, yesterday I dug out my Journal from the time and started reading. I have no stories yet finished to share with you but I think that sharing some pages from my 1997 Journal might be interesting. (Even though it is like a memoir.)

Pages from my 1997 Journal.

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Before this entry I had Graduated University with a degree in Business Administration. I had organised a 2-year working holiday visa for the UK and spent some months working in London. Then I backpacked a bit through Europe and went home for xmas. While home I decided to upgrade my computer software skills before returning to Europe to try it all again in Edinburgh.

Meeting that man in the tube as I passed through London who gave me that advice (highlighted) proved instrumental in creating my new life in Edinburgh.

I arrived to Edinburgh that Wednesday night, and Friday I accepted a 2-month office contract at a recruitment agency on George Street starting Monday.

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Later that Friday, I found my first flat share in Edinburgh. (Was not March 1st, was Feb 28th.)

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1997 Photo showing windows to the flat, three of which were in my room. (Middle Right)

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Photo taken in 2013 from the corner of the Royal Mile and South Bridge better showing the location of the building, behind the Bank Bar.

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My landlord in London had let me store all my possessions accumulated from my life in London into a locked closet in his building. After I had my flat in Edinburgh I went down to London to retrieve my things to discover that they had been looted. I would later discover that it was looted by my landlord, who tried to give me back my things after the police were involved, but he had very little remaining and nothing left of any worth. TV, VCR, clothes washer, some chairs, framed pictures, lamps, CDs, various decor items, dishes, cutlery, cooking utensils – all the basics were probably easily pawned. My landlord also owned the local taxi company and was known to the driver who I was telling my story to as he drove me back to Victoria Station to return to Edinburgh. I don’t know if my landlord was from Pakistan, I thought he was from India actually.

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I had accepted that I was choosing a noisy flat when I rented in such a lively, central area. But when a friend visited from London, she caused quite a stir and nearly got me kicked out, as remembered in the next two images from my journal.

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One of the things I loved most about living in Europe was the proliferation of the classical arts. In Edinburgh I enjoyed strolling by theatres on a free evening to see if they had rush tickets. As a young person, I could see most performances for only £10 in 1997/1998. My memory poor, I didn’t remember ever seeing Faust until I read this entry. I’m good with some details, but names of plays, music, movies, artists, even things I listen to often – I’m terrible.

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In addition to working in an office, I took a part time evening job at a cafe. It filled my time before I had the pleasure of making friends and also allowed me to save more money for future travels. I enjoyed spending time with my co-workers. In the next entry I mention Karen inviting me and Katie (from South Africa) to visit her family home at Lock Lomond. “Where people shake hands firmly and wonder who you are.”

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Looking down to Katie at Cafe Florentine in the Lyceum Theatre.

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There’s me at 23. Wow was I a bad waiter! Well-intentioned though. That will be a story. But I had a great attitude, which was enough I guess.

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Here it is in 2013, I had lunch there on the patio and enjoyed seeing the office where I worked too, which was just across Lothian Road.

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Kitted with Scottish gear from Karen’s parents to go explore nature and collect some drift wood. Left to Right, Katie, Me, Karen. Sadly, I lost touch with both Karen and Katie. That happened much more in the days before Social Media.

I stopped working at the cafe when it no longer served me (at the office I’d miss our new opportunity of overtime to go work at the cafe, and that meant earning 3 times less). When I left it was just before the Edinburgh Fringe too, and I also didn’t want to entirely miss the Fringe festival to earn less money working more hours. I could add two hours to my regular office day of 7 (35 hrs was full time in Scotland, probably still is), and earn more than working an additional 6 hours at the cafe, which would take my entire evening. It was a no-brainer, although not everyone was pleased.

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Another reason I quit the cafe. I no longer had free evening time I wanted to fill!

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“I sit in a room of familiar strangers.” I quite like this phrase. I guess because we were a new team all starting our first day, we were very familiar with each other anxious to make new friends and start-off on the right foot. This was day one of my second contract with Standard Life. When my first 2-month contract lapsed, I didn’t renew and returned to the personnel agency where I started a new 6-month contract in a different department with a completely different job and in a different building. The change was great and with overtime often available the pay was much-improved too.

I did not remember that I was starting to have arm trouble already by the day I was starting my second position. I also mention having trouble handling the dishes and cleaning (at the cafe) too, which became much worse very quickly. My new physical limitations would have had me leave the cafe very soon had I not already left. Eventually, I even had to buy plastic dishes to handle at home. My arm disability became instrumental in my decision making with the limitations they caused. I would not find out until 1999 that the cause was spinal damage. The condition became completely manageable after learning that.

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Some views from my 1997 photo album.

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