Navigating life like a bat

Another mini-crisis of “what the hell am I doing” hit me during my 48 hours in Lyon, France. To be clear, I’m not questioning whether I should be doing this crazy adventure; I know that that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, metaphorically and spiritually speaking. No, it’s the stability-versus-freedom question I wrestled with in Morocco, now triggered by a very practical question: where do I keep my stuff?

By early August, I’ll need to find a new home for my 2 full suitcases and box of camera gear that are currently 30 minutes outside of Geneva in my buddy’s storage unit. I’ll need to swap summer clothes for fall layers, and this somewhat-frequent exchange process isn’t convenient for either of us. A paid storage unit is the best short-term solution until I put down roots. But where?

Turns out that picking a storage-locker location is a bigger deal than I’d thought. But hey, it’s my closet, so it needs to be someplace conveniently located and less expensive than Geneva. And yeah, that could be pretty much anywhere, so let’s add a filter: I should have other reasons to return, like friends, work, creativity, vibe… I mentally run through all the places I’ve been already – Tel Aviv? Cyprus? — and places that are on my list that I think I’d like – Paris? Berlin?  Madrid?

This train of thought opens up the Pandora’s box of taxation and visa issues, leading me right back into the “permanent place” question that’s haunted me since I started this adventure and I’m not ready to deal with. Argh… what should I dooooooo??

How do we know what to do?

Remember when we used to print out maps from Mapquest? Or, even better, when we had to follow someone’s directions (“when you get to gas station – the one with the red blinking light, not the other one — look for the fork and then veer left”). Back then, we had to pay attention to where we were going. We knew how to get places; routes were committed to memory. Then came the GPS revolution and… snap! Overnight, no one knew how to get anywhere. We just hold out our phones and follow the blue dots like zombies. Technology has made navigation exceedingly simple, but it’s also decreased our self-reliance.

As I walked home from dinner last night, I thought about bats: tiny blind creatures that lack the ability to ask Siri or Facebook or Google what they should do for work, or where to live, or what will bring them joy. But they don’t deserve our pity, as bats have something better: a built-in navigation system. They simply make some noise and use the echoes to course-correct. There’s no need to map out the whole route in advance when they can fly through dark, narrow passageways instinctively and unerringly.  

Fact is, we humans aren’t that much different from bats. We’re all flying blind in the dark; we can only know what is happening right now from our limited vantage point. We can’t see the future: not even the second after this second. How do we make decisions and chart our own course? 

Like bats, we have an unerring navigation system: our intuition. The tragedy is that gut-listening isn’t taught in schools. Conformity is rewarded by society, not independence, which results in three types of people:

  • Those who never realize their blindness because they simply follow what everyone else is doing. The blind following the blind, generation after generation, century after century, convinced of their ability to see.
  • The lucky ones who figured out their path early on: maybe they learned it from their navigator parents, or perhaps they were just born with a fully functioning sense of who they are.
  • The rest of us — me and perhaps you, dear reader –who are in between; we’re refugees from the first group regarding the second with envy, wondering how they did it.

Members of this last group don’t often realize that we need a totally new set of skills. What worked on autopilot is not a navigation system, but we try anyway, overly dependent on our logical minds, past experiences, and trial and error. Lots of error. We obsess over doing rather than being. And when we’re really stuck, we revert back to group-1 thinking and ask what other people would do.

Fact is, it’s hard to hear the echoes of our own voices.  And upon hearing those echoes, trust them to guide us into the light instead of a brick wall.

Our metaphorical navigation system

I couldn’t do this adventure without a sturdy navigation system. I’ve deliberately stripped away anything that could influence me — the noise, lights, distractions, things we own, things that own us, our senses of identity that may or may not be truly ours – in order to find my own path. The way in front of me is pitch black. I have no lamp. No one else is in this cave with me. The light behind me is getting smaller… fainter… but I can’t go back.

I just realized that this whole process of selling everything and launching into the unknown was one giant “SHHHHHHHHH” to the entire world. Shush! Be quiet!! I cannot hear myself! And if I can’t hear my true voice, I cannot navigate my path…  cannot make decisions and trust that they are right for me.

When I try to reason out the answers to my questions – where should I go and why? What must I learn? What the hell am I doing? Who am I, anyway? — I fail. My usually trusty brain encounters its limitations, which is perhaps the hardest part of this journey; I’ve been able to think my way out of pretty much anything except for this. Like eyes in the darkness, logic doesn’t work in the dark night of the soul.

I’m starting to gain a tiny sense of what the blind know: when eyes fail, other senses gain strength. I entered into this cave with a decent level of confidence in my intuition (which took me two decades to develop) but now it’s really getting a workout. I tap into my sixth sense daily, feeling the echoes in my body when presented with this choice or that: like deciding whether to walk a new city at night, or choosing a new destination. I don’t move until I feel it in my bones.

A few months ago I was nearly paralyzed by all the infinite choices that could play out, but now I simply consult my navigation system: I take myself to dinner with my journal and work through my now-well-established process. I know what “yes” and “no” feel like. I know what “wait; not yet” feels like, which is the answer to my question about where to rent a storage locker. I haven’t yet pinpointed the difference between “resistance due to fear” versus “no,” but I’m working on it.

And many of you, dear readers, are watching to see what happens. I’ve heard from you. I know that you are standing at the entrance to your own dark caves, taking baby steps in, searching in vain for the light switch that’s not there. And that’s why I feel compelled to share this journey with you… not only because writing helps me understand myself better, but just maybe this transformation game doesn’t have to be so solitary for either of us.

When excuses lose their power

“How are you affording all this?” my mom asked me last year when I shared my upcoming travel plans. It’s a good question, since I didn’t earn money during my midlife crisis. But what most people don’t realize is that it’s far cheaper to live in most countries of the world than in the US. And it’s also cheaper to live out of a suitcase than to pay for:

  • the typical rent or mortgage
  • a car payment
  • car insurance
  • US health insurance
  • US taxes  
  • stuff I don’t need

Not only that, but I’d found a way to live occasionally rent-free. I extended my stay in Geneva another three weeks at no charge, courtesy of a pet-sitting job I found on Nomador; you could also check out Trusted Housesitters. So let’s take the “I can’t afford to travel” excuse right off the table, shall we? (COVID not withstanding.)

Early 2019, I decided that the best way to figure out my next chapter of life was to strip everything away: no excuses, no distractions, and no baggage other than a suitcase. “All in” — just like when I jumped into triathlon 10 years ago with no prior athletic training.

I’m now getting a lot of questions about how I was able to make this leap to becoming a citizen of the world, and I’m hearing the hidden assumptions behind the question — that maybe I have outsized cojones or a secret stash of wealth that allows me to do whatever I want. I’d like to officially put these assumptions to rest.

If you are one of those people wondering how I did it, perhaps you harbor a secret wish to do something almost as crazy; something you’ve tabled for someday, after ________ (fill in the blank).  After the kids are grown. After you save up some more money. After you get married (or divorced). After a promotion.  After you’ve lived up to a certain expectation or responsibility.*

*Before you get your panties in a wad, I’d like to acknowledge that yes, sometimes there really are good reasons and obligations that we really can’t get out of. I’m talking about those excuses that we convince ourselves are reasons.

Or maybe there’s no good reason at all; you’ve just assumed, as I did, that it’s something for other people because we’re not _______ enough. Not rich enough, smart enough, brave enough, strong enough, fluent enough, crazy enough… you get the idea. I know this pattern well; I excelled at the fill-in-the-blank game for years.

What inspired me to go full nomad?

The first question people ask me nowadays is what prompted this crazy international adventure. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I grew up in middle America with very little exposure to other cultures. When I got to college, I discovered classes with “international” in the title: law, business, economics. That word — international — made me weak in the knees. I had no idea what it all meant, but it sounded sexy and intriguing enough to combine them all into an invented minor I called International Studies.  It looked good on a resume but I didn’t do anything with it; at least not at first.

I got my first passport shortly after my 30th birthday to embark on what I fondly called my “ADD sampler platter tour of Europe:” 5 countries in 10 days. I was dating a Brit at the time, which kicked off a lifelong preference for dating foreigners: Italian, Russian, Australian, Serbian, didn’t really matter. Aside from a few notable exceptions, my dating criteria was really simple: “not American.” Not that I had anything against Americans, mind you; I just felt more at home with people who were from someplace else. Anyway, not long after the Brit, I got a consulting job that took me around the world in business class from Dubai to Singapore to Zurich. The company itself was toxic for me, but I prized the global work and travel.

All of this international action should have been a clue that yes, I could live overseas if I wanted. And I did want it, or so I told myself: I remember journaling wistfully about being a travel writer, photographer and coach in my mid-30s. Around that time I mapped out major milestones for my life on a small white board, which included moving to Paris by my 50th birthday.

But my friends and family can attest that I can be oblivious to clues. Living overseas was something I wished for in a general longing sort of way, but didn’t think would really happen unless I got lucky. And perhaps there was also an assumption that it was “for other people.” For crazy rich people.

Then magic happened.

Remember that white board with the milestones? Yeah, me neither. I stashed it in storage where it sat, gathering dust, for 15 years. I must have seen it when I went into that storage unit – it was hanging on the wall when I briefly used the space as an art studio until the paint fumes got to me — but I didn’t really see it, if you know what I mean.

Six months before my 50th birthday I started getting business opportunities overseas. I wasn’t seeking them out; they just came to me. A friend introduced me to her former client in Geneva; that conversation led to a project proposal and a prospective business partner. My buddy from the dog park in Santa Fe wanted to hire me for a photography gig in England, Germany and Italy as soon as his funding came through. I also received an outreach from a former client with potential strategy work in emerging markets.

And I still didn’t get it. Not at first. I booked a photography trip to Morocco as a 50th birthday present to myself, and was haunted for a few months by the vague, unarticulated thought of “I’m not sure I’ll want to come back home.” And then one day in mid-December, I woke up. In that moment of clarity, I remembered what I’d always wanted to do… and I knew I had to make a choice. I could go back to sleep in the safe haven of my excuse-laden comfort zone, or jump into the abyss of not knowing.

I jumped. It was a spontaneous decision, but I knew it was now or never. Over the next three months I sold everything I owned, a brutal yet liberating process that you can read more about here. And I departed JFK five days before my 50th birthday on a one-way ticket to Nice, close enough to Paris to fulfill my prophesy.

It’s not really courage

People say it takes a lot of courage to do what I’ve done. But it’s not courage I feel; it’s relief. I simply reached the point where my comfort zone started feeling itchy and uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s like how an infant feels when it’s time to be born; it’s traumatic and messy and too damn bright out here, but if you stay put, you’ll die. This process of waking up to who we really are is a rebirth, an uncomfortable eviction from the soothing womb of our constructed realities.

Remember the movie the Matrix? It’s my favorite movie of all time. Just before Neo takes the red pill and discovers he’s been living in a dream world, Morpheus tells him:

“You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me.”


I know the splinter well. The soft padding I’d wrapped around it in my younger years had become worn and frayed as I approached the second half of life, and I’m glad for that. Splinters that are buried, padded and tucked out of sight are the source of a host of physical, mental and social ills.

Perhaps you’re splinterless and exactly where you need to be. If so, congratulations… seriously. It’s rare and beautiful thing to be true to yourself under the expectations and shoulds that rain down on us every day. But if you’re feeling the splinter — that nagging feeling that you’re living someone else’s life — the only healthy response is to do something about it.

How to make the leap

Here it is: the part where I give a recipe for exactly how to realize your dreams. That’s what you want, right? Yeah… I didn’t think so. Because then you wouldn’t have any excuses left. At the end of the day, there are only two things we need in order to revolutionize our lives:

  1. The ability to listen to your gut and translate its signals into meaning and insight. Tall order, but how else will you know if your secret desire is your authentic self talking, or indigestion from that cheeseburger? (I’m working on an upcoming series on this topic so stay tuned.)
  2. Once you know what your gut is trying to tell you, the second step is very simple: make a choice. And keep making that choice again and again. Step by step. Even in the darkness of “holy shitballs, what did I sign up for?” which will inevitably happen at least once during this process (remember all those business opportunities I had? None of them have panned out yet; every day I take a deep breath and trust the process.)

My first draft of this article included a list of common excuses for not venturing overseas (which I hear often) along with some facts and information that render those excuses irrelevant, or at least more manageable. I deleted that section because a) it’s too damned easy these days to get the answer from Google and you can do it yourselves if you really wanted, and b) it might not be relevant to you. Head over to my personal blog if you’re curious about where my journey took me.

Bottom line, while you may have special circumstances, a lot of so-called reasons are simply fear of the unknown. We choose the devil we know over the angel we don’t.

A few thoughts to ponder

  • Do you have a secret wish that has never entirely gone away?
  • What is your biggest reason for not acting on that wish?
  • What does Google have to say about that reason, and how other people are handling it?
  • What tiny step will you take this week towards making it a possibility?

What do you think, dear reader? Does this resonate? I’d love to hear from you.

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

No longer living someone else’s life

Midlife crisis is such a cliche. The countdown to my 5oth birthday started at 48 when I quit my job, bought a camper and roamed around the US national parks with my camera. By 49 I was nearly in a panic. Not because I was about to turn 50, but because I still felt like I was living someone else’s life. I couldn’t bear the thought of dragging the same old patterns and baggage past this important midlife milestone.

I sold everything in the US and boarded a plane to Europe a mere five days before my 50th birthday. Over the next four months, through France, Geneva, Morocco and Israel, the decision to continue working in business strategy remained unquestioned. Networking isn’t easy as a nomad, so I tried staying in Tel Aviv for a couple months to find a way, unsuccessfully, to ramp up a business.

The perils of should

That business success has eluded me while on the road is no surprise; it’s been something I had to make myself do, not out of passion but out of duty. Fact is, consulting fits me like an off-the-rack suit; while I’m good at it and occasionally enjoy it, the profession was designed with someone else in mind. I knew it. I’ve known it for years, in that way that we might know our lover is cheating or that our best friend has betrayed us. We think that if we don’t make a big deal out of noticing, it might just go away.

I couldn’t imagine what else I could do to earn a living. When my coach asked me last year, “what do you love to do?” I’d shrug my shoulders. Nothing came to mind that I could map to a real career. Even worse, I’d bought into the idea that it didn’t really matter what we love; grownups should do what need to be done when it comes to paying the bills and not chase silly notions.

There’s that “should” word again; I was a master at using it for self-flagellation when I failed to live up to expectations. But whose expectations? Well, that’s a good question. Now that I’m older and a tiny bit wiser, I recognize should as a flashing warning sign that I’m going the wrong way, or worse, that I’m actively rejecting part of who I am. The should applied to my career has been the last one standing; a barrier set up for safety, without which I might plummet over the cliff of irresponsible choices.

Our 8-year-old life coach

It’s so easy to get nudged, bit by bit, by our family, culture, media and friends onto a road that isn’t ours to travel. Until one day, some of us wake up, blink, and wonder where the heck we are. Hello midlife crisis! At this point, the only person who understands how far we’ve strayed is our inner 8-year olds.

Maybe you’re the lucky one who never banished your 8-year-old self to the children’s table. I suspect you’d be an exception rather than the rule. It’s easy to rationalize why there’s no room with the grownups; what does an 8-year old know, anyway? A lot, actually… not about business or mortgages or global politics, but about everything that really matters to our souls. The meaning and purpose of life. What brings us joy. Secret hopes. Play.

To banish our inner 8-year old is like a best friend’s betrayal. When we’re the ones doing the betraying, it’s easy to not make a big deal out of noticing. But it doesn’t go away, no matter how much we wish it would. This need for reconciliation with our younger, truer self is the incessant itch that wakes us up, or the narcotic that sinks us into a deeper sleep.

I think back now to my childhood, when all I wanted to do was write and draw and create. Even today, decades later, I’m a compulsive journaller. It’s not something I choose to do; it’s something I must do, whether in the quiet of home or in a busy cafe or bar. I write to understand myself and the world. To translate the swirling chaos of intuition and emotion into something my logical brain can comprehend. To problem-solve and make unexpected connections. To plumb the depths of the meaning of life in general, and mine in particular.

If writing is a compulsion, the visual arts are my medicine: my escape from an overly active left brain. Photography gets me out into the world and away from my computer; I’ll walk for hours in a new place with my camera, or sit patiently in a nature preserve waiting for the sunrise or a hawk in flight. And painting is visual problem-solving, something that sucks me into that third dimension called flow where I can stay for hours.

My 8-year-old coach, delighted that I finally asked her opinion, counseled me to get back to what feeds my soul. She reminded me that 20 years ago I journalled about my desire to move overseas, travel the world, and be a photographer and writer. Yeah, that desire, the one I buried in the name of impracticality, believing that path was for other people… surely not for me.

But hey, wait just a stinkin’ minute…. I’M DOING IT ALREADY! I’m traveling the world with my camera, and not even paying attention because I’m so damned distracted by this insistence on working at something I don’t even really like. How does this happen?

The heart is the source of our power

This was my big realization as I immersed myself in the charming port town of Limassol, Cyprus, last year. “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” The people I met there — writers, artists, musicians, journalists, coaches — are rebels: authentic human beings in touch with their inner 8-year olds, unpressured to conform to some idea of what success looks like. They find that balance between leisure and hustle, focusing more on quality and realness of life that had thus far eluded me. I felt welcomed here like I was already a local… like I was already one of them.

And let’s face it: I am one of them. This is the truth I tried to avoid my entire adult life. It’s not a tragedy to fail at something we don’t really want to do. But when we’re betting the farm on something we love — no, that we are, at our essence — the risk is real. We’re vulnerable.

But as my new Cypriot artist friend Paris said to me, “the heart is the source of our power.” I’ve lived most of my life from my head; logic is safe. Logic is where “should” lives, our life choices calculated, pros and cons weighed. Living from the heart… well that’s crazy, right? I questioned my sanity as my 8-year old coach clapped her hands with delight. Yes, this feels right.

Be wild and crazy and drunk with love

If you’re too careful, love won’t find you.


Which brings me to my new life based (for now) in T’bilisi, Republic of Georgia. I’m doing what lights me up. Every day I spend hours writing, interspersed with soul-reviving coaching calls. When I’m feeling a little stuck or down, I grab my camera and walk the old town or rent a car to explore the countryside. It doesn’t feel like work, but it is. My low-level stress, like the ever-present hum of the refrigerator, is gone. I have full faith that when we combine hustle with our 8-year-old coach’s advice, the money will follow.

Was it scary to drop everything I knew to embark on a truer path? Hell yes. But it’s worth it.

What about you?

What has your inner 8-year old been asking for? What’s keeping you from listening? Let’s start a conversation in the comments section. Your comments and feedback help me focus on future topics and questions you find meaningful and interesting.