If I Weren’t Afraid

This blog’s purpose is not about me. It’s about empowering women to seek and share their spirit of adventure. In this post, I explore what an adventurous life means for me. But I’m more interested in your comments about how you honor the spirit of adventure in your life. It can be as simple as trying a new pie recipe, or as complicated as starting a school for girls in the Middle East. Let’s give each other the gift of inspiration, and give women something to talk about.

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My take on it:

At a glance, my life doesn’t look unconventional: I don’t live off the grid, grow food for the poor, or defend political prisoners. I’m married, live in a brick bungalow in Denver and drive a ’95 Honda Civic Hatchback. I love movies as much as books, I recycle but sometimes I shower too long, and I work for myself… but I do work.

At first glance, my life doesn’t look unconventional. Goofy maybe, but not unconventional.

At 23, I followed a drummer from Los Angeles to Denver. He dumped me, but I stayed, because someone said, “Everyone has to get away from the place they’re from, at least once.” When I told my father this, he said, “That’s deep, Cara,” with typical sarcasm. But not every truth must be deep, and sometimes the obvious wisdom bears repeating.

In Colorado, I attended journalism school, interned for public radio and public TV, waited tables and spun records in a dance club—where I threatened non-dancers with a small whip. At 26, I became a TV reporter in Alaska. After a year of applications, it was my first professional job offer, so the choice seemed pragmatic. But I also thought Alaska sounded like an exciting frontier, full of astonishing places and strong people. It was.

In Alaska, I helped build a snow cave in Thompson Pass and spent the night inside – with a boyfriend. I witnessed Barrow’s last sunset of the year before two months of night – with a news photographer. Yet, I also learned to do things on my own. I ran in a footrace up and down Mount Marathon, just to see if I could. I hiked alone to a promontory overlooking beluga whales chasing the tide into Cook Inlet, just to spend time getting to know myself. Although I dated too many alcoholics, I became one of Alaska’s strong people.

I helped build a snow cave in Thompson Pass, and spent the night inside.

I flew to Mexico alone, because it sounded fun. In Puerto Vallarta, I hung out with a bunch of Canadians twice my age, which was fun, and was sexually assaulted by a waiter, which was not. I drove through New England alone, because a fall colors tour sounded like a sight to fill my soul. It was. I saw myself as a girl carrying a basket, and filling it with memories.

At 35, I dropped everything to backpack around the world, alone.

My global trek started with a six-week drive from Anchorage to LA, to visit family. Along the way, I stayed at Pacific Coast hostels, though I was a bit too old for the lifestyle. I then spent eight months in China, Thailand, Nepal, India, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and England. When I reached the nearly 18,000-foot pass of the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayas, and saw the prayer flags at the top, tears filled my eyes. My life had changed forever—from co-dependent to independent.

When I reached the nearly 18,000-foot pass of the Annapurna Circuit, and saw the prayer flags at the top, tears filled my eyes.

That journey made me more willing to take a chance on love. After a few days in New York, I flew to Farmington, New Mexico, to see the boyfriend who’d asked me to marry him. But, when no ring was forthcoming, I wasn’t willing to wait around. So I spent a few months wandering the Southwest, sightseeing, job-hunting and visiting friends and family. During my travels, I’d discovered that many Europeans receive six weeks to two months of vacation a year. I would never again accept less from an employer, even if it meant time off without pay.

I started writing travel articles, spent three months reporting for a small newspaper in Taos, and seven months reporting for the North Carolina PBS affiliate. I moved to Denver, where I spent five years writing and producing for HGTV, Food Network and Discovery Health Channel. That career didn’t give me time to pursue my next dream: becoming an author. So I became a freelance writer. That gave me time to pen They Only Eat Their Husbands, a memoir about my path to self-destruction with alcoholics in Alaska and my journey around the world in search of recovery, and discovery.

I continue to visit amazing places, always doing the unusual to keep it personal: climbing Tanzania’s Mt. Meru instead of the famous Kilimanjaro, getting married at a Costa Rican volcano instead of the usual beach. I didn’t marry until I was 39, because I wouldn’t settle for less than the right guy. When I was 40, we bought a house. We keep saying we’re going to remodel, but the money keeps going to our next trip. A girlfriend says, “You’re remodeling your lives.”

I got married at a Costa Rican volcano, instead of the usual beach.

These days I rarely buy new clothes, often relying on hand-me-downs and second-hand stores. After seeing children in Malawi who own one tattered outfit and no shoes, my closet seems full. Then again, when I’m flush with cash, I don’t mind spending $100 on well-made clothes that will last. I’ll even spend $200 on comfortable shoes, because my feet take me everywhere. But I won’t spend $5 on a pair of misogynistic heels.

I believe in healthy eating, but never “diet.” I believe in exercise, but while I love to hike, bike, ski, run and swing dance—I refuse to spend money on a gym or spend time doing any activity I hate, just to burn calories. I believe my appearance reflects my self-respect, so I take care with dressing, grooming and occasional makeup. But I believe primping reflects an out-of-balance ego—and I try not to go there.

While I believe in exercise, I refuse to spend money on a gym or spend time doing any activity I hate, just to burn calories.

I don’t make much money, though I’d be happy to make more. If I need to pay bills, no honest work is beneath me. But, so long as I can meet my basic needs, I’ll only do work that uses my talents to contribute to others. I neither decry nor celebrate consumer culture: while I reject materialism, I understand that the extras I buy create jobs.

I don’t rank joy above sorrow. I embrace every human emotion that marks me as fully alive. I care about how people feel, but don’t live my life based on what they think. I strive for honesty in all I say, and for silence when unnecessary information would harm others.

Trying to fulfill society’s expectations leads to an inauthentic life; so does trying to avoid society’s expectations.

While I live a life some might call adventurous, some adventurers might find it ordinary. Adventure asks me to more deeply explore the world I travel in, and the world that travels in me, but what those two worlds encompass is up to me to decide. Trying to fulfill society’s expectations leads to an inauthentic life – so does trying to avoid society’s expectations. I don’t do things because they’re conventional or unconventional. I ask myself what I would do if I weren’t afraid. Then I do that.

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Now, let’s hear your take on it…

4 thoughts on “If I Weren’t Afraid

  1. Rachel Cotterill

    The adventure I’m on is to see new places, meet new people, and learn new skills. A side-effect of taking up blogging and travel writing is that I’ve started looking at everywhere – even places much nearer to home – much more closely. Every day is some kind of adventure 🙂

    I absolutely agree with you about not trying to be like or unlike everyone else… be yourself, that’s all you can meaningfully be.

    Reply
  2. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    Rachel, I totally get it about adventure around the world making you more alive to adventure in your own backyard. Traveling is kind of like opening a magic box that can later show up anywhere!

    Reply
  3. Alice Salles

    The adventure is to LIVE the way you want to live. To dare to do mighty things in your own terms, that’s adventurous, and that’s what you are!
    Incredible blog post! Just… inspiring.

    Reply
  4. Cara Lopez Lee

    Alice, That’s what you’re doing, too: from Sao Paulo, to Denver, to LA… from poems, to blogs, to screenplays. May you’re mighty endeavors yield mighty results in the City of Angels.

    Reply

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