17. Dominating the World with Chris

In July of 2014, I came back to the USA for a visit. I had been traveling and living in South America on a journey to figure out what I was most passionate about and to start a new life and career around it.

I was talking to one of my cousin’s who had just come back from the World Domination Summit (WDS) in Portland, Oregon. She told me that I had to do whatever it takes to get to this conference in 2015; that the people there are trying to do what I’m trying to do… live a life of purpose, on purpose.

wait…World Domination…what?? 

Now before you get too alarmed, this conference is all about dominating the world, but with passion and meaning, by living unconventional lives full of service, community and adventure. The idea of the conference is to bring together people to geek out on these exact things.

Naturally, I followed my cousin’s advice because I have the incredible fortune to have awesome cousins. I went back south to live and volunteer in Patagonia for another 6 months and when the time came around, I bought my ticket to the conference.

In the mean time, my passion-fueled journey had started to reveal some things to me:

  • I crave an unconventional, meaningful life and am pursuing that 100%.
  • I believe we all have the opportunity to design a life around our passions.
  • I believe the best thing we can do for ourselves, those around us and the world is to be the most authentic version of ourselves at any given time.
  • I have a deep passion for time in nature and outdoor adventure, for long term travel and expeditions into the unknown.
  • I want to visit every country in the world and I want to write about all of this.

…And then I find out about this guy Chris Guillebeau, the one responsible for igniting this whirlwind of positivity known as WDS.  And then I find out he is also the guy who was already achieving these dreams. Case in point, his latest book The Happiness of Pursuit is almost exactly the idea that I had for a book I wanted to write.

My first thought was… “He did it. I finally found my dreams only to discover the guy who already pursued them.”

This quickly turned to… “What can I learn from him?” and realizing that whatever he has done, he has done it in his unique way and I have my own set of experiences, quirks and ideas to bring to the game. How about a human-powered crossing of every country in the world?

There is one truth for which I am certain: There is room for every one of us to pursue our dreams in our own way, in a way that only we can.

So I went to World Domination Summit and I met Chris, a few times. This is what I found:

He’s humble and successful, as ordinary (by which I mean, he’s incredibly approachable) as he is extraordinary.

He’s an avid world traveler and a published author.

He also surrounds himself with remarkable people, which is a sure sign of character.

After the conference I sent Chris a paper crane. The Paper Crane Project was created to share the stories of people I meet for whom I am grateful and who inspire me, in hopes of spreading good news, inspiration and action to others.

I find Chris so inspiring because he is an example of someone who I believe has found that special place where his talents, passions and values meet the gift that he has to share in the world. He has found how to love his life and be in service in the process of that…something which I believe is available to everyone.

Travel, learn, innovate, create, share, repeat. This seems to be his process and it’s a good one.

He doesn’t have that “get rich quick” stench. Rather, he’s a storyteller and a story connector…meaning, through the nature of the way he lives his life, he is always gathering stories from all sorts of people and places around the world and then making the meaningful connections between those stories. That’s what he shares. That’s where the real power in storytelling comes in, when we can find a piece of it to relate to and transform our own lives.

He dreams big and in this case, I got to experience what it is like to walk through one of his living dreams within the crazy imaginative context of the World Domination Summit. I got to witness the domino effect that happens when we do what we love and then share that with others. Surely that deserves at least a paper crane.

Thank you Chris. I hope to see you on the road again!

*You can find more about him, his books, blog, products, services and adventures at chrisguillebeau.com

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15. Karma Karma Karma Karma Carmen Canadian – La Artista

If ‘what goes around, comes around’ then my dear friend Carmen should have a whole lot of good coming her way and the world is better for it. She is a perfect example of the reason that I started this project. I truly wanted to thank people who I connected with and who inspired me and more than that, I wanted to share their stories to spread the inspiration and community. And what an inspiration she is, wow. You must hear her story.

I met Carmen in Mendoza, Argentina through a mutual friend who said we should meet because the three of us were each living our own experience of ‘following our passions in Argentina’ and how lovely it is to have connections around that.

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Essentially, Carmen had the gift and curse of time as she waited for the application process of an exclusive art program and like any good creative, she could not sit idle in her familiar surroundings in Canada. She had little money and a whim of a plan, but all of the hope, talent and positivity in the world that she could head to Argentina to pursue art and make it work. And the lesson here, world, is that it did. It more than worked.

Carmen is an extremely creative and talented artist and photographer. Her energy, spirit, vulnerability and ingenuity quickly won over the hearts of those at Punto Urbano hostel who were renovating the place. She was able to find a way to stay in Argentina painting murals, learning Spanish and spreading positivity and inspiration to everyone around her for 5 months on a budget that would make most of us gasp in fear.

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But these are the things that make Carmen such a rich and wonderful human being. She wasn’t seeing things through the handcuffs of money that are so easy to get stuck in. She was following her passion and sharing it and what manifested was beautiful…her art, friendships, intercultural experiences, life lessons…

On top of this, she was always so generous. Right now I am wearing a bracelet that she bought for me…a wonderful gift and a tremendous reminder to be generous and follow my passions. Carmen would often pull out a quote printed on a little strip of paper to give to someone she met and connected with or she would do a quick drawing for them and hand it over as a little gift. She is one of the sweetest people I have met and an old soul in a young, beautiful woman who is doing great things in this world. And she laughs at my jokes. I mean, come on, she’s amazing.

She came up with this idea for a collaborative photography project that we did with our Argentinian and Colombian friends. Not only was it fun, but it made me realize that there is so much power in having a community that you can create with, inspiring and supporting each other along the way. I am seeking more of this in my life.

I have learned so much from Carmen…about creativity, generosity, passions, serendipity, friendship and what happens when you follow your heart.

I want to live in a world that supports those who are creating beautiful things and sharing themselves and enriching our lives in the process. Carmen is the perfect example of someone pursuing their passions and infinite potential and I hope her story inspires you as much as it does me. Please check out her work and support her as an artist: http://www.carmenbelanger.com

14. Argentina Loquita!

I figured “Project Paper Crane” would have surprises for me along the way and this was one of the first. I gave a paper crane to a country. There was no way that I could do otherwise. I came to Argentina to search for my passions, as cliche, ‘Hollywood Movie’, or vague as that may sound. When I decided that I was going to quit my job and sell my house, car and things to do this, I knew that Argentina was where I would go almost as if there was no decision point, only a discovery of an idea that had been cuddled up in me all along, waiting to be uncovered.

I came to Argentina in particular because I had this innate idea that it is a country that embraces passion to the extreme, not really having a particular reason to believe this. I knew the sexy tango originated here and that Buenos Aires is considered the Paris of South America. I knew the fútbol fans took passion to an other-wordly level. I am passionate about wine and madly in love with nature and Argentina offered the tranquilo Mendocino wine country at the base of the Andes mountains and the wild and spectacular Patagonia.

And all of these things exceeded expectations, blew my mind and lassoed my heart as I wandered through Argentina experiencing it all. This is where the real love affair happened on a much deeper, more personal level.

I have to start with the people, they are truly a special breed. A ‘welcome’ only and always happens with a kiss and this goes for everyone. You are received so warmly and immediately feel invited into being here. There are friends that I have known a short while in Argentina who I feel I could call with the most tiny or massive, insignificant or life-or-death favor and they would be there in a heart beat and this is true across the board.

I don’t know if there is anything like an Argentinian friend. They are so loyal and so flaky in a way that makes complete sense…eventually. They are the warmest and the most chill and the most crazy, also in a way that makes complete sense…eventually. They are some of the most characteristically present people who I have ever encountered. I do not believe they even have a word or phrase describing “to be excited for something”, or rather, “to look forward to something” or even “to wonder about something” because they are much to occupied with accepting what is and enjoying it.

Maybe this is why they can make the moment last longer and longer as if they have extra hours in the day that the rest of the world doesn’t have. “You can sleep when you’re under the ground,” I was told once. There is always time to stay a bit longer or make an unexpected stop along the way to somewhere, responding to the moment as it presents itself. Sure this means that on the receiving end of things, you could be waiting hours for your Argentinian friend to show up, but they will…or they won’t…and you’ll understand. And when they do show up, it will not be empty handed and they’ll give you a big kiss and maybe even say, “La noche está en pañales!” (The night is in diapers!)

Sometimes the ‘embrace of the moment’ presents itself in the art of the asado, the Argentinian bbq, an event that lasts for hours and hours and it is about so much more than the food. There is an extraordinary amount of meat and all different kinds, such that it can be put on the grill over an open fire and caressed with smoke for hours as it slowly ripens to juicy goodness and can then be served in waves and waves of meat. It’s all about patience and intimacy, gently coaxing out the flavor and passing the time together. It’s about taking something as simple as meat and fire and making something extraordinary out of it.

And there is the maté tradition, the loose leaf tea that is poured into a gourd (traditionally) and drunk through a metal straw, community-style. There is great tradition around this simple ritual, as each person takes their turn drinking the maté as it is offered to them, a shared experience. It’s an art. My good friend said, “I love maté because it is doing something without doing anything” and this is so true. It’s the shared, interactive experience, an excuse to hang out and talk; it creates a space. You go to a friend’s house, meet in the park or plaza, or arrive to the mountain hut…and you share maté.

They are emotional and expressive with their beautiful, melodic Spanish and have been so open and patient with teaching me. They are so passionate that calling someone “honey” in an American movie translates to “mi vida!” (my life!) in the Spanish subtitles. They are often creative and artistic to the point that it is noticeable as a cultural trait. They are all about family and relationships and romance and affection and you can see that in any park or plaza where people are gathered, playing guitar (there’s always a guitar), drinking maté or deep in embrace and kisses anywhere, anytime. You hear it too as you walk down the street and there is a chorus of “Que hermosa”, “Que linda rubia”, “Sin palabras”, “Mama mía, mira”, “Mi vida”…basically, your beauty is such that it transcends language.

Those I have met and shared experiences with in Argentina strike me as exceptionally grateful people, accepting things as they are and having deep appreciation for what they have. The economy in Argentina has had a rough go to say the least and I can’t help but acknowledge the integrity with which the people I have encountered have chosen to embrace this and to just love life, whatever the conditions may be. On top of that, they are so generous and they still find ways to travel and be resourceful with what they have.

And then there is the land. It is a massive country, topping out as the eighth largest. The nature here is simply spectacular. Patagonia is easily as stunning as your wildest dreams and more expansive than you can fathom. The Andes mountains flirt with different personalities as they march from the striking south with its gusty wind and dramatic glaciers, through the deep blue lakes and up into the dusty, color-streaked and mineral-rich desert. The nature is such that I have been brought to tears and lost my breath from being overwhelmed by the views in front of me. I could explore here forever.

I do not want to generalize and of course it is not perfect or all roses, my words here just represent my personal experience, which has been a powerful one. I have tried to write this post many times and have found it is simply something that really has to be experienced to get it. And it just so happens that I have discovered my passions and begun falling fully into them while wandering this amazing country. This has not gone unnoticed and I am forever grateful, which is why when I had decided to move on to Colombia for some time, I took a day to go into the mountains and give thanks to Argentina, this place that has captured and taken up space in my heart forever.

I did a simple ceremony and buried a paper crane in the earth and made a pact to always return to my second home.

*I was told at one point that the Argentinian Flag is symbolic of the sky (blue), glaciers (white) and lakes (blue)…so hopefully the picture of Perito Moreno glacier captures that.

13. Only Light, Only Love in This Community

Having worked with a shaman for some years in Colorado before leaving for Argentina, I was keen to chance upon a shaman in the midst of my travels, knowing that I’d be welcoming guidance and wisdom.

Specifically trying to seek this out had not led me there, but a casual conversation with a friend one day did the trick. She mentioned a community in the mountains where another friend of ours had advised her to go for a few days.

With little more details than the name of a guy and his community, I boarded a bus to a tiny town in the Andes mountains to present this information at the terminal when I arrived. It worked and I found my way there.

They welcomed me in as if they had been expecting me. I was given a bed and consumed right into the community…receiving the sun with the morning meditation, discussing our dreams, working in the fields, sharing simple meals with food they had grown and preserved, chanting and wisdom circles in the evening.

For much of the time, they told me to just enjoy myself. I was very much a guest there and it was as if they each intuitively knew that I needed space to just be in nature and sit and think and not think…to really just be, to reflect on life. The more I tried to help, the more they gave me space.

I wandered in the mountains, slowly and thoughtfully. I visited with their animals…horses, goats, pigs, ducks, roosters, dogs, cats. I sat on the swing in front of my little house and watched the rays of the sun dance with the wildflowers. When we were gathered, conversation was always very meaningful.

The main motto was, “Solo luz, solo amor. Te amo.” Only light, only love. I love you. People would say this to each other and give the most intentional hug. I’ve never been hugged like I was there. And the eye contact with their glowing, sparkling, alive eyes filled me with this “light” they spoke of.

I stayed for 4 nights, 4 transformational nights, although they never asked how long I would be there. Between my alone time, the special ceremony I was invited to be a part of with the shaman and the individual attention and interactions I had with everyone living in this simple, mostly self-sustaining community…I really did leave there feeling physically lighter and so content.

I felt so curious and really considered with a lot of thought and emotion how they were living and why and their beliefs…trying to understand, trying to learn, trying to relax into it and embody it without having to “figure it out”.

They had given me so much without question and without even knowing who I was until I presented myself at the threshold of their community. I had really wanted to give them something in return. I had brought some ginger to contribute, which we had used for tea. I then made 30 paper cranes and on my final day, I hung them from the wooden beams above the table where we would be celebrating a birthday. I mustered up the best Spanish I could manage to thank them for the gifts of time, space, presence, light and love.

The picture of the paper cranes on the home page of this blog is from this community. I really love this story. It was one of my greatest experiences…the full story can be read here.

12. Explore. Learn. Share. with Elizabeth Gilbert

This is the first paper crane that I’ve given out to someone who I haven’t been able to personally meet and yet I hope to someday. I’m a writer. I’m in the process of writing my first book right now and I am hoping to find a mentor to court.

This summer, I ended up in my hometown of Chicago unexpectedly for some months. While sitting by the campfire with my sweet brother, he casually mentioned that he wrote into the ‘My Brother, My Brother and Me’ podcast with a question about me for Elizabeth Gilbert, the guest that week.

In his question, he had shared with her the quick version of my story…that I had left the corporate world and sold my things to go on a journey of pursuing my passions and writing a book in South America. He was writing to her as someone who rather infamously went on her own journey that she told the story of in Eat, Pray, Love…to ask her how to support me even when he couldn’t necessarily relate to what I was doing.

Her answer was perfect and tender. She said something along the lines of…when someone does something like that…gives up everything familiar to them to go out and wander and face fears and discover…you have to understand that to not do so would be akin to agony and death. They absolutely have to go on that journey and the best thing you can do is to acknowledge and support that, even if you do not understand it at all.

I was so star struck. I have read her books and it is obvious she is a very talented writer. I really relate to her book “Pilgrims” which she describes as something like an applied/experiential masters program in life as she wandered around and wrote down stories of those she encountered. So there’s that. The girl can write.

And then she takes it to a different level. She has become an icon of self-discovery and personal transformation for those who read her journey and were inspired and she interacts with these people every day. She posts lessons and guidance and practices and stories on facebook and makes people believe in themselves. She could’ve just reveled in all of her best-selling glory, but I really see her taking responsibility with this role that she didn’t necessarily ask for and using it to do good.

That is admirable. That is the type of mentor I would like to court.

She was on Oprah’s ‘Super Soul Sunday’ recently and she started talking about the hero’s journey just as I was writing down the words “hero’s journey” in a scholarship proposal I was working on. Among other synchronicities that showed up with her recently, I decided I needed to “break my rules” and send a paper crane to thank her for impacting my life in these little ways that she doesn’t even know about because we’ve never met.

I think good people are kind even when no one is watching. Thanks Liz!

11. Serendipity & Synchronicity with Rudulfo

Sometimes you have an experience that is so striking you cannot help but believe that it truly was meant to be. This is how I met Rudulfo at his finca in la Valle de Uco outside of Mendoza, Argentina.

I lived at a hostel while apartment searching and became friends with Carmen and Jorge who you’ll hear about too. Jorge introduced us to Mariela. Mariela introduced us to her friend Negra. Negra’s dad and Uncle Rudulfo owned this finca (farm). I love tracing things back to the start…it reminds me how much each moment matters.

We were invited out to la finca for the 60th birthday of Negra’s dad and this is where I met Rudulfo. I quickly learned that he is a published author (my current aspiration) and we spoke for hours about our craft. He was so genuinely excited that I was writing a book. He shared a bounty of wisdom with me and also was curious and inquisitive about my process and experience of writing.

All of this took place in Spanish as well and it was the first time that I felt I participated in a conversation about deep stuff, soul stuff in another language and not just “where is the bus stop?”. And yet, I understood more than ever.

He gave me all sorts to think about in terms of finding my voice and getting in touch with your inner crazy, your creativity. He talked about books as if they are fine wines and how the process of writing mirrors the process of winemaking. You create it and tweak it and bring out its essence and then you let it rest and age. When it is ready, you let it breathe and you share it. Perfect.

He talked to me about why he and his brother had created this place. There were about 50 or so people at this party and about 10 or so countries were represented. They take in volunteers to help run the place, but he made it so clear that the most important thing about the finca was that it was a community, a place to really enjoy yourself and a place to celebrate creativity. You could feel it in each person there.

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Rudulfo gave me two of his books to read and is eager to read my book when I am finished. We are learning each other’s respective languages and helping each other in this way too. I have visited him again and hope to again and again.

He is a seriously good soul and somewhat of a mentor for me now too. I gave him a paper crane and he gave me a huge hug.

7. and 8. Aussie Andrew and Mariela from Argentina

Oh Andrew, my hostel buddy. Andrew moved into the hostel where I was living while I looked for an apartment in Mendoza. He was not another traveler passing through; he had come from Australia to look for a job and live in Argentina. He had been doing this for his early 20s in other countries too, becoming fluent in Spanish and an old soul in the process. Andrew is just lovely to be around, and I don’t mean to imply a crush on him…54 year old Adriana who was also living in the hostel took care of that. He just has that magnetic smile and personality and being in the unusual situation of living in a hostel surrounded by transient travelers, it was refreshing to have a friend around. We’d often get into meaningful chats together about living in other countries, learning Spanish, World Cup plans, our respective loves and even the stars. I still owe him a birth chart reading. He seems so comfortable with who he is and this I admire.

And I got to witness the relationship unfold between him and the lovely Mariela, another beautiful soul. Mariela is always smiling, and not in a “faking happiness” way, but rather in a very genuine way that makes you want to just hug her and try harder to understand her Spanish. It was in talking with Mariela about life purpose, passions, meditation and such that I realized my Spanish had moved beyond ordering at restaurants and asking for directions. Mariela introduced us to her other friends, which invited us into a local experience of Mendoza. There is simply an ease and happiness you feel from each of them and even more so from the the two of them together as an adorable couple. I spent the last of my days living in Mendoza in their company, visiting our friends’ organic farm and then cooking dinner from the fresh produce we gathered while we are there. I was assured that I now have friends for life and am so grateful for that.