Wisdom//

I Met Someone Who Hitchhiked Across the Country, and It Changed My Life

How a few chance encounters taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: the importance of being an ardent observer

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The year is 2013. I had just graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. I begrudgingly moved back home to small-town Indiana to accept a job offer — the only one I had received pre-graduation.

For me, the plan was never to move back home. I grew up in a tiny town — the type of town where a visit to Wal-Mart could be considered a date night. I had known, for a long time, that I didn’t want to stay there.

But I was continuously told, by friends, teachers, and my parents, that you absolutely can’t turn down a job offer — especially in the PR world — as a newly-graduated student. You take what you can get. So I moved back home.

The job was in marketing. My co-workers were amazing. I had a lot of cool opportunities. The pay was awful, let’s be honest. But it didn’t take me long to realize that this wasn’t what I wanted for my life — not for the part of my heart that yearned to feel energized and fulfilled by something. This 9-5 marketing job wasn’t cutting it.

But I had no idea what to do, not even a clue.

One day, my co-worker excitedly ran up to my desk to tell me her friend would be visiting today. His name was Nate Damm — a guy who had recently walked across America. She met him as he walked through Indiana on his way from Maine to California.

This time, he was hitch-hiking his way across the country. She wanted me to come to lunch with them. The restless part of my heart couldn’t turn that down. I wanted to pick his brain on what it’s like to do a cross-country trip — how he mustered the courage to do it, and how he knew it was his time to go.

We ate lunch for three hours (whoops, sorry Boss!), and I was totally captivated by everything he had to share.

He said he knew that he had to do it because something in his heart just wouldn’t let the idea go. He wanted to experience the country slowly and on-foot. He wanted to inspire people to go after their own dreams.

I asked him what his favorite city was in the whole country. He told me it was Portland.

I knew nothing about Portland, but the seed of curiosity was planted. I wanted to know more about why this city was so great.

(He also told me he had a friend from Indiana – a guy named Joel Runyon who writes his own blog on doing Impossible things. Fast forward five years, and I work for Joel as a Nutritionist. Weird, right?)

We eventually said good-bye, and we dropped Nate off on the side of the closest highway. I was sad to see him go, but excited to keep up with his adventure.

That fateful encounter with Nate Damm opened my eyes up to a whole new world. I wanted to see the country. I wanted to follow that little voice in my heart that was telling me that there was something more, but I still didn’t quite know where to take it.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I get the chance to meet a couple — from my hometown — who had spent the last year driving across the country in their van. Again, the conversation was fascinating. I asked, “What’s your favorite city?” They both simultaneously answer Portland.

Wow, that’s weird, I thought to myself. I filed it away in my head.

One week later, on a work trip to Chicago, my co-worker and I ended up at the hotel bar for a night cap. We struck up a conversation with our neighbor at the bar, who was from England. He was visiting on a cross-country trip to explore America.

He told us of his love for footy and Fireball whiskey. Again, I asked, “What’s been your favorite city so far?”

I imagine by this point you can guess his answer.

“Portland!” he said.

Ok, universe, I hear you loud and clear.

When I got home, I started researching Portland. I learned that they have one of the only universities in the country with an accredited Master’s degree program in Nutrition — a deep passion of mine.

I learned that the city is filled with parks and trees and bridges. There are mountains and beaches. They are environmentally-friendly and dog-friendly and take pride in their weirdness. My heart knew that this is where I was meant to go. Finally.

A year and a half later, I was accepted into the Master’s program at the National University of Natural Medicine. In 2015, I completed a 12-day road trip across the country, with every single one of my possessions packed in my Honda Civic. I settled into a life in a city that I had never set foot in before.

It was undoubtedly the best — and scariest — decision of my life. But it never would have happened if I didn’t pay attention.

Portland was brought into my life time and time again, in a variety of circumstances, with a variety of people. But if I wasn’t open to the message, it could have easily passed me by.

For me, this is the lesson: You are meant to be an ardent observer in your own life. Check in with your feelings. Be honest with yourself about what you want. And pay attention to what comes to you. Notice the patterns: These are the things that are calling for your attention. And then act accordingly.

The life that is meant for you is waiting, but you’ve got to remember to pay attention.

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