04 Jan How a fraction of a second changed my life forever.
“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” – Rumi
One year ago today, I almost lost everything. My mom and my husband and I were driving home from the most incredibly wonderful day of snowshoeing, when our truck hit a patch of black ice and went spinning across the highway – directly into the path of an oncoming semi-truck. To this day, I cannot explain why I am still here. There is no feasible explanation for how we did not get struck by the truck. When we stopped spinning, we were facing the opposite direction, in the same lane that the semi had occupied. I don’t know how the driver missed us – nothing about those few, brief moments makes much sense to me.
So much has transpired since that bitterly cold January day, and yet, the journey to that very moment started on the day that I was born. For, it was on that day, like everyone else who is born into this world, that I set out on my path. I did not know it at the time, but it was there – guiding me, as I created it. I explored, I learned, I craved – more adventure, more music, more freedom. I knew that anything and everything was possible in my life – if I could dream it, I could make it happen.
Until someday, and I can’t be sure when, a well-meaning person must have told me that my ideas were a little silly or unrealistic. An eye roll here, a doubtful whisper there. A teacher reprimanded me for writing stories instead of doing worksheets. A family friend scoffed, “Oh, that’s just Anastasia and her adventures.” I was bullied for being different – tormented for being who I was. Other people didn’t think that I was anything special, and so I started to believe that maybe they were right. In college, I was called, “weird girl”. I sat alone and constantly felt the need to try and fit in. I lived in fear of disappointing others – I frantically searched for jobs after graduation… not jobs that I wanted, but rather, jobs that would pay the bills and make me, “responsible”. I looked at people who were living the adventurous, inspired life of their dreams and I thought that they were lucky – and that somehow, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. I felt a deep calling to pursue my love of music and writing and adventure, but I didn’t believe that I was good enough. I was a mediocre violinist (by Julliard standards), a mediocre writer (by my own standards), and I hadn’t climbed Everest. Clearly, I wasn’t cut out for the type of life that I wanted.
After going through a rolodex of jobs, including hot dog girl, warehouse employee (unloading chandeliers from semi-trucks at the Home Depot Warehouse), mystery bank shopper, and a marketing assistant, I moved to Washington state to become a Park Ranger. Surely, this would fill the void in my aching heart – and it did, for awhile, until state budget issues became so stressful that it was hard to focus on the job – instead, I spent most of my time worried about whether or not I would even have a job. Ultimately, I was laid off from my position as a park ranger. I desperately wanted to pursue my dream of inspiring others, but, again, I was paralyzed by fear of disappointing the people that cared about me – I took a job as a police officer, since I felt that law enforcement was the only field that I was qualified for.
These are things that I listened to and believed over the course of my life:
- You can’t get paid doing what you love
- You would be an idiot to leave a job with your retirement
- If you leave a job with health insurance, you’re a moron
- You can’t make money as a musician
- Nobody succeeds at following their dreams
- You aren’t lucky
- Life isn’t fair
- You have to work hard for everything in life
- What you love can only ever be your hobby
- I’m not good enough
- I wasn’t born under the right star
- Somebody else has already done what I want to do
My experience serving as a police officer for 5 years was nothing short of fantastic, but I absolutely could not shake the feeling that I was not doing what I was placed on this earth to do. This knowledge started as a virtually silent grumbling, and over time, it increased to a deafening roar. I found myself feeling depressed and uninspired. My violin sat quietly in its case for months on end – the creative spark in my heart, nearly extinguished. I spent my days feeling miserable about where I was in life. I tried writing gratitude lists, and when that didn’t make me feel better, I got mad at the gratitude lists. I cried when I was alone – secretly begging for a sign – begging for the job of my dreams to appear out of nowhere… begging for answers, and begging for some direction on what to do or where to go.
On January 4, 2017, I received that sign. I could have brushed off the near car accident, but I couldn’t shake it. I sobbed uncontrollably trying to process what had happened – my mom and Aaron seemed barely phased at all by the event, but I knew, deep inside, that it was meant solely for me. I had no clue how to create this new life of mine, but I felt that in that brief moment – in that instant where my life was spared, that I made a promise. A promise to myself, and a promise to the entire universe, that I was going to fulfill my obligation on this earth – a promise that I was going to change the world for the better.
As a mountain climber, my favorite part of any climb is route-finding in a place where there is no obvious trail. I love “reading” the landscape and picking the most feasible route – there is nothing more satisfying than successfully navigating through challenging terrain to the summit of a peak. While much of navigation relies on skills such as using a map and compass, there is an element of “feeling” to route-finding… trusting your gut that a certain spot doesn’t feel right or that you need to go up or down a few hundred feet in elevation, or that you need to be cautious of rockfall or wary of loose talus slopes. So many times in my backcountry experiences I have trusted a feeling that something wasn’t right – only to narrowly avoid a rock avalanche or a treacherous path. Similarly, when we are born into this world, we are given the greatest gift of all – an internal compass. All we have to do is learn to decipher what it is telling us, and trust our heart that it will not lead us astray.
The incredible thing about finding your path, is that when you are on it, it unfolds as if it has been there all along – and, maybe, it has. It is the most magical, delicious, surreal experience that you will ever have in your life – it is the most exquisite clarity that you will ever experience. As I started taking steps – small steps at first – I started getting a taste of the clarity and ease that was available for me. I started spending more time doing things that I loved – spending time in the mountains, writing and playing my violin. One day in April, lying in bed at nearly 2 AM, I had a sudden flash of inspiration – a message from seemingly nowhere – that said, “Play your violin on a mountain.” Immediately, I logged into Craig’sList and posted an ad for my services as an “adventure elopement violinist” – assuming that this musical violin playing idea was going to be my instant ticket to freedom. I couldn’t wait to wake up the next day and find my inbox flooded with messages from people who couldn’t wait to hire a mountain-climbing violinist. The next day, I opened my e-mail with eager anticipation… crickets.
While I was disappointed that I didn’t get exactly the response I was looking for, I didn’t give up on my dream. I started taking tiny steps to change my life – I started focusing on the good that was in my life in the moment. I started meditating. I started a daily gratitude practice and, I decided that I needed to start giving away something small every single day. Some days I bought a random cup of coffee for a stranger while I was at work in my police vehicle, other times, I gave a compliment or wrote an unexpected note to a friend. One day, I found some extra copies of Andrew Skurka’s The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide in my office, and I decided to give away a copy of the book. At the time, I had an Instagram following of approximately 150 people, but nevertheless, I decided to giveaway this book in a, “major contest” on my Instagram account. One person entered the contest, and her name was Rose.
For those of you who know the ending to this story, you know that Rose is the pianist who ultimately would become one half of The Musical Mountaineers. Somehow, the universe had conspired to bring us together. Somehow, my dream of performing my violin in the mountains was calling to me from deep in my heart – not so subtly telling me, “GO THIS WAY, CAN WE MAKE IT ANY MORE OBVIOUS TO YOU??”
And so, on September 1, 2017, Rose and I carried a keyboard and a violin into the heart of the mountains. Just as the sun peeked above the horizon, we started to play. When I think about my near-fatal car accident, I always think about the moment before it happened, and the moment after it happened – a mere breath in between the two moments in time, when everything in my life changed. It is the same with our first musical mountaineering experience – there was the moment when I wrapped my fingers gently around the neck of the violin and allowed my bow to hover above the strings… there is a space in the middle, as if the entire universe was holding its breath to see what happened… and then there is the moment when the first note I ever played in the mountains drifted into the air. While I would clearly not like to repeat the car accident, and I voluntarily choose to repeat the wilderness concerts, in both circumstances – the result is the same: my life was saved.
The path that you are on right now, no matter where you are in your life, is exactly where you are supposed to be. It might not be where you want to stay, but you must trust that your life is happening for you, not to you. In order to be who I am today, I absolutely had to learn the lessons along the way – none of this could have happened without the things in my life that were uncomfortable or difficult or challenging. Learn to accept the fact that you created the reality that you are currently living in, which also means that you can create any reality that you want to design for yourself. Which means that a, “mediocre violinist and writer who never climbed Everest”, can become a Musical Mountaineer and an inspired adventurepreneurial coach and a podcaster… it means that I can dream even bigger than that, it means that I can dream of inspiring a billion people, not just a million. It means that my dream of playing my violin on stage with Sia while she sings, “Bird Set Free”, isn’t ridiculous. It means that anything in your life is available for you, at this very moment in time. All you have to do is believe that it is there, and go for it.
A lot has changed in a year. Unshackled from the fears that had kept me paralyzed for nearly 20 years, I left my job as a police officer to follow my heart. I no longer work nightshift alone. I spend my days pursuing the things that fill me with joy and things that inspire me. I see the change that I can be in the world – I see the good that I can bring to the world, and each day, I wake up with a renewed sense of creativity, passion and purpose. When you have a glimpse into a world that doesn’t include you, you can take it at face value and call it, “luck” that you survived, or you can believe that it is a miracle. You can decide to do nothing in that moment, or you can decide to do everything. You can decide that one person with a dream is all that it takes to make the world a better place. You can look deep into your own heart and you can see that you are a miracle too.