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The other week me, Jenni and some of the awesome people that work with us, all sat around a table to try and come up with what exactly we are doing with our words, community and the bandanas we sell. We wanted a few lines that could point us in the right direction when we had to make decisions for our projects. We came up with this:

jenni earle is a community that encourages and inspires all humans to make the bold choice to know and value their authenticity. we are a maker of talismans that facilitate a stronger connection to one’s own bravery and sense of adventure.  

My professional background includes branding work for companies. A good brand can narrow its mission into a few sentences. I presented the exercise to the Jenni Earle team because I believe that words can help steer us in the right direction. When Jenni wrote those words (in her beautiful flowing script) I began to consider my own journey; full of choices, boldness, fear, bravery, adventure and (slowly but surely) authenticity.

Throughout my working years, I’ve bumped from job to job because I wasn’t feeling fulfilled or happy. That’s what happened the first time, when I left my post-college coffee shop job. The coffee shop was located in the same town as my private, well-known alma mater. Many customers wondered out loud what was I doing with my expensive, upstanding degree in a coffee shop? The cherry on top was that I had unsuccessfully attempted to thru-hike (walking the entire 2,000+ mile trail) the Appalachian Trail the previous summer. What felt like an incomplete journey lead me to a job that my college degree was offended to have, or so I thought at the time.

The second time, I left what I call a big girl job: salary, office with a door, nine in the morning to five in the evening, oh and of a course male-dominated workplace (aka: advertising agency). Years passed and the unhappiness reached a point where I realized that I was daydreaming my life away. While my office door was closed I thought of all the things I would do once my ‘real’ life started. Luckily I came to the realization that my real life was happening already and I had to take control to have it the way I wanted.

The decision to leave that “stable and sensible” job took me months to process. I talked in circles to my friends, family and partner at the time. I knew what I felt, but I lacked the courage to act. The day I announced my resignation, I cried in my bosses office. It felt right but I was terrified. I feared a lack of money, disappointing my parents, my co-workers, and myself. What if I regretted my decision?!

I returned to the same coffee shop where I started. I was feeling scared and alone to begin working the service industry (again, ugh) along with freelancing my marketing and writing skills. I felt like I had thrown away what everyone is supposed to what: stability and money.

But after a few weeks of going to work with familiar smiling faces and longtime friends, I realized that these were my people and I was a happier person around them. I thrive so much around humans that create, push themselves, and follow their passion. Everyone at this shop has something else besides the cafe work — a band, an album, a book project, school, or a side photography business. Though I had to work more hours to make financial ends meet, when I came home I was energized for my personal projects, not numb from hours in an office.

When I felt alone in my decision to go against the grain, it was only a step in a journey that lead me to a more fulfilling community.

Being around people that encouraged me to be my true self gave me the courage to pursue, yet again, my goal of hiking. I decided to try again to hike the Appalachian Trail. At the same time, familiar fears and loneliness returned. Only 20% of the hikers who begin the trial actually complete it. I had been one of those quitters six years ago. What was I doing?

The week before I publicly announced my hike, I got a job at (yep, you guessed it) an advertising agency. It was a friend-to-friend offer, the kind that lands you a job with an interview as only a formality. A done deal if I wanted it; salary, routine, and in this case, mind-numbing work. It was tempting though. All my fears and insecurities for my planned hike could be saved, erased and reassured with this job. Hard to believe now, but I actually debated.

One Tuesday afternoon sitting in my favorite yellow suede chair I realized that the only person who needed to decide about this hike was: me.

No one was going to give me permission but myself.

In times of stress and resistance, I often return to a childlike state of mind, in an unhealthy way. I seek a ‘parent’ figure, whether that be bosses, friends, or any type of authority, who will tell me that ‘it’s okay’ and what I’m doing is ‘a good idea’. But it doesn’t work that way when you decide to be a whole adult human, the only person who could make this decision was me. It’s terrifying and exhilarating to own your choices this way.  

Within days of announcing my hike, I received so much support. People hugged me and spoke words of encouragement. I received some financial support and gathered a list of almost two hundred people that wanted to receive emails of my blog posts. Everyone wanted to follow along. Throughout my five month hike, and 2,191 miles of walking I received so much love and validation from my community.

What started out as a lonely journey brought me to a group of people that mean so much to me, and who have shown me what I am capable of accomplishing.

I have become a part of a new community: hikers, nature-lovers, and trail angels. The A.T. has a rich ecosystem of people, towns, businesses and non-profit organizations. The hiking world is full of people that are taking risks, searching for answers, who love being outside and are working hard to follow their gut/spirit/heart/passion, whatever it is. For the second time, I found myself not alone – as I had first thought – but surrounded by a community, my community.

When we are brave, it can feel lonely. In my experience, the toughest decisions pushed me to a place where it seemed like I had no one by my side. This is the nature of bravery, courage and trials (love that this word looks so much like trails). This kind of loneliness is two-faced: often I was not truly alone. I had friends, family and community that supported me at every moment. BUT, in a way I was alone. I am responsible for my own life and therefore my decisions rest within myself and no one else.

We’ve got to dig deep within ourselves, climb a mountain alone because when we come out come down the mountain on the other side, there are people there, and they love you. Our communities are often just on the other side of adversity.

Be brave. Be authentic.

~Elise Wallace