I gravitate toward doing what I’m good at.
Maybe more than most people.
Dolphin-kicking underwater. Talking too much in meetings. Eating cereal for dinner. Being friendly. There. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a solid list.
It’s comfortable and often fulfilling. I feel confident and empowered doing what I am good at. Sure, I can’t find my way to a new or familiar place. I can’t sing. My mind isn’t able to rest without resolving a conflict. And there will never be a wedding at which I don’t cry. But really, I can do anything. I’ll just put lots of energy into my good stuff, like typing fast emails.
I quit my job, got married, and booked plane tickets to leave U.S. comforts and travel the world. My husband, Joe, and I packed up all of our belongings into what seemed like hundreds of boxes and carefully planted them throughout the city at several very loving family member and friends’ homes. A spreadsheet is dedicated to tracking where our soccer cleats, wedding gifts, and board games are stored.
We journeyed to Rome and met the Pope! Which was downright unbelievable and hard to describe, even as I’m typing this a month later. We gave him a prayer card we wrote for our wedding. And I’ll never forget the surprised smile on his face and the two English words he spoke to us, “For me?”
We ate a lot of pizza.
New kinds. By accident.
Drank some smooth red wine. Saw the Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, and three of the four famous Basilicas.
We met up with a childhood friend who is in Rome studying to be a priest. He shared fascinating facts about the city, architecture, and history. We enjoyed gelato and got drenched in the rain from chatting all evening in Saint Peter’s Square.
After Rome we traveled six hours via cross-country train. Joe and I had arranged to help at a Bed & Breakfast buried in the jagged peaked mountains of Northern Tuscany. The B&B housed its own vegetable and herb garden where we would work. I might also do some light housework and clean up after mealtime. Easy, breezy, beautiful. Covergirl.
The hosts were wonderfully charming and welcoming. I felt at home at Settimo Cielo, a paradise in the mountains of Northern Tuscany. I knew immediately that it would be a life-changing two weeks.
Throughout our first days, I found plenty of new things to work at and learn. All things I wasn’t very good at. Cooking, gardening, dogs, chicken coops, getting up early, mopping, making a pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin, and blowing out candles before drifting to sleep.
Despite my internal turmoil, our hosts, Karen and Jim, did so much to recognize my efforts (and Joe’s). They continued to reassure and encourage me. I wasn’t able to express how much their praises meant to me at the time.
It’s not that I had never failed or done poorly at something before.
I had certainly done my whopping share. It was just a piling of different things, including stereotypes of what a woman should be. She should certainly know how to mop and cook.
Joe was widely familiar with smart gardening techniques, foods not to let dogs eat, and cleaning out chicken coops. He even conjured up an egg dish we all raved about. I struggled to roll dough for the pie crust.
Even though no one seemed to notice and everyone was kind enough to say the pumpkin pie was brilliant, my inner-self had something different to say about my performance. I wanted to feel confident in what I was doing and produce gold standard results.
A few days passed and I tried my best at window cleaning and planting marjoram. Despite never doing those things before, the windows did let in more sunlight and the marjoram looked almost in the right place.
It wasn’t until I spoke with Joe that something came to light. The most important aspect was trying new things, whether I’m good at them or not. I could have said ‘no’ to making a pumpkin pie once I learned Italian supermarkets didn’t sell canned pumpkin, evaporated milk, or pre-made pie crusts. But instead I said yes. And it was a marvelous time.
That was my biggest lesson from Northern Tuscany.
Just to say ‘yes’ and try, even when I don’t feel confident. A lot of incredible things came out of those efforts. More lavender in the garden with our own landscape design. An organized, labeled storage room in the basement. A fresh pie. New dog friends.
Beautiful changes can happen when we branch into foreign territory, whether we are abroad or right at home. Although it was an uncomfortable feeling for me, it was strengthening. It helped me realize that I can do so many things in this world.
I might not do everything as well as I hope. I might struggle and fall and be humbled. Several times over.
But that’s part of what makes us feel alive, isn’t it? Stretching out our heart to a loved one who has hurt us. Paragliding off the edge of a volcano. Raising our first child. Playing the piano in front of a crowd at a sister’s wedding. It’s those little, uncontrolled moments that can touch our souls and get our blood swimming.
We are lucky to have opportunities that can make us feel this way.
They are a gift and a part of our journey. They make us feel alive. Sometimes they unexpectedly greet us on our neighborhood walk or we may actively seek them out. I’ve got those daredevil friends who search for destinations to skydive and swing off large suspension bridges.
But we should make a point to do more new things, shouldn’t we? Even small ones, like renting cross country skis for a morning or calling up a friend after months. We could all benefit from doing a little more ‘new.’ Of dipping our toes a little further in the water. I know there are people out there who do this really well. And for that, I admire them.
What is something you’ve done in the last few weeks that has felt foreign?
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Then head over to our Photo Gallery to view pictures from our time in Italy.