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A lesson on risks and resilience

Arlene's temporary backpack repair following the robbery. (Photo submitted)

Reaching into my backpack, I notice it right away. "My cash and debit card ... they're gone!" I am in Latacunga, Ecuador, on my way to an eco-lodge for a weekend with friends. This is certainly going to change some plans.

A closer inspection reveals two slashes have been neatly cut into my backpack. This was the work of pros. Despite my experience and savviness as a world traveler, sometimes things happen.

And when those things happen, be it getting on the wrong bus, misunderstanding directions or fighting a mighty battle in my gut with mysterious foreign foods, I quickly snap myself back into proper perspective by saying, "I could have stayed home."

It's my personal reminder that there are risks to living a full life. Sure, I could have stayed home in Duluth where I know all of the rules and everything seems more predictable and safe. But, that would have meant missing out on hiking around volcanic lakes, hours of salsa dancing and smiling indigenous children calling out, "Buenos dias!" to me every morning here in Ecuador.

It is unfortunate that someone robbed me of some cash when I must have allowed an opportunity. I spent a few low moments beating myself up about it. But that's a temporary problem. In the long run, it is a greater tragedy if I begin to rob myself by not venturing out.

The fear of getting it "wrong" can prevent us from living the life we want and dreaming big dreams. When we risk nothing, we actually risk everything. For me, it's more important to experience a big slice of life than to stay completely safe in a shell of my own making.

Have I ever gotten burned by giving someone one more chance? Yes. Am I ever sorry I trusted that friend who disappointed me? Sometimes. But I am richer — and you are, too — when staying open to what life brings. The truth of it is that our mistakes and scars are a part of what makes each of us unique and interesting.

When things go wrong it often provides a wake-up call, prevents something worse from happening, or gives others a chance to come to our aid. (A big thank-you here to my companions for loaning me cash for the rest of our trip!) Being able to bounce back — cultivating resilience — is the key to keep moving forward with forgiveness, humor and grace. Find the meaning and move on.

Looking back at the past year, try to be thankful for each experience that brought you to where you are. This recent incident taught me important lessons about how to be safer next time I'm on a long-distance bus in South America.

As you consider your choices for the year ahead, make room for taking a few chances. Embracing risks makes you happy or makes you wise. Either way, you win.

Arlene J. Anderson is a Twin Ports native turned writer, teacher and global explorer. She has lived in Norway, China and Ecuador. At the time of this story publication, she has returned to Minnesota. She invites you to The Teachable Traveler website at teachabletraveler.com.

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