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Start in the middle

After leaving her full-time position five years ago to travel, write and teach, Arlene co-wrote a cookbook and recently presented it to award-winning French chef and friend, Olivier Marteau, near Niort, France. (Photo by Sylvie Marteau)

What are you in the middle of?

Five years ago, I was in the middle of mortgage payments, parental caregiving and a demanding yet meaningful management job. One day — perhaps due to the invigorating subzero temperatures of a January in Duluth — I start to talk to myself:

"You know, Dear Self, this life has been great. Now may be the time to make changes."

"What kind of changes?" I ask, suspiciously.

"Your deepest self tells me what you really want to do is travel, write and teach. (Dear Reader: If you want to play along, fill in your own desires here: _____ ) How about finally doing what you feel called to do?" My inner voice dares to sound hopeful.

Luckily, I am ready to cut off this crazy talk with a snow-shovelful of common sense.

"Yes ... that sounds like a dream, but can't you see I'm quite busy right now? Besides, I'd have to give up a lot of security. Why risk it?" I hope this will be the end. But no, the voice of hope continues.

"What you are is comfortable. What you chose until now was right. Going forward, there might be something that fits you better." A knot develops between my shoulder blades. (Fill in your own symptoms of discomfort here: _____ )

"Whooaa. Stop right there." Why isn't this pesky inner voice going away? I decide to convince myself of the obstacles. "There are bills to pay. What if I don't stay healthy?" And then I admit deeper problems. "What if I'm not good enough? How foolish will it look if I fail? People will think I lost my mind." (Feel free to add your imagined obstacles here: _____ )

"So?" I ask, patiently awaiting an answer.

Hmmm. I can't come up with a good response. The inner voice continues, "Actually, people don't really think about you that much, anyway. They have their own decisions to make. Don't run your life by what they might say." No matter how many times I hit the mute button, the voice continues.

"Beginnings bring fear. It's not real. Do it anyway."

There is no shortage of logical reasons to keep doing what we're already doing. Yet sometimes, our deepest desires evolve. A Chinese proverb warns, "Man who waits for roast duck to fly into mouth waits a very, very long time." Follow up that thought with this Afghan proverb: "Allah says, start moving so that I may start blessing."

Fast forward. From the moment I decide to take action, amazing things take place. Someone wants to rent my condo. Instead of working full time, I start to work contractually. My caregiving for an aging parent comes to a natural conclusion. I sleep in and rest. I dance and play music to recharge while watching for opportunities to travel, write and teach.

Over the next five years, I visit over 30 countries and teach at colleges in China, Ecuador and Duluth. I publish articles in national magazines and write a book and a half. (Not to mention becoming a Budgeteer columnist!) Depending on the day, life is daunting, breathtaking, surprising, frustrating, mind-opening, rewarding. So far so good.

It's a new year. What are you in the middle of? What's your pesky voice asking of you? Getting to where you want to go often involves starting with what you have and from where you are ... usually in the middle of a thousand other things. The good news is you can get there that way.

Start from wherever you are. Fill in your own happy ending here: _____.

Arlene Anderson

Arlene J. Anderson is a Twin Ports native turned writer, teacher, traveler and speaker on resilience and leadership. She is currently working on her memoir to be released next summer. She believes there is always more music to play and dancing to do.