I never planned on an Odyssey. I had no experience, desire or understanding of the concept. And while over the past eight years, I came to refer to these quadrennial treks of mine as such, I confess that I really had no idea what it meant, how it worked or why I did it. Until this year. It came into sharp focus this year. .
It might help to start with a standard definition,
- A long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune or hardships
- An intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest
Fair enough. But eight years ago all I really wanted to do was ride my scooter across country. That it happened the same year as the most historic election of my lifetime (of which I was obsessed) well, that was happy coincidence. Using a microphone just gave me an excuse to talk to people.
Turns out I had accidentally created my Odyssey. Here are some of the essential elements and recommendations,
It starts by going alone. To separate yourself physically from your home and to put as much distance as you can from all of the ways you identify yourself. For the duration, the people you meet will not know where you went to school, what you do for a living, or that you are a Mom who drinks too much Diet Coke. Your interactions are just you, in that moment, in that place.
Put the same face forward everyday. Pick one outfit and image (I recommend no makeup) that you know is constant in every interaction. Hint – It does help if your clothing stands out in a way that indicates you are not a local. A willingness to make yourself ridiculous (cow pants or an accidental Easter peep lookalike) works wonders.
Make it hard and foreign. Greyhound bus, scooter, sleeping in Walmart parking lots, a daily challenge that serves as a reminder that you are in unfamiliar territory.
Move every day. Experience as many different places and people as you can. This is not a time for leisurely pacing. For me, the benefit was in the patterns that I could only see relative to each other and the chance to string them together.
Take it as you find it. Land where you land and do not research or plan ahead. Eat when you are hungry and take what is offered. This is not a time for Yelp. Most of all, meet every person where they are and listen. That is the most powerful of all.
And finally, the willingness to not know why you are doing it and to not expect any particular outcome is the greatest gift you give yourself. What you observe and what you discover is secondary (I will share mine tomorrow) but the experience of being in the world as you are… well, it is simply enough.