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Two humbling and inspiring articles from UK’s alumni magazine

The summer 2005 issue of Kentucky Alumni magazine has some great articles in it, and I’d like to highlight two of them here. Unfortunately, this content isn’t included or even excerpted on the UK Alumni Assocation homepage (I suppose to encourage people to buy the magazine). If you want to read the articles in full, I guess you’ll have to find someone who subscribes.

The first is a feature article called “A Five-month Lease on the Appalachian Trail”, and it’s the story of two brothers, Nick and Vince Tomecek, who decided to put off settling down into serious lives and jobs after graduation long enough to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine. There are some beautiful pictures in the article of the green, misty forests of the eastern U.S. that I love so much.

The following part of the article reminded me of AJ’s camping group, and their continued attempts to build the perfect packs for their gear:

[M]any hikers start the trail with packs weighing 50 to 60 pounds. After three days, they have thrown most of the fancy trinkets away or quit the trail altogether. Our goal pack weight was 30 pounds, and we religiously adhered to the limit, even cutting labels off our clothing and sawing off spoon and toothbrush handles.

The brothers endured blisters and bee stings bad enough to send them to the hospital, and barely escaped hypothermia. Towns along the way offered respite: showers, hot meals, supplies, and beer. (Mustn’t forget the beer!) But despite the hardships they endured, they never thought of quitting. The idea that this was their last chance, that once they left the “AT” they would have to be grownups, kept them moving through the pain and exhaustion.

The story really speaks to me. I know that wanderlust feeling, that desire to do something outrageous before having to settle down. Sean and I were having a talk about that sort of thing last month, about how I want to live in Japan and explore the world. He was quiet for awhile, and I asked him what he was thinking. He said, “You married me too soon.”

I don’t know that being married means I have to give up my dreams of travel, but it certainly has made getting out of the country more difficult. I spent a long time this morning at Cynical Traveller (linked from Sushicam). The snide commentary, pictures, and facts were great, but what was really appealing was simply the idea that this guy has travelled to so many different countries since 1998–including four years of living in Japan, assuming this page is up to date. That’s a lot of travel in a small amount of time.

I find myself wishing a lot that I had the freedom to just bum from country to country for months or years at a time. Sean is totally uninterested in doing that; he wants to stay put and earn towards retirement, and the only thing that will move him is a job that makes a pension plan unnecessary. Bumming around, unfortunately, doesn’t pay that much, so I’m in kind of a quandary.

These guys, the Tomecek brothers, saw their chance, and they took it, and I envy and admire them.

The second article that really grabbed me from Kentucky Alumni was the feature “Jon Carloftis: Gardening Guru Takes Gardens to New Heights”, by Robin Roenker. From the article:

It all started in the summer of 1988, when, fresh out of classes at UK, he traveled to New York for the summer and printed some business cards billing himself as a rooftop garden designer–despite the fact that he’d never previously stepped foot in one.

[…]

Having completed a degree in communications from UK in 1986 and realizing that any jobs in that field would mean staying indoors–“not my thing,” he emphasizes–he decided to follow his true passion. So he came back to UK for a year and a half, taking a sampling of art history, horticulture, and landscape design clases. Next thing he knew he was in New York’s Upper East Side, passing out business cards to doormen at some of the city’s most elite buildings. Noted art collectors Barbara and Eugene Schwartz gave him his first chance, hiring him to design one rooftop container. That was all it took. He’s had as many clients as he can handle simply through word of mouth, ever since.

I mean, just…wow.

He knew what he wanted to do. He already had skills, but he studied to get even better. And then he just put himself out there, and let his work speak for itself.

That’s what I want.

I want to know what I want to do. Something that uses my inherent abilities. Something I can learn more about. Something I want to do so passionately that I have the confidence to sell myself. And I want to just do it.

I’m tired of talking about how I want to achieve greatness. I’m tired of letting everything pass me by. I’m tired of being a slug, of not paying my own way, of stagnating, of dreaming instead of doing.

I’m tired of the fact that when the going gets tough, I get scared and timid and start freaking out, like I did this week.

I said in one of those silly quizzes recently that I thought I was strong. But I’m really not so sure now. When have I ever stuck anything out? When have I ever completed a challenge without failing to meet my own expectations? When have I not let stress interfere with my work?

The reason I don’t follow my dreams is because I am terrified of failure. That feeling does more than paralyze me. It makes me physically ill. It makes me depressive and angry. It makes me want to go to bed.

I’m tired of that.