28 Oct

Monday Moment: Temple Incense

Temple of Literature

Temples in Asia fascinate me. Unlike our North American churches with their air of solemnity, hushed tones, and calm divinity, Asian temples are often a whirlwind of swirling incense smoke, banging drums, and merchants hawking offerings to the gods for the faithful who didn’t come prepared.

I feel uncomfortable entering churches. I don’t know why. I feel intrusive; like I don’t belong but might be mistaken for someone who does. I feel like an interloper; watching the faithful pray is like taking a peep through the curtains into someones private life. I feel noisy; as though every rustle of my coat is disturbing the peace that cloaks the pews.

Yet I don’t feel this way in temples. Perhaps it’s because so much of Asian life is lived in public; witnessing someone at the temple is no different than witnessing them read their paper on the front stoop, have a meal at a roadside stand, or chat with their scooter-mate at the stop light. I so obviously don’t belong that I don’t have to worry about being mistaken for someone who does and, with all the commotion going on, it’s unlikely that I will disturb anyone.

It is the incense that I love the most. The sweet, cloying, scent that drifts upward welcoming all those who enter. I love the great vats of it smouldering away and being added to constantly. In fact, whenever I smell incense, no matter where I am, I am instantly taken back to a temple like this one in Hanoi.



21 Oct

Taking The First Step

A week ago I was lucky enough to be asked to do a presentation at the BlissDom Canada 2013 conference. Here 400+ women (and a handful of men) gathered to dive into the inner workings of social media, discuss their on-line legacy, and push each other to be the best we each can be. It turned out to be an extremely powerful weekend. I came away inspired, empowered, and affirmed.

Drew Dudley spoke of the power of ‘Lollipop Moments’; those times in our life, that we probably aren’t aware of, where we affect another person deeply often changing the course of their life. I have long believed that we take with us small pieces of those we admire. We emulate that which we aspire to and quietly watch those who inspire us, taking what we need in order to be the best person we can be.

Glen Canning made the most compelling argument for being a better person with his unbelievable grace in the face of great adversity. Six months ago his daughter Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide. After suffering the unimaginable pain of being repeatedly raped she was the victim of cyber-bullying about the incident until she could take it no longer. Glen knows the names of those who did this to his daughter yet he will not publicly name them. Just being in the same room as him made me want to be a better person, to try harder to be the kindest I can be and to understand that we all have a story but that no-one knows another’s whole story.

Finally, in a weekend filled with big ideas and great messages it is this quote that stands out for me:

It is not a failure to be in the middle of your story. ~Schmutzie

Too often we compare ourselves to outside measuring sticks rather than looking at how far we have come. We need to stop thinking that we need to arrive somewhere. Where will that be? And how will we know we’ve gotten there? And then what will we do? We’re all in the middle of our story. How can that be failure?

I am grateful to have been able to give my presentation. Looking into the eyes of those listening to me tell my story reminded me of how far I’ve come. I may be in the middle of my story but I’ve travelled a long way from where I started. Hearing the tentative resonance in their voices as they shared their own dreams was rewarding. People are farther along their path than they think they are.

Here is the presentation I gave.

Taking The First Step

Hi, and welcome to Taking The First Step On The Path To Your Dream where I hope to help you navigate a little closer to the path that will see you live your dream.

It’s not easy but I can attest that it is more than worth it!

Who Am I?

My name is Gillian and I am a travel blogger, digital nomad, internet entrepreneur, and serial expat. I have been documenting my travel adventures, mis-steps, and personal journeys on my travel blog One-Giant-Step.com since 2008. More recently I launched TheGlobalBookshelf.coma place to find books and stories that will take you beyond the guidebook and connect you to your next destination.

Why can I help you get started on the path to your dream? Well, because I did it myself…

Our Story

In 2008 my partner, Jason, and I were probably not much different from you. We had good jobs, owned a fabulous condo in a renovated heritage house near downtown Victoria, drove a new car, enjoyed time with fabulous friends, rode our badass mountain bikes and generally enjoyed everything that we had worked so hard to achieve.

But there was this niggling. An itch in the back of my mind reminding me that I was going to do something different. I had always wanted to live somewhere else; experience a different culture, challenge myself, and explore the world and yet all the steps I was taking were moving me away from that.

And then the book that changed my life arrived on my doorstep.

I was ordering some books from Amazon.com. They have that fabulous marketing trick whereby you can get free shipping if you just increased your order a wee bit. On a whim I added Vagabonding by Rolf Potts to my shopping cart and went about my day.

I devoured the book when it arrived. In it I found people just like me only who weren’t just like me because they were living their dreams and travelling the world. They weren’t crazy, they weren’t wealthy, they were just like me. A paradigm shift occurred in me and I quickly realized that I had to stop pushing myself down the path of ordinary and really look at what I wanted.

I hatched a plan that had us selling our condo, our cars, our stuff and travelling the world for a year. Now I only had to tell Jason. This is where shit got real; coming up against the first possible sacrifice I might have to make in order to keep moving forward. Would he come with me or would we be negotiating what our relationship might look like through this huge change? We’re lucky. After much frank discussion we saw that we were on the same page. Yay!

Just over a year later, in June 2009, after taking leaves from our jobs, selling our condo and two cars, putting our furniture in storage, and saying goodbye to family and friends, we left for what would be an 11 month, 14 country, journey around the world.

We returned to Victoria and took up our old jobs but didn’t unpack our storage locker. We wanted to do something bigger and even better and were fearful of getting stuck in the groove of life again. We decided we would move elsewhere in Canada for a couple of three years to keep our momentum going while we saved money to leave again. This was our Responsibly Irresponsible plan.We sent resumés out across the country and landed jobs in Calgary where we promptly moved and practiced our snowman making skills.

We lasted a year and a half. Last September we took a holiday to Japan. While there we discussed our goals, our plans, and our challenges and decided to move the timeline up to mid 2013; we were doing well and could afford to accelerate our plans a bit. Our new plan lasted 2 days…until we returned to work. I came home on the second day and asked Jason what we were waiting for. What would we gain with a few more short months of work? We resigned that week.

In January 2013 we sold the rest of our stuff and moved to Thailand to work on our new projects (this website, an ebook on the way, and some freelance writing), meet like-minded people, and see our dream of living in the world come true. Yay!

What's Your Dream?

But what’s your dream? Not everyone wants to chuck it all and travel the world. Are you harbouring a book you need to write? Do you have a business idea just waiting to come out? Want to learn the saxophone? Open a bakery?

Why Aren't You Doing It?

Why aren’t you doing it?

Are your excuses valid? Or are they just paper thin veneers that you throw up out of habit? Many people tell me they would love to do what I do but can’t because they have kids (I know of families that are travelling, let me put you in touch), or can’t afford it (but you can afford that new car, big ass TV, and boat in the driveway?), or their husbands wouldn’t agree (have you asked?).

I’m not saying that there aren’t valid reasons why you can’t do what you want. Heck, even I’m not doing what I want right now – we have returned to Canada to care for my mother-in-law through cancer treatment. She will be fine but I am faced with having a real reason as to why I can’t stay on the path…for now.

Often a reason for not doing it is fear. Fear of the worst happening. Failure.

What would the worst case scenario really look like? I always said it would look like me living on my brother’s driveway in a cardboard box when I’m an old lady. And then I thought that I could always pump gas (my first job), or work in a photography store (my second job), or be a lab technologist again (yep…third job), or work in Lab IT (4th…), or be a health care business analyst (FINAL job!). My point is our safety net comes with us. Yes, there might be some failure, maybe a step back, but you’re not going to tumble from the top of the cliff all the way to your brothers driveway. There are steps in between that would catch you AND you would be armed with all the knowledge, lessons, and experienced you gained as you ‘failed’. It’s cliché but there really is no such thing as failure.

What if you DID do it? What would that look like?

Will You Regret Not Doing It?

This is what really drove our RTW (round-the-world) trip. I try to live my life looking back on it to ensure that I won’t be the old lady on the porch wishing I had done stuff but was too fearful to try.

While planning that very big first step for us we came up against plenty of fear and sacrifice. Every time I felt it was too much, or wanted to quit, or wasn’t sure about the sacrifice I asked my self what I would tell myself when I was old. How would I explain why I quit there, why that was too much, why I let fear win? I don’t think we can live a life of no regrets but I think we can do a damn fine job of consciously ensuring that there aren’t too many.

Will you regret not doing it?

What If You Imagined Only Success?

What if you imagined only success?

This is what drives us on our current adventure. We haven’t saved enough for retirement and now we’re 45 and don’t have ‘jobs’. We’re betting on success. We’re smart, educated, experienced, funny, good-looking people. We didn’t leave that behind; it all comes with us! We can use what we know, what we’ve learned, how we learn, in our new projects. We will make money, we will be successful, and we will live the life we want to live.

See, success!

How Do You Eat An Elephant?

So, how do you do it? Your goal is big, and overwhelming, and unimaginable.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at at time. Don’t look at the whole picture all the time. Use it as an anchor and keep navigating toward it but, mostly, just keep your head down and keep moving forward.

Take small steps daily toward your goal. Research other bakeries, find a saxophone teacher in the Yellow Pages (ok, does anyone use the Yellow Pages anymore?), clean out your garage of junk (and sell it = money for the dream!). Just do something every day that keeps your dream in focus.

Do one un-undoable step. Do something that can’t be undone. Tell your friends and family. Get it out of your head ’cause it will drive you crazy in there! Make it public. Sign up, and pay for, those saxophone lessons. Sign a lease on the new bakery space. Buy the plane ticket. Tell your boss. Make yourself accountable by taking steps that can’t be taken back.

Surround yourself with people who support you, who are like you, who are like who you want to be.

You will have to listen to naysayers. It’s likely they are your family and friends. It’s their job to question you when you step out of their normal. They love you and want what’s best for you (in their eyes). It’s your job to answer them fully; to let them know you’ve thought this out, that you know what you’re doing, that they needn’t worry. And then it’s your job not to take any abuse from them. Don’t let them bring you down. Don’t let them talk you out of it. Don’t let them waver in your commitment. People treat you how you let them treat you; you are in control of how this works out.

Find people who are like you, or who are further along in their dream than you are. You’ll see that they’re not crazy. You’ll see that you’re not crazy. You can learn from them, and be bolstered by them, and become friends with them, and gain a whole support system that will help you over the hump. It is my association with other travellers, other expats, other digital nomads, and other people just like me that has given me the courage to see that I can do this.


Here are some resources that might help. My focus is obviously travel but there are some great resources that transcend just travel also:

  • One-Giant-Step.com/no regrets –> I wrote this post not long ago. In it I tell my story from the point of view of myself as an old lady on the porch, looking back at my life. 
  • MarriedWithLuggage.com –> Warren and Betsy Talbot started this as a travel blog but it has evolved into a source of encouragement, practical advice, relationship management, and personal development that will help you no matter what your dream. Their book, Dream Save Do, is an excellent workbook on working through the processes of seeing any dream come true.
  • ChrisGuillebeau.com –> Chris writes his website, The Art Of NonConformity, for those looking to live an unconventional life. He is an entrepreneur, a world traveler, and a thoughtful introspective man. His community of followers are the same; a great place to look for people who may be farther down the path than you might be.
  • So-Many-Places.com –> Written by my friend Kim Dinan it transcends what a travel blog is traditionally. She writes less about the details of where she is and more about how travel, and the world, is changing her. She is, in my opinion, one of the best writers out there right now; her writing regularly brings me to my knees. She recently released a book – Life On Fire is all about finding a way to live your dream.
  • MeetPlanGo.com –> This is definitely a travel resource. Run by Sherry Ott and Michaela Potter, it is about meeting people who have travelled, planning your own travels, and then going!!
  • RTWExpenses.com–> Run by Warren and Betsy (from MarriedWithLuggage.com), they track every penny they spend and publish it all here. Often times we think travel is too expensive to take on. This site shows what it really costs to travel in an area as a mid 40’s couple who are beyond their ‘backpacking’ years. You’ll be surprised. Our one year round-the-world trip cost us $50,000 total – we couldn’t live in Canada for $50,000 a year!
  • TheGlobalBookshelf.com/genres/inspirational/ –>TheGlobalBookshelf  has a section for inspirational books. Sometimes you just need to keep yourself buoyed!! These should do the trick!

Are You On The Path?Tell me what you’re planning!

I would love to hear the dreams you’re harbouring, the challenges you’re facing in moving forward, and the successes as you figure it out.

I can provide feedback, encouragement, and maybe even point you in the direction of some resources.

You can email me (gillian.onegiantstep@gmail.com), or connect up on Twitter (@OneGiantStep), or on Facebook of course (http://facebook.com/OneGiantStep).

Remember, take one small step toward your dream every day.

Tell someone. Tell me.

Good luck and, most of all, have fun!!


14 Oct

Monday Moment: Sunny Fall Day

It has been unseasonably warm here in southern Ontario. This is obviously good for those of us who enjoy squeaking out the last flip flop days and sneaking one last beer on a sunny patio. It is not so good, however, for those of us who were hoping to revel in the beauty of the infamous fall colours of the area.

Without a good early frost the trees are confused. Their internal clocks tell them it is time to let the leaves go but the weather tricks them into thinking it is still late summer. The leaves are falling but they lack the brilliant hues I was so looking forward to seeing. It doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful though. Yesterday we took a drive through the country side and came home inspired by beauty.

The leaves have fallen but beauty remains.

Wild grapes along the fence line.

The leaves want to be brilliant.


07 Oct

Monday Moment: Yellow Fists In Istanbul

Yellow Fists In Istanbul

They float high on the walls during the day but descend into the street at night as shops and storefronts are shuttered.

These yellow fists and bright eyes are all over the Beyoglu district of Istanbul.

Created by the street artist Kripoe they lend an eerie element to the downtown core. I like that most of them are hidden during the day; it’s a transformation as night falls and they are revealed.