Two months ago, I found myself scrolling through self-help type articles, only to find "On Heartbreak and Traveling Alone" written by Canadian actress Michelle Alexander on Clementine Daily. In her article, Michelle writes about heartbreak, quitting her steady job, surviving on "gatorade, red wine and peanut butter," finding the courage to travel alone, and having to start all over – all within the same time.
My first reaction was to comment on the article and leave my contact information, in hopes that she would see it and reach back out. A few days later, I received an email from Michelle saying, "This be me, the girl from Clementine Daily!" We connected from that point on and today I'm excited to feature her.
Through our conversations, I learned that Michelle resorts to google for a little boost, like I do sometimes, as you'll read about below. This and many of the things we shared through our back-and-forth email interaction made me realize this girl is the real deal and she's not afraid to be open. Let's just say Michelle is currently busy having her own Eat, Pray Love moment and her optimistic outlook deserves to be noticed because the girl is going places, literally and figuratively.
Before reading ahead, I suggest taking a look at her article for some background!
What has been the best part about sharing your struggle with identity and heartbreak in such an honest way?
I think the act of putting your struggles and vulnerabilities out into the world is a powerful one. It’s a public acknowledgement that they are real. A lot of us spend so much time hiding our flaws and weaknesses these days, especially with the pressures and expectations social media has given us, it can be easy to forget that happiness is not a default setting.
Writing that article was scary as hell because I was openly admitting to anyone who clicked the link that I’m far from perfect, I hurt someone who loved me and I feel lost. ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE NEVER SUPPOSED TO ADMIT ONLINE! I actually had second thoughts about sending it in. My indecision led me to ask a friend to review it and let me know what they thought. The first thing they said was, ‘Michelle, this is important. A lot of people can identify.’ And when I read it back I realized she was right.
I can’t tell you how many times, when I’m feeling down or my heart hurts I’ve googled articles that I hope will give me solace. So all of that is a roundabout way to say the best part about sharing my story is the potential that a woman I’ve never met, who’s feelin’ that “post-break-up google” will find my article and find comfort in knowing that she’s not crazy, not alone, and not the first or the last to feel the pain she’s feeling. I think we need more of that empathy in the social media realm.
How has it been traveling alone during the last few weeks and what have you learned about being alone and vulnerable, so far?
The first week was the biggest rollercoaster ride. I learned just how much the ‘unknown’ scares me – I spent a lot of time googling things like ‘the best coffee shop’ or ‘the best restaurant’ and just bee-lining to those places with my head down. I also felt enormous anxiety when faced with talking to people in another language or walking into a situation where I didn’t know the ‘cultural rules.’ Potential embarrassment and anticipated struggle was scary. My hand literally hurt from clutching my phone like it was a security blanket.
Then, thankfully, half-way through my trip a friend of mine sent me a New York Times article that literally changed the entire experience for me. The article tells you to leave your phone, be open to interacting with strangers, and rather than relying on fancy websites to make your plans for you – ask real people who actually live there what they recommend you do and then actually follow that advice. I did this and it was harder than it sounds to stick to but it radically changed my trip. It became a real adventure! I woke up to the moment in front of me rather than just checking off ‘must see’ boxes.
Also, on the last night in France, over a bottle of champagne, I wrote down all of the lessons I learned on this trip. Many are not new ideas, but the essence of them finally stuck with me. Here they are in no particular order:
- Never make assumptions.
- ‘Fitting in’ is a hangover survival skill from high school. Stop. It. Let your freak flag fly!
- Stay curious and allow for surprises always.
- Lead with love – give your best to people and hope for the best in return.
- Always ask yourself, ‘Who do I want to be in this situation?’
- If you act like a doormat, people will treat you like one – enter situations with your full heart and soul and teach people how to treat you.
Now that you have stepped out of your comfort zone to find yourself, how important is it for women – who have it all or not – to seek out their own identity?
I mean, you do you women of the world, this is just my opinion but…it's the most important thing in life! If you’re not clear on your own identity – what you love, what you need, what you want to see in the world – then what exactly are you living for?
That old chestnut about ‘you can’t love another until you love yourself’ and ‘be your own best friend’ is stupidly true – single or not. Especially in a world where it’s very easy to let social media dictate what we should like, what we should need and what we should want to be, we need to get clearer than ever before on what our identity is so we can stand by it in the face of so much influence all the time.
And don’t be mistaken, it can take work to discover who you really are. Yes, I already have a greater understanding of myself, but there are days that it’s hard to not slip into old patterns and negative thoughts.
What keeps me actively searching out my own identity, to become crystal clear on who I am, is the knowledge that when I do meet the person who is for me, I will be sure of it, because I will be sure of myself.
I’m a feminist at heart and believe there’s something to be said about women who strive in the face of pain and uncertainty. So while I have a feeling you’ll be just fine, what's your outlook on being a “grown woman starting from ground zero”?
It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.
I read this Cleo Wade quote that I thought about often on my trip:
“A friend of mine told me one day that ‘The key to life is to find someone who breaks your heart so fully, there is no fear left…and few of us are that fortunate.’ I smiled when I heard this for it reminded me of the special type of fearlessness and fortune that comes with the bravery of brokenness. And I was grateful for it all.”
That’s it. Feeling completely broken leaves us with nothing left to fear because what we thought we feared the most already happened. There’s a huge freedom in the ‘no f****’ mentality that gives you, plus it’s a clean slate - It forces you to take a good hard look at who you are, bump that up against who you want to become and then rework, refine and cultivate a stronger, better human. You can literally reinvent yourself.
Give us wanderlust envy! Where are you currently responding to this Q&A from and where will you head to next?
I had planned to spend Christmas in Barcelona but last minute decided to cancel the trip and surprise my family in Halifax instead (like super last minute). I debated for a good long time whether it was insane to give up an exciting, vibrant city like Barcelona for the cold, windy coast of Nova Scotia...but totally worth it.
The surprise was stupidly adorable. Plus, before I left a friend of mine said, 'use this time with your family to check in, see how much you've grown, and let it illuminate what growth still needs to happen'. For the record, that friend of mine is a genius. Next, I either go to Barcelona (finally) followed by Portugal or I’ll road trip down the west coast from Vancouver to Mexico....stay tuned ;)
Want to know Michelle a tad bit more? Check out her site for more info!
Women Who Inspire is a Q&A series featuring women from all walks of life who embody what it means to live with intention and who inspire me in some way or another. These are women who have a story to tell and aren’t afraid to share a little bit of their vulnerabilities and of course, their wins. Know someone who should be featured? Contact me and I'll be happy to consider!