When I graduated high school, my goal in life was to become a writer for National Geographic. To travel the world and write about all of the interesting people I met and places I visited. My grandpa keeps stacks and stacks of the saffron-bordered magazines in the attic (or “cold room” as we call it), and as a little girl, I would spend hours after school and in summers reading about the brain or an ancient civilization or specie of whale.
I still remember the night my freshman year at Mizzou when my college roommate and I went to see a group of National Geographic photographers (including the amazing Sam Abell) speak. I was captivated. To be in the same room with the people who achieved my dream was a rush — the intellectual high I’d hoped to get in college. After the lecture, I remember literally running through the columns on the quad and back to our dorm with hardcover photo books tucked under our arms.
I also remember the stories the photographers told about how long their assignments were and what that meant to their families. And gradually, the dream shifted for me. I still love to travel and my nine-year-old passport is tattooed with stamps (thanks, Girl Scouts!), but I came to realize that the nomadic life wasn’t for me.
There are so many breathtaking destinations and fascinating cultures and I am interested in seeing as much of this planet as I can. But I also started to appreciate the fact that all of the world’s interesting places exist because there are people who commit to them and keep them alive.
At one time, I was convinced that the only way to uncover life’s meaning was to stand in a headwind at earth’s rugged edges. That the only way to be a writer was to get out of Dodge. I still believe that when we put ourselves in unfamiliar, uncomfortable situations — and to travel is to embrace this — we come to a better understanding of ourselves. But I don’t know if I’m convinced that essential truths are only caught after a cross-continental chase.
I’ve written a lot about Des Moines becoming home to me and choosing to be part of a community. I write about my house and the friends I’ve made here and sometimes I feel like — for the people who knew me back when I was a high school travel-writer wannabee — these moments read like I gave up, or settled. Perhaps I’ll spend the rest of my writing life trying to put into words what it feels like to make roots like these. Maybe I’ll never get it right. Or maybe I’ll write a novel instead.
Then this week I had the most exciting news. Just as I’ve felt like things are beginning to settle down (I’m convinced the water here in Iowa has some sort of baby-producing boosting agent), I got the most amazing e-mail. I will be heading to Doha, Qatar as a TEDxSummit attendee along with my friend, Alexander. I couldn’t be more excited for this unexpected adventure. It’s the perfect mix of being able to see a place I’d never even imagined in my girlhood National Geographic dreams, and taking part in a global event meant to enhance my community back at home.
I (along with a small group of talented people) helped Alexander put together the last TEDxDesMoines event (something I wasn’t going to be able to work on if I’d stayed in journalism at the paper), but I definitely don’t feel worthy of this opportunity. I’ll keep you all updated and hopefully will post from Doha this April!
This opportunity is something I feel I never would have had living in a bigger city. It’s one more reason to love Des Moines. I’m still pinching myself that it’s real!