Sneak Pizzle – Website Photoshoot

Hi! I’m back from Mexico! My trip was amazing and exactly what I needed before the launch of my website/coaching business. I’ve been waiting to post this blog for over a month now while I got my website put together. My website would not look anything like it does today without the wonderful photos from my photographer (and good friend), Kelly Jo Johnson. She graciously offered to help me out with taking professional photos for my site and I could not be more grateful! Her work is fantastic and we had so much fun during the shoot. Check out some of the pics she took from the shoot. You will see a lot of these on my site!

It was so fun to see Kell in her photographer zone working and creating. Kelly is one of the most creative peoples I know and to see her in this light makes me even more happy to call her my friend! If you want to check out more of her work, you can find her at www.kellyjophoto.com. She is also a fantastic writer and has a life & style blog at www.forevergoldenliving.com.

P.S. technically..my site is live!! So if you want to check it out before the “official” launch tomorrow, here it is: www.ashleymstarr.com!

 

 

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

 I thrive in change. If I am too stagnant for too long, I become anxious, restless and frustrated. Change used to scare me because of the uncertainty surrounding it. I had a hard time with the unknown, and I still do, but I have an even more difficult time when I am stuck in a routine. Being a life-long learner means I am always exploring, questioning and thinking.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about change. Spring is coming and is always an important seasonal change for me. I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (thanks to the lack of sunlight in these Mid-Western states) so winter is a tough time for me and many of the Mid-Western folk. I’ve done pretty well this year and one reason why is because I’ve had a lot of change happening and things to look forward to. I’m starting my own business and going part-time at my job to spend time on my business. In the midst of my career changes, I am also going through some personal change. I truly believe we are always evolving and each “epiphany” I have reveals another layer about my habits, my perspective and myself.

Ever since coming home from traveling, I’ve gone through a variety of mini-crises/epiphanies. The first one was reverse culture shock. I’d forgotten how BUSY everyone here is. I was still in a lazy, beach bum mode when I returned. It was quite shocking to see how fast everyone was moving and how much time they spent talking about how stressed out and busy they are. This made me feel like I needed to get busy, and stressed out, as well. So I hopped into the job search and landed a job. Check and check.

The next mini-crisis was the realization that I was the ONLY single person in the world. Severely single I like to call it. So, I downloaded Bumble and started searching for a man. I can’t tell you how many dates I’ve been on over the past few months. Seeing as I am still severely single..it hasn’t gone well.

In the middle of me searching for a man, I started to again freak out about my career. So, I thought to myself… “Ashley, why don’t you just give the coaching thing a try finally?” And so I am. And it feels good. I made that decision shortly after Christmas and have been working toward it for the past few months. I leave for Mexico on Thursday..and when I come back I will officially launch my website and get going on this business! Yay!

Anyway, back to changes and my mini-crises. The combination of me starting my coaching business and me living back in Minnesota for the first time in 9 years has brought a lot of my past into the present. A lot of people from my past have been reaching out to reconnect and catch-up. I love it, I really do. I love hearing what people are up to now and seeing how they’ve changed – or not changed. It’s been a lot of fun. However, it’s also brought up a lot of FEELINGS. Weird feelings that I can’t quite sort through. But I think they have to do with change. I’ve changed, they’ve changed, but sometimes the dynamic doesn’t change does it? We might find ourselves reverting back to old roles and old versions of ourselves. In some ways, this is a great testament to how much we’ve grown as a person. In other ways, it shows me how easy it is to unconsciously revert to old ways of operating.

And this terrifies me.

But I also know that each day we have a choice to continue changing for the better, or relapse back to our comfort zone habits. During certain periods of my life I’ve been in a really bad mental space. It’s interesting that people from my past now see me as “fixed” and “better”. I will always struggle with depression, anxiety, self-doubt and my tendency to react in emotional outbursts. So no, I’m not “fixed”. I am consciously choosing to shift my mindset, habits and reactions to live a more happy and free life. And maybe this is why I tend to thrive in change. Change presents an opportunity to learn, consciously question, grow and reflect. Through change, I continue to refine who I am and who I want to be. The most amazing thing I’ve learned about change is that we get to CHOOSE how we react to it and what we do with it. Transition gives us the opportunity we need to take risks, develop and discover.

Next time a big change happens in your life – chosen or otherwise – remember that you get to control how you approach it. I hope you choose to approach it with child-like excitement and an open heart. No need to be afraid of change, it’s just here to help!

Finding My Why

I am currently taking a class on success and motivation through the Institute for Life Coach Training (because I am a Life Coach, surprise if you didn’t know this already) and one of my most recent assignments was really fun and insightful. My teacher asked me to do an exercise to help uncover my “why”. Finding your why allows you to then connect it to what you do and keep you moving forward when you feel like stopping. If your why doesn’t connect to what you are doing or what your goal is..then it’s hard for you to justify spending hours working toward that dream.

I’ve spent COUNTLESS hours, days, weeks and years figuring out what to be when I grow up. The amount of self-reflection I’ve done and the assessments I’ve taken is a little bit embarrassing. But anyway, on to the exercise. Basically you are supposed to spend 90 minutes journaling on the following questions. As you go through the questions or at the end you are supposed to look at what pops out. There should be a few “why’s”..which I define more as values.. that stand out. Apparently a lot of people “cry when they’ve found their why”.

If you want to try this exercise at home, clear your mind, grab a cute notebook, close your eyes and think about where you intend to be in three years. Make sure to write in the present tense and answer the following questions:

  1. What will you have?
  2.  Where will you live? With whom?
  3.  What kind of house, cars and possessions will you have?
  4.  What specific dollar amount will you earn?
  5.  What will every aspect of your life look like?
  6.  What will you do?
  7.  What hobbies will you pursue?
  8.  Will you travel? If so, where, and how often?
  9.  How will your ideal day look like…feel like?
  10.  Who will you be? What qualities will you be known for?
  11.  What impact will you have on others and the world?
  12.  Who/what will you contribute to, and how?
  13.  What legacy will you leave behind? For the world? For your family?
  14.  If all of your finances and day-to-day challenges were handled, what would you do?

I spent 90 minutes journaling and doing this exercise. Surprisingly I did not cry..and I always cry. I felt a little teary when talking about what my love life looks like in three years and a little teary when I talked about my brother, but otherwise I felt pretty unemotional through the whole thing. Maybe it’s because I have done a lot of vision/visualization work before, maybe it’s because I didn’t find my “why”. I don’t really know. Here is what I did find:

1. Monayyy

I changed the answer to what my annual income is twice. The first time I wrote down a number that was easily attainable in my old life in the corporate world. The next number I wrote down was a bit higher and would allow me to do the travel and living in various places that I want to do. I figured if I am writing out my vision and hoping my subconscious takes hold of it, I might as well reach for the stars.

Money has always felt like a trap to me. If I make too much, I might get trapped in a job or situation I don’t like because I’ve let myself become accustomed to a certain level of income. Or it’s a trap because I don’t have enough and need to get a job – any job – without really thinking about if it’s something I WANT to do. The struggle is real.

2. My Whys

I saw a few themes come up in my journaling. I’m not sure if these are my “whys” necessarily, but striking themes. The most common theme was freedom. This is absolutely not a surprise to me. I am a free spirit, so naturally freedom is something I crave and need. It’s interesting because at one point I wrote “stability” which is often the opposite of being free..but I think what I mean is I need a sense of stability to let me be free without worry. I need relationships, financial means, and purpose to ground me. Although I am a free spirit, I am anxious, an empath and care a lot about what people think/feel. It’s a recipe for internal disaster. Yayyy.

The second theme, or “why”, that came up for me was connectedness. Again, I’m not that surprised. People and relationships are a big part of my life. Although I can’t remember how to have a boyfriend, I have a lot of other relationships that are super important to me. I love learning about people and their stories, their quirks and how they work, and what they want to be when they grow up. I’ve always been super nosey – people fascinate me. Love, family and friendship also came up. I put these themes in a subcategory of connectedness. At the end of the day, I just want to connect with people on a real, deep level. I hate small talk. Tell me your hopes, dreams, and fears and I’m yours forever.

My final theme was inspiring others/being admired. I love to hear “You inspired me to do this” or “I admire you because of this and want to be more like that”. Does this make me a narcissist? I don’t know, maybe. But if I dig a layer deeper I find that this means I love to see people take action after being inspired. I know that feeling when inspiration hits and I want to elicit that in others through my words, actions and stories. I want to help others get to their “aha’ moment when their wheels start churning and ideas start pouring out of their hearts. I love inspiration. And yea, there’s a part of me (that dang ego) that likes to be admired…but really, who doesn’t? I’ve spent most of my life downplaying my strengths and successes because that’s what nice girls do, but mama has decided it’s time to shine! So shine on I will! 

3. Is this real life? 

Writing the answers to these questions felt like I was writing a book. During my journaling I stopped and thought to myself, “Wow, this doesn’t feel like it could actually be someone’s real life”. The question about my ideal day is one I’ve contemplated and thought a lot about in the past. My answer was pretty standard – wake up next to my partner, snuggled between us is my dog, Carol, we eat breakfast, I meditate and workout, go to work (which is my own small office with beautiful decor and happy vibes), get lunch with a family member or friend (in this particular case it was my dad), go back to work, speak at an event, go home to find dinner on the table (my future, pretend partner is seriously the best), watch some TV, read a book, go to bed. Easy, peasy right? I think the more unbelievable part of my ideal day is the feeling I have. In this future life I feel content, calm, secure, happy, and energized. Honestly, my ideal day is not that different than what I do today, but I feel anxious, drained, sad, uncertain and scared most of the time. The big question is..what is so different between the life I’m living now and the life I envision myself living in 3 years? How can I move from where I am now to where I want to be? And most of all, how do I start to FEEL in the present the way I feel when I think about my future life? I’ll ponder that during my next lavender-epsom salt bath (tonight).

Like most things I’ve tried, this didn’t spark a huge epiphany or anything, but it did help put together more pieces of the Ashley puzzle! I’m glad I did it and if you can carve out 90 minutes in your schedule..give it a try!

Incubating

I’m sorry it’s been so long. I have no real excuse. I haven’t been lazy, in fact I have been on the move and getting a lot of things done. More than anything, I felt like I didn’t have anything to say because I am homeless and jobless. (I am not really homeless and jobless, but it feels that way sometimes.) I thought the hardest part of leaving my old life was going to be the actual travel, but I’m finding that the hardest part is this right here. Being back. Trying to live a normal life again or figure out if I really ever want to live a normal life.

So what have I been doing the past few months that I’ve been silent on here? Let me catch you up..

  1. Applying to jobs like crazy – why? I have no clue; I don’t really want any of them.
  2. Writing books. That feels weird to say so publicly because I don’t consider myself a “writer”, but I have ideas and messages to share and no one is paying me to be a motivational speaker (yet haha)..so writing it is.
  3. Not writing blog posts hahaha whoops.
  4. Started a job at a yoga & healing center. I am the center manager and a private yoga instructor.
  5. Hanging out with old friends and making new friends.
  6. Enjoying time with my family.

In the midst of me frantically trying to figure out what to do next, I fell hard into those old habits I talked about a few posts ago. I stopped meditating, I started criticizing myself again and worrying what people thought of me, I stopped working out, I stopped being present, and the list goes on and on. It wasn’t all bad habits and negativity though. I continued building and creating relationships in my old, but new, home. I explored the city. I made some new friends and really great memories to go along with them. However, there was a cloud of grey that up until a few weeks ago continued to plague me.

What got to me these past few months and contributed to my falling were the questions. Everywhere I went people asked me “What’s next?” and “What are your plans?” and “What are you doing now?” As humans, but as Americans especially, we must always be doing, accomplishing, succeeding. This pressure to be everything definitely affected me and still does. It is reverse culture shock, for sure. I mean, look at what I just wrote. I had to catch everyone up on what I’ve been DOING and justify that I haven’t just been laying on the couch for the past few months.

My emotions have been up and down since being back. I’m trying to balance the pressure to make money, move out and get my life going with the patience to not fall back into living the American Dream. I want to live My Dream. And I am taking steps toward that. I took a big one last June when I started this whole journey and I’m continuing to move forward, one step at a time.

A few weeks ago I saw one of my high school teachers. Naturally, he asked me what I’m doing next. I’m not sure if it is because he’s been so supportive of my journey and such a traveler himself, but it was the first time I really felt comfortable answering that question with my honest answer. I told him, “I don’t know. I’m incubating.”

I looked up the definition for incubation and a lot of the options were about sitting on eggs or petri dishes and diseases. Then I found this one – “The inducement of dreams.” This is the definition I had in mind.

Incubation – The time right before your dreams come true.

So, that’s my new answer to the dreaded ‘what are you doing with your life’ questions. Girl, I’m incubating.

My Backyard

I love my backyard. It reminds me of childhood dreams. Climbing trees to read my books. Exploring imaginary worlds living in the leaves. Building forts and playing tag. Ice skating when the little stream of water froze over in the winter. Escaping to my fantasy world when life behind closed doors became too tough.

The landscape of my backyard has grown and changed. What used to be an unruly thicket of brush and trees, is now a more well kept and defined landscape. A forgotten fire pit sits unused. An old picnic table grows moss.

All this change and yet, I still see the two boards of wood I nailed to the middle of “my tree” for easier climbing access. The little bridge that housed my pretend, evil troll still stands. The spot in the grass I sat to cry over teenage miseries is still worn.

I sit here now in the same spot. I’ve decided on a spontaneous whim to take myself on a picnic date. My basket is full of wine, cheese, crackers, and a journal to write love letters to myself. Twenty-one years I’ve had this backyard. Today is the first day I see how special it is to me. Unchanged, yet completely different. Untouched, yet shaped. Confined, yet free. My backyard follows the transition of me.

Old Habits

This past week I was at a conference with my mom as her guest. (My mom actually planned the conference and can I just say she put on a hell of a conference! Go Mom!) The keynote speaker was Holly Hoffman from Survivor – Season 21. She talked about how her experience with Survivor taught her how to be a survivor in real life. Her story and message was incredibly inspiring. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. As her allotted time came to a close, she asked the audience if they had any questions. I raised my hand.

“After you came back from Nicaragua, how did you not fall back into old habits and old ways of thinking?”

“That’s a great question,” She said.

Holly went on to explain that you truly are not able to go backwards. You now have the awareness – the enlightenment – of whatever it is that you’ve learned on your journey. The ability to be aware is what helps us to move forward instead of falling back into those old habits.

Personally, I think deep down inside of everyone there is a reserve of all the conscious and unconscious learnings you collect along your lifetime. It’s there at your disposal to call upon everyday, or never again. The choice is ours to recognize what we learned and then decide how to continue incorporating it into our lives.

For me, on my most recent journey, I learned a lot about happiness. It’s not groundbreaking. If you ask any happiness expert they will probably tell you the same things I learned. The number one thing that helped me to find my happiness was gratitude. After India, I was the happiest I’ve maybe ever been. And when I say happiness I don’t mean a fleeting moment of elation that last and lasts. I really mean content, at peace, and present. My time in India taught me how to be grateful every single day for even the littlest of things. This is the true key to happiness – appreciating what you DO have and not what you want next or how you can get what someone else has.

It still is a struggle to keep practicing all that I learned, but I agree with Holly that we really can’t go back. We may fall back into old habits occasionally, but our awareness will help pull us out of those habits and move forward.

On a side note – if anyone is looking for a speaker at your next conference, retreat, etc., I would highly recommend checking Holly Hoffman out!

Wednesday marks my one-month anniversary of being back in the US of A. I’ve officially been out of the traditional form of work for 5 months now! It’s incredible to think how much my life has changed. I’ve spent the last month home visiting friends and family and working on some writing. I finished a children’s book this past week and am continuing to chip away on a novel loosely based on my adventure. Looking forward to sharing more of myself with the world through writing!

I’m Coming Home!

As my trip comes to a close, I think back on all that I’ve gained from this experience. I also look back to that version of myself 4 months ago and think..what was it you were searching for? And have you found it?

Many people asked me this same question as I was thinking about going on this adventure. And my answer to them, and to myself, is:

I don’t know what I was searching for, and I don’t know if I found it.

I can make guesses at what I was looking for – love, self-acceptance, a career path, my life purpose, the list goes on and on. I think I told people I wanted to “ignite my creativity and reimagine my passions”. How ambitious. It sounds like a slogan or something. And really, it’s not what I was searching for, but it sounded like I had a plan or an idea of what I might do, or find.

I didn’t have any major epiphanies. I didn’t fall in love. I didn’t find my life purpose. What I did find were little lessons and reminders that helped shape my experience and ultimately, who I am now.

I learned that you can create a near-perfect version of yourself in isolation, but once another human enters the picture you will be affected. I retreated into myself multiple times on this trip, and did a lot of work getting to a “good place” mentally, emotionally and physically. But what fun is life if you guard this crystalized version of yourself and not share it with the world, no matter if you get a few scratches and imperfections? Working on you is great, but make sure to balance it with the fun, laughter, anger and sadness that comes with interacting with other people.

I learned that waking up thinking “What do I want to do today?” is the best feeling, and a very rare luxury in this world, even whilst traveling alone. Cherish those days that you haven’t committed to something and don’t feel guilty about whatever it is you decide to do for the day. This applies to non-traveling and non-vacationing days as well.

I learned that the world is both breathtakingly beautiful and devastatingly depressing. In every country, I saw the unconditional love parents have for their children. I saw large expanses of natural beauty – from mountains, to beaches, to rice paddies. I saw faces light up when we found a way to communicate with each other beyond words. On the flip side, I saw the most impoverished people living their lives in a way I could never imagine. I saw mass homelessness, debilitating disease, land covered in garbage, and extreme mistreatment of animals. My old world and my new world were so similar, and yet, not at all the same.

I learned to enjoy the present moment. If I like something, do it. If I don’t, don’t. This is extremely freeing and empowering. The moment is mine to choose what I do with it, how I react to it, and if I stay in it.

Most importantly, I learned that even if you do something all by yourself, you really aren’t alone. Family, friends, random Instagram supporters all have your back. The words of encouragement, the text messages, the phone calls all help to push you forward on your journey – wherever it may take you. A wise, wise friend of mine once told me that when I feel sad or discouraged to just think about what she would say to me. So even if we aren’t within reach of free wifi to text or call, we know what our friends and family would say to us. And of course, inside of yourself, you will always have a friend.

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who supported me on this journey. This won’t be the last of my travels, or my life lessons. There are not words to express the gratitude I have for this opportunity. It is not cheap and it is not easy. I am so fortunate to have had the financial means and personal support to endeavor on this adventure.

America, I’m coming home!

Thailand

The last leg of this journey ends in Thailand. I arrived in Bangkok and found myself at one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed. And it is considered a hostel! The Chao Hostel is on the 8th floor of the Siam@Siam Hotel. My room in a 6-bed female dorm was 450 baht per night – about $13. It opened 2 weeks prior to my arrival, so I’m sure the rates will go up..it’s so pretty!

I met some friends from Germany in Bangkok, so I was able to navigate the busy city with the help of two other people. It was so nice to see them! That’s a great part about traveling – you meet someone in one country and can find them again in another. We decided to pack one day full of tourist attractions. The main highlights we hit were:

The Grand Palace

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Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha Temple)

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 Wat Traimit (Temple of the Golden Buddha/Standing Buddha)

SubstandardFullSizeRender(5)Khoa San Road – this classic road is used in the movies to represent Bangkok. I was shocked at how small the road actually is. You would think it’s this super long stretch of road, but really it’s about the size of 4 blocks. I’m actually really terrible with distances, so that could be totally off, but it takes about 8 minutes to walk the whole thing at a slow pace. I made my way to Khoa San twice on this trip – once with my friends from Germany, and another time to meet up with a friend from my hometown. It was so nice to see a familiar face from home. We celebrated by eating some yummy crickets. They weren’t that yummy, but rather crunchy and salty. A little like popcorn.

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Another place my friends and I decided to check out was the Chatuchak weekend market. The market is one of the largest in the world, with 5-6,000 stalls set up. We came away with a lot of goodies!

I really enjoyed my time in Bangkok. Some people say it’s not worth the trip to stop for a few days, but I disagree. It was a great city to explore!

After Bangkok, I hopped on my Air Aisa island transfer flight to head to Koh Samui. Koh Samui is the largest, and busiest, of the Gulf of Thailand islands. I only stayed here for a few days and enjoyed my time on Chaweng Beach. The beach was very busy, with a lot of parties going on, so a day on the beach was enough for me!

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From Koh Samui, I took a ferry over to Koh Phangan – the medium sized island between Koh Samui and Koh Tao. I spent the rest of my trip on Koh Phangan at Coco Garden Bungalows. The island was so quiet compared to Koh Samui. The beach I was on was almost like my own private beach! The most famous beach on this island is Haad Rin. Haad Rin is home to Sunrise Beach where the Full Moon Party takes place. I missed the party – intentionally – by just a few days. My time on Koh Phangan was spent lounging on the beach, reading in my hammock, writing, doing yoga, paddle boarding, and relaxing. The only downside to the stay was getting bit in the butt by a large bee! I’m fine, but a bit scared to take naps in my hammock now!

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I will definitely be back to Thailand again! There are many more beaches to explore and I would love to make it up north to check out Chiang Mai and Pai.

Travel Tips You Can Actually Use

Before I started traveling, I did extensive research on the best backpack to buy, how to travel alone as a female in a third world country, top 10 places for solo travelers, etc. I gathered a wealth of very good information and tips that I assumed I would use and need. Then I landed myself in India and basically forgot everything I learned slash didn’t use it.

Here’s my list of traveling tips you can actually use. Or at least, what I’ve learned and would recommend:

1. If you feel like your tuk tuk or taxi driver is about to get aggressive, shove everything in your bra. Literally everything. And then tell them, “I only have (insert amount)!” You know, the price we agreed upon before stepping into this vehicle?

2. Always be on the lookout for good rocks. Yes, in the ground rocks. Any time you are walking alone at night (try to avoid doing this, but I mean the sun sets at 6pm so what are you supposed to do not eat?) and you feel your creeper spidey senses tingling, grab that rock. Your small, puny arms won’t do shit if danger approaches. But hitting someone with a rock? That’ll do some damage and buy you time. Equip yourself.

3. DO pet the dogs and hold the cats. They probably have some skin eating disease and fleas, but when will you have the opportunity to play with this many dogs without a judgey owner getting nervous you’re going to steal it?

4. Take the bus. Especially in Bangkok. It will take you 2 hours to go a mile, but it’s extremely fascinating. Also, there’s a certain sense of accomplishment you will feel after mastering (well ok, trying) the local public transportation.

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On the bus in Bangkok!

5. Eat the street food. I thoroughly regret not doing this in India. I was SO safe and I still got a stomach parasite. So just do it and eat the street food. It’s always delicious and a little diarrhea is totally worth it. Drink it with a Coke and you’ll probably kill anything that could harm your stomach anyway.

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6. Make friends. If you feel like it. I met friends on my trip that will be my friends for life. In your home country you don’t often get the opportunity to become besties with someone from a different country. It’s pretty cool when you can say, Oh ya my friend  from Germany…

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7. Keep completely to yourself. Sometimes you need it. Right now I’m in Thailand on a beach and all I want is peace and quiet and time to work on my writing/yoga/life/etc. I avoid people and conversations as much as possible here.

8. Learn how to say thank you in the native language. You really don’t need anything else if you are only going to be somewhere for a few weeks. No use learning, and struggling, through those “common phrases to learn” (unless languages are your thing). Just learn how to say “Thank you” so you don’t look like an asshole American.

9. Don’t wear one of those travel belts. I mean…you do you, but they are a bit uncomfy and everyone will know that you are a tourist. I just use my cross body purse (keep the pouch in front) and I haven’t had issues.

10. This one is important – do not listen to those “You only need a 30L backpack” minimalist nomads. There is so much stuff you’re going to want to buy and bring back, you need at least a 75L. Who cares if you can barely walk after carrying it, you got those 5 pairs of vintage Levi mom jean cut-off shorts and a pair of fake Ray Bans for $10. You shove that in your backpack and deal with the pain. Who knows when you are going to be able to go shopping again because you most likely quit your job to go traveling and are now completely broke.

11. Get over your social media anxiety and post everything. Your life is really, really, really cool right now and people sitting in their cubicles are going to be super jealous. You will need this stockpile of validation to carry you through the homeless, unemployed days when you return to your home country.

Happy Travels!