A couple weeks ago, the HuffPost article, “Singing (and Hip-Hopping) the Praises of Non-Conformity” inspired me to reach out to its author, Karen Talavera. Through our conversations I discovered that not only is Karen a fellow dream chaser (she’s known in the blogosphere as “The Accidental Seeker”), but she’s also a marvelous trail guide for the unintended journey many of us find ourselves on.

I’m thrilled that Karen agreed to join us here on Beyond the Gray to share her story about the transformation she underwent after being laid off from an executive position in corporate America. I hope you find her words of wisdom as inspirational as I have…

Q: Tell us about yourself. What is your dream? How are you working towards it?

KT: Since I was in the fifth grade I wanted to be a writer.  As a child I was a voracious reader and dreamed of being able to someday create the imaginary journeys, adventures and insights in the books I read as a kid – like the Chronicles of Narnia series, one of my favorites.  I didn’t have to decide, debate or second-guess my dream, I just knew writing was it, so in that sense having such clarity has been a blessing.  As I grew older, especially in high school, I knew I had a natural talent for writing.  It came easy, I loved it and I received considerable praise and encouragement from peers and mentors alike. 

My strong suit was always non-fiction rather than fiction, so I was naturally drawn to personal essay, memoir, editorial and journalistic writing.  This was all before (or in the very early days of) the Internet and way before the concept of a blog existed.  So, I decided to pursue journalism as my field of study in college until I found out how little a career in journalism paid (ouch) and how fiercely competitive it was.  But more, I wasn’t drawn to news reporting.  I didn’t want to just state the facts, I wanted to express my voice, opinions, and perspectives.  The “go out and report but don’t give your point of view” nature of news journalism was not fulfilling to me, so I took a turn and ended up in business and marketing, which actually, although it seemed like it at the time, was not a total waste.  My career in marketing gave me ample opportunity to continually use and hone my persuasive writing skills, and what I learned about business made it possible for me to emerge from the corporate world as a self-employed entrepreneur. 

Back to the dream – the writing – the flipside of the gift of clarity in your dream is that it will haunt you relentlessly until you pursue it.  I believe people are given a clear dream or purpose because they’re supposed to live it.  So after I turned 40, I couldn’t deny the dream anymore (40 does plenty to air out your well-packed emotional baggage!) and decided to start writing.  By then, the world had evolved so I began writing for online publication – articles, blogging, and submitting to online magazines like Divine Caroline – to begin building a platform.  After writing a little bit of everything with a strong activist streak, within two years I was finally able to narrow my niche to the spiritual/personal growth journey, and in May 2010 launched The Accidental Seeker, my blog and primary platform as a writer.  I also have a proposal for a book of the same name and am seeking a literary agent or publisher.  My goal for the next five years is to have transitioned to a full-time career as a writer and motivational speaker/coach.

Q: Tell us about a time you found yourself in “the gray”.

KT: The most recent time was after being laid off in 2002 from a VP Marketing job at an online marketing agency I had worked at in Chicago.  Immediately, one thing was clear – I didn’t want to get back on the corporate train doing the same thing I’d done in the same industry (marketing services).  But, I needed an income, and self-employment in the mini-recession at that time seemed daunting.  So I sort of floundered about for a year, collecting unemployment and trying several different things – a little consulting, a little job searching for my “dream job” (not the same-old, same-old, but if my “dream job” was out there I didn’t want to miss the chance to go work for Oprah, let’s say).  I decided “may the best man win”.  Due in large part to the crappy economy, I got more traction with consulting than landing a job working for someone else.  During that time, I felt mentally scattered, but also had a chance to breathe and slow down a bit, spend more time with my daughter (then just starting kindergarten) and try other personal pursuits that had always taken a back seat to a full-time career (like exercise, yoga, etc.).  So, in retrospect, I would advise others in the gray not to discount the discovery that takes place in that stage.

What finally inspired me to make the leap to permanent self-employment was getting steady work from an agency some former co-workers of mine had started.  I had consistent traction, which gave me confidence and validation.  It felt right, and in the end, I always follow my heart vs. my head.  Emotions are “energy in motion” that exists as a signal system for us, and I recognized I wanted to move  in the direction of what felt truest and happiest for me; that was not to work for someone else but to march to my own beat.  As a result, I created my marketing consulting business, Synchronicity Marketing, and became an entrepreneur.  I’ve never looked back, and as my self-employed friends have said, once you “cross over” there’s no going back anyway.  They’re right.

Q: You recently started The Accidental Seeker blog. Tell us about that. What’s your mission?

KT: When I first started writing a few years ago, the best piece of advice I got about building a name, a platform, as a writer was “pick one thing”.  But I have many passions, so I struggled with that.  I wanted to write about politics, society, activism, travel, even personal growth.  However, after four years of a totally unexpected journey into spirituality and self-discovery, occurring coincidentally with (or maybe instigated by) turning 40, I realized the thing I was most passionate about was the journey itself.  Having been through it from the starting point of a conformist, typical American wife and mother, and seeing what one goes through when departing from convention to discover – and live – your personal truth, I knew I could help others make the same transition.

Unlike life-long spiritual seekers of the hippy 70’s, people today are trying to integrate a deeper spiritual knowledge of themselves and conscious living into everyday reality, and it’s not easy.  Usually, organized religion isn’t cutting it for them – it’s a conformist answer to the big questions of life and those that want more or to inquire deeper usually depart from organized religion without a clear direction for what to do or where to turn next.  Most never have the time, money or luxury of going “off the grid” on some sort of Eat, Pray, Love self-discovery jaunt, or don’t wish to leave their families and jobs to go live in an ashram or go on retreat for a year.  There’s nothing wrong with either of those things, it’s just that I want to make living consciously in spirit accessible for people, primarily women, within the context of the lives they’ve already created and are committed to.

My mission with The Accidental Seeker is to provide guidance, information, understanding and community for those who have either stumbled into spirituality like I did, are seeking deeper purpose and meaning from life, or are on their own journey of self-discovery.  People need support and guidance because when you begin a process of spiritual exploration and self-discovery, you can meet with a lot of resistance from the outside world.  It’s critical to have a safe space and community of others who “get it” and a roadmap to follow.  So I’m a sort of “trail guide” for the journey who most of all, wants to inspire people to make the trip and love them into not giving up. 

Q: Since you were a young child, traveling has figured predominantly into your life. How so?

KT: Even though my parents managed a one-income family with four kids, they always made time and money for family vacations.  This was probably motivated by my parents’ desire to keep in touch with family in Ohio after we moved to Rhode Island when I, the oldest child, was about seven.  My parents had lived their whole lives up until then in Cleveland, so leaving the only place they’d ever known, and their close family and friends, was a big deal to them.  We would make annual if not semi-annual pilgrimages – by car, mind you – from Rhode Island to Cleveland for reunions and holidays.  I’ll never forget those long drives in the big old Mercury Marquis station wagon – my sister, the second oldest, and I camped out in the back with our sleeping bags and stuffed animals (seatbelts? ha! those were the days before seatbelt laws). 

However, my parents were also opportunists, god bless them, and I certainly inherited my opportunistic traveler streak from them.  Moving to Rhode Island afforded them – and us as a family – a chance to see a great area of the country easily and quickly.  We had access by train or car to the entire New England area.  Many historical sites in Massachusetts were within a stone’s throw – like Plymouth and of course Boston, plus incredible Newport Rhode Island, a family fave.   New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC were also close by.  It was important to my parents that their kids learn the history of this country on family vacations – not just lie on a beach somewhere.  As my father’s career advanced, we went further afield to Canada, Florida, California, and Hawaii.  So by the time I was a senior in high school with the chance to go on the annual senior trip to London, England – my first international jaunt until then – my wanderlust and sense for exploration and adventure was well in place.  It only grew from there.

Q: Where is your favorite place in the world? What makes it so special to you?

KT: I love this question because initially I thought the more I saw of the world, the harder it would be to have a favorite place.  But the more I see of the world, the more it reaffirms the #1 spot on my list — the Cusco region of Peru, including the Urubamba Valley and Machu Picchu.  And it’s funny, because someone asked this question of both my husband and I recently, and without conferring with each other first we both said, “Peru”!  This is saying a lot for Peru, since my husband has been to something like 40 or 50 countries in the world now, about twice as many as I.

What makes it so special?  Everything – the geography, the history, its natural beauty at the foot of the Andes, the music, the food, the culture – a blend of ancient Inca and Spanish.  Most of all it has to be that intangible quality I would have to describe as its “vibe”.  Machu Picchu was a religious and some say, political center for the Incas from about 1450-1550.  Today I think many chalk it up to being a spiritual center and make pilgrimages for that reason, although in my opinion, the area between Cusco and Machu Picchu, known as The Sacred Valley (the Urubamba) feels far more spiritual and truly has the sense of a sanctuary cloistered from time – a genuinely sacrosanct place.  One of my travel goals that I’m becoming increasingly impatient to achieve is to revisit Cusco during the winter solstice (July in Peru) and do the 4-day hike from Cusco to Machu Picchu. 

To those contemplating a visit, go without hesitation.  I have rarely felt more at peace, more mystified, more whole and more amazed by life as in Peru.

Q: What fears have you faced as you chase your dreams? How did you overcome them?

KT: Ha!  I have to laugh, because what fears don’t you face is the question.  Let’s see – fear of failure, fear or rejection, fear of my husband thinking I’m nuts, fear of alienation from my family and friends, fear of poverty, fear of change, fear of criticism, fear of being told I have no talent, fear of dying a failure, fear or dying before getting published, fear of regret, and the BIGGEE – fear of not making a lasting impact and doing what I came here to do, of living my purpose.  Those pretty much make up the negative fears. 

Then there’s the positive side fears, like the fear of “coming out of hiding” – of making yourself personally known and vulnerable as a writer, and that’s a big one.  I’m pretty brazen and immodest though, so I got over that one quickly.  Plus, the first time you write anything that makes a true emotional connection with even one reader, that’s the minute you know you can serve and that being of service is more important than protecting your ego.  Finally, let me not forget the fear of success, or that I’ll have rapid early success and then blow it because I haven’t laid a groundwork of support or experience.  Not fun to contemplate.

The bottom line is, the list of fears is endless, friggin’ endless!  And just when you’ve conquered one, there’s another waiting to take its place.  I’ve come to learn that with every rung on the ladder to your dream, there is a new challenge awaiting, and a new fear. Even Oprah and Richard Branson and uber-successful people like that continue to face fear.  The only foolproof way I know to overcome fear is to keep moving.  Action helps you move through fear even though you will feel afraid in the process.  But then, with constant motion, all of a sudden you’re on the other side of it and emboldened each step of the way.  Eventually, you get used to facing fear and know what you have to do, you develop a process with practice, and the afraid feeling becomes more exhilarating and empowering than paralyzing.  (My answer to the last question is related to this).

Q: What do you say to the people who just “don’t get it”?

KT: I let Gandhi speak for me. Gandhi, Gandhi, Gandhi all the way.  First, if they “don’t get it” because they really aren’t ready to get it, because they’re stuck in fear or conformity, I don’t say anything.  I just try to be the change I wish to see in others.  I try to be as compassionate as possible.  We’ve all been there and I’ve found from direct experience none of us are ready to grow or leave the gray until we’re just ready – and there’s no predicting when that might be, nor will forcing work.  Some are never ready, and that’s okay.  Be as compassionate as possible with them and wish them well.  Lead by example and perhaps they’ll be inspired.  Your actions will speak louder than anything you could say to them.  Don’t try to convince or persuade, just be compassionate.

To those, however, who don’t get it and wish to argue, criticize or condemn, I simply share this from Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”  I have yet to hear a good comeback to that!

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone else who is struggling to move beyond the gray and follow a dream, what would it be?

KT: Persistence. Take baby steps but keep going.  A baby doesn’t stop trying to learn to walk just because it falls down a thousand times.  It doesn’t say, “oh, this crawling thing seems okay, I’ll just do that instead”.  Do not stop moving in the direction of your dream, no matter what, and ignore anyone who tries to convince you otherwise.  Forward motion is critical. You might change paths, you  might need to make a turn, but the bottom line is, you have to keep moving toward your goal or nothing will happen.  Trust that you will find your route. The universe can’t course correct you if you’re standing still. 

Also, while I’m a big believer in the power of intention and visualization, there’s been a lot of misinterpretation of the Law of Attraction in this area.  Wishful thinking alone will not deliver your dream to you on a silver platter, but the universe can and will conspire in your favor if you are actively indicating what you want and taking steps to get it.  Like attracts like, so persistence, even when it looks like nothing is happening, and especially in the face of failure, is job #1. You must, above all else, remain in action.

Want to learn more about Karen Talavera? Visit her at www.accidentalseeker.com.

Are you a dream chaser too? If so, I’d love to hear from you!
E-mail me at erika.liodice@hotmail.com