The Universe always says “Yes.”

I’m no stranger to serendipity, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a wild chain of events recently unfolded, leaving my head spinning and my heart racing.  The past month has been one of the most exciting I’ve experienced since coming to Australia and I directly attribute it to my firm dedication to approaching life with an open mind and open heart, staying focused on my goals and the positive outcomes I desire.  Time and again, this forward-thinking attitude has proven to be both effective and immensely rewarding.  Occasionally I’ll step outside of myself to watch, absolutely astounded, as my genuine enthusiasm and willingness to help others comes full circle, placing me in unusual circumstances with just the right combination of talented people who collaborate with me to raise the bar on this never-ending adventure that is my life.  I hope you’re ready for some magic, friends.

Erika with a Helena Gum Moth

If I were a magician, this would be my promotional photo. Naturally, I would be renowned for pulling cool insects out of hats rather than rabbits.

When I first moved to Albany, Western Australia I met a fellow traveler who was briefly passing through town.  We had the introductory conversation familiar to any world wanderer; you know, the one that covers all of the where-have-you-been-where-are-you-going details.  I was surprised when she told me she had been working on a tall ship in Tasmania doing youth development work for at-risk teens.  The organization would take inner city kids out to sea, teach them how to sail and how to trust in and rely on each other through challenging situations.  Having lived most of my life landlocked in the Arizona desert, I hadn’t realized such a concept existed and I was instantly intrigued by her stories.  As she spoke I avidly scribbled notes of the ships and programs she recommended, determined to do some research.  Admittedly I never got around to exploring her suggestions after our conversation, but I had unwittingly laid the foundation for future endeavours simply by thinking, “Wow. I want to do that some day.”

Kids walking along Middleton Beach

Taking families for a Salty Summer Beach Investigators walk down Middleton Beach in Albany.

Several months passed as I enjoyed settling into life in the quiet, seaside town of Albany.  I spent the summer months volunteering at the Western Australian Museum and I landed a coveted seasonal job at South Coast Natural Resource Management leading marine ecology and conservation awareness beach walks for kids and families.  I spent much of my free time outdoors, hiking the trails around my house, practicing mountain-top yoga and taking lazy bike rides through the town’s charming neighbourhoods.  I made a few good friendships along the way, got out camping a couple of times and essentially enjoyed a fulfilling yet relaxing Aussie summer.

Erika and an Australian flag.

I celebrated my first Australia Day on Middleton Beach with my close friend, Lauren and her son, Josh.

When February rolled around work began to slow down as families prepared for the approaching school term.  I found myself craving something new and fresh; that change and challenge I have grown so accustomed to navigating during my travels.  I began to explore some options and I decided to take a weekend to visit some friends up in Perth, the capitol city of Western Australia a few hours north of Albany.  While I was there I spent time with a variety of new and old friends spread out in different parts of the sprawling metropolitan area.  Twice during the long weekend I found myself exploring Fremantle with my friend and fellow wayfarer, Mike.  I had enjoyed Freo on quite a few occasions in my past visits to Perth, but something was different this time.  At last, things just … clicked.

Entrance to the Fremantle Markets

The Fremantle Markets are housed in a Victorian-era building erected in 1897 and are the hub of local commerce on the weekends.

Fremantle has a small-town vibe; a microcosm within Perth’s expansive reach.  Situated by the sea, the city sits at the mouth of the Swan River, making it one of Western Australia’s most important shipping ports.  Fremantle’s vibrant historic, yet artistic air reminds me of a mix of Flagstaff and Tempe, Arizona with a dash of Portland, Oregon for good measure.  (My apologies to my international friends who may not be familiar with these cities.  You’ll just have to take my word for it; Fremantle is the a solid combination of a lot of desirable traits.)  This creative enclave exudes an palatable sense of community that seems to seep from the mortar of the brick and limestone colonial architecture, much of which was erected in the mid 1800’s.  Additionally, Notre Dame has established a small campus in the city’s historic heart and the university’s influence is reflected in the city’s population which is young, active and engaged.  It felt like I had known it all along, but during my most recent visit it dawned on me that I had discovered my next destination.

Urban Art in Freo

Urban art is plentiful in Freo, whether displayed as large murals or tucked away down narrow alleyways.  I immediately loved this piece for obvious reasons.

When it came time to leave Freo and head back to Albany, I wasn’t ready to go.  Upon returning home I had a good conversation with one of my closest friends, Lauren who has always been great at inspiring and challenging me.  “What’s holding you back?” she said.  “Just GO!”  As we sat there together on her couch, I opened SEEK, the go-to job search app for finding work in Australia.  I plugged in Fremantle, selected my ideal career categories and hit the search button.  And BAM!, there it was, right at the top of the list: The Leeuwin Ocean Adventure Foundation.

Leeuwin II

Launched in 1986, STS Leeuwin II is Australia’s largest sail training tall ship and is dedicated to challenging and inspiring people on adventurous ocean voyages.  Engaging activities are designed to encourage teamwork, communication, goal setting, problem solving and leadership. Photo complements of the Leeuwin Ocean Adventure Foundation.

The organization’s name grabbed my attention—Who can resist ocean and adventure?!—not to mention they were both based in Fremantle and just happened to post an opening for a Fundraising and Marketing Officer the same weekend I had be daydreaming of moving to Fremantle.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  The job duties and required skills fit my educational, professional and volunteerism background perfectly, almost to the point that I felt the position was written for me.  I immediately jumped into researching the organization and committed to submitting my application before the deadline the following week.

Established in 1986, the Leeuwin Ocean Adventure Foundation is a non-profit organization that has impacted the lives of more than 40,000 young people in Australia through the concept of “challenge by choice.”  High school and university students from all backgrounds are welcomed aboard the Leeuwin II for week-long Youth Explorer Voyages during which they learn to sail and are challenged with activities that break down their boundaries and teach them valuable lessons in communication, leadership and teamwork.  Everything I read about the organization and everyone I spoke to about it reinforced my initial impression: This opportunity was made for me.

Leeuwin Youth Explorer Voyage

Participants and crew on one of the Leeuwin Ocean Adventure Foundation’s Youth Explorer Voyages. Photo complements of the Leeuwin Ocean Adventure Foundation.

I set to work on my application, diligently revising my resume and composing a detailed, multi-page cover letter that I hoped would prove hard to resist.  Within a week’s time I had compiled a thorough application package of materials that reflected my talents and passions supported by a handful of solid letters of reference.  (Thank you for everything, Jeff, Sarah, Ed, Lauren, Craig, Rose and Catherine!)  I sent my documents in hours before the deadline and then took a long run in an attempt to burn off the buzzing sensation that was coursing through my veins.  Later that afternoon I sent an all-call out to my network on Facebook.  I felt something great coming over the horizon and I requested the supportive and positive thoughts of my friends and family to help me show the Universe what was up.  I was serious about this one.

Within 24 hours time, I had the first of a series of phone interviews with the CEO of the organization and less than a week later I had secured a job offer.  Everything swiftly and seamlessly fell into place.  I had hoped with all of my heart that it would happen, but I never quite expected it to.  Additionally, the organization wanted me up in Fremantle to start my new position as soon as possible.  I literally had five days to disassemble my life in Albany and make the move.  And there it was, suddenly staring me in the face: the excitement, challenge and change I had been craving.  This was an amazing opportunity to start a new chapter in a new city I adored while working on a project I truly believed in.  Oh, and to top it all off, they had arranged to send me out to sea for a week-long voyage after I completed my first few days in the office.  If that’s not a signing bonus, I don’t know what is!

The Adventure Continues

Why hello there, Dream Job, it’s nice to finally meet you.   (Swiped from the Leeuwin’s engaging Facebook page.)

During my few busy days of tying up loose ends in Albany, I was continually struck by moments of sheer elation and clarity.  I kept catching myself grinning as I quietly contemplated how the Universe works in mysterious ways.  Additionally, I reveled in an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that I am able to live a life flexible and simple enough to change course and start a new, unexpected chapter at a moment’s notice.

After I had packed up all of my belongings—which I’m ashamed to admit now fill both my backpack and a large duffle bag to the gills—I experienced that familiar feeling of letting go and breaking away that I had felt when leaving Arizona back in September 2012.  Had Albany truly become my home in a mere four months?  Living in a normal house (as opposed to a beach bungalow), having regular employment and hanging out with a consistent group of friends all contributed to a feeling of being settled and returning to normalcy.  I truly enjoyed it all, but alas, the adventure continues!

My transition to Fremantle was done in a round-about way, which is somewhat expected when one doesn’t own a car and refuses to take the easy (ie. boring) route of buying a plane or bus ticket.  As it turned out my friend, Mike and some of his friends were down near Albany on a rock climbing trip the same weekend I had to make my move north.  Ever the creative planner, I arranged to pack up my life, go camping and climbing with them, then hitch a ride with them up to the city at the end of the weekend.  I was astonished by their willingness to help me out, considering most of them were complete strangers to me.  (Huge props to Tim, Mike, Rob, Caitlin and Chid for teaching me to climb, feeding me, housing me and transporting me and my stuff over the long weekend!)

On Top of Gibraltar Rock

I had my very first outdoor climbing experience with my friend Tim at Porongurup National Park. We did a five-pitch climb up Gibraltar Rock and I even got to lead on the last run up to the top. It felt really natural and I had such a blast chasing down some beautiful mountaintop views!

My final morning in Albany arrived and I shoved my remaining belongings into a day pack.  Another travelin’ friend, Matt picked me up and we drove west out of the city to West Cape Howe National Park.  The dusty washboard road wound through paddocks and bushland before arriving at a lookout over Shelley Beach. I grabbed my bag, gave Matt a hug and officially finished my chapter in Albany.  As I set of down the trail, I was overcome by the sense of renewal and excitement associated with embarking into the unknown.  I felt as though I was literally turning a page between chapters as I hiked toward the stunning coastline of West Cape Howe National Park.

Cliffs of West Cape Howe

Hanging out with some new friends on the cliffs of West Cape Howe (that’s me in the green shirt). Photo by Michael Fuller.

After an amazing weekend soaking up the beautiful views of West Cape Howe and enjoying some very challenging climbs, my friends and I gathered our gear and squeezed into Rob’s SUV for a long yet enjoyable road trip back to Perth.  The next morning I was up with the sun to start my first day with Leeuwin Ocean Adventure Foundation and officially begin the next chapter of my journey.  That morning as I walked toward the organization’s port-side offices, I rounded the corner and was momentarily stunned by an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.  It was right then and there that I realized that just over 11 years ago on my first trip to Australia, I had visited this very location and had been awestruck by the beauty of this very ship.  Guess this is where I was meant to be all along.

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.”

— Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

6 thoughts on “The Universe always says “Yes.”

  1. This story gave me some serious goosebumps, made me cry a little (happy tears!), and miss you a whole bunch more. Can’t wait to see and talk to you soon. ❤

    • Yes! Mission accomplished! I get goosebumps just thinking about how everything has panned out in the past month. I miss you heaps and we will catch up very, very soon. You better have a full stock of hugs waiting for me, KT. Can’t wait to share some happy tears with you!

  2. Wow! I am so enjoying your adventures. Goosebumps for me as well. Parker and I did a 6 day sail off the coast of Maine on a 90 foot schooner, BEST vacation ever for us so can only imagine a job connected with such a vessel. I can feel and sun and wind on my face as I read your post!

    • I can’t wait to have the experience, Brenda! We set sail in about 12 hours and I’m insanely excited. The next you hear from me will likely be a detailed account of my voyage! Stay tuned…

  3. Pingback: Two Years Abroad: Real Life is Here | the sky and the sea

  4. Pingback: More or Less at Sea: A Month Chasing New Horizons | the sky and the sea

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