This year, I surprised those who know me well by quietly announcing that I was going to Burning Man. If you aren’t aware of this event, it’s basically a weeklong raucous excursion in the middle of the desert. My friends and family did not hold back their thoughts. The most common sounding like, “You’re doing what! How are you going to survive”? My brother’s response was, “I really didn’t think of you as the Burning Man type.” What he meant here is that I’m a pretty (well, very) calm, quiet, non-flashy, and introverted human being. I shrugged off these sentiments of horror and gave a 100% commitment to my partner that I would attend.
About three weeks prior to leaving, I confidently sat down to do some research and prepare. As I reviewed videos, pictures, blogs and survival guides, my calm state quickly turned into a feeling of, “F$%#, what have I done”? A plethora of fears came out of the woodwork. Will it be too loud? Will I be able to handle the extreme weather? Will I be able to sleep? Will I connect with anyone? What will I eat? Will I look pretty, sexy, whatever enough? Will I be able to have fun on my own? Will I get lost? Where will I go to the bathroom? Will I hate….everyone? Fundamentally, I was questioning whether I was even capable of having this experience. I decided to share my concerns with my partner and broke down. This was supposed to be fun and exciting. Instead, I felt like I was willingly entering the hunger games.
"I felt like I was willingly entering the hunger games."
My partner listened calmly as I let it all out, gained my composure, and then put my analytical hat on. IF I was going to go, I knew the only way I would “survive” was to create an experience that was authentic to myself. Authenticity, to me, means being true to the values that I care about, the interests that light me up, and the strengths that I bring to the table. So, I went back to the drawing board with my new frame of mind. I decided that I was inspired by the values of the event. Values like radical inclusion and radical self-reliance are what made me want to go in the first place. I was also interested in the art, completely unplugging from real life, and pushing my boundaries. I decided that with my values and interests aligned, I would regret it if I didn’t go.
Now, I just needed to use my strengths to prepare. First, I prepared physically. Despite my partner’s nonchalant attitude, I purchased everything that seemed imperative to my survival (goggles, liquid glue, distilled vinegar, gallon of sunscreen, twinkle lights, check, check, check….), I chose clothing that would allow me to “fit in”, but also feel confident in my own skin. Next, I prepared mentally and emotionally. I conjured up the most difficult scenarios I could imagine and how I wanted to handle them if I had to. I even planned for what to do if something I hadn’t planned for happened. Breathe. Finally, and most importantly, I determined how I would “escape” if things were not going well. Something akin to climbing into a dark hole for a while. I felt, mostly, good.
Departure time. We landed from a 15-hour international flight, rested for two days, and then headed out for our 10-day desert adventure. Through my preparation, I let go of my previous anxiety and replaced it with the confidence that no matter what I would be fine.
Burning Man was everything that I expected it to be and nothing like I expected it to be. It was a feeling of being welcomed by 70,000 individuals who genuinely cared about my presence. It was a chaos of all the senses at once. My greatest fear was that I’d feel out of place. But, I was surprised that some of my favorite moments were riding around on my bike alone in pure darkness and feeling exactly in the right place. In the end, I not only survived, but I created a really great experience and authenticity that will last a lifetime.
"In the end, I not only survived, but I created a really great experience and authenticity that will last a lifetime."
In my exploration, I remembered the power of connecting with your authentic self. As an Authentic Career Coach, in the spirit of Burning Man, I welcome you to find your authenticity and a career path that allows you to tap into your authentic contribution of strengths, values, and interests.
Want some help in your journey? Join me for my upcoming Clarify Your Next Career Move workshop!