Beads of sweat dripped down my temple, splashing on the black plastic below. I rubbed my forehead with a damp towel, turned another page in the newest addition of my AFAR magazine and continued my trek up what felt like the side of the mountain: the Stairmaster. I equally love and hate the Stairmaster: I love what it for its obvious benefits but hate it in the moment when I’m 15 minutes in.
Fortunately, I read while I’m climbing to take my mind to another place, and if I’m not actually getting on a plane and going somewhere, the best way I can do that is by reading AFAR magazine. I came across AFAR about a year ago, and I instantly felt a soul connection to this media company who’s passion and mission revolve around experiential travel. It is a magazine with the most beautiful travel photography and stories taken by fellow travelers who go to places with a desire to really see and experience its people, food and culture. But it’s also an online (and now a mobile app) community of travelers who seek after deeper travel experiences and want to learn from other travelers and share their experiences. When I connect with other travelers through AFAR, I feel like we’re sitting around a campfire, sharing stories of the remarkable places that we’ve been and helping each other to plan our next trips.
So needless to say, getting my bi-monthly AFAR magazine, wrapped in its plastic cover, in the mail is always a highlight for me. I read them cover to cover and leave no page unturned. The Stairmaster or stationary bike are excellent places to read, because AFAR can get my full, uninterrupted attention and it also helps transport me to another place.
I continued to climb and turned the page to page 28. I saw a picture that my brain recognized as familiar, and for a second I was confused. I realized I took the picture and wondered for a quick second how AFAR got a hold of my picture? Then I read the caption below and it all made sense: I had posted a gorgeous picture of my trip to Australia on AFAR’s Facebook page with a thank you note, as it was an invaluable resource in helping me to plan my 2 month backpacking trip and learn about some of the more remote and undiscovered places I visited and activities that I did. When I realized this was my picture and caption and saw ‘~Ashley Castle’ at the end of it, I nearly fell off my machine.
It is in those moments that our legs barely hold up that we know we have found greatness. We have come across something that resonates so deeply in our souls that we know it’s something we need more of in this life, something we are called to and couldn’t not be called to, even if we tried not to be. My eyes grew moist with the mixture of sweat and tears. I stopped the machine and read it again, running my fingers over the print. This is right.
How are most people so un-aligned with their passions, going from day-to-day without ever really thinking about what they most desire to become or to have in this life? Is it just because in their minds, that’s the way it is? For my life, I refuse to buy into that. We get one shot: why would we spend every day doing something we don’t enjoy doing?
New York has stretched me in unbelievable ways in the past 2 years. There have been times where it has been tough and all I wanted was to go back home to Texas, where people were nicer, life was slower, weather was hotter, and there was central AC in the summertime. But in those moments of feeling lost in the masses of people, being tired of the street hagglers and rotten-smelling subways, feeling confused with my purpose and not knowing how to get somewhere other than where I was, I knew deep down that those were the moments that were changing me- like the moment in a workout where muscles start to tear so they can grow stronger. And I have grown stronger from living here: more confident, self-assured, focused and sure of who I am and what I want in my life. That is a gift that New York has given me.
I have written since I was 7 years old and always knew that it was a love, but I had never given the idea of actually writing- like, for a living- a thought until I moved to New York and saw tens-of-thousands of people who moved here to pursue a dream. It got me really thinking about what my dreams were- the big dreams even beyond what I had explored or voiced. But my heart knew, as it’s known all along, and the dream came forth and presented itself to me. I recognized its congruence with my soul, and I’ve known I was going to write ever since, even if I didn’t know where to start or what the process would look like.
Seeing that tiny clip confirmed it in my depths. I know that I am called to this: to see the world and share it through my eyes.
So, I ask you: what brings you to your knees and gives you the chill bumps down to your toes? How long has it been since you felt that in your spirit? And if it’s been longer than you can remember, how come?
We just have one shot at this. I leave you with a favorite quote, shared with me by a dear friend this fall when I was backpacking through Australia. I was sitting at a computer in the beach town of Cairns when I got it, and the chills came over my whole body- it ignited that soul knowledge that we all have, the knowledge that we are created for greatness.
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you have a life you’re proud of. If you find you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald