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I remember the moment well. I was lying on the couch in our apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina with a blanket over me.
The sofa was a $50 job from the Salvation Army, so tattered and worn that we had a cheap cover from Walmart thrown over the top. The cover didn’t fit it properly so would scrunch up and roll off and I was forever standing up to straighten it.
Anything to cover up just how much we were struggling.
The lights were dim, the shadows casting a long veil of sorrow and desperation. I think perhaps it was only a few days earlier that I opened up the kitchen cupboard and a hoard of baby cockroaches no bigger than my baby toe nail scrambled.
I cried aching tears. It was the sign of how bad we’d let things get. I had no strength or faith left to fix it so resigned myself to evenings scrunched on the couch with episodes of Criminal Minds to numb the pain.
But, this was different.
Criminal Minds could not be found on any channel as something far more important had taken over. I eagerly awaited the results all evening, and now as it neared midnight it was announced, Obama was elected President.
For the first time in a couple of years I felt a slight breeze of victory and my tears flowed to the end of his acceptance speech.
My release ran far deeper than a political party victory, which I’m really not that into or know much about.
It was about change. It was about passionately believing in something. It was about breaking the odds to achieve your dreams.
I’m not sure that I was consciously aware of the spark that was lit that night, I remember the details leading up to. I remember the tears. I remember how I felt. I remember the opening of the door to hope and perhaps a return to joy.
That was in 2008 and the change for me didn’t come for many years later, but it’s possibly where I took the first step.
Obama helped me to believe in personal power again.
That’s partly why, when we received the invitation last week, I spent days walking around in quiet reflection and disbelief trying to process it.
How could I go from that desperate state six years ago, to now receiving an invitation to attend an important travel summit at The White House?
The White HOUSE? The WHITE house? The WHITE HOUSE?
It didn’t matter how many times I said it with various inflections, it just didn’t seem this could really happen to me.
How does that happen?
It makes me cry.
Should I ever have the honour of meeting Obama, I might just possibly cry in front of him. Not screaming, groupie One Direction fan cries, but a few rolling tear slips.
Even though it’s a huge interruption to our current Australian road trip. Even though it means we have to leave the girls for two weeks. Even though it’s a massive expense for us to fly over to the States – I know we can’t say no.
I can’t say no to the Universe opening a door to support my dream and a chance to celebrate the triumph of my own spirit. It’s the Universe giving me the nudge to say,
“Girl, can you please start breathing now? You’ve come out of the darkness, there is no more having to think that it’s going to be blown away by your breath. This is no longer an illusion. This is truth.”
The invitation came at a time when I was doubting everything I was doing and resenting the travel blog.
It became too hard and too serious and I was losing control.
We were in Karijini National Park, away from the computer and the internet, and I decided I was going to quit. I was going to contact Rupert Murdoch and see if he wanted to buy our travel blog for zillion’s of dollars and then I’d just hike through beautiful gorges for the rest of my life instead.
As soon as we arrived back in internet land, the email notifications started pinging faster than a winning Las Vegas slot machine.
When someone you’ve never heard from before asks you to fill in your social security numbers (yes we do have those) and other personal details in a blank spreadsheet and send it back you say “yeah sure, here ya go.”
So we thought the email was a scam, and Craig decided to respond in a cheeky manner.
(Oops, great start, calling out the White House to be scam artists, although we didn’t say those words exactly)
Two days later we’d heard from someone else and dug a little deeper and figured out it was for REAL. I felt a surging within me.
Excitement, awe, humility, opportunity, blue horizons, grace and gratitude.
I read the email as to the purpose of the White House trip:
On December 9th, 2014, the White House will host the 100 most influential travel bloggers and digital media outlets to discuss the Administration’s focus on the benefits of cross-cultural educational and cultural exchange and boosting international student mobility. Consistently at the forefront of trends in the industry, travel bloggers and digital media outlets continue to develop innovative ways to communicate experiences with millennials and young leaders. By familiarizing a group of peer influencers with programs and initiatives designed to increase student mobility internationally, our goal is to increase awareness among young people and encourage their participation in educational, cultural and professional exchanges.
I felt such euphoric release.
I’m so glad the US Administration is having this discussion as it’s what I’ve been preaching for so long: get people to travel more and change the world.
And embracing travel as an experience through professional and cultural exchange is what we did for over ten years. Promoting the working holiday experience is our absolute passion.
OMG and we’re influential enough in this space to be invited to the White House to talk with leaders about this? Whoa. Earth moving moment.
It hit me.
The reason I started this travel blog in the first place, it was never about me. It was about helping others to travel because I believe in the power of travel to positively transform lives.
I know it can break down barriers, remove fear and hatred, and empower people to live their joy. Travel blogging seemed like a more powerful and easier thing to do then march down streets holding peace signs and shouting profanities.
Change from within.
The place where all change starts.
Perhaps with this email the Universe was trying to give me a message:
Don’t quit. You’re doing this because you have the position and the opportunity to help people change their lives. I want you to do this. Use this gift of service.
I was invited to the White House because what I do has an invaluable purpose. I can’t quit on it, I just need to take a new direction. I realised this was a first step. I’m not sure where to exactly, but I know there’s power behind it.
I cancelled the appointment with Murdoch. And the doors that had been closed to my ability to write and create came bursting opened.
I remembered why I’m doing this. I remembered how far I’ve come. I remembered I promised that I’d use the pain of my past for good. I promised I would no longer make it all about me. I promised I’d do what I could to help others feeling the same despair to know all is not helpless and that you can change your life from cockroach infested crap to visits to the White House.
I think it might be some time before I don’t feel a surreal thrill every time I say, “We’ve been invited to the White House.”
I texted my Mum. “Oh My” She wrote back. When I spoke to her later she said her and Dad thought we were talking about some white house in Perth and just being silly to trick them. “Oh wow.” Mum and Dad still don’t get what we do on this travel blog, but I think they’re starting to understand it’s something of purpose.
And then I told her what really kept me awake all night, “Mum, I don’t know what to wear!”
What does someone wear to a meeting at the White House. I’m not sure, but I’m being called to wear red.
We don’t own anything nice. We’ve been living out of the same clothes traveling around Oz for a year. And wearing flippers and snorkel masks for the past week. And we haven’t had hair cuts in months.
We’re going from the beaches of a Perth summer to the freezing cold of Washington DC. Is it snowing there now?
We need styling. We need makeovers. I’m not sure if Perth can help us out with some White House worth clothes, but let us know if you’ve got any Perth shopping tips!
In the first week of December, Craig and I will fly to Washington D.C. It looks like we’ll go Perth –> Sydney –> Dallas –> DC
We’ll drop off the girls in Sydney with our parents on the way.
It’s not just us, there will be 100 other travel influencers present – several of whom are our online friends we can meet for the first time. And to be honest, I really don’t think it’s going to be such a huge deal, but it’s something I’m called to do. I don’t ignore my callings.
I have no idea if Obama will be there, but I just hope I get the opportunity to say thank you.
We’re thinking of ducking over to NYC for a few days, because how can you not?
We’ll also be dropping into Raleigh for a few days – our old home and the place our heart still pines for (just not the cockroaches!).
For all our American friends, no matter your political affiliation, we know what an honour it is to be invited to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Politics and political leaders don’t hold the same reverence in Australia. We promise you, we feel the same honour and will arrive with the same respect and awe that you would.
We thank you for always embracing us into your home.