Musings: Living Life like a Hummingbird
Aim to be interesting, not perfect.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the future, and I found that in thinking about the future, I had to reflect on my past, the nature of my being and why I do the things I do; which brings me to this brilliant quote by the author, Elizabeth Gilbert.
It goes like this:
“The world is divided into two kinds of people: there are the jackhammers and there are the hummingbirds.
Jackhammers are people like me. You know, you put a passion in our hands and we’re just like (insert drilling sound effect) and we don’t look up and we don’t veer and we’re just like focused on that ‘til the end of time’. …
Hummingbirds spend their lives doing it very differently. They move from tree to tree from flower to flower…trying this, trying that. And two things happen. They create incredibly rich, complex lives for themselves. And they also end up cross-pollinating the world.
...Because you bring an idea from here to over here where you learn something else and you weave it in and then you take it here to the next thing you do so that your perspective ends up keeping the entire culture aerated and mixed up and open to the new and fresh.”
In case you were wondering my friend, I am a hummingbird.
Hitting Rock Bottom
In 2018, I was laid off twice. TWICE. I’d always known the risks of working at start-ups, but I never imagined being laid off twice in one year. Despite both times being due to mass lay-offs, I started to blame myself. Sometimes our minds have these terrible habits of tormenting us.
Naturally, I felt defeated. My self-esteem was rock bottom and I found myself in a dark emotional pit wondering how the hell I’d claw my way out. I realize now that I was also burned out from working so hard, so fast, for so long - only to be laid off at the end of it.
That’s why I decided to step away from the tech industry and do something else - anything else. Even working at a coffee shop. Except I didn’t have any plan.
An Unexpected Source of Inspiration
With no job and no income, and with my savings quickly evaporating, I needed some cash. But I didn’t want to go back to the tech industry. I was adamant about stepping away for a year. So I worked at my sister’s physio clinic, which specializes in traumatic brain injuries.
That’s where I made friends with a man who survived his car falling off a hill - rendering him comatose, then in paralysis, before he eventually relearned to walk and speak again. Despite his life being infinitely times worse, somehow every time he walked into the clinic his determination and zest for life made the room shine ten times brighter. His light was blinding.
I met a woman who got stuck in her car at a railroad crossing. She tried desperately — and in vain — to release herself from her seatbelt. Helpless, all she could do was watch as the train sped towards her and crash into her. How she survived remains the world’s greatest mystery to me. Seeing her each week at the clinic — hopeless and numb — made me realize how precious life is and how it can be ripped from you in an instant.
I also made friends with people born with cerebral palsy, people who suffered strokes, and spinal cord injuries, and survivors of the most horrific accidents you can imagine. Somehow, for me, it came naturally to connect with them. I’d get so carried away talking (to those that could speak) about their lives and their old dreams that I’d forget to do my tasks. I couldn’t help it! I was fascinated by the miracles each of them experienced.
My days were spent helping them to sit again, relearning to move their arms, and crying with them as they took their first steps again. Those memories still make me cry today.
You see, what they all shared in common was how courageous THEY were in the face of crisis. I saw how they showed up day in and day out to live another day despite their new and permanent challenges; how little financial support they received from the government; how much of a burden they knew they were to their friends and family; and how quickly they became the loneliest people in the world. It breaks my heart to say this but often the highlight of their week was coming to physio.
Working at the clinic quickly put my miserable year into perspective. I’d seen true courage, I’d seen hopelessness, and I’d cried tears of joy. Sure, I was barely able to pay my rent because I took a massive pay cut in the name of emotional freedom, but I learned three valuable lessons:
I was reminded there is no better feeling in the world quite like helping someone else overcome a major challenge. I promise you, there isn’t.
I was reminded that, I, Ayelen Osorio, twice laid off, am actually good at something - I’m great at connecting with people.
But most of all, I was reminded that life was for living. Not in thirty years, after my career. But right now, and I was going to live every moment of it. Every interest, every passion, every moment of curiosity would be my fuel to rediscover myself. I wanted to live out my inner hummingbird!
Finding Peace & Courage In Pottery
I’ve wanted to learn pottery for a while, but during my busy career never made time for it. So in my spare time from working at the physio, I began taking pottery classes. The reason pottery appealed to me was that it was messy and forced you to move your body. I didn’t want to feel so pristine and proper and put together. It’s weird to say this, but I needed to feel closer to earth, to feel wild again.
I became obsessed. I practiced pottery until my wrists hurt, my back was sore, and my vision was blurry. I probably spent around 15-20 hours a week at the studio trying to nail the art of pottery — which is pretty much an impossible thing to do because the more you do the harder it gets. It’s a strange phenomenon.
Also, the thing about doing pottery is that you cannot fool the clay. When you’re “throwing” a vase, or a mug, or a plate; what is inside you comes out. I could’ve had a terrible day, walked into the studio faking a smile, fooling everyone (and almost myself) but once I started throwing, it’d all go to hell. I’d try to salvage the piece but it was futile. Sometimes I didn’t even know I had unresolved issues until my piece would come out terrible, showing me that I still had some internal work to do because as my pottery teacher used to say: “the clay never lies.”
Only when I’d give up, destroy my piece and restart again; only when my expectations were gone and I had nothing left in me to prove; only when I’d exhaled everything that was trapped in my body and let out every cuss word I knew in both Spanish and English; ONLY THEN did I create beautiful pieces that I still hold dear to my heart… pieces that are imperfect, raw and me.
Then, one day after pottery class, my Japanese pottery teacher asked me:
“You know, you light up the room when you walk in and people love you. Can you teach pottery classes with me?”
“Oh my goodness! NO! Thank YOU but I’m obviously not good enough.”
“That’s ok, I’ll teach you. I’ll set up an intensive training program so you get better. I will help you learn to teach.”
Feeling cornered with the support, I gave in to his generous offer because I tended to say yes a lot back then. Because I had the disease to please my whole damn life. But also because I do things in spite of my fear. Actually, I do things BECAUSE of the fear. I still have my dad’s voice in my head that says “sí se puede, Ayelen” (yes it can be done, Ayelen). Even though he’s no longer earth-side, I still hear him so loud and clear.
So yes, I gave in without thinking twice about how teaching pottery would fit into my LinkedIn page or what potential recruiters might say or how this would fit into my rapidly vanishing career path. It didn’t fit. At all. It was a detour with no purpose and no explanation.
Plus, I told myself, I didn’t have a career. I had a fucking life.
I accepted the invitation and I looovveedddd every minute of this intensive training program for pottery. When I’d come home, my clothes were a mess. I had clay in my hair. My eyes glistened with the joy of nirvana. I felt raw. I felt whole and belonging. I felt renewed when I was connected to clay… and very much sore.
But eventually, all good things must come to an end. When my first official student came to take a class from me I was so nervous I wanted to vomit. I’m not even kidding. I felt sick from the nerves and thought:
“Why the hell do you do this to yourself, Ayelen?! Stop challenging yourself so much! Just get through this and if it flops, never come back again… It’s ok. There’s a bottle of wine waiting for you at home in case you need to drown in it later.”
Three hours later, when I finished teaching my first class, I was BUZZING. My friend, I was HIGH AS A KITE. I couldn’t stop talking and laughing and oozing with excitement about being alive. This was the biggest thrill I’d felt in a while. I felt so proud of myself for having taught my first pottery class!
And did I drink the wine when I got home? Yes, yes, I did. Not because I’d failed, but because I’d soared.
I could not believe just a few months ago I was sitting in front of a computer, swamped in meetings and calls and unforgiving deadlines and crying from being laid off again. Now I was teaching pottery — AND getting tips for teaching! Who knew teachers got tips? Not me. Soon after, pottery became the highlight of my week.
You see, pottery changed me because art has a way of changing us. Creativity can often be the light that guides us to our own healing because there is no right and wrong, because there is no roadmap, because there is no “faking it til’ you make it.” There is just surrendering and trying and creating. There is just being. Art meets you there — at your being.
During pottery, I re-learned three more valuable lessons.
I was reminded that life is really full of surprises… when you let yourself be surprised.
I quickly learned there was no hack when it came to creating art — or healing yourself. You did not get to negotiate any of those two things. Pottery became my meditation.
I was reminded that we live too much in our heads. When my brain was off, I felt peace. Instead, we should devote time to feeling the world with our hands and exploring the world through our bodies. Sometimes moving our bodies have ways of teaching us what our minds and hearts need to learn.
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Reconnecting with Wildlife & Nature
The final adventure of my hummingbird year would not just be reconnecting my hands with the clay of the earth, but reconnecting me to nature itself.
My mother is an Indigenous woman whose heart belongs to animals. A woman who rescued, nurtured and adopted wild cats, dogs, chickens, a goat and a tucan in her younger years. Had my mother had an education and money to study anything, she would’ve become a vet. She loves animals more than anyone else I know and she made sure to impart in me that same love and respect for all animals.
Now that I was taking a year to live out my inner hummingbird, it was a great time to learn about wildlife and conservation — and what better place to learn that than right here in British Columbia (BC), Canada, right?
After some searching, I was fortunate enough to find an opportunity to work at the Grizzly Bear Foundation. There, I learned about grizzly bears and how gentle they are despite being painted as killing machines. How we’re taking up more and more of their land to the point where they have nowhere else to go but to come closer to us (only for us to kill them for having trespassed “our” land).
I also met the vet who rescued and placed two orphan grizzly bears, Coola and Grinder, on Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, Canada (see image below). Coola is the more serious, calm one and Grinder is the more playful one. One time, they found Grinder sliding (multiple times) down a small hill on a FOOD TRAY. He was playing… or snowboarding!! SO ADORABLE.
Photo credit: Grouse Mountain
I learned that grizzly bears play a critical role in maintaining the beautiful forests we have in BC. They eat berries, helping to spread seeds across the forests. They also catch salmon from the rivers and oceans. Sometimes, they will eat the whole salmon. Other times, they will take a bite off the salmon, leaving the rest of the salmon on the ground, which eventually decomposes and nourishes the gorgeous and rare forests we have.
If you get rid of grizzly bears you get rid of our forests and the million other species that live in them, and the beautiful landscape we have in Canada.
However, caring for our grizzly bears also means caring for our salmon (their food source). We were experiencing a salmon shortage in Canada because of fishing pressures, climate change and habitat degradation. We started to see emaciated grizzly bears (see image below). Desperate to save the grizzlies, the First Nations people (Indigenous people of Canada) asked Canadians to reduce their consumption of salmon so that the population could restore itself.
Source: Rolf Hicker Photography
I also read the letters from vets, activists and scientists urging the government to ban the hunt for grizzly bears in Canada. I met First Nations people trying to come up with a way to do sustainable ecotourism of grizzly bears. And I got to help plan a fundraiser to fund scientists studying grizzly bears in the field. I learned more about the natural world than in any documentary or book out there.
With this incredible experience, I learned two more valuable lessons:
Grizzly bears are the stewards of our lands in Canada. We must do everything in our power to protect them because if you take the grizzly bear away, you take the forests, and millions of animals too.
I was reminded that as much as we like to consume and produce, those “things” are not real wealth. Real wealth is land, it’s wildlife, it’s nature, it’s fresh air. It’s our ecosystem. If we don’t protect our natural world, our life as we know it collapses. If you care about the future, then you must absolutely care about the freedom of the natural world.
A Remarkable Year
In hindsight, 2019 was a remarkable year. I learned to listen to my intuition, the value of following my curiosity and the importance of betting on myself. I learned to protect that at all costs and to not allow the world to corner me into one career/life path.
Instead of letting the days pull me down after being laid off, I let them raise me up. I let myself flutter from one idea to another, from one tree to another, until I was creating an “incredibly rich, complex [life] for [myself] and also cross-pollinating the world” as I hope this piece is now doing. All these experiences and lessons will live with me for the rest of my life.
One day I hope to be 80 years old, wearing hiking boots or a dress with red lipstick, sitting at the dinner table with my children and grandchildren, telling them about the time I was a product manager for an agency that created digital products but then I got laid off. After that, I worked in physio, I became a pottery teacher, and I worked to protect grizzly bears.
I’ll let them in on a secret too: that was the year I finally believed in my own dream - I wanted to be a writer. In December of 2019, I promised myself I would find a way to make it happen. Soon enough I’d have a newsletter called “The Misfit”, which was my love letter to the people of this world. It would be a reminder to them to protect their freedom, their values and to have a say in the decisions that govern their lives.
And when they ask me why I chose to do all this, I will say that sometimes we don’t need reason or permission to live life on our terms. Wanting to do it our way is reason enough.
Finally, I will remind them — with a glass of wine in hand — that it’s ok to flit from one passion to the next, to channel every ounce of curiosity, to shake things up and break free from expectations. It’s even ok to feel lost and to need a break. And in fact, when we’re at the end of our lives, we may just realize those were the moments we cherished the most.
Con mucho cariño (with a lot of affection),
— Ayelen xx
Feel free to share your experiences with me by replying to this email or in the comments section. Please don’t be shy - I would love to hear from you! I think I would benefit from it greatly too. And if you liked this piece, please consider sharing it with your friends!
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