Lessons from the Road Out West

Katie O'Connell
Aug 8 · 5 min read

As far back as I can remember in my college career, I dreamt of tossing my cap on graduation day, landing my dream job at Airbnb, and hopping in some beat-up car to see all 50 states before I started in “the real world.”

I had affirmations along the way that this journey was meant to be. My Sophomore year I studied in Spain and my peers commented on how they wanted to ditch their life in the United States and trade it in for the slow, simple European way. It was a hot political time in the US but that wasn’t why they wanted out. They didn’t think there was all that much to see in the United States. I’d ask them, “well where have you been in the US?” They would say their hometown, college town, two or three vacation hot spots, maybe a couple of major cities, and a national park if they were lucky. I concluded they didn’t know the true diversity in landscape and culture in our country and neither did I. Before I traveled abroad again I wanted to know my country so when I told a foreigner I was from the States and they asked me “have you been to Yosemite or the Grand Canyon? New York of Los Angeles? “ I could say, “heck yes!” and share my story. I could truly be proud of where I was from.

Every time I shared this road trip dream with someone new I collected more notes on where to go and what to see. Then graduation rolled around and a piece to my master plan was missing, the dream job, in fact, any job at all. I got scared and was about to call it off. Then, sitting in my professor Doan’s office one day, I told him on a whim, “I’ve always wanted to do this road trip.” He asked what was stopping me and I pointed to my current unemployment to which he said, “all the more reason to go.” When else in my life would I have time to get out and go, no obligations to attend to?

So in a series of what felt like serendipitous events that seemed to manifest this trip into existence, my buddy Kahrin was on board for the adventure, we drew out a western route, bought a plane ticket to Seattle and rented a car. As two creatives in our own right, we figured we would do a project along the way to capture the journey and its lessons. We had just wrapped up creating Ode to JCU together, a collaborative exhibit that called on our peers to celebrate the people, places and moments that shaped their college experience. They wrote stories, poems, and shared quotes that encapsulated their JCU experiences and Kahrin snapped their picture in their favorite spots around campus, correlating with their written pieces. It was a success and we figured the idea to pause, recognize and celebrate something that speaks to an individual in their environment can be done far beyond John Carroll. So we took this idea of “ ODE “ on the road. We used ODE as the tool to tell our journey along the way, sharing stories, poems, and quotes paired with pictures of the things that resonated with us. We invited those we met along the way and those following along from home to reflect and create an ODE in their own space.

It was a journey in defining what ODE is all about. At first, it was a gratitude movement and then a call to the vibrancy of life, a sense of aliveness. As we gear up to go home and continue to discover ODE, it’s going to look less like it did these past 5 weeks, two people sharing stories on social media, and more like it did as ODE to JCU, a community creating and telling stories at in-person events.

We had big visions for what ODE could be but without a plan or clarity in our mission. We faced challenges because of that — working through creative differences and miscommunication. But we also found beauty — sharing the creative process with people we crossed passed with and our community of supporters from afar. Seeing them eager to adopt this ODE mindset, to pause, recognize and celebrate the once in a lifetime and the mundane moments with us was energizing.

We had a big idea for this trip, all the things we would see and do, but no real plan for that either. As a planner, that was a challenge for me but I learned maybe I don’t need a plan, just a strategy. There was beauty in this unknown tour as we relied on locals to show us the way to hidden gems and engaged in conversation with strangers that quickly became friends. That stuff you can’t plan for.

We couldn’t have planned to meet the man at Smith Rock outside Bend, Oregon whose words shared only in passing brought me clarity in the purpose of the trip.

“Travel, it proves the world is worth saving.”

When people ask me where I have been to in my country, I can now say I felt the mist of the Old Faithful and the shade of the tall and strong Red Woods; I’ve seen the sun sink into the Pacific and a rainbow glistening over the falls in Yosemite; I’ve seen art alive in New York City and seen true community thriving in Los Angeles. I have yet to check off all 50 states but in this tour of 8 out west, I became a prouder American and believe our country is worth saving. In a time of polarizing political views, we must look beyond the surface. I saw rich character preserved in small-town America, the magic of our National Parks, and people infusing energy and passion into their corner of the country. Our history, our land, and our humanity are worth saving.

As I make my way back to my childhood home, still on the job hunt and perusing the evolving concept of ODE, I have more clarity than ever in not only what I want to do but whom I am meant to be in the world. I would like to say I have a plan to save the world but I learned on this trip plans don’t serve me very well but strategy does. My strategy is rooted in the principals of ODE — to pause, recognize and celebrate my current environment. In practicing this mindset both near and far I have started to see the vibrancy of life and connect to humanity in a way I so desperately crave. In the weeks to come, I look forward to inviting you into this new chapter of ODE and sharing the next steps in my purposeful adventure.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

I am on a purposeful adventure and sharing stories along the way. Learn more about my experience and projects at www.ventureko.com

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