Not Every Wanderer is Lost: Confessions of a Dream Chaser
By Sharon K. Sobotta
On a cold, wet February afternoon just outside of San Francisco back in 2009, I handed my fate over to my google search engine.
It had been a tough year. I’d been working single-handedly in my department for several months because of a hiring freeze (during the national economic recession). I had lost a close friend. I had let my passport expire and I hadn’t left the country in well over a year.
I typed dance and July and impatiently starred at my slow moving computer screen waiting for results. (July was unpaid month off and dancing was one of my favorite hobbies.) I figured I should go somewhere I’d never been and try a dance type that I’d never tried. Within thirty seconds a Balinese dance program in the village of Ubud, Bali popped up. “Perfect!” I said out loud. Within a day I devised a full plan, I’d spend the bulk of my summer in Ubud and revisit two of my other favorite places—Malaysia and Japan, and I would come back to California feeling refreshed and clear headed.
A few months later, I was in Indonesia. With a warm, moist Balinese breeze gently blowing my hair toward my face, and cool, white, tile beneath my bare feet, I fumbled to figure out how to hold my body in birdlike postures, when to shift my weight and how to move my eyes in a particular manner. This made my favorite dance forms—Bhangra, which was all about bent knees and rapidly moving shoulders, and hula, which was all about the hips, posture and the knees— seem elementary. It became a full summer of pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Just as I struggled to find my new rhythm on the dance floor, I jumped straight into my first international radio story, which happened to be the Indonesian election of 2009, for Free Speech Radio News. (I had taken up radio only months earlier and been accustomed to producing my stories from the comfort of a studio.) I pushed myself to produce stories on my modest laptop and send them back, because somehow it would have seemed wrong to be in the world’s third largest democracy during an election and not report on it. I learned to hold onto the shirttails of a village mother named Arga as she drove me on her motorbike to voting polling station, so I could interview locals; and to the hotel receptionists Putu and Wayan when they’d take me to the one all-night internet café to produce my stories. I learned that my body was not invincible when, after a full night of reporting on top of a full day of dancing without sleeping, I became physically ill. But, most importantly, I found my rhythm that summer. After Indonesia, I made a brief stop in Malaysia before traveling back to the place where my globetrotting began—Japan. It felt like a familiar homecoming of sorts. I first found myself in Japan as a seventeen year old who’d received a Kikkoman soysauce scholarship, then as a twenty year old college student, then as a twenty three year old journalist, and every few years after that, as a speech giver for my Japanese friends’ weddings. This time I was here to volunteer in the village of Yamagata, at the school where my best friend, Nami, taught.
It wasn’t until a full year later that I devised a practical application for the new and exciting life experiences I added to my belt that summer. On a warm June afternoon, I came home from work just in time to turn on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The show immediately went to commercial break and I was pretty sure that Oprah was speaking to me.
“Do you have what it takes?” Oprah asked her viewers. “Upload a three minute video, describing your show and your concept and you could have your own show on my new network.”
I accepted the challenge and began immediately. (I had always been a huge Oprah fan and had, as a child, aspired to become Oprah.) I would weave together the fantastic stories I collected around the world—most heavily in Asia—and pitch a show called ‘Off the Beaten Path.’ The premise of my show would be to make voices that aren’t always heard audible, to make faces and to make places that aren’t always at the forefront, visible. I decided not only to upload my show, but also to show up at the in person auditions. I knew my odds of winning were slim, but I knew I had to try. By the time my adventure of chasing my childhood dream was over with, I had traveled down memory lane while reviewing the audio and video footage I collected over the past year in my community, in Bali, Japan and Malaysia. I found myself in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Roswell, Georgia, New York City, Wisconsin and Minneapolis within the span of weeks with a very low remaining balance in my bank account.
How does the story end? Let’s just say that both the world and my life look slightly clearer now. Overtime, those who travel the world learn that no matter how far we go in search of an escape from our own lives, we can never get away from ourselves. We learn instead to embrace travel as a time to seek clarity and find ourselves. In that same vain, those who never chase their dreams out of fear of rejection, looking silly or not succeeding, never do succeed at reaching them. However, those who shamelessly accept the challenge risk chasing their dream around the country and across the globe only realize that they’re already living their dream.
Sharon K. Sobotta is an educator, a journalist, and a world traveler. She serves as the Director of the Women’s Resource Center at Saint Mary’s College of California, where she strives to inspire women and men to work toward a world that is equitable, inclusive and violence free. Sharon reports for Pacifica Radio and other news outlets, where she continually works to make sure that voices of people from all walks of life are heard. Today Sharon resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her significant other, Hector, and their daughter Esperanza. Sharon is available to do book talks and conduct workshops on topics such as: how to be an effective and inclusive activist and ally, how to overcome unhealthy relationship patterns, and finding and living your purpose. www.confessionsofadreamchaser.com