What NOT Working on My Trip to Italy Taught Me

October 10, 2017

Before we left to go to the airport, I told Michael I was nervous about not working.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to not work. That while looking at Botticelli, all I’d be thinking about was how I needed to find better service so I could respond to a client email. That instead of talking about work with Michael 3 hours a day, I’d be talking about it 14 hours a day and inflicting it on our travel companions too.

To cope? I buried myself in a book, determined to learn more about Florence and the famous dome. It worked so much better than I even expected.

Instead of telling Michael all of my great ideas, I was telling him about all of Brunelleschi’s great ideas. And then when that book was over, all of Brené Brown’s great ideas. And in between those, talking about which gelato flavors to get, which museum we should see next, what hike we should do next, or what kind of cheese I really wanted at our next dinner.

I didn’t even take my laptop out of my bag except at airport security.

So, here’s what I did learn that I don’t think I could’ve learned if I would’ve had work on my mind all the time:

1. Phenomenal art happens in communities. Let’s build one.

We planned our time in Florence down to the last few minutes before we caught our train to Cinque Terre. That meant I constantly had ripped-out pages of our guidebook in my hand as we walked through cobble-stoned streets following the sounds of the church bells to the Duomo. That meant we walked through piazzas with gelato in our hands looking for where Lucy Honeychurch fainted. That meant we powered through our jet lag while marching up the steps to get the best view of the city and then zoned out between taking selfies.

I know, I know. It’s not how the mindful-type travelers say to do it. But I had this insane drive that I wanted to see everything that I had ever studied in art class and I realized more than before that pretty much any Renaissance unit from school was based 99% around this city. As I read about and admired and studied each piece I saw, the more I was reminded that the groundbreaking work here was only possible because it was a whole brilliant community (with lots of great sponsors who offered lots of competitions and money). Everyone had come from another person’s workshop. They were using the ideas that other people had had. They had access to people with great feedback. People who got it.

Then I thought about other communities who had had bursts of talent and brilliance. The Romantics up in the Lake District. The transcendentalists in New England.

It made me realize that the best thing we can do to create the best work we can is by contributing in a community together.

And I realized how important the community I’m trying to build is. How grateful I am that you’re here. How I need to step up so we can create more amazing things than would otherwise be possible.

2. Communities need to be in person and not only through a screen.

On our last night in Florence, we sat on the little rooftop balcony and looked over all of the other rooftops and churches. With our travel companions, we peeled oranges and ate them and laughed about what our crazy families do and resisted the urge to drop things off the roof and watch gravity do its job and talked about finding our roles in our families and building businesses that could serve women who want to change the world.

I just finished Brené Brown’s new book (a must-read) and she talked about something I’ve been reluctant to say because so much of what I do for work relies on screens. But I’ve known it’s true all along. She says that without face-to-face interaction, our health and well-being declines. She says we’re a social species and we need to be around each other or we will literally die faster. (I know.)

So I am determined even more than ever to create a time and a place for us to meet for real and learn and love and take action and serve each other.

3. Large abodes (and small, for that matter) are for sharing.

When we left the villa at La Foce gardens, one of my companions said,

“Sheesh, I thought when we decided to visit a garden we’d just be seeing a beautiful garden. I didn’t expect I’d be changed…like…forever.”

I nodded with my eyes wide open because I felt the same.

The thing is, I always get a nagging feeling when I’m around old mansions or manors or castles or palaces or anything like that. Because usually oppressive things happened. I don’t want to piggyback off of those when I create. Even if I could create the best princess fantasy you could possibly dream of, I feel like it’s based off of so many things that are too painful.

But as we climbed deeper and deeper into the garden, and our guide talked about how the Marchesa in the 1920s had requested that the walkway be covered in wysteria and other vining plants so they could accompany her as she walked to her child’s grave, and then she talked about how the Marchesa had built a school for all of the farmers’ children on their land and had a car go and pick them up so they wouldn’t miss it, my heart started to soften. And then it almost broke when we learned that the family took in 60 refugee children during the second world war. I imagined all of them running through the hedgerows in the gardens. And it was so clear to me that that is the right way to use an abode. 

I’m still learning how to do that, but I have great examples, like this Marchesa.

And while we’re here, I want you to know that I’m ready to open my world to you how I can. I want you to be here. I want you to stay when you need to. I want to help you find joy, stability, freedom. I want you to find what you need in your journey. And I want you to know how grateful I am that you are part of mine.

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