©2019 THE SMILE PROJECT

Taking the Exciting Chance

June 23, 2019

What do you do when someone offers you a life changing experience? Do you take the jump or stay with what’s comfortable?

 

I faced this decision at the end of April last year. Liz texted me, “I wish you could quit your job and join my road trip” on April 28. She apparently had only been half serious.

 

Fully serious, I responded, “Think we could get along for that long?” We joked about whether or not and then the conversation ended. I emailed her the next day to show my genuine interest in joining her for the trip. We would later find out we could, indeed, stand each other for that long— or at least as well as anyone could get along spending 56-days in close quarters and traveling. Liz was, and still is, one of my best friends. If I was going to make a cross-country trip, this was the person I could do it with.

 

We spent the next month planning out the route and logistics of the trip. And of course, I took time to make playlists of artists for each state we visited. Even though I’m sure no one is curious, the highest quality one was Georgia in my opinion. You’ve got the Athens bands like R.E.M., The B-52s, and Of Montreal (with bands like Neutral Milk Hotel dropping into the area for a spell), as well as the Atlanta rap and hip-hop scene with OutKast, Usher, and Killer Mike. And, of course, monumental figures like Little Richard, Ray Charles, and Otis Redding all hail from Georgia.

 

...Anyway, it’s been a year since Liz and I left on our journey and I can’t help but think about how incredible of an experience that was.

 

Travelling through the hillsides in West Virginia, into the heat of the south, across the stretches of land in west Texas, next to the ocean in California, up through the heavy forests of Oregon, along the mountains of Montana, into empty land in Wyoming, onward to the cornfields of Iowa, and back home. The nation showed us its beauty and we took it in as much as possible. The people we met along the route displayed their own beauty too.

 

The trip taught me a very important fact: kindness is everywhere and takes so many different shapes. I always think back to the above-and-beyond extent that so many of our Airbnb hosts treated us to. That took the form of celebrating the Fourth of July with their family in Mississippi, staying up for hours with a host in Eugene, Oregon talking about everything from grappling to trailblazing, and many, many other examples.

 

Each person we met with treated us graciously. Some introduced us to great kindness icons, like Dr. Chuck Wall in Bakersfield, California, some gave us a tour around their cities, like Liz’s cousins in Los Angeles, and another treated us with a home-cooked dinner with their family, as we had in North Carolina.

 

I wouldn’t have this opportunity without Liz and I owe her a lot. The road trip changed me. I used to get very pessimistic and cynical sometimes, and while I still do, there are always the memories of this trip to look back on and show me that the world isn’t as bleak as it sometimes seems.

 

I think that, no matter where you stand, it’s easy to get beaten down by the “if it bleeds, it leads” style news and 24-hour news cycle that seems to barrage viewers with the worst news stories over and over again. On bad days, that will lead me to losing the belief that people are trying their best to help each other and better the world. The road trip gave me a first-hand look at people putting good in the world. It showed me that people were willing to help.

 

I would probably still be brooding in my room if it weren’t for the road trip. And it all started because I stepped out of what was comfortable and took the opportunity given to me. I took a leap of faith. Faith in my best friend, faith in people, and faith in myself.

 

 

 

About the Author: Zack Shively is a writer and was the copilot for the Kindness Always Tour. He loves music and movies and he dreams of a day when he can catch up on his podcasts. Zack wants everyone to be happy.

 

 

 

 

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