Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. As a consultant, she coaches writers and photographers to help bring their projects to life and ensure their work is seen by a wider audience. She lives in Banff, Alberta, with her husband, Paul Zizka, and their two daughters.
In her most recent book, Lights to Guide Me Home, Meghan takes us on a trip around the world while chronicling her transitions through some of life’s major milestones. From Costa Rica to Nepal, Rapa Nui to Malta, Meghan explores what it means to carve out her own identity amidst family expectations, her responsibilities as a parent to young children, and her marriage to an ambitious travel and landscape photographer. Whom will she discover beneath these entanglements?
“I swear, every time I think I figured something out, I think what I learned the most is that I don’t have it figured out. And I think it’s also very healthy to get comfortable with uncertainty, because the reality of our world is it’s very uncertain. And we have constant curveballs coming our way. And to live in the opposite, to try to stay close to comfort and try to stay close to routine, for me, I think just can set people up for some serious disappointments, even trauma, because life is calling us to be resilient and flexible. And I think all of these journeys off the beaten track, have ultimately showed me that this is really where real life is played out is in that uncertainty.”– Meghan Ward
- The decision to have kids as an adventurer
- How Nepal is life-changing
- Planning time with your partner
- International travel with small children
- Defining courage
- Expectations as boundaries
- Keeping hope high, expectations low
Sonya Looney: Meghan, welcome to the show.
Meghan Ward: Thanks, Sonya.
Sonya: Typically, you’re the one on the other side writing out interview questions for people.
Meghan: That’s correct.
Sonya: What’s it like being on the other side, although we’ve only been going for a few seconds?
Meghan: I’ve done a couple of interviews this month. And so it has been interesting being on the other side of the equation. I’ve actually really appreciated it and appreciated what I am normally putting people through when I’m interviewing them.
Sonya: Yeah, I think about that a lot because sometimes I too am on the other side of the microphone. And I wanted to ask you, because you’ve interviewed a lot of people through your different writings, what makes a good interview question?
Meghan: A good interview question is one that you leave open ended for one thing. I’ve discovered that sometimes people have a tendency to ask, answer, ask. And so it’s really helpful when you’re being interviewed, if you’re asked to really clear direct question. It makes it a lot easier to answer. And I think thinking in sequences of questions is helpful. So rather than trying to pack three questions into one, you just purposely break it down into various questions that you can follow up with.
Sonya: That’s good advice for anybody who is listening who’s a writer or a podcast hopeful. So I want to just ask you to start how many countries have you been to?
Meghan: I’m not sure I’ve ever counted it. And it’s not as much as other people that I…I follow various accounts and writers and sub people, you know, 80 plus countries, or maybe even all of them. I would wager a guess that it’s about 15 to 20. Though some places I’ve visited has been like visiting several countries at once. So when you go to French Polynesia, and you bounce island to island, you might go to eight or 10 different islands, and you feel like you’ve been to 10 different places.
Sonya: A lot of people have a spirit for adventure. And they think about I wish I could go to this place or this place is on my bucket list, but they never actually execute on it for a number of reasons. When did you find your spirit for adventure? And how did you make that first leap?
Meghan: That’s a great question to reflect on. I have to give my husband, Paul, a lot of credit for really pulling out that adventurous spirit in me and also showing me how to do that. And it all starts with an idea. And then just breaking that down into some logical steps of what do I need to do to make this happen. And so I think I was a bit of an apprehensive adventure. And now I feel like I’m not quite equal with him, because he’s got a very adventurous spirit, but now I can look at something I want to do and instead of feeling overwhelmed, I just break it down into the steps I need to take in order to figure out how we do that, where we go. And a lot of this has been learned through experience and making some poor choices over the years. And I find it helpful to just make sure I take note of those things as they happen, all those mishaps because the next time I can make it better.
Sonya: And in some ways those mishaps are what create a fun story.
Meghan: For sure, there’s some great stories in this book about mishaps.
Sonya: You talked about a lot of different adventures and a lot of the different places that you’ve been, just as we asked as we’re interviewing now, which one is standing out most in your mind?
Meghan: I always have to go back to Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as the place that just absolutely blew my mind. Some people know Easter Island from the giant carved heads that sometimes even make like jokes on birthday cards. But if you just Google heads of Easter Island, you’ll instantly recognize what I’m talking about. But what I didn’t know about it was just how beautiful the actual landscape is. And its the world’s most remote inhabited island I think, or a close second. And when you get there, you definitely have this out of world feeling about it. And you’ve got these ancient human made structures mixed with this epic landscape. And having the chance to take my children there made it just extra special.
Sonya: And I’m adding that as a place that I want to go.
Meghan: Requires some long flights.
Sonya: Yes, yeah, I haven’t done the really long flights yet, which I will be picking your brain about shortly. Conversation Starter that I have with people is I like to just ask friends, or even my husband, sometimes if you could have a plane ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go? And why? And I know that that changes over time, but with what you just said, it sounds like you really like almost like mysterious places. But as it stands now, where would you go and why?
Meghan: This moment, I would be buying a luxury vacation with all of the pampering you can imagine that may or may not include my children. So yes, you’re right, it does change over time. Because right now I just truly need a vacation, which I consider to be very different from a trip or an adventure. But if I had to split that question up and say, where would I take a trip to? I have not yet had the chance to go to the African continent. And I think that that would be a place I’d really like to see somewhere. I mean, it’s so geographically and ethnically diverse. I don’t even know where I’d begin. But I just like to explore that part of the world and meet those people.
Sonya: Thanks for saying that right now you I would just like a luxury vacation because I need any time for myself. And I think I read on your Instagram just today that you posted. You’ve been solo parenting for that, would you say two and a half out of the last four months?
Meghan: Yeah, it’s been a really long haul. Yeah, I posted that today because I find that whenever I do speak from the heart the conversations that come out of it tell me that others are feeling the same way. They just don’t have the voice or the platform to talk about it. And then they feel a little bit less alone in their individual struggles. So I posted today about how today is literally the last day of this huge stretch of solo parenting time. My husband travels for work. He’s a photographer, and he leads these photography workshops all over the world. And I just really have found myself feeling extremely burnt out. And it’s interesting how I’ve made it to the finish line, but that’s not really helping me right now. Right now I just need to really tap into myself and acknowledge how I’m feeling. And so right before this podcast recording, I went for a walk. Because as much as I had to do, I knew I needed to settle my mind and my body a little bit. Yeah, so that’s where I’m at right now.
Sonya: Yeah, and the reason I’m asking is because parental burnout is a real thing. And I don’t think a lot of people talk about it, because they feel bad for talking about it or, you know, whatever the reason, but I think it’s very common. It’s something that I am sort of on my own journey with that as well. And it’s good to hear that one of the things that you do to ground yourself, it doesn’t fix the problem, but it helps ground you in the moment is, going outside.
Meghan: Yeah, and it kind of does fix the problem sometimes. Because sometimes the problem is me feeling overwhelmed by even the small things in life, and then you get some perspective and you realize, okay, I really didn’t need to be worried about that just now. And I also do some of my best creative thinking and problem solving while I’m walking.
Sonya: Yeah, there’s actually a fair bit of research to back that up, that going outside for a walk gives you the most advantage for creativity. And they even compared it to…or I can’t remember the exact study, it was something about comparing it to walking on a treadmill inside to being outside just makes everything better. But I wanted to ask you so the first part of your book is about really cool stories around the world of these adventures that you’ve had and really inspiring to read and some of these places I’m sure people haven’t even heard of before. And then you said, you went on this trip to Nepal. And I want to hear more about that, but you said that that was the end of an era. And when I read that, it just, I got chills, I kind of felt myself get emotional because I have very little kids and had this life kind of similar to yours of adventure traveling all around the world. And then things changed, whenever I had kids. So I think a lot of people can relate with this whether it was traveling or some other thing that they did that they more or less defined themselves by. You go on these things, and then you have kids, and then things things don’t get worse, but things just change. So I’m going to come back to that in a minute. But I want to start with going to Nepal because that’s somewhere I’ve been to and I can really relate on this level to so tell me about why Nepal was such a different experience and such a life changing experience for you.
Meghan: Nepal is as far as I’ve been from home, by way of culture. So in that regard, I felt even further away from home, even though I think I’ve been to some destinations that are physically further away. Nepal was just such a magical experience, I think, because I went with four other friends, one of which included my husband, I should say. And we went treking for about nine weeks through the Mustang region, and apparent Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Khumbu, Gokyo, and just all over. And I think the reason why it was such an incredible experience is because it was truly the end of an era for me. And I didn’t know that at the time, but I was able to take over two months off from work, without any real consequence. I had no real responsibilities. I’ve done a bunch of contract work right before I left, so I even had a friend depositing checks in my bank account while I was gone. I was kind of being paid to be out hiking in a way. And things did change shortly after we got home from that trip, in that I discovered that I was pregnant in the year after. And so I think part of it is my mind has compartmentalized Nepal as this experience that would kind of be the closing of a chapter of my life. While I was in it, I didn’t know that and I was living so freely, and spent a lot of time while I was there reflecting on life at home. And then on top of that Nepal is just such a spectacular place. People are so friendly, the smells, the sounds, everything is extremely overwhelming. And then you have the Himalayas. So I think that’s why it was just such a pinnacle of an experience in my life.
Sonya: It sounds like the being free part, you mentioned like, oh, I felt free there. And I was able to reflect back on my life that was also very impactful for you.
Meghan: Absolutely, you spend a lot of time just putting one foot in front of the other when you’re trekking. And I had a lot of conversations along the way as well. But I was with the same people for nine weeks. So at some point, everybody goes into their own world and you’re just walking, you’re walking alongside each other, you’re in your own thoughts. I had music playing a lot of the time. And we kind of just had this code amongst ourselves. It was okay not to be in conversation while we were walking. And it was just a chance for me to look at the life that I’d created with my husband. We were fairly newly married, but we’d been dating for many years. And it was really a chance for me to see what we’d created for ourselves that we had created this life of creativity and we were self employed, we had pretty much the ultimate freedom as adults. And I think I was actually able to really appreciate that while I was on the trail.
Sonya: I think this is such an important lesson because a lot of us are so busy doing, myself included, that we rarely stop to reflect on all the things that we are doing and who we are because of those in the life that we have because of those those things that we are doing. But pausing is hard. And you weren’t even pausing, you were in motion, but you were you took yourself out of your typical I guess situation so that you had that space.
Meghan: Yeah, and walking can be very meditative especially when you get into the flow. And I know that you know the flow from the sports that you do as well. It’s like a completely other state of mind. You’re right, since then I find I don’t take enough time to reflect, truly reflect, and celebrate as well, celebrating the milestones. I have gone back to journaling in recent years, which has given me a chance to do some of that reflecting. Or choosing to go for a walk without listening to something, I’ll fall into my own thoughts and reflections. But it’s something that I think we need to carve out more time for.
Sonya: Something you said is we had the ultimate freedom. We created this life for ourselves. And then you had the end of an era having your first child. Can you talk about that experience? Number one, what made you decide that you wanted children? Start there.
Meghan: Yeah, so I should tell a little story about Nepal, which was when I got home from Nepal, I wasn’t feeling very well. And I started going down the Dr. Google hole of symptoms. And literally, it said, either you have a parasite, or you’re pregnant with these symptoms. I remember thinking, I was more ready to have a parasite than a baby. And sure enough, it ended up being a bit of a false alarm. I think it was mostly my body was so out of whack from all this physical activity, that I was just very late. But that was what triggered a conversation with my husband, in that, we just started reflecting on the fact that maybe we were more ready than we thought. And neither of us were 100% sure we wanted kids. And I certainly didn’t feel like a born mother, ready to take that on. I still don’t feel in a way like I am equipped to be a mother most of the time. And when we finally decided to do that, it was because we took the opportunity, this is about six months later, we took the opportunity and thought, is this something we’ll regret in 10-15 years, or when we’re older, we don’t have children? Is this a decision that we might regret? And of course, we can’t really know these things, but not having children, I’ve described it as like the sliding door kind of concept that when you have kids, you walk through that into that space, and you can’t ever go back. But you then at least have this comparative experience. Whereas those who don’t walk through that door, can’t walk through that door, won’t get that comparison. And so we were looking at this from our future selves, and ultimately decided we didn’t want to be too attached to our lifestyles, to the point where it would be so hard to integrate a child into that so sooner would be better than later. And we were very fortunate, but it also was very surprising that things happened straight away when we started trying. And suddenly, we were just thrown full throttle into this life of parenthood mixing with adventure, and it was not easy.
Sonya: And I think it’s interesting how you decided to have kids, because that’s exactly how my husband and I decided is we weren’t 100% sure, and then we thought, well, are all looking down the road, are we gonna regret not doing it? And we said, yeah, we’ll regret it. But we’re still not 100% sure, but we’ll know that the regret is a 100%. So we just acted off of that. So something you said in your book, you said people say parenting is an adventure in and of itself. But is that really true? How do you make it work without giving up everything you love? So how do you make it work without giving up everything you love?
Meghan: I think one way of doing that is to reframe adventure in that, especially when you add kids to the mix, you actually amplify the adventure. And it’s something that our culture doesn’t really accept in a lot of ways, because they just see a bunch of kids eating granola bars on rocks in the back country, but they’re not actually able unless you are taking your kids into the back country, you’re not able to really see how much of an adventure just that is in on his own. So it’s reframing what adventure can mean, even when it feels a little bit lame. I don’t know, I don’t know a really great way to describe that other than to feel like I’ve lived it. Another is to keep those passions burning for sure. And I actually ratcheted back a lot on some of my adventures. When I had kids my risk tolerance went way down. And I adjusted accordingly. And now my idea of an adventure is more of a backcountry multi-day trip where you know, there might be some physical challenges or obstacles to overcome, and certainly are the trips that we done with our kids has revolved around a lot of problem solving and adventures and kind of on the spot decision making. But I have really had to work with my partner to carve out time for myself, and he has had to do the same thing. And so one thing we do is sit down every month and just figure out when we’re going to go out together, when we’re each going to get out. We allocate, especially in the summer time, will allocate, okay, there’s your slot for a backcountry trip, which usually will involve three to five days. Then there’s your slot. And last year, we had the chance to also go abroad separately. So he went to Ecuador and I went to Mexico. And we have to really work together to make these things happen.
Sonya: And how old are your kids now?
Meghan: They are nine and four.
Sonya: As I’m listening to this, again, I’m sure that as I’m listening, the listeners are also relating in the same way that I am. Initially, you and Paul did everything together. And then after you have kids, you have to divide up your time and essentially take turns and then have adventures that are planned with the family. How have you guys worked through that, I don’t know the right word for it, it’s not necessarily a hurdle, but it’s kind of sad not to do stuff with your partner anymore. So how do you guys work through that?
Meghan: I think that we’ve learned to appreciate the times that we do get. There aren’t as many of them. We don’t have any family where we live. So all the help is either flown here or paid for. And so I know a lot of mountain people can relate to that as well. Or people in these communities who live far from family. I take advantage of the times that especially one of our mothers will come and Paul and I will book some time away together. And sometimes that looks like just a night at a lodge or a hotel. And sometimes it’s into the backcountry. We’ve also learned to really readjust how we spend time together. And it’s more realistic for us to do day trips. And so the last few years we’ve taken one day a week when we’re both physically in the same country and we’ll go hiking or snowshoeing. We generally have to keep it simple because we have to fit this in between dropping kids off at daycare or school and pickup. But we’ve managed to do some really cool things over the years together. And while they’re not epic, and they’re not multi day, they’re they’re really memorable and really special. And I think it’s when you can stop focusing on what you can’t do and focus on these things you can do together that ultimately makes the difference.
Sonya: That sounds like the planning and prioritization of the time that you spend with and without your kids is a really great tool.
Meghan: Yeah, it’s something that I haven’t been able to tap into for a while, because I’ve just been through several weeks and months of solo time. And so I’m aware of how much I’m missing it as well. I’m excited to get back into that routine, because you’re right, it’s really about being intentional with our time and structuring it. And that also helps us to say no to things because Fridays are off limits, because we’re going to be out hiking, or can we switch that to another day if something important comes up?
Sonya: Yeah, and I’m sure with also opportunities that come your way, you want to be able to spend time with your family, you also want to be able to do all of these other things. And then there’s always new things, fortunately that come in, but having to choose what you say yes to and what you say no to becomes even more important.
Meghan: It really does. And this week, it’s down to the absolute essentials for me. I have to acknowledge when I’m in that mode where I am on the essentials, and everything else can wait or it’ll just fade away. Yeah, it’s a constant juggling act.
Sonya: I’m honored that one of one hour of your time is one of those essential things this week.
Meghan: No, I’m very happy to be here.
Sonya: So your first big trip you took with your daughter, Maya, is that how you pronounce her name, was to New Zealand. Right? And she was 11 months old. So can you tell us about the decision to take that trip and the funny thing is my husband and I are like, should we go to New Zealand for our first international trip? And then I read that that was what you did. So how did you decide to go there? And then how do you go across…that’s a long flight. It’s like a 15 to 20 hour plus travel day. So how do you do all of those things whenever you have an 11 month old?
Meghan: international travel with small children or babies is not for the faint of heart. But it’s also if you can cope with lack of sleep, and some tough days, it certainly helps if you’ve traveled before. If you, yourself, three children have traveled before, you definitely already have a few tools in your toolkit. But I remember when we were planning that trip, when I was actually only about four months pregnant, and we were hiking here in Banff National Park and just throwing ideas out there. And I’d been reading some articles about people who traveled with their kids. And I think I might have found some of the wrong sources for me, because they all made it look ridiculously easy. And they had miracle babies or something. Because it kind of set me up for some experiences I didn’t really expect to have for myself. But I remember we were tossing ideas around where we could go and I decided that I would feel more comfortable traveling somewhere with a similar culture and the English language. I wasn’t sure in all of my sleeplessness, if I would be able to tackle a different language at that time, and deal with the extra hurdles of traveling in a country that had just such different cultural things. And so we landed on New Zealand, but we completely overlooked the time change challenges that that would present to us. And so yeah, it was about a 15 hour flight from Vancouver. And my daughter just nursed on and off the whole time on that plane. And I didn’t sleep, but I managed to keep her settled and quiet. And then when we landed, we had another flight to Christchurch, and then we had a drive to our first stop. And I have reflected on that choice a lot. And there’s nothing we could have done because it was our first time traveling that far with a child, but we were just shattered by the time we got there. And fortunately, we had four days in our first spot so we could start to adapt, but I mentioned the other articles I’d read and parents who take in their children abroad or their babies. And yeah, I think I just didn’t get lucky on the resources I’d been reading before I left. I expected my daughter to be much more adoptable. And I was just in this dream world. We’d never even co slept in, I didn’t even bring a pack and play or anything for her to sleep in. I just wanted to believe that she would adapt, and it would be hard, but she would adapt. And she was already a little bit of a tough baby for us, not just being first time parents, but also looking back, I realize that that we did have some struggles with her that other friends weren’t having. But we really had a rough time traveling and New Zealand was amazing, but we definitely bit off a little bit more than we could chew. We ended up doing over 2000 kilometers driving over the course of a month. And that was before spending a week on the island of Niue and then spending a month in Polynesia. So that trip, when you read it in the book, it was a steep learning curve. It had it sweet moments, but it ultimately helped us to determine how we were going to travel in the future.
Sonya: So what are some takeaways for parents looking to travel internationally that you wish you had known, in spite of those articles that you read that weren’t helpful?
Meghan: For one, I think every child is different. And so we were going against the grain of our own child with our planning. And it’s best to actually create a trip that suits your child more than suits you. And then you’ll also be able to enjoy it. That’s one thing. That also comes down to, for us, it meant staying in places longer. And so our next trip after that when we went to Belize, and we stayed in the same place for three weeks. And we actually enjoyed ourselves. We were on a tiny island that whole time and we got a little bit stir crazy. But we enjoyed ourselves and we felt somewhat relaxed, and we were able to take our turns and just create some memories together in a different place. And so spending enough time in the same place can be helpful to have a child adapt. It takes a couple of days. Without a time change about three days, and with a time change about an a day per hour of time change. So I’d say just plan on spending enough time where you’re going so that after those days of adapting and time, time changing, of jetlag, you can enjoy it more, and make the most of it. But otherwise, it’s all positive. That was our biggest mistake. The rest is it’s like any other thing, that new thing that you would do with your kid, it involves a lot of experimenting and creative problem solving, and all of those things, but just to be ready for the adventure that it will be, and not to overreact too much to all the small things that happen along the way.
Sonya: Yeah, like coming back to what you said at the beginning, it’s about reframing your adventure, because without kids adventure does look differently than it does with kids. And how you structure your time changes whenever you’re having an adventure with your kids, because they have things that they need that might change how you plan your time.
Meghan: you really have to take into account their basic needs. And it’s like parenting 101. But it’s amazing how much you can overlook. And it’s even now I’ll even go when I’m looking at Airbnb, say, I will go on Google Maps and look, where’s the grocery store? Where’s the closest playground? Where can they run around? It’s not even about the sightseeing or anything. It’s like wherever we’re going to be staying, what do I have access to? What can I add to my toolkit? And that helps me make my choices.
Sonya: Yeah, and I’m sure that that changes as kids get older too, as their needs change.
Meghan: Yeah, it definitely becomes less and less of a consideration, because you’re able to just occupy them with whatever’s right in front of them. But even with my older child, we’re very aware that we can push her a great deal. But sometimes we just need to let her zone out with a book or the iPad, just take your book, go into a corner, and just let her kind of shut out the world a little bit, because traveling involves a lot of stimulation.
Sonya: Yeah, and you mentioned, now you have two kids, which you talk about that in the book. And as I just had my second child, and going from one to two children is a bit more challenging than I was expecting. So can you talk about well, first of all, whenever you found out, you’re pregnant with the second, and then how your traveling has changed, if at all with two.
Meghan: The decision to have a second child was very much like the first time and our kids are five years apart for a reason. Our first years as parents just destroyed us. And I felt constantly burnt out. And naturally, I was trying to do way too much with a kid in my life, who has a lot of needs. And naturally cut child has needs, right. So I just overlooked just how much of myself that would require to raise that child and keep all the plates spinning. And so, because of our lifestyles and my husband’s travel schedule, it took us a long time to decide to have a second child, but it was a very similar conversation. I remember we had a very quick crossover between trips and I was like, we need to talk about this. We need to do the deed in this window, if this is gonna happen. Like it was it was down to this week, because of our schedules. And it was very much the same thought process of are we going to regret not having that sibling for our child or not having another child and ultimately, I knew that this was my chance. And so it was interesting how the two scenarios were very similar and neither of them was like an oops at all. It was completely planned. My youngest Leah was a lot easier going as a baby, just a lot more adaptable. And so right away, we were able to do more. And she went on her first backcountry camping trip and she was two months old, or we took her, it’s not like she went alone. She came to Rapanui with us when she was I don’t know nine months old. And she has been to Ireland and Malta and a few Hawaiian Islands and we recently did a three week road trip through the Balkans with the whole family. And so, we’ve actually been able to do more not because we’re more experienced, but because she just had that personality that allowed us to do those things. And traveling, therefore, has just become more expensive. And so, now we’re paying for her plane ticket, and requires us to actually get a little bit more space when we’re traveling. And so we have some financial things to figure it out. But it’s been such a joy, the things that we’ve been able to do. COVID obviously threw a wrench in things for a little while there. But even last year, we traveled quite a lot. And we were just so grateful to be able to do that with both kids.
Sonya: Yeah, sounds like for people who want to have adventures with their kids, it’s from what you’re saying, it’s pay attention to the temperament and the needs of your specific kid, because, as you said, it can be very different. And what the kid can can manage is very different. But also number two, having the courage to do it, to just say, we’re just going to sign up for this thing, or that we’re gonna buy this plane ticket, everything’s not gonna go to plan, it’s going to be an adventure, we’re going to figure it out as we go. And the more we do, the more we can do.
Meghan: Yes, that’s really true. And it’s really just about reaching out and grabbing the experience that you want for yourself. And there’s always so many reasons not to do it. It’s a lot of work. It’s traveling with kids is, like I said, it’s not a vacation. It’s work. It’s an incredible experience juxtaposed with constant packing of snacks and layers and figuring out and safety stuff, too. Some of these countries, you have to really be careful in certain places. But for us, it’s just always been been worth it. Aside from that very first trip that we just came home, just completely exhausted from, it’s always been worth it. And it really does mean just you’ve have to make that decision and follow through.
Sonya: Yeah, that’s something that my family, we’ve experienced a little bit. And it’s interesting how you make the decision, you do something, it feels hard in the moment, but then it creates sort of a new tolerance for things later on. I flew by myself with a five month old and a two year old. And I was so intimidated to do that by myself. How am I going to do this? How am I going to manage all this? But then after I did that, and out and back at the airport, and all the things it made it seem a lot easier to just load everybody up and go to the park. Whereas before, that seemed like a really hard thing to do. So you build this tolerance by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone repeatedly too.
Meghan: Yeah, it helps you realize what you’re capable of. And it’s like anything in life, you just have to just break it down into steps. And if I have to think about, some of these massive travel days we’ve done that require you okay, a flight Calgary, London, London, Albania, that we’re going to drive to North Macedonia, like it is way too much. And this is exactly what we did in April. It’s just like a 24 hour day. And so it’s like step one, get out the door and get to the airport. Step two, get through security and get to the gate. And it’s literally my mind can only focus on the next thing. And I really compare it even to my mountaineering days. You cannot think about the entirety of the journey. You are going one kilometer at a time or one challenge at a time. And it is the only way through it.
Sonya: You said in your book, how you react to the challenges will determine your experience.
Meghan: Pretty much.
Sonya: And in the synopsis of your book, there was something about you said you’re exploring your identity amidst family expectations. So what expectations were you having to rally against to define or redefine your identity?
Meghan: Hmm. So when I put that on the back in the synopsis, there’s a thread in the book about the community that I grew up in, and the man that I ended up marrying. So it’s it’s largely relating to that thread. It required a lot of courage for me to be in a relationship with someone outside of the religious belief system that I grew up with. And I chose to make it more of a sub thread of the book because it’s not the full story. But it’s one of many examples in which, in the book, I explore what it means to journey off the beaten track. And when you grow up in a more conservative Christian household, you have a lot of things that are dictated for your future. And I also like to say that I was also responsible for swallowing those whole. You know, I grew up in this culture, but I didn’t ever question that until I was in my teens. And so that’s largely what that particular part is talking about is just I don’t think anybody was really concerned about me going on these adventures and climbing mountains and things like that. It definitely came down to more of the family expectations around what my relational life would look like.
Sonya: Courage is a theme, like it’s come up a lot in the podcast, and as a theme in the book. How do you define courage? If someone asked you what does courage mean to you?
Meghan: Yeah, this is a tough one. For a wordsmith to not know a definition. Courage, for me, I think is doing what I know is right, despite the challenges that that might bring upon me. I think that’s how I would answer it.
Sonya: As a follow up question, how do you know what’s right? Because I think a lot of people don’t know what’s right for them, because there’s so much noise.
Meghan: I think I am a person who lives with like a deep instinct. And I’m a sensitive person who is very in tune with how I feel in any given scenario. And I consider that to be such a gift. And so I don’t know how to answer this question for other people. I just know that when there’s something that I want, it’s like, I cannot ignore it. I just know; I know that it’s something that I want, or need. And so I have truly lived my life as an adult, just one, kind of doing the next right thing, as they say, the next right thing for myself. And for many years, I think it’s because I remember what it was like to do that constantly thinking about others, and so not doing what was right for me, because I was a people pleaser, and I was always thinking about other people. And so I think I have this direct contrast that helps me know, ultimately, what’s right for me, because I’m no longer ignoring it.
Sonya: And now that this book is out in the world, what do you hope people get from it? I know that that’s a really big question.
Meghan: The book’s journey is ultimately one of a woman who goes from being that good girl, to a woman who no longer abandons herself. And so I hope that what people will get out of the book is just the courage and the inspiration to create a life that’s meaningful to them. And sometimes that just requires just really letting go of expectations that either you have for yourself or that others have for you, and just reaching out and grabbing the things you want for yourself. And that’s not easy to do. But ultimately, for me, that’s what’s brought the most kind of harmony between like my inner and outer worlds.
Sonya: Expectations is something that I think about a lot because it can be inner or outer expectations. And then we might know that those are expectations, we might feel the friction of either being inauthentic to ourselves by trying to meet those or by just having too high of expectations. So how do you set appropriate expectations for yourself now?
Meghan: I think I’ve reframed those to be more about setting boundaries, that I actually try not to set any expectations anymore. I keep my expectations very low. And I have a friend who once said to me, hopes high expectations low and that’s become a little bit of a mantra for me. It helps me live really optimistically. And yet, realistically. And so I think now it’s more about setting boundaries for myself. And lately that looks like me scrolling through my phone at messages and then just deciding, you know what, I’m not even the person needs to handle that. Someone else can handle that or that’s someone else’s job. Setting boundaries with my children. I’m at an age with my eldest right now where I’ve, especially on these weeks of solo parenting, I’ve had to set very clear boundaries around where I’m going to put my energy and where I cannot where I’m tapped out, I got nothing left. And so I think it’s less about expectations and more about actually knowing where the limits are.
Sonya: I really like what you said that keep keep the hope high expectations low. There was somebody else who has been a guest on the show, and he says he wants to keep his gratefulness higher than his expectations whenever he’s going after something. So it’s kind of a similar vein, gratefulness and optimism or hope are not the same things, But I think that’s a really powerful lesson that you just gave, and that’s something I’m learning too. And it’s like, you have all of these things that you want to get done, and I’ve done my fair share of some solo parenting with these little ones, and you think you’re gonna be able to get a certain number of things done or anything done in the day, or that you’re going to feel a certain way, or that you’re going to plan to go somewhere, and that requires flexibility to change plans. And I think that that could be something really challenging for people when they have kids is to have that flexibility, especially whenever before you had complete autonomy over your life.
Meghan: Yeah, and it’s also letting go of the identity that’s associated with getting things done. I’ve kind of accepted that, one, people actually don’t notice or care that I’m not accomplishing as much as I used to, or you know, that I can’t keep my act together anymore all the time. I actually have a post it note that sits on my pegboard in front of me that says “no hard things after 5pm” for a reason, it’s like, my capacity is so limited. And especially when you’re solo parenting you’re lucky if you can get maybe one thing done on your list. So it’s also just expecting less of our, without using the word expecting, but it is expecting less of ourselves and giving ourselves the grace to say like this is this is already above and beyond what any human should be asked to do. And so just have some kindness towards yourself in those moments.
Sonya: This is before I had kids, but I wrote down something to expand upon for myself, which I haven’t done yet, but it was overcoming the tyranny of expectations.
Meghan: That’s a really good one. Yeah, I think that’s just a big piece of the motherhood puzzle, or the parenthood puzzle is just, we live in a culture that, in our modern times, so much more is expected than ever before. And, blame Pinterest or whoever you want, I think that, especially as mothers we’re just asked to play so many roles all the way to 100%. And then make the cake look perfect, and do these things with our kids and the pressure is enormous. And this is actually a relatively new concept and I’ve done some reading about it because sometimes when you’re in it, you don’t even know it. But we’re just in parenting hyperdrive in this day and age. And I like to be a little bit countercultural about that, where I can. For instance, I don’t sign my kids up for activities. We do very little outside of just school and just being home. Part of that is me taking into account my own energy. But it’s also just seeing the impact that that has on my kids and constantly being and doing. And it’s not that we wouldn’t sign them up for something they were really interested in. And we do climbing gym classes, and my daughter does piano lessons, but it’s just being intentional about doing less.
Sonya: I can relate with you on this one as well. And sometimes I feel kind of bad because it seems like my friends have their kids doing all of these different activities. And I just don’t see how they can do it and still stay sane, or even to, allow that time for their kids to just have nothing to do with just hey, like go pretend that whatever is a leaf blower or like imaginative play.
Meghan: Yeah, the comparison can be a killer. And I’ve learned this one the hard way, for sure. Nothing ever is, as it seems either. And so I think you just have to really focus on doing what’s right for you. Sonya: Sounds like you’ve had all these adventures all over the world, you’ve had lots of time to come into who you want to be, you’ve had to make big decisions in your life. And you’ve been lots of places with uncertainty on tap, and that’s helped you inform what your instincts are now and how to navigate motherhood.
Meghan: Yeah, I think all of these experiences have added up to a series of tools, I guess, that I now can draw from. And so throughout the book, I use a series of navigational metaphors to tap into some very ancient knowledge around wayfinding and navigation, as a way of providing, like a visual and a metaphor about what it means to navigate off the beaten track and how to find our way. And there isn’t one way of doing these things. It’s drawing from these different wells and piecing together a toolkit that works for us. And it’s a constant learning curve. I swear, every time I think I figured something out, I think what I learned the most is that I don’t have it figured out. And I think it’s also very healthy to get comfortable with uncertainty, because the reality of our world is it’s very uncertain. And we have constant curveballs coming our way. And to live in the opposite, to try to stay close to comfort and try to stay close to routine, for me, I think just can set people up for some serious disappointments, even trauma, because life is calling us to be resilient and flexible. And I think all of these journeys off the beaten track, have ultimately showed me that this is really where real life is played out is in that uncertainty. I think the pandemic has shown us that as well, with more people feeling like their whole lives just went off the rails. We have a lot of healing to do in our culture and in our world. And part of that is is learning to deal with uncertainty.
Sonya: Well, thanks so much for coming on the show and sharing very openly about a lot of things that are on our minds a lot of the time. Where can people find your book and more about you?
Meghan: A great hub for for all the things is my website at Meghanjoyward.com. That’s Meghan with an H and Instagram at MeghanJWard. It’s largely where I post all my news and updates.
Sonya: Cool. Thanks so much for coming on the show.