Annette Birkmann – a road trip with a woman with no courage
10 years ago Annette Birkmann got out of an airplane in Buenos Aires the busy capital of Argentina. She had quit her job as a lawyer. Her marriage had ended and all her possessions sold. The coming year was about to take her through a breathtaking journey on a motorbike through South America. Still she did not look at herself as being brave.
I met Annette Birkmann on a warm summer’s day at a café in Copenhagen. Her book ‘The Road to Getting Yourself Out of the Way’ (in Danish: Rejsen til mig) just landed in the bookstores and the story about her road trip to South America has gotten a lot of attention.
Three Things at the Same Time
In her book she gives you her story about needing to do a radical change. She quit her job at the law firm, filed the divorce papers and sold her belongings. All of this to follow a lifelong dream of hers: To learn to speak Spanish, visit South America and drive a motor cycle. And she decided to do all three things at the same time
Learn to be patient. All things are difficult until they get easy.
All this happened ten years ago. She has been back in Denmark for a while and did actually not plan on writing a book about her South American adventure. However a publisher heard about her adventures and wanted to publish the story. And so Annette Birkmann sat down and started to write.
Things in life has its own pace and rhythm. I have learned that is does not follow the plans I have in my head. So instead of chasing them I take it easy and see what life brings to me.
I soon realize during my interview with Annette Birkmann this is the very essence of how she lives her life: She is not big on planning and she is not focusing on reaching a bucket list full of goals. She takes life and each day as it comes.
Life Always Gets its Way
On the gravel roads of South America Annette Birkmann realized everything in life works at its own pace. Life did not follow the plans she so carefully laid out in her mind. Very often it threw her a curve ball that forced her to change her direction completely. In the end she stopped chasing her plans and opened up to what life brought her.
This was not an easy lesson. In her book she describes how stubbornly she tried to hold on to her old ways of thinking and behaving but in the end she understood that her plans and life’s plans not always are the same.
And in the end Life always gets its way
Some Very Ugly Truths
There is more than one way to read this book. You can enjoy the excellent story about a young woman on a road trip all by herself through South America. But the book also offers the reader to dig a bit deeper. You can follow Annette Birkmann on a rugged journey facing her old believe systems, forcing herself to accept some ugly truths along the way.
The absolute honesty which she uses to tell her story is one of the strengths in the book. She gives you her story as it is including failures and mistakes; this makes her story valuable to anyone who picks up her book.
Learning to be Patient
Even though it has been ten years since Annette Birkmann headed out on her bike she still use what she learned during her road trip.
I ask her about this because we probably all recognize how easy it is to fall back into old patterns. We start doing the changes but after a few weeks or maybe even days we slowly drift back into the old ways. Habits are like cobweb that eventually turn out to be strong like wire. The more often we do things the harder it is to break a pattern. No matter if the pattern it is good or bad for us.
Annette Birkmann explains how she sees his: Even though it has been ten years I still hold on to the things I learned. Things are now less complicated because I am being true to who I am and I learned to be patient.
Habits are like cobweb at first but eventually they turn out to be strong like wire. The more often we do things the harder it is to break a pattern.
This was the Thing She Needed to Change
Looking back Annette Birkmann does not necessarily recommend others to do what she did (Quitting her job. Getting divorced and heading out on a road trip). She points out that it is just as well possible to find yourself just by taking small steps every day.
‘When I was in Buenos Aires I realized something very important; Even though I had made this radical shift in life I still carried with me the nagging feeling of something was wrong or missing. That was the moment I understood this feeling did not come from outside things – it was rooted deep inside myself.’
She could no longer blame her job, her ex-husband or old car for being the reason why she felt bad; the reason had to be found somewhere else. This feeling did not come from things from the outside. She needed to invest in her (she says as she points towards her heart). This is where the problem as well as the solution would be found.
The Easiest Thing to Do
‘We need to understand there is a state of peacefulness inside of us all. If we learn to find it and get away from the haunting feeling of always needing to get more money, get more things and so on then we reach a point where we can start to feel free and be happy.’
It is the easiest thing to do – which by the way also is the hardest thing to do; it is kind of silly that way.
According to Annette Birkmann we all have a set of values that we live by. However very often these values are not some we conscious have taken in. From the moment we are born and as we grow up we get different values from the people we are surrounded by: Parents, peers or from the town we live in.
All of it creates a set of values that affects the way we think and behave. It is like a filter in front of your eyes.
The Easiest Thing to Do
It is important to ask yourself if these are the values you actually want to live by or if it is time to get rid of the old ones and make your own.
This process is according to Annette Birkmann the easiest thing to do but at the same time it is also very difficult. But actually just to be aware of this filter and understand how it influences what you see – is most of the time enough to start the process.
Annette Birkmann gives an example ‘Why do we often experience the same situations over and over again? We meet new people in new places – and the same things happen to us.
Why do we often experience the same situations over and over again? We meet new people in new places – and the same things happen to us.
The explanation is that we use the same old filters, the same old ways of behaving and thinking. As long as we do not update or remove these filters things will keep on repeating itself.
The First Step
In her book Annette Birkmann writes that it is not necessary to go on a road trip to find the road to you. I ask her then what can we do if not take a radical move?
Annette Birkmann explains: There is not one answer to that. It is more important to look at from where your actions are taking place. Does your action come from something you want to run away from – then it does not matter what you do because these feelings might disappear for a while – but they will always float back up to the surface.
You can keep running away from this feeling by overeating, drinking, shopping; however the feeling only goes away for a short period of time. It always comes back.
The Monkey on Your Shoulder
When asked about being brave and having fear Annette Birkmann replies:
“We are often told to ask ourselves: What would I do if I was not afraid? The thing is we often know exactly what we would do. That is not the real issue here. The issue is that I am afraid. A better question would be: What would you do if you could not get rid of your fear? If you knew that whatever you did this fear will always be with you – then what would you do?
What would you do if you could not get rid of your fear?
Me – I decided that I might just as well just go ahead with my life and face the challenges because the fear I have will be there no matter what I do. If the monkey is on your shoulder then learn to live with it; don’t let it control you.”
The Happiness on the Inside
One of the reasons why Annette wrote her book is to tell us that we do not have be someone else than who we are and we cannot fix ourselves by reaching all these goals like losing weight, getting the promotion or earning more money.
“I often hear people say – when I meet the perfect man or woman then my life and everything changes. No! It is wonderful to find a great partner however that does not change things. It is nice to have love – but you cannot change the outer things to reach inner happiness. Do not go on a journey to find the happiness you already have inside.”
I Don’t Like Your Blue Hair
Adopting this way of life has given several benefits to Annette Birkmann. One is that she does not get frustrated anymore when standing in line, sitting in a traffic jam or when people are late for a meeting. She used to get frustrated all the time and believed when people were late it was a sign of lack of respect of her and her time. She does not think that way anymore. When people are late – they are just late. She gives it no value or meaning. She just picks up her book and reads for a while. “I remind myself that time does not pass. Time comes. We don’t lose time but we get one more moment all the time. Knowing that makes it easy for me to enjoy every moment and avoid frustration.”
Annette Birkmann talks to me about the importance to be aware of our own fears. “Many of us are so afraid of other people not respecting us. That other people think we have no value. However this fear is based upon our own self-doubt.”
I remind myself that time does not pass. Time comes. We don’t lose time but we get one more moment all the time.
She says a good testing is to change some of the words. If someone for example told you: I do not like your blue hair. Then this statement would mean nothing because I do not have blue hair. But if they said you are stupid or are 5kg overweight – you put much more importance into it.
“When you hear something that makes you feel bad about yourself; change the words that hurts you and you will see how unimportant it is to listen to others opinion about you.”
We are Both Brave and Not Brave
In line with how Annette Birkmann describes the way we listen too much to others opinion about whom we are; we also make up these stories about ourselves. Stories like we are not good enough, that we cannot ask for that raise or that we never get rich.
“Being brave is also just story that we tell our self. We are both brave and not brave. We can be both. It is just a state of mind. I do not always have to be brave. I can also be afraid. This gives me the freedom to just be.”
We think we are a character in the movie but we are not; we are more like the canvas. Feelings are reflected up on the canvas but they are not the canvass. Just as we are not our feelings.
She explains it like this: “We can describe our self, based on what we normally do and how we behave. But this is not who we really are. Imagine it is like going to the movies. The canvas that displays the movie is neutral. This canvas does not react to the story no matter what happens; it does not matter how many people are shot or houses blown up. The canvas remains still. We think we are a character in the movie but we are not; we are more like the canvas. Feelings are reflected up on the canvas but they are not the canvass. Just as we are not our feelings.
Finally I ask Annette Birkmann why she did not feel brave at that moment when she left Copenhagen and headed for a 53.000 km long road trip in South America. To most people this would take a lot of courage.
“I did not feel brave,” Annette Birkmann says and explains: “I had no choice but to do that journey. And since it felt like I did not have a choice then I also felt no fear. It was just something I had to do.”
You can read more about Annette Birkmann and her book here:
She is currently arranging workshops on dissolving conflict in co-operation with US attorney and mediator (certified from the New York Peace Institute), Henry Yampolsky
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