These days, my internal gauge of what’s “normal” or everyday is no longer…well, normal. I’m in a foreign place, where everything is fascinating and new and wonderful and seen through my rose-colored American tourist lens. As a result, I tend to reach for meaning in anything and everything, for better or worse.

For example, I’m in Japan during cherry blossom (or sakura in Japanese) season now. I’d see falling sakura petals or just a bunch of them on the ground, and I’d think about the fragility of life juxtaposed against the beauty of nature; and how life is like those pink petals: so beautiful and admired by many. Once fallen and lying on the ground, it’s going to be stepped on, or worse, forgotten and its existence ignored.

Yup. All that just from tiny pink petals. Seriously, it gets all Willy Wonka-ish up in my noggin’…and I swear I am completely sober.

It’s not all cray, though, because one of those brain vomits helped me come to a conclusion about significant moments I’m gonna call whooshes.

Whooshes are those transformative life moments and decisions that slowly shape you personally or professionally (or both!), but you don’t easily notice them because the things that somehow lead up to whooshes are actually very ordinary and unimpressive.

Let’s take a weight loss goal, for example. I’ve always said that taking your healthy habits one day at a time, patiently, and consistently is ultimately what matters.

Unfortunately, healthy habits are boring. Skipping out on Wing Wednesday night so you can wake up with your dignity doesn’t seem sexy (at the time). It doesn’t help that the process can be so turtle-like and make you feel as if your efforts are constantly in vain. But stick with it long enough and– whoosh!–the scale, mirror, or your improved energy and well-being affirm that what you’ve been doing was right all along.

I suspect it’s because when we hope for something or work toward goals, we often have lofty ideals about what the end product might look like based on what we’ve watched in movies, read in books, or seen on Facebook. The in-between stuff? That’s often less interesting. And I don’t know about you, but I expect these things–big or small–to be presented to me in super obvious ways to let me know I’ve reached an imaginary finish line, or that something rad happened. Like having nonstop Michael Bay explosions going off in the background.

Sitting here on this train now that’s headed to an area north of Tokyo, I’ve learned that there are no Michael Bay explosions (thankfully?) or anyone popping out of a corner with jazz hands, announcing that you’ve grown or you’ve changed or you’re a winner!

Like I said, the path to whooshes isn’t totally obvious and more often than not, we don’t know it’s not, yet we still expect it to be and then lose sight when the whoosh isn’t happening fast enough. And that’s what I’m getting at. We’ll inch toward longer term goals in the tiniest and most subtle ways. We’re not quite sure if it’s even the “right thing” to do, or if anything is happening at all until one day–whoosh!–you take a step back and notice something has changed in dramatic ways.

It wasn’t magic. The corollary is that whooshes don’t automatically happen. You still have to take constant action and make decisions that get you somewhere. What’s more, sometimes when you’re working toward a specific goal, you can get myopic and even miss the whooshes happening in other areas of your life.

This relates to an experience of mine from just a couple months ago. I got really down because I felt I hadn’t accomplished much since my professional life had taken on this nomadic, entrepreneurial form. Make no mistake, I fucking love what I do. I was damn grateful then to say that I had very stable clients/gigs, and I sure as hell am damn grateful now to say the same.

Things is, before I boarded the plane in Los Angeles bound for my new life seven months ago, I had a different idea of what “success” looked like. At the time, it was only a vague idea: maybe a CEO of some startup; maybe a Japanese husband named Gundam; or maybe the final answer to life. Clearly, it was a grand vision, and I thought I was ready to work for it. Deep down inside though, alongside the Chipotle I ate an hour earlier, I was probably just hoping for that Michael Bay explosion to indicate I was doing the right thing with my career.

And with that, I became obsessed with the idea that my only measure of progress and growth would be something big and crazy happening in my business. Maybe a FitnGeeky kozie or Stephanie Lee statue or something (kidding…maybe). I’ve talked about some of the initial challenges I faced from building my business and traveling, and even now, I’m still finding my most productive groove.

In the process, my YouTube stuff fell off, which I thought was a “failure” on my part. My FOMO made me agonize over the long hours I often spent hunched over my laptop when a new country, new adventures, and new experiences awaited.

I didn’t realize it then, but after reflecting on it now, the time I freed up with cutting down YouTube and spending a lot of time initially allowed me to blog a bit more (follow my Travel stuff here!) and also pursue fantastic opportunities to further my own skill set with very smart folks (sorry for the vagueness, but you can get an idea of whom I work with here).  Whooshes! 

Then, I grew in ways I never planned for or expected. This nomad life set up afforded me many whooshes in my personal life. In Hong Kong, I got to spend a lot of time with my once estranged siblings and family in ways I wouldn’t have been able to if I’d just visited for a week or two. It all seemed so insignificant and innocent at first: eating dinner together, buying bakery bread to share, and being a nice daughter and taking my mom to Singapore. Months later–whoosh!–I’ve leveled up my personal life. I’m far closer to my family than I ever have been in my entire life.

Ordinary moments, like sharing a beer with my mom even though she never drinks, playing with my three-year-old niece, talking more with my sister when she was down, and realizing the things I can slowly work and improve on, led to amazing whooshes that I almost ignored and overlooked due to my tunnel vision.

Whooshes.

They’ll happen unexpectedly, and they’re easy to miss.

I’ve learned that the moments leading up to whooshes will never be obvious, like a neatly wrapped pretty package and tied with a big, bright red bow. But sure enough, many of them will somehow lead to whooshes. Keep working, and they’ll happen gradually in bits and pieces and in such subtle, unassuming ways. At the same time, don’t bother trying to figure out what will lead to whooshes because it’s kind of like trying to follow your own stream of piss in a category 5 hurricane: stop to blink and you’ll never see it again.

So, maybe don’t blink…and definitely don’t try to pee in a hurricane.

–Stephanie