Almost Forty

I realised today when it happened. Ageing that is. It happened when I finally started living a life that made me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who appears to coast through life in a state of ease and joy. I’ve had more than my share of hard times as have most of us. But now, acknowledging the times that have come before makes me more grateful for today that I think I have ever been in the days leading up to today.

What strikes me most clearly is that as soon as I got genuinely happy and stopped being what other people wanted (or what I thought other people wanted) everything started to move as though on fast forward. The days, adventures, laughs, even tears sped up with an enthusiasm that would make roller coasters look like the lazy river.


Equally notable, is the snail’s pace that the hard times seemed to take, even in my memories. I’m amazed by how absorbed I was with how other people perceived me and how I wanted them to perceive me in my twenties. It seemed to last forever. It certainly felt like a millennium of repeated bad days.

The gaps between should be and perceived by cost me hours (weeks and months in some cases) of trauma that not only moved slowly, they seemed to trap me in neutral. Even when I reflect on them the scars still seem fresh. Normal, I suppose, but when contrasted with the laughs that happened just yesterday already fading away, it seems cruel.

That is the thing about the good times, they fly quickly and without the internet reminding us of fun moments we had back when we can easily forget they existed. Strangely, the moments of turbulence seem etched in my memory in a high definition familiarity I wish I had with today’s breakfast.

So that is what I am going to talk about. Questing for good times every damn day. I know that my life is flying past and that each second is fleeting and precious. Time is not on my side (Sorry Mick) and soon enough my almost forty will become one of the things in my not so recent history so I better get started.

Why today?

I asked myself this too. One answer is that I have the confidence to put my words in the universe because I don’t care if you like them. The alternate is that I am old enough to have experiences worth sharing to those who follow in my footsteps.

Both are bullshit.

Maybe you are asking why you decided to give moments of your precious time for this garbage. My ego tells me that you did because this tome is only going to be read by people who know me and most never made it far enough into this post to see these words.

That being said, if you are someone who gave money to travel the internet and somehow arrived here for my words: Thank you. Send me your postal address and I will mail you a card saying something clever about how you help me to be myself. I will probably need to write it out a few times, edit, and rewrite before I feel good enough to tell you such things, but that is the power of the voices in our heads.

In the fourth grade I wanted to be a writer, but… I soon realised that writers don’t often make a great living and so decided to go a different way.

Fuck You pragmatic ten-year old self.2017-09-24 08.24.24

Sidebar: I think I was actually 6 in this photo and the fat lip is courtesy of my older sister and the teeter-totter.

Seriously. Growing up in a world where struggling to make ends meet and “broke” stole a dream and traded it for self sufficiency is just plain old shitty. For the record: we need to do more to support the working poor.

Well here is the thing about being a grown up: You can change your mind if you want to so that is what I have done. I am now self-sufficient, I have gathered up some confidence in my words, and today I am going to share them even if it doesn’t make me rich, because satisfaction cannot be purchased at any price.

Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing-Benjamin Franklin

In the last couple of years I was inspired to start writing in a way I have always secretly hoped to. My friend Anna makes me feel good about the ideas in my head and the words I assemble onto uhm paper? Digital documents? Whatever. You get the idea. She said nice stuff, I gained confidence, I wrote more stuff. Now you are reading said type of stuff.

Why we face complicated ideas such as what and who we should be so early in life and follow that decision made in the midst of hormone fuelled chaos for decades is beyond me. Shouldn’t we be happy? Shouldn’t success be defined with experiences instead of things you can buy at a store?

So hey there ten-year old Erin, better late than never right?

Onto things of more value: My next steps

When I was young I used to think that I knew the path I was supposed to take. I was supposed to find a good guy, get a job that pays the bills, buy a house, live the life. Happily. Ever. After.

I did those things. I hated my life.

My entire existence was muscle memory the way you continue to read the instructions on a bottle of shampoo as you go through the motions in the shower each morning. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

That is decidedly not living.

Birthdays have been something that I have spent most of my life ignoring and just let them slip by. I don’t know exactly when, but at some point in my late teens I decided that they shouldn’t be such a big deal and that making yourself the centre of attention just brought on criticism.

Since then both the big and little numbers have skated quietly by for almost two decades.

20 came and went to an unhealthy relationship and what I remember being a pretty massive fight. I recall coming up on 30 and after a friend made an absolute spectacle of their big day all I could think was how I didn’t want to be like that. Because of him that milestone went all but unmarked with a partner who forgot.

When I turned 30 I made the decision to redefine what I wanted my life to look like. What I wanted it to look like was not the life I had spent time building. It wasn’t a collection of pretty things or looking the part. It was experiences. It was people I loved that made me laugh so hard tears stream down my face. It was adventures and unexpected items around corners I got to explore because I was busy living life.

It was certainly not life on autopilot.

That being said, 35 was sucked into the vacuum of days at the start of my MBA and a new job, though there was a particularly fantastic meal at Jacob’s …..mmmm steak.

That’s what makes this year important to me to mark in some way. I’ve decided that it is not about the particular day, but rather how you fill the ones that aren’t as discernible. I am now a distance that can be counted in hours away from my next milestone and am doing everything I can to relish the moments that are passing in memorable ways. I’ve spent the last few months working to capture mental pictures of flashes that make up who I am today and who I am yet to be.

To start this next batch of ~3600 days I thought I would reflect a little on the growth that got me through the last decade.

  1. Physically: I have challenged my body by training, running, hiking, and endurance cycling. Even better, I haven’t once died or failed to find the finish line.
  2. Mentally: Yup, all it takes is three post graduate efforts and a little collection of letters after my name in order to remind me that I am smart enough.
  3. Professionally: by having a chance to expand my skills across countries and continents with people from different cultures and experiences, I am a different and more balanced person.
  4. Emotionally: learning to overcome the voice in my head that said I couldn’t as well as through pushing my own limits to discover empathy and human capacity that had long since been tucked away.

This type of stretching matters because we naturally become comfortable doing what we know, with people we know. Committing your life to remaining flexible means more than just being able to touch your toes.

It means that you are willing to try, to fail, and sometimes to flounder in uncertainty while figuring it out as you go.

Today we are faced with ever lengthening life spans and I don’t want the next sixty plus years to look the same. I refuse to allow myself to get too comfortable.

My promises to myself and you.

More languages and more cultural explorations

The goal for now is German, French, and Te Reo (Māori), after that maybe Japanese and sign language… we will see. I can’t guarantee what is coming up around the next corners and am prepared to adapt my plans on the fly as I go.

More physical challenges

Despite what the voice in my head might say I am strong and capable. Our bodies are something that with care can last the hundred or so years I plan to be on the planet, so if I treat this almost forty year-old body well, it will continue to serve me for the rest of my time. A couple of weeks ago I climbed to the top of a volcano in Indonesia. A few weeks from now I will tramp Old Ghost Road in New Zealand. I haven’t made too many plans for 2018 yet, but I promise there will be time spent exploring both new and familiar mountains, forests, and beaches.

Erin Burrell Mt. Batur Bali
This is what you do to welcome 40

More letters

I love learning and my academic endeavors are far from over. I really do want to be a polymath.

More words

I abandoned writing in my teens and have rediscovered a passion for sharing my thoughts and ideas in both formal and informal forums. That is going to continue for sure, you don’t have to read them, but I know that I do have to write them.

More collaboration

It’s not a secret that I am not a big people person. However, I love the way working together can create amplification and multiplication of ideas as smart humans build from one another. The world is full of complex problems and to start solving them we need people with broadly different paradigms to tackle them together.

More failures and confusion

Failing and stumbling are critical parts of learning and growth. Confusion is simply our brain finding ways to connect knowledge we have with new ideas or things we are being exposed to. Instead of considering confusion as something that shows us as less than, consider it watching your brain creating new pathways between what it knows about and what it is discovering in real time. (You want to try it right now, don’t you? It’s ok. I will wait…).

Growth as a feminist and advocate for personhood

No, I am not being cheeky. This is not about one thing. Feminism provides a foundation for humanity. It sparks the flame of true equality for so much more than just gender. Our world is not binary and nor should policies be. People need to be kind to one another regardless of things as defined by hashtags as gender or sexual orientation and as complex as socio-economic status. We are now responsible for embracing the realisation that most of us are becoming citizens without a base as we begin to face life as a global community.

There is more on my list to be sure, but these are the road markers that will remind me that I am progressing when I feel insecure and less than. Goals are complicated things that should be written down and reviewed regularly. I keep a list of them with me and while many items stay until I can tick them off the list, others get removed as I evolve.

So.. that’s it. Happy almost birthday to me.

May we all spend our moments creating sparks for the fires that will warm us tomorrow.



My name is Erin and I am an ATHLETE

For the last few years I have been working on my image of myself.  It wasn’t until recently that I actually came to terms with the idea that I am an athlete.

Growing up I was not particularly sporty other than riding my bike everywhere as transportation until about the eighth grade.  I was never a dancer or a track star like my friends were and accepted the fact that I could be the smart one not the skinny fit one.  That badge of smart not sporty stayed with me until about a year or so ago when I realized I was more than just the label I had assigned myself at thirteen.

I went in for my annual doctor’s visit and she actually said that it was refreshing to deal with an athlete.  My health was good because I was so engaged in activities that support bone mass and heart health and keep my weight in a good zone.

I was concerned because the BMI scale had me as overweight despite having a roughly 20% body fat measurement. She brushed off my worry about my BMI because in her words “they don’t account for someone with as much muscle mass as you, BMI is not designed for serious competitors. Most of the Olympic team would show as overweight or obese because the scale is designed for averages.”

WAIT just a second!  She changed my label.

The word athlete was never my badge, and it felt wrong.  It didn’t fit me.  How could it fit me?

Over the next few days I started to work through my definition of what an athlete was.

Very active (4-6 times a week)-Check

Multi sport-Check

Dedicated to a life of fitness-Check

They have strong, muscular bodies-Check

They are constantly pushing themselves harder-Check

WHOA!  Hang on here…. That makes me one of THEM?


So the defense arguments kicked in.

They don’t have cellulite-yes they do

They don’t get tired and feel weak-yes they do

They don’t struggle to improve-yes they do

By my own definition I had become someone who doesn’t casually ride a bike or go for a run, I was committed to a lifestyle of activity.  My idea of a fun weekend was going out for eight to twelve hours of cycling with my friends who I could easily define as athletic superstars.

Then my world changed.

About two weeks ago I broke my leg and damaged the ligaments in my knee playing a sport I love and I realized my world was at risk.  I am in rehab and just now understand that instead of accepting an injury and going back to that sedentary life I have to train at recovery.

I have to commit to doing the exercises for healing at the same level and with the same dedication I would put forth of a century bike ride, running a marathon or achieving a 5:10 climb.

I am in training for an event right now.  That event is my everyday life, because I am an athlete.

Five Reasons You Need New Workout Wear

I know it seems like a dumb idea to spend big money on clothes that are merely for getting sweaty in.  Work out wear has come a long way over the last few years and investing once in a while is worth every penny.  Fabrics are loaded with technology making them more comfortable, flattering, and less smelly.  What I can never fully comprehend is the fact that I have watched people buy $200 dress shoes that they may wear ten times this year and yet refuse to replace the running shoes that they wear at least a few times a week.

Motivated by this and the sights I have seen in the gym and on the trail I have devised a list of why you need to buy new fitness apparel and no… it is not so you can have cooler stuff than your friends or to ensure that your tank and gelato match.

  1. It genuinely wears out:  Clothing that has fabrics like spandex and luon break down over time which causes them stop doing what they are designed to do.  This will show in the fact that those Lululemonpants that made your bum look awesome are now all rough and bumpy and your bum… well… it just looks like your bum again.  Even worse is the risk that at some point your threadbare bottom may peek out and say hello to your neighborhood.
  2. Your training is working:  There is nothing worse than being three kilometres into a ten kilometre run when your pants start to fall down(trust me on this one).  Making sure your clothes fit will help to ensure that you will have a great work out.  Oh… and ladies this is especially important when it comes to exercise bras, they do not offer compression when they are too big for you.  The other fact is that you aren’t seeing the results of your effort, wearing clothes that are the correct size will help you show off those legs you have been squatting for.
  3. You can’t keep up with the laundry:  Rule of thumb is that you need as many sets of apparel as work outs you will complete in a week.  Set yourself up for success so that you don’t have to be the guy that skips a training ride because all of your bib shorts are dirty and you haven’t had a chance to do laundry.
  4. It smells bad:  I don’t care if your clothes are made of Silver or Kryptonite.  There is a point in the life of a garment where no amount of washing will rid it of your historical workouts.
  5. It is going to hurt you:  Sports apparel like running shoes, or helmets have foam padding that is designed to break down over time.  When the foam in your runners no longer bounces back it causes your joints to be the only cushion.  Replacing a knee or hip is a big deal.  Replacing your Nike’s not so much.

*I buy new fitness clothing as required following the guidelines stated above.This tends to end up being a complete replacement cycle about once a year.Nobody has sponsored this post or given me anything for free to say it.I exercise between three and six days a week pretty much year round.Fitness apparel adds up to more than half of my annual wardrobe spending and I believe that it is worth every penny.

Granted… if someone wanted to give me free stuff to try out I would happily offer my opinion on the goods.