Mind, Body & Spirit

Flying Like a Maltese Falcon | On Taking a Leap of Faith

I don’t believe in luck, which is odd because if I had to describe myself in one word, it would be “believer.” Not believing in luck might be naive or even selfish of me because others might argue that I’m indeed a lucky person. However, for me, crediting luck for my life discredits the hard work, determination, and bravery that led to my current circumstances, my new chapter. It was simply taking a leap of faith.

In my new chapter, I’ve just returned to New York from Malta, where I spent the past two weeks working. Sounds like a dream job, right? It is.

I spent the majority of my trip home leaning forward in my seat and peering out of a small window of a large airplane. I had a bird’s eye view and it was one of the most beautiful sights ever. I was flying above the clouds, both literally and figuratively. I was on a plane, but I felt my muscles stretching as I soared through the air with my wings spread as wide as they’d reach. I felt the energy burst from my fingertips. I was like a bird who just escaped an iron cage. I’m free and exploring the world around me. And it’s a big world. I’m reminded every day, and surprised, too, by just how big the world is, and how little of it I’ve actually seen.

The Freedom to Explore

I’ve fought for this freedom to explore, spending years struggling to obtain it. And it’s not just me who’s fought for this freedom. I have a loyal army who has fought this battle with me. They’ve trained me, guided me, fought alongside me, and sacrificed for me to gain this freedom. I don’t take this freedom lightly. I challenge myself every day to never take it for granted.

My army and I kept our faith and, when the time was right, they agreed to let go of my hand, to leave me standing on the ledge. They got me to this point and, one by one, whispered in my ear, “Go fly. I know you can do this.” Of course, the freedom scared me at first. Who am I kidding? It scares me with every passing moment; but now, it’s time for me to fly.

I glanced out my window again and saw a layer of clouds below. Another heavenly cloud moved beside me. I was both above and in the clouds, and I felt free.

What am I free of? I think, more than anything, that I’m free from the confinements of my own mind. I’m a dreamer, but I spent so long resisting my dreams, questioning the reality and true possibility of obtaining them. I was defeating myself without even realizing it.

Escaping Your Own Ego

Even in Malta, I caught myself, at times, questioning my own credibility and strength. I felt intimidated, thinking, “I’m just a girl from Kentucky,” as if my small town roots and lack of worldly experience discredited my value. But then I’d think about my loyal army and change my mind. I would think, “I’m just a girl from Kentucky, and look where I am now.”

I do this often. I remember my family, all of my friends, and the fellow travelers that I’ve met who’ve been kind enough to help me see my true self. It’s like each of them has held a mirror in front of me, allowing me to see a piece of myself I’d never seen before. This reflection shows who I really am and what I’m capable of. And no matter how hard I’ve fought my reflection or raised my sword threatening to remove the limbs of my army, or kicked them in the gut and forced them away, they’ve always managed to keep that mirror raised for me. They make me see myself.

When An Adventure Knocks

Looking out of the small airplane window, I saw my reflection staring back at me through the glass. The close proximity of the sunshine protruded through on the image, and I saw myself clearly.

I sat back in my seat and let my head rest on the cushion. I offered myself a moment of solitude to take it all in, to really grasp hold of the situation. I’m flying home from my first European excursion. To some, that may seem like a small feat. Perhaps you’ve traveled many foreign lands, but for me, I’ve spent twenty-seven years only dreaming of it.

As a writer and a student of literature, I can’t help but romanticize Europe. It holds such a rich and beautiful history of our glorious and beloved written world. And what’s more, it’s where writers that we fanaticize of emulating have gone to be inspired.

I’ve spent my life dreaming of Europe. I’ve dreamed of indulging and soaking in the wonders of the universe. I want to travel to the Abbey’s that inspired Jane Austen. I want to see the world that Shakespeare saw. I want to sit at the bars in Paris where Fitzgerald and Hemingway wrote their greatest works. I want to spend an entire day writing beside Jim Morrison’s grave. I want to eat, drink, and reenact scenes from The Godfather, all across Italy. I want to raise a beer stein at Oktoberfest in Germany. And this is just my short list. I want and need to see it all.  This hunger for the Old World only increased as I got older. I craved the history and even more so, the experience. For years I have twirled the idea of a trip to Europe around my finger like a satiny lock of hair. I wanted it, and badly, but felt the reality of it was still a bit out of reach.

Stop Putting Off Your Dreams

“Maybe in like two years?” I’d say with my chin resting on my palm as I looked up at the sky and saw a large, gray bird with enormous wings heading east. The bird’s sweet buzzing sound echoed down and played like an acoustic melody inside my ears. I would make up stories of where the bird was heading and what sights and destinations its passengers would soon see. I imagined myself among the cargo. I felt, realistically, that if I saved for the next two years, I might, just maybe, could afford my imagined trip to Europe.

Had you told me two months ago that I’d soon be in Europe, I would’ve never believed you. The idea just seemed preposterous. After all, I’d just arrived in New York, which in my mind is still too much like a fairytale.

My American Dream

To reflect on the story of how it all happened seems like words escaping the pages of a classic novel. It’s the great American tale of opportunity. The freedom we take for granted, it lives and breathes in front of us like a growing flame, but so few of us actually reach our hands out and grab hold for fear of getting burned.

Maybe calling it the American dream is confusing because what is the American Dream? It’s a phrase polluted with definitions and meanings. It’s a phrase that has been twisted and distorted throughout history. But to me, at the end of the day, it simply means the ability to grasp on to opportunity. I’ve now done that. I’m standing and surfing the wave of the American Dream, or, at least, my version of it.

I didn’t just happen to stumble upon it like a tree stump. Instead, I was more like the insects crawling beneath, fighting to make my way to the surface and trying not to get crushed by a ginormous foot while doing so. I can feel the warmth of the sunlight starting to reach my face. But it wasn’t luck that got me here. It was our courage, support, and sacrifice.

Be Prepared to Make Sacrifices

The truth is, we can’t have it all. If I could, I’d have my family and friends living beside me. I’d know all the details of my loved one’s lives. I’d have weekly bonfires where we all caught up and laughed around the fire. We’d be experiencing this together, instead of sharing our adventures through our electronic devices. If you could have it all, I’d be getting to watch my nephews and nieces grow and blossom into the adults they’re too quickly becoming. If I could have it all, I’d never miss anyone.

But, again, you can’t have it all. You have to make sacrifices that aren’t easy. However, if you look closely enough, there’s always a silver lining. In my particular case, I’ve added new characters to my story with every new adventure. Yes, it means more people to miss, but it also means having more people to remember. On my latest journey, I met some amazing people. To say that I gained a million memories on this trip is an understatement. I’ve gained at least two million laughs. I have a collection of new friends and acquaintances. I have not one, but two new nicknames: Kentucky Fried Ashley and #AshTag. I’ve met so many brilliant and beautiful minds that have offered me new perspectives and ideas about the world. I have truly been blessed.

Expanding Your Story

My trip to Europe was successful in many ways, but most importantly because of the new stories that have been planted in my mind, and the endless characters that have begun sprouting and blossoming like buds. Some of these flowers will continue to be curated for years; I will water them and make sure they receive proper sunlight to grow. Others will wither, but the beauty of their presence will never escape my memory.  I will reflect on them and be refilled with inspiration.

To tell you all of the details of my two weeks in Europe would take an entire novel. Truthfully, my brain is still processing it. It would be unfair to the experience to try and decipher its true meaning so soon without granting time for understanding and reflection. I don’t really know yet how this adventure will shape, influence, or hold value in the story of my life, but I can tell you one thing: it’s a watershed moment. I’ve only had a few in my life, but every time they come, I feel their presence like a ghost. I know significance is lurking around the corner, even if it’s not ready to reveal itself. When the time is right, it’ll be clear. Until then, you just smile at the beauty of mystery and hold the knowledge in your soul that nothing will ever be the same again.

I’m not going to go into the details of my job, which is what blessed me with this particular adventure. I like to keep a certain bit of distance and discreetness between my writing self and my working self because they are still two separate people, trying to mold into one. What I will tell you, though, is that when I interviewed for the position, I knew from the moment that I entered the reception area that that was exactly where I needed to be. After the interview, I left and called my mom. She asked how it went and I explained my awe and lust for the position, but I reminded her that, “People like me don’t get jobs like that.”

However, the woman staring back at me in the glass will tell you, that’s not true. Still, I argue that it’s not about luck, it’s about hard work; dedication; friends and family that believe in you; it’s about Faith; Fate; Karma; Destiny – but not luck. In this world, we have to make our own luck. We have to be brave enough to stand on that ledge and flap our wings to free ourselves from the steady ground beneath.

Following a five-year stint in New York City, Ashley is now a Los Angeles transplant. Having grown up in rural Kentucky, Ashley is passionate to share self-care techniques used around the world and hopes to make them accessible to folks in rural communities. Ashley believes in gratitude, personal legends, and doing good. Aside from being a business leader in her professional life, Ashley is a novelist and freelance writer.


  • Rita 'Peat'

    If you’ve never read Paulo Coehlo’s “The Alchemist,” you should. It’s an easy read but my all-time favorite book. I picked it up in the Atlanta airport on may way to Europe in 2007 and finished on the plane. Between the journey you are on and your approach to life, I think you too would find a lot to love about the book.

    • Ashley Stewart

      Hi Rita,
      I haven’t read it, but I’ve always meant to. I’ll pick it up next time I’m in the bookstore. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

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