This Is Me: Alicia Underlee Nelson

Welcome to This Is Me Thursdays! To read other posts in this series, click here. If you want to be involved, please email me for more details! Today, learn more about Alicia Underlee Nelson, someone I connected with on a North Dakota bloggers trip several years ago.

Alicia has been a blogger and freelance writer for many years, and she’s so talented and creative. She’s such a smart, kind person who really lives her life to the fullest when it comes to traveling, trying new beers and making connections all over the place. She has so many interesting stories to share, and I’m sure that won’t be stopping anytime soon! I really admire her outlook on life and her work ethic, and I know you’ll really like her as well. Check out her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, podcast and website, and let her know you saw her post here!

This Is Me: Alicia Underlee Nelson

Alicia Underlee Nelson
Alicia Underlee Nelson

Share a little about yourself and what you’re up to these days.

I’m a full time freelance writer and photographer for outlets all over the world, the co-host of a new podcast called Travel Tomorrow that I’m incredibly proud of, and the creator and curator of prairiestylefile.com. I love sharing stories about people and places that are overlooked. There are so many interesting stories out there, so many different ways of living our lives. I could study people and their choices forever and never be bored.

I also teach workshops and provide personal coaching in two main areas, travel planning and creative living. Both of these grew directly out of conversations with prairiestylefile.com readers. People are deeply creative and curious, but when it comes time to claim their roles as artists or a plan a trip outside of their comfort zone, they get nervous. I think there’s a lot of pressure to go big or go home. A lot of what I do is tell people that they don’t have to quit their day job to be an artist or travel around the world to be fulfilled. There are dozens of little daily tweaks we can all make to live more in alignment with our goals, our purpose, with the things that drive us. Life’s a lot more fun and fulfilling when you’re living it in the way that best suits you.

What does life purpose mean to you? Does it really exist for you/all of us, or is it just some pipe dream?

I absolutely believe that we all have a purpose in life. And I’ve seen over and over again that when we allow time and space for that purpose to flow freely, everything falls into place. This quote from dancer and choreographer Martha Graham opens every single creativity class I lead:

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost.”

This is a call to action. But it’s also very simple. Our job is to keep our hearts, minds, and schedule open and attuned to what moves us, so that when inspiration comes, we can act.

I also think it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be a world famous choreographer like Martha Graham to be living your purpose. Whatever lights you up inside is what you follow, even if it seems strange or inconsequential. It can feel like a very small change and maybe nobody will ever see the end result. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that it changes you. And that will begin to change everything.

What motivates and inspires you in your life?

Travel inspires and motivates me. I’m excited to get back out there once the pandemic is under control, whenever that may be. There’s nothing I love more than wandering the streets of a new city or hiking in a landscape that’s new to me. It makes me a more open and curious person. And I form connections and friendships that make my life much richer.

Traveling can help make you a more mindful, flexible, and curious person, but it’s certainly not the only way. My six-year-old son is one of the most inquisitive people I’ve ever met and he challenges the way I see the world every single day. I’ve met many people who haven’t traveled far from home who are incredibly curious and engaged in the world around them, much more than people who are privileged to travel widely. People who are living lives that are authentic to them are very refreshing to be around.

I’m also very inspired by other writers and creative people. The work I do can be both nomadic and solitary, so it’s important to connect with other outside-the-box thinkers and support people who are doing work that makes you laugh or makes you think.

Is what you do now what you always imagined doing? Why or why not, and what have you learned because of that?

I’m doing what I always dreamed of doing, but I never could have imagined it would actually be a job. I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid stapling together construction paper books, but this job description didn’t exist when I was in college, or I would have chosen journalism instead of theatre.

But it wasn’t like theatre was the wrong choice. It taught me so much about story, language, motivations and subtext. And I learned lots of practical skills in lighting, design, painting, and sewing. It made me a questioning, curious person with a sense that anything is possible, which is a deeply countercultural outlook. I took those skills into advertising and still use my acting skills in my radio gigs and on my podcast. Nothing good is ever wasted.

What’s something you desperately want other people to know or realize that may help them in their lives?

There will never be a perfect time and you’ll never feel fully ready. Change can be scary. But you have to act anyway.

You can’t be afraid of failure or you’ll never start. Failure is a natural part of the creative process. It’s the only way we can burn off the old growth so something new can come.

I used to be really hard on myself for failing. Then I interviewed scientists and mathematicians, who are very unemotional about the necessity of failure in innovation process. I think those of us in other fields need to hear that message.

How do you define belonging and connection, and how have your definitions changed over time?

What an interesting question! To be honest, I’ve distanced myself from the idea of belonging and prioritized connection instead. I think part of what makes me a good storyteller is that I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider and can empathize with people on the fringes. I’ve felt unheard and unseen, so I think there’s power in hearing and seeing others in that position and amplifying their voices.

To me, belonging has always felt like a concept that other people control access to. A group sets the parameters, the rules of belonging always seem to be changing, and I’m just not interested in wasting my energy on decoding that particular riddle.

But connection is something that can expand. I can cultivate a connection to myself and my environment and seek it out in other people. Connection doesn’t demand sameness or shared experiences to work – it just requires emotional honesty and listening. It’s grounded in empathy and a respect for differences. I think connection is at the heart of everything I do.

What’s something you make sure to do every day/week/month that helps you practice self-care and self-love?

I’m a big believer in the healing power of naps, silence, long Epsom salt baths, and giant stacks of books. I try to read every night to get me out of my own head and into someone else’s stories. And I spend a lot of time walking to calm my mind.

I’ve also adopted a more regular yoga practice this year and that’s made a huge difference in my mood and focus. It’s easily the most effective way I’ve found to channel my energy, which can really be all over the place. Investing just a few minutes pays off all day.

How do you define success in your life and/or business?

Success is telling my stories in a way that helps promote connection, curiosity, and understanding. I also like to push myself out of my comfort zone as much as I can, experimenting with new forms to see what feels creatively interesting and challenging.

On a personal level, I want to enjoy time with the people I love and not have my work brain whirring in the background 24/7. This is easier said that done and will probably be a lifelong practice. I really like my work!

Photo courtesy of Alicia Underlee Nelson

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