Standing on the side of the road in Southern Oregon, with my thumb out and my backpack and guitar by my side, waiting for whoever would pull over next, I sighed with pride as I realized how far I had come. In a year of traveling, I made my way around the perimeter of the country using only the money I made as a street musician (you can read about my adventures here).
The major factor that allowed me to get from one side of the country to the other was that many people reached out and helped me along the way. People I didn’t know welcomed me into their homes, picked me up on the side of the road, and sat by me while I performed on the street, waiting to hear my story or to share one of their own. Like the 75-year-old man who had ditched his possessions and previous life to spend his remaining years on a sailboat. Or the gay nudist who worked for a large corporation in the bible belt. Or the German woman who made a Holocaust documentary to spread messages of peace, and learned to recognize infections by smell after working as a gynecologist in Eastern Africa. Each of these people shared space with me, shared their story with me, or shared their gifts with me. Despite our "plugged-in" culture that sometimes feels disengaged, I was surprised to find just how many people were longing for human connection, how willing they were to go out of their way to help a stranger, and just how much they each had to offer.
During my trip, there were countless times when a person would pass me while I was busking (street performing) and say “I used to be a musician!” And I would ask, “What happened?” The answer was often something along the lines of: “I didn’t make money; I had no reason to practice; no one hiring cares that I happen to shred on the guitar. So I stopped playing.” But once in a while some of these retired musicians would agree to play music with me. I would watch their faces light up as they slid into their element and shined. And strangely enough, I heard similar responses when people expressed a desire to learn to play music, which they never fulfilled: “I don’t have money for an instrument or lessons; I don’t have time; I have no idea who I would go to get started.” If only the people who needed a reason to practice their talents could link up with the people who wanted to learn those talents…
The talent and interest didn’t stop with musicians: I met writers, car mechanics, fitness buffs, rock climbers, lawyers, artists, sailors, teachers, builders, screenprinters, web developers, edible-wild-plant experts, bakers, farmers, filmmakers, improv comedians, chefs, rodeo champions, meditators, yogis, dancers, community starters, poets, and more. There was the computer scientist who was also a master of circus arts, the young woman who trained and traveled with birds of prey, and the man who grew up on the streets of Mexico and could now speak 5 different languages. While I was continually inspired by the wealth of talent out there in the world, I noticed that there seemed to be a counter pressure from our society, convincing us that these things aren’t valuable if they don’t make us money. We sometimes forget that there is so much more that we each have to offer besides what we do for work, in all of our skills and talents and unique life experiences.
We at ExchangeTree believe exchanging with each other is key to following our passions without financial barriers. So many things we seek from afar could be offered right in our own neighborhoods, if only we knew what the people around us had to offer, and we weren’t limited by the money in our pockets. The idea behind ExchangeTree is to make bartering culture more accessible and organized, and to provide a platform for us to teach and learn from each other. It helps us achieve our goals while connecting with interesting people around us.
I found Josh, our extremely talented web developer and Chief Technical Officer, who was able to make this idea come to life by creating our online network from scratch. And thus, ExchangeTree was born!
On ExchangeTree.org, the possibilities are limitless, from exchanging cooking lessons for a personal training class, to tips on improving your soccer skills for Spanish conversation, or editing a paper in exchange for an historical tour of your city. It is YOU, the ExchangeTree members, who give ExchangeTree its value, and your creativity that makes the world a more interesting place. And in the spirit of supporting human connection, ExchangeTree is not only about getting the things you want and need, but it’s about reaching out to people, building community, paying it forward, and remembering all of the things we each have to offer.
We at ExchangeTree know that exchange has the power to build meaningful connections among people and within communities, and to add more purpose to our everyday interactions. We want to see everyone flexing their skill muscles for all the world to see. So, what do you have to offer?
- Julie Osburne-Rothstein