Last January I was spending a lot of time intensely thinking about what the year was going to have in store for me. During the first week of our Remote Year program we were set to have a Pecha Kucha night to introduce ourselves to our random crew of 50+ people, I wanted to convey who I was and what I wanted out of my year to my new friends and I chose the best picture I could think of in the short amount of time.
Since it was someone else’s photo I’ll just describe it, but it was simple…a picture of the world and the words “Go Find Yourself”. Cliche enough for you?
There were plenty of reasons for this choice, and yes it does sound very cliche on a surface level but in reality it was exactly what I hoped to do in this year.
You see I’ve had fresh perspective compared to most people around me since I was 25 years old, coming off of a leukemia diagnosis. I’ve been able to look at things differently since I was 26 years old coming off of a remission celebration. But the thing about looking at the world you live in through a different lens is…you question things more…you might accomplish things that you’ve wanted to accomplish for a long time and then say “is this it?”
This was the case for me. Something was missing and I needed to find it.
What was I going out into the world to find? Some true version of myself? Some noble purpose? Some grandiose plan?
And so this was the goal, the plan, and the year began. It’s a bit ironic the choice of words for this Pecha Kucha slide as I reflect on it now and read a quote from Siddhartha in another writer’s work on Medium:
“Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal.” -Herman Hesse
You see I had often thought throughout the year that I needed to be “seeking” something. As it seems though, the points in time where I learned something…where I experienced something…where I found something, were when I wasn’t seeking.
So here I am at the end of a year of travel, and I’m trying to put into words what I experienced. I wish that I had the words to transport you to the places I’ve been. I wish I had the ability to show you the beautiful things I’ve seen. I wish I could open my heart and let you feel the love that I have felt.
But I can’t.
So what I will do is share with you what I found. Maybe it will inspire you to travel more or to read more. Hopefully it will encourage you to approach new places and new people with an open mind, an open heart, and a desire to learn.
Find -(Verb) Discover or perceive by chance or unexpectedly. Also -To reach or arrive at by a natural or normal process.
What did I find?
I found that being vulnerable and being intentional make it possible to connect with almost any person.
Now maybe these were things I had already experienced and knew yes, but spending 12 months intentionally living with a group of 50 people from different backgrounds and places certainly took this to another level. I’ve spent much of the last week contemplating how it was possible for our relationships to grow as quickly as they did over the course of a year and how it could feel like we have known each other for years and it comes back to these things. In reality we all just want people to love, understand us and spend time with us.
I found that finite amounts of time in places and with people makes you appreciate them more and prioritize accordingly.
In normal day to day life we don’t have any set parameters around how long we are going to be in our city or how much time we are going to have to spend with the people who are there with us. By knowing that I only had a month in each city, it prioritized how I spent my days, nights, weekends, etc. By knowing that if I met someone in this city, I may only know them for the rest of the month it made me seek deeper connections and want to spend that time with those people in a valuable way.
I found that I appreciate reading and writing more than I knew I did.
For the past several years I have done very little writing and I have only read books that were directly tied to my career. I found new perspective, creativity and problem solving in my life by reading all sorts of books this year from science fiction to Stephen Hawking. By writing again I have realized how productive an outlet of stress relief it is for me and a therapeutic means of reflection and learning.
I found that if I intend to learn from a person, a city, a country…I will.
There were plenty of scenarios this year where I didn’t go into a conversation, a scenario, or even a city with an open mind; but every time that I entered a situation with a desire to learn and an open mind, I learned something. Being outside of the bubble that I’m used to certainly helped this, an uncomfortable setting makes it easier to have a different perspective. This is very possibly one of the most important realizations I had this year.
I found that there is really very very little that I need when it comes to things and that they have almost no impact on my happiness.
Over the course of 12 months having my luggage lost twice showed me that the things we think we need to live on a daily basis are a far exaggeration of what we actually need. I now know for a fact that I can carry everything I need in life in a ruck on my back.
I found that there isn’t much a nice walk with my headphones in can’t fix.
Much of this year has been scenarios that simplify life for me. One of these realizations has been that in any city that I’m in, happiness can be found by jamming out to some music and wandering around the city just appreciating everything that is happening around me. Whether it is the streets cutting through the rain forest in Medellin, the graffiti soaked walls of Belgrade, the beautiful trees and parks of La Condesa, or the cobblestone hills of Lisbon…I’m happy to simply wander and watch life as it unfolds around me.
I found appreciation in the good and the bad.
If you’ve followed along via social media you know that this year has brought plenty of highs in my life, but what you don’t see is that spending a year like this brings plenty of lows as well. In fact, being away from family and loved ones can make the lows lower than they would normally be. What I’ve found this year is that I can appreciate sadness because although it makes me feel down, it is directly correlated to a past happiness. While it doesn’t make the sadness go away, reflecting on that happiness is a good way to appreciate both emotions.
I found that I’m not as extroverted as I thought and I need to recharge.
There’s a lot to do when you are traveling the world with a group of 50 people and I found that while I often want to go out and do all of the things, there is also plenty of time where I need to have lunch by myself and read a book. I learned to respect this feeling when it comes and allow myself that time to recharge and allow time for myself.
I found that the time we give people is the most precious gift we can give them and that is very very hard to give this gift to everyone you want to give it to all at the same time.
I was raised to treat friends as if they are family. This is why I grew up with Aunts and Uncles who weren’t necessarily blood relatives, because my parents loved and treated their good friends as family. I’ve always tried to do the same. This year trying to intentionally spend time with the 50 people I was traveling with, the people I met in each city along the way, co-workers back home, and friends & family back home was not only difficult but exhausting at times.
I’ve met so many new and wonderful people this year. People that have challenged me to shift my perspective. People that have taught me things about love. People that have taught me things about myself. I’ve tried to treat all of these people the way I was raised to treat people and to give my time and love to the people I am with.
The challenge was that I also wanted to give my time and love to the friends and family that were not physically with me. This was something I never expected to be as difficult as it was and I didn’t have a plan for it. I feel like I neglected a lot of people throughout the course of the year. It provided a powerful lesson as to why we need to be intentional with the people who we are with during the time we are with them. I’m still not sure that I know how to adequately address this challenge.
I found that stepping out of my comfort zone has allowed me to discover new places and new things and to find these things as a child learns…with no expectations, no preconceived notions. I found that I’m not done finding.
So Looking at my year and asking “Did you find yourself?”
I can honestly say that I have…because I haven’t.