Marco Polo — You’re Never Going to Find Yourself if You Don’t Play The Game


Do you ever feel like you are trying to discover something but it always remains just out of sight?

Do you ever have ideas and questions about your life that take you in seemingly unproductive circles over and over again?

Do you ever feel like you have an identity that could fit perfectly with some group of people but you just don’t know where that group is?

Have you ever played Marco Polo?

I have.

No one has ever won a game of Marco Polo in silence.

I don’t know what you’re looking for but I can promise you that you will never find it if you stand still and stay quiet.

Discovering whatever it is that you are looking for requires that you move around and bump into things in order to find it.

Answering the hard questions about your life, purpose, existence, or direction requires that you walk in those mental circles over and over again until you manage to progress forward one level.

Finding that group of people who make you excited for more than money, power, or job security requires a search. A search that consists of a lot of listening and a lot of speaking your mind.

You not only have to figure out who you are, you also have to figure out who it is that you’re looking for and THEN you have to actually go out and find more of that type of person.

No one has ever won a game of Marco Polo by standing still and staying silent.

Answering the hard questions in your life.

Are you familiar with how a tree grows?

Based on the amount of rainfall in any given year, a tree expands and grows in concentric circles moving outward.

Concentric circles are the perfect visualization for understanding mental growth. In the simplest of explanations, circles are concentric when they share the same core and are typically expanding or “growing” (if you will) outward.

When you begin to wrestle with deep questions, questions that are mentally taxing, often thrilling, and always difficult, you are starting right at the innermost circle. You are at the core.

Everyone starts at the core.

This is their base understanding of who they are, where they stand in the universe, and whether any of that matters.

Once you decide that all of that does matter, you begin to progress towards the second circle.

After treading the path around the innermost circle a number of times you finally move out to the second circle. This is the process of growth. This is representative of the reward of struggling with difficult questions and making progress in understanding them.

If the innermost circle, the core, is our base mental state, and the second circle is representative of beginning to entertain the significance of thoughts on existence, then the third level might be when we begin to adopt answers to the questions of existence or meaning.

Circle 1: I exist.
Circle 2: That matters.
Circle 3: Why do I exist? To _______.

Fill in the blank.

The tradeoff of advancing outward in ever-expanding mental circles is the pain of the struggle that each larger circle demands.

In order to answer the hard questions in your life, you must consciously struggle with them. You must put forth effort to draw closer to an answer. You must move around and speak actively to progress from the innermost core to the next layer outward.

Finding your group of people.

All of us are quite unique. Yet, there are people out there that stand to challenge and inspire you more than others. Whether its based on your background, upbringing, the environment you live in — whatever it is, there is a type of person that fits well with who you are and stands to challenge you in a marvelous way.

The connection between this type of person and yourself is different than what you are accustomed to. This person teaches you as you teach them, they challenge you and drive you toward growth as you do to them, they lift you up and begin to draw you toward a new type of thinking that just doesn’t exist in your every day life.

Together, you make each other believe in larger, bigger, and more daunting realities than either would on his own.

Few people would hold that they have no desire to acquaint themselves with a type of person that lifts them up in this manner. And yet few people match their desire for these relationships with a will to search them out.

Many people remain at the egde of desire and action, having much of the first and putting forth little of the latter.

In this manner, many individuals entertain the desire for these relationships without matching that desire with the action necessary to secure those relationships.

The necessity to accept that not everyone will fit.

The obvious aspect of this search is one’s inevitable encounter with many wrong types of persons. You must find plenty of wrong answers before you find enough of the right.

This therefore is the first action required of you should you desire to find this type of person in your life.

You must accept that in your search you will encounter more wrong answers than right.

A wrong answer is not a bad thing. It is merely not the answer you are looking for.

When you do not get along with someone, even in spite of your hopes that you would, it is not a terrible thing. It is merely not the correct answer you are seeking.

If Thomas Edison had fixated on any one of this hundreds of incomplete designs for the lightbulb he may not have found the complete and correct design. Instead, he accepted the imperfection, learned from the encounter, and took another step toward the correct and complete answer, the functional incandescent lightbulb.

Always take another step forward toward the right answer. Always take another step forward toward the right type of person that you seek.

The action required in the search.

You must speak your mind, you must do so publicly, and you must put yourself in places you would not otherwise be.

Speaking quite literally, no one will understand who you are and what you stand for without first hearing (or reading) your thoughts.

And, no one will know who you are and what you stand for unless they encounter you (or your writing).

And, if you are not already surrounded by the type of person that challenges and inspires and lifts you up, then you have to put yourself in places that you have not yet been. This could be as simple as putting yourself in the presence of someone new over coffee. Or, it could be as extravagant as changing your habits and putting yourself in new areas of life; a new walk to work, a new place to read, a new place to get coffee, a new place to work.

Speaking your mind.

Perhaps you yourself do not even know who you are.

I am dumbfounded by the general lack of encouragement of personal expression. I am not speaking of the expression of (popularly held) controversial political beliefs — these are often simply regurgitations of what someone heard elsewhere — I am not speaking of (popularly adopted) belligerent individualism — this is often a sign of internal insecurity from someone’s past more than it is a sign of a deep understanding of one’s self.

I am speaking of one’s willingness to pose questions and posit answers to questions pertaining to personal meaning, potential impact, interests and desires, dislikes, the origin of certain bad experiences, and the meaning of beauty, love and suffering in one’s life.

If you do not wrestle with and dig up answers for these types of questions, how can you say you know yourself?

If you do not know yourself, how can you expect others to know who you are?

If others do not know who you are, you must not expect to find many of these incredible people we speak of in your life.

Speak your mind. Posit answers to difficult questions. Struggle with difficult things and be open about it. This is the first step to finding the right type of person in your life.

Taking yourself public.

In the process of finding these amazing people we have been speaking about, taking yourself public is essential. Once you begin to exercise your mind and heart and engage in some tentative articulation representative of your level of personal understanding, you are ready to take it all public.

Write about it.

Speak about it.

Listen to others tear it apart.

Listen to others build it up.

Write more about it.

Speak more about it.

Always bring your thoughts and plans public and always listen to the feedback.

For a long time I bottled up everything I was thinking and planning. I never wanted to face the possible embarrassment of being wrong or naive in front of other people — especially if I respected or admired them.

Little did I know that I was depriving myself of the relationships that I now treasure, which only came as a product of my willingness to go out on a limb and express what I think, believe, and plan to build with my life.

When you speak your mind (humbly, with respect, and always honestly) it allows others to make a decision: to agree or disagree with you.

You are doing the world (and yourself) a favor by being honest.

If you are scared, admit it.

If you are lost, accept it.

If you are enthused excited about something, share it.

As you speak more honestly and with more courage, the relationships in your life will change. People reveal who they are when you speak honestly (and daringly) from your heart.

You will quickly realize who builds you up, who bogs you down, and what type of person is the type that you have been seeking this whole time.


Marco. Polo.

We are all playing our own games of Marco Polo; searching for and seeking out questions and answers along with the people who will lift us up in encouragement and honest admonition.

Some of us stand still and refuse to utter a word for fear of messing up, failing, or encountering embarrassment.

Others decide they will bump around and take the risk of speaking and moving with the purpose of finding what it is they seek.

Which are you?

Jeremiah Luke Barnett

Written by

Finding Ways to Stay Outside My Comfort Zone | jbarnettucla@g.ucla.edu

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