After a 10-hour flight across the Atlantic, I landed in London with a sense of exhilaration that rushed through my whole body like an express train. This would be the first time I would be crossing the threshold into the wonderful world of international travel, and I was practically bouncing in my seat from excitement. At 23 years old, I was about to embark on a trip of a lifetime – an entire month traveling across seven European countries.
As the seatbelt sign turned off and the plane began to buzz with people gathering up their items, I began to picture how my life would be different after a month abroad. I imagined myself incredibly sophisticated, probably wearing a beret, and saying things like, “I met the most charming people in Venice while I was there.” You know – I would be totally casual about it.
Once the passengers began to exit the plane, I was able to make my way off of the Boeing 777 and into Heathrow Airport. I picked up my pace with the other bustling travelers and made my way to border control. As I stood waiting in line, it gave me a chance to reflect on the months leading up to that moment.
Growing up I had always found comfort in my lists, plans, and dreams. My friends would often call me the “planner” because I always had everything laid out ahead of me – especially while in college. I attended a prestigious, private university in Dallas, and I graduated with high honors.
But after having completed my bachelor’s, I quickly discovered that I didn’t exactly know how to transition into adulthood. I no longer had an instruction manual for my life, and I didn’t know which direction to go in. So instead of moving forward, I just… stopped.
Like many recent college graduates, I felt stuck.
With no clear sense of direction for where I wanted to go with my life, I felt completely lost and terrified. I saw my life spread out before me as a desolate wasteland with no end in sight. No dreams, no plans, and therefore in my mind, no future. At the ripe age of 23, I felt like I had already failed at life.
And that’s when I had the glorious idea to go to Europe.
After having read countless stories of people jet setting across the world when they felt stuck, I figured it would be the perfect solution to my situation as well.
“Of course,” I eagerly thought to myself. “Traveling abroad will give me the answers I’m looking for. I’ll go to Europe, and when I come back, I’m sure I’ll know what to do with my future.”
So there I was – a jumble of emotions as I stood in line at border control. As I stepped up to the counter, I tried to act natural as my excited heart pounded against my chest. The representative, paying more attention to my passport than my flushed face, quickly gave me clearance. And as the stamping of my U.S. passport matched the beating of my wild heart, it was then that my life had been decidedly marked by the restlessness of travel.
For the next month, I lived in a dream world.
I ate delicious macaroons while standing under the Eiffel Tower. I rode in a gondola with great friends while visiting Venice. I ate gelato and pizza almost every single day while in Italy (no regrets). I hiked the Harder Kulm in Switzerland, and it made me question my physical capabilities at least every four minutes. I conquered public transportation in Rome and Paris. I sailed through the Greek islands and stopped in quant, fishing towns. I almost cried when I saw the Pantheon with my own eyes.
Above all – I laughed, I learned, and I loved.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was the best experience of my entire life.
But like all wonderful dreams, I eventually had to wake up.
After a month of traveling, I stood right back where it all began. As I rolled my suitcase through Heathrow Airport for my return trip home, I couldn’t help but think how perfectly poetic it was. After all of the amazing memories I had in Europe, I still carried the same baggage with me.
I had learned so much about the world, but I hadn’t learned anything about my future. I knew how to order a meal in Italian, but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Europe was wonderful, even magical, but it didn’t solve my problems for me. I was heading back home to the exact same questions I left a month before, and I absolutely dreaded it.
Head cast down, I mournfully made my way through security and aboard my American Airlines flight back to Dallas. I would like to say that I was a strong, young woman who faced the music bravely, but I would be lying. I cried bitter tears on my long flight home. All of these new questions and feelings began to hit me like a carry on suitcase tumbling out of an overhead compartment.
What if I never find myself?
What if I never know where I belong?
What if I will always be a failure?
So seven months later, here I am being open and honest about the dark time in my life that nearly destroyed me. Sharing my deepest, darkest fears and how I fought all the “what ifs” that plagued my mind.
But mostly, this is how I found peace when I was neither here nor there.
What If: You Lose Your Way?
“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” – Seneca the Younger
Upon returning home with an empty bank account and an empty heart, I found myself staring at my life through hopeless eyes. I tried to pick up the pieces to my old routine, but I felt trapped in a life I didn’t want anymore. I felt broken, confused, and incredibly underwhelmed with everything around me. I casually joked to my friends that I was going through a “travel-life crisis,” but I never fully confessed just how turbulent the waters were raging underneath my surface. I felt defeated, but even worse – I felt alone. Anger and resentment began to ravage my thoughts as I suddenly hated everything. And just after a few weeks of being home, the edges of depression started creeping into the corners of my mind.
My only plan of attack was to purchase a one-way ticket out of Dallas and as soon as possible. I began researching ways to move to London, Berlin, or Madrid – anywhere far away from my life in Dallas. But more importantly, anywhere far away from the growing voice in my head saying that my life was going nowhere.
“I leave, and the leaving is so exhilarating I know I can never go back. But then what? Do I just keep leaving places, and leaving them, and leaving them, tramping a perpetual journey?” – John Green
Somewhere along the research road of work visas and resumes, I finally saw my true motives for what they were: I was recklessly running away. Though I desperately wanted to run to the warm embrace of Santorini sunsets, I knew that I had to face my fears head on instead. Because no matter how far I traveled across the globe, my fears would follow me.
So instead, I chose to be still.
It was possibly one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, and everything within me screamed in protest. But I knew – I knew that I knew – that simply changing my address was not going to change my direction in life. I was lost internally, and my answer could not be found externally.
I could no longer travel the world in an attempt to find myself. I had to travel within myself.
What If: You Don’t Fit In?
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde
For those first few months of being home, I would sit at my computer every morning with a cup of tea and read over the freshly sprouted travel articles of the day. My tea would cool off from my long sighs while looking at pictures taken from places like Beijing, Buenos Aires, or Budapest. I would read over blogger’s bios that said things like, “freelance writer currently based out of Mumbai” or “eight months of solo travel through Southeast Asia,” and I would seethe with a volatile cocktail of awe and jealousy.
As I continued to devour travel blogs plastered across every facet of the World Wide Web, I was thrust into a new level of despair. I appreciated these writers for encouraging a desire of exploration and curiosity from their readers, but their fight against life complacency attacked my necessary quest for contentment.
While I painstakingly came to peace with the idea of being still, I got bombarded with blog titles such as “10 Reasons Why Not Traveling Is a Waste of Your Life” and “Go Now: Why You Shouldn’t Wait to Travel.” I was surrounded on all sides by Robert Frost quotes and “not all who wander are lost” Facebook cover photos. And now all of a sudden I’m crying into a pint of chocolate chip ice cream while I watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. How did I get here? Just last week I was eating dinner with close friends and starting to enjoy my life. Now? I’m sobbing loudly that, “My life is a waste” to my close friends Ben and Jerry.
The problem is that there is such an overwhelming pressure, prevalent in my generation particularly, to be something right now – at this very moment. If I wanted to be a successful travel writer and I’m not riding a camel in Morocco or sipping coffee in Seoul at this very second, then apparently I’m doing things wrong with my life. According to them, I’m failing. With a capital F. It got to the point that if I read one more travel blogger urging me to, “Leave it all and just do it,” I was going to throw my laptop against a wall.
And that’s when I came to a defining realization in my life: I can’t be someone I’m not.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be like these travelers so badly that it caused me extreme emotional pain. But my life wasn’t their life. And as much as I desperately wanted my life to be their life, it couldn’t be. I have a different story, different commitments, responsibilities, and priorities. For goodness sake – I was simply trying to claw my way out of the dark depression I had dug for myself.
I’ll admit it – I read every “How To” travel article on Pinterest like a crazy addict. I think deep down I was hoping that the answer to my depression would be found somewhere within those travel boards. But as I researched how to make my dreams into a reality like they did, I began to feel even more isolated and defeated. After months of trying to find myself, I was still trying to find it from the outside in.
It just doesn’t work that way.
What If: You Don’t Know Who You Are?
“It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.” – K.T. Jong
So that left me with the unnerving question that I had stored away in the far corners of my mind: “Who am I without my dreams, and my lists, and my plans?”
I had my identity so wrapped up in what I did and where I went that I didn’t even know who I was without them. Once I finally quieted my life long enough to hear the whispers of my heart, I discovered that I had been questioning who I was for years.
At every turn, I felt like I didn’t fit in. My friends back home all had wonderful, fulfilling lives, and it generally meant laying down some thick roots. They had wonderful spouses, children, jobs, houses, and security. They were so happy, and I truly envied that. But one thing I was completely sure of – laying down roots was not the life for me right now.
So then, naturally, I would swing in the complete opposite direction as I tried to find refuge with the other hoards of “wanderlust” individuals across the globe. Obviously if I didn’t fit in with the mommy crowd, I would definitely fit in with the expats of India, right?! Yeah, negative. As adventurously appealing as it sounds, I can’t leave my home to live out of a backpack for months on end. I’m way too high maintenance for that.
So here I was – a misfit, an outsider, a loner.
I was neither here nor there.
“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” – Henry David Thoreau
It was then that I had another defining realization: I don’t have to follow someone else’s path.
We’ve all heard the quote by Robert Frost that states, “But I … I took the road less traveled.” I mean, it’s practically the anthem to every hipster who travels to Peru or Patagonia. I don’t know about you, but that “road less traveled” sure does seem to be a lot more crowded these days.
But get this: my path can actually be different from the people who are different.
Whoa. I know. Sounds like a bit of inception.
But it all boils down to this – I should follow my own happiness. Above my desire to see the world and pursue a career I love – above it all, I choose to stop feeling guilty for taking my own path. Just because it doesn’t match up with the top YouTube vloggers or Instagrammers of the world, it doesn’t mean my life is insignificant.
The only way that I can truly make an impact in this world is by accepting who I am and redefining the culture around me. By being me.
And it’s okay for you to be you!
Everyone decides what’s important to them and what makes them happy. If backpacking around the world and living on canned tuna is what fires you up – then go for it! If raising children in a loving home is what you’re all about – I’m 100% behind you. If you want to be a nurse in Zimbabwe, web coder in Tucson, Disney princess in Florida, or a freelance writer in Mumbai….then do it!
I simply desire people to value the calling they feel is on their life.
After all, who are we living our lives for anyway?
What If: You Are Neither Here Nor There?
“God, why do I storm heaven for answers that are already in my heart? Every grace I need has already been given me. Oh, lead me to the Beyond within.” – Macrina Wiederkehr
At the beginning of the summer, I had dreams of staring up at the glistening Eiffel Tower and having an epiphany of who I wanted to be. And to my great dismay, that didn’t happen. I had thought that traveling the world would make me feel complete, and yet it left me feeling lost.
But I did, however, eventually find myself.
Not by flying to London Heathrow or riding a gondola in Venice or climbing the Harder Kulm in Switzerland.
I found myself slowly – little by little – in each day.
I learned that traveling is one of my greatest passions (when done for the right reasons). I learned that I equally love the gelato in Italy and the frozen yogurt in Dallas. I love the excitement of meeting new people in hostels, but I also love the comfort and understanding from old friends back home. I love eating dinner with my family at a local restaurant where they know our name and order. I love the smell of books in old European stores. I love the way the Italian language feels on the tongue.
But mostly, I learned that I didn’t fit into a box. My passions and my dreams were a beautiful, jumbled mess. They didn’t match anyone else around me, and I learned that I loved that.
After an arduous seven months of self-discovery, I felt like I had trekked through the Himalayas and back. I began to see myself from the inside out, and I no longer wanted to pretend that I felt fulfilled in a life that was carved out for someone else. I was ready to be myself and to follow my own curiosity – wherever it might lead.
I may have been neither here nor there – but I was me. And that’s exactly where I wanted to be.
“…for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.” – Hunter S. Thompson
So the biggest question I have for you is: what’s the right journey for you?
We are surrounded by phrases like “corporate sellout” or “aimless wanderer” that box people into a shamed existence. But every single person is unique! You are an individual that cannot be replicated, and the only one who can fulfill your specific purpose. Don’t be afraid to be the only you. What life do you want to live? What dreams do you want to fulfill?
So in closing, I wish to leave you with the three biggest things I learned these past several months. I hope they help you find yourself.
- You can’t force the world to fill the emptiness in your life. It will never be a fit.
- The best journey that you can take is the one within yourself. Because you are the journey and the destination.
- Traveling does not give you purpose, and it does not give you value. You had these things all along.
Have you been feeling neither here nor there as well? I would love to hear about your journey in the comments!