A few months into my first job after graduation, I felt lost and frustrated.
I was like a machine during office hours, churning out financial models and credit memos, and I seemed to have everything figured out. But at night, I would turn into a whimpering sheep, unable to sleep because I did not know what I was working so hard for.
Why did my life seem so busy, yet so devoid of meaning?
So I traveled. Leaving behind the fetters of routine, I thought I would get in touch with myself and finally figure out the answer to life, the universe—everything. Or at least find some relief from my misery.
I dove in Bonaire, lugging oxygen tanks from shore to shore, striding off cliffs, and floating with fish. I volunteered alone in Cambodia, eating mangoes, befriending cows, and cycling along flooded alleys. Away from my cubicle, I was light, free-spirited, buoyed by the crystal sea and azure sky.
But the brokered peace was temporary. No matter how far I went, I could not escape myself.
In between moments of excitement and novelty, I was still neurotic and lost. I was still unsure of myself. I still sought approval and acceptance from others. I did not know what truly mattered to me.
Physically, I was free. Emotionally, I was trapped in the same old patterns that had landed me in this situation in the first place.
Traveling worked as a temporary reprieve, but did not free me from the cause of all my problems—me. Ultimately, I still had to do the work of shedding my false self to discover my own path in life.
Here is why traveling did not help me find myself, and it may not lead you to the answers you seek:
Traveling is an escape.
One of our instinctive reactions to problems is to run way. When we travel, we create a false reality in which we have no responsibilities. It seems as though we’ve broken free from our problems—but having not dealt with our problems head-on, we did not really resolve anything.
Traveling is a distraction.
Traveling provides a great distraction from ourselves, but is not the ultimate solution. Even though it’s nice to be in a new environment, the novelty quickly wears off, and we have to seek a new thrill, a new location. Going from place to place might seem like progress, but we soon realize that only the scenes have changed. The eyes looking at the scenes have not.
Instead of escaping or distracting myself through travel, I should have given my full attention to my life.
Here are some methods that might work to help us do just that:
Do something—anything—except run away. If what we’ve been doing is comfortable and known, then it’s not really helping. As long as we’re operating within known parameters, the results we get will always be the same. There is no expansion, no growth.
Choose the path of growth, courage, and discomfort. And while we shouldn’t seek pain for pain’s own sake, it can oftentimes lead to our growth. If we’re afraid of public speaking, we can join Toastmasters. If we’re stuck or lost in our careers, we can hire a coach. The important thing is to keep moving forward. And if we don’t know what we want yet, or why we’re stuck, consider seeking new perspectives and inspirations.
Finding ourselves requires an inward journey. Part of that involves sifting through everything irrelevant to find the core within that brings our life meaning. We need to peel away masks and layers of conditioning imposed upon us since we were young.
Like the process of creating a diamond, sufficient pressure must be applied before we are fully formed. To do this, we need to look inside. Sooner or later we must learn that finding ourselves in other people, things, or places is futile. The breakthrough only comes when we dare to search inside ourselves.
Here are a few ways we can travel inward:
Find quiet time.
We don’t often allow ourselves to spend time alone, because we’re so busy seeing to the demands of others, or finding ways to distract ourselves from ourselves. Quiet time allows us to let our guard down and simply be who we are. If we create a safe space, one without judgement, our true selves can start to emerge.
We may hear things we’ve never heard before. Our intuition and inner voice may start speaking louder. In the silence, we can can start to hear the voice that has always been there. Meditation has become a way of allowing what’s inside me to surface.
Find a coach.
Coaching leverages the perspective of a trained professional to help you identify your blind spots, bringing you greater awareness of your frameworks and values. Some of us may feel that we can solve our problems on our own simply by applying advice given in books and articles. However, what we soon find is that applying advice from external sources may not always work, simply because each person is unique. Generic advice may work for some, but others might need solutions that suit our specific needs and situations.
Find a way to express yourself.
Self-expression sounds like something reserved for artists and creatives, but it’s really not. We express ourselves with every action we take and every choice we make. Sometimes, life feels routine because we never fully express who we are. We behave like robots, fulfilling our roles and doing what others expect of us.
If we don’t take who we are on the inside and try to match that to our external reality, then we will always live in our heads. Self-expression, through methods like writing and art, can help us heal and improve our relationship with our emotions. The art of creating is not only cathartic, but gives us a glimpse into who we truly are on the inside.
Author: Shuying Ke
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman