“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity” – Martin Luther King Jr
Waking up this morning in Paris, I’m reminded that not only is this one of my last days here, but also in Europe. In a couple of days I will be heading to Puerto Rico, to volunteer.
After my time there, I will be states bound. And as I sit here on the couch of my AirBNB writing this, I notice a voice in my head saying, “it’s over”. Today, my mind is telling me that this trip, this chapter of my life is over.
The chapter where I spent nine months exploring places I had never seen. Places I had no knowledge of before visiting. Places I thought I would never find myself. And yet, through many decisions, I found myself experiencing what I thought impossible.
A little over a year ago, I believed that it wasn’t possible FOR ME to live in a way that allowed exploration like this. A life that allowed me to learn and grow from such simple moments as asking for a cup of coffee in Arabic. A life that allowed me to experience a deeper understanding of humanity, and myself within it.
Am I looking forward to seeing my family during the holidays? Yes. Am I looking forward to attending a couple of coaching events that I have scheduled? Most definitely.
Yet, there’s this pit in my stomach as if I’m going back to where I started. As if this time never happened. But I know that is only a lie that I am telling myself. This trip did happen.
The people I met from cultures I knew so little about, did happen. The connection I felt with myself in these new environments, did happen. The change in relationship with myself and humanity, did happen.
I did spend nine months experiencing some of the greatest moments of my life. All the while, I experienced and worked through fears that had been holding me back for years. The kinds of fears that are both obvious and subtle.
Some as simple as being afraid to fail when speaking a language I do not know. Or, working through the fears of not knowing where I may stay for the night. Or, worried about how I will continue to make money as a small business owner while traveling the world. Or, working through judgements about cultures that I do not understand.
What I have learned through experience is that fear is on a spectrum. From the subtle hesitation, to full blown panic. Right now, I notice a bit of fear grabbing hold in my mind. A message saying the end of this trips spells the end of living a life I enjoy.
A life committed to exploration of the world. A life committed to understanding how we humans are unique, and the same. A life committed to understanding how people change the world from which they experience.
And I am grateful I wrote that line above. Because I call bull**** on many levels. Because I have learned that our experiences in life can and do change us forever. Whether they be experiences of trauma or experiences of joy. All our experiences as humans offer an opportunity to evolve.
It’s up to us to decide whether we are willing to experience the events that unfold in our lives, or fight them.
In fighting events that have occurred or that are occurring, we limit our growth. And as difficult as it is to see, through the fight we make getting what we say we want, harder.
And I get why we fight.
We fight to hold onto someone we love that no longer wants to be with us. We fight to hold onto a reputation we feel we earned. We fight to defend and justify ourselves when we make a bad decision. We fight to create a sense of inner peace, joy, and happiness. All the while, we are often fighting reality, and ourselves.
For me, I have fought to keep relationships that were already over. I have fought to change the minds of other people, because I did not agree with them. I have fought with people to tell them we must change this, or change that.
But more than anything, I have fought myself. I have lied to myself. I have done anything and everything to fight the world, so that I can feel okay. Because I believed the world had to be a certain way or I’m not able to feel at peace.
And when I have done that throughout my life, I have created more pain. I have created pain for myself, and many around me. My constant fighting has perpetuated pain, rather than minimizing it.
My pain and fight with myself and the world has led me down many dark paths throughout the first 30 years of my life. What it has taken me years to see is that, through pain, came the most growth. But only when I allowed myself to answer one question.
“Where is the gift inside this problem?”
When I allow myself to look past the pain coming from my thoughts and emotions, I am always able to find some gift. I’m able to find gifts that can forever change how I live the rest of my life, and from a wiser place.
And so, as I reflect about my return to the states, I realize the way I “deal” with problems has changed. I find that before I hold a position on anything, I turn to see how I’m projecting my own stuff onto it.
Traveling throughout Europe and northern Africa, I saw things that did not fit my lens of “what the world should be”. And when that would occur, I would notice trailing discomfort that came with it. The truth is, I was fighting the reality of what is, within myself. And I was also assuming, many times, that I somehow knew the solution or “right” answer.
To think I know the answer to all human problems within thousands of contexts, is naive, and a projection.
I have no more or less right to tell other people how they should think, live, and act. what I have learned is that when I use to see the world and interact from that place, I caused more problems. No human being responds well to criticism, judgement, or being made wrong. That I know from a lot of personal experience. Both on the receiving and giving side.
So I know that I’m bringing back to the states with me new ways of seeing the world, and all the people in it – including myself. The gift within in this perceived “problem” is an opportunity to discover. Now I can discover how these experiences will forever change how I do business, spend my time, and live my life.
With that in mind, I realize I’m just getting started. Nothing has ended. A new phase perhaps, but ever more wiser than when the last began. What I know without a doubt is that choosing to change the way I live my life was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Otherwise, I would have missed out on all the gifts that came with experiencing humanity from many walks of life. It’s time we create and live like we know for a fact that our short time on this spinning rock in space will end some day.
What is life calling you to do right now?