Have I 'found myself' yet?
Have I ‘found myself’ yet?
People in movies often throw out the cliché that they’re going travelling to ‘find themselves’. It’s usually said by someone in a midlife crisis; when they think they have nowhere else to turn or they are completely sick of their life. In my own experience so far I’d say that the vast majority of backpackers are below thirty years old and therefore not old enough and disappointed enough with their life yet, to need to find themselves in that sense. Hollywood aside, I think that a lot of these young real life wanderers do have a sense of wanting to find themselves. They haven’t had a midlife crisis but they are indeed often looking to find something. I don’t know if many of them travel with the idea specifically in mind or what exactly it is that they are looking for, but most are out to see new places and have new experiences.
As a disclaimer I should point out that I am still in the midst of my travelling period so this will change and evolve as my travels continue, but I thought a mid-point blog on the subject would be interesting to read back in the months/years to come.
I was aware of the phrase and I never really thought much of it, it sounded almost cryptic. I’ve been away from home for over a year but I’ve only really travelled ‘easy countries’ up to now; most speaking English and most highly developed. The next part of my trip will see this flipped on its head. I foresee more challenges, more culture shock, and more life lessons with each new Asian country than all of my travelling thus far put together. With over eight Asian countries lined up at this point, that’s a lot of lessons and challenges to be had!
Having said that, I have learned a few things up to now, and I thought it would be a good idea to share what I feel I’ve learnt up till this point.
I think it’s very important to do things that you wouldn’t normally do; the ‘get out of your comfort zone’, another cliché I admit. It’s part of the finding oneself idea and it does make sense. If you live all your life in your comfort zone without ever testing yourself, you could become so comfortable that you end up having a deluded view of yourself. How do you know if you could or could not climb that mountain? How do you know that you would cope or not cope with camping out in the freezing cold whilst huge grizzly bears are stalking the surrounding area? How do you know that meeting new, seemingly odd, people out in the country won’t open your eyes to other views that change your life?
Even if you think you have no interest in climbing a mountain or meeting strange new people, I would urge everyone to give it all a go. You will learn that you are just an observer to your actions. You don’t know how you will react in a new situation, assuming you can’t do something is the wrong attitude to have. You will surprise yourself. You will surprise yourself in pleasant ways and maybe in negative ways. It's all 'finding yourself'. I never really knew that I had developed a slight fear of heights. I’d been in my comfort zone for so long I didn’t even know; I seemed to be okay with heights as a child… so I had just assumed that I was still okay with heights now. This was unexpectedly revealed to me when I was on a hike in the US. I got up to a certain height, on a narrow ledge with huge drops on each side before it hit me. It gave me a shock, my legs felt shaky, I froze. I felt the need to crouch down into the fetal position and suck my thumb.
I was on a two week long tour with these kinds of hikes and climbs every other day, and a week later I had conquered my newly found shaky legs and I was climbing to scary heights with confidence. It’s a small example but it is a window into the idea that I’m talking about.
Maybe you get stranded somewhere with no obvious way out of a potentially dangerous situation, but you do get out of it, you use your intelligence and wits to figure out the problem – whether it’s navigating your way through a dark scary town when you are lost, or keeping enough strength and motivation to climb that mountain – you really won’t know if you are capable or not, until you try it.
The second thing I have learned is to be willing to talk to anyone and everyone, and not judge them because they look or act different to yourself. How do you know that your views and opinions are the best ones? It may sound weird but if you are never challenged by new, interesting, and odd ideas and opinions, you will miss out.
Even if you never have a ‘born again’ moment with any of your ideals or values, you will one hundred per cent still meet a whole manner of interesting and wonderful people. I’ve met scientists on their phd research, tv show actors, people who were certain that aliens built the great pyramids, people that have been travelling for over ten years solid, a guy that had written, filmed and directed his own tv series built from the ground up, circus performers, an eleven year old kid that wanted to be a stem-cell scientist when he grows up…
…this doesn’t even touch on all the young people that I’ve met that are each full of their own aspirations and life plans. Each and every conversation has the potential to open one’s own eyes to a new idea, path in life, or simply an interesting conversation.
The two things I’ve hit on up to now – getting out of your comfort zone and being open to talk to anyone – are given extra weight with all the time a traveller gets to reflect. There are many long moments of solitude, if you so wish. Long plane and bus journeys, a week relaxing by a beach; these opportunities are plentiful if you want them, especially as a solo traveller. You get time to review how you acted in that situation, or about what that guy said, or how great that new bizarre dish tasted. The more you reflect the easier it is to feel yourself changing.
The term finding yourself is perhaps more accurate expressed as ‘creating yourself’, though not as pleasing a phrase. That is what’s happening, you might not suddenly have a light bulb moment in the middle of a jungle and be completely transformed forever (possible but not for me yet) but it’s like small pieces of a jigsaw are being added all the time. Some pieces don’t fit and are discarded, some struggle to fit and wiggle in, and others are massive and fit right in the middle and you wonder how you had never seen the piece before.