There is change in the air, and I’m afraid to admit it sometimes, even to myself. In the next few days, I will officially be giving notice at my job to embark upon a three month stint in Southeast Asia and China. The month of March marks the last month I will be spending in the United States before everything is thrown out of balance. Not surprisingly enough, that month is filled with activity – birthdays, last get-togethers, planning, packing, and making arrangements to be largely alone for a few months. Alone. That is the part of this equation that somehow always manages to throw my excitement out of wack – the part of the equation that I know is necessary, even good, but the part that I’m definitely not salivating over.
A few months ago, I read a very well-written article on what a person can gain from traveling alone. The writer passionately listed all the reasons he thought one should go it alone – perspective gained from distance, listening to one’s inner voice, clearing out the noise, learning independence, and finding yourself. Ah. Finding yourself. This must be one of the most cliched reasons travelers cite for rucksacking it alone in a foreign country. “I’ve come here to find myself…to figure out what I want to do with my life.” As much as I hate to admit it, this is perhaps one of my largest motivators.
I want to learn that fear should not be a motivator, and that desire should be what inspires me. Fear has always been one of the primary driving forces in my life. I studied in college for fear of not being able to get a respectable job upon graduation. I don’t always speak my mind because I am afraid of the possible consequences. I work hard at a job I’m not always satisfied with because I am afraid I’ll get fired and end up living in a box on a street corner in the SOMA. I can just see it now…shopping at the Home Depot to get a sheet of plastic to fix my sagging cardboard rooftop.
Fear isn’t the only thing I want to take out of my life. I want to conquer passivity. If I am completely honest about why I ended up in San Francisco, just 45 miles away from where I was born, I’d have to say it was really because I just let it happen. I applied for jobs in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and didn’t hear back from anyone except for a company named Yelp in San Francisco. If I remember correctly, my last thought before packing my bags for the city was, “Guess I’ll just go back up there and see what happens.” For once, I want to take control, and steer my life in a direction, instead of passively letting life sweep me into its current. The direction does not matter – all that matters is that I’m the one turning the wheel. For much of my life, I’ve felt like a bowling ball rolling resignedly down the gutter. Not the most inspiring sight.
Dr. Seuss has been quoted many times as saying, “You’ve got brains in your head, you’ve got feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” For the first time, and while I have the opportunity, I’m going to take that advice to heart and do something that I believe matters. Believe it or not, bone-crushing loneliness may be just the thing I need to learn who I truly am, what I really want, and make me start taking my life into my own hands.
I spoke with a friend today who recently went through a traumatic breakup. She told me that it was the hardest thing she’s ever been through. She suspected that her dependence on the relationship was the main reason why it was so difficult.
“It is hard.”
“But I’m doing okay.”
“I do have it in myself to be on my own, and slowly but surely, I am getting there.”
On your own. That’s just the thing. We’ve heard it time and time again, but it is only until you are comfortable being on your own that you can truly be whole. You don’t need someone or something to complete you – you need to feel complete by yourself. Where else but in the depths of loneliness can you hear your own voice, loud and clear, unhindered or influenced by the expectations of others? It is only until you can be content in the company of yourself and your own thoughts that you can begin to understand who you really are and what you really want.
Shanghai, you may not be the be-all-and-end-all for me, but I sure as hell know I’m going to learn something.