“I imagine – and know with some degree of experience – that the best life is lived outside of your comfort zone. I don’t want to be limited to the same friends or the same city or the same job all of my life. If it’s not a source of growth, it’s an obstacle. Instinct is almost always smarter than society and I’ve never met anyone who came to some great revelation by doing what everyone does.”
On June 30th, four years ago, I covertly scribbled a note to myself as I sat in a room full of new-hires. It was my first day on the job and I was already planning my escape. The goal was to get to grad school but my motivator was the nagging unfulfillment that awaited me as I walked into the office every morning. It became my “Operation Freedom” and like any true Type-A over-achiever, I was blindly fixated on success. My mistake was in believing that freedom could only be found in a place and as a product of an escape from circumstance. Had I taken the time to listen to my instincts, I would have recognized that I didn’t need to find freedom, I just needed to free myself.
I tend to think of myself as a recovering perfectionist. In high school I earned the nickname “Miss Perfect” and it stuck with me until well after college. In my adolescent ignorance I was proud of it. But looking back, I wonder if it was just a nice way of calling me boring. Somewhere in the past year I decided I didn’t want to follow the rules anymore. I didn’t want to be perfect if it meant living up to societal standards that I had no part in creating. It’s ironic that as humans we want to feel in control but end up submitting so much of ourselves to popular opinion that we’re really not in control at all.
We tend to go through life accepting that we don’t have choices and it’s how we end up down the road not knowing who we are or how we got there. It’s how I ended up with a career that didn’t suit me, friendships that drained me and a lifestyle that left me less than eager to get out of bed in the morning.
So when I decided to quit my job and travel, it was like taking the weight of the world off my shoulders and putting it in the palm of my hand. It was a monumental moment for Miss. Perfect because it was the first time in my life that I said “yes” to myself. For the first time ever, I allowed myself to do things simply because they felt good. I was in control of my world and suddenly everything was possible.
Attaining this sort of freedom from yourself is a blessing, of course. But much like letting a puppy into the all-white home of a perfectionist, you have to accept that it’s going to mess up the natural order of things. I started applying the “do only what feels good” mantra to every area of my life and that’s when things got hectic.
I started to worry about the gravity of my decision to go to school. I started to lose motivation at work. And most disruptively, I started to distance myself from relationships that were anything less than uplifting. My escape to Australia couldn’t have come at a better time. It was a month away from reality where I could solidify these changes, do only what felt good, recharge and return home ready to install my new self into my life.
Was it successful? I’d be hard pressed to find a reason I shouldn’t have gone. There is something to be said for these kinds of sabbaticals, mini-retirements (or escapes – whatever you want to call them.) But it certainly doesn’t make for an easy homecoming. I wasn’t prepared for the nasty withdrawals. For a long while now, travel has been my drug. I’d encounter some sort of strife and off I’d go looking for a fix. Twenty cities across seven states and four countries in the span of about two years and I’d invariably come back feeling more and more in tune with myself. This trip wasn’t any different except that it came about on the heels of my new found freedom. A big part of me came home feeling like I wasn’t done with it yet. Which is why an even bigger part of me feels driven to somehow turn this into a career. I don’t want travel to be my leisure, I want it to be a much bigger part of my life. Australia didn’t cure my travel bug. It only whet an already insatiable appetite.
I recognize that travel isn’t a cure-all for the common crises we encounter throughout our lives. Sometimes we’re just attempting to escape problems that will inevitably follow us. But more often than not, travel proves to be an enlightening agent in the course of self-discovery. It removes us from what is comfortable and forces us to re-examine ourselves in the context of the unfamiliar. And that is exactly what self-discovery is. The revelation, the peeling back of layers, the new perspective we gain under new light. So it makes sense that traveling adds to that growth exponentially. The more I put myself out there, the more I start to understand the crazy, mixed up universe within me. The more I give up perfection for a little bit of unadulterated fun. The more I realize that freedom isn’t a place but a state of mind separate from societal influences.
And the more I realize that – for a lot of things, for everything – this is only the beginning.
Stay tuned! I head to St. Louis in less than a week. Classes start August 1st and they already have a great line-up of fun stuff: a river cruise party, cardinals game and plenty of bar nights!
Care to share? What is your freedom?