1. Why do I make everything about me? And how can I change that?
I tend to take everything personally, especially when traveling. It’s easy to feel like an outsider when first arriving someplace new – not knowing anyone, customs, the bus system, etc, is frustrating. And being hassled and paying more for things simply because you’re a foreigner.. it’s enough to make some people crazy. When living in Tanzania, on multiple occasions, I found myself yelling at people on the street, in Swahili, so that they knew I lived there and I knew how much things should cost and what I was doing. Things have apparently changed since then. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an outsider, or an expat. You can live someplace for years and years, and you’re still never going to fit in and blend in. It will always be “us” and “them”, no matter how many local friends you have. The difference is that we can leave. We can go home. We can change our paths, our lives, any minute we want to. But a lot of times, the people around us can’t. So the next time I find myself frustrated stuck behind the slow-walking crowd of people, or offered a souvenir on the street for a ridiculously expensive price, or ripped off at the bus station, or when something is stolen from me, I will remember that it’s not personal. It’s not about me. It’s a strange feeling, because when I came home from my first big trip, I was proud that I came back selfish. I came back stronger. I remember saying, “You have to be selfish. You have to take care of yourself. Your feelings come first”. Now, I think I’ve taken it too far. How can I be selfish enough to be a strong, independent person, but selfless enough to change a bit of this beautiful world we live in?
2. How can I make myself realize that happiness is a choice?
I’m quick to think that traveling is my end-all be-all, a cure for a sickness I can’t diagnose. But nothing can be that. On my down days, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to feel what I’m feeling, but I can’t let it overpower me. If I need a day every now and then to veg out and watch movies and pretend I’m someplace else, so be it. But sometimes I have to force myself to go outside and experience the day, or I will get sucked in. Happiness is a state of mind, and I can control it. I have to remind myself every day, like a mantra, that I control my mood. My mood does not control me. You get what you put out, and if I’m always putting out negative energy, exactly what kind of experience am I getting here?
3. Why don’t I realize how rich I am?
I constantly find myself saying, “I can’t, I’m poor” at least once a day. But I’m not poor. I can be on a budget, I can be watching my spending, and I can be in a financial rough patch. But I will never be poor. After all the things I’ve seen and the experiences I have had, you think that I would be more sensitive and aware of these things. But instead, I bring it back to question number one – and I make everything about me. There are people, some of them close friends of mine, who are living in very real poverty. After everything I’ve seen, why do I still complain about things that aren’t worthy of complaints?
4. What will it take for me to be satisfied?
I’ve been in Cusco just over a month and I’m already finding myself googling and planning for trips away. Will I ever stop being bored? Will “the itch” ever go away? I don’t know the answer to that, but this morning I found myself planning a weekend trip I’d like to take soon. After a while, I realized I’m still in a new city. I’m still in a place where I only know a small fraction of what’s going on around me! So with the help of my boss (and friend), we went out shopping for the day in all the local markets, to places I hadn’t been yet, and was able to remind myself that again, attitude is everything.
5. How can I make myself a whole person?
I find myself split between two personalities. The person I am when I’m in the states, is not the person I am when I’m traveling in developing countries. When I’m home, I find myself skeptical of everyone around me. I often look around a room and try to figure out if I actually like any of the people I’m hanging out with, or if I’m just so used to their company that it’s routine. But I’m also more realistic and goal-orientated. I know my routine, my friends, my life, and I stay in more than I go out because I tend to be more practical. When I’m abroad, I’m friendly, I’m open-minded, I’m less judgmental, etc. I’m more likely to go out, drink, make new friends, participate in intellectual conversations and learn new things. I grow more as a person when I’m gone, but find myself shrinking back inside myself when I come home. What steps can I take to be both of these people at once? How can I be happy with the life I’ve chosen, no matter where I am or who I’m with?
Since the first time I left home, in January 2013, these 5 questions have played over and over inside of me, often without me even realizing it. I’m taking it upon myself to put it in writing, and to work through these thoughts every day. I don’t know if I’ll ever find the answers, but the first step is addressing these issues. Traveling is meant to be fun, yes, but it’s also meant to be a learning experience. I don’t ever want to stop growing, even if that means having to feel difficult emotions.