I didn’t find myself.
Not in Bali. Not in Australia or Thailand or Cambodia.
Not even in London, where my life will be centred for the foreseeable future.
This was my first big trip. My only solo travel to date and the longest I have ever been away from
home my mom my dad Lucas all of the above. I’ve watched so many friends embark on adventures of self-discovery and wanderlust and quietly waited for my turn. For the day to come when I would feel brave enough to go see some things, do some things, learn some things. And I knew when I got on that first flight that my life would change. Practically speaking, by that time it already had: I’d left my job, accepted an offer of placement in an Master’s program for September, and “planned” roughly 3 months of travel for the interim. So my life had already turned itself upside-down within the first quarter of 2017, and I was ready for even more. I wrote, through some tears, my first journal entry before passing out during that first takeoff. “Dear Universe, I am ready.”
During the first chapter of my trip, within days of one another, two of the most important people in my life sent me the same video. Maybe they could both feel I needed it, or knew that at some point in my adventure I would (no one at that point, including me, imagined that I’d be skydiving within a few weeks). Fear has controlled my life in very pointed ways for a very long time. It’s held me back, driven me into the ground, and threatened my life. It would come to be my greatest lesson and accomplishment of the entire journey: to face fear, and as a result, emerge with bravery I never knew I had, and more experiences than I ever thought I’d get in a lifetime.
But the self-defining moment of clarity didn’t come all at once in a life-altering second where everything falls into place. It wasn’t waiting for me in a particular country or city, on the top of a mountain or in the beauty of an ancient temple. I picked it up piece by piece, and more accurately, uncovered it piece by piece by learning about what I value, what I want, and what I’m capable of. And it was only by saying “yes”, over and over.
But I wouldn’t’ have believed you if you’d told me in the past what was coming. What was waiting out there when you choose to be brave:
You might make a new friend and end up on a YouTube channel by saying hello
Or mix giant piles of cement and create homes for coral and fishies to thrive in the ocean and avoid extinction
Or surf for the very first time and glow for hours after from the saltwater and smiles
Or wake up at sunrise on a train racing through Thai ricefields
Or have your most personal story shared by an international online publication
Or have Eoin Finn (THE Eoin Finn) as a wheelbarrow race partner
Or meet a bearded, tattooed motorcycle-riding gem of a human
Or become a yoga teacher
Or let someone in on your struggles and ask them for help
Or run into Siem Reap traffic to rescue the cooler that flew off your Tuktuk
Or get a teensy bit turned around on a Sydney morning and end up at the navy fleet base
Or get adopted for shenanigans by everyone who works at your Byron Bay hostel
Or sleep in a camper van
Or learn to drive said camper van in the pouring rain in the dark along the Australian Pacific highway
Or dance in a drum circle at sunset at Byron Bay beach
Or hike in bare feel to the furthest eastern point on the continent of Australia
Or get lost
Or get lost again
You might see more shooting stars in the span of 15 minutes on a sailboat in the Whitsundays than you’ve ever seen in your life
Or snorkel, paddle board and try goon for the first time in the span of 24 hours
Or you might just get in the goddamn water, Maddie
You might watch sunset from the top of the Sydney opera house
Or jump from an airplane at 14,000 feet and freefall at sunrise for 60 seconds
Or ride tuktuks at unsafe speeds through the streets of Bangkok
Or trek a mountain through the jungle and see the first full rainbow of your life
Or ride in the back of a pickup truck
Or steer a bamboo raft
Or eat an ice-cream cone for the first time in 7 years
Or get caught in a torrential Thai rainstorm and walk home anyway
Or sing with 2 little Cambodian girls to “Shape of You” in a mini-mart
Or take a life-altering dancehall class and learn to twerk
Or weep for the simultaneous destruction and resilience of an entire country
You might make real, authentic, human connection everywhere you go
Or feel isolated in one of the busiest cities in the world
Or really, really feel alive
Big adventures were part happenstance and part self-made, but the most cliche travel check-boxes or exciting experiences weren’t necessarily the parts that helped me know me. To me, the smallest pieces meant the most: The tiny little bubbles that pop in the sand after a wave. Snails on Bali back roads. Hearing my favourite song on the radio on the other side of the world. Finding shells at the bottom of every single bag I had with me because I could never remember which one I was collecting them in. My Bali mom bringing me treats after 12 hours of yoga training. Comfortable silences on sailboats that weren’t actually sailing. Really, really good coffee. Those moments only come when you can get outside yourself and let things happen.
You don’t have to skydive or travel the world to get to the other side of fear. To find the sunshine. It’s there: in the willingness to expand yourself, rip yourself open, to say yes and to make little and big leaps in faith, in the universe, and in yourself. Let go a little and ride the wave to great big heart-expanding, world-shifting bliss.
I’ve loved with my whole soul. I’ve held hands and I’ve held hearts. I’ve cried in the face of overwhelming beauty, and overwhelming sadness. I’ve pushed every single limit I have and succeeded. And failed.
But the pieces. The pieces that made this existed long before I ever got on that first plane. All I needed was some room to let them show up.
So, you see, I didn’t find myself; I was here the whole time.