You don’t have to go across the world to find yourself

January 11, 2013 in Life,Philosophy,Travel

I forget when exactly I learned the definition of equanimity–it was at some point on my travels–but I do remember thinking that I did not possess it. Equanimity is defined as mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation: the stuff of army generals, presidents, English people.

The opposite of equanimity is volatility. I tend to be a big ball of emotion: like a puppy, I’m easily excitable and quick to disappointment. My moods tend to veer in extremes: in a matter of 24 hours, I can be floating with happiness before just as easily folding into myself with despair. Friends know I don’t have a poker face, don’t put up many pretenses: I’m “real” almost to a fault.

Recently, I equated these ups and downs with the stress of travel (although I’ve long been prone to stress, the very definition of high-strung): the unfamiliarity of new places and foreign cultures combined with the sensation of being very, very far from home. I don’t think friends (or for that matter, my parents) knew what to expect when they received a call with a long string of foreign digits: sometimes, I’d be calling just to check in and exclaim about my latest escapade or adventure. Other times, I’d be sobbing, futilely attempting to catch my breath as I wondered if all of this was worth it.

I once wrote that the greatest feeling of traveling was one of self-sufficiency: “Like, yes, I can carry all of my bags and find my hostel down three different alleys and sort out an awesome place to eat ALL BY MYSELF.” I didn’t realize how much I could do until I simply did it: I never though I could backpack through Europe on my own, move to Australia on my own, travel to Southeast Asia on my own until I booked the ticket without looking back. The very act of being on my own was a reward in itself.

Not surprisingly, what I hate most is a lack of control. My unraveling generally came when I was running late or feeling lost, subject to public transportation and traffic and unfamiliar street signs. In many ways, I’ve become much better about accepting the things I cannot change: when I showed up to the airport to fly to Colombia in September, I was informed that no, in fact, I did not have a ticket on that flight and the plane was full (hello, worst travel nightmare). Instead of breaking down–as I most likely would have done in many instances before–I closed my eyes, did a few rounds of yoga breathing, made the appropriate calls and got myself on a different plane a few terminals away. I called my mom, as I would have done before, but instead of seeking her to comfort me in between tears, I proudly told her how composed I’d been.

As I settle into my life in New York, I’m rediscovering that greatest feeling of traveling, self-sufficiency–albeit in a completely different setting. I’ve moved apartments by myself, painted my room by myself, struggled through putting together Ikea furniture by myself. I realized that had I stayed in (or moved back to) California, I never would have discovered that I’m capable of doing these things. I would have called my dad to help me paint or assemble furniture (or, more likely, tried to do it on my own, made a mistake, lost interest and then called him to bail me out, as I did throughout college). I would have convinced my guy friends to help me move or set up my router with promises of a 30-pack or a plate of homemade cookies. I would never have had to push myself; instead, I would have stayed squarely in the “princess” persona that defined me in high school and college.

I’m starting to realize that perhaps you don’t have to travel across the world to discover yourself, to realize what you’re capable of accomplishing on your own. Self-sufficiency does not exist solely in 16-hour plane rides, daylong bus adventures in Vietnam, successfully giving directions in a second language. It exists whenever we stop saying that we can’t do something and simply do it, when we push out of our comfort zone into new and unfamiliar–and ultimately, the most rewarding–territory. When we struggle through something, tears and hopelessness and all, and come out on the other side: perhaps not unscathed, but knowing that the scars will fade.

  • http://www.danielle-abroad.com/ Danielle E. Alvarez

    Hallelujah. I completely agree :) it’s only in the extreme situations that we take notice of the breadth of our abilities (and even then, not always as much as we should), but we accomplish tiny victories on a daily basis no matter where we are. I think acknowledging them is key to feeling content with oneself.

  • Tom @ IofWEA.org

    I agree, self-sufficiency is a wonderful feeling and you can apply it anywhere, whether it be learning a new skill, living alone, sorting problems etc. And by the way we English appear composed because of the “stiff upper lip” mentality over here, and we’re probably not the best at expressing emotion.

  • Jessica

    i have always thought of myself as a self-sufficient person, doing everything on my own and in my own time. But lately I have started to be lazy, to let other people do things for me, even when I could easily do it myself. That is part of the reason that I have decided to go to Ireland for 6 months, on my own. So that I can remember again what it is like to be self-sufficient. This post was timely. I leave soon and was feeling scared and tired and sad, like I shouldn’t be leaving. But I have renewed faith that pushing through it will be terribly rewarding, and ultimately worthwhile. Thanks. :)

  • Jess Jones

    You’ve nailed it again my friend! It’s life’s mini-accomplishments along the way that allow us to feel successful and good about ourselves. The extra difficulties that the other side of the world perhaps throws our way, well, they just make us even stronger!

  • camorose

    Very, very true. Happiness is so much about recognizing and appreciating those little moments :)

  • camorose

    Totally agree that the English “stiff upper lip” has its benefits and disadvantages! We Americans tend to put it all out there, for better or for worse :)

  • camorose

    Yay! Glad that it came at a good time for you–and have SO much fun in Ireland! It will totally be worth it :)

  • camorose

    Thanks lady! You’re such an inspiration when it comes to overcoming all sorts of things on the other side of the globe :)

  • http://twitter.com/fabdestinbrenna Brenna

    True that! I just did a little DIY house project and took off my closet doors by watching a youtube video…never knew that could give me as much joy as traveling through Europe alone :) You’re so right!

  • http://twitter.com/20YH Tony K + Steph H

    Beautiful post! At times reading this, I felt I could have written it myself, as one of the things I really love about traveling is that feeling of competence (if not invincibility) it gives me. I like knowing that even when I can’t control things, I can still deal with them and actually live in the world rather than in a safe bubble of my own choosing.

    This all also reminded me of this great quote by one of my favorite people of all time, Jon Kabat Zinn: Wherever you go, there you are.

    Seems trite at first, but it’s actually so completely true.

  • Caroline

    Love this post! I was nodding my head along throughout the whole thing. I think that’s what I’ve gained most in the past year or so, that realization of what it means to be self-sufficient and that I can do things on my own.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ange.rose.39 Anđela Ćenan

    …just what I needed!!! ;) love this post!

  • camorose

    To be fair, I feel very lucky to be attempting to be handy in the day of YouTube and Google: that’s pretty much how I figure out how to do ANYTHING!

  • camorose

    Love love love that quote. Thanks for sharing :)

  • camorose

    It’s a nice feeling to have :)

  • camorose

    Thanks lady! Glad you can relate :)

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  • DavidHR

    This is good. I like it :)

  • camorose

    Thank you!

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