How To Find Yourself Without Being Totally Naff
‘I found myself.’ How many of you just eye rolled or winced as you read that – quite possibly both?
Let’s face it, it’s hard not to: talking about ‘finding ourselves’ has become a dirty taboo. It’s not cool; it’s too bohemian; it’s egotistic; it’s laughable. As soon as someone proclaims they’ve found themselves, we assume they’ve simultaneously lost their marbles. We suppose it’s only a matter of time before they start advocating Goop’s most WTF teachings and relocate to a happy-clappy place up in the clouds.
But after spending half a year travelling, away from home, while I never came back hollering from the rooftops that I’d found myself – in that period, I undoubtedly reconnected with myself. I learnt more about myself in six months than I had done in years. I returned having overcome my deepest, darkest stages of depression and having found new ways to manage it. I re-evaluated everything from friendships to past relationships, my career path, my strengths and flaws; I was able to identify what filled me with purpose with greater clarity than ever before.
When I returned, I took a vow to turn the little lessons I learnt about myself into positive, long-lasting changes. A year on since my travelling stint, these changes still remain with me now. I honestly count them as more of a blessing than any of the other experiences I took away with me.
Everyone is wired differently, so it’s a trial and error game working out what works best for you but I really hope by sharing the biggest revelations and resolutions that came from half a year’s travels, it might help those who are feeling a little lost to reconnect with themselves too.
Revelation No. 1 – You’ll realise you’re more flawed than Oedipus and Achilles combined, but it’s OK – now is the perfect time to start working on that…
The reality: It doesn’t matter if they’re your best friend, your lover or your cousin: travelling with anyone for a long period of time is never just a walk in the park. Even if you’d usually be found singing their sweet-as-cherry-pie praises from a white rose and ivy-strewn balcony, there will be countless times you’ll consider chucking them over one instead. Travelling is a high-pressure cooker environment; we’re talking emotions boiling higher than in an episode Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. When you’re with someone 24/7, Big Brother style, it’s inevitable your patience will wane. During these moments you’ll learn many truths about yourself, ugly ones which rear their head as your inner Polly Nor devil slinks out of your skin.
I knew at times I can be stubborn as a mule, sassier than Naomi Campbell and difficult for the sake of being difficult (Larry David gave me his blessing). Although it’s not until I went travelling I realised to what extent. I would even manage to annoy myself but still couldn’t resist throwing in that last sarky word, because it’s in my flawed nature to sometimes be a little shit (once again, this one’s on you, Larry). Still, there are ways to navigate around this…
The resolution: Make a list of all your strengths and weaknesses. I say strength and weaknesses because it’s easy to get bogged down in all the negative stuff; in order for this to truly work and feel constructive, you’ve got to take the good and bad into account and use your strengths to lift you up.
Now before you dismiss this as being pretty basic, just hear me out…Lot’s of your flaws you’ll probably be aware of but others may come as a complete surprise to you (judging from the venomous way your buds are eyeing you up after wolfing down that entire family-pack of Doritos, maybe you should work on sharing too…). Having flaws isn’t an issue because no one is perfect after all: it’s more the upset and frustration they can cause to the people around you, in your hamster cage confinements, where tolerance levels wear and tear each day. Rather than just listing your shortcomings (e.g. being impatient) think about how it can make others feel (i.e. cut off, not being listened to, uneasy, etc.). When you begin focusing on how your bad behaviour makes others feel, when situations arise which put your patience to the test, you will be more mindful about how you handle them, to prevent others feeling this way.
In environments when you’re constantly being tested, this is the best kind of place to start putting this kind of thinking into practice. Once you have, transitioning this into a habit back home will come as a breeze.
Revelation No. 2 – You’ll hardly ever be alone travelling but make sure you really carve out time for yourself
The reality: This may seem like a no-brainer but it’s surprising just how little time you actually spend on your own when you’re travelling. Even if you’re a solo traveller, you’ll always be surrounded by other burdened backpackers along the way.
This invasion of personal space and privacy was something I initially really struggled with. I’m an only child so I’m very used to having my own company, I get lots of enjoyment from it. Being with people around the clock makes stealing moments to yourself hard. This made the biggest challenge I faced – dealing with my depression in an environment where I couldn’t hide from it – a very unnerving one.
Normally, when I would have dark days and that all too familiar, oppressive doom cloud would creep over me, I would remove myself from every situation possible, cancel all my plans and hibernate from the world. I was always of the mindset, if I was going through a bad patch, I would never want to burden anyone else with my negativity and bring them crashing down. Out travelling though, this simply was not an option.
The resolution: Going travelling not only forced me to address how I was feeling but rather than wallow around all day, it encouraged me to look for solutions. Previously, I would incessantly focus on all the large objectives I had failed to achieve. I thought only if I bagged the dream job, fell in love and got my dream body – only then, would I be happy. On my travels, I learnt how to take pleasure from life’s simple comforts, ones I had previously taken for granted. I focused on finding creative outlets for my emotions. Writing, reading and listening to great podcasts became my therapeutic streams: although I was no stranger to any of these hobbies back home, distractions like my mobile phone and getting in a Google hole googling ridiculous things (aka – are Kelly Osbourne and Lindsay Lohan still friends?) would constantly disrupt my engagement with all three practices. This would impact on how effective they were in improving my mood at that given moment (i.e. not very).
Learning to do one of these things, in a quiet place or listening to music with my earphones on, helped me to fully zone out from everything else and instill a sense of calm in me. As I concentrated solely focusing on the task at hand, it felt like relinquishing some control. I had always perceived my depression as something that was bigger than me; while it continued to seep in and out of my time travelling, my attitude to it completely changed. For my own sanity, I was forced to become a doer when I felt like crap, rather than doing nothing. This would have seemed unimaginable before I put myself in an environment which showed me it was possible.
Now, I no longer perceive my depression as larger than me. I’ve come to accept I don’t have to be on point all the time, it’s not humanly possible. It’s OK to be honest with others and tell them you’re having one of those days, even if you can’t articulate all the emotions you’re experiencing. All good friends will give you the empathy, compassion and space you deserve. But sometimes they can’t read your mind and this means just letting them know. Talking about these things, even if it’s in a roundabout way helps. I may have only fully grasped the understanding of this out travelling but these rules can be applied anywhere.
Depression never really goes away, but discovering outlets which help manage it, is what’s game-changing.
Revelation No. 3 – Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone Is Daunting But In These Moments You Will Thrive
The reality: On any backpacking adventure your alien surroundings will make this is a given but it’s about going that extra mile…
The resolution: Make sure you do a handful of things on your travels that you would never have done back home. Whether that’s bungee jumping, a hike up the Himalayas or doing a Bear Grylls stint on an island – whatever floats your boat. Do something which really challenges you, it will not only make you feel proud of yourself but will help reinstall faith and confidence in yourself, especially if you suffer from low self-esteem. Then, when you come back home, things like networking events which used to seem nail-bitingly mortifying, you’ll find easier to take in your stride.
Revelation No. 4 – You Might Be Hesitant But Stripping Back To Basics Is So Rewarding
The reality: ‘But I can’t possibly live without my iPhone, internet, electricity and every home comfort!’ you cry. Oh, yes, you can. Ever heard of that little gem called ‘character-building’?
The resolution: Stripping back to basics may seem like a complete overhaul but its an amazing one which declutters the mind. You will appreciate the little things in life so much more and the great happiness they can bring. One of my fondest memories is staying with the Kuna people on the San Blas islands, in their little huts, without electricity or showers or beds, and yet I have never met a happier and lovelier bunch of people. Moments this will not only fill you with gratitude for all the possessions you would otherwise take for granted but they reinforce material things do not go hand in hand with happiness.
When I was travelling my phone died all of a sudden out of the blue. This period became my most introspective month on my travels and I truly grew to cherish that time, for this reason. I would stare out a bus window for hours on ends. Often not even thinking about anything – I can only describe it as being in almost a meditative state. My mind felt free and completely clear, something which living in London never seemed to allow. It’s so important to fully take advantage of these precious moments. Meanwhile, when I let my mind wonder, I let it fully roam and I called into question all the various aspects of my life: romance, friendships and what gave me purpose. Without the usual distractions around me, I would slip into daydreams which unfurled new revelations I had never had before. Once again, writing all of these thoughts down was very important in helping me learn from them and putting my life into a new perspective.
Revelation No. 5 – Everyone You Meet On Your Travels Will Help You Better Yourself
The reality: You’ll meet a whole storybook of characters on your trip. From heartthrobs to villains, to those madder than a hatter or more sombre than a Tim Burton caricature – you’ll meet them all. The beauty of travelling is you’ll find yourselves under the same roof as people you would never have dreamt of meeting.
The resolution: Be open, suspend judgement of others (as Londoners we’re awful at this) and accept people as they are (easier said than done, but working on this really helps it come as second nature). The more you practice being more accepting of others, you’ll find it easier to be more accepting and less harsh on yourself. There will be some stand-out characters you’ll meet, think about what it was you loved about them (Their sanguine nature? Their humour which put everyone at ease? Their willingness to help a complete stranger?). Take note of all the special moments when other people touched you and think about how in your own way, you can be that person who adds light and joy to someone’s day. Even on days when you’re not feeling so great, if you manage to lift someone else up still, this will do likewise to your spirits. Wherever you are in the world, this will inspire happiness wherever you go.
In a nutshell? Travelling is as much of an introspective journey as a physical one. Learn from others to better yourself. Be open to all kinds of people and new experiences which will enrich you as a person: do things which will make you feel proud and validate your self-worth. Treasure life’s little joys which often create the greatest happiness and remember simple remedies can often be the answer, next time you’re feeling low. Take the good with the bad and let negative experiences encourage you to search for positives. Have faith in yourself, be kind to others and as a result let yourself grow to love yourself in a way you never thought was possible.
Oh, and write everything down (duhh).
Illustrations by Manjit Thapp