I have a travel journal. A thick, Italian leather-bound book my sister gave me. The first entry is from 2013. I was 22 and leaving New Zealand for the first time. Fast forward 6 years and I just filled the last page. I always joked to myself I wouldn’t stop traveling until the book was full. Somewhat coincidentally as I wrote the last entry I was sitting on a long haul flight back to NZ.
Looking at the numbers, in the past 6 years I have spent 3 months of my life traveling in America on 3 separate trips. I have lived in Belgium for a year, and I visited 24 different countries. I visited Japan for 2 weeks and then went back the next year to live for a month. I lived in Taiwan for 2.5 weeks, and spent a month trekking in Nepal. I spent a year in Chamonix, France. This summer I traveled by van through Eastern Europe, the Dolomites and the Alps.
It makes me tired just writing all that down. But it’s only 33% of the world. I have never been to South America. I have never been to Africa. I have never been to Antarctica or Russia. Not even to Australia. In someways, I’ve barely scratched the surface (although my carbon foot print is probably depressing).
I’m still not sure if I am doing the right thing, coming home. When I leave a place, I make some people happy. I make other people sad. I make myself confused. I can’t tell if I am just running away again. Or if I am really meant to go home. Settle a little. Find a job. Find a community. Find balance. Find a compromise between all the various parts of me that seem to push and pull my goldfish like attention span in different directions.
Some days I feel like I’ve accidentally smashed my heart into tiny pieces, and with all this bouncing around I keep leaving little bits in different places and with different people. I’ve started wondering if I need to go around collecting all the broken parts and trying to stick them back together. Then maybe I will finally be able to give my whole heart to something, some place, someone.
But I’m also cautious, I feel I have jumped with both feet down rabbit holes before. Only to find myself at a dead end, struggling to scratch my way back to the surface. I have committed myself to a certain part of my scattered brained self, only to find it dissatisfying to lose the other parts. This magical “balance” thing appears somewhat illusive.
I also feel I am somewhat a victim of the “paradox of choice”. Normally, it is a theory applied to consumerism. Studies show when a consumer is overwhelmed by choice they are less likely to act than if they are provided a smaller number of options to evaluate.
However, I remember being told as a child “I could be anything I wanted” when I grew up. I think we, white middle class children of the 80s and 90s, are the first generation to have such freedom of choice. There is no expectation to be what your father was or to be a “good mother”. You could be anything, go anywhere, “be who you wanted to be”.
Anything, is an overwhelming amount of choice. There is a very limited support structure for sorting through that large list of everything. I think it can be very challenging at 18 to know who you want to be when you don’t even know who you are. A friend likened it to choosing who you want to marry without even going on a single date. Just an online quiz and a booklet from your careers advisor to guide you.
It’s easy to justify how I fell into engineering without much thought to the questions I now find more meaningful. “What do you want to do each day? Do you want to be behind a computer for 8 hours a day?” “Where do you want to live? Do you want to be confined to cities for interesting work?” “Do you want to work for someone else? Or have your own business?”
I’m not saying I would have had a clue how to answer these questions at 18 years old. But now, turning 28, they are at the forefront of my mind. I also turn in circles and dig many a rabbit hole over wanting to be helpful, wanting to make a positive (or at least neutral) impact on the world but knowing that often there is very little that has a true meaning, that can’t be argued against, that doesn’t get lost in the ether. Our existences are mainly insignificant, and that bothers me.
So even though the day has come that I have been holding on to for sometime now, I am home. I am still as lost as ever. But, as I did when I returned from Belgium, I will write myself a letter. The most important things we learn on the most challenging of days and I think there is value in remembering those lessons. 2016 mainly centered around learning I could be brave, I could be strong. That being so far out of my comfort zone could help me become so much more than I ever thought I could be.
Weirdly, 2019 has almost the opposite tone. I learned that if you burrow down that rabbit hole of self improvement and pushing your limits too far for too long, you might lose sight of the sun. You might lose the joy of just existing, of just doing or of just being. You might isolate yourself. You might exhaust yourself.
This year has been a process of breaking down my ego and realising it is okay to be mediocre. It’s okay not to be “the best”. It’s okay to do something fun over doing something hard or scary but more impressive to others. That both instances can bring reward. That type 1 fun can actually be quite fun.
I have learnt plenty of other lessons too, about the importance of human connection, and the hunt for the mythical “balance”. I learnt that I need to work for a cause, a purpose and/or people I believe in. That I want my hard work to benefit something I care about.
I really can’t comprehend right now where this journey will take me next but I started and ended my travel journal with the same quote… “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” ~ T.S.Eliot