After a breakup 18 months ago, I was closing a chapter of my life. A chapter that I cherished so fiercely that I could barely bring myself to release my blue-knuckled grip on it.
But one by one, I pried my rigid fingers from its pages, and I watched reluctantly as a blank page unfolded. A blank page that was quietly waiting to receive the words of my next chapter.
I realised then that what felt like the end of the book was actually the beginning of a new, better, and more exciting story. A story that was mine to create.
At first, I filled that page with sentences. Then those sentences became paragraphs. And those paragraphs became whole essays on a life a that I loved and built from scratch.
I learnt that it’s never too late to rewrite our stories. Sure, the characters, the contexts, and the plot might not be what we had planned.
But if we never turn the page, we’re never going to get to find out what happens next.
And now it’s time for me to do just that, again. In six weeks’ time, I’ll be leaving everything and everyone that I know and flying halfway across world with no set plans, no return ticket, and no job to come back to.
I don’t know what this next chapter is going to bring. All I know is that it feels right, in my heart. And after a lifetime of leading with my head, I’ve never been more ready to let my heart guide the way.
The thing is, I was never the type of person to make big, bold, or courageous moves like this.
I was the always the type of person who settled for what they already had because the alternative was too scary. The alternative meant taking risks – risks that could result in failure, discomfort, danger, or disappointment.
So I engineered fortresses and fashioned armour around my heart. I was safe, but I was trapped.
Trapped inside the cold and colourless concrete walls built from the bricks of my pain and fear and apathy. Trapped inside the stiff and heavy protective suit crafted out of the chains of my hurt and bitterness and regret.
And just like a prisoner, my life was confined to routine. Because routine was comfortable. Easy. Safe.
When we always know where we’re going to be, when we’re going to be there, and what we’re going to be doing, we can lull ourselves into a fall sense of control, eliminating much of life’s crippling uncertainty. And that makes it all feel a hell of a lot less scary.
But if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt recently, it’s that the only thing scarier than uncertainty is routine.
Routine is restrictive. It keeps us small. It keeps us in our comfort zones. It keeps us from growing.
Routine keeps us from doing what we’re meant to do.
Life is meant to be lived. Not tolerated, not endured, and not observed from the shadows of our self-created castles of conservation.
And the first step towards living a full, fearless, and wholehearted life is deciding what that looks like for us.
We can decide to live by our own terms, or we can decide to live by someone else’s. We can decide to write our own stories, or we can decide to let someone else write them for us. We can decide to follow our own dreams, or we can decide to follow someone else’s.
We can decide to make life happen for us, or we can decide to sit back and let life happen to us.
There’s no such thing as a problem-free existence. But as Mark Manson so powerfully puts it in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – it’s about deciding which problems we want to have.
So much of my life has been dominated by futile problems. Problems which have brought me no closer to achieving anything meaningful. Problems like how I’m going to spend my Saturday night when all my friends are busy. What I’m going to have to do to get ahead in my 9-5 job. What outfit I’m going to pick to impress that date.
But the problems that I want to have are the ones which are going to test my limits. The ones which are going to hold a mirror up to my darkness. The ones which are going to force me to find out what I’m made of.
And what better way to find out than to put myself in a situation where, stripped of the comfort-blanket of routine, I have no choice but to come face-to-face with my fears?
Long-term travel is often glamourised. And it is an undeniable privilege. But the reality is, it can also be lonely, scary, exhausting, unsettling, and anxiety-provoking.
Behind every Instagram-worthy snapshot is a reality that rarely makes it onto our screens. Like the the dodgy encounters, the messed-up plans, the dirt-infested hotel rooms, the sleepless nights spent missing home, and the startling brushes with profound human suffering.
Some people might think that my decision to travel is an attempt to run away from my problems. But it doesn’t work like that. We can take ourselves out of our surroundings, but we can’t take ourselves out of our minds.
Our pain isn’t circumstantial; it’s personal. It’s a part of us. And that means that it’s going to be with us, no matter where we are.
Happiness isn’t something that can be found at the shores of the Seychelles, in the cities of Colombia, on the beaches of Bora Bora, or up the peaks of Peru. Happiness is an outcome of wholeness. And wholeness is a product of our choices.
For years, I’ve let my choices be dictated by the voice inside my head. The one that answers every question I ask myself with ‘what if?’. What if it’s a mistake? What if it goes wrong? What if I mess it up?
I’d be lying if I said that that voice wasn’t still there. But this time, instead of asking myself ‘what if?’, I’m asking myself ‘so what?’. So what if it is a mistake? So what if it does go wrong? So what if I do mess it up?
If things don’t go to plan, at least I’ll know that I tried. I might not be able to see what’s waiting for me around this next corner, but I owe it to myself to find out. Because trying and failing is a far better option than not ever having tried at all.
I don’t want to die with a heart full of un-manifested dreams, un-ticked bucket lists, and unspoken desires.
I don’t want to let life pass me by while I’m stuck floundering and flailing, reeling off excuse after excuse for not going after what I really, truly want.
And I want to take risks. Big, leap-of-faith, step-into-the-unknown risks. Risks that might lead to failure, but at least not regret.
I want to make mistakes and to learn from them. To fall down and pick myself back up again. To break my own heart and heal it.
I want to wonder at the world, to awe at the beauty of nature, to marvel at the magic of life. I want to drink it all in and soak it all up.
I want to nourish my soul with the balm of adventure, to nurture it with the light of inspiration, to feed it with a diet of experiences. Every good experience, every bad experience, and every mediocre experience in between – I want it all.
I’m not writing this because I want you to travel like me (although if you want to, you should, seriously). I’m writing this because I want you to make the changes you’re too scared to make. I want you to take the risks you’re too scared to take. I want you to turn the pages you’re too scared to turn.
I want you to find out what happens next.