I wrote this article in 2014, the first time I became brave enough to travel on my own. I was amid a lot of confusion, loss of self-worth, and insecurity about my purpose – basically all the melodramatic feelings any twenty-something millennial goes through. Two years later, traveling solo has become my norm, with me preferring to find myself alone in a strange place, and making magical discoveries along the way.
I forgot about these “lessons” until I decluttered my files. You would think that two years would be enough to make a life-changing event change your life for real, but it’s not. Growing up is a painful process, but I am relieved to have hit some milestones that I forgot my younger self set for me.
It has been said so many times, but travel truly is one of the best favors you can do for yourself. And so, a few months shy of my 30th birthday, I share with you my deepest thoughts the first time I traveled not only by myself, but to a place so remote, so poor in some places, and so impactful that I came home and decided to grow up.
1. Be open. No judgment.
I always say that I’m a good judge of character, and that’s probably because I’m one of the most judgmental people you would ever meet. Though this can be considered a skill for the most part of my job in PR, judgment is a disease that sneaks its way into your conscience and kills it. Judgment causes people to discriminate, to look down upon people, to have delusions about one’s stature or accomplishments or value. Judgment is an evil trait – one that creates powerful rifts between people, nations, and races.
All of a sudden I was thrust into a world filled with different people, different races, different personalities. It was surreal and uncomfortable – I felt very vulnerable. And yet, when you open yourself up to the world, the world opens its arms to you, too. I stripped my eyes off the usual filters, and just saw people for who they are – travelers, families, divers, who flew for hours to the Philippines to immerse themselves in the wonder of this beautiful country.
When you are open, people are drawn to your spirit, to your soul. There is no need to puff up your chest, to project an image bigger than you, to succumb to the pressure of unreasonable expectations. You show your true light, and people see you for who you are. And, more often than not, they will like you for who you are.
Flying to Dumaguete in the Philippines, I thought it would be a vacation of solitude, of loneliness, one that would force me to quiet myself and wallow in the grief of losing friends and the confusion of not knowing where I am. But it turned out to be one that would teach me to be open, to be observant, to be accepting – of the differences of all the people you meet, of the experiences that you’ll allow yourself to have, of the walls that you need to break down.
2. Be humble. Be selfless.
There is something to be said about being content with what you have. With being ok with having nothing at one point, having something at another point, and maybe having everything one day. And then going back to nothing, which is the natural course of life, I suppose. And it’s not just about financial security, but about things and feelings and people that matter to you. To one day have your friends, and the next day lose them. To one day feel content about your life, and the next day feel trapped. To one day feel like you’re everything the world needs, and the next day feel like the smallest organism that could exist on this planet.
I’ve worked all my life to feel invincible, to feel that I couldn’t be brought down, and then I meet people who have been more, seen more, done more. I’ve always been proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’ve met people who proved that there’s always something bigger and better. And while there really are a lot of things that I should be proud of and be thankful for, I realized I’ve been lording over people with no real reason to do so. I’ve built this grandeur of who I am on deluded thoughts of how important my work has been.
And there lies the value of humility – of grounding yourself to reality and watering down the feeling of superiority. It’s the point when you accept that you’re really not all that, because success and accomplishments are relative, and those definitely don’t give you the right to feel that you’re better than anyone else. Because what’s important to you may not be important to the next person, and so it goes back to lesson number one which is to be open. To be open to what other people are proud of, to what is important to other people, and if it’s not relevant to you, to be mature enough to give them due credit.
And I think you only reach true humility when you’ve learned to be selfless. When you learn how to give up something that is only really good for you, so you can do something that will be really good for even more people. To learn how to be selfless is to learn how to be okay with what you have and who you are, without having to be steered by your fear of other people’s judgment, and to do so without being lazy and leaving your fate up to some unseen being.
There are so many things that can make or break someone, and I once again pull from the wise words of one of my wisest mentors because come to think of it, and so far from what I’ve observed from the vagabonds and the wanderers of the world, there are two very important things: intention and timing. And when the intention is right, the timing is always right. And when then intention is wrong, the timing will always be wrong.
3. Have courage. Be vulnerable.
Courage comes in many forms. Like I said, I work really hard to protect myself. From what, it doesn’t matter – all that matters is I don’t break. At the vaguest hint of weakness, rejection, or anything else that will put a crack on my shell, I pile up the blocks and build higher walls so as not to betray anything that would remotely show how sensitive I could be.
And in doing so, I’ve built walls that reach up to the skies, walls so high that I myself don’t know how to break them or jump over them anymore.
But in the five days in the middle of nowhere, I’ve never felt more myself, and in the company of strangers, for that matter. Perhaps it’s being a blank slate to these strangers, or to not being too preoccupied about what they think, or simply being in the presence of people who simply want to break away like me. Peeking over that wall for a bit surprised me, and I discovered new things on the other side – things that I knew existed but forgot because I’ve been hiding behind my wall for too long.
To fascinate and to be fascinated is a wonderful feeling.
Making yourself vulnerable is a scary thing. You feel exposed. You feel primed for an attack of some sort. But being vulnerable also allows you to let go of a lot of insecurities (ironically), and emerging from it as someone better and hopefully stronger. And if you don’t, it at least makes you more genuine and honest. And the world needs a few more genuine and honest people.
4. Surround yourself with good people. Cut out those who are not.
If there is one thing that I’ve taken out of everyone leaving my life, it is my attachment to people. I’m not loyal to companies or to jobs or to some lofty goal – I am loyal to people. I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing or a normal thing. The effect that people have on me is admittedly profound. I’ve always wondered what motivates me, and I would normally say money. Though that is mostly true, the reality is my motivation lies within the people I have in my life. I need someone to look up to, someone I need to aspire to be, or aim to have aspects of someone I would like to have.
Being with the free spirits of Dumaguete was an inspiration. Selfless, simple, and patient people who are content with sitting on the beach and exploring the strange culture of the Philippines. Foreigners (or halfsies) who are more Filipino than a lot of real Filipinos I have met, wondering about the richness and the potential of a country I’ve been jaded about, and actually doing something about it.
It’s not to say that I hope to save the world one day, to live by the sea and fish with the locals. But I long for the day when what I do has an impact on something, on somebody. To know that all this trouble is worth it, that somewhere in the world, someone appreciates what I’ve done.
But then you see the people around you who do appreciate what you’ve done. Friends, teammates, family, who have touched you and whom you have touched. That the impact I have on this world is so little still gets to me, but sometimes the little things mean the world to some people.
I guess I’m just looking for someone new to inspire me.
So what of those who drag your feet beneath the earth? I’ve had my fair share of heartaches. A small part of me feels sad that I don’t feel sad anymore about them, but I guess that’s a triumph on my end. Cutting off a limb is never pleasant. Heck, it’s downright gruesome. But you wouldn’t want the gangrene to spread to the rest of your body until it kills you.
5. Have faith.
I am so far gone from religion that I’ve actually forgotten how to pray. But somehow, despite this blatant disregard for a higher being, I got help. In my moment of confusion, demotivation, laziness, and jadedness, I found myself on a plane to what would be the best trip of my life thus far. When all I wanted was to dive my heart out, I met people that taught me lessons. I lived in a place that forced me to quiet my thoughts. And I did something I didn’t think I’d be able to do.
I didn’t learn this on my own. Just when I thought I had nowhere else to go, nothing else to see, nothing else to learn, the universe proves me wrong.
And so I continue to search. I may or may not be in the right place, but my world feels so small. I know I can do more and be more, and I have no clue how to get myself there. But I’ll continue searching and fighting and one day I hope to find that life that I can thrive in.