“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness”.
– Brene Brown in Daring Greatly
Before I set off on my sixth month adventure around the world, my mum said to me “Remember, you’re taking yourself with you when you go”. This is something that stuck with me the entire time because it couldn’t have been more true. And it wasn’t as obvious as it sounds.
Some people view upping to travel as a means of escaping; running away from people, places or situations. But my mum had a point: no matter how far a plane ticket gets you, all those insecurities, unresolved issues and emotional baggage you were carrying around with you on home soil go with you. Sigh.
What I soon realised, is that when you go travelling, you no longer have things to hide behind – things that may have been distracting you from really seeing and understanding yourself. I had a job in a demanding industry, lived in a flat share in London, and had friends and family nearby (and in the same time zone). From the minute my alarm went off in the morning I had a structure to abide by five times a week and a calendar which set out my plans for the next few weeks and beyond. My mind was constantly occupied. I didn’t have the time or even brain capacity to contemplate the inner workings of myself, let alone the second 15kg bag I was about to bring with me.
In taking a step back from mundane life, I saw how society expects us to always have a plan. But when you travel, you’re living day by day. It became normal to not know what day it was and plan only three days in advance. And although I always thought of myself as a planner, this helped me let go and just live – rather than feeling a need to be in control and have everything mapped out. There is a freedom in that – a freedom you’ll never forget once you’ve tasted it.
Angkor Wat – Cambodia, May 2019
Once I’d rattled up and down South East Asia in 2-3 months I finally had time to think. By this point I had found myself doing some alternative yoga in Ubud, Bali. In a moment of stillness, a self-realisation poured out of me:
We all create stories: about ourselves and about each other. We construct a narrative based on experiences – it is our way of interpreting events as we see them. Perhaps we do it to make sense of things and settle our uncomfort with the unknown. We create stories in an attempt to understand how things have happened and why. We do the same thing with ourselves; maybe as a coping mechanism to deal with life as it happens, or so we feel grounded and secure in who we are. Yet, in doing so, we assume we know ourselves well – but end up surprised when we don’t react as we expected.
The story I created prior to setting off abroad read something like this: ‘a twenty something with her head screwed on; who is in control; who is outgoing and confident’.
Although I have these qualities, the reality in that moment read something different: ‘a twenty something who has yet to let go of parts of her past; who is an over thinker; and is still unsure of her “plan”’.
In this moment, I was forced to hold a mirror up to myself and accept how I was feeling. It’s not that I didn’t know this about myself already, I did. It was more so that I realised we are all a work in progress – we’re canvases splattered with layers upon layers of emotion. And though we might want to throw white paint over it to cover up the “negatives” – we can’t. We are multifaceted in our nature – and that’s what brings difference and individuality. After all, how boring would it be if were all perfect?
Sunrise at Mount Batur, Bali – June, 2019
On this trip I learnt that being vulnerable is courageous – it is not a weakness. That in order to grow, we must step out of our comfort zone and into the unknown and reach into that dark box. It’s about throwing yourself into turbulent, unfamiliar situations (sounds terrifying I know) but this is where you learn the most about yourself; how you react, respond and feel. It is refreshingly insightful and if not a little shocking at times. But travel enables us to get to that place of vulnerability.
There have been lots of learnings in the last six months. Instead of reaching for that white paint, what I feel we all need to do is nurture ourselves, be kind to ourselves and see our flaws as bits of our character that need a little attention. We can then add new splatters of colour to our canvases by taking risks and being vulnerable, and knowing that our stories are always changing. And it’s ok to not have a plan.
So, what is my story today?
‘A twenty-something who is brave and powerful; who stepped out of her comfort zone to see the world; who is trying her best to address past experiences and move forward; who believes that vulnerability leads to growth. Who is a work in progress and is ok with that.’