Don't Travel The World To Reinvent Yourself
Fraud. Failure. Loser. These were the words that ran through my head over and over after I came back to Canada during the summer of 2013. I'd spent 12 of the previous 15 months trotting around the globe, trying on different versions of myself, posing against the backdrops of countries around the world. I wasn’t sure where I'd land, but I never expected it to be “exactly where you started”.
People who were all going somewhere, anywhere, to the ends of the world, surrounded me, and there I was, back on my parents’ couch. Days of crying turned into weeks of wondering. I struggled to find my identity. I'd lost my identity as a traveler, but I expected to arrive home more educated, experienced and self-assured. I certainly wasn’t the original me, but I didn’t feel like I had made any sure-fire progress in my personal development.
Re-adapting to life in Canada was by far harder than leaving. My friends had gotten married and bought houses; I had no idea what kind of career I wanted or where I wanted to live. Fortunately, I didn't have much choice in the matter, as I could no longer put off repaying my student loans. Welcome to the couch of Mom and Dad.
Perspective & Humbling Yourself
My next step was admitting where I had screwed up. Travelling and working abroad was incredible, but real life needed to be addressed. Financially, I was a hot mess. I ignored bills and letters about my student loans. If I wasn’t in the country, it didn’t matter, right? Wrong. As it turns out, you're not allowed to borrow money endlessly and never pay it back.
I had become dependent on others, especially my parents, to bail me out when I couldn’t keep running away from my problems. It caught up to me when I wanted to start a masters program and my parents put their foot down – no more co-signing loans. The message was loud and clear; pay back what you owe, save your money and do it on your own when it's financially sound.
I'd love to say that I took this advice and applied it immediately, exuding grace and dignity throughout the difficult learning process. I most certainly didn't. I made things difficult for myself every step of the way. I was stubborn, embarrassed and angry (mostly at myself).
I held on to nearly $2000 in debt for an extra four months because I had tied my regular identity to my debt and travel identity. If I got rid of the debt, I got rid of the scrubby backpacker image, and therefore had to immediately begin taking cruises and all-inclusive resort vacations. Ahh, logic!
Finding what I was looking for
Amazingly, what I'd resisted for so long (government job, stable income, relationship, family life) taught me discipline, humility, compassion, self-confidence – all qualities I had been seeking in the four corners of the earth. I had a newfound sense of self-worth that was not dependent on some self-centered, bohemian version of myself that never really existed.
I paid off my ample debt and learned how my true freedom doesn't come when I ignore my problems and run away, rather when I face the problem head on and free myself from its grasp.
The best part about reinventing yourself is that it can be done endlessly. I didn’t have to keep up the image that I was a broke traveler. It wasn’t serving anybody, especially not me. When I was 17 years old, the book The Alchemist was given to me as a high school graduation gift. A quote from Marcel Proust was written on the inside:
Here’s to a future of seeing new lands, with new, more grateful eyes.