A recent Facebook post reminded me that in just one day an important date is occurring. That Facebook post was written by a friend, a friend who has a daughter who will be turning three-years-old tomorrow. It seems like just yesterday that myself and that friend were taking a trip to Auckland to see Stephen Merchant live and we discussed, for the first time, that she was pregnant. Six months later she had gorgeous baby Ella and, coincidentally on that exact same day, I left New Zealand and flew to New York City to live.
Although my journey may not have been as profound as motherhood, the past three years of travel have been life-changing nonetheless. It’s hard to imagine just how much my life has changed since leaving New Zealand in 2013.
When I boarded that momentous, and might I mention, long, flight to New York I had no idea who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do, or where I wanted to eventually go, but I just knew that I didn’t want to let life slip me by without experiencing all of the wonderful things I had been dreaming of for the previous few years.
When asked what I wanted to do when I finished my law degree, I would simply answer that I wanted to travel – and at the very least, I’ve held true to that dream. While I almost fell into an advertising career, a career that’s enabled me to work and travel – I also learnt that writing is not just a hobby, but will hopefully turn into my vocation. I learnt that some loves will not last, that true friendships will stand the test of time and that underneath the differences places and people are not too dissimilar to those at home.
Interestingly, though, the more important answers in the past three years have come from questions I never knew I had and situations I never knew I would experience. All the places, people and experiences, have all had a profound effect on me. As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in Eat Pray Love,
“If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting… and set out on a truth-seeking journey…, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.”
What then, have my most important learnings and discoveries been?
1. Selective failure trumps perseverance
The most successful people in the world argue that failure is not only unavoidable, it’s an essential part of life’s journey. Choosing failure though, is a test of pride. My decision to leave Berlin and to quit Canada were two of the best, but most challenging, life decisions I ever made. Failure didn’t set me back, in fact I was rewarded by quitting both times. Soon after leaving Berlin, I had started a new, happy life in London with a job at a large agency and a flat in East London. Ditto for Canada and moving to Melbourne. Had I persisted with either of these places for the sheer fear of failure I’d be rather proud, unhappy and poor by now.
Chris Guillebeau recently wrote an article about selective quitting – I couldn’t agree with it more.
2. Love is all around
In a post I wrote about things I learnt from travelling, I wrote that people are generally good:
The more I travel, the more I realise just how similar people are. We all want the same things. We all want to be loved and accepted. We all want to be happy. Most of us want to fall in love and have a successful career. Generally we want the best for others and if someone asks us for help; we will.
I still stand by that.
I wish journalists would focus less on the rare bad things that occur and show more of the wonderful moments that happen on our planet everyday. People giving up their seats on the subway, smiles that say hello, spontaneous cups of coffee for a friend – these may not feel like newsworthy moments, but seeing them everyday in every place I’ve ever lived or visited is heartwarming and evidence that there is much more kindness than hatred.
3. Dreams are free and real
We all have dreams, or at the very least, we all have things we want to do. I would venture to argue that all of us could achieve those dreams if, as Walt Disney said, “… we have the courage to pursue them.”
One of my favourite things to learn about people along my journey is their “if I won the lottery, then I would” response. As Alan Watts asks “What would you do if money were no object. How would you really enjoy spending your life?” Surprisingly, when someone tells me their dream rarely does it involve seemingly impossible feats like space travel, living in underground colonies or creating man-eating cyborgs – actually I’ve never heard a non-achievable response to that question. When someone tells me their dream my first thought is – you could do that.
If living my own dreams has taught me anything it’s that – our dreams are not only achievable, their also probably not big enough.
4. Goodbyes are the hardest of all
I still, at times feel homesick for places that were never even home in the first place. Making human connections with incredible people is one of the best parts about travelling, but the worst part is having to say goodbye to those wonderful friends. Saying goodbye to well trodden cities is just as challenging. New Zealand will always be a place I frequently visit, but I can never guarantee how frequently I will be able re-visit the places along the way. I felt homesickness for New York for over after year leaving, I still get pangs of nostalgia for London and Berlin and then there’s the place I’m currently most homesick for – Hong Kong.
5. I know nothing at all
While I’ve learnt many lessons along the way, if anything, I learnt that my knowledge is but a glimmer of what really can be learnt. As Aristotle said, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Echoing the same sentiment, Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” With each move I’ve met new people, seen new places and been exposed to new ways of thinking and while I’ve learnt more about the world, I’ve mostly learnt that this is just the beginning.
Until next time,
P.S. Happy Birthday to Sarah’s Ella.