“If you want to go, you should go. On your own. Book a ticket to a big city and go explore it all alone. Do what you want on your own timeline. Take stupid selfies + find fun restaurants + disregard your mom’s warnings long enough to strike up conversations with cool-looking strangers. It’ll be fun! And if not, you’ll at least walk away having learned something.”
I posted that on Instagram a little less than a year ago on a week-long trip to Washington D.C.
Days later I left for Thailand with a one-way ticket in my hand and no clue what was in store for me in the months ahead.
When people ask about the nine months I spent in Thailand, I tell them that I worked for a non-profit that fights against modern-day forms of slavery. Those who haven’t lived abroad before tend to have a similar response…eyes open wide, they say something along the lines of, “Oh wow, that must have been amazing!” followed up with a sentiment about how they wish they could do something like that. Many of them ask if I helped rescue young girls from brothels or ask me about the beaches. I laugh because I know that the image in other peoples’ heads about my experience is much different than the reality of it.
I think we glamorize leaving. I think we look at people who pack their lives into big suitcases and move across the world and think that they are somehow living life more fully than those who stay. One-way tickets are sexy- there’s no commitment, no binding contract, nothing that tells us we can’t just up and leave if the going gets tough or boring or less than fun…and we like that. We want to get up and go somewhere new and leave behind all of the monotony and strain of here. We think if we just go “there” or “somewhere,” we’ll be free of the pain and anxiety and discontentment we feel.
At the very least, that’s how I felt. It wasn’t even necessarily a conscious feeling. Rather, it was a subconscious hope that I’d get on a plane and it would magically transport me to a place where life was more glamorous…more fulfilling. I was tired of living in the city that I’d lived in my entire life. I was tired of walking the same streets and doing the same things. I wanted something new and colorful. I wanted a life of adventure. I wanted to go out and do big, glamorous, kick-down-the-door-of-a-brothel kind of work and that kind of life felt like it couldn’t be here.
So I got on a plane and went “there” and the reality behind my year away is that it was lonely and hard. Really lonely and really hard.
Don’t get me wrong, I was living and working with some of the most incredible, hard-working, brilliant people I’ve ever met and they took me in like I was their family. There were days that were full of life and purpose and energy- mountaintop days. But I certainly wasn’t rescuing girls from brothels…or laying out by the beach sipping umbrella drinks. Most days were just normal everyday life days…“office-work, trips-to-the-grocery-store, avoid-scratching-my-mosquito-bites” kinds of days. In fact, many days felt a lot like days I’d spent in Washington (give or take some humidity, traffic laws, and palm trees).
I don’t take back what I wrote a year ago in D.C. I think there’s so much value in going. Go see new things, meet new people who think and speak differently than you, stumble over learning a new language, giggle through trying foods that seem weird and different. You will learn so much from it and it will be good and beautiful, but don’t go just to try to escape. Don’t be fooled into thinking that “there”…wherever “there” is…is so much better than here. Whatever you don’t love about here is going to get on that plane with you. You will pack your bag and end up bringing your pains and anxieties and discontentment as carry-ons.
There is value in staying. There is value in pushing through the monotony and strain and pain that’s in front of you to invest in deeper, richer relationships and develop roots in a place. There is value in choosing to seek joy on the middle-of-the-road days when your day consists of little more than eight hours of work and a 30 minute gym sesh. That’s what I’ve been learning this year…and especially in the last three months of being back home- the joy of being here.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Instagram over the past few months because I find it to be pretty toxic for my self-esteem to be completely honest, but if I were to re-write that caption today, I think I’d say something like this,
“If you want to stay, you should stay. Find people you love- your best friends, your “tribe”… and learn to love them well. Take stupid selfies with them and try new restaurants and go on walks around the neighborhood. Dig your heels into the place you’re in and learn to find contentment and joy right here. It’ll be hard! But it will be worth it…and it’s one of the most important lessons you could ever learn.”