“Get ready to do something daring,” read the fortune in my hand. I had just returned home to the US after three months of traveling in Asia. It seemed to be challenging me to a staring contest, begging the question, “Are you ready to level up?” In the 20/20 vision, only hindsight can offer, it’s clear now this tiny piece of paper was punching above its weight in wisdom.
Earlier that year, I shed half my material belongings, packed the remaining half into a storage unit and departed the city I had comfortably inhabited for over a decade. The pull had become too strong to resist. For years I dreamed of taking an extended trip, idolizing the Instagram accounts of those chasing their wanderlust, religiously reading the New York Times travel section, routinely perusing Google flights, imagining everywhere I might go. And yet, I always stayed, stagnated by a medley of reasons. A lack of funds. The tether of romantic relationships. The obligation of career trajectory.
Everything All The Time
These anchors held me in place for years. But moreover, I was paralyzed by the truth that I was not yet willing to make traveling the utmost priority. A love gone-by frequently referred to me as an “everything-all-the-time-person.” During the five years we spent together I held over a dozen jobs (across three independent career paths), applied to grad schools, and completed a yoga teacher training certification. He didn’t mean it as an insult, it was merely an astute observation of my insatiable desire to do it all — and do it all as close to perfect as possible.
The problem with wanting it all, is you cease to be able to excel at much of anything. It turns out it’s unrealistic (not to mention soul-crushing) to think you can be the perfect partner, employee, daughter, sister, friend, yogi, surfer. The perfect…everything. My life was like an ever-growing tower of Jenga blocks. An array of priorities unevenly weighted stacking higher and higher, meanwhile, the foundation was becoming increasingly unstable. Several years ago now, two crucial blocks were pulled out within the span of 6 months – my relationship and my job. My tower came crumbling down.
Sometimes the best thing that can happen to us is for everything to fall apart.
The hidden joy to be found within the collapse is the reality that we can’t stay broken forever. At some point, we are forced to pick up the pieces of the life that was and navigate our way towards the life that will be. And yet, coming back together is not the same. We are fundamentally changed. Armed with residual heartbreak, we rebuild with a bit more intention. For me, traveling became the bedrock in continuing on anew.
Prioritize + Prepare
I can pinpoint the moment it shifted. Laying on the wood floor of my apartment, I took a massive piece of butcher paper and wrote TRAVEL at the top of it. What followed below it was a flow chart of various permutations for how I could bring it to life. It made for a bit of an eyesore hanging as a lone centerpiece on the biggest wall in my tiny apartment, but it forced me to be consciously aware. As I woke up. When I got home from work. While I was cooking dinner. Before falling asleep. It continually voiced the most crucial questions:
“What have you done today to get closer to your goal of doing something daring?”
“What will you do tomorrow?”
“And the next day?”
“And the next?”
It was a continual reminder:
“This is your dream. No one is going to make it happen for you. Get your shit together and make it so. Oh, and by the way, it will require sacrifice. There will be times you have to defend your priorities and make sense of your choices. Both to yourself in moments of questioning and to those around you who see it differently. But it will be worth it. A thousand times over.”
The daring adventure can grow roots when it is brought to the top of the list. It must become one of only a select few priorities…and it will flourish fastest when it is the number one goal.
To prepare to do something daring can be an adventure of its own.
Different Flavors of Daring
Intuition has a way of raising its voice when we choose not to listen. For those in pursuit of grand adventure, it’s best to give in before the gentle whisper escalates to that of a holler. What exactly that bold undertaking might be isn’t the point, but rather, to give it the attention it deserves is. For some, it might be changing careers. For others, it is the choice to bring new life into the world. For me, at that particular point in time, it was to get as far away as possible from the world I knew. To chase the dream of surfing in warm water off into the great unknown.
Reaping the Rewards
Finally, after many, many days of preparation stacked together, it was time to depart. I traveled around Southeast Asia for three months, yet the novelty of it all altered single days to feel as expansive as weeks. I found the waves I had been chasing, but I also uncovered so much more. I encountered lakes that changed color. I swam with manta rays bigger than my own body. I dug my toes into sand colored like that of ripe pink grapefruits and dark black coal. I hiked to the tops of volcanoes at sunrise. I practiced yoga overlooking rice paddy fields. I took a last minute detour home, via Nepal, because why not make it a round the world journey?
And during this time — I fell in love — with that part of the world, but more importantly with a fellow traveler I encountered along the way.
We met in a tiny mountain town on Flores, an Indonesian island. Still near strangers, we were just crazy enough to agree to rendezvous again on Lombok for a 3-day hike to the top of Mount Rinjani. The journey to the 12,000+ft summit of Indonesia’s second tallest volcano proved to be a surprisingly enjoyable – albeit exhausting – crash course in getting to know one another. In the weeks that followed we chased each other around the island of Bali, to Timor-Leste, and ultimately as far as Nepal for a final week together before I had to return back to the US. Somewhere between wandering the beautifully chaotic streets of Kathmandu and catching glimpses of the Himalayas at sunrise, we admitted that neither one of us wanted it to be the end, but instead perhaps just the beginning.
After continually saying yes and repeatedly choosing love over fear, I found myself spending the final night of my travels on a rooftop in New Delhi, India, eating curry with a man who had awoken my heart from hibernation. I departed in June with plans to travel to one country and returned home at the end of September having visited four.
A few weeks into being back stateside, I encountered that wise little fortune. For the past 8 months, I’ve carried those words with me, wedged inside my phone case. It has served as a compass of sorts, a memento of exactly what I was pointing myself towards. With that mindset, I navigated through the challenges of a long-distance relationship, countless hours of work, and the frustrations of not knowing how it might all possibly come together.
The result is this: I’m now living in Timor-Leste a small island country to the east of Indonesia that I hadn’t even heard of until last summer. I have highly limited abilities in the local dialect (something that is on my to-do list of daring things to conquer). My main mode of transportation is zipping through town on a scooter with aggressive horn usage. I share a home and my heart with the fellow traveler I chased around last summer. I have the great fortune of working remotely on projects I am passionate about. If you had told me a year ago this would be my life I would have been in awe and disbelief. I ended up here through a series of small but brave actions, each one expanding my comfort zone and continually preparing me for an increasingly bold leap.
The previously unstable tower of countless priorities has been reduced and restructured to stand solidly upon the cumulative actions of following my heart rather than perfectionism.
To repeatedly prepare to take the jump into something daring is the exact magic that paves the road to a life filled with great adventures. A few nights ago, over pizza, wine, and laughter, a new friend of mine captured it precisely it when recounting what ultimately lead her to Timor-Leste, “Why would you take a small step when you can jump the wall?”