Shoulds and expectations have been my armor throughout my entire life. Determining what my expectations are in any given context– what I should do– is a skill I am fairly adept at, whether in a professional, academic, or social setting. Knowing what others expect from me has historically given me purpose and guided how I act.
But on this trip, I’ve had a lot of days by myself to explore cities, only guided by what I want to do and with no expectations to operate as a compass. It’s difficult to articulate how deeply unsettling this made me, especially at first. I didn’t realize how hard it was for me to fill an entire day from an absolutely blank slate. I got to around 4 pm and thought, “Now what?” Then came the realization that I’m allowed to not be doing something. I had to remind myself that there is nothing to achieve, and I can see all or none of the sights. I can like or not like any of the things I do. There are no shoulds.
I am learning how to settle into doing nothing for hours at a time, with nothing to accomplish other than reading a good book or going on a walk, alone with my thoughts. I am discovering the beauty in sitting alone in a cafe, simply observing the life happening around me. I am finding compassion for myself when I make a mistake or feel lonely. And I am working on noticing discomfort and leaning in, rather than shoving any unwanted feelings down.
I feel so incredibly fortunate that I get to be traveling with no agenda. That I have the the resources to set aside time growing as a human being, widening my view of the world, and learning how to rest. It’s a gift, a truly magical gift, to get to experience this, and I don’t want to forget that.
It’s wild to think about the fact that the first leg (and also the first month) of this journey is almost finished! It’s also wild how quickly traveling became my new normal. How packing up my things and navigating public transportation or waiting to board a plane has become routine. How familiar I’ve grown with the (very minimal) contents of my backpack.
But just as I’ve grown comfortable(ish) with settling into a new place, I have also started to become more comfortable with sharing my story. Each time I enter a new home, with only my backpack around my shoulders, I’m practically waiting for some version “So… what brings you here?” It’s a very valid question, especially for those who are meeting me for the first time. Once we get past the details of where I’ve traveled thus far and where I’m headed next, I share my story, in however much detail the situation requires, though usually it includes the journey of my senior year, of reaching a point where I desperately needed a break, of how valuable it was for me to settle into working at Cat & Cloud, and of how important pursuing emotional health has been.
Each time, I have grown more confident, as if the carefully crafted mold of who I am is being solidified and shaped each time I authentically engage in my story. Which is probably why sharing my journey has yet to get old, despite the fact that I’ve shared some variation of it at least twice a week for the last month. But I’m figuring out who I am and learning how to share that with the world, and that has yet to lose its significance.
My story is my own. It’s beautiful, and it’s and messy, just like me.
P.S. Here are a few pictures from London, Manchester, and Spain while you’re here!