I graduated from college last year, which means lots of my peers have spent the past 12 months dropping everything and traveling. It's popular nowadays for people my age to eat-pray-love their way around the world after some drastic life change or when they just need to get away from "it all."
Why do they do this? Well, to find themselves, of course.
It makes sense, really. To emerge as the magnificent version of yourself you're destined to be, you must dip your toes into the unfamiliar. You must test the limits of your comfort zone. You must push boundaries. And what better way to do all of that -- to find yourself, that is -- then to travel, right?
During my junior year of college, I spent a semester abroad in Europe after having never left the United States in my life. I lived in a hostel with other foreign students in Madrid, Spain, and I spent my weekends traveling to Africa, Italy, The Netherlands, France, and other cities around Spain.
Let's just say I not only dipped my toes in the unfamiliar, but I drowned in it.
I spent two days living with a Muslim family in Morocco, and then another two visiting mosques and hiking through a rural mountainside village. I bathed topless with a dozen other women in an Arabic bathhouse in Granada. Time slowed down to frighteningly warped speeds when I smoked way too much weed in Amsterdam on two separate occasions (and I'm whatever the opposite of a stoner is). I got completely lost on remote streets in Rome with no way to ask anybody for directions, since I don't speak Italian ... and I had no service on my iPhone.
In those few months, I learned more than I ever thought I would about different cultures. I accumulated an impressive amount of experiences for someone so young, and for someone who had never really traveled before.
But my trip didn't quite help me find myself. Finding myself was not going to happen on a single trip overseas. Finding myself has been a process.
You want to know all the times I really found myself? When I stood up for myself when someone treated me unfairly. When, after years struggling with what I wanted to do with my life, I realized that I wanted to be a writer. When I sprinted down the soccer field and scored the winning goal, despite the fact that my lungs were about to cave in. When I got my heart broken. When I let myself fall in love again.
I found myself whenever I was forced to look inside myself for answers -- for how to solve a problem, to decide whether or not to take advantage of an opportunity, to test the limits of my own physical and emotional strength. And the quest for answers hasn't stopped. I keep finding myself every single day.
You're not required to catapult yourself into a completely foreign environment in order to come across things that need answers. Life demands answers out of us every day, in the most mundane of moments. And it's in these moments that you'll really, truly find yourself.
Finding myself has involved lots of failure and lots of thinking I found success when I actually found failure. It's involved thinking I found a self that I'm comfortable with, but then realizing that I'm uncomfortable with her, and then finding some other self who I felt slightly more comfortable with, but then realizing that she wasn't quite right either.
And this process is still happening. I may never fully "find myself." I mean, who does? Aren't we always changing? Aren't we always finding new media, new people, new experiences that influence us? Aren't we always presented with new obstacles that we've never been presented with before, which forces us to recalibrate the way we do things?
Aren't we always looking for answers within ourselves?
I'm only 22, but the person I was at 18, 19, 20, even 21 is vastly different from who I am now. Now that I'm a college graduate with a job in the real world, I definitely feel myself leveling out and turning more into the woman I'm destined to become. But I don't want to limit her. I want to let her keep growing. I want to keep her mind open.
I want to let her continue finding herself.