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Learn to Love and Accept Yourself, Wherever You Go

Man and the sun

Wherever you go, there you are.” ~Confucius

The sweat of my palms saturated our boarding tickets. Even as I stepped onto the plane, I still could not entirely believe we were doing it.

My husband and I finished our master’s degrees and instead of immediately securing jobs, buying a house, and starting a family, we decided to travel.

We thought escaping our lives was living on the wild side—rediscovering ourselves. Well, at least that’s what I thought.

I lived in Spain during my undergraduate degree ten yeas ago and had ceaselessly fixated on the idea about returning ever since.

I longed for the days of dipping churros in chocolate once more and sipping on the local morning brew, café con leche. I daydreamed of sharing pitcher after pitcher of chilled sangria with my husband and the neighboring couples dining to our left and our right.

In the midst of my most vivid daydreams, I heard the cries, olé olé as the bullring radiated with history and pride.

I had created such an idea of how I’d imaged our lives that I completely forgot the reality of the situation. 

I convinced my husband to sell most of our items and put the remaining personal belongings in storage while we set off to Europe. I believed downsizing and emptying ourselves of these excessive items would really make things better.

I was blind to the fact that Spain had changed so much in ten years—I had changed so much in ten years.

We arrived tired but eager to explore the land of paradise I had talked about for a decade—but Spain had another plan for us. Spain wanted to remind me that I would not return to be the person I once was.

Everything had changed, and what was most shocking, my views about Spain had changed.

Because my eating habits grew as predictable as my daily gym routine, the bread and potatoes that I once loved certainly did not agree with my finicky body.

My stomach, accustomed to mostly spinach, fresh fish (which we could not always afford), and organic green salads did not adjust to the Spanish cuisine as it had in the past.

But this was supposed to be perfect, I thought. I’d overlooked the fact that my body’s rejection of what I was eating was a symbol of something deeper.

No longer in my twenties, I realized I required much more sleep than I once needed. The long, amorous nights I once spent partying until the sun rose had been replaced with quiet nights of exhaustion and the stress of organizing plans to the next hostel.

There were a number of other changes, such as living in hotels and hostels instead of with a host family. Little by little, each of these external factors pointed directly to the core of my very being.

Escaping to Spain would not make me disappear. My husband and I still bickered over who had the better set of directions and where we should eat for dinner. Even throughout the many Kodak moments, I still found myself experiencing bouts of depression and anxiety.

But this was not supposed to happen, I thought, still discarding the sobering reality of my dream trip. Spain was supposed to solve all my problems!

We dashed over to Portugal and Ireland, and while these beautiful places are forever sealed inside our hearts, we still experienced many of the same challenges. It wasn’t until returning home and letting our lives literally settle back down that I started to gain a shocking perspective.

The trip to Europe taught me to zero-in on myself. It was not the country in which I lived, not the town I visited, not the house in which I slept, or the room in which I sat, but all the way down into my own heart I began to understand there was nowhere else to run.

I learned the blatant lesson that happiness begins and ends within me.

The trip taught me that any time I am uncomfortable, I must ask what is not pleasing me in that moment. It shattered my sense-of-self and my dreams, which graciously reminded me that over-fantasizing is often an escape from current situations. 

It taught me how excess imagination about the future is different from goal setting, which separates us from the beauty of what is available to us now. It taught me to find the joys in the present moment, to enjoy where I live, the community around me.

When I yearn to reach out for something—buying an item of clothing, wanting to take a trip—I ask my heart why I think this item will please me. Am I grasping onto something deeper?

While this is an extreme case of the inability to escape oneself, we all experience this in our lives in various ways. We think if we get a new job, our fear of failure will disappear only to discover it is heightened with our new role.

We think if we get a new boyfriend or girlfriend it will turn out like the fairytale stories we hoped, only to discover our insecurities have followed us into the new relationship.

We can point the finger to bosses, jobs, relationships, even cultures, but until we turn the finger back to ourselves, we will face a life of pain and constant struggle.

In each situation, we must ask, what am I learning from this? What is this telling me about myself?

We are such beautiful and complicated creatures. No technology in the world can tap into the mystery of the heart, of the soul, of our dreams.

Wherever you go in your day—to the grocery store or to a new city, to a friend’s home or a different room of the house—be grateful that you will never escape yourself.

Be grateful that you have this lifetime to learn to love and accept yourself.

In a world so full of travel and movement, it is important we take a moment to pause and reflect on the sacredness of stillness and quietude within ourselves.

It is my wish that we can all sit comfortably in a chair someday as we soften in body and in heart, full of gray hairs and wrinkles—that we may smile widely from each memory contributing to our wear and know we really have nowhere to go.

Everything we need has been inside us from the start.

Photo by Kerry

Avatar of Jessica Latham

About Jessica Latham

Jessica Latham is a freelance writer, translator and poet who enjoys writing about health and happiness.  Her writing has been featured on NPR radio and published in various journals.  She also writes a blog Rowdy Prisoners which features stories and interviews about people daring to live with passion and love.

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  • Fractured

    The words: “In each situation, we must ask, what am I learning from this? What is this telling me about myself?” really hit home with me. Thanks for that. Given the current troubles in my life I’ve had to change the way i look at things to just get through each day. Those words explained very well what I’ve been doing in way I haven’t been able to verbalize before.

  • http://www.danielle-abroad.com/ Danielle E. Alvarez

    Thank you so much for sharing this story with me. I think I came to Paris to make me feel better about life and escape my sadness. And though it has been a wonderful experience in many ways, I was disappointed to find I’m still harboring those same internal struggles and hang-ups. I too need to focus more on those important lessons you took away from your imperfect trip–whether or not I decide to continue living as an expat.

  • Debbie

    Thanks for sharing your story. I have always said, ‘Look in your own back yard if you really want to find yourself.”
    We can roam the earth in search of who we are and over look that home is where the heart is. Most of the time that is where we are.
    Thanks again it reinforces the way I have always felt.
    Debbie

  • SusIE sPrInKLEs

    It was so enjoyable to read this! I felt like I could taste the cool sangria that you remembered and then taste the dissapointment too! Like you I am in my 30s (39) and there are plenty of nostalgic feelings that, when I’ve revisited–(like visiting friends from college at our old haunts) where things felt much different or my feelings about them changed. Thanks for the great post and blog! It’s one of my favorites recently!

  • Alexey Sunly

    Great story, thank you for sharing, Jessica :-)

  • jessica latham

    Thanks for reading, Alexey. It was fun to relive the experience of travel even while writing it, but then I remembered – oh wait, I’m not in Europe anymore. I’m here in my home. :)

  • jessica latham

    Susie!

    So great to read your comments. ” I felt like I could taste the cool sangria that you remembered and then taste the dissapointment too!” Love this. Your comments about college friends, etc.. is well said and I connect with this very much in many areas of our lives.

    Thanks for your words.

  • jessica latham

    Yes, Debbie, you are right. One of my favorite books since high school has been the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. No matter what age I read this book, I am refilled with wonderful messages about whatever we are in search for is right where we are.

    What’s your own back yard like? Mine is filled with cherry trees and maples that house the singing of beautiful tiny birds. Occasionally it is greeted with shadows and silence, with a vulnerability of crickets and a distant moon. The symbolism matches my life. :)

  • jessica latham

    Bonjour, Danielle!

    Ins’t it shocking? I find many travel articles address the thrill, excitement and adventure of living abroad, but do not address the reality of struggles, loneliness and self-doubt. Among the nights of cafes, meeting strangers and roaming museums, there is absolutely a bit of loss to our other selves that is carried in us with our other culture.

    Sounds like you are on your own wonderful journey. Keep digging into your internal struggles. I see your heart gem shining brightly beneath the pain, challenges and tests you’re facing.

    So glad you commented.

  • Alexey Sunly

    Haha, sounds nice :-)

  • jessica latham

    Thank you for your beautiful comment. I’m so happy those words were put together in a way that spoke what you’ve been trying to say.

  • lv2terp

    Truly inspiring message!! I love when you said…”We can point the finger to bosses, jobs, relationships, even
    cultures, but until we turn the finger back to ourselves, we will face a
    life of pain and constant struggle.”

  • Thomas Joe Akins

    Hey Jessica, great post and I love your writing. At one point in my life I was trying to find my purpose in life. I would jump from one thing to another only to feel that same void you were feeling. It wasn’t until I discovered that my happiness and purpose came from the joy of living and being able to become a better “me” not in things or pleasures. Again…great story!

  • http://www.pinchmeliving.com/ Bernadette @ PinchMeLiving.com

    Great message Jessica, one well worth everyone reading!
    So common for us all to believe that moving faster, going away, being busier etc will somehow change who we are or what our experience of life is, but often it’s driven by our unconscious desire to not face up to the fact that change needs to happen within (well, that was my own experience of it anyway, can’t speak for others!)
    “If I can be happy here, inside myself just as I am, I can be happy anywhere”.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences!
    Bernadette :)

  • Louise Watson

    Great post! I tried to write one on this topic a while back but just couldn’t get it right. This is exactly what I wanted to say! Like you, I travelled around a lot hoping each place would make me happy. It took me about 7 years to realise it wasn’t going to happen. Well done on working that out before I did! Thanks again for a great article.

  • David Goettsch

    Jessica, thank you for sharing this article, it is a very simple message, but it is a lesson that we can never hear enough. The moment is all we have, and running away chasing a different “moment” will only eventually lead to disappointment. Happiness is a state of mind and being, not a place or plan for the future. Great article.

    Dave @personalgrowthproject

  • Molly Larkin

    Lovely piece. And so true. I thank you for the reminder that seems to be a lesson I have to learn over and over! My Native American teacher said that when you point a finger at someone, you have three fingers pointing back at you. Only we can create the environment and situations we want. We’re not innocent bystanders. Thank you!

  • jessica latham

    Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to read the post. Have you found areas where you try to escape parts of your life you are unhappy with?

  • jessica latham

    Hi Thomas,

    Thank you for your kind compliments! Yes, the same thing happened to me. While I think we can express many different parts of ourselves in various jobs, the “jumping” to find fulfillment is for sure a way of escaping – at least it was for me. So glad to hear your words of wisdom about loving yourself instead of finding it in things or pleasures.

    Thanks again for your great comments!

  • jessica latham

    Hi Bernadette,

    Well said! So often we can find so much more clarity in slowing down. I went to a reading group yesterday out in a very small town along the west coast and noticed a huge shift in the energy of the people living out there versus the speed at which people traveled in my town. It was refreshing to see the calmness and openness in the people who didn’t have something to do that moment.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom. (and I look forward to peeking at your site!)

  • jessica latham

    Hi Louise,

    My Mom always told me the quote, “wherever you go, there you are.” I’m just now finally really starting to understand those simple words!

    Maybe you’ll find the words to share a piece that I’ve been yearning to put into words, but just yet can’t.

    Thanks for your comments.

  • jessica latham

    Hi Dave,

    You are so right. I have a great quote that says something about about comparing intellectuals who aspire to focus on complicated things in the world versus those who just stay in tune with the simple lessons in life. Sometimes the simple things are the most profound. Breathing, smiling, loving, etc… all of this SOUNDS so simple, yet can challenge us each and every day.

    Cheers to the simple messages we need to hear over and over again!

  • jessica latham

    Hi Molly,

    I love that saying by your Native American teacher. That sure can be a lot of fingers in our face! ;)

    I find that we are constantly reinventing ourselves – could this possibly be why we need to relearn so often in our lives? For example, once we get the job, we’re not finished learning; once we fall in love, we’re not finished extending our love to others… Like the moon, each day we rise and fall – some days a little fuller emitting a bit more light and other days, we are a sacred sliver some may not even notice in the darkness. In time, we’ll fill and empty over and over again.

  • lv2terp

    I think escaping how to love myself by trying to control and manipulate others/situations to feel good/wanted. A lot of growth and learning not to escape relationships when egos are hurt and times get tough too!

  • jessica latham

    That is a great point! I tend do that (control and manipulate) with my husband if I start feeling scared, stressed or unhappy. Luckily, he can see through my anger and control most of the time and ask, “Ok, what’s going on?”

    I was once told to look at our lovers or spouses as they were as a beautiful, tiny, delicate child. Already, if I think of my husband seeing me as a little five-year-old trying to be little Miss controlling, it brings warmth and a bit of humor to the situation. And if I see him as a little boy, it makes me want to grab his cheeks and give him a kiss. Perhaps if we looked at each other more like that, there would be more loving and less fighting.

    Thanks for bringing up a great point!

  • lv2terp

    That is lovely, thank you for sharing your experience, and tip of viewing the other person as a child. That is beautiful that your husband is so understanding, and views those situations that way! :) It wld be awesome if we cld all have a heightened level of compassion, understanding, humility, vulnerability, and love! :) Thank you Jessica! :)

  • jessica latham

    :)

  • Internalbasis

    Nice post, Jessica.

    We are all responsible for our happiness and blaming somebody else is a childish issue. If somebody is responsible for our happiness it means that we LET them to rule our lives so we can blame just ourselves.

  • porterman

    but sometimes relationships just aren’t right – turning the finger back on yourself is necessary, yes, because you play a part in the problems and you need to work on those issues, but it also doesn’t mean that you should stay in a relationship were you are taken for granted and controlled simply to avoid ‘running away’.

  • jessica latham

    Well said! I used to have a life skills class in middle school, where we focused on learning about “life” issues such as self-esteem, goals, finances, relationships with others… I wish this was still a mandatory class for students in middle school, high school and college. Learning about how to interact with our community is a crucial part of living – in addition to science, math, and English – but it shouldn’t be left out.

  • jessica latham

    Very true. It is my hope we all can tap into our own intuition when the relationship just isn’t right versus recognizing the areas where we are hurting others. Great point!

  • Heather

    I really loved this post. I’ve become more and more aware of how much time I spend fantasizing about new experiences, places, and things that will make my life so much better and easier. I do love to travel, and occasionally I imagine “running away” to somewhere else to escape my problems. Thank you for reminding me of what I realize when I try to run away– I can’t run away from myself. Maybe a break now and then is nice, but it won’t solve everything. Thanks for writing this!

  • jessica latham

    Hi Heather,

    Great comments! I think so much of us can relate to what you’ve written. Did you ever read the book, Eat Pray Love? That was a tough one for me because it showed all the beauty in traveling and escaping our lives. For a while, I fantasized on having that life (though not leaving my husband).

    I’m sticking to shorter breaks now and then too! Maybe we’ll run into one another on one of our not-so-crazy vacations, knowing we have a home and a community to come back to once we’ve taken the break we need.

    Cheers!