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We Can’t Run from Ourselves and 6 Other Lessons from Living Abroad

“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you… so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.” ~Unknown

From the outside looking in, my life was picture-perfect. I had a corporate job that paid more than just the bills, a charming little apartment in a boho neighborhood of Denver, a gorgeous SUV that took me on adventures in the mountains on the weekends, a vibrant dating life where I met some pretty amazing guys, and a group of incredible girlfriends that most people only dreamt of having.

But deep down in my heart and soul, I knew it wasn’t right. I knew I was meant to be doing something totally different. I felt an intense calling, a longing for something unknown, and every day as it grew stronger, I became more restless. I was trying to live someone else’s ideal life, desperately hoping it would be right for me as well. It wasn’t.

I was turning twenty-seven and knew if I didn’t make a change right then, I never would. My life would stay the same because I felt like I was getting to the point where (approaching thirty) I would want to think about settling down and starting a family.

After months of being in denial, hoping the feeling would just go away so I could continue living my easy little life, I finally decided I wasn’t going to let fear hold me back any longer. I didn’t want to miss my calling or have regrets about any of the choices I made. My heart was telling me to go, and I knew it was taking me down the path I was destined to take—it always does.

So, I quit my job, sold my car, donated my furniture, said my good-byes, stored a few boxes of personal items in my grandma’s basement, and boarded a one-way flight to Sydney, Australia, with nothing but a backpack and a box.

People were calling it a “quarter life crisis,” which I kind of went along with, but the truth is, I had never felt settled and always knew something big was about to happen. My plan was to stay in Australia for a couple of years (if homesickness didn’t get the best of me first), but I ended up living abroad and traveling the world for six years.

Let me tell you, if you ever want to bring up all of your issues, spend some time living in another country or traveling through places where your language isn’t spoken. It’s so powerful, so intense, so challenging on so many levels, yet so healing all at the same time.

I knew it was going to majorly kick my arse, but I knew for my soul’s evolution, it was something I had to do.

During those years away, I learned more about myself than I could have ever imagined, and I would not be who I am, or where I am today, without every moment spent overseas.

Here are the life lessons I learned from six years abroad:

1. We can’t run from ourselves.

The same issues we have at home, we have abroad. I honestly thought I could leave it all behind and start afresh, be whoever I wanted to be. I assumed that since I was following my heart, the restlessness would subside, my life purpose would be magically unveiled, and the freedom I finally had, which I’d craved for so long, would create instant happiness.

Sure, I felt on top of the world for a while, but I quickly learned that we can’t expect a new adventure, a new career, or a new guy in our life to fix all of our issues and suddenly bring us happiness.

In the most beautiful places in the world, I still felt restless. I still worried that I would never figure out what my purpose was here on earth. The deep sense of unhappiness was still inside my heart, and the loneliness was even stronger than ever (no matter how many beautiful people were in my life).

If we aren’t happy within our own hearts—if we aren’t our own best friend, our own source of love— we aren’t going to feel happiness no matter what we bring into our life or where we are (even in an incredible city like Sydney or on safari in Kenya).

We will always be on the go, searching, and will never feel content. We will reach for food, alcohol, or something stronger—anything to give us just a moment of peace. We must turn our focus within. Feel compassion for ourselves. Genuinely love ourselves. Your life will change in so many ways when you realize the answers that you’re seeking are always within.

2. We have no idea how much we are capable of.

We are capable of doing whatever we put our minds to and can achieve absolutely anything we want in our lives. One of the biggest determining factors of whether or not our dreams come true is whether we take action on them.

Our egos are biologically programmed to keep us safe by trying to get us to play small. We all have an inner voice that tells us “there’s no way I can do that” or “I don’t deserve to have this,” so we must work to overcome those kinds of thoughts and to think a different way.

We were made for greatness; we were made to feel joy and love. We were made to live our dreams. People tell me all the time how lucky I’ve been to live such an adventurous life. I always say it has nothing to do with luck, and everything to do with choosing to work through my fear and follow my heart.

3. Our career does not define who we are.

For some reason, growing up, I thought in order to be “successful” in life I had to be earning over $100k in a corporate career. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do after college and spent my early twenties traveling, bouncing around in and out of jobs and relationships, feeling like a bit of a failure. I landed in a corporate job and spent five years trying to be a square peg in a round hole, but I didn’t know who I would be without my career.

We spend so much time in our lives working, of course our career is a big part of who we are, but it doesn’t define who we are.

I realized on a year-long backpacking trip that I am a soul, a spirit, a being of light. I am how I serve others, how I treat others, how I make others feel, and how I show up in my life and in the world. I am not just what I do for work. When I finally let go of the limiting belief that a career makes me who I am, the sense of freedom and relief I felt was astronomical.

4. Loneliness can be one of our best teachers.

When you move countries, or when you’re traveling by yourself, you’re really alone. For over two years my phone did not ring once.

I went on a year-long backpacking trip without a phone, and when I returned to Australia, my husband and I (boyfriend at the time who I met on my travels) decided to move to his hometown where I hardly knew anyone. He already had a life established, and I was starting from scratch. He always had places to go, people to see, and something to do, and I desperately craved the same.

However, in that loneliness I really got to know my heart. I read so many enlightening books, went through an intense period of spiritual awakening, got my Master’s degree, and really focused on becoming who I was meant to become.

Sometimes we must lose ourselves to find ourselves, and when we hit rock bottom, that’s when we grow. We’re forced to strip away what’s no longer working for us and build from the ground up—we become more of who we’re meant to be.

Looking back, I know that time in my life was meant to be lonely. It took all the focus off other people and pushed me to turn inwards. Now I embrace loneliness and know I can always find comfort in my own heart.

5. The Earth is designed perfectly to support us on our life journey.

Because I was so alone for those two years, I spent a lot of time exploring and connecting with the Earth. It truly is an incredibly beautiful and magical place for us to live. There is beauty all around—just look at what a tree looks like blowing in the wind, or think about how the moon controls the tides of the ocean. It’s blissful, pure magic.

When I’m feeling off, disconnected, or my mind is in a negative place, the first thing I do is get outside and spend time in nature. I go on a hike, I walk on the beach, or if I’m not near either of those, I sit under a tree blowing in the wind, watch the sunset, sit beneath the moon, or just get lost in the stars.

It puts things into perspective and helps me remember I am part of something so much bigger than just my tiny little life. Our Earth is here for us, and I’ve developed a deep connection to our beautiful planet, which helps guide me through the difficult times in my life.

6. People close to us aren’t always going to support with what we’re doing—do it anyway.

I was fortunate that I grew up with parents who told me I could do or be anything I wanted. I truly believed that, and I think that’s a big reason why I’ve had the courage to work through my fear and live out so many of my dreams. There will always be people in our lives who don’t support what we’re doing. Whether it’s a friend, a boss, our parents, or our spouse.

The thing is, this is not their life to live. They have their own life. I’ve had to disappoint people along the way, and I’ve even lost a few friends, which was all extremely hard for me. But at the end of the day, we only get one life, and it’s up to us to make the most of it. I knew I would never be truly happy if I made decisions based on other people’s thoughts or feelings.

I learned the only way I’ll be happy in my life is to live out who I am, follow my heart, and embrace the beautiful, unique, challenging, scary, amazing, incredible, and awesome life I’m meant to live, regardless of what other people think.

7. We find happiness by following our hearts.

We are all made up of our own individual interests, gifts, desires, and talents. There’s a reason we’re not all the same, so why do we spend so much of our lives trying to be like everyone else?

Throughout high school and college, I desperately wanted to fit in. I wanted to look like the girls in the magazines, live in a big house, and drive a fancy car. Of course, none of those things would ever keep me happy, but I had always been a people pleaser and a perfectionist, and I truly felt I should live my life according to what everyone else was doing, what the media was telling me, and what society was pushing me to do.

We can never find true happiness if we’re living our lives trying to be someone we’re not. We find happiness by letting go of everything we think we should be, tuning out all of society’s noise, and turning our focus within. In the quiet and stillness of our own heart, that’s where our truth lies. That’s how we connect with our soul. That’s where we find who we are.

**This post has been slightly edited for clarity.

About Erica Carrico

Erica Carrico is a soul-fueled Career & Purpose Coach at www.ericacarrico.com. Through coaching services, speaking, and writing, Erica supports awakening souls to ignite their fire, reconnect with their soul, unveil their purpose, and transition into a career that is in alignment with who they truly are. Grab her FREE workbook 5 Steps to Your Dream Career.

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  • Courtney

    Hello. Perhaps, I am being a pedantic, but I must ask, did you travel by yourself the entire six years, or did you have your spouse with you? Did you work as you traveled? What was the final outcome of finding yourself?

  • Erica Lederman

    I had the same question about if she had her husband with her or not. It definitely changes the entire story. It doesn’t matter if your phone doesn’t ring for two years if you get to wake up next to someone who loves you every day.

  • Courtney

    Yes, Ma’am. I agree with you Ms. Erica Lederman. The article is well written and uplifting in many regards, but, sometimes I find holes or too many paradoxes, in some of the articles placed upon this website. I believe in the spirit of uplifting people, that is, wanting them to be the best that they can be within their souls and spirits-regardless as to their statuses on the Richter scale of wealth. I’ll tell you as a truth, there are far too many individuals in this world of all ethnicities, creeds, etc., who cannot shirk their responsibilities and trot away to expensive and exotic shores to find out what is niggling away at their spirits. They have to stop and stand fast where they are striving simply to breathe, to exist, and live in order to take a good hard look into their psyches and transcend to a higher realm or plateau of being. I believe the writer’s intentions or aim is of a good report, but the cold hard fact is, everyone is not privy to such a new beginning.

  • Margaret Timmins

    I did find this article inspiring and uplifting, we all constantly need reminders of how love has to begin within us first. I resonate with the loneliness of a spiritual journey until I connected with source/nature,had I not been so lonely I wouldn’t of had the opportunity or need to develop and find a deeper happiness. I think that no matter what possition a person is in there will always be unique challenges of some sort.If Erica did have her husband with her it may of made her learning journey more difficult or prolonged but she developed and learnt through her adversities and shared it with us to help us and it has helped me. So a big thank you x

  • Hi Courtney! Thank you for your comment and for reaching out – it’s so lovely to hear from you. Hopefully I’ll be able to answer your questions here! I began my overseas journey by myself, and yes, aside from one year in the middle where I was backpacking through third world countries, I always had a job. I met my (now husband) when I was abroad – about 2 years into my time overseas – but in all honesty, that actually made things harder rather than easier (which would be a post all on its own haha!). As far as finding myself goes, I truly believe it’s a lifelong journey as we are always growing, changing, and learning more about who we are. Essentially, all of these lessons I learned abroad have helped me become the person I am today, and help me navigate the challenges that life continues to throw my way. I hope this helps? Huge love to you, Erica xx

  • Santa-san

    I was thinking the same thing

  • Hi Margaret – thank you so much for such a lovely comment! I’m so glad you found my article inspiring and uplifting. I so resonate with everything you’ve said here regarding loneliness and it providing an opportunity to find a deeper happiness! And yes, I did end up meeting my (now) husband about 2 years into my time overseas, however that did not make things any easier. If anything, I think it complicated everything and only added to the loneliness since he was from there and had his own life, whereas I was an outsider starting from scratch to be there with him. It’s all about the journey right, and none of us would be who we are today without all of our unique challenges. Huge love to you Margaret! Erica xx

  • Hi Erica – thank you so much for your comment! I can totally see where you’re coming from. Hopefully I’m able to answer your questions! I started my time overseas by myself, and ended up meeting my (now) husband about 2 years into my time overseas. I actually moved to his hometown to be with him, and in a perfect world you’re so right – it wouldn’t matter if your phone didn’t ring for two years if you get to wake up next to someone who loves you every day. But that wasn’t my experience at all. If anything, for me personally, it complicated everything and only added to the loneliness since he was from there and had his own life, whereas I was an outsider starting from scratch to be there with him. He was usually off with his friends and family, and I slowly became lonelier and lonelier which caused resentment to grow. It definitely drove a wedge in between us, which then added to the disconnect and loneliness. I guess now thinking back, another lesson I learned is that for me, I need a relationship to only be a piece of my puzzle, not my entire puzzle. I’m the kind of person who needs my own life, and was not happy living fully in someone else’s. I suppose I left out those details for sake of time, but can see now how it would have been important to mention. I hope this helps clarify a little bit? Thank you again for reading my post and for your comment!

  • missusfred

    hmm – First World problems eh?

  • Courtney

    My sentiments exactly.

  • Naima

    Hi Erica,

    I loved your article and I can say that I’ve been through some of the things that you experienced as well. I used to work in the legal field for many years and I couldn’t stand it. The money was good but at the end of each day I felt exhausted and depleted of energy. I was unhappy, stressed, irritable, overworked, poorly treated by co-workers and even went through a spiritual awakening as well which I think I’m still undergoing. I felt that the longer I stayed the more I would be denying myself of the happiness that I deserve. I was fired from my job and I didn’t cry or get angry. I was happy. The next week I went to Barcelona for a women’s writing retreat that I had planned weeks in advance. It was a wonderful trip and I’m glad to have met new people and experience such a beautiful culture. These days I am wondering what my next step should be. Finding a job has been difficult. I’ve been praying and trying to keep a positive mindset. I will not go back to what I used to do. I just have an urge to do something different and close to my heart.

  • Courtney

    Tiny Buddha, if you erase comments, how then are you being truthful? I believe Buddha listened and read more than he spoke.

  • Hi Courtney,

    My name is Lori and I’m the founder of Tiny Buddha. It’s a pleasure to e-meet you! I take an active role in moderating the site but only remove comments I believe to be insulting, belitttling, or disrespectful. I welcome varying points of view, so long as they are communicated kindly, with empathy and respect for the author and other commenters. Fortunately, most comments here fit those guidelines!

    Lori

  • Erica Lederman

    Hi co-Erica! Yes, that does clarify. I can see how you have to edit out some details for the sake of brevity. As I read I was comparing your experiences to my own traveling solo and I felt a bit betrayed I guess when I read the word “husband”. When I’ve traveled I’ve always been so envious of couples traveling together or single ladies who fall in love abroad because that’s always been out of reach for me. I can totally see how trying to meld into someone else’s life in a foreign country can be an isolating experience though.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Mitzi Junie Gorman

    I ran away to Australia at the age of 35 (from uk) as my brother died in a motorcycle collision

  • Erica – so amazing you’ve traveled solo as well – such an empowering and liberating experience and takes bravery and courage! I completely relate to your feelings as well as I backpacked through Europe solo and then for 2 years on my own and was also super envious of couples traveling together. After having both experiences of traveling alone and also with a partner, let me tell you both have their ups and downs and the grass isn’t always greener. 😉

  • Oh Mitzi, I’m so so sorry to hear what happened to your brother. How unbelievably devastating, my heart hurts for you. I would have done exactly the same thing… run away. It sounds like you learned a lot during your time away, and I agree – so much time to think (sometimes too much!). But how amazing that you were able to return to the UK and get a job you loved. Thank you for sharing your story – so much love to you xx

  • Hello Naima – thank you so much for reading my article and reaching out! Wow we have such similar experiences regarding our career history leading to burn out then on to travel, and going through a spiritual awakening. A women’s writing retreat in Barcelona would have been absolutely incredible! I’m sure you took away some life long memories from that trip. I’m not sure if you clicked through to my website or not, but it’s my mission and purpose to support awakening women and men to move into careers they absolutely love – one that is in alignment with their true purpose here on earth. There are a some free resources and blog posts that may help guide you in the right direction! And always feel free to reach out, I’m here to help. Sending lots of love to you,
    Erica xx

  • Naima

    I will check it out. Thank you so much! Xoxo

  • Absolutely!! xx

  • Mitzi Junie Gorman

    Thank you Erica x

  • Your most welcome Mitzi xx

  • Mariana Bertelli

    Hi Erica, Thanks for this article!
    I’ve been feeling lonely with my own thoughts in the last couple days since I was fired from my job. I’ve already lived abroad and I can say it was the best experience someone could ever have. Now I’m just wondering if I could start it all over again… I’m 27 and just like you I feel like if I don’t make a change now I will never do.
    I completely relate to this article and it brought me some insights 🙂

  • Samuel Ogundiya

    Wonderful article, I just discovered this online community and I’ll like to become a member. I really resonate with #5. ‘The Earth is designed perfectly to support us on our life journey.’ Actually, I have not lived aboard but, I have to leave my family and friends, and then move to another neighborhood to start a whole new life alone. During my journey so far, I was able to understand that we all are part of nature. We can’t run away from ourselves. We just have to embrace nature and get connected to life. Our Earth is here for us. Thanks Erica, for the inspiration.

  • Thank you so much for reading my article and for your comment Samuel. I’m so happy to hear you resonated with #5! Our earth is absolutely here to support us and carry us along on our human journey. Having to leave your friends and family to start over alone is certainly a stressful and lonely thing to have to do (I’ve also done that several times so completely feel where you’re coming from). I’m sure it feels like you’re living abroad at times! It may not feel like it, but all of this will make you stronger. Just tune into your heart and learn the lessons you’re meant to be learning. Reach out anytime you need!
    Cheers,
    Erica

  • Hi Mariana,
    Thank you so much beautiful, for reading my article and for reaching out. Being fired or let go from any job is certainly incredibly stressful, but also brings up so many of our insecurities and emotions, including loneliness from the isolation it sometimes bring. I totally feel where you’re coming from! Please know you’re not alone in your thoughts, and you may not want to hear this right now, but after working with SO many people throughout my previous career in recruitment and now as a career coach, this is almost always a huge blessing in disguise. And I don’t use ‘always’ lightly because I know it’s a bold statement. It may cause quite a bit of stress in the short term, but people are usually so thankful for it in the long term because they never would have made the change if they weren’t forced. I genuinely believe it’s the Universe’s way of saying YOU ARE meant for more! It’s going to force you to really take an honest look at your life and decide what it is you truly want. Maybe ask yourself some deeper questions like “what is my heart telling me to do next?” “what do I really want for my life?” “what is the legacy I want to leave here on earth?” “what are the next best steps for me to take right now”. I’m here if you need me ok? You can reach me through my website at http://www.ericacarrico.com – sending lots of love your way girl! You’ve got this. xx

  • Mariana Bertelli

    Thank you so much Erica! You are an inspiration!
    I’ve been journaling these days and it also helps a lot!

  • throwupbreath

    Hi – thanks so much for the article/sharing your experience. I am 41 and about to put in my resignation after a 12 year stay at my current job. I’m selling my house and splitting up with my wife amicably. This was my 2nd marriage, and I am ready to break the cycle that I’ve been on the past 20 years. I’m selling everything and going to travel for a year by myself. It is terrifying and exhilarating to think about right now. Anyway, this article helped me kind of mentally prepare for whatever is ahead.

  • Suzany

    Hi Erica, it was a true blessing finding your blog post today. I truly believe I was meant to read it. It has been so long since the last time I visited this website and today out of the blue it popped in my mind and here I am reading it. Your story really touched me. I am 27 years old, currently unemployed because I quite my corporate job (one that made me so miserable and made me question all my life choices), trying to decide if I should try to move back to Sydney, where I left my heart 4 years ago. Right after I left the company where I worked at I tried to make a plan to go back to Oz but couldn’t find a proper visa, then a few months ago I almost moved to the Netherlands for a Masters in Economics but for some reason I couldn’t convince myself to do it. Now I am (forcing) myself to look for a new corporate job here in my town even though I know it’s not what my heart wants but at the same time I can’t push away this feeling inside me that my life is not meant to be here. I guess I am missing the courage to move to Sydney without the perfect plan (hello controlling personality) and take the risk to see what life brings. But reading your post sparkled something in me and I will hold on to that feeling until I am brave enough to make the changes my heart wants! Thank you! xxxx

  • Suzany

    Wow, we are exactly on the same boat and I can read my words in yours. Wish you the best luck!

  • Michael Vitiello

    Hi! You said when you were abroad you always had a job. What kind of jobs were you working? Currently 26 and going through a very similar situation. I’ve been applying to teach English abroad, but I would love to here of any other options I could possibly look into. Thank you!

  • Hi Michael – 26… go for it!! You’re at the perfect age. Quite a few of my friends did teach English abroad for several years – in Japan, China, and Taiwan. My sister was a teacher in China for almost 10 years and only recently moved back to the States. That’s a great option if you want to live in 3rd world countries. I worked a bit under the table in Europe in cafes, but when I was living in Australia I worked with the visa system. i went to Australia on a 1-year working visa where you can only have the same job for 6 months at a time. I landed a contract within recruitment (the field I was working in) and then ended up getting sponsored on a 457 visa. Every country is different and has different working/visa rules, so you have to check the specifics for where you’re looking to go. There are options and people do it all the time. So go for it!!!

  • Suzany oh my goodness such similar stories!!! I totally understand the ‘trying to force yourself into something that your heart doesn’t truly want” and that just never works out well in the long run. We never need a perfect plan, and in fact, it’s always more fun and works out better for us if we sometimes just take a leap of faith. As someone who did this 10 years ago, I’m so grateful every single day I chose to follow and listen to my heart, rather than fear get the best of me. Ask yourself these questions… what’s the worst that will happen if you go? And what will your life be like if you stay? And try to go from that space. Listen to your inner guidance system… listen to your heart, to your intuition. It will never lead you astray. xx