“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.
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.