Today is my 37th birthday and I can’t help but look back to the person I was 4.5 years ago when I bought a one way ticket to Mexico to find myself.
I was 32 and despite having what others deemed as a successful life, I had no idea what I was doing or what I wanted. I left to travel and hoped there would be a lightbulb moment, I thought climbing mountains and galavanting on chicken buses and eating guinea pig would somehow unlock the secret to happiness.
That moment never came.
What did happen was that travel has made me a kinder, smarter and more compassionate person. It didn’t happen overnight and only recently do I see how much I have changed. In four years I’ve learned some tough lessons:
1. No decision is forever. If you make a life decision and you don’t like what happened just make another life decision.
2. In a disagreement it doesn’t really matter who is right and who is wrong. Like most wars, both sides are to blame.
3. I wasted time in relationships because I feared being alone.
4. Learning a new language is humbling and English is probably the hardest language to learn.
5. Relationships across cultures is electrifying and exasperating. The exotic cultural differences that draw two people together usually contribute to the end the relationship.
6. Some people are jerks. Don’t spend energy talking about them.
8. Do not miss out on the thrill of traveling solo. It will make you more appreciative of sharing it with someone.
9. Live the life you want now. Don’t wait for the weekend. Your vacation. Retirement.
10. No one is perfect. You can either be pretty, smart, rich or have a sane family. Some people get a combination but no one gets everything.
11. Drunk texting never leads to anything good, no matter how badly you want to tell someone what you really think of them.
12. It takes 9 failures for one minor success. If you don’t go out there and fail miserably you’ll never make it to success.
13. The traveler vs. tourist debate is annoying. Travel how you want to travel. There is no right way.
14. I’m addicted to the Internet. I don’t need to be on Facebook five times a day (let’s be serious it’s more like 10-15).
15. Some friendships aren’t made to last forever. People change and grow apart. Instead of being upset that I wasn’t as close to my old friends I made new ones.
16. Don’t define success by the balance in your bank account. It’s okay to put your life first and job second even if it means you won’t make as much money.
17. If people on your Facebook newsfeed annoy you then hide them. Who needs to waste time being annoyed by a Facebook status.
18. Comparing yourself to others only makes you feel terrible. There will always be people who achieve more than you, instead of beating yourself up, focus on what you could do better.
19. If there are people in your life who make you feel bad about yourself then remove them from your life. Your friends and family should lift you up with support, not bring you down (sidenote: thanks Mom for your unconditional support).
20. Take pleasure in small things. A sunny day. Music. Cute dogs. Smile as much as you can.
21. Don’t wait for someone to complete you. In order to find love you need to be able to stand on your own.
22. If there’s something you don’t like: your weight, your job, your friends – change it now! It’s never too late. The only one who can make it better is you.
23. Feel sorry for people who are mean to you because it’s never about you. Happy people don’t try to make others feel bad.
24. Weird people make the world interesting. Don’t discount people with strange ideas, even if 90% of what they say is crazy sometimes the 10% is really insightful. If not at least it’s entertaining.
25. Being alone is better than being with someone who doesn’t think you are amazing.
26. Someone will think you are amazing.
27. Don’t waste time being angry about things you can’t change. Life is unfair but wallowing in anger and self-pity won’t make it better.
28. You are only as old as you feel. At 37 I don’t feel older than I was ten years ago, only wiser.
29. Don’t be afraid to take risks, they bring the biggest rewards.
30. If you love someone, ensure they know it every single day.
31. Apologize when you are wrong. Even when you don’t want to admit it, or when the other person is wrong too.
32. There are no overnight successes. Working hard is the only way to get what you want.
33. Traveling solo takes you out of the familiar and makes you question who you are when there’s no one around to define you.
34. I’d rather live an interesting life full of mistakes than a safe life where I risked nothing.
35. Meeting someone who does think I’m the most amazing person in the world and realizing travel made me the person who could finally accept that kind of love.
36. You won’t be perfect at everything in the beginning. Give yourself permission to learn and grow.
37. No one knows what they are doing in life. We are all so busy trying to pretend we’ve got it together but everyone has deep insecurities and doubts. Don’t be afraid to admit them, you’ll make others feel less alone.
And the biggest thing I’ve learned is that this is just the beginning.