“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell
It was during the final hot and muggy summer days of the year in Portland that an exciting opportunity came into my life.
I had walked away from a challenging relationship that left me questioning who I was. It’s a given that we struggle after any major life changing event, but in the past, the solutions always seemed to come with ease.
New experiences have always made me find awe and excitement in the world when I felt lost and that anything could happen. After high school, I moved to Kentucky to go to college and run track, and after college, I moved to Portland, Oregon.
This time the only difference was that my adventure would be across the planet, in Sardinia, Italy. I had never traveled abroad and I don’t speak a word of Italian. Sounds like the perfect combination for an exciting and interesting experience.
My Italy experience taught me more about myself than any of my previous jaunts into the unknown. Here are my biggest takeaways from the experience and I hope that they can be of benefit as you journey through your own life.
These pieces of wisdom changed me and my perspective on moving toward the unknown in marvelous ways.
1. We always have a choice about what happens to in our life.
I had a choice to make: Either dwell on the fact that I didn’t know who I was without the relationship that had recently ended, or find out who I really was as a person on my own.
I chose to find out who I was. Not a simple task, but a worthy goal. I began to seek out opportunities to travel and to look for a place where I could lose myself in order to find myself.
Traveling has a unique way of testing us in way that calls our true, raw, and most authentic selves to the surface. We are taken far from everything we know and are thrust into unknown where anything can happen. For me moving to Portland was on those moments, I didn’t know anyone or anything about the city. I just knew that staying positive would make even the worst moments better.
It was during this time a close friend asked me if I was interested in traveling. If so, did I have any interest in helping a friend of hers renovate a villa in Sardinia, Italy, in exchange for room and board there for a few months.
I chose to go without a second thought.
2. Our plans rarely ever go as planned, go with the flow and enjoy the experience.
I packed up my small studio apartment in Portland and drove back home to Colorado where I would drop off my belongings at my mom’s and finish preparing for my trip. Everything was going according to plan and happening at a frighteningly rapid pace. Then I made my first hiccup—I purchased the wrong plane ticket to Sardinia.
Suddenly my departure date was only two weeks away and I had much less time than I thought I would have. All my plans changed after that. Changing my ticket would have incurred a $200 fee from the airline, an expense I couldn’t afford. So I adjusted and went with the flow and made the arrangements to leave within the month. By the day of my departure, I was ready to go.
By this point in my life I had grown accustomed to the fact that our reality doesn’t always meet our expectations. If we cling to our expectations about events, people and places we go in life, we set ourselves up for an unending stream of suffering. We will suffer because our expectation was better than the reality of the thing, or we suffer because we get exactly what we want and nothing lies beyond that expectation.
3. We should always remain gentle with ourselves, sometimes things don’t work out.
The day I departed from Denver, my plan seemed set and easy. I would fly to London where I would have a 20-hour layover before taking a connecting flight to Sardinia. The first part was a complete success, the second part was not.
“I don’t believe you. Come with me,” was the response the customs officer had to my story about why I was traveling. I spent the next six hours in an airport holding cell confused and concerned, but hoping for the best, hoping that the entire situation was only a misunderstanding.
After four hours of waiting, I was interviewed for two hours before I was told that I was being deported. They gave me a choice: Stay in a prison cell for the night and fly back to Denver the next day, or take the next plane to JFK in New York that was leaving in an hour. I said JFK sounds great.
I tried to figure out where I made a mistake. What did I do wrong? I answered all of their questions honestly.
I was so angry with myself for not being able to change the situation. The next 20 hours were a sleepy blur of airport security, police escorts and a long flight back to the States.
My bag had continued on to Italy without me. All I had was my laptop and a few notebooks.
I made it to JFK at 11:57 p.m. and things only seemed to get worse. I paid for my hotel room in New York and a plane ticket back to Colorado with the wrong credit card. This severely crippled my finances, killing any chance of making it back to Sardinia.
This was the worst possible situation that could possibly have happened. Despite this, until I was placed on the plane, I never lost my temper, cried or freaked out—or stopped smiling. I knew that those types of reactions would have made me feel worse, or wonder if my response to the situation was the reason for being sent back.
If I had freaked out and argued with everyone, the situation may have gotten worse and I may not have had an option about how I would return to the States. I tried to stay calm and keep a positive outlook until I naturally set myself up for the best possible outcome given the circumstances.
Staying calm during a stressful situation can help us handle any situation in a logical way. Then even if everything goes wrong, we’ll still know we handled it to the best of our abilities. When we are completely present—not focused on what can, or will, happen—it’s amazing what we can do and handle.
4. Keep taking risks, especially after failing.
According to the official paperwork, I was deported because I held no prior entry clearance.
I still have no idea what that means.
The experience had still given me exactly what I was seeking. I was thrust so far beyond my comfort zone that I had to grow and adapt in new ways. I learned that even in the face of the greatest challenges I can continue to keep a positive outlook. I found the courage in myself to not feel like a victim.
My newfound courage and faith in myself gave me the strength to keep challenging myself in new ways. I finally had the courage to apply for elephant journal’s apprenticeship program. This was something that, prior to my traveling adventure, I never would’ve attempted because of my fear of failing. But after that experience in the airport, the fear that had stopped from from trying no longer held sway over my choices.
I may have failed, but what if I succeeded? Either way I would still walk away with something more than if I hadn’t tried before. I learned that sometimes even when you do everything right you can still fail, and that’s okay too. It’s inspiring to know how far your own courage can take you. How far has yours taken you?
I hope that my experience and what I have learned shows that the answer to who we are deep down is never far away. We can choose to move through our fear. The moments that frighten and excite us the most have the most to teach us about who are and what it means to fully live our lives.
I think Joseph Campbell said it best, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
Do something today that scares and excites you. “Feel the rapture of being alive.” Start right now and do something that you’re afraid of failing at. You may fail or succeed but either way you will experience that excitement of being alive. Even if you fail, you will have still gone farther than those who have never tried.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” ~ Wayne Gretzky
Author: Clifford Henry