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How a Year of Travel Completely Broke (and Rebuilt) Me

by Elaina Giolando Aug 4, 2016

Today marks precisely the one-year anniversary of the day I left my job (one I loved, by the way) to travel for 14 months. I left with the intention to become a freelance writer and develop my coaching business, and see what the experience of becoming a real digital nomad would bring. I’ve done all that, stepped far out of the 9 to 5 norm, traveled widely, meditated deeply, and permanently changed my orientation to life.

But beyond all that, I’m now left feeling, for lack of a better description, blank and broken — but not necessarily in a bad way. Allow me to explain.

Traveling for this length of time, punctuated by adventures ranging from hitchhiking across Burma and trekking in Nepal to working on a farm in India and living in Berlin, has allowed me to step far outside of society. For one year, I’ve had enough money to live exactly how and where I’ve wanted to, work as much as I needed to, and follow my most spontaneous instincts from country to country.

This allowed me to observe society without actually really participating in it. I lurked on the peripheries of how 99.9 percent of everyone else lives. I fell off the grid in a way, finding it suddenly hard to relate to peers driven by their start-up or people who’ve landed on a career fast-track. Most everyone, I realized, has their identity tied up in the work they do, but travel, meditation, and being my own small-time boss already severed that connection for me. While everyone remained focused on what they do, I’d been educating myself on how to be.

After 26 years, I can finally sit and be totally at peace in the present moment. I don’t feel the need to be “productive” for the sake of being productive, and my intuition speaks with a voice of calm confidence. I see the face of God, or whatever you want to call the pervasive intelligence and unity that characterizes the universe, in the eyes of little animals, and I see the reflection of myself in everyone from an Indian beggar to the CEO of a huge multinational. I’ve learned the importance of play, of taking life much less seriously (none of us get out of here alive, you know), and of viewing love as our ultimate calling, our essential human superpower.

I recognize the privilege of coming to a point that many people will sadly never arrive at — enchanted with their capabilities of doing, they will never realize the artistry in being. While I feel blessed with this understanding, I’m also overwhelmed by the task of re-calibrating for the real world: what do I do now that I’ve learned how to be?

What I’ve found is the identity constructed for me by family, education, religion, society, media, and money has been shattered at my feet, and I’m left blinking stupidly at the pieces. Who am I now that I can stand still? Who am I now that I’ve stopped playing the game? Who am I when I’ve lived seamlessly against a dozen different cultural backdrops?

This is why I feel blank and broken now, my friends. If you had told me this would be the result of my year away, I wouldn’t have believed you, or I might have run in the other direction.

But it’s an exciting challenge now, to take responsibility for reconstructing my identity as a 27-year old, where many others are running around brandishing the self-image the world imposed on them, marrying others like them and giving birth to children who will become like them. If they do have an awakening, it may be too late, practically speaking, to create the space to start again.

The other most important lesson I’ve learned is that no real progress — and for me, no further progress — can be made by thinking. It has to be obtained by acting. So even now that I feel myself staring blankly into the future, dumbly paralyzed by a raw self-awareness, I know I have to move my feet. I have to turn thought into action, take risks with limited knowledge, make love my biggest priority, and face the uncertainty that defines our precarious human existence.

This article was first published on Life before 30 and is reposted is here with permission.

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