When I graduated from Tulane University in 2017, I was like most Liberal Arts graduates in that I had no idea what I wanted to do post-college. I had many interests I wanted to pursue such as psychology, Spanish and acting. Eventually, I decided I would pack up my life, drive to Los Angeles and give the entertainment industry my best audition.
As fate would have it, my car broke down two weeks before graduation and I reasoned I couldn’t move to L.A without a car. A week later, I found myself back at my parent’s place in New York, happy for about two days before bouts of anxiety and mild depression began to set in.
It seemed to me that all my friends were interviewing and accepting finance or real estate jobs in New York, earning six-figure salaries with three weeks vacation a year. I started to believe that everyone was on the fast track to success while I would spend my life playing catch-up.
In psychology, the confirmation bias says we seek out and remember information that confirms what we already believe. Because I believed all my friends were selling their souls for money, when I saw something confirming this theory, it only strengthened my belief that everyone had their life planned but me.
Of course, this wasn’t true – no one has their life figured out at twenty-two. Shit, even at sixty-two, my dad is still making major changes in his career. We often tell ourselves stories, based on at best, half-truths that often overlook our innate ability to adapt to change.
The heart of Buddhist philosophy that I try to live by states that everything in this world is impermanent. Accepting this concept is crucial for developing happiness because the more you are resistant to change, the more likely you are to fall into the trap of thinking the world is against you.
Irish playwright, Bernard Shaw once said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself”.¹
While ~finding yourself~ sounds funny and important, it is really bullshit. As someone who has been traveling for two years, take it from me, you are not going to “find yourself” in the Amazon Jungle, on a beach in Thailand, or in a club in Ibiza.
Bernard has it right that you must create yourself through trial and error. We have to take initiative to do things that will define who we are. Self-discovery will not fall from the sky one day onto the heads of those who are patient.
“Have you found yourself yet??” is one of the most common questions I get asked from friends back home. While usually just for a laugh, there is an unavoidable notion that those who travel are looking to ~find themselves. What the fuck does that even mean?
Well, I’ve done some thinking about the “self” in daily life, on Vipassana meditation retreats and from reading books on psychology and Buddhism. What I think people mean when they talk of finding themselves is this:
“If I rid myself of all familiar comforts and land in an exotic place alone, what kind of person will I become”?
Will I be more empathetic and friendly? Or will I become selfish and introverted? Will I love every moment alone in nature? Or will I find out I hate being alone and just want to share this moment with someone?
The answer is perhaps not shockingly, a bit of everything, dependent on the situation. One of the most fascinating things that I have noticed and experienced is that there is truly no ‘you’ or ‘self’ that remains stable and fixed throughout your travels. We are products of our environment, both literally and figuratively.
Through meditation, one begins to notice you are merely an observer of your thoughts, they are not “you”. This realization allows you to further dismiss the notion of a constant unwavering self.
The master philosopher Bruce Lee suggests, “you must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Become like water my friend”.²
If you are the water in this analogy, which version is the real ‘you’? Does it even matter? Would having a “true self” be beneficial to our well-being or success? Perhaps it only confuses us more.
There is a good reason to believe that having a “true self” may not always benefit us. Professional athletes provide a prime example of the fragility of defining your life in one dimension. It is quite common for athletes when they retire to feel lost and oftentimes depressed.³ They have spent their entire life perfecting only one craft, if he/she can no longer do that, then what the fuck to do now?
While it is certainly admirable to master a craft, it is possible to do so without relying on such a rigid concept of yourself. Take a look at how you define yourself and try to soften that perception. That way when things inevitably change, you can transition with grace instead of hostility.
A good way to expand your character is to just try new hobbies — get your soul involved in an art form — be it cooking, writing, filming, singing, anything!
Having hobbies makes you more attractive to potential partners as people who do shit are simply more interesting than those who only work, come home, and watch Netflix. More than a mating call though, having multiple interests ensures your future happiness.
Most people adhere to the validity of insurance on anything that involves money — airplane tickets, cars, homes — but what about insurance on anything that involves your happiness? If you are only able to derive happiness from one source of identity or practice, then what will happen if that goes away? Should you just accept depression? Certainly not.
Thus, while some people say the best way to prepare for the future is to diversify your investment portfolio, I believe it is equally important to diversify your identity. One of the many aspects I love about living abroad is the freedom that comes with not knowing the future. The idea that everything is impermanent should allow us to be free in our thinking, to be free from constraints and expectations as we develop our lives. The true self must be created, torn down, built up and torn down again. Life is this way, it is as it should be.