What is an explorer? Is an explorer someone who wanders the globe in search of undiscovered lands? A perpetual nomad who won’t rest until they find a slice of land unoccupied? Someone hungry for experiences that are outside normal everyday life? A person who is not content to stay in one place for very long, always moving to the next exciting adventure?
But an explorer is also someone who plunges to the deepest depths of human experience. A curious soul who yearns to know what makes themselves, and thus the world itself, tick. A mother who is fascinated by her children, watching them grow and guiding new beings in the world. A person fighting for change at the most fundamental level of society. Someone who won’t rest until everyone on this earth has the same chance at a happy life. A creator bringing new works of art into the world, ceaselessly inspired by life’s little moments. The person making your morning cup of coffee, helping you find a gift for your brother, someone working at a call center half a world away, your next door neighbor.
There are many ways to be an explorer, and most of them don’t require traveling around the world. In fact, some of the most in depth exploration can be done from wherever you are: the exploration of self.
That’s exactly what I’ve been doing the past few months. I have barely moved 10 miles from where I was born since February, and yet I feel like I’m lightyears away from where I started. After traveling around the world, coming home is supposed to be this depressing, unimaginable thing. But for me, it felt like a deep exhale.
What I’ve learned is that, traveling or not, home or not, I am the same person. Do I feel like traveling allowed me to become the person I am today? Absolutely. But you can say the same for any life experience. Do I feel like traveling helped me open my mind to the multitude of lives being lived around the world? Absolutely. And I will never ever take for granted that I was given the opportunity to see what I saw.
My journey, even before leaving to travel, has been one of self-acceptance. Simply making a decision to leave everything I knew behind, saving a bunch of money, and telling everyone that THIS was my choice, was scary as hell and changed my life. The act of declaring to your closest friends and family that you are going off on a new path is frightening. Substitute travel for whatever other choices you’ve made or are thinking of making. Then to follow through and DO the thing? The fact that I accomplished that is still mind boggling to me. Despite outlining the exact steps I took, it doesn’t feel like it was my decision. It feels like I hopped on a ride at a theme park and, two years later, I’ve hopped off. Something inside of me knew that I needed to get on the ride to see what I would find. What I found was myself.
At the start of this adventure, I wasn’t sure of myself. I wasn’t sure what I liked, what I disliked. I couldn’t tell you what I stood for or why. Now I know that we are all continually evolving. That what I like today may not be what I like tomorrow, or next month, or next year. What I stand for fundamentally is the belief that we are all one. That just because you were born in one country and I was born in another, it doesn’t make one of us better or worse. At the same time, we all have defining characteristics, cultures, and communities that have made us the deliciously individual people we are today. I do feel that the world would be a better place, not if we all traveled, but if we all tried harder to understand one another. Travel certainly makes it easier to understand where someone else is coming from. But travel and an open mind are not mutually exclusive. Just because your body is in a different location doesn’t mean you have changed.
This is why I believe you can be an explorer without ever setting foot off of your back porch. The only exploring I’ve been doing lately is self-exploration, and I’m quite content with that for the moment. Perhaps the wanderlust gene will kick in again, perhaps not. But I know now that I can access the lessons I learned while traveling wherever I am.
Since moving back to Syracuse, my hometown in Upstate New York, this is what I have done:
I think, more than anything, this recent transition has allowed me to see the beauty in simplicity. I’ve always had a notion that if you don’t have ambitious dreams and goals, there is something inherently “less than” about you. It’s an ugly belief because it’s so untrue. So what if I live in Syracuse the rest of my life and work at a coffee shop? If I love myself, the people surrounding me, and my life, why should that be “less than?” For me, it’s not about WHERE I am, it’s about the quality of my relationships: both with others and most importantly with myself. And that took about 27 years and a trip around the world for me to truly understand.
So what’s next? I’m honestly not sure, and that’s okay. A metaphor that is really helpful for me right now is the metaphor of winter. Everything appears still and stagnant on the outside, but underneath, magnificent change is underway. I don’t know yet what sprouts will pop out of the ground come spring, what flowers will bloom, but I know that something will grow. I am learning to trust the natural rhythms of life, of myself. Sometimes I take action, moving around the world at a relentless pace. Other times, I am still, listening to messages arriving from the world and myself. Both are okay. Neither is better or worse. Both are necessary.