On June 13th of this year I updated my Facebook status with this: “In two short weeks we’re leaving … venturing into what I believe will be one of the most transformational experiences of my life … a slow, meandering through previously unexplored parts of myself and the world. I’m full of anticipation and curiosity.”
Today marks six months since we said the hard goodbyes and boarded that plane. I struggle to articulate what exactly this trip has meant to me and how the experiences continue to rearrange me as a person. The changes are subtle but undoubtedly permanent.
During a recent email exchange with my friend, Will, he asked me this question: “Since you are ‘disconnected’ from work and making things go in this world – do you find yourself more grounded in yourself? Having different dreams maybe? That sort of thing? I get you have social media but I’m wondering what the changes are for you on such a long trip.”
I’d like to share with you my answer:
I feel ‘disconnected’ from so many expectations. The ones I had put on myself, the ones implied by a job of any kind, the ones you feel placed upon you by a society you live in. I have dedicated this time of travel to discovery, exploration and growth. The only expectation I have for myself is to live wholeheartedly, with authenticity and courage.
Can I open my heart in the moments I want to run? Can I stay with the discomfort of the unfamiliar without employing my automatic strategies or strong suits? What can I see or observe about myself, my reactions, when I am confronted with uncertainty? Am I grasping to know the unknowable? Am I desperate to control what can’t be controlled, thereby robbing myself of the wonder that’s available? What do I do when that young, beautiful, funky-looking girl’s mere presence is having me deal with all my petty, insecure conversations about myself?
I suppose that is just a context that I’ve created for my life and, of course, I could’ve created that in Dallas and learned many great things. You don’t have to leave it all behind and gallivant around the world to discover and grow.
But there is something magically simple about life right now.
I don’t feel pressure to do something. Although, I want to make a difference wherever I go, I don’t feel that my sense of self-worth is in any way tied to what I can accomplish. That is very liberating.
There are certain things that register so far down the list compared to where they once did. I think I’ve put on eyeliner about ten times in the last 6 months and that was for a ‘special’ occasion (like my birthday) or simply because I was feeling girly and it felt good to get dolled up. I know that seems so simple but I think it illustrates the freedom from expectation. In America, and certainly when I was working, it wasn’t an option; it was a requirement. There isn’t anything wrong with that but I like it that I don’t have to play that game. Appearance and how I look is secondary and occurs more in the world of play than anything else.
The year after I moved out and Mike and I were going through our divorce was a huge transition for me. You can imagine. It was the loss of my husband, my house, my job, my car, many of my friends and co-workers, my sense of security (emotionally and financially), as well as a family I loved and this fixed idea of what my future would be. I grieved the loss of people and things that I had identified with, and often the sense of loss would catch me off guard and I would miss something that I didn’t expect to miss, like the way the light shone through the windows of my kitchen in the early morning. There was a lot of letting go that happened that year and that continues to happen now.
I am 33 years old. I have no job or career, a very small 401k (that will certainly not sustain me), no house, no car, no babies, not a single household item beyond personal books, a bicycle and a set of practically new golf clubs in my mom’s garage.
In some ways, that seems irresponsible and scary, but it is also very, very freeing! I know, and can say with certainty, that none of those things bring me happiness. I wouldn’t be more fulfilled with a house or a couch to put in it. Not to say I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, enjoy those things or that I might not someday want them, but they just don’t make you happy. So, what makes me happy?
My thoughts on all this aren’t totally clear so forgive my jumping around and just pouring it out here. I feel this leap to travel has been me putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I am doing what I want to do. I’m doing what makes me happy. It may not make me happy forever, I don’t know? But for now, it’s exactly where I am meant to be and I am doing it with this beautiful man I love, which makes it all the richer.
So, I don’t know if it’s the actual travel, or the fact that I am living life the way I want to live it, that leaves me feeling whole.
I feel grounded because I am telling the truth (even when it’s hard) and I continuously find the courage to open my heart. That is my ‘job’ right now and it is the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had.
I love you, Will. And yes, I feel more connected to the people in my life, more present to the love I have for them, the depth they bring and the joy I derive from my relationships. I feel I have the time to appreciate and nurture them. My priorities are aligned and reflected in how I am living which makes for a very peaceful existence.
Thanks for asking the question!
Of the many ways that travelling has impacted me, this is but one small piece, a very personal one. Will’s question “Do you find yourself more grounded in yourself?” gave me the chance to reflect on the ways that ‘disconnecting’ has chipped away at the surface of who I thought I was to reveal a deeper truth. My answer to his question is a resounding yes! I am a lighter, freer, more grateful and more grounded version of the Ashlie that boarded a plane for Asia six months ago. I’ve learned invaluable things, yet there are still many questions that remain unanswered, especially about our future, which is open to immeasurable possibilities. What calls to us, pulls at us, wants to come alive through us? What will we do when this initial trip is over, not because we should but because it’s what we really want to do? There are no answers to be found, only to be created, which leaves me living this question: What life do you create when all expectations are gone?