I grew up as an only child in an abusive household. When I was seventeen, my mother, my cat, and I took what we could carry and moved most of the way across the country to start a new life. These two phases of my life have one thing in common: an intense longing for stability.
To me, stability meant a childhood bedroom that remained constant, a parent with a 9-to-5 job, and a one-way ticket to anything in the Ivy League. That, however, is not my story.
Over the next five years, I quickly learned that my favorite way to cope with my life was to frequently travel away from it. I kissed a giraffe in Kenya and a sea lion in Nassau. I rode an elevator 124 floors up and looked out over Dubai from the highest skyscraper in the world. I did not get into my dream school. I attended a small, private, liberal arts college not far from my new home. I struggled to adjust to college life; I ran away to Italy, Greece, and Turkey on a January term study abroad program.
We millennials have been conditioned to chase what our parents wanted: a ring before spring of our senior year, a modest-sized house in the suburbs, an office job, three kids and a dog; the most drastic changes in my life would be a new car every few years or maybe getting the hardwood floors refinished.
We have in our minds what a successful life looks like—what a happy life looks like—though whether or not we can differentiate between the two, I am no longer certain.
We are not living those lives—whether they are the lives our parents wanted or the lives they lived, they are not ours. I am coming to terms with the fact that the majority of my generation will never own a house. Many of us prefer cats or dogs to children. Some of us have eliminated the daily commute and have opted to work exclusively through our laptops.
When I was nineteen, on a guided tour for young people, I drank mojitos on a rooftop bar in Madrid with our tour director, Delia. She told me about her life guiding in Europe in the summer and wandering through Southeast Asia in the winter writing for a luxury travel blog. I mused over the thought that this is actually her life. I followed her through eleven countries, and a few years later I woke up in a small orange tent in the grasslands of Tibet to the clanging of pack-horse bells and dipped my hands in a small clear stream before making a cup of coffee.
In this moment, I admitted that perhaps stability was something I was not meant to have. I expected to be heartbroken. However, it does not break you to give up on a life that was not yours.
The truth is, I do not thrive in stability. I thrive in the few minutes of catching snow on my tongue in the Taklamakan Desert, in the seconds before a bungee jump fall, in the mornings that I wake up and eat watermelon surrounded by yaks. All along, thinking I was running away from my life, I was instead running towards it.
I do not believe in asking others “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I do not believe in wanting to know that—about others or about myself. We are at a juncture in our lives and in our generation where we can rewrite our rules and our wish lists. I do not believe in a successful life, but I do believe in a happy one. My wish list reads: In five years, I hope I will be surprised.
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