I’ll share 3 myths I’ve made, behind which I hide, but first:
At 17, I flew to Athens, Greece, with people I barely knew, and I was desperately homesick. I do mean desperately. I was just beginning my 5-year plunge into OCPD (obsessive compulsive personality disorder), and my special hobbies at the time included straightening every item in my room to right angles and disinfecting my belongings every day because dirt exists, which I found offensive. I also had a strict daily exercise regimen, and I ate just 7 or 8 basic foods because all other foods terrified me. (As you can tell, another hobby of mine was an eating disorder.) At the time, I was compulsively structured. And my brave little trip to Greece was such an aberration from structure that I cried myself to sleep every night but one.
As I flew home, I told myself: “I hate traveling. I won’t do this again. I’m going to graduate college, become a Physical Therapist, and live in one place.”
(Let’s pause for that young, naive Emily.)
In a plot twist, I became a documentary filmmaker, and I’ve maniacally traveled and traveled and traveled (for six years) with very little structure and very few right angles to China, India, the Maldives, Thailand, Cambodia, South Korea, lots of Europe, South Africa, the Middle East, the Arab Gulf, etc.
I’ve traveled right up to the cusp of travel burnout; I’m waving to you from that cusp right now. My motto: If I’m going to prove myself wrong, I might as well make it astonishingly over-the-top.
Now, after 6 years, hundreds of flights, and a cacophony of cultures and settings, it’s time to be honest about a few things. I’ve got myths. These myths are the beliefs and expectations I’ve used to hide my imperfections, to build a more appealing version of my tired self.
A list of expectations I’ve harbored for myself as I work and travel:
1 — Do not let jet lag affect you. Be cheerful, interesting, and focused everywhere, all the time.
2 — Adjust effortlessly in all places. All cultures. All locations. Be supremely adaptable.
3 — Nurture all of your friendships and family relationships while you travel.
4 — Build new friendships everywhere you go. Then nurture those too.
5 — Do loads of outstanding creative work everywhere — on a bus, in the middle seat of a plane at 4AM, in someone else’s spare bedroom, etc.
6 — Develop new, complex skills while traveling every 2 weeks.
7 — Stay optimally healthy, active, and fit no matter where you fly.
8 — Read 6 books a month.
9 — Write your own book(s), share impeccable photos / videos, and stay relevant on social media.
10 — Why aren’t you learning a foreign language yet?
11 — Hurry! Come up with a genius money-making idea that provides consistent passive income!
12 — Etc.
This comprehensive list is ideal for Superman. Or Jesus. But Superman is fictional, and even Jesus knew when He needed a break. (He often withdrew to be alone, to pray.)
I fall short of this list always. Always. I keep thinking, though, that it’s possible, even necessary. When I fail, I feel ashamed. When I feel ashamed, I often try to hide my flaws and present a brave, perfect face to the world, which brings me to Myth #2…
Consistent travel is fun, exciting. It’s “the dream.” It’s also fertile soil (in my case) for pretending to be a perfect specimen of humanity all the time, when actually, I’m crying myself to sleep. This is not a healthy habit, which is a ground-breaking insight I’ve had about pretending to be fine when stressed. Often while traveling, I’ve tried to simply “fix myself” (this never works) rather than tell a trusted confidante that I’m burned out, overwhelmed, or at my limit. I don’t enjoy telling people such things, because they contradict Myth #1. Also, it’s not impressive to be burned out and overwhelmed. And that reminds me of Myth #3…
This isn’t a nice part of myself to share but: I’ve been obsessed with impressing people for a while now. This is easier than ever thanks to social media. I can curate an eye-catching version of me. I’ve got photos from Dubai, Hawaii, South Africa, Thailand, Norway, etc. I can post them and voila! IMPRESSIVE. Unfortunately, I don’t live up to the image. I mean it. I’m tired, and it’s messier than it looks.
Three years ago, I was gripped — thank God — by one question. My answer was telling.
Emily, are you here to impress people or to love them?
I wanted to say, “LOVE THEM. DUH.” But I knew (still know) how much I want to impress people. All of the people. This is probably related to my fear of inadequacy. Impressing people is one way of proving “I’m enough.” But it’s a counterfeit way that includes comparison, pretense, and envy.
These do not make a tasty cocktail. I know this from experience.
Loving people is hard work. Connection requires risk, vulnerability, presence, and honesty. Impressing people is also hard work, but it’s safer (or seems that way). I can keep my distance, build a beautiful reputation, and hide behind it.
One is freedom; the other is not.
In July of 2015, I had lunch at Chipotle with Kayla — a good friend. I’d been traveling nonstop (typical), and I was drained. We talked about burnout. Kayla, too, had lived nomadically. She was honest with me about her experiences, her struggles — how traveling so much can sometimes make you feel crazy. Kayla’s great with honesty. We ate guacamole and chips, shared real things, and it helped. A lot.
That’s why I’ve written my myths here. This might be someone’s guacamole-with-Kayla moment. Or not. Either way, truth-telling is cathartic; it connects us, and I’m learning that I’d rather connect than save face.
So cheers to honesty.
And cheers to right angles, because I still straighten all the things in my room.
Originally published at medium.com