Yip, that’s right… Today is my 23rd Birthday! Another year older, another year wiser, another year closer to making babies! I am a year older than Kristen Stewart and two years younger than the Olsen twins.
The day I was born: New Prime Minister in South Africa F.W. de Klerk started to dismantle apartheid when violence in black townships worsened with over 2,500 killed. Toyota launched its luxury brand the Lexus in Japan. In the States, it was the first release of Microsoft Office. And in Egypt, a 4,400-year-old mummy is found in the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Faraaz and I were discussing the next post and I wanted to write about something to commemorate my 23rd milestone. So he has given me free reign to babble on about my life and now I am doing a blog post about me. The upside is that you can just click past it, rather than smiling awkwardly and pretending to be interested. I will do a blog on the celebratory events surrounding the day soon but today I thought I would share with you, the 23 life lessons I have learned thus far. Not the simple stuff that parents and teachers ingrain in your brain while you’re growing up. The stuff I had to reach rock bottom- emotionally, financially and spiritually- to learn by myself.
- When in doubt, choose change. It’s easy to stay in the same country, live with people you love & go with status quo instead of following what your gut tells you. Maybe its seems too risky, unconventional or just plain scary, but each time you push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of, you grow more into the person you’re meant to be.
- Being happy doesn’t require very much. I’ve lived out of a backpack for months, with 3 pairs of pants, 4 dresses, 6 t-shirts and 1 jacket; I’ve (surprisingly) never once missed my wardrobe of clothes or wished I was back in South Africa. Some of my favourite moments have been from experiences and not from acquiring material things, like simply looking the stars in the desert in Dubai or watching the waves in Thailand.
- Anticipation of pain is more painful than the event itself. We spend a lot of emotional worrying about what might happen, imagining what-if scenarios, building contingency plans for worse case outcomes. In my case, worrying about people’s disapproval or about feeling lonely, homesick. When then the actual event started happening, things weren’t nearly as bad, and in fact they turned out quite great! I worried endlessly about my second year in Korea wondering if it would be as emotionally taxing as my first year was but everything worked out for the best. If you find yourself worrying, rehearse the best case scenario instead and know that whatever difficulties you imagine or experience, they will all pass in the long run.
- The world isn’t as scary as the media leads you to believe. From watching news, I associated many parts of the world with civil unrest and crime. In Thailand, I thought I’d see nothing but drugs and prostitution; in Korea I thought I’d be on the lookout from North Korean bombs. Both countries, among others I’ve visited, have turned out to be friendly and hospitable and nothing like how it was portrayed in the media.
- Traveling doesn’t cost as much as I thought. I thought the Lonely Planet guide was joking when they recommended budget of $20-$40/day for Southeast Asia. They weren’t. And if you think you need swanky hotels and rooms with ocean views, think again. Some of the best places I have stayed at, have been places I found on hostel websites (and Kerissa will testify to this).
- Things will work out and you’ll have help on your journey. When we start going off the conventional path, you might feel alone or wonder if you’ll end up worse off than you were before. Have faith things will be fine. If you pursue your dreams and open up, you may be surprised by the amount of help you’ll get for your journey. Just through sharing my experiences with strangers, I made lifelong friends on whose couches I can crash when I head to Europe, Hong Kong or North America.
- Fear can be beat by believing in something bigger than yourself. I’ve been scared to write since high school after the authorities stamped a big, red cross bone & skull on one of my stories. Somehow in my desire to share my journey and travel experiences, I’ve summoned the courage to write this blog and even post on other major blogs. I’m happy to say I’m no longer (as) scared of sharing my thoughts with the world.
- I’m more capable than I thought. I’ve managed to navigate from town to town, overcome shyness to make new friends, even go para-sailing above the ocean without freaking out. In facing new situations and with no companion traveler to lean on, I’ve seen myself step-up to challenges and achieve things I couldn’t imagine myself doing before.
- Traveling = living life. When I was in university, I saw travel as an escape from life and that everything would magically become perfect when I was on holiday. Traveling long-term has made realize that travel is far from “perfect” and since you can’t escape yourself, long-term travel becomes just living life.
- I feel whole by myself. Previously, when I was in a long-term relationship, I had the emotional security to know there was someone to support me up when things were overbearing. In challenging myself to travel and live alone, I’ve discovered that I feel like a complete person in my own company – this is probably been one of the most empowering realizations I’ve had in my life. Now that I am in committed relationship again, it’s improved my relationship 100 times over.
- The individual voice does matter. Sometimes we lose perspective and believe we’re not important to the world. But your unique story, feelings and knowledge do make a big difference to someone else. On days when I forget why I blog, I read messages and e-mails from faraway friends or strangers, and I’m reminded that it’s a privilege to connect heart-to-heart with other people.
- Have faith, jump, and the net will appear. I’ve attempted a lot of things these past two years that I didn’t know would be possible. It’s only been possible because I had faith in God and faith in myself. I knew that even if everything went horribly wrong, I’d still have enough faith in God and faith in myself to try again. And things have worked out great.
- Every day is a gift. In having the freedom to choose how I spent every day this past year, every “regular” day has been my “own.” Last year, days that I used to consider major holidays like Eid and my birthday, have each felt like a “regular” day, but in the most extraordinary way. It’s kind of hard to explain. Just know that I am happy I don’t have to answer to anybody about my days and activities or do things in any conventional/traditional way.
- Living well doesn’t have to cost a lot. And most importantly, living well doesn’t mean having a lot. When I think of my snotty high school where the idea of being a success included an Umhlanga beach flat and a BMW in the garage, I shudder. I don’t have a lot that is mine but I’m content nonetheless. And I’m happy to say that my prized possessions are things I spent my own hard earned cash on and weren’t handed to me on a silver platter.
- I know too little about the world. I’ve never really learned much world history/culture until now. Traveling has been an educational experience, but most importantly I’ve learned just how little I actually know about the world.
- It’s possible to cry tears of happiness. I cried the night I before leaving the tropical Philippines because I felt like I had left a piece of my heart there. In Kuala Lumpur, I felt so thankful to have the opportunity to see the Petronas Towers. It’s been an honour to see these beautiful pieces of the world in person.
- When you want to make it work, you’ll find a way to do it. Back in January this year, I was torn between my desire to continue traveling and living in Korea and the desire to go home to SA for familiarity. I only budgeted a year off, but in following my passion to keep traveling, I’ve found ways to make it work in my life plan and things have been better than I expected, with some of my South African friends and the love of my life showing up at my Korean doorstep.
- Gratitude puts everything perspective. When traveling, just like regular life, sometimes things just don’t go your way. Trains don’t show up, there’s no hot water or the food portions are too small. Every time I’m cranky, I remind myself how lucky I am – to have the opportunity to miss the train in Hong Kong, to see Jungmun Beach on Jeju Island, or to be in London listening to funny and weird accents which I cannot understand.
- The internet is my friend, but nothing compares to face-to-face contact. I spend a lot of time learning online, blogging and connecting with people on Facebook or Pinterest; but the strongest connections and friendships have been from meeting in person. This realization a big take-away for future relationship-building activities, in travel or otherwise.
- Alone doesn’t mean lonely. I thought I’d get sad from living alone, but I have yet to feel lonely since I have settled down in Korea especially in my 2nd year here. It’s been great to know I can enjoy my own company, because it means I can be even better company if I’m with others.
- You can be anything, but you must give yourself permission first. When I was breaking out of my identity last year, I experimented with telling people I was anything from a travel writer, photographer, teacher, social media manager, among other things. I expected people to frown with disapproval, but no one ever has. Turns out it’s been me who’s been frowning on myself.
- The grass is greener on this side. I used to compare myself to snobby classmates and friends and found myself wishing for a glamorous job, bigger salary or more money in the bank. This year, instead of pursuing what would make me more “comparable” to someone else, I’ve started following my heart and doing what makes me happy. Big difference.
- Lastly, I learned that people come and go. It seems like the simplest lesson of all, but was the hardest for me to realize. Those friends I made in school and university? Not all of them are still around. When you move away, you realize the importance of people who bother to keep in contact with you- and you cherish the people who take the time out to send an email to let you know you are being thought of even while you are so far away geographically… instead of just calling when they need something.
The trials we go through help put everything into perspective. Not only are they given to us to strengthen us and put us through the experiences we need to grow and become more whole, but they show us where our priorities ought to be and what truly matters at the end of the day.
“The ultimate reason for having trials and afflictions is to entice you to become the person it takes to overcome them.” – Cheryl States
Thank you for reading my incessant babbling on about myself! Here is a picture to lighten the mood: