- Michael Thompson
“Our parents don’t see us as we are — they see the kid they remember. Our friends don’t see us as we are — they see the friend they remember. Only a stranger met on your travels sees you as you truly are right now.”
These words were shared with me recently by Conor Neill, Leadership and Communication Professor at IESE Business School (#1 center for executive education — Financial Times) and owner of a Youtube channel that discusses these very topics, when discussing how important travel is in regards to raising your self-awareness.
This story, handed down to Conor by one of his Japanese MBA students, got me thinking about how traveling and living abroad has shaped my life and the important lessons the world has taught me at a time when I was in desperate need of answers.
Seven years ago when people asked me why I had decided to trade in a comfy management job for a one-way ticket to Spain, where I had zero friends and the same number of work opportunities, I told them that I wanted to see the world.
But that was a lie.
I left because I had made a mess of the world I had created.
Somewhere between prioritising what I thought others wanted from me and caring too much about trying to fit in, I lost track of what I wanted for myself and I stopped looking for where I truly belonged.
The beauty of traveling is that we each come away with something different.
For me, that something different was that traveling and living abroad opened my eyes to the reality of the person I had become and gave me a glimpse of the person I was capable of being.
In short, traveling has taught me to bet on myself again.
And the following lessons below that traveling and living abroad have taught me are why I will continue to do so.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LEARNING HOW TO FAIL FORWARD:
The beauty of traveling or moving to a new country is that you learn how to fail forward. In fact, there is no failing — just a change of direction.
A missed train is quickly forgotten about after you make a new friend waiting for the next one. That hellish bus ride? A great anecdote for years to come.
Nothing about traveling is perfect and in that lies its beauty. We stumble forward and fail often. As a reward, travelling takes us to the places we were always meant to go and in the process teaches us about who we were always meant to be.
YOU DON’T HAVE A CAREER — YOU HAVE A LIFE:
One of the biggest takeaways from anyone who travels, or even anyone who goes on vacation, is that there is so much more to life than work. It is great to be passionate about something, and the world moves because of “ideas plus action,” but one of the glaring differences between many of the places I have visited and the U.S. is that people take the other pillars of their lives just as, if not more, seriously than their jobs.
Being surrounded by people who work to live instead of live to work could not have come at a better time as I was coming out of a decade-long corporate blackout. This mindset has been a reminder for me to get back on track when I’m leaning too far in the opposite direction of what makes me happy.
THE BEST WAY TO BE SUPPORTED — IS TO FIRST BE SUPPORTIVE:
I like to think of myself as a nice person. However, traveling and living abroad has taught me about the importance and power that comes with being proactively nice. One of the first realisations I had upon arriving in Barcelona was that there was absolutely no one around who truly cared about me, and that it was up to me , and only me, to give them a reason to.
Somewhere along the way I had forgotten to take notice of the details that made the people around me smile. I had gotten so wrapped up in my own head that I rarely raised it to see how I could make life easier for the people I cared about.
Maybe it wasn’t Barcelona at all. Maybe it was just the fact that I had taken a step back. But traveling has taught me that there is no higher compliment than showing interest in someone and truly listening to what they have to say. After all, the best memories and greatest lessons are often not seen, but heard.
YOU START TO NOT ONLY ACCEPT CHANGE — BUT EMBRACE IT:
When I was 23, I took a sales job to get over my stutter. In the beginning, I produced some of the worst (and longest) pitches in the history of mortgage sales. But I got better and the more uncomfortable I felt each day, the more comfortable I felt the next.
Looking back on why I traded in cushy salary for the unknown had nothing to do with the work. However, it had everything to do with the fact that I had begun to prioritise words like “familiarity” and “security” over words like “growing” and “pushing myself” — the very reason I achieved some level of success in the first place.
We can all be extremely resourceful when we need to be, and traveling and moving to a new country forces us to do and be just that. Traveling challenges us every day and over time it teaches us that the unknown is not scary, but simply a path to the version of ourselves that we always knew we were capable of being.
Rarely does media mogul and social media expert, Gary Vaynerchuk, make a video that does not include the importance of being self-aware. Yet in a conversation with Larry King when asked how one achieves it, Gary replied, “I don’t know.”
If it had been me talking with Larry, my answer would have been simple: travel.
Traveling and living abroad teaches you pretty quickly what personal traits have allowed you to survive in the world thus far and what you need to work on in order to thrive.
Traveling and living abroad smacks you in the face with the reality that no matter how worldly you are, you cannot do it alone and the type of people best suited to join you on your journey.
Traveling and living abroad teaches you to shift your mindset from saying, “I believe,” to first asking others what they believe.
Most of all, traveling and living abroad shows you who you are and gives you an idea of the person you want to become.
The Japanese student referred to in the beginning also said that during his travels he met the three most important person in his life, “his wife, a wise mentor…….. and himself.”
It is hard to say if I would have eventually learned these lessons by staying put in the U.S. I like to think yes, but I am sure that getting out of my comfort zone and living abroad has sped up the learning curve a great deal and helped me to meet the person that I was also meant to be.