I am the author of You Deserve This Sh!t, a travel writer and photographer, and an editor at Forbes. A close call with death and a soul-searching solo backpacking trip taught me how to live. Since then, I’ve dedicated myself to living a life infused with meaning and empowering others to do the same.
My work is a result of several years of tireless creative self-work I did to discover my purpose and become the best version of myself.
I know what it’s like to not know who you are, to feel a lack of self-confidence and uncertainty about your identity. I’ve been there. I’ve dealt with those struggles. But I also know that the light at the end of the tunnel is a real thing.
While it’s not easy, I can tell you that it is possible. I’ve experienced the powerful transformation that happens when you dedicate a part of your life to understanding your soul, and so can you.
I grew up in a family of six—two older brothers, an older sister and, of course, my loving parents. Raised in a small town in Sonoma County, I like to think my innocence was long-lasting, as there was never much influence outside my family, church, sports, and early years of schooling. I attended a private school until I was about 12 years old, which consisted of one school house that maxed out at 40 students. The place was small—everyone knew everyone and their parents and their grandparents and where they lived and their home phone numbers.
Parents never have a true rule book to go by when raising their children. They taught themselves the ropes they believed would give their children a life worth living—a life where we could flourish beyond our own imagination. My parents were good at a lot of things. In particular, they always created a space for us to follow our interests. There was never a predetermined path for us to follow. They gifted us with the power to make those types of decisions and sit in the driver’s seat of our life. Although this may seem like a lack of guidance, it was far from that. It taught me that I was able to guide the trajectory of my life—I was able to invent my own identity.
However, in my early teens, I wasn’t sure who I was, and I lacked self-confidence. They weren’t my best years. I second guessed who I was trying to be, felt like I didn’t fit in with the people around me, and couldn’t find my voice. Although I was uncertain and far from confident, I was able to rely on the foundation my parents built for me. During my high school years, I realized that I felt a bit lost. But this motivated me. The feeling of being lost and unsure of myself encouraged me to redefine who I was and step into my own power.
After graduating from California State University, Fullerton, I had a piece of paper that said I had earned a bachelor’s degree in business finance. A common path is to follow what you learned in college and make a career out of it. However, that didn’t sit right with me. Finance wasn’t my thing. It didn’t bring me joy. While it may be easy to believe you must follow what you “found” in college, those traditional ways of thinking are a thing of the past. I realized this, and pledged to live a life solely built on the foundation of following my interests and heart. My heart led me to a different path. It showed me the gateway to my own self-discovery and encouraged me to seek something that resonated with me, rather than follow the traditional ways of thinking.
So, instead of beginning a journey dictated by the words on that piece of paper—business finance—I decided to take a leap of faith. I was ready to crack open the door to my own self-discovery and create my true identity. I was mature enough to understand that the past doesn’t have to define your future, and I had the ability to make significant changes in my life. I moved out of my house in Newport Beach that was just steps from the sand, quit my job as a restaurant server days after graduating college, packed a backpack full of clothes and essentials, and left for a three month solo backpacking trip across Europe. I felt the need to maneuver myself through a very unfamiliar place. I began to see this as an intensive masterclass. The subject? My own life.
I challenged myself to leave a positive impact on every single individual I connected with, and I wrote down everything in my leather journal. Everything from where I was staying to what city I was in to the sketchy gypsy on the side of the road, to the times where I was about ready to cry, and then give up and fly home. Some days were tougher than others, but my anchor was remembering the greater purpose of the journey—the opportunity to become who I was always meant to be.
My other two anchors in my life at that point were the best efforts I put forth to try and positively impact the people I met, and the hundred or so cream-colored pages in my leather journal. For the first time in my life, I embraced writing. I was using my voice. Positivity and writing became my method of release—they let me express my most authentic self. Although I felt nervous to embrace this path because it was a new endeavor, I was confident of one thing: the voice that comes from the deepest part of our hearts, and the feeling that burns in the center of our gut is usually the guide we need to learn to love and understand. And so I did.
I saw this path as a gateway, as an opportunity for self-realization and change. It was my chance to break through to the other side and create a life I would be proud to live. Writing slowly became an addiction. Through it, I was able to learn so much about myself. I had a lot to reflect on in my collection of journal entries made over those three months. To extract the lessons from that journey, I compiled my journal into a book titled Moment, Vol. I: To Whom It May Concern. While the majority of the book is filled with direct journal entries, I wrote present-day reflections to uncover the purpose of my journey of self-actualization. I was tirelessly trying to crack the code.
What was the real reason I did all of this? Why did I need to isolate myself to find myself? So many questions ran through my head and each one of them had an incredibly valuable answer and lesson. I was motivated to investigate what those moments held—what else I could uncover and use to my advantage. Not only for me to learn, but for me to teach others, too. I began to uncover diamond after diamond. I was able to uncover the riches of my life by using self-reflection as my pickaxe. I discovered that I created my own identity.