I was completely numb from years of not knowing who I was meant to be, of being mentally lost. I lacked much of what I wished for—confidence, courage, self-trust, a voice. This was no one’s fault but my own. The lack began to create a wall that locked me in with my self-limiting beliefs.
It took me time to understand that while I had the power to build this wall, I also had the opportunity to break it down. The self-limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging thoughts that filled my mind as quickly as a free-flowing waterfall could be let go. While this was much easier said than done, I gave myself a personal assignment to do just that. As much as I wanted to stay put, live in my old patterns, and accept what I thought was my forever reality, I knew I had to create a shift. I knew I had to step into something greater than myself.
I was on the cusp of my 22nd birthday, so I gave myself a gift: the freedom of seeking the soul.
I gathered my belongings, packed a backpack full of what I considered my most prized essentials—clothing, toiletries, and a little bit of cash. As the days approached, butterflies began to fill my stomach, like the ones that arise just before a rollercoaster drops. Uncertainty dominated my mind. But deep down in my soul, I knew I was making the right decision. I knew going on a solo backpacking trip that encompassed the entire European continent would challenge me in a way I’ve never been challenged before.
While excitement pulsed more and more as my departure inched closer, there was still something unsettled in the back of my mind. I knew I wanted this trip to be more than just, well, a trip. My gut told me this was not meant to be any ordinary trip; this was supposed to be an intensive master class. The subject? My own life.
I began the hunt for a journal. Not one I could order from Amazon, though. I wanted something handmade; its leather needed to be well-worn but not tattered, letting its age shine through the genuine brown skin. It needed to tell its own story, but also have room for mine to be written.
This journal became my anchor. I turned to it when I needed it most, in moments of sadness, frustration, or the most genuine joy and appreciation. It was the one thing I could lean on when traveling west on a 15-hour train ride from Budapest to Venice, Italy. It was the one thing I could lean on when I needed someone or something to listen to me. It became my support system.
It was June 12, 2016, and I was 30,000 feet above the deep blue, seemingly never-ending Atlantic Ocean. Struggling to find a comfortable position in my blue, plastic-like airplane seat, I wrestled with the few feet of legroom I had. You could just barely make out wave crests breaking into white foam below as we soared toward Europe’s western coast. While I could have focused on the reclined seat in front of me, I chose to focus on what was really in front of me and my life: a journey of self-realization.
My thoughts began to run.
Did I make the right choice to leave everything at home? Why am I doing this?
I slowly began to process those thoughts. As my emotions began to subside, I was able to connect with my burning intuition—I knew exactly why I had chosen this journey. I was ready to become more than I had ever been. I wanted to become a man with a sense of wonder, curiosity, and appreciation for the world and my inner being. I wanted to understand myself and how I could fulfill my life’s purpose. I wanted to evolve into this type of person because this type of person was who I had always admired, looked up to, and loved. I was ready to be my hero.
The rubber tires unleashed a loud screech as the plane skidded on the tarmac, leaving a brief plume of smoke. Under my breath, I let out a sigh of relief. I had landed in London. For the next three months, it was me, my emotions, and the enthusiasm to uncover my character’s most authentic version.
My life changed drastically once I landed. My home was now hostel rooms with enough beds to house a village, and the European rail system was my only means of transportation. This lifestyle was foreign at first, but I gave myself permission to accept it as my new reality. While my excitement for this lifestyle quickly evolved, I embraced what would become the first real challenge: living outside my comfort zone.
Sure, living outside your comfort zone can be daunting and nerve-racking, causing you to shrivel up into a ball engulfed by your own vulnerability. But that’s exactly why it’s worth doing. It’s a challenge that will separate you from self-limiting beliefs, old patterns, and the stagnation you may experience.
Looking back on this trip, I see all that I have become. I returned home as someone completely different. Because of this journey of self-discovery, I now live a life led by an open mind and the curiosity of new experiences. I’ve learned to accept people for who they are, to always offer kindness, and I’ve learned that the true essence of living revolves around what you do and the manner in which you do it.
My mindset grew into something I could never have imagined, my perception of life evolved into something greater than myself, and my overall well-being is at its highest. I finally feel the freedom we all should feel each day of our lives. I finally have the clarity I was after, which was my reason for going to Europe in the first place.
This journey gave me the keys to my own life. It gave me an opportunity to become who I was always meant to be—the best version of myself.
Let my experience be a testament to what you can gain when you live outside your comfort zone. But let me set something straight: living outside your comfort zone doesn’t always mean going on a solo backpacking trip. Although that’s what I challenged myself to do, your journey can be much easier than that.
Challenge yourself to choose unfamiliar things. Take nothing for granted, shake up your routine, try something new, start a genuine conversation with a stranger, move toward facing your biggest fears. These are all small acts that will push you outside your comfort zone without having to go far from home or reach in your wallet for cash.
The power of living intentionally will help you uncover and gather a deeper understanding of your soul, awareness of both yourself and life around you, and the eagerness to always put your best foot forward.
If you don’t choose to live outside your comfort zone, you’ll never achieve something better than what you have now. You’ll risk living a life inundated my unconsciousness and the pain that comes with it.