Have you ever listened to the lyrics of Traveller by Chris Stapleton? He sings in his deep weathered voice, “I couldn’t tell you honey, I don’t know where I’m goin’, but I’ve got to go.” An interview with him after the song had him expressing there is a deeper meaning to the song than just travel. It’s more about soul searching. As I think about it, we all in some way have places that we want to go or get to in life, but we don’t always know how to get there. Some of our greatest adventures in life, start with us just taking a step outside of our comfort zone. Within those times where we question our physical or mental state, we gain a form of grit. A grit that tells us in our mind to get up and go. There isn’t always a destination in mind, it’s just a strong sense that we need to go somewhere…anywhere but your current state. What a profound impact that these instances can have on your life. They can alter your course and sometimes define who you are. The question always comes to the forefront, are you willing to make the sacrifice of comfort to gain clarity?
I think back to an instance during my freshman year of college. I had moved away from my hometown to get away and explore the paths I could take. It was a sense that I wanted to live on my own and experience my own creation of sort. I had lived in the dorms my first year. Making friends and partying probably a bit more than I should have, while also fitting classes into the mix. I went through a semester and a half until it came to spring break. My friends were going off to places like Cancun and Panama City. Ready to drink themselves into oblivion and the only recall of the events would be in their disposable cameras they packed away. I decided the opposite. My mind was all over the place at the time. I was confused and often unsure of where I was headed. I made a trek not too far over to my families camp to spend the weekend by myself in the outdoors. After a bit of liquid courage, I decided to go snowshoeing on some trails. I made my way to the Two Hearted River. A river that Ernest Hemingway wrote about as a place of solitude. I placed my snowshoe on the river to see how thick the ice was. It felt thick enough and I couldn’t hear the water flowing underneath. I proceeded to walk step by step for a quarter mile down to an old deer blind on the property. In the cold air and tranquil surroundings, I felt at ease. I made my way back later that day, taking the same trail back to the camp. Thinking very little of the feat that I just accomplished, I told my dad the story the next day. As he made his way down to the river, he saw sitting in puddles of water, my snowshoe prints across the thin ice. I had no idea how lucky I had been. The statement, “walking on thin ice”, now has a whole new meaning to me.
As I got out of college, I started to feel like I was heading down a path I didn’t wish to partake in. After traveling my thoughts one day, I decided that I needed to take a leap. My sister lived in Florida and I had always wished to be closer to her than I was. Being that I saw her only a couple of times a year, we just never had that connection. I called her and asked if I could live with her for a bit until I found a place of my own. I packed my Plymouth Sundance with everything that I owned and drove 26 hours down to Port St. John, Florida. Google maps weren’t around at the time, so I had to use an old fashion map. One of those paper copies that maybe you now see in antique stores. Stopping only to eat small meals, but also to view anything that looked interesting along the way. Somewhere between the switchbacks of the Smokey mountains in Tennessee or the long construction filled roads of Georgia, I because drowsy beyond belief. The 2 5 hour energy shots and coffee couldn’t stop my body from shutting down. Being young and ignorant, I decided to push on because I didn’t want to waste money staying in a hotel for the night. My sleep deprived motor skills somehow managed to get me past the border of Florida and into the city of Port St. John. As I started to drift away into a deep slumber in my sisters guest bedroom, I couldn’t help but smile and feel proud of my journey to a new life. I had no idea of the end game, I just knew I wanted change. I really had no idea of what would come later to steer my course in a different direction.
Adjusting to the Florida lifestyle involved turning in my Michigan sports shirts for surf and skate apparel. Everyone seemed to have that beach lifestyle. It was ok to show up a bit late as long as you showed up. After applying for numerous jobs based on my college degree, I ended up taking a seasonal role in retail. It was out of my comfort zone. I was shy and it took me a while to open up to people. They wanted me to solicit credit applications? I don’t think so! I was pleasantly surprised that I actually became quite good at it after I got out of my head. Making my way through various positions, I continued to grow as a person. I took mentoring from several people that I worked with and became a sponge. Looking back, my persona truly changed after I decided on my next leap. I took the leap into a new position in the city of Orlando. I didn’t know anyone in the city, I moved into an apartment by myself and I broke up with my girlfriend. Talk about a crash landing. I had several nights of just breaking down, questioning what I was doing. Was this the right fit for me? Would I ever find my happiness?
Through my breakdown came strength. I made friends just by talking to people and getting to know them. It was that simple. Why was I making this so complicated? I dug into work to the point that I started getting really good at what I did. I started reading more and gaining more confidence in myself and how I could affect the people around me. I took another leap and moved to California for another position. I started to get really good with being uncomfortable. Moving from close to 12 new apartments over 14 years lead me to no choice, but adaptation. As I got comfortable with the continued evolution of myself, I started to travel more and experience a continued joy of new things.
In California, they have this thing called “hiking”. If you take the Wikipedia definition, it’s considered, “a long, vigorous walk, usually on trails or footpaths in the countryside.” I know everyone knows what hiking is! I honestly never thought of hiking before moving to California. I felt like when I lived in Florida, if I dare venture out on a walk, it would involve me getting attacked by an alligator or stepping on a venomous snake! In California, people seemed so passionate about the outdoors and going hiking. I had to give it a try! I’m not sure why it was a good idea at the time, but I left work one day and decided to hike a bit in Mt. Diablo state park. I didn’t make it far in my dress slacks and dress shoes before I rethought my strategy. I went on two more hikes until I looked up top hikes to do in California. One continued to stick out in my mind, half dome. It seemed aggressive, but I guess I didn’t really care. In my mind, I felt like I had gone through enough in the past 10 years that I could take this on. I purchased some actual hiking gear and headed out from my home in San Ramon at around 3:33am. Making my way in the dark to Yosemite, I started my hike around 8am. It was harder than I thought, but I stuck with it. As I made my way up to the cables and started pulling myself up, I could only think of how proud I was with my decision to try the hike. I had made a decision and I went for it.
As time went on, I traveled more. I took trips to all of the Hawaiian islands, several parts of Europe and more of the continental US. I’ve learned so much about myself and continue to do so every time I step foot into a new area. It could be a country, state or city, they all have their own unique attributes that make themselves amazing. It all started with me making a decision for change in my life. Not only making a change, but fully embracing the risk that I might never be the same person again. To be considered a traveller, you don’t need a passport to take you to far away countries. You don’t need a lot of money saved up to have lavash experiences and exotic dishes. You only have to open your mind and take a risk. Too often, people get stuck in living their same life over and over again, fearing what could happen if they change a routine. Change a routine! I beg you! It’s how we learn and grow as human beings. If we didn’t adapt to change, we wouldn’t have evolved and we would have become extinct long ago. It’s an opportunity you have to make a change just like I had in my earlier years. I look back at my nervous ignorant self and I find myself even more impressed with the courage I showed. Just like any journey in life, it takes one single step. Maybe stepping out onto thin ice isn’t so bad after all. You may fall in, but it might be worth the risk if you ultimately find out who you’re meant to be.