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Opportunities Not Seen

Last month at the TBEX conference in Stockholm, Sweden, we had the profound privilege of hearing Lola Akinmade Åkerström give a closing keynote on a topic that hit close to home for many of us.

The message struck a chord in part because its inevitability is near-impossible to deny, and in part because most of us have not yet come to terms with this inevitability.

For most (and I only say ‘most’ for fear of ‘all’ sounding arrogant) long-term travelers, there comes a point when we must take on a new role in our lives: the role of the caretaker.  This new role as caretaker often requires something more of us, something far more difficult to fathom–that we discontinue our travels, or at least slow our pace so drastically that the sudden immobility feels akin to wearing 30-lb ankle weights.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of slowly exploring the world, it’s that the desire to travel never, ever goes away.  And it is all too common for travelers, myself included, to continue on this unending quest–for knowledge, for adrenaline, for things we can’t always explain–in the face of better judgment.

Sometimes it truly takes a profound, life-altering event–like falling into a caretaking role for a family member or a friend–for us to even begin to consider other ways of life.

Sometimes, the one who needs taking care of is us.

The ultimate takeaway from this speech that left so many of us in tears last month was that we’re doing ourselves no favors by resisting these changes.  They are a natural part of our evolution as human beings, and they need not be feared.

Most importantly, these big, profound, often scary transitions don’t have to result in the loss of our identity as travelers; instead, they can be used as opportunities for new challenges, new growth, even new business ideas.  Every change, every misstep, every transition is an opportunity, so long as we maintain the same curiosity we’ve always had as travelers, no matter where life’s road takes us.

Sometimes, that road leads back to our home countries.  Sometimes it leads us out of relationships that no longer serve us.  Sometimes it can lead us into yet undiscovered passions, talents, and dreams.

Almost always, it leads us to exactly where we are supposed to be.

But it is up to us to see the opportunities in these transitions, or to create them ourselves if they cannot easily be seen.

Uncertainty as an Opportunity

If at any point in the last three years you had asked me what I was doing in three months’ time, the answer would likely have been “I have no fucking idea.”   Ask me today, and this is precisely what you’ll get.

The problem is, I am no longer satisfied with this answer.

There has been a lingering feeling inside of me for a year now, or maybe two, that something about my lifestyle needed to change.  The uncertainty, while exhilarating, didn’t satisfy me anymore.  To this day, though, not knowing where I’ll be, what I’ll be doing, or who I’ll be with remains a cornerstone of my life.

In the past year, I thought I was inching closer to something more.  I had stability in a few important ways, but something still wasn’t quite right.  And as I continued to travel in the face of all of this uncertainty, as I continued to travel even when my mind was disquieted by the idea, I dug deeper into myself, my sensibilities, and my hopes for the future.

And as I continued to push through the uncertainty and look for opportunities in this gift of travel I’d been given, I came to know myself better than ever before.

My travels have revealed to me that I am an introvert, a creative, and an HSP (highly sensitive person).

During my visit to San Francisco, I confronted a former version of myself that no longer served me and forcefully shut the door in her face.

On my solo travels in Mexico, one of the first times I have ever truly hated being alone, I connected with a spiritual side of myself that was begging to be awakened.

In France, I found the strength to speak my truth and to bear every emotion unapologetically.

On this rather unexpected trip to the Canary Islands, I’ve been afforded the time and space necessary to do some much-needed healing.

Even when my decisions don’t feel right or have no rational justification, good things come of them.  When I feel as though my life has just been burned to the ground, something better always rises from the ashes.

And so, as I transition back to a life in the US later this summer with more uncertainty than ever and exactly zero travel plans on the horizon, I will keep my eyes and my heart open wide and my hands at the ready to build an opportunity if it cannot be seen.

Travel Versus Stability for Self-Improvement

Just a few nights ago, a fellow traveler asked me a simple but rather important question, and one I hadn’t considered in quite some time.

“What is your why,” she said?

What she meant by that oddly phrased question, of course, was Why do you travel?

In the past, I could have answered this question without skipping a beat.  I had many whys when I first started traveling:

To educate myself about the world through first-hand experience.  To better understand myself.  To grow as a person, gain a global perspective.

I even wrote about the subtle yet powerful ways travel changes you in a post appropriately titled, “Why I Travel.”

But were these still my whys today?  Sheepishly, I admitted I didn’t know.

Perhaps I’ve already reaped these benefits of travel–the education, the global perspective–at least in a capacity great enough to satisfy my initial need.  Perhaps, for now, there is little more self-improvement to be gained from a life in constant motion.  Perhaps the time has come to seek what I need from a life that allows for stability–routine, community, a home.

As has already been proven to me many times over this year, the lessons travel endows never cease; I know that if I continue this lifestyle, I will continue to learn and evolve.  The next question I am forced to ask myself, then, is at what cost?

The only thing I know with any certainty at this moment is that the time to play caretaker is now.  My heart needs looking after, and the only one responsible for that is me.

As I gain a deeper awareness of my emotional and physical well-being, I can see that stability is what allows me to thrive.  But no matter what comes of this period of transition and uncertainty, there is an opportunity in there that I don’t plan to miss.

Self-improvement and growth require constant reflection, both at home and on the road.  How do you deal with big life transitions?  How do you know when it’s time to make a change?

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  • Reply Erika August 9, 2016 at 7:29 am

    Hey Leah! I met you at TBEX (and am already familiar with your blog from before then).

    This was such an interesting and poignant post to read, especially having been at that closing keynote speech.

    I do think a lot of travelers (at least online) find their identity in movement and when it stops, or if it needs to stop, it can be scary.

    But also very good.

    If the world around us is constantly moving, it’s harder to be steady in the changes we need to make. But when all of that outer stimuli slows down, it can help us to focus and direct our energy to other things. And maybe help us satisfy some deeper longings?

    I definitely see how staying in one place for a while has helped me to grow in crucial ways, in ways I was really needing (and still am).

    But this post really resonates with me as I continue to transition. And I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out for you.

    Where are you going in the US?

    • Reply Leah Davis August 10, 2016 at 8:42 am

      Hi Erika!! Was so lovely to meet you at the conference, only a shame we couldn’t hang out more. I know exactly what you mean by satisfying those deeper longings. Those are the things that are tugging at my heartstrings, they have been for awhile now, and I never find the time or energy to give them attention while I am moving. Or the moving prevents me from doing so in the first place.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and giving me more to think about myself 🙂

      Oh and to answer your question, I am heading back to Washington state, where my family is. That’s typically my home base when I’m in the US, but I like to get around and see friends in other cities when I can!

  • Reply Lola August 9, 2016 at 7:37 am

    What a beautiful and emotional post Leah! Thank you so much for being so open and honest with yourself and for letting us in as well. It was a humbling honor to see that my keynote resonated with so many of us. Wishing you the very best in this transition and more importantly, hope you find the profound opportunities that lie within it.

    • Reply Marie @ To Europe And Beyond August 9, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      Now I truly, truly regret not making it to Stockholm to hear your keynote. How inspiring and uplifting it must’ve been!

      • Reply Leah Davis August 10, 2016 at 8:52 am

        It really was, Marie! I recommend watching the video, which I linked to above 🙂

    • Reply Leah Davis August 10, 2016 at 8:50 am

      Thank you Lola! Your honesty and vulnerability allowed us all to do the same. I really wanted to chat with you after your talk and I regret not finding you, but just know that it really touched my heart and allowed me to be very honest with myself about how I was feeling and what I needed to do in that moment! x

  • Reply Jackie August 9, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Love. If we don’t take care of ourselves and listen to ourselves, how can we possibly put our best self forward, especially when so many are watching? I’m with you Leah, cheers to self-awareness. Also, if you need an out, come find me for a bit, building community on the road is something I am exploring. <3

    • Reply Leah Davis August 10, 2016 at 8:54 am

      I would really love to come hang with you for a bit, and now I’m disappointed I’ll miss you in WA! But keep in touch and we can hopefully make something happen sooner than later. I hope you are well, sweet girl!

  • Reply Kim August 9, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt post, Leah. My identity for the past decade has been that of someone who studies, writes about, works in, and travels throughout South America, and in the past couple of months, this has definitively been changing. I’m in the process of growing my location independent business because I want to be able to get up and go, to travel when I feel like it, and to work from anywhere. But while living in Chile and Peru until recently, I realized I like having a home, friends, a partner, routines, a home base. I’m still not sure what that means, but I’m actually appreciating being in the US, spending in-person time with loved ones, reconnecting with parts of me that weren’t always as portable (my biking and crafting, for example), not to mention speaking English.

    In short, similar to you, I recognize that I needed this change, even though it requires a shift in identity, and thankfully I’m guided by an expanding understanding of my spiritual side throughout this process. So I’m approaching it with joy, curiosity, and openness to possibility. I went to South America for so many years because I felt I needed to be there, but maybe I need to be here right now. And that’s okay too.

    Wishing you the best with welcoming opportunities as you consider these transitions and changes, too.

    (And I’m looking forward to watching the video of the keynote! Thanks for mentioning it.)

    • Reply Leah Davis August 10, 2016 at 9:05 am

      Kim, I love the open-mindedness and maturity with which you are approaching this big life change. Demonstrating that even when we’re unsure of where things will lead, we can come into our new identities and our new circumstances with grace. Thank you for this beautiful example of how to make the best of whatever changes and challenges come our way 🙂

  • Reply Kimberly Bryant August 9, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    Nice post. It’s so funny how similar we all are at the core of things. That desire for stability… and the many ways in which it can manifest. And all the endless pros and cons of staying put vs. getting around. Sometimes it feels like the most we can do is just acknowledge how we (really) feel and take small steps forward in some direction, trusting.

    • Reply Leah Davis August 10, 2016 at 9:07 am

      Oh, I agree very much Kim. The trusting has been the hard part for me, but I’m hoping with age this begins to come more easily. x

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