Go do. Go drop everything you have going for you and do something completely out of the ordinary for yourself. Think about your life for a moment. Give it more than a couple seconds; really think. Close your eyes and focus only on your heartbeat. Do you feel uneasy? Restrained? If you feel like something is in the least bit wrong, stop. Are you really doing exactly what you want to be doing in this moment? Or do you feel like you will be happy eventually because this moment exists purely to lead you to that moment, moments down the road, when you will finally achieve someone else’s version of success?
It’s a common dilemma; a pretty serious one if you ask me. It’s one that makes us millennials feel the need to constantly question who we are, as if who we once were is hiding somewhere in our old facebook albums. Our generation tends to work in spurts; we have spurts of energy, spurts of motivation, of inspiration, of happiness. Very rarely do we feel a consistent sense of these various spurts internally.
Perhaps it can be partially attributed to our lifestyle. We often let our days go stale. We are a generation living in a decade that is obsessed with human potential yet we tend to undermine our own capabilities by viewing this idea of human potential in terms of the physical instead of the metaphysical.
Last Fall, I realized that my version of success and internal potential had not been achieved because I was living on someone else’s terms, not my own. So, instead of studying abroad, I took a semester off of school and traveled my own way, which allowed me to reorient my life and see what I want more clearly. I discovered that what I really wanted was to live everyday more purposefully and that it is not what I choose to do in life that really matters; it’s how I choose to do it.
Things often make more of an impact on us in retrospect. That’s how I feel about Brazil. I thought I was in for a day of self-reflection and tranquility in between meeting friends on a small island called Itaparica (Bahia, Northern Brazil) but before 5 minutes could pass, a cute little Brazilian girl hopped out from behind a bush and begged me to befriend her. When I so eagerly accepted the invitation, she sent a signal to the same bush she came from, and out walked 8-10 more of her family members. We sat in a circle on the beach exchanging stories. To thank me for spending 20 minutes with them, they invited me for dinner later that evening. Before I knew it, I had a family of roughly 35 members cooking their favorite Brazilian food for me. I felt like a queen. We danced, we laughed, and we loved. This is Brazil in a nutshell.
My immediate impression of Brazil was that its people are permanently on vacation. Of course, I realized that they aren’t actually on vacation; they are just in the mindset of one. They believe that life is meant to be enjoyed and there is simply no time for worry. Barely 24 hours after I had made the decision to take a semester off, I chose to begin in Brazil mainly because I had a Brazilian song stuck in my head for days. In true Brazilian fashion, I had no idea what I was in for but I didn’t care. I just knew Brazil was the right place to go because it is quite the opposite of America. I have never felt so genuinely welcomed in a country before. Brazilians encapsulate a kindness and care-free spirit that tends to make us Americans uncomfortable and quick to judge why they are this way. We think that they are always on holiday because they sit on the beach and drink caipirinhas when, actually, they just have completely different priorities. We prioritize work and they prioritize life. We prioritize our external happiness and they prioritize their internal happiness.
Whereas my life in America prepped me to be worried about traveling alone without a specific plan, I quickly realized no one else I met traveling really had a plan other than to enjoy and learn. However, none of them were Americans. I met countless European, Canadian, and Australian girls and boys who were backpacking for 6 months to a year, just because it is part of life. They take “gap years” in which they are expected to travel somewhere solely to meet people, have fun, and to openly experience other cultures, naturally providing them with more of a global viewpoint than they had before. Those I met dream big, carry their heart on their sleeves, believe anything is possible and, most importantly, believe in the infinite journey. With this mindset, they have a tendency to embrace locals as their brothers and sisters. As Americans, we are a bit less culturally aware than we think we are. While I was traveling, I was surprised to learn that the stereotype of “American naivety” is alive and well. Many I spoke with were convinced that we are “retarded,” “isolated,” “plain naïve” and believe that it’s reflected in our work within the international arena. Generally speaking, the truth is that the majority of us don’t experience other cultures very openly at all simply because many of us don’t take the first step.
So, the bottom line is: Take the first step; go do. Don’t let money stand in your way. Money is only an issue if you make it one. I worked at a café to save up for my semester. If you want to see the world, find a way to make it happen. The key is the exquisite ability to allow yourself to become inspired, to create inspiring situations and good energy that makes the world go round. You have to surrender control, get rid of ego, and embrace life’s adventure. Let the world be your internal energy source. You don’t need to take a 12 hour plane ride to reach the next level of cross-cultural understanding. If you live in New York City like I do, you know that there are opportunities on every block to do so. There are people from all different walks of life roaming the streets. So, go do. Go let something inspire you.