After 12 years in Silicon Valley, I had finally burnt out. It wasn’t anything dramatic or even that obvious. I was just stuck. I blamed it on everything but myself and for some reason mostly on the city in which I was living, San Francisco.
It was clear I needed to escape. So I packed up my bags, rented out my place and set off. I didn’t really have a plan, just a vague idea of exploring the world in search of the city I wanted to live in next. I had no clue though how much traveling alone would teach me.
The first skill I mastered was meeting complete strangers. Turns out loneliness is a strong motivator. I was never shy before but I also wasn’t the type of person to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Within a month or two I wouldn’t finish a walking tour without having made a couple new friends to explore town with.
The beauty of meeting new people is they offer new opportunities. They’ve heard about an awesome show we just have to checkout tonight. Or sometimes it’s an old friend who reaches out via social media to tell you about their favorite restaurant that you can’t miss. Since you are alone, the decision to change your plans is solely on your shoulders. Embracing spontaneity isn’t always as easy as it may seem, especially for us planners. Quickly though I learned how one small thing can lead to an amazing adventure.
"When you are alone there is no one else to blame. You are the only one responsible for how you spend your time."
After two weeks in Mexico City for example, I heard that a high school friend from Europe, who I hadn’t seen in 5 years, was in Cozumel for his brother-in-law’s wedding. I jumped on a plane the next day. It turned out that the groom-to-be was a dive master so I found myself diving for the first time in 15 years. I remembered how much I loved it and began wondering why I hadn’t done it in so long.
When you are alone there is no one else to blame. You are the only one responsible for how you spend your time. Being spontaneous is amazing but if you don’t set goals you wake up tomorrow and it is 15 years later. So I found myself a dive spot completely off the beaten path in the Philippines and became an Advanced Open Water diver. I booked a VAWAA with Viviana in Buenos Aires to learn to tango, another dream I had been post poning for years. I made time to visit childhood friends to reconnect and to get to know their children.
Even more important than what you spend your time doing is who you spend that time with. I had lived away from my parents for 15 years by the time I left, 12 of which we were on different continents. I love my parents deeply but had also grown accustomed to being far away. Early into my travels though, I was reminded how lucky I was to have time to spend with them. Over the course of the year, we spent almost 2 months together, be it back home or traveling through Vietnam and Cambodia together. Beyond the wonderful memories, I learned a whole lot about them and myself through deep conversations that took weeks to unfold.
All this is to say that by setting off to travel I had not only extracted myself from a comfortable routine, I had unwittingly forced myself to learn more about myself than I ever had. So it’s probably not surprising in hindsight that when I came through San Francisco a year later a few things were different.
"Even more important than what you spend your time doing is who you spend that time with."
San Francisco of course hasn’t changed but my vision of it has. It no longer is the place I hadcome straight out of college to work and where I had defined my life through my job. It is home to friends who have been by my side through the good times and the bad for over a decade.Thanks to everything I learned traveling I now know it is where I have the solid foundation and exciting opportunities to build the next chapter of my life.
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