Tribute to the Outback, Part 1
We went to the Outback exactly 1 year ago. I didn’t know what to expect. I was filled with fear, anticipation, and unease. We spent 6 months living in a pop up camper trailer, 1 hour’s drive on a dirt road away from the closest town, 6 hours away from the closest city and supermarket, and $50 worth of data away from contact to the outside world. We had a pool and each other and that’s about it. I was pushed to the limit on more than one occasion and surrounded by people going through the same extreme emotions. Tensions were high, voices were raised, tears were shed, and relationships were tested. We were thrown into a life we knew nothing about and were stripped from the comforts we’d previously taken for granted, forced to accept a new reality. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out where this is going… Inevitably, those 6 trying months lead to a lifetime worth of personal growth and self realization.
The transformation I went through in the outback is hard to put into words. In fact, I’ve been trying to write about it ever since our time there came to an end, but nothing has felt right. Hell, this doesn’t even feel right. I don’t know how to explain the boredom and the stillness and the immense amount of nothing without sounding like I’m complaining. I don’t know how to express the amount of stress and pressure we felt in our new roles without sounding weak and lazy. I don’t know how to talk about my achievements without sounding like I’m bragging. But most of all, I don’t know the words to describe the incredible change we went through without sounding… well, weird. I’m hoping that the 7 months we’ve now spent away from the Gorge has given me the perspective I need to finally put pen to paper, or more realistically, fingers to keyboard.
Part I: A crash course in getting to know yourself
I’ve always known who I am. I’m funny, or at least I try to be; I’m smart and ambitious; I'm creative; I like the idea of being my own boss. I’m a people person... In creating my own self image, I always took these parts of my personality and used them as building blocks to create my person. I adopted the ever popular belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, inherently believing I was made up of these sometimes moving, sometimes changing, but mostly stable parts. And I would take this image of myself, this sum of everything that I am, and project it onto the future, my hopes and dreams. I would look at who I was and what I wanted and try to find the easiest way to get from A to B. I looked at the lives of people I admired, my parents, their friends, teachers, Reese Witherspoon, and thought if I followed in their footsteps, surely I’d find success. So that’s what I did for 25 years. I did my best in high school, I attended the best university I got into and studied (almost) every day, I interned in the summers, and after graduation, and a very brief, somewhat obligatory backpacking trip around Europe, accepted a corporate job at an exciting young company based in San Francisco. As far as I could tell, I was doing everything right. I was following the formula to success I’d learned from years of observation. I truly believed that if I stayed the course, I would get everything I ever wanted, figuratively speaking of course. God, what an idiot.
When I met Will, I started experimenting with lifestyle choices. I quit corporate life and worked odd jobs, started and abandoned side projects, and I traveled all over the world. The entire time, however, I held onto my beliefs for how to go about obtaining success and viewed my current out of office status as a diversion. I’d tell myself I was learning invaluable skills, but most of the time I simply felt like I was taking a break from “real life” and would stress over getting back on track. Even though I was going on incredible, once in a lifetime adventures, I felt like I was getting further and further away from my clear, cut path to success. And no matter how many times I read The Road Less Traveled, I didn’t feel like my travels were making a difference at all. And it was incredibly frustrating.
When we first arrived at the Gorge, I struggled with the solitude and subsequent anger, loneliness, sadness, etc. that came with it. Once I got over myself, I had a lot of time to do a lot of thinking. I got to know myself, take a look at my life, and reevaluate my idea of success and how I’d achieve it. In the long hours prepping veggies, washing dishes, and just sitting around our makeshift home, I began to notice a shift in my thinking, until one day it just hit me. Life isn’t just about figuring out who you are, it’s also (and maybe even more importantly) about figuring out who you aren’t and being okay with it. I am all of the things I listed earlier, that’s true. But they aren’t the only building blocks that make up who I am. The parts aren’t as big as I originally thought and the holes between them aren't just empty space. It's room to grow and develop new traits, but it’s also just things I’m not, and those things are just as tangible, and just as real, as the things I am. I’ve always stressed over my career, but as it turns out, I’m not as career oriented as I thought. I’ve always put a huge emphasis on money, but I’m actually not financially motivated. I’ve always considered myself entrepreneurial, but I’m not as driven as the people I grew up idolizing. I’m kind and get along with most people, but I often lack the confidence to put myself out there and make new friends. And that’s okay.
I don’t mean for these examples to sound like insecurities, because even though they’ve paraded as such in the past, they don’t bother me as much anymore. I realized, in all that time and covered in all that red dirt, that who I’m not is just as much a part of me as who I am. After this realization, I had two choices: I could either work hard to change who I'm not, or I could accept who I'm not and embrace who I am. After years of struggling with the former, I eventually chose the ladder. Either choice is fine, and personal growth and self development are in my opinion essential for a happy and fulfilling life. People should choose to focus on whatever drives them to be the happiest and truest version of themselves. But for me, the problem with identifying and trying to change who I’m not, is the inevitable reality that I was creating a negative inner dialogue with myself. I was always falling short in some regard and constantly feeling like a failure. I couldn’t figure out why I kept making decisions that didn’t align with my view of who I was as a person. Then I realized that I was making decisions that aligned with who I am perfectly, it was my view of who I was that was construed. I was living a life that embodied all of the best things about who I am and I spent years feeling bad about that because I couldn’t accept who I’m not. Now, thanks in large part to the Outback, I feel more comfortable with myself than I ever had before. And funnily enough, I feel more prepared to start a career, find my place in the world, and actually do something that could make me successful than I ever did when I spent all of my time worrying about those things.
It’s incredibly empowering to be at peace with yourself, to embrace every aspect of who you are and accept all of the things that you’re not.