I can’t say I’ve always had a strong image of myself; let alone relationship with myself.
Looking back, high school was a relatively easygoing period of my life. I felt pretty good about who I was, and surrounded myself with a supportive bunch of friends and family.
Then college rolled around and the road became a bit rockier, harder to navigate. I was newly considered an “adult”, and had “real” responsibilities — primarily my own well-being. I was already a pretty independent person, but this was an entirely new playing field.
I fell into a turbulent relationship, almost by accident, lasting nearly 4 years. In the end, when it fell apart, I found myself quite alone; emotionally and physically. I had alienated my friends, forgot my hobbies and ultimately distanced myself from the most important person in my life: me.
Rebuilding myself started with the basics: reconnecting with my friends, getting back into running, which I loved so much, going out and meeting new people. Soon “the basics” became more complicated, as I found myself entering the job market. I didn’t know what I wanted out of a career, let alone how to make an employer put their faith in me. While everyone else seemed miles ahead, I was still finding my footing.
Through a streak of good fortune, connections and a fairly decent interview, I landed an internship abroad. I’ve always loved to travel, I have family overseas and I studied abroad for a summer semester. But the idea of working abroad, speaking a different language, trying to fit in culturally, socially and professionally, especially after I was just starting to find my groove again, felt pretty daunting — I almost didn’t go through with it.
Nevertheless, I took the plunge and quickly learned one major fact about myself, which has stuck with me: I love being out of my comfort zone.
I never realized how much I was capable of, until I truly stripped away all the controls and buffers, I’d been relying on. In a new, foreign place, where I didn’t have friends or family, no one knew me, no one recognized me, and the only attention or praise I was to receive, was what I earned.
I can’t lie, I relished the fact of being the outsider; the American, in a small, German town. I jumped at any chance to share my experience and culture, in exchange for a bit of theirs. Yet, there were countless moments, where I longed for familiarity, simply because it was completely out of reach.
I won’t try to convince you, travel is the “go-to” way to find yourself; I think it’s a powerful tool for learning yourself, the world and how you fit into the mix, but I recognize it’s not for everyone.
The true reason for why I prospered was getting to know myself — almost as if I were a new person. Without the cushion of my environment, it was just me; and I had to learn to navigate the intricacies of my mind, worries, fears, desires, ambitions and doubts.
Since then, my interest in mental health has grown. I see how it’s been stigmatized and labeled as an unfavorable point of conversation, and I don’t understand why.
Our minds are our most powerful tools and resources — shouldn’t we be taking better care of them? Shouldn’t we strive, everyday, to better understand ourselves, so we can better understand others?
Allow yourself a moment to take pause and get to know yourself. Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful:
- Turn off the noise
Sit in silence! Turn off your music, TV, podcast, friends, family, and just be with your thoughts. It may sound scary, but chances are your mind is already telling you something, you need to hear — you’re just not listening.
This one still toys with me, because every time I sit down to write, I’m flooded with the truth of my thoughts and emotions. It can feel like I’m writing in circles, but the end result is always that of release and a step closer to clarity.
- Be vulnerable
Just the word makes me cringe! But, it’s so important to be open. I used to shame myself for not performing or feeling a certain way — in my mind, I was always doing something wrong. Learning to be honest with myself, opened the floodgates to more opportunities and experiences — both good and bad.
To wrap up a big idea, with a few small words: get to know yourself. Make your relationship to self your top priority and see where it takes you.
Kelly is currently living in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, where she is studying the science of well-being, meditation and yoga. She speaks German as a second language and is also learning Spanish. Her favorite cuisine is Korean, as well as favorite travel destination! Kelly is a middle child of five, an avid runner and a lover of dogs and books.