Life Lessons from Backpacking

This past year, I spent eight months backpacking with my brother.  We spent seven of those months in New Zealand and one of them in the Philippines.  It was a great experience but it was definitely not what I expected.  For someone who is fresh out of college, backpacking seemed like the greatest opportunity imaginable.  No homework, jobs or responsibilities.  You see different parts of the world and meet new and amazing people.  A chance to get away from the regular routine of life and just be free.   Most importantly, it is an opportunity to get in touch with yourself and reflect on who you are and who you want to be.

That is exactly what happened to me.  However, I was expecting that to happen during some mystical self reflection time where I was analyzing who I am. How naive. To my surprise it happened through my daily routine.

Lessons:

1) Minimalism.  I only brought one backpack full of clothes and other random items.  Seems like nothing but it turned out to be more than I needed.  Style is irrelevant when you only have four shirts, two pairs of pants and two pairs of shorts.  The question of “how do I look?” turns into “how do I smell?”

2) Acceptance.  I no longer tried to optimize every situation.  I am a perfectionist and when you have limited resources and opportunities you learn to be content with the situation presented to you.  You cannot control a lot of the things that happen to you in life.  It is important to learn how to accept them.  Enjoy what you are given and work within that range of opportunity to pursue the things you love.

3) Sharing – You would think that you learn this in Kindergarten, but hostels are a much better teacher.  We spent our entire 7 months in New Zealand in hostels.  It was a great experience but the idea of having your own space doesn’t exist.  However, you learn to become relaxed and isolated in a room full of people all doing their own thing.

4) Empathy – We met people from all over the world.  When you get into a conversation with someone foreign and learn about their culture and daily life, you start to realize that we are all VERY SIMILAR.  We often joke about our differences and put an emphasis on them but in all actuality, most people are a lot alike.  It is very easy to put yourself in another’s shoes when you start to realize how similar they are to your own.

5) Giving (MOST IMPORTANT) – I am selfish.  “What is best for me?” and “How can I become the best person I can be?” are two questions that drove a lot of decisions in my life prior to going backpacking.  When you are forced to live in a community setting and constantly think about another’s space, you start to take your eyes off of yourself.  When you start focusing on others, and stop focusing on yourself, life seems to lose its confusion and becomes simple and clear.  “How can I help you?” is an extremely powerful question.  There is a direct correlation between the number of times you ask this question and the improvement of your life.

– Ask it often at work: you will move up quickly
– Ask it often to your spouse: your marriage will improve
– Ask it often to your customers: loyalty and sales will drastically increase
– Ask it often to your friends: you will be everyone’s best friend

However, you have to be GENUINE when you do this.  It is only when you sincerely want to help someone, and are willing to make sacrifices of yourself to do this, that you gain the life that you always wanted.  I am definitely NO EXPERT at this, but those moments when I am genuinely trying to focus on the needs of others, I am happy.  It feels good and it makes others feel good.  It takes practice.  For me, A LOT of practice.

So backpacking was an adventure for me.  I climbed mountains, raced sailboats, kayaked in the ocean and went bungee jumping.  But the true life changing experiences happened quietly and consistently throughout my day. Funny how often that happens.  Don’t ignore the small things going on around you everyday.  That is what is truly changing you into who you are and will become.

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