My Journey is My Destination

The reality of self work and progress is that it’s not linear, nor final. This is what I mean by the term: The journey IS the destination. This voyage architecting my best life never ends because there are always more updates that can be made. Instead of striving for some final destination, my best life is lived moment by moment.

When I take this premise a step further, I’m reminded that if I find that my journey has ended, and that I’ve gotten comfortable with my life and the people around me such that I’ve stopped questioning, that’s when I should have cause for concern.

To exemplify these thoughts, I’ll share with you a recent memory of a memory that made my knees buckle and brought me to tears.

The Memory of A Memory

It was December in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I was warming up lunch in the kitchen when the sensation that I was in a different time and place came over me.

Front Patio of a New Mexico house along my journey
The front patio of the house where the memory of the memory went down.

I stopped what I was doing, turned off the stove, then stood still for a second and shut my eyes. The moment that returned was one of the most simple, but impactful, of my life.

It was just about 12 years ago in early Spring. At that time, I was in the process of leaving San Antonio, Texas to move to Manhattan. Living in New York City had always been a dream of mine, and I was finally ready to make said dream a reality.

Before I could do so, I had to say goodbye to the life I built in Texas. Though I only lived there for three years, those years were some of the most important of my life.

During that time I started my career, made amazing relationships, and proved to myself that I could build a life away from the home I’d always known. But, despite all of these factors, I was certain I had yet to reach my potential. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to do so in SA Town (much as I loved it).

The memory is one that always makes me sad. In it, a work friend and I were walking to our cars after my last goodbye party (I had many, hehe). He stopped, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “Always remember. A good day in New York is a great day, but a bad day in New York is the worst. And… You can make it through anything.”

I recalled how, as he was saying these words, I could barely lift my eyes to meet his gaze. When our eyes did meet, I remember looking away from him as quickly as I could, fighting back tears. Then, we said our “goodnights” and “see ya tomorrows”, and I got into my car.

The Song of My Journey

When I turned on my car radio, the song came on; one of my favorites of all time. The refrain cut through me, its vice-like grip holding me in that San Antonio parking lot.

And I know I could look at anyone but you now
I could fall under the eyes of anyone
But you now, now, now, now
This is a list of what I should have been
But I’m not
This is a list of the things that I should have seen
But I’m not seeing
I’m just turning away from where I should have been
Because I am not anything…

The amount of shame and fear I felt when those words belted through my speakers overwhelmed me then. I remember my mind starting to unravel with thoughts like: What was I thinking leaving such a comfortable and wonderful life behind? What if I didn’t succeed? What if I was being ungrateful for throwing it all away!?

In present day, I had forgotten about lunch. Instead, I went to the living room, found my computer, opened YouTube and typed the song into the search engine.

I again started playing it, letting it, and all the memories and feelings that came along with it, surge through me. Re-living the angst, I fell to the couch crying uncontrollably.

I’m Still Not at The Destination

After a few moments I asked myself why the tears? Why was this memory still impacting me so?

My response was disheartening. It was because I still didn’t believe I’d reached my potential; my destination. I saw that I was still, after 12 long years, not “there”. I reasoned that if this was the case, maybe my leaving really WAS the biggest mistake of my life. Maybe I was a failure.

The Journey Is the Destination

It took a few moments of gasping for air and of reflection and self questioning, to see that no, leaving wasn’t a mistake. If I had stayed, I would not have stepped fully into myself as I am now aiming to do. I would have remained comfortable, yes, but stagnant.

That’s when I remembered: The Journey is the Destination. There simply is no “there” to get to; no finality to the journey. Instead each moment IS what I have been working towards, and each moment is what I need to make the most of.

I’ve written about this topic a time or two, and bringing all these facts to light again reminded me that I’m not a failure for not having yet reached my perceived destination.

Rather, the realization was seeing that if I settle into a comfortable state of being, a “there”, that’s when I should be worried.

Wait… What Did I Just Say?

Am I saying that settling into a comfortable life (whether that be made up of a partner, family, community, place, etc) is negative? Do I think building that kind of comfort into life means I failed?

Not. At. All!

It isn’t the building of comfort into my life that I think is problematic, but merely the letting go and forgetting to continually question and tweak my life that can be the issue.

This is something I didn’t really learn until I took all the distractions out of my life. Before I took the time to question who I am and what my beliefs are, then align my actions with those pillars, I took the easy road. This meant walking the path of those before me and assuming it would lead me to happiness (Spoiler alert: It didn’t).

I now see that questioning and even a healthy dose of self doubt which leads to questioning is one of the structures that enables me to architect my best life. Along with that questioning is continuing to tweak my actions to align with what’s truly best for me.

This process is the definition of architecting my best life.

Keep Questioning, Keep Tweaking

If I stop continually questioning and aligning aspects of my life, and instead choose to succumb to the fear which keeps me from digging deeper, I will never pull back the curtain to show me what needs fixing, nor will I ever conjure up the courage to make updates to improve my well being.

Those matters that need fixing may be the people I choose to spend time with, the activities I choose to partake in, or the thoughts I choose to believe, but whatever the curtain may be hiding, if I don’t pull it back and see the issues for what the are, the underlying issues that keep me from my full potential will remain.

Not only will they remain, but they will fester and expose themselves at the most random times. I feel not in control of my own life, and allow myself to become a victim of my own demise.

The hardest part is pulling back the curtain, because once I do, the issues can no longer be ignored. In fact, my inability to ignore the discontent with my life is exactly why I left SA Town all those years ago.

The Best Part

The most beautiful part about looking at whatever is behind that curtain is that, once I do, and once I investigate my feelings and resistance, I free myself up to see new ways forward, and I invite new and more fulfilling energies into my life.

The desert landscape of this Las Cruces destination.
Seeing what else is on the horizon…

In fact, after I unearthed my reasons for tears that day in Las Cruces, it was as if a 500 pound weight I’d been carrying with me for 12 years was released. I think about that moment in the parking lot now not with sadness or regret, but with confidence and knowing.

I know who I was and wasn’t then, and I know why I stepped on to the next part of my journey.

With this confidence in mind, I also am reminded to keep on walking, because if I stop, I stop truly living.

And… I kinda like living; moment by moment.

Questioning Your Thoughts to Step Into Your Power

I’ve come to realize that most of what scares me simply isn’t REAL.

Yeah, I said it.

Most of what I fear exists only inside the confines of my mind. Knowing this, I can deduce that once I question my thoughts, I can then recognize them for what they are; mere apparitions of consequences assumed but not realized. This truth exposed, I can let go the angst I put on myself and enjoy the experiences before me. This is me stepping into my power.

Despite this enlightenment, the process of investigating and letting go of fear isn’t an easy one. I should know, I face it each and every time I travel.

My most recent trip was from Oakland, California to Xalapa, Mexico. Being that it was my first solo trip to a country that is deemed unsafe by many America sources, I was quite nervous.

One reason for my apprehension was that I didn’t want to be a party to the violence that I hear so much about. The other reason was, quite frankly, I didn’t look forward to standing out and the vulnerability doing so would bring.

I feared how I’d be treated as an outsider. I feared being ostracized, denied, and rejected. I feared being talked about, made fun of, and left out.

As I observed these thoughts, I recognized how they are what many people of color and different orientations deal with each and every day in the United States. This idea both humbled and disturbed me, but that is for another post.

I hadn’t had to deal too much with these thoughts while still around my Oakland based friends, but once alone at the San Francisco airport, I had no other choice but to face them. It was the moment I had been waiting to avoid, and it was here.

On my way through the airport, I stopped to get some snacks and a bottle of sparkling water. Once at the gate, I quickly noted how I was one of the only (if not the only) gringas there. I tried to play it cool, and pretend like I felt as if I fit in (SPOILER ALERT: I didn’t).

I found a seat away from the crowd and settled in to wait for my connecting flight through Mexico City. I then took out my refreshing looking sparkling water only to see that, alas, I needed a bottle open to enjoy it.

No problem, I told myself, you always carry a bottle opener in case you have to, uh, open a sparkling water (yeah, that’s it). Only problem was when I reached into my bag to take out my keys I realized I no longer have keys of any kind on which a bottle opener keychain can rest.

Really, Universe?

I dug deeper and deeper into my bag, but it turned out that in all my minimizing I had omitted this essential component. What to do?

With my fear brain racing, I decided to try to force the bottle open, while hopefully NOT standing out as the stupid, weird, different woman at the gate. Of course, the top wouldn’t budge.

Finally I gave up, sat back, sighed with thirst, and let go.

Then a man seated a few seats over (who was both dressed exactly as I would imagine a man going to Mexico to be dressed; buttoned down shirt, fitted pants, a cowboy hat, and matching boots, and was the EXACT type of person I was scared would reject me) leaned over asked, “Do you need help?”

“Yes, please. Thank you so much,” I replied as I handed him the bottle.

I watched him, remain seated, but take off his belt to use the bucket as a bottle opener. Genius, I thought. He handed the bottle back to me and I nodded my head, humbled, the fear brain’s volume decreasing ever so slightly.

Shortly after we boarded the plane and I settled into my usual red-eye spot, the window seat. I was skeptical of the woman who sat in the aisle seat to my left, but considering we didn’t have anyone seated in the middle, I did my best to recline and try to rest.

After several hours, the lights came back on and we prepared for landing. At this point, my row mate and I started chatting. I learned she was headed to Guatemala for a family wedding, and I told her of my travels to the state of Veracruz. We became fast friends.

Take that, fear brain!

When at the Mexico City airport we traveled through immigration together, then she and I had a few hours before our respective flights. Her fluency in Spanish was an integral part of getting me the items I needed (i.e. coins, more water, etc), and despite my initial skepticism I saw that, once again, the Universe had sent me an angel. I even found myself a little sad to bid her farewell.

Sad and afraid because this final leg of my journey meant me landing in Veracruz alone and then having to secure an hour and a half bus ride to Xalapa. What would happen to me in the Veracruz airport without her Spanish?

Nothing. It turns out.

I landed in Veracruz, gathered my bags, and when I headed through the exit I immediately saw the desk for the bus company. My beginner level Spanish was enough to secure a ticket, and in no time I was on the bus to Xalapa.

Bus interior
The bus ride was really nice!

The fear brain was almost silent at this point.

On the bus, I sat back and thought about my anxieties. I saw how, up this in my trip, they were lies I told myself. Turns out, nothing I was afraid of actually happened. Of course, the potential of bad things happening is always there, but their probability was far less than the amount of attention and energy I gave them.

I made my way, via taxi, safely to my AirBnB, and the fear brain retreated completely. While there I marveled at how beautiful and simple my room for the month was.

Xalapa AirBnB Private Room
My living quarters for the next month.
Flowers in Xalapa city center
Xalapa is know as “The City of Flowers”
View of Xalapa from the roof.
The view from the roof.

Looking out at the rooftop view, I questioned how else my thoughts lie to me. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but it wouldn’t be long before I would find one.

The next day my hosts invited me to travel with them to a village about an hour and a half away in the mountains. The village is one they visit every so often to donate clothes, shoes, and toys to the local people. I jumped at the opportunity to see more of the area, its people, and its culture.

To say I was humbled as we drove into the rural areas and around the village, would be an understatement. The homes were simple; containing 2 – 3 rooms max with outhouses in the back. There were no washing machines. Instead there was a community hand-washing laundry area in the center of town. Finally, it being a farming village, there were animals and crops everywhere.

Village with a teal church
Looking up from the road to the church.
Two cows in a field
This felt a lot like home.

If I ever feared being seen as an outsider, this was the place said fear would be actualized. As you may have guessed by now though, my concerns were unrealized.

Instead, the people welcomed me the same as my hosts; with kindness. Sure many of the villagers were staring at us, but none out of malice. We were simply a curiosity (NOTE: To paint the scene picture me, one Dutch host who has lived in Mexico 30+ years, and one Mexican host who grew up in Mexico City).

The village sits at 9,000 feet so offers beautiful nature and vistas. Luckily, we were invited to walk the roads and explore.

Country road surrounded by trees.
A walk down the road.

About 20 minutes into our pastoral walk, we came upon a farm.

Country farm
The farm we came upon.

Although we were strangers, a farmer came over to greet us. (NOTE: Something I’ve learned about Mexico is everyone greets everyone. “Buenos Dias.” “Buenas Tardes.” Stranger? No matter. You greet!).

My hosts explained to the farmer where we were headed (to the huge antennas to take in the view), and he proposed a shortcut. His suggestion, which we were grateful for, saved us a good amount of walking and provided even more dramatic views.

A view of the village
The village from the hill.
A close up of white wildflowers
Some flowers along the way.

As the walk extended, the inevitable silence descended. I went back to my thoughts. For decades they had told me what a happy life should be. They showed me what type of people, places, and possessions a successful life needed to include. Yet, right before my eyes I was witnessing something very different.

These villagers lived a simple life. They were poor, yes, and they saw hardships. Yet, I never saw one of them visible unhappy. (NOTE: of course I realize they WERE unhappy at least sometimes, but the point is it wasn’t their default state). Instead they went about their lives with a smile. They greeted strangers, invited them into their homes, and gave them shortcut advice. Despite what we in the States would deem as “hard times”, life went on quite well.

I then thought about my trip up to this point. I had been so scared of everyone around me, and yet these were the exact people who proved helpful and kind.

That’s when I was reminded of a very important premise regarding my thoughts:

Just because I think something doesn’t make it true.

I took this with me from the mountain. After I arrived back to the AirBnB and over the next week, I considered how throughout my life I’ve let the narrative in my head hold me back from many experiences. I recognized how I let my thoughts scare me out of living.

I also now knew that my mind’s narrative not only caused me suffering, but was completely “unreal and unnecessary”. I didn’t NEED this line of thinking to protect me. In fact, I could lighten my load significantly, by removing its burden.

It’s a simple concept. Believe my thoughts and suffer, or question them and prosper.

So, I asked myself, Does this mean I can’t trust ANY of my thoughts, or are there certain thoughts I can and SHOULD trust?

I decided what made the most since was to not trust any of my thoughts as law, at least initially.

(NOTE: I should say that I believe thoughts are different than gut instincts, though both at some level warrant investigation. Thoughts, in this case, feel differently to me than gut instinct. The former cause my shoulders to shrug up to my ears and my heart to race. The latter are a solid feeling in the core of my stomach which actually cause me to relax.)

I then asked myself, If I can’t trust my thoughts initially, what am I supposed to do with them?

Investigate them.

There are several great resources that provide step by step accounts of this investigation process, but the short spiel for me is: notice my thoughts, then ask myself: Do I know if this is true?

If I don’t (SPOILER ALERT: I usually don’t.) I go and either look up information, ask people, or engage in some other method of fact finding. I then do the most important step; modify my original thoughts based on my findings.

This means I open my mind to external insights and possibilities, and then I allow the insights and possibilities to open my mind. It’s an ongoing cycle in which I am updating and informing my internal belief system.

In the end I become empowered. I choose what to believe, and ultimately what to experience, based off of my own insights, not those put upon me.

Once I go through this process, I see a beautiful new world before.

By distrusting and investigating my thoughts, I open myself up to new knowledge.

By opening myself up to new knowledge, I introduce myself to new experiences which I was previously too afraid to have.

By exposing myself to these experiences, I compare them against my internal narrative and decipher my truth.

By allowing my truth to be informed and adjusted, I alleviate much of the suffering I put on myself via unnecessary thinking and fear.

I also grow, find greater happiness, and become better for both myself and others.

It all starts and ends with me.

Now that’s power.