“Life is a grindstone. But whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us.”
– Thomas L. Holdcroft
A few years ago, I found myself out of work and very dispirited.
I had been applying all over the city for months, but so far, had no offers. I felt like I was running myself ragged, and yet spinning my wheels and going nowhere.
When I realized that in my desperation I had started applying for jobs that I knew I would hate even before I got to the interview stage, I knew that something had to change.
I had always wanted to backpack around South America, with no plans farther in the future than that day, surviving on nothing but my wits and common sense. What better time to go, I thought, than when I don’t have anything else holding me back?
So I hopped on a plane and went to Peru for 6 weeks.
Those two months marked some of the most profound personal growth and change of my entire life.
It’s not easy being a type-A personality and not knowing where you’re going to sleep the next night. Although I had said that I wanted to go for many years, dreaming about something and actually making it a reality are two very different things.
I cried myself to sleep so many times those first few weeks.
But I kept at it, and one day I woke up and realized that I was having the time of my life. I was meeting fabulous new people, getting to see extraordinary sights – Machu Picchu really must be experienced in person to truly appreciate the full weight of its beauty – and developing a deep sense of confidence in myself.
“I can do this,” I told myself every morning. And I could.
Whether it was finding my way through the rural mountains of Peru in a combi (the local name for a group taxi), hiking the seemingly never-ending and terrifyingly narrow stairs of Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu’s significantly taller cousin, living through really sketchy couch-surfing experiences, or translating medical Spanish for a team of American doctors working with the Quechua people, I woke up every day and found that I could do so much more than I thought I could.
After the disheartening job search over the previous few months, this well-needed encouragement was like a breath of cool, fresh air.
My friends and family all thought I was crazy. Their reactions to my Peruvian gallivanting ran the gamut from “I could never do that!” to “that’s way too dangerous!” to “why would you ever want to do that?”.
At the end of the day, though, their reactions didn’t matter. What mattered was that I needed to prove something to myself. I had spent far too long feeling like a failure – first at my job, and then in my search for a new one. I needed to be reminded of what it felt like to succeed – what it felt like to be totally on my own and come away victorious.
That is exactly what Peru did for me.
When I returned, I couldn’t shake the thrill of self-sufficiency that I had gained during my travels in South America. I tried sticking with a regular 9-5 for a while, but finally decided that it just wasn’t for me anymore. I had grown too much while I was gone, and simply couldn’t fit in the “normal” box that society had created for me.
Eventually I quit my new job and started working for myself. I relish the thrill of being my own boss. Now I get to problem solve complicated dilemmas for a living, on my own time and the way that I best see fit. It’s exhilaratingly freeing.