Some say that to leave places, people, or things “behind” is to avoid or run away from your problems, effectively never solving them. They advocate for a more direct approach to problem-solving, as if head-on is always the best way.
However, there’s a lot that can be said for moving on to move up, or getting lost to find yourself, as many have come to realize.
Throughout my life, I weathered an abusive childhood, nuclear marriage, more than one near-death experience, over forty jobs, almost forty moves, and years living abroad. This is the condensed, abridged version, if you will. The points I’ll make are as follows:
- Sometimes, it just isn’t your bag.
- Inside’s where it’s at.
- The desolate crowd.
Point Number One: Your Bag
Let’s face the facts: just because something was in your life, has always been in your life, is in your life now, or is on its way into your life, doesn’t mean that it should remain there. Picture this: Old Saint Nick grabs himself an old, used coal bag and starts plopping his latest custom-made toys inside—no cleaning considered—and then tosses the soot-covered lot over his reasonably plump shoulder, causing the whole of the bag to suddenly explode like a miniature volcano, sending ash and soot this way and that. The truth is that Santa would never pick up such a dirty old bag, shove his prized possessions into it, and then lug it hither and thither, everywhere he went, giving away unwanted, possibly cancer-causing baubles to everyone despite their protestations. No, my friend, he has no business carrying this garbage around.
And neither do you.
Why hang onto the garbage you have now? Have you actually taken a long, good look at the stuff you’ve been carrying with you? The things that were placed upon you, quite possibly, from birth? These can be beliefs, relationships, jobs, education, political views—anything. Who placed these things upon you? Which of these things did you allow yourself to take up, willingly throwing it over your shoulder without much thought, if any, and then begin your work of making yourself into a hunchback?
Here’s the point. Just because that’s your bag doesn’t mean THAT’S YOUR BAG. Do you get it? Who are you, really? Do you know? Chances are that you don’t, and it’s not because I’m being cynical but because I’m being realistic. This comes from my own life experience of doing my best to mold myself to the expectations of everyone around me—something that only brought me decades of abuse, pain, and unhappiness. I took up this bag and that, this religion, that job, this haircut, that way of dressing, this way of speaking—and it was killing me the whole time. I wasn’t even living where I wanted. It seemed that, for a time, that’s what life was, and I wasn’t interested in it anymore. By grace alone, I was able to see a mirror and catch a glimpse of the bags I’d been carrying around—the bags of expectations and pressure. Pressure from family, friends, countrymen, and society. Slowly, I began to slide these off of my shoulders and it felt great to have them off my back. However, even though there is great joy and relief, there is also pain as one must adapt to standing up straight.
And this leads me to Point Number Two, which is all-out about the in.
When I finally began making the steps necessary to loose myself from the bondage of others’ burdens and leave those bags behind, one of the biggest things I did was to literally leave—the country, actually. After years of building mostly memories of the third kind (1st=good, 2nd=bad, 3rd=you know), I finally did something that I’d wanted to do for many, many years: move away from my hometown permanently. This wasn’t just a departure from my hometown. Even to this day—almost four years later—I still have no intention of ever moving back to my home country. However, the reasons have changed and that’s what I’d like you to see.
I spent the vast majority of my free time, post-divorce, all by my lonesome. As I ventured to China, Thailand, and Japan, I found myself looking more and more into myself, deeper and deeper, and all because I wasn’t content with what I was seeing on the outside. Being in China was in itself isolating enough but, after moving to Tokyo and being there for just three months, the isolation I experienced pushed me into a realm that I’d not yet been. This is quite significant considering how isolated I was throughout much of my life. The difference, however, was the TYPE of isolation it was. I finally realized something very important: the things that ailed me were self-induced. Oh yeah, that’s some great stuff to realize, don’t you think?!?
Actually, it felt great to finally own something for once, rather than blaming others. Yes, I had a crappy, abusive childhood. Yes, my self-esteem was destroyed. Yes, my ex-wife was the opposite of a kind, loving and caring person. Yes, my daughter was taken away from me. So what? None of this changed the fact that only I control what’s going on inside of me, what I feel, what I think, what I believe, and how I feel about myself. This is true for you as well. Even though I’d been on the path of self-discovery for years already, it wasn’t until I got really, really alone that I was able to finally able to raise my head and look into that mirror and point the finger at the one person who was responsible for my happiness:
I’m not saying that you have to go to Japan or China to find yourself. I am saying that I, as well as others, have not only dropped a lot of the expectation baggage of others but have also managed to venture into the inner chambers of ourselves, shut and lock the doors, pull down and latch the windows, close the curtains and be alone with ourselves—and only ourselves—for a while.
All I can say is that many life epiphanies happened for me—some while sitting in a cold apartment with no heater in Tokyo, no job, no one to talk to, and dwindling funds. It was just me and a little bit of wifi. That’s where I began to ask a lot of deep questions about my life and, thankfully, found some answers.
The Final Point, Number Three: The Desolate Crowd
The picture you see with this article is one I took just a few days ago while I was visiting Yu Garden in Shanghai, China, during the Chinese new year holiday. Culture shock for me is long gone, as well as the fear some have of living in a country with a very different political structure, history, and disposition. If you’ve never been to a country of people who are very different from you, know that it’s a strange feeling to be completely swamped by them when you first arrive. This feeling has been long gone for me but I have to admit that the first time I was cramped into a small subway train in Tokyo with my friend Nick, it felt quite surreal, as if everyone was going to get us. Seriously. On the weekdays during work hours, we were not only the lone foreigners, we were also the only ones not wearing black suits. Add to the fact that everyone else had black hair and we are both over six feet tall.
Nowadays, I think it’s a novelty more than anything and I don’t mind it. In China, people are so interested in foreigners that they’ll start openly and often wave, say hello, or even ask some questions. In Japan, however, people are concerned about respecting your privacy so it’s difficult to even catch anyone looking—although I can feel it. This is what made Japan even more eerie for me in the beginning.
Despite having billions around me, I still spent most all of my free time alone. I traveled, took pictures, learned the city, and did things that I’d previously thought I’d die before ever getting to do. I did make some friends of course, but it wasn’t until after my deep experience alone in Tokyo that I truly began to make better progress in my relationships and self-improvement.
Here’s what I learned. Back in my hometown, while I did have some great friends and a couple of close family members, most people still didn’t “get” me—even those closest to me. It wasn’t just that, either—it was also the fact that I had much to learn—and in all honesty, I was more concerned with obtaining this knowledge than my relationships. There, I had access to people who were able to speak and listen to my language but couldn’t hear what I was saying. I was surrounded by English speakers but language was a barrier nonetheless. Since moving on to a place where my speaking is limited, my ability to connect has actually gone up—and continues to improve.
The point here is that we can be swimming in a sea of people and be alone or we can be on a mountaintop and well-connected. It’s also possible to be surrounded and connected of course, just as it is to be alone and disconnected—the latter of which is terrible, because I know it personally. Perhaps if you’re able to learn anything from this, it’s that you can indeed find yourself and your path by going into the unknown.
There’s an old verse that talks about the path to destruction being wide and many go that way. However, “the” way that leads to life is narrow—and few even find it. Of those, I wonder, how many decide to follow, and how many turn away? The sacrifice may be much, but I can attest to the fact that great reward accompanies great sacrifice, and no great reward comes free.
My best wishes to you.