Photo: Rachel Greenspan
I thought adventurousness was just ingrained in my personality, a part of my heartbeat. I grew up in Western Canadian suburbia, in a town that always seemed too small and too cold. I’d been plotting my escape since I was eight, dreaming of bigger ponds, watching “Two Weeks Notice” and fantasizing about the future, when I’d have the privilege of living in a studio shoebox, stalking the grimy streets of a pulsing Gotham, Crackberry welded to my hand. I had so many questions that, to me, only the wider world could answer. I had “To the world” engraved on a set of matching pens that I gave to my college boyfriend (who seemed to share my thirst at the time). In college, I went on a number of exchanges and travelled across most of Asia: Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore.
Five years ago, when I graduated college, I took the plunge. I accepted a job posting in another Canadian city that didn’t state the salary. I hadn’t even asked during the interview. On the first day, I just walked into a marble skyscraper, took the elevator to the thirtieth floor, and signed a confidentiality agreement before being initiated into the corporate ranks. Thankfully, it all worked out. The salary was generous and I never did encounter anything that I would question keeping confidential. For the first time, I was on my own. I made new friends, kept in touch with family, and plotted my next move.
Three years ago, I moved across the continent and the border to start law school in Boston. Life really accelerated then. I met a staggering amount of new people and ended up interning in New York, Hong Kong, and Beijing across two summers. I really learned how to cook, clean, and save myself when I got lost, had no food in the fridge, had no phone, or couldn’t carry the groceries (ask directions from old people; Seamless and bodegas; learn to love cafés with wifi; always bring a backpack). I made even more new friends. But life in that small, cold Western Canadian town started to gain a nostalgic gleam, which told me that it really had been a long time.
My expertise in the mechanics of moving, and the deftness with which I can now pack a suitcase and know whether I’ve gone over the limit or not without a scale, is rewarding and heartbreaking at the same time. I used to think that all of life’s answers lay in an exotic locale somewhere, that the truth was buried in an eightieth floor observatory, a desert, a bustling bazaar, a jungle, or on top of a mountain. It always felt like I was running away and towards … something.
Finally, on my latest adventure, I realized that no fancy café, ancient site, natural wonder, or gleaming mall was going to make me get up off my laptop and out of bed. I didn’t want to go. It wasn’t really that I was tired, I just thought to myself: “I’ve seen enough for now.”
For three weeks, I had been posted somewhere without other interns or people my age. For three weeks, I’d been seeing attractions by myself and eating alone. I had a lot of time to reflect on my life. I realized that I could burn up money and time endlessly, seeing and buying new things to delight in, but it still couldn’t fill this space inside.
So I started exercising. And budgeting. And planning. I filled my time with reading and writing, and reaching out to family and friends across the ocean. I started building an internal life and rhythm, rather than hoping I could find a magical formula externally. And I realized, no matter where I went, I’d still find great things to delight in, but I could carry this internal happiness formula (for lack of a better label) wherever I went. True contentment would emanate from me outwards, not always from a great painting or beautiful scenery towards me. I think I finally started finding some answers.
I’ve spent years chasing a state of being I could call home across the globe, and now I realize I’ve been in a long process of building this home wherever I happened to be. It wasn’t so much about “finding” myself. I finally realized that it’s about “building” myself. Inside out. And it feels great.