Three years ago, I went on a bit of what my hippie friend Kelly and I call “a spiritual journey”. After five years of working in financial services, two of which I was one of the firm’s youngest vice presidents, I quit my job, left San Francisco and all my friends and family behind, and set out across the world to “find myself”.
Stripped of everything and everyone I knew, I hoped to find adventure, new experiences, but most of all this: a better version of myself that I just knew was living inside there, covered up, waiting to get out.
In time I’ve come to learn that I set out on a fool’s errand three years ago. The term “finding yourself” implies that there’s some inherent, inevitable “you” that’s just hiding in there waiting to be let out. I know now that this is not true because my greatest mistake in my teens and twenties was trying to find that person. I never could, because she simply didn’t exist.
A couple years ago I heard a quote that did not make sense to me until now. Here it is: “Life is not about finding ourselves. Life is about creating ourselves.”
Does that make sense? Another way of putting it might be a different quote that someone very wise once told me at another time in my life. “Our thoughts lead to our actions. When repeated, our actions become our habits. Our habits comprise our character. Our character determines our destiny.”
I used to be a horrible cook. I screwed everything up and I feared that one day I would this terrible mom who wouldn’t be able to feed her children. One New Year’s though I bought myself one of Rachael Ray’s 30-minute meals cookbooks. Meal by meal, recipe by recipe I slowly began to learn what ingredients go together, what spices always go in certain cuisine, how to cook various meats and vegetables. Today, I still smile inwardly when I hear Steve tell his friends his girlfriend is an amazing cook.
Five years ago I decided I wanted to run a marathon, even though I had never run more than a few miles at a time. I printed out a training plan that simply had a mileage number for each day and each day I’d go out and run that many miles and check that box off. I still remember the day my friend Angela introduced to someone: “This is Gloria. She’s a runner too.”
When I came back from my “year (and then some) off”, I was afraid I’d made a mistake by throwing away my finance career. I knew I wanted to get into marketing but I had no relevant experience; and a career of passion seemed so out of reach. With managerial experience under my belt and already in my late 20s, I took a chance by accepting a part-time marketing internship at a company in the endurance sports industry. A year and a half later and I’m the company’s content editor. My life is racing bikes, working around bikes, writing about bikes. I remember when I used to stare out the window of the bus as I headed down into the financial district, wondering if my friend Bruce had been right and that most people could never have their “dream job” and that it was good enough to have a job that paid you enough to enable your lifestyle. I am so glad I called “bullsh*t”.
I met a guy in San Francisco who sold me my road bike, my first real bike, in ’09. He took me on a couple dates, and he told me he was racing mountain bikes. At the time that seemed so badass! I could never have imagined being competitive about riding. I was still learning how to clip into my shoes! Even after I bought my first mountain bike in Aspen, that thought never crossed my mind. I had many long, tiring, humbling rides over the course of the past two years, where I broke down crying, got dropped, etc. But I kept riding. Sometimes I want to look Jared up and say, “Remember me?? You sold me my first bike. I race bikes now too.” I think he would really get a kick out of that.
In the end, though my mission was misguided, I did end up becoming a much better version of myself over the past 3-4 years. But it wasn’t because “I found myself”. The changes in my life happened as a result of many baby steps, a rather methodical (and what some may call obsessive) system of working towards goals, some risk-taking, and perseverance through some tough days.
In short, I came to see that life is about the things you do.
It’s about living bravely and trying new things…until you find the ones you love. When you find those things, don’t hold back. Throw yourself headfirst and with your whole heart into those pursuits, because to become wholly devoted to something is one of the greatest joys you can have. Take on incredible feats you are unsure you will be able to complete – if you succeed you will redefine the boundaries of what you can do. If you fail, remember that success is not about never failing – it’s about how quickly you can bounce back and stay the course. Be okay with going it alone sometimes. Chasing your passions often means we don’t always get to take people along. Don’t live someone else’s idea of perfect.
Make commitments to make or break habits, because those habits define you. Then see things through with bullheaded determination until one day you wake up and realize that you have become someone else. Someone better.
You don’t need to find yourself. You can go out there and create yourself.