Searching For Something Bigger


 Atacama desert in Chile, photographed by Amanda von Almassy.

Atacama desert in Chile, photographed by Amanda von Almassy.

The aim of this article is to provide a form of guideline to return to in the future. It’s supposed to take some weight off your shoulders and help you figure out what’s already written on your page. It’s about what is there, dozing inside of you. At last, it will hopefully leave you with a positive feeling and the reassurance that the world deserves your curiosity. Every day.

This article is for you if you are just like me

  • deeply influenced by an increasingly connected world

  • having mutual interests of travel and self-discovery and

  • an ambitious visionary searching for your own take on making the world a better place

Why it’s time for me to write this blog post

During the last three months, I have been lucky enough to take part in The Nomad MBA. That is 30 people traveling 3 countries, staying a month in each one, enrolling in their preferred online course, getting to know each other and the culture surrounding them. These undertakings do not only sound super fun and awesome, but on top of that — you wouldn’t believe it —  they are extremely challenging and demanding (even for the most extroverted among the group participants).

I arrived with the expectation to be able to concentrate on my online course (the Introduction to Programming Nanodegree provided by Udacity), on the personal goals I have set for myself and on getting to know the people who embarked on this journey along with me. In that order.

Turns out, the managing team had a different plan. They wanted us to flock together and be a proper “tribe”, creating strong bonds as soon as possible. For that reason the first four, jet-lagged days were dominated by bonding activities and workshops. Picture very long days, people who are encouraged and eager to talk and get to know each other, a completely new environment in South America, very beautiful shared apartments and the last project at work you completed less than a week ago still occupying a considerable share of your mind.

That was the start and the goal was to go with the flow and make the best of it!

I want to present you a list of statements describing the mindset with which I arrived here. I certainly don’t want to bore you. You might recognize yourself in them or you might not. If you don’t or you feel too uncomfortable reading them, that’s totally fine, just jump to the last section and the take-aways.

My mindset before coming to Latin America

I was pressuring myself with work- related stressors that might sound familiar to you:

  • Never make the same mistake twice.

  • Be able to answer as many questions as possible very accurately and without hesitation.

  • Don’t show people that you take things very seriously, too seriously, because work should be fun, shouldn’t it?!

  • Fit in. Make a good impression. Earn respect. Make others happy.

  • Be good at multitasking.

  • Tell a good story. Make yourself understood rapidly. Don’t use too big words or too complex phrases. (“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” — Albert Einstein)

  • NEVER admit that you feel constantly hunted by an information overload, that you feel that there is too much important information out there you should know about.

  • Find role models in people who are better, faster…Even if you know that there will ALWAYS be people who are better in one way or the other and that’s the case for everyone without exception at every life stage ever. Nobody is perfect but it’s so hard to get that. There’s always room for improvement. (Deep-rooted evolution theory speaking?)

  • Give your body just enough attention that it works well for you. The sentence “I need some rest” is an invalid excuse, it doesn’t belong to your vocabulary, unless there’s really no way around it.

  • Note down EVERYTHING other people recommend and list it in a huge free-time to-do list — because it can’t hurt knowing more about this and that, right? After all, it’s your friends and other important people recommending it.

  • Become a robot. 
    Wait, what? 
    Just kidding. 
    Obviously. 
    Just a kind and courageous robot.

In Latin America

So, I had to get used to this new lifestyle on this trip from Chile, to Peru, to Colombia. We’re a tribe and as a tribe we make decisions together. And efficiency is certainly not the most important parameter. It was hard. I was impatient with chaos of any kind. I leave it to you to think of example situations.

I started writing a “positivity book” in my free time, writing lists with headlines like

  • What gives me positive energy?

  • Habits to increase positivity

  • Happy moments in the past

  • Why am I where I am?

  • My strengths

  • My dream job

  • How to create headspace

  • Info sources I want to check frequently because they’re cool and relevant

While trying to connect the dots of my past, present and future and at the same time defining my place in this unfamiliar group of people, I started gathering information from personal development/self-help literature, ted talks, podcasts, people’s recommendations etc. (Some of them you can find linked below.)

And eventually, I realised: All this time, I’ve been trying hard to really become a kind and courageous robot. The above mentioned aspirations were lurking in the back of my head, whispering to me and holding me back from being myself, from just being the unique, different and slightly crazy me. The question now is: Do you recognize yourself in this?

Maybe it’s time to embrace the idea and remember this quote from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll more often: “You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

What I want to keep in mind after finishing this trip

Departing from Colombia, I want to remember the following points in the future:

  • Be kind to yourself, your mind and body.

  • Don’t believe that people see that you’re not feeling well and ask you to take a breather. You’re responsible for yourself. Here’s a link to the recently released BBC documentary about Avicii, which might give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

  • Allow yourself to say “no” to things before you actually HAVE to say no: when feeling that your energy reserves are completely drained and you can’t even move and at the same time you feel guilty for staying home and not using your time productively in any way. (Fill in your own definition of productivity here.)

  • If you can relate to this, here’s my advice: Go on a vacation (minimum 10 days, better (much) longer), explore who you are and do what feels — even slightly — good, and trust that the energy will come back.

  • DON’T write a to-do list recording smart things to do right now.

  • Go to your favourite library or book store and take the time to buy a book that resonates with you, it could be science fiction, a romantic novel, a biography, anything. And now read, immerse yourself in the book, get caught by the story, FEEL what the main character is feeling. If that’s possible for you, you’re on a good way back to enjoying life. (This worked for me, of course there might be more suitable ways for you, and yes, there are countless tips and tricks to be found out there.)

  • It starts with the small things. Change your alarm to a sound that wakes you up on a good note in the morning. Or really appreciate it when your inner clock wakes you up at the exact time you had in mind when going to sleep. Create feel-good moments in your life.

  • Ask yourself: How does XY feel to me? Positive? More of it! Negative? Less!

  • Storytelling is all about sharing emotions. For that you first need to be able to feel them.

  • Celebrate success your way. Don’t expect others to.

  • Speaking of your work life, take note of this quote “Do your work with your whole heart and you will succeed — there’s so little competition.” — Elbert Hubbard

  • If you’re afraid to disappoint someone’s expectations, ask yourself: Is disappointing them really so bad? Or might you be happier disappointing them NOW instead of realising at some point in the future that you lived for someone else all along. Yes it’s hard, but it’s smart to make decisions early and let people judge you, as long as you act in alignment with your own true values.

  • On that note, take the time to define your personal set of values (check out this link for instance) and see them as your inner compass. It’s no use trying to create a precise map of the future. See life as a river, that is impermanent, constantly changing, uncontrollable. (Listen to Noah Rasheta talk about the impermanence of life and other great advice in his podcast on Secular Buddhism.) And again, it’s better to do it now. Because as you get older, the problems you encounter, especially in your private life, will probably not become any easier.

  • Realise that the rules and norms and advice from family, friends and society are there to guide you, not to exert pressure on you. Take advantage of that knowledge and be a pirate! (Check out the book Be more Pirate by Sam Conniff Allende.)

  • Keep the loving and supportive people close to you, because you know: You are the reflection of the people you surround yourself with.

  • Learn to TRUST your inner voice in all aspects.

  • People like to learn from other people. Even if technology is gaining more and more presence in our lives, remember that. It’s not an online course, not reading articles, not Slack or other online communication tools, it’s REAL human interaction that creates mutual understanding and potentially A LOT of energy.

  • Give yourself time (years) to gather information, in any way, in any form that seems right to you. Because even if you might not know it, that’s what you’re essentially already doing day by day. Follow your intuition, and eventually you will be able to start producing something that is meaningful — to you and to others, if that’s what you want. And at that moment remember this quote by John Burroughs: “Leap, and the net will appear.” Don’t be afraid to act, do, get started. Don’t run around, seemingly desperately searching for your passion, for your vocation, for your true calling. Just keep-your-eyes-open and trust-that-it-will-come-to-you. (If you’re impatient, the Ikigai framework might provide some valuable insights.)

  • If you consider yourself a hustler, take note of this sentence: “It’s easier to be impressive to strangers than it is to be consistently kind behind the scenes.” (Taken from the book Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist.) It’s a good idea to meet kind people with respect (Your mom? Your grandfather? A dear friend?…). And it’s an even better idea to reflect on the meaning of this sentence for your own life. How much satisfaction do you get out of being a good person and spending a great day with your loved ones in comparison to impressing a stranger?

  • You can blame modern working culture.

  • You can also blame yourself for questioning why you’re not happy every day because you deserve to be, right? You should be, shouldn’t you? But joy and depth of understanding of a particular topic don’t just come from enjoyment. They come from developing endurance, perseverance, patience and tolerance for frustration. Don’t expect everything to roll your way, just because you finished your studies, a project, whatever… (This can also be transferred to other areas aside from work.)

  • On the note of taking things very seriously: Of course, it’s a good thing! But you know that already. You want to be a diligent worker, right? Maybe you want to pursue a career. What is necessary to keep in mind however, is the notion that a lot of times people spice their opinion with facts. Not the other way around. So forget unconstructive criticism if it doesn’t involve facts that you should seriously take into consideration.

  • Last but not least, you simply can’t make EVERYONE happy. But maybe you can be happy RIGHT NOW?

It takes a lot of work and willpower to turn around the rather unhealthy values anchored in our minds. However, you might now be better able to see how they ridiculously counteract the person you want to be and the life you want to live. A shaman we met in Peru told us about the ancient belief that three chakras inside of you need to be in balance in order for you to feel well: the action chakra centered in the belly, the love chakra in the heart/chest and the wisdom chakra in your third eye. The 7 dimensions of wellness represent another framework playing with a similar idea of balancing different kinds of wellness — Physical Wellness, Emotional Wellness, Social Wellness, Intellectual Wellness, Spiritual Wellness, Environmental Wellness and Occupational Wellness.

Based on my experience and on conversations with friends over the last few years and months, one thing became clear:

Many forget to see the world as a playground — instead seeing it as a set of tremendous overwhelming problems to be solved

But the world doesn’t want you to build a thick cocoon around yourself, protecting yourself from man-made evil and internalised fears. It also doesn’t want you to ask too much of yourself, drowning in aspirations for self-improvement and perfectionism. It wants you to use your creative potential and start living up to your dreams.

Thank you for reading! Please feel free to share resources that inspired you deeply or hit me up with feedback.

This post was originally published by Lizanna Engel on Medium.