“Have you found yourself?”
I am often asked that question after explaining my nomadic journey. It is such a common question that I wonder if there is some pavlovian conditioning at work. We seem obsessed with finding ourselves. Large forests have been cut down to create mountains of self-help books expounding on the need to find ourselves. Oprah inspired millions of people to bravely venture into the TV in search of themselves.
Superficially, it is a cute analogy. A man feels that he isn’t living his true life and so begins a life of travel in search of his real self, as if my true self was patiently waiting on some tropical beach or perhaps lying prostrate in a Chinese opium den.
But I take umbrage to this turn of phrase. I do not believe in the existence of a ‘real’ self, waiting to be discovered. The idea reeks of fatalism. If there is a true self for which we can search, then it must be static and preordained. It is as if the world is a jigsaw puzzle and this elusive ‘self’ is a man-shaped hole in the puzzle named ‘destiny’. Finding and fulfilling this destiny then becomes the motivation to explore ourselves and the world, but this motivation is external, in control of us rather than the other way around. It suggests that we are not complete before we find this destiny and once found there is no reason to explore and change anymore as there are no alternative selves to go looking for.
So if I am not out there searching for myself, what am I doing? I am actively evolving, one change at a time, experimenting with new experiences and ways of life, discarding the bad and incorporating the good. There is no end goal at which point I can stop evolving. As I grow older, I can shed the aspects of my life that no longer fits as a snake sheds an outgrown skin. My motivation does not come from a preordained destiny but from a desire within to live many different lives and experience all that this world has to offer. It is up to me to direct and shape my own life in any way I desire. I am not meant to do anything and thereby I am free to do any-and-everything. And thus, step-by-step, I am creating myself.
One final difference between someone searching for himself and someone in continuous evolution is their views on sunk costs, and here I’d like to use a concrete example from my own life. When I decided to become a nomad, I had spent the last ten years studying and working my way up the corporate ladder. I had an identity grounded in my work as a software engineer at an investment bank.
If I had thought that we have a place in the world, a destiny or a self, for which we should search, then leaving my life in London would have been traumatic. I would have to think of those ten years as wasted time during which I came no closer to finding myself.
But that was not how I thought about it. There is no self to be discovered, only experiences to be had and lives to be lived. My corporate 9-6 job was no longer filling me with awe and it was no longer teaching me new things. I let it go to evolve into something different and more rewarding. I have no regrets. My former life is a valued experience, and it remains so because I left it when it was no longer right for me. When the day comes that the nomadic life no longer fits me, I will do the same again.
Life is a journey absent destination.