I said that I wanted this trip to fundamentally be a learning experience. It has been. However, just like most learning experiences, what I’ve learned hasn’t always been what I expected.
GO AND DO:
This was my mantra for the whole trip.
The first week I was here all by myself, so I’d go out into the city with my camera and explore. As I’ve met more people and made more connections, I’ve tried to say yes to as many opportunities as possible. What I’ve noticed, and tried to maintain, is that every day has been characterized by at least one dominant activity: the day we went swimming, the day we found that amazing restaurant, the day we went to the park to see the sunset, the day we went to Bran Castle, the day we ended up an hour in the wrong direction.
The more I’ve explored, the more I’ve discovered there is to see, and the richer my experience has been.
This is a really personal thing that I’ve re-learned about myself: I thrive on independence. I love being able to steer my own ship and create a unique space to grow and to challenge myself in another environment. As an introvert, travelling solo almost made me feel guilty for spending so much time with myself. On the flip side, though, travelling solo has allowed me to branch out independently and make lots of new friends since I didn’t come with a group or another person to fall back on.
Like I said: this is personal. I’m not saying that everyone will find travelling solo as enjoyable as I have. However, I do think it teaches you a lot about yourself: how you react in stressful situations, how to be flexible, what you tend to gravitate toward for safety, what you enjoy doing, what scares you, etc.
DOING WHAT YOU LOVE:
A lot of the interviews that I did here were with people who were doing what they loved, whether that was making traditional Romanian shingles, or collecting cameras, or mountain ecology, or running. I sometimes struggle with focusing my interests: I’m curious about everything and I want to do it all. Settling into one thing makes me feel like I’m shutting out other opportunities and missing out. Talking to these people, though, inspired me to focus in on what I already love and work on refining those things.
My roommate and I watched “Rise of the Guardians” one night and a core theme in that movie is finding your “center,” or the motivation that drives you.
When I saw that it made me think about it in my own context: what is driving me right now? This trip has been an interesting journey in allowing myself to focus, to be present, and to do something I love: listening to, and writing, other people’s stories.
The weird reason that this has been a bit of an issue for me is that I always talk about growth and challenging myself to step out of my comfort zone. However, this trip has been dedicated to doing something that I really love and, to some extent, find easy. I felt kind of subconsciously guilty about that for a while. Eventually, though, (after a few 3 a.m. FaceTime conversations that ended in philosophical and existential crisis), I decided to let myself off the hook and just dive in and enjoy it (see above: “go and do”). It has been so much better, and more productive, this way.
I predicted this lesson. Actually, maybe I forced this lesson upon me.
I brought along Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. This is a book about vulnerability, which I knew I’d be walking into on a regular basis on this trip. I brought it and read it in one day during the first week. I love Brene Brown. If you’ve never heard of her, she’s a shame and vulnerability researcher. She gave an extremely popular TED talk years ago about embracing vulnerability. This is another talk of hers that I appreciate, though, that relates a little more to what I wanted to learn here in Romania:
Brown references a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that, to her, encapsulates the idea of vulnerability, and inspires her to keep living that way. It’s also what inspired the title of her book. Maybe it is the literature/poetry lover in me, but the quote has stuck by my side for this whole trip:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do good deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. . .”
I don’t mean to overdramatize my experience: it was really enjoyable. The lessons I learned weren’t gruelling. However, this is the type of posture I want to cultivate in my life in general, and I think that this trip was the first real time I allowed space to absorb this concept.
Try things. If it doesn’t end up working out the way you expected it to, allow yourself to see it as a growing experience and use that experience to either revise or move on.
I think that on this trip I got to see vulnerability over and over again in my interviews. I got to meet people who had accomplished their goals, but were willing to tell me their journey. All of them talked about something “behind the scenes” that they struggled with, or a plan that went wrong or something they could have done better next time. The beautiful thing, though, is that they still pursued their goals. I feel honoured that they were willing to tell me the hard parts of their story, along with showing me their finished products. Of course, there’s always revision, there’s always things to improve, but that’s the journey. And if you can savour the journey, you’ve stumbled upon the story. That’s the heart of it all.