Leaving the security of a world you know and hurling yourself into a new one will teach you to trust not only others but also yourself.
Recently, I agreed to travel with 10 strangers. We would hike in Wales, spending 15 hours or more a day together. We would come from three countries and four U.S. states. Though we would never be in danger, we would be vulnerable and dependent on each other. We would struggle up hills in sleet, rain, and hail. We would bandage each other’s blisters at the makeshift “surgery.” We would pull each other from the muck and quicksand, share each other’s handkerchiefs, and laugh at one another’s impromptu humor. In the evening, we would meet for drinks and a civilized meal where we would be responsible for making conversation.
Traveling, to me, is the ultimate adventure—but I prefer to do it with intimati. So, in spite of the intriguing program, I was skeptical. It might be an interesting trip, I thought, but how could it be fun? Being with people all day long whom I didn’t know well would be laborious and enervating. Still, almost reluctantly, I went to Wales. And, guess what? I had a blast.
Without the security blanket of family and friends, I had to offer myself to these strangers. Lacking any résumé or credits, wearing bulky clothing, my hair stuck beneath a black knit cap, and limping on my recently hyperextended knee, I presented my best self—the me from deep inside, the me without agenda or baggage or complications.
Throughout the week, each of our personal tales unfolded. But we began in the present tense, hiking with one another, catching glimpses of the Irish Sea, swooning at adorable lambs gamboling behind ancient rock walls, and meditating in the presence of standing stones. As it turns out, these people became my intimati. I got to know them from the inside out, which is not always how things are done. In real life, it’s easy to lose track of oneself. Whether it’s the putting-out-fires pace that defines much of our lives or the regulated rhythm of well-honed routines, something, sometimes, causes us to forget who we are. Yes, we have names and labels, tasks, and occupations. Such monikers indicate our identities.
But that vital us that fills with wonder, that craves adventure and knowledge and nourishes itself on unadulterated joy—that is the us that goes missing at times. That vibrant, pulsing, passionate us somehow ends up in a box, pushed deep into the back of the crowded closet of our souls. But this sealed box must be rediscovered, moved to the front of the closet, opened wide, and passed around. Without our essential self, we are empty vessels, going through the motions of living as starving souls. Without being connected to our hungry spirit, we tune in too much to others’ perceptions of us and our motivations. It’s easy to forget who we are when we haven’t had a chance to introduce ourselves, on the deepest level, to new people willing to see us with fresh eyes. Worst of all, we give ourselves labels that inhibit us and have little to do with who we really are inside. It may seem easier to sleep through life, especially if we are reasonably happy. But knocking on that door inside you and reacquainting yourself with your true inner self is an integral and invaluable aspect of life’s journey.
One way to wake yourself up is to join a group. Becoming a member of a group has immediate results because the act of plopping yourself into an unknown situation forces you to act intuitively. Animal instincts sharpen. Your ears widen, and you see more effectively. All your senses arouse to protect you in this uncharted territory with different regulations. What you reveal and how you reveal it defines you anew. As you act in this new world, you awaken. You see yourself differently because you’re responding from the core. The threatening adventure of novelty allows you to wipe away the veneer and be real—if you dare.
Even signing up for a class can be an adventure. No matter how much schooling we’ve had, there’s always something new to learn. Casting aside insecurities to pursue a new subject just for the heck of it can be liberating. Taking a French class, then, is not just about mastering a new language, but also about being surrounded by new people who know nothing about you. As you broaden your mind, your true self breaks free. You tap into a forgotten source of your identity.
Joining a cause, volunteering for something you believe in, becoming a member of an exercise group or a writer’s group, taking a cooking course—all of these take you places you’ve never been and ask you to step outside yourself. But why stop at taking a class? Take a trip with strangers. Watch in awe as they become your friends. Leaving the security of a world you know and hurling yourself into a new one with strangers will teach you to trust not only others but also yourself.