When I Didn’t Find Myself in Thailand
Five years later, I’ve finally found some perspective.
Five years ago I flew from Phuket to Bangkok, wrapping up a month of solo travel in Thailand.
I set out on that adventure to spend time with myself and to force some deep reflection — to break away from the stresses and uncertainties at home.
To figure out what I really want out of life.
To articulate the things that move me to face the day.
To re-ignite that joie de vivre that seemed to fade with age.
I saw beautiful places, met lovely people (and extended family!), and ate some of the best food I’ve yet to try.
But I did not arrive home wiser, or embodying that proverbial “changed man” aura I so desperately wanted.
Instead, I returned home hungover, bitter, and ashamed.
The memory of this trip has haunted me over the years because the photos are so easily mistaken for proof that I had a life-changing adventure.
It wasn’t, though.
The guilt of that truth could make it hard to breathe: how could such a bold, privileged excursion NOT move someone deeply?
Over the years, these photos never conjured nostalgia. I would barely muster a smile when sharing stories about it, trying to force meaning as I pushed through my own discomfort.
Instead, these photos conjured disappointment in myself simply because I didn’t come back all shiny-new and overflowing with certainty and inner-strength.
The truth is, I sold myself an impossible mission by masquerading it as a vacation.
And all of that anxiety I felt? I brought that with me.
I can say that now because I finally see it.
I can look past the photos and the disappointment.
I can see how I betrayed myself by demanding that I become someone I wasn’t. And how impossibly vague that ambition is.
I can see how I scolded myself, telling myself that I should be ‘there’ rather than ‘here.’ And how impossible those physics are.
I can see how easily I stunted my own growth by believing that I could have any idea what it would feel like in the moments it might be happening —
— as if an invisible symphony would signal that coveted epiphany while my vision cleared the way for an Instagram-ready world that (spoiler!) was in front of me all along.
In reality, the stronger sense-of-self that I wanted from that trip reveals itself in the banal, everyday, and unremarkable life I have here.
And when I feel it, there is nothing to photograph and there are no words to describe it.
Like at 4:09 AM when I’m about to finally fall sleep.
Or in the tangled chaos of a Provincetown dinner service in August.
Or in the polite conversation with the bank teller when I make a deposit.
It turns out, instead of reaching a higher state of being while I was abroad (how cliche, btw), it’s the memory of my failure to do so that now moves me closer to myself — wherever I’m at — so that I don’t make that mistake again.
For that reason, it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
And I’m so glad I went.
This life is a hospital in which each patient is possessed by the desire to change beds. One wants to suffer in front of the stove and another believes that he will get well near the window. — Charles Baudelaire, “Paris Spleen”