Six weeks ago, I boarded a plane to Iceland without a return ticket. The preceding year had been a difficult one in terms of career-related stress. It was my last year of law school. I took 19 credits my last semester, the maximum allowed by the American Bar Association. I also worked full time at a large law firm. It was the first time my law school had allowed this. Previously, full time students (12 or more credits) were not permitted to work more than 20 hours a week. I often worked more than 40. On top of that, I was studying for the Virginia Bar Exam. During this whole time, I was not as financially comfortable as I was accustomed to being. Prior to attending law school, I had a career as a consultant. I had to sacrifice my salary for a much lower paycheck…and the same mortgage, car payment and other bills. So what did I do? Rather than adjust my lifestyle, I chose to work more. I turned to Instagram advertising and beer/liquor promotions. Which brought even more stress. I’m good at suppressing stress and just pushing through it, so I don’t think I even realized how stressed I was at the time. However, in hindsight, it had been affecting my health, my relationships, my work ethic, and my personality. I just wasn’t myself.
And so I left on this adventure. I wasn’t sure exactly what the next weeks would bring, how long I would be gone, or what I would do. I had been so consumed with working and studying that I neglected to do any real planning. I did had plans to meet up with friends in various places. Well, things never go as planned, now do they? I spent five days in Iceland with my friend, but ended up spending the remainder of my trip alone.
Despite this change in the only plans I had made, I ended up having the best six weeks of my entire life. I’ve never learned so much about myself and the world we live in, reached such a high level of self-awareness, or felt so genuinely happy. I could try to explain the experiences I had and the things I felt, by my writing could never do them justice. No words could adequately describe the feeling of despair I felt as I was lost in Norwegian fjords in the middle of the night, followed by a great appreciation for the beauty of nature when I unexpectedly saw the northern lights as I was searching for my way, and finally a feeling of satisfaction and confidence after I spent all night hiking in the dark and finally found my way back to the parking lot. Or the feeling of awe I felt as I wandered through the tundra in Greenland with no real destination and no other humans in sight. Or the connection I had with Greenlandic sled dogs as I pet and played with them for hours every day (warning – these dogs can be vicious, and I wouldn’t recommend running up and petting them). I can’t explain what happened. I can’t adequately describe my experiences. But maybe I can describe how I changed.
Accepting Things for What they Are, How They Are
I used to get really bothered when things weren’t the way I wanted them to be. I’ve never been one to give up easily, and I took that to an extreme. I would obsess over everything that wasn’t perfect or the way I wanted it to be. I would expend endless amounts of energy trying to fix things. At a certain point over the last six weeks, I stopped caring as much as I did before…in a good way. I can accept things for what they are now. Several things that had been really bothering me before I left are no longer the issues they were before. I am either content or only slightly annoyed with them now. I no longer obsessively try to fix them. I’m so much happier like this.
Knowing Which Relationships Matter
I am so much more comfortable with who is in my life now – and who is not. I’ve realized that I now have some of the most genuine, good-hearted friends I could ask for. I know that I have people who care about me and would be there no matter what. I appreciate these people more than I did before. Before I left, there were people I missed because they are no longer in my life. Now, I see why they are gone, and I know it is for the best. A couple of them have contacted me while I was away. The interest I previously would have had in reconnected with them is gone now. I had an ex reach out in the last week of my trip and say he wanted to see me and see how things went. Before I left, I would have absolutely agreed to this. Now, I know that he is nothing that I want. I’ve realized that his interests in designer clothes and eating at the most expensive restaurants just don’t mesh with my far more laid back lifestyle. He cares way too much about what other people think, and these days, I want nothing to do with that.
Spending so much time alone has led to a much deeper relationship with myself. When there’s no one else around, you get to know yourself in a way you didn’t before. You are your only company and while your good qualities shine, your flaws come out and stare you in the face like never before. I felt this particularly in Greenland, where I had limited access to wifi, and therefore limited communication with my friends and family. I was my only company, and this made it pretty difficult to ignore my flaws. But self-awareness leads to self-improvement and this alone time has helped make me a better person.
Knowing What I Want
Part of getting to know myself better has been learning what I really want. Sure, we all know generally what we want in life, but I now know what matters the most and what my priorities are. I’ve thought about my career. Although it is stressful at times, I love what I do and I need the mental challenge in my life. However, I also love the mountains and being outdoors. Although it is the idea location for my career, I’m not sure how much longer I can be in DC. Life is all about balance, and I’m working on finding the balance between a satisfying career and being where I want to be. I know what goals I have for myself. I want a successful legal career. I also want to climb mountains and travel the world. I’m not sure how well the two fit together, but I’m going to do my best.
I think I’ve always been a relatively happy person. I have a great life, and I certainly recognize that. However, before I left, stress was consuming me. I wasn’t relaxed enough to enjoy the great life I had. All of that changed. With every hike, my stress faded. I saw new places, met new people, and learned more about the world. I developed a new mindset and appreciation for life and the beauty of the world. I feel extremely grateful for the amazing life I live and I’ve never been so happy.
I spent a lot of times on trains my last few days, slowly making my way back home. I did a lot of reflecting on my time away. I found myself smiling at the memories I made. I found myself crying tears of sadness that this amazing adventure is over. But I also found myself crying tears of joy that I’ve been so fortunate to experience life so well.
Six weeks may not seem like a long time, but everything feels different. I left with a clear head, better relationship with myself, and greater awareness. Most importantly, I discovered a deeper sense of true happiness.