I got my extra-large, googly glasses when I was in second grade. Yes, they allowed me to see leaves on the trees outside, and that was pretty groovy. I was incredibly grateful for seeing a crisp, sharpened world, however, getting those glasses, the nerd's ultimate accoutrement, began a phase of my life that was difficult to climb out of for a long while. It became a symbol, the epitome of my nerddom. I was put into a box, and it constrained me.
Classmates and teachers came to recognize and identify me with the thick lenses and they were a large part of who I thought I was myself. Finally in high school, I tried out contacts, but felt awkward going to school when my friends could barely recognize me in the hallways. I stuck with the the specs, and they defined my persona. I was a nerd, and I felt like I had to live up to that standard.
It wasn't until I left for college that I escaped the world where people expected me to wear glasses. I began my college experience with contacts, blue eyes freed from the polycarbonate shields, and my new friends didn't expect anything else. I felt like the over-driven nerd could relax, talk and mingle with other types of people, and try new things, just because of this small physical change I made.
I was able to transition to my life free of the heavy glasses because I moved to a new context, where no one expected anything from me. I was able to restart, to remake myself based on how I felt and who I wanted to be at the time. And because of that, I could expand other parts of my life. Yes, I still identified as a nerd, proudly, but I built my self-confidence and felt that I could express myself in new ways. Changing contexts allows for evolution and expansion as an individual.
I've started to lump parts of my life into chapters. The glasses chapter, college chapter, farming chapter, South America chapter, and so on. I've found myself diving into completely different worlds, each with their unique bright characters, secret hangout spots, and complaints here and there about how things work. I jump in, establish myself and build myself within the community, and then, in a flash, I leave for the next experience, the next chapter of my life.
Changing contexts allows for evolution and expansion as an individual.
With each new chapter, I, as the main character, the shockingly beautiful heroine and protagonist, have a chance to evolve and change. Each place I find myself, whether it is working on an organic farm in Oregon or cooking at a summer camp in Yosemite, I learn something new about myself.
We learn new facets of ourselves when we are exposed to different external and environmental pressures and challenges, and when we interact with a variety of people. When we have a chance to act on those changes, we can grow into more rich and complex individuals that better exemplify the current version of ourselves.
When we get established in a community and in a home space, we are vulnerable to becoming a certain version of ourselves over time. After interacting with friends and acquaintances for a time, those people start forming ideas and expectations about who you are and what you are like, what you like and what you don't like, how you look and how you think.
We learn new facets of ourselves when we are exposed to different external and environmental pressures and challenges, and when we interact with a variety of people.
When I feel those external pressures, I start forming my own ideas about who I am and what I should and could do with myself based on my past. My environment makes me a box, my friends pack me in it, and then I seal it off myself with packing tape, labeled and stamped. It is a normal social process, I suppose, though I appreciate when there is a break in life where I can get out and go shopping for the right box for the current moment in my life and then recycle it when I don't need it anymore.
Travelling is an incredible opportunity for box shopping and recycling. It's like the transition from high school to college, but doing that every day, multiple times per day. When I was backpacking alone in South America, I was constantly moving from place to place, meeting new people at every turn. Each day, I could be whoever and whatever I wanted to be. Who could tell me I was anything else? Nobody knew or expected anything from me.
I was constantly changing, learning about myself and editing how I wanted to express my soul to the outside world. It was liberating. I started learning new things about myself and observed new angles of my persona. I was decisive and confident because I knew I could be anything, and no one would think anything of it. This process helped me express myself more clearly and uniquely. I was no longer defining myself based on my context, because that aspect was constantly changing.
Traveling also liberated me from a "career" box. Instead of defining myself based on "what I do" for a living, I could simply exist, observing and appreciating the beautiful and complex world before me. People did ask me what I did "back home," but at the moment, I was a traveler. I wasn't so focused on building anything professional, and I could rather focus on cultivating myself personally.
I instead put energy into better interacting and communicating with different types of people. I could learn more about how I make decisions and how to problem solve real situations. I learned how to better communicate my needs. Nobody was judging me based on my status or how big my house was because all I had was my backpack and myself. I didn't have many material goods to cover me up, to drown my life with superficial meaning, and that seemed to make my experiences even more vivid and genuine.
We seem to cling to many things in order to define ourselves; our jobs, our hobbies, our houses, our children, our families, our appearance, our style, our culture and heritage. We strive to associate ourselves with labels we like. Traveling shed some of those labels off of my life, and allowed me to see more clearly who I was as a person from within. Defining ourselves externally is not necessarily wrong, but if we are going to do it, we should try to understand why we express ourselves in certain ways. Traveling is a wonderful way to explore internally and better express outwardly our current state of being.
I realize that this contextual evolution was easier while traveling. So is it realistic to do when not meeting new people every second? When I find myself somewhat settled in a place, I hope to promote daily personal evolutions within routines. First, not expecting anything from myself on any given day and allowing myself to be spontaneous. Then, trying new things within my context, like taking different routes to work and talking to new people I wouldn't interact with before. The next level could be not expecting anything from others and being open and supportive when friends and family express themselves differently. We should create a culture of personal fluidity, where introspective growth is a daily practice.
Whether I am traveling, waking up to a boundless new me, or settled, kicking down boxes with daily spontaneity, I plan to constantly change and grow within. Now, I wear my glasses when I want to, not because I feel like I should or shouldn't. I do what makes me feel good for that moment. Sure, I still feel pressure from friends and family for certain aspects of my life, but I allow myself to decide how I will act on it.
Someday, I hope to be free from all unnecessary external pressures. Someday, I hope to live in a world where I can wake up a four-eyed nerd, eat lunch as a hippie artist, and go to sleep a dreamy mermaid temptress. Someday. Or maybe even tomorrow. Each day is a new version of me, a new box that fits just right, and a new opportunity to evolve from within.