It seems that far too often in life, individuals find themselves comfortable with contentment and satisfied with the present. Many times, at the expense of individual enlightenment, people tend to choose what seems easiest rather than what is best. It isn’t until a person expands his or her comfort zone and welcomes new challenges that the true meaning of self is discovered. My recent plane trip to visit family in San Francisco was not truly life changing, nor was it monumental, but it was a symbolic beginning to a new perspective of my life. For the first time, I had taken control of what made me happy and escaped that which made me comfortable. Traveling has and will continue to become my personal outlet, and it is something that I truly believe is an essential key for personal growth.
“Justin, if I could do it all over and I could be your age again, I would go out and travel—I would just get out there and see the world”. To be honest with you, the only reason that I remember this quote so well, word-for-word, is because it is a phrase my mom has been reciting to me time-after-time ever since I began college. My mom has always vicariously shared with me her desire to travel the United States. However, not once did I honestly see myself having the time or the motivation to truly consider traveling anywhere in my immediate future.
This mindset would all change, however, after deciding to end a relationship with what I will symbolically label as a friend named “Complacency”. Complacency had been my best friend for a large portion of my high school and college experience. Complacency was composed of the familiar friends, girlfriend, family members, and places. I realized that Complacency and I had come to rely on each other too much, and that a great deal of my time was spent trying to keep her content. I realized it was time for a change. The time had arrived for me to focus on making myself happy and developing as an individual. I recognized that the perfect opportunity arose for me to take Mom’s advice—I decided, for the first time, to travel west to San Francisco, CA. Most importantly, I choose to do it alone.
A few days passed by and the moment had finally arrived. Dad took me to the airport around nine o’clock, helped me check my luggage, hugged me goodbye, and drove back home. I can’t begin to relay the indescribable sense of freedom that encompassed me in that moment. It was almost as strong of an emotion as the first day my parents dropped me off at college. Beyond that renewed feeling of freedom arose a sense of wonder and intrigue that I had honestly not felt since my early childhood.
A couple of hours after boarding my flight and lifting off, I found myself encompassed even more by that sense of intrigue as I gazed through my window at the world below as it steadily passed me by. I watched as the green, lush, rolling hills of grass slowly evolved into flat, dry, barren land as we flew over the plains, and then evolved back into green, undulating hills and mountains as we approached the state of California. Almost in an instant, I realized that all the images I had seen on television and all that I had read in books never prepared me for the first-hand beauty of the landscapes that existed in my own country. My perception of this world had evolved in less than seven hours, but the perception will last a lifetime.
It only required a few hours flying from Tennessee to California for me to observe the innate beauty and diversity of the landscapes shaping my country, but it took only a few minutes for me to recognize the true diversity of the people that make up this nation as well. After arriving in California, I quickly realized it, like much of this country, is a cultural melting pot—one where it seems a true majority ceases to exist. I was in awe by the rich cultures and lifestyles that shaped the cities, and was astonished with how everyone blended together in restaurants and shops. I had always been aware of the immense diversity from which the United States was born, but until I traveled to witness it first hand, I never fully calculated the accuracy of this claim. If I had not escaped my comfort zone, I never would have fully comprehened these truths.
After returning home a week later, I came to the conclusion that too often individuals are confined to the glass ceiling of their domain. Moreover, far too many individuals teeter through life, content with only knowing that which lies within their immediate grasp. I must admit, for a large portion of my life, I was one of those individuals. I had been fairly content with my surroundings, comfortable with my routines, and complacent in my expectations. It wasn’t until I recently traveled across the country that I began to realized how much larger the world is that surrounds me. Furthermore, it wasn’t until I branched out of my comfort zone of “home” that I understood that there is a much larger world out there for me to discover. I truly believe in constantly redefining a sense of self, and traveling certainly offers a perfect opportunity to accomplish this essential aspiration.