My 20’s have been an electrifying, hilarious, and sometimes confusing whirlwind of loss, battles with doubt, wondrous euphoria, and restlessness. It’s just so funny that at 28, with so many cycles of growth behind me (and so many more left to go), I am more convinced than ever how much I truly am who I have always been: a little girl with eyes wide in wonder, becoming older and younger at the same time.
There’s something beautiful about growing older, learning to fill up all the empty cracks in who I thought I would be, enough so to slowly push out the inklings of doubt that once kept me up at night. Or maybe it’s just that I truly believe in the work that I do, that despite the ups and downs, the frustrations and the boredoms, that I am able to recognize my emotional and spiritual fulfillment. I am learning to recognize the grander scheme of my life, that not only will there always be time for further exploration across different trajectories, but also that if I keep my feet on the ground, my heart level, and my mind clear, that everything will turn out alright.
People always ask me why I come back to Nepal, and despite the endless essays I could write contextualizing every nuance, every smile and flash of light through the trees at sunset, every shared dinner and expression of gratitude — it all boils down to something more simple: I feel really fulfilled.
Even if my work may never matter in the highest rungs of a CEO boardroom, I feel a deep sense of contentment from getting to plant trees, from working with my hands and building things out of the earth. Most of all, I am gratified by getting to create safe and inspiring places for children and girls, spaces that allow them to express themselves freely, and shape a different world in their minds and hearts than the one laid before them. The Nepalis use a word to describe a deep sense of joy from life’s experience, that is more constant than happiness or simple pleasure — ananda, which I believe is what I feel in this moment.
I get to teach girls about their bodies, preventing them from early pregnancy in a society where education about contraceptives and sexual health is taboo. With the help of talented Nepali women, I get to facilitate spaces where girls can think critically about how institutions of marriage, family care, and political representation are unfairly biased against them. I am able to present my solidarity with them as an catalyst for them to feel solidarity with one another. Even as I get older and spend more time worrying about money, I still feel like it’s worth it.
But who doesn’t worry about money? As someone who’s primary financial worry was filling up my gas tank, living in a rural part of an obstacle-ridden, developing country has forced more perspective on me than I ever cared to have. I remember going to Myanmar, and feeling upset then by the callousness of mahout (elephant caretaker) culture; deforestation by loggers with perpetually abused elephants, a practice I immediately deemed a result of “close-mindedness” and “ignorance”. The privileged cannot instinctively relate to being desperate for food, shelter, or water. We do not know what it is like to have zero options for upward mobility, for employment, for ways to feed our children. Someone said to me at the beginning of that trip that I’ve yet to forget: that every person is just trying to fill their bowl of rice, damned whatever consequences it wreaks on anyone or anything else.
Which of course, explains what I’ve chosen to do with my life currently, to ask the question about whether it is possible for people to fill that bowl of rice without wreaking havoc on the environment — to actually feed themselves, their families, and find opportunities for mobility by giving back to the earth, and finding deeper connection with other people. To me, answering this question is worth it, even if it leaves a lot less money in my pocket. Nowadays, I care a lot less about what people think about me not having any money. And that took awhile, and maybe still has some ways to go.
The funny dichotomy between 24 and 28 is how desperate I was 4 years ago to have purpose, to feel like my life made sense and there was a reason I was who I was, that it all wasn’t a blip on the radar in the expansive timeline of a miniature existence. Back then I romanticized travel, and the idea of living in exotic and foreign places, in hopes that doing so would make me better, wishing desperately for adventure more than anything else.
Looking back from where I’m standing, I was funnily half-right about everything. My life has purpose, but not because I decided to live on the other side of the world for a couple months every year, but because I’m alive, and I’m me, and who that is is not defined by any external factor or career, but simply by what I value, and who I love and what I choose to do with my time. And traveling and living abroad did make me better, but in more ways, than I expected. I learned what it means to meet people where they’re at, that language and culture can define where peoples’ perspectives come from, but shouldn’t limit our ability to understand one another. I’ve learned that despite the differences in values and circumstances, people all around the world are universally the same, regardless of what always appears to be dissimilar on the surface. Globetrotting to beautiful places, snapping well-choreographed photos, and deriving pleasure for oneself through nicely-pampered travel experiences is not in and of itself a bad thing — but it will not teach you much about yourself (or the world, for that matter).
And as for adventure? Well life is always full of that, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the more extreme circumstances I’ve encountered of avoiding landslides from the roof of a bus or chasing monkeys out of the garden — it can also be making a child laugh, or baking a surprise birthday cake, or realizing what it truly means to love another person.
I’ve hung out the side of a moving train as it passed over a canyon, breathlessly climbed snow-covered mountains, wandered in solitude across untouched beaches and in cities where no one knew my name. Chasing adventure is what I once deemed to be the most important thing in my life. And you know what that thing is now?
It’s sitting at home with the people I love, and drinking a cup of coffee on the couch. It’s driving down the California coastline, and peering up at the faces of redwood trees older than time. It’s eating really good food from all over the world, right around the corner from my childhood home. It’s lying in bed with the person I love, and not really caring about anything else I have to do with my day, besides that.
Growing up and traveling the world taught me, more than anything else, to value where I came from. To honor who I’ve always been, that little girl who stayed up late in her bedroom listening to music, daydreaming about changing the world. I forget sometimes, when I’m caught up in the bullshit of day to day stresses (which there is a lot of when you’re at the mercy of nature and third world infrastructure), that I am living my dreams, and owe myself some credit for achieving those dreams I set out for myself so long ago.
The seasons come and go, and I am always left in the wake of change a little more whole, a little bit more me. I hope its a cycle that continues, infinitely, until it can’t.