There are three trillion trees and seven billion people on earth.
That's 428 trees for each person.
Exchanging oxygen and CO2.
Inhaling and exhaling.
Breathing together in rhythm.
Trees pulling water through their roots.
People pumping blood through their veins.
Trees shedding their layers.
People layering up.
A kind of mirrored symmetry. An elegant pairing.
So beautiful, right?
We're all preparing for something.
Things die in the fall but something also awakens in us.
Last week I was on an evening flight leaving Bangkok. As our plane rose over the night city, I noticed roads connecting houses. Highways connecting neighborhoods. Planes connecting cities. Phones connecting everyone. I thought about how being connected isn't really the same as being known. And how the purest, most refreshing type of connection happens when we're honest enough to share our loud and messy hearts.
One of the things I love most about traveling — and about writing — is how it elevates my ability to connect with myself and other people. And after spending time in cultures more communal than mine, I can't help but wonder if some of my individualistic thinking patterns are manufactured. Maybe we're already more connected than we think we are.
There's a paradox in learning to be truly connected in a connected world. To let down our guards and allow ourselves to be really, honestly known. It requires an uncomfortable dose of humility and courage. Because it's risky. There's something in me that wants to wait until I have it all figured out before being open. It requires a lot more courage to say, "Hello, here I am. Unfiltered. Far from perfect. Still figuring out how I think and what I believe and who I am." It's terrifying — and it's freeing.
Most paths that have led to freedom and fullness in my life have required a bit of risk. And at the end of the day, I'd rather choose uncomfortable courage than safety from a distance. I'd choose connection in honest humility over being alone with my pride.
Earlier this summer, I wrote in my journal,
"There is a freedom in learning to be humble.
Pride marks our worth relative to other people's, but humility has nothing to prove. It doesn't compare or seek approval. Humility has a gentle way of showing us our scars while reassuring us our worth is infinite. It isn't rooted in how well we hide our brokenness. Pride whispers insecurity, telling us to hide... but humility gently nudges us, 'Let your guard down. It's ok. Be seen.'
Where the exhausting quest for approval ends, freedom begins."
Where the quest for approval ends, we have space to be our honest selves. And connection without honesty is shallow. Shallowness shortchanges us. We can’t fully receive love if we’re not allowing ourselves to be seen.
So — here's to the courage it takes to share the unglamorous parts of our stories. The freedom in letting ourselves be seen. The shaking in our voices as we reveal our scars. The sighs of relief when we find someone who can relate. The honesty in late night conversations. The "me too"s. That's the good stuff.
Sometimes I put way too much time and energy and weight into what other people think of me. I have a feeling I’m not the only one.
Aspects of our culture and maybe our upbringings and even just our sheer humanness point to the lie that we have to earn our worth. For a long time, no matter what I did, I never felt good enough. I felt like I had to choose between being myself and being loved. I think, at some point, a lot of us feel this.
We learn to focus our energy into looking successful. Into having a job that makes people jealous or having lots of friends or Instagram followers. We learn that we have to act a certain way to be more likable. To dilute ourselves to please people and to filter what we say to suit the people we’re talking to.
I finally realized that people pleasing is not a form of kindness. It may prevent conflict but it also prevents us from being authentic. It blocks us from connecting with each other in meaningful ways. Instead of filtering what I say and pleasing people, I want to speak truth in love. Even hard truths. I want to be soft and share my heart and connect.
There’s a quote I read a long time ago that resonated so deeply with me I almost got it tattooed, just so I could see it as a daily reminder.
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. To be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” (Timothy Keller.)
We’re not deserving but we are worthy. Every human is born with inherent, infinite worth. Our worth is constant and steady. It never changes. Not when we make more money or lose a job. Not when we get approval from people we care about. Or when we lose it.
We’re already deeply, entirely known by God and loved in a deeper way than our minds have the ability to grasp. This is what sets us free to be our authentic selves. To be the fullest, truest, brightest versions of who we are. We’re loved. We’re known. We’re free.
Today I had lunch with a backpacker from Costa Rica. He’s an engineer and when he lost his job a couple months ago, he needed a change of pace. Now he’s biking his way through Europe… from Barcelona to Moscow.
He sleeps in tents and hostels and he doesn’t have any rigid plans, just ideas and an amorphous framework of where he’s headed next. Most days, his only plans are to “wake up and bike.”
When I asked what he’d learned from his journey so far, he told me he feels relaxed and free. He doesn’t listen to music or anything to pass the time as he bikes… he spends that time thinking, whistling tunes and focusing on where he’s going. He talked about how he’s been leaving behind stuff in each city he visits. I’ve been doing the same thing. I’m realizing I need so much less than I think I do.
One of my favorite classes in college was Consumer Behavior. And one of my most memorable takeaways from that class was marketing to psychological needs. For example, luxury brands tend to market to the need to be unique, the need to feel rare and special.
On the other hand, trendy, fast fashion clothing companies (think “it” items) tend to market to our need to belong. This strategy is used a lot with the teenage demographic.
I have an example of this type of marketing from early in my own life. When I was in kindergarden, I came home from school one day begging my mom for a pair of jeans. Apparently, leggings weren’t popular with the trendy 5-year-old crowd and I needed jeans to hang with the cool kids. Even at such a young age, I wanted to belong, and I wanted to find that belonging by buying something.
We’re all born with the need to belong, and the need to feel unique, along with all kinds of other psychological needs. We all want to feel worthy. And know we’re enough. And feel successful. But buying more stuff only gives us those feelings for a fleeting moment.
In another one of my marketing classes, we did a case study on a fast fashion brand whose design-to-market turnaround time was ten days. They literally have people sketching on iPads at fashion shows so their designers can see the latest trends in real-time. The clothes immediately go into production and are on the shelves the next week. The company’s goal is to have such a high turnover of clothing that consumers feel out-of-trend a month after making a purchase and are back in the store for more. Real-time sketching is such a cool concept but it’s being misused. Not only is the company’s goal for customers to always feel uncool and untrendy, but it’s so terribly unsustainable for the supply chain, for the people making our clothes (and for the earth.)
I know that’s not a happy thing to realize, but my goal isn’t to be depressing. The concept of minimalism is freeing, not constricting. We don’t need to feel guilty about owning stuff we use, or about enjoying nice stuff. I love buying nice things. But I shouldn’t be finding our worth or identity in what I have. That’s not freedom.
I’ve started asking myself the question, “Is this thing giving me value, or would it be better if I give it to someone else?” I want to be a good steward of my wealth, and if I’m hanging onto stuff I’m not using, stuff that someone else could be getting value and joy from, it’s time to reevaluate.
I’m still new to the whole concept of minimalism but I’ve found that it doesn’t have to be drastic I’m-giving-away-everything deal. It can mean giving away things that aren’t my favorite to someone who could get more use out of them. Being a responsible consumer and buying fewer, nicer things that are made in an ethical way. Taking time to realize that my worth is inherent, and owning more or better stuff doesn’t make me more worthy or successful. Taking my time to enjoy shopping. Shopping for things I love that express who I am. And making space to enjoy life, to experience more adventure and connection and joy.
For years, I have been learning how to be free from fear. Left unchecked, fear has the potential to manipulate our decisions and paralyze us. To preoccupy us and steal us away from the present. To consume us.
The more we feed our fears, the more they grow. Fear leads to more fear. But I've learned to recognize fear for what it is.
Fear is human. It's ok to feel scared. It means we're growing.
Fear is a habitual liar. But lies lose their power when we stop believing them.
Fear is an emotion. It only has the power we give it. We decide weather we give fear the power to dictate our decisions. And there is an immense freedom in that.
I used to think I needed to be stop feeling fear in order to experience freedom from it. But I've learned that bravery is not the same as fearlessness.
Bravery is freedom from fear. Bravery is feeling scared and doing it anyway. So do stuff you're scared to do. Just be a little bit brave. We're already free; we just have to start believing it.
Thanks for stopping by. A little about me — I have a latte each morning and drink about 7 cups of tea a day (I'm not exaggerating.) I live in Atlanta where I'm going to law school. I like long distance running and I love my city and I love exploring our beautiful earth. I believe in being vulnerable, following our passions & being free.
I started this blog to document and share my favorite moments while traveling. This is a place where I process my ideas, share the aches and joys of my heart, speak truth, and shine light on the beauty I see in the world.
I've realized that what I probably love most about traveling is the same thing I love about writing — the way it connects me to myself and other people. I hope as you read my words, you feel connected to our shared humanity.
Thank you for reading. :)
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