How Traveling Builds Self-Esteem Part Two

*This is part two of my three-part series on travel and self-esteem. Part one covered “What is Self-Esteem?” and Living Consciously.

Self-Acceptance

The second pillar of self-esteem is self-acceptance. Acceptance is more abstract than living consciously but no less important.

Acceptance is a practice, but what exactly is it?

“the willingness to own, experience, and take responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and actions, without evasion, denial, or disowning – and also without self-repudiation; giving oneself permission to think one’s thoughts, experience one’s emotions, and look at one’s actions without necessarily liking, endorsing, or condoning them; the virtue of realism applied to the self.” – Nathaniel Branden

Accepting yourself does not mean endorsing everything about your appearance or actions. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to make changes, but it means acknowledging that things are the way they are.

How does travel help?

In two ways.

The first is removing yourself from your current community. The biggest motivation to reject ourselves comes from the desire to fit into a community that we don’t truly belong in. Most young people have developed a circle of friends based on circumstances and not values. This creates pressure to be cool or to fit in. To look a certain way, to study a certain thing, and to act like everyone else.

The group rejects you for thinking your own thoughts, for expressing your emotions, and for exercising your own judgment. You practice rejecting yourself in order to fit in.

Travel removes us from our social circles and helps us see the positives and negatives about those relationships. We can see more clearly if we belong in our community, or if we need to build a new one.

The second benefit comes from the space to think that typically comes with travel.

At home, bogged down with social events and responsibilities, it is easier to evade our thoughts and feelings. Our to-do list can disguise a sense of meaninglessness. Our weekend socializing can distract us from the dissatisfaction with our careers. Drinks after work help you hide from your regrets.

Acceptance comes from introspection. And the space provided by travel is one of the best environments to look deeply at our actions, feelings and life as a whole.

To understand the reasons or causes behind life events or circumstances that we don’t like. Understanding allows us to accept.

You come home from travel with a greater sense of how it feels to actively accept who you are. To have spent months being more authentic, and not trying to be a certain person to please you parents, your friends, or your boss.

Once you know the feeling of living without self-rejection, the feeling will become unbearable.

Self-responsibility

The third pillar of self-esteem is built upon the second. Once you accept yourself and have an accurate view of the reality of your life, you can take responsibility for it.

Like all the pillars responsibility is a practice. It is not a yes or no switch. It is a spectrum that is constantly in flux. There is always room to take more responsibility for your life. 

Branden defines self-responsibility as:

“The practice of self-responsibility: realizing that we are the author of our choices and actions; that each one us is responsible for life and well-being and for the attainment of our goals; that if we need the cooperation of other people to achieve our goals, we must offer values in exchange; and that question is not “Who’s to blame?” but always “What needs to be done?””

The other way he puts it is “No one is coming.” No one but you is responsible for changing or improving your life. Other people may help, but it is no one’s obligation.

Travel is especially good for coming to this realization.

When you leave home to take a long term trip you leave behind your family, your social circle, and many crutches you’ve been relying on. Weaknesses that have been disguised by your parents or your friends become apparent to you once you are on your own.  

You need to take full responsibility for your day to day experience. You don’t have anyone to make plans for you, you don’t have anyone to handle day to day logistics, you don’t have anyone to automatically provide emotional support.

It can be lonely, it can be hard, and it can make you want to turn around and head home, but at the end of the day traveling you make you significantly more self-reliant. The experience of being fully responsible for yourself will increase your trust in your ability to handle the challenges life will throw out you. You will have a quiet confidence from knowing that you don’t truly need your family or friends to function.

Tomorrow I’ll continue with self-assertiveness and live purposefully.

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