I walked into the camera store in Washington, DC, with a mission: acquire the ten products my camera-savvy friends had suggested to record my time in Denver and beyond.

Thirty minutes later, I walked out juggling wired and wireless microphones, an ND Filter, tripod, 50mm lens, two batteries, and a JOBY (though I wasn’t quite sure what the heck that was). I was overwhelmed, but had committed to the “F*ck it, I’ll figure it out later” mentality, and wasn’t about to deviate then.

Ten days later, my new friend Marvin from DC District Camera gave me a 2.5 hour Zoom tutorial on how to use it all. Halfway through, I was sweating. “How am I ever going to learn all this?” I thought to myself.

Those feelings––the overwhelm, nerves, even the sweat––didn’t dissipate as I packed my car or put it in drive. In fact, they’re still with me now that I’ve started to settle into my Airbnb in Denver. But I’m finally starting to adjust to the discomfort.

If you’d like to learn a bit more about my recent journey, keep reading and watch the video below:

Stepping into Discomfort

Last Christmas, I received an acoustic guitar. Though I had asked for it, I didn’t touch it for nearly eight months, too intimidated to learn on my own. Every day, I’d look at it and think, “Not yet.”

While I’ve always leaned into fear in my professional and interpersonal life, I never took the dive to explore myself––interests, passions, and personal goals. Those always seemed like greater challenges, ones I wasn’t yet ready to conquer.

I brought that guitar with me to Denver. A handful of days into my journey, I looked at it and thought for the first time, “Today’s the day.” I found a local guitar instructor who worked with beginners (thanks Jake Hurwitz for the recommendation), and scheduled my first lesson.

When I left the instructor’s studio a few days later, I felt so small––I could barely strum the G chord. How would I ever learn how to play a whole song? (Since then, I’ve been back four times and have made great progress.)

That fear and uncertainty made me feel like a kid again, and for once, I didn’t avoid that feeling. Instead, I leaned into it.

I felt that fear again when I went to an ecstatic yoga dance event, where the point isn’t to dance with others, but to let the music guide your body and find rhythm within yourself––letting go and diving deep within among a crowd of others on their own personal journeys through a shared space.

At first, it was very uncomfortable. My movements were jerky and stiff as I tried to find the rhythm through the blur of my racing thoughts. Was I doing it right? Did I look ridiculous? Twenty minutes in, I realized I was missing the point:  All I could do––all I was there to do––was focus on myself. Who cared what anyone else thought? More importantly, I was there to face that discomfort head-on and find myself somewhere along the way.

Over the last month, I’ve experienced more discomfort than ever before. Yet, I keep choosing to be uncomfortable. I ask myself,“What sounds scary and out of my comfort zone?” Then, I go do it.

In a different time, I would have done the opposite. And I know why.

Understanding My Internal Compass

My parents divorced when I was young. I am grateful that my mom and dad were nurturing and supportive, but the sting of their separation still left me scarred. Early on, I learned to protect myself from reliving the pain of that experience.

I promised myself to stay in excellent physical shape so I could support my dreams on my own. I decided that I would prioritize my work over a partner. I told myself that once I found professional success, I would build a family.

It felt like the best way to make sure I didn’t end up perpetuating the cycle of divorce I was sure my parents had started.

I never made a choice that didn’t align with those principles. They became my hard wiring, and that wiring formed the parameters of my comfort zone. Of course, like any operating system, that one came with upsides and downsides.

On one hand, my regimented approach taught me how to develop a vision, plan my actions thoughtfully, be consistent, and track my goals.

On the other hand, it caused me to bulldoze my way through life. Oftentimes, I’ve found myself unable to enjoy the moment because I’m so focused on staying the course.

That internal GPS made me see working as the ultimate priority, and sticking to a prescribed strategy as more important than letting go in the name of serendipity. I had always preferred to be in control of my path, even if that meant ignoring an intuitive sense that I should be heading somewhere else.

It affected the way I approached relationships too, quickly jumping in and hiding behind the comfort and interests of somebody else while I focused on staying the course, rather than getting to know who I was in that partnership and beyond it. But as you may have guessed, that strategy just wasn’t sustainable, as I recently found out. A disruption was on the horizon.

Becoming Aware

I had been following the plan, traveling down a road that felt meaningful and aligned in all directions. Very meaningful, actually.

I even remember a conversation from last holiday season, where everyone went around the table sharing their reflections and what they were thankful for. “This year,” I said, “I’ve met all my professional and personal goals.”

And I believed it. That is, until I realized I hadn’t––particularly when it came to the personal stuff.

When something in my life threatened to upend it all, I was forced to peel back the layers of myself. There, I saw that trusty GPS system, the one I had built to direct my life. But this time, I noticed its primary glitch: it was stuck on a single, solitary path with no opportunity for pit stops or detours or redirection. It was time to reprogram. But first, I had to understand why I put myself on such a rigid route and how to get off of it.

And that required me to face myself.

Facing myself meant facing the fears, urges, desires, and interests that I’d exchanged for work and relationships with others.

When we come to a moment of self-reflection, we can either lean into it or avoid it by seeking external distractions. By now, you know what I chose.

For the first time, I leaned in. Instead of shying away from my interests and following the directions I plotted out years earlier, I invested in my curiosity.

A quote from the film Nomadland helped spur many of these decisions: “What is remembered, lives.” When I heard it, I asked myself, “Have I truly been living?”

Taking Apart the GPS to Find Freedom

Since I’ve been in Denver, every moment I’m not working has been spent on myself––from strumming that guitar to ecstatic dancing and long solo hikes.

I’m grateful to be able to tune into my intuition and use it to form my own beliefs. I notice the power of that shift when I’m interacting with others. It’s easier to show up in conversations and form connections because I have my own perspective to share, rather than someone else’s.

And I know it’s just the beginning.

The Journey to Self

If you’ve done any introspection, you know the journey to self is a painful and never-ending experience. It promotes versatility, authenticity, and alignment. It forces you to love yourself, embrace your own power, and take care of your needs.

It takes unlearning indoctrinated beliefs, and rewriting your guiding principles. Security in yourself and your internal compass allows you to stand tall and stay true when your belief systems are challenged.

And it’s the most important road you’ll ever embark on because, at the end of the day, it’s all you have. In the words of Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home.”