"You are the hero."
About a week ago, I spoke with a friend about a trip to Europe I am taking this summer. She asked the usual – where I am going, who I am going with, what our plans are. Since I had been talking about this particular trip for months, my response to these questions was something of a formula, the same words, tone, and rhythm, even the same pauses between bursts of recalled excitement. And I, in turn, expected the same response that gives me butterflies every time: “Oh my gosh, you are going to have so much fun! I am so excited for you.”
This was different. She smiled as I moved through the motions and gave a similar “wow” of acknowledgement. Then she shook me. “You know, I think this is one of those experiences that you can look at in two ways,” she said, “The first is that you are going on an adventure abroad with your best friend and are going to have a great time. The second is that you are going on this sort of mythic journey.” She paused, noticing my furrowed brow as I tried to make sense of what she had just said. I mean, what? She continued, “It is as though you are writing a story. All of the people you meet and all of the experiences you have will represent something-- something that you need in order to grow. That isn't to say that all of the people you encounter and the experiences you have will be good. In fact, some people you will have bad intentions, and you will go through a rough time at least once. But you can look at all of that as part of your very own myth. You are the hero. Every character that you meet and every place that you visit will shape you, and when you come home, you are going to be better for it.”
After I left her, I turned those words over in my head, again and again, and realized that she was right. Very rarely do we get to step outside of ourselves and see the full picture, the epic landscape that is our lives. It is not often that we have the opportunity to recognize a monumental experience before it is upon us, and to prepare ourselves to become the person we want to be within that experience. As my friend said, you are your own hero and, while you cannot control every aspect of your experience, you can choose the kind of person you aim to be in the face of the unknown. You can look at your travels at their most basic –Where am I going? Who am I going with? What are my plans? – or you can envision them at a broader, more mythic level – What can I learn from this place? What lesson is this person teaching me? How am I becoming the person I want to be?
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “I hope you live a life you are proud of. If you find that you are not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” Traveling gives us the power to do just that: to start all over again, to take ownership of our responsibility as our own hero, to save ourselves from parts of daily life that may not be proud of, to frame our experiences in a way that serves our personal growth. We can be grateful for the places we go and the people we meet-- this whirlwind that allows us to fully become who we are: heroes.
Travel Section Columnist, Katie Helete:
Katie Helete is a cultured old soul, with a kind of energy that would entice you to travel with her anywhere. Attending UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, she is majoring in Political Economy. Explore the world, bucket list by bucket list with the brilliant and bold Ms. Katie.