When I was in my early 20’s, something inside of me told me to leave Ohio. I didn’t know what the future held for me, but I decided to move to Los Angeles and embark on a new journey in life. Sometimes you hear a call that goes beyond your ability to explain.
As I planned for the trip, Google Maps said it would take 35 hours of straight driving to make it to LA, from Columbus, OH. I was determined to make the drive in less than 40. Kids, these days…
After one last breakfast with my family at the local Cracker Barrel, I hopped in my BMW (Plaatmobile) and headed out west. I remember looking in my rearview mirror and somehow knowing that I wouldn’t return the same person that left.
The drive was incredible. I saw new places in America that I didn’t know existed; rural towns, sprawling deserts, and a seemingly-endless stretch of highway before me. I snapped one last photo of Ohio as I crossed the border between Ohio and Indiana.
Occasionally, I’d stop for coffee, food, and energy drinks – still determined to beat the 40-hour clock.
Somewhere in New Mexico, I reached a point of exhaustion and decided to pull into a parking lot to catch a few hours of rest. I was coming dangerously close to missing the 40-hour goal. However, I knew that rest was the healthiest thing to do.
Shortly after falling asleep, I was startled to an abrupt wake-up; a fly had flown my up nose. The shot of adrenaline was all I needed to complete the drive and stay alert.
As I pulled in front of 1436 Shenandoah Street, I looked at my timer. 39:45. I did it. Minutes later, I was hugging my brother, Steve.
Now in my 30’s, I look back on these days as one of many good decisions I’ve made with my life. While I didn’t exactly know what would happen in LA, I was determined to start something new, challenge myself, and grow outside of my comfort zone.
It’s been nearly 10 years since this adventure began, and I’m grateful for all of the magical encounters life has provided along the way. Leaving Ohio, I had no idea that I’d have the opportunity to live in places like Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco, Portland, and Bali.
Oh, the places you’ll go!
As the years have gone by, I’ve learned a few lessons that seemed worth sharing. While many of these lessons were taught in the last decade, a lot of them were solidified while living abroad.
A few of these things include:
1.) Happiness is a discipline.
Being happy doesn’t come naturally. Rather, it’s something that takes time and understanding to develop, which requires you to invest in yourself. It isn’t the world’s job to make you happy, nor the job of your partner, job, or environment. While these things may be a source of happiness, the vessel for them to fall in resides inside of you.
For most of my 20’s, I felt that a relationship would make me happy. So, I had several of them. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I realized that nobody else was the saving grace for me being able to feel genuine happiness well up from inside of me. Once I realized this, being single became so much easier, and I found that all of the questions I had began to fade away.
E.g. is there something wrong with me? When will I get married? Am I broken?
Once I took the time to be present with myself, these feelings faded away. I realized that feelings of loneliness are okay to have – and can occur both in and out of relationships.
2.) Emotions need space.
Emotions can be a roller coaster when you don’t know how to handle them. Yet, ‘handling’ them is sort of like trying to get a firm grip on a fist full of Jell-O. You can’t force happy moments to prolong themselves. Additionally, you really can’t permanently mask feelings of pain, hurt, and sadness. Pushing them down simply causes them to ferment.
Steve taught me the lesson of being present with my emotions. While he never overtly called me out for my usage of alcohol/substances over the last few years, he did express the way he felt after not using these things to mask emotions/pain.
He taught me the phrase “lean in” as a way of accepting difficulty. Similar to skiing, you must lean in to the hill in order to navigate it properly.
Yesterday, I woke up with a funk I couldn’t explain. Something was…off. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that I realized the pain came from missing Dad. That’s when the waterfalls began. I shut off my screens and wept for several hours, allowing the pain to surface and vent itself.
Leaning into these times helps grow your emotional intelligence, as well as ability to help others navigate their emotions. You don’t always have to have an answer. Sometimes you just need to be a shoulder for somebody to cry on, or an ear for them to scream through.
3.) Loyalty isn’t a virtue.
This was a difficult lesson to unpack, because it requires surgical care. 9 times out of 10, being a loyal person is a wonderful attribute to have. However, there are times where you need to cut the cord to loyalty in order to develop #1 and facilitate #2.
When is it time to cut the cord of being loyal? When it becomes a cord that strangles you.
I had a situation occur this year where a loved one decided they no longer consider me family, due to my difference in religious beliefs. While I still love this person, their demand of me being a born-again christian in order for them to consider me a family member was a completely toxic crossing of my boundaries – not to mention, uncharacteristic of their religion – which says to treat others as you want to be treated.
When your boundaries are being crossed, it’s a safe bet to say that loyalty isn’t the appropriate response.
4.) Be present.
One of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself is being present in all circumstances. When you make a conscious effort to be where you are, or do what you’re doing with 100% focus, you become more firmly rooted in yourself, as well as to others.
It’s very frustrating to engage in a conversation where the other person isn’t listening to you. It makes you feel unheard, and unappreciated.
One of the best tools I’ve learned to be more present in a conversation is pretending that, at any point in the conversation, you’ll need to repeat word-for-word what the other person just spoke. Try it.
In a world full of distractions, being a present participant in conversation (or a date) is a rarity. Pocket your phone – or leave it on silent.
Steve, again, taught me many lessons on presence. He taught me not to try and interject your opinion on somebody else going through a rough time (e.g. “do this”) and instead sit with them, listen, and display a willingness to bear their burdens.
5.) Give until it hurts.
If you try this one, you’ll quickly discover that it’s not possible to hurt from giving. All of us were born naked into this world, and will depart in the same way. Everything we obtain along the way is simply a gift.
In my journey, I’ve had many people give to me. When I lived in San Francisco, I had the hospitality of two incredible roommates, who shared their home with me at below-market rents. Their willingness to share their home was one of the things I most appreciate when I look back on my years in SF.
When you give to others, it always finds a way back to you – in different ways, shapes, and forms than you might expect.
I can say this from personal experience – when you give from the heart – it comes back to you, tenfold. Perhaps not right away, or in the same way that you gave, but the return investment on giving unconditionally has never, ever failed me.
In conclusion, these are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned since leaving Ohio. These sorts of lessons have been more valuable to me than any paycheck, fancy car, or possession. Each one has taken many years to develop, and I still consider myself to be a student of them.
As my time in Bali comes to a close, I find myself returning back to the city where I once started a new chapter; Los Angeles. As I return to the city of Angels, I’m confident that all of these lessons have been given to me for a reason – even if I don’t yet understand why.
I hope that you find it within yourself to look at life through the lens of lessons; discover what life is meant to teach you while you’re here. When you see your life this way, it becomes something far more beautiful than you could have imagined, and it doesn’t seem quite so daunting – even the moments of difficulty.
My mentor, Nate, recently shared a wonderful bit of wisdom with me:
”Aaron, look at all of your life circumstances and ask yourself ‘what if this were a test?’ And see how that changes your perspective.”
As usual, Nate is right. Life is full of tests. Sometimes they’re easy. Other times, strenuous. Yet, all of them are given to you so that you may learn, grow, and help make this planet better by having you as an inhabitant.