“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” — John Lennon
I can’t remember when I exactly I came across this quote for the first time, but I remember thinking that it gave a good description of how I felt about life. To this day I haven’t quite figured out what exactly I want just like the idea of a five year plan terrifies me more than anything else. I want to be happy. Not in an always-smiling, always-goofy-and-exuberant kind of way but in a content way. I want to be living a life I’m proud of, conscious of the opportunities I’ve been given, and not afraid of taking chances.
To me, a lot of happiness comes from travel, from getting to know new people, who come from different walks of life, and thereby getting to know myself; losing myself in conversations, dreaming big with strangers and friends, feeling grand and insignificant all at once.
About a year ago I decided to take a leap of faith. People I knew from high school applied to masters while I bought a van. People I knew from university moved on to steady jobs while I worked on my car. People I started to see less planned their next vacation while I took off — destination unknown.
The road has been rocky at times, smooth and straight at others. It was lonely sometimes, but also exhilarating, crowded, challenging, loud and quiet. A few things worked out better than I ever hoped they would. There were the surprises, the late nights, the quiet mornings spent on the beach, the rooftops, the mountains, the things we did, saw, touched, and said. A few things also went wrong, spinning out of control like a roman candle that wouldn’t take off from the ground but still explode with vehement force.
When I arrived in Bussana Vecchia in early June I thought I found everything I had always searched for: a place of hidden and blatant stories that just waited to be told. A place to grow and unfold myself as an individual and an artist. A home among some of the most interesting and unique personalities I have ever met. The road up to the medieval town on the hill attracted me like a secret passageway into the past. Occupied ruins, small art galleries, and an open house to enjoy local wine and fresh pizza from the stone oven –- a paradise to some, a parallel world to others. Things were great for a while.
But, as it oftentimes seems to happen when impulsive people are thrown together, a carefully constructed ideal can collapse in a matter of days. And so I left once again, torn by mixed feelings of uncertainty, nostalgia, and inspired by the memories of a time that both challenged and empowered me. I’m on the road again: another transition phase, a new chapter, still searching for a place to belong.
Sometimes I wonder if I should have done it all differently. If I should have scored that internship followed by a steady job after graduation. I could picture myself in an office of the editorial department of some magazine, a coffee-to-go in hand as I rush into the next meeting; sharing links to travel-based Pinterest boards with my colleagues, and daydreaming of the place I’d visit during my next vacation.
One thing I’ve learned this year is that I am where I am today because of the choices I’ve made. Where I’ll be tomorrow depends on the choices I am making today. And where I’ll be in five years depends on the choices I’ll make in the meantime — the good and the bad. This is what I remind myself of in moments of doubt, when itchy feet give way to a yearning for security, predictability and steadiness. The valley is followed by an ascending road that I climb, higher and higher, until I reach the top. Looking down at tiny houses — a miniature world stretching out at my feet — and thinking about how far I’ve come.
Do you know the moments when you melt into the world around you, becoming part of it as if the universe just swallowed you whole while you’re also seeing with perfect clarity? This is one of these moments. And I know that if I were given the choice I’d do the same all over again. I’d take a few detours here and there, avoid the occasional traffic jam, linger in some places, make a conversation last and skip another. I’d do some small things differently — but I’d be heading in the same direction.
What do I want to be? The next time I’m asked I’ll respond by saying “happy.”