“Travel far enough, and you meet yourself,” – David Mitchell
This quote popped up into my Google search as I was drinking my morning coffee. It made me reflect on my personal journey, and on how profound and true the statement was.
Throughout my upbringing, I always heard people describe themselves by what they have or what they do. I adopted the same approach. I would describe myself as a mother or as a wife; but these descriptions only mean that I HAVE a child and a husband, they say nothing of who I am. I would also say, "I am a scientist, a researcher, a data analyst, a businesswoman..." But those are about what I DO and still not about who I am.
Then I reflected on my research work in Africa, and a surprising discovery was that when Africans introduce themselves, they would always start with WHO they are - I am Mercy, I am a devote Christian, I am a proud Kenyan...
Somebody can ask, “What does this mean, and why is this so important?” Well, being able to understand, to know who you are vs. what you have or do, means you can never lose your identity if you lose your job, get divorced, or see your children grow up and move out. You remain a proud Kenyan (or a proud Russian in my case) as long as you chose to retain this identity no matter if you are a rocket scientist or a stay-home mom, employed or jobless, wealthy or broke.
True identity is liberating. But it only turns into power when it belongs to you and is controlled by you, not by external forces, which decide whether to give you a job or sell you a product. Identity is a luxury, that we all have but not all of us can capitalize on.
We all should be as lucky as my role model Diane von Furstenberg, who famously said, "I didn't know what I wanted to do but I always knew the woman I wanted to be." We should be but we are not. Understanding your identity is a challenging journey, and few consciously embark on it.
Living in Africa helped me realize that my frequent self-doubt and occasional crises of confidence were rooted in the fact that I diligently linked my identity to external things, events and people; this meant that every loss of external links - relocation, end of relationships, loss of possessions - resulted in this urgent need to redefine myself, to find new things, people, and events to cling to.
It was a painful lesson but I've learned from it. I've started the journey towards myself. It’s just the beginning, and I am still finding my voice. But I know I am on the right path, and this path is mine. And all of that is because I traveled far – way outside my home and my comfort zone – with an open heart and open mind.
This website is my travel journal and a way to invite you to embark on the journey with me --meeting fascinating people, discovering curious stories and colorful cultures. Hope you enjoy the ride, and maybe also get a bit closer to discovering the power of your own identity.