Written by Noha Amer
I’m currently living in Bali. In a little town called Ubud, the hippie epicenter of yoga, harem pants, and colonics. I’m single. I’m not working. I’m far away from home. Very far away from home. All the people I love are clustered on the US East Coast, and I’m pretty sure the only reason I’ve managed to move myself over 10,000 miles away from home without a fight is because my loved ones are all concerned I’m in the full thralls of a mental breakdown. Pure insanity. And everyone knows, you never try to reason with the insane.
But the truth is, my mind has never felt clearer.
Three years ago, I moved across the world to Dubai, isolating myself from the bubble of love and comfort that I knew back home. I planted myself in a new city and new job. I was so naive to believe I was just moving to the Middle East to make a buck, take my earnings, and pour it into a nest right back at home, just a short drive from my parents’ house to live in cush and happiness. The truth is, things didn’t quite turn out as planned. I never made it back home, and I’ve crumbled and reset myself so many times in the last few years, I can’t even remember the form I’m trying to replicate. I’m not that person anymore.
I’ve experienced some difficult losses in the last year, the specifics are not relevant, but I urge you to recall the moments you’ve felt most down. When life just feels hard, and your days are dark, and you become a mere shell of yourself, so delicate that even the mildest of gusts could overtake you, turn you to pulverized particles, and sweep you along like dust.
And dust I was. I was seized by sorrow. Drowning in work. And overwhelmed in support. Yes, support. Everyone wanted to help. Everyone wanted to talk about my woes. Everyone wanted me to quit my life abroad and come home to heal. And it could have been so easy. I could have left my job, packed my things, moved back to my parent’s house, and had the comfort of four walls, three square meals a day, two loving parents, and the most singular sense of comfort that I was going to be okay. (And I do not take those things for granted. Alhamdulillah, I have the luxury of choice.)
Though every part of me wanted so desperately to crawl home and straight into bed, sleeping through my sadness and confusion until the light shined through, I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take the “easy” way out. It would have been a short-lived healing. I needed to fight through my discomfort. I had worked hard for my career. I earned the lifestyle I had. I hadn’t yet tasted all the fruits of global citizenship. How could I give this all up? I knew there was more to my self-discovery and I couldn’t back out now.
So, I made my exit plan to sanity. I knew I needed a break from my daily grind, but I wanted to approach it responsibly. I knew I wanted to travel, but I also needed to repeatedly ask myself if I was simply running away from my problems. And I needed to consistently reassure my network that I was okay…lest they plan an intervention and some emergency exit. I frequently envisioned a rescue helicopter with my mom descending down a ladder like, “This is enough. You’ve gone too far. Come home now.” A straitjacket is always involved, and honestly, at times, I probably did need protection from myself.
I ensued on for months of this inner dialogue and turmoil…for a year to be exact…until I hit a moment of clarity. Not full clarity — but enough sight to make shapes through the blur. SubhanAllah, things happened to align just enough to give me the boost I so desperately needed. I was on a work assignment in Cairo, which was coming to a close. I was in between cities and places to live; I was no longer anchored to a location.
…I also needed to repeatedly ask myself if I was simply running away from my problems
I made a clean break for it. I decided I was going to take some time away from work, which was not an easy choice by any means when you work for one of the most sought after companies in the world. For the risk averse, like the old me, it could be considered career suicide. But, I had become so complacent with killing every other part of me in order to succeed in my career that I lost my other interests, my creativity, connections to people I cared for, connections to myself. I needed to know I had an identity beyond my title and a paycheck.
I also decided I was going to travel for a few months, with little breaks in between, spending time in exploration and charitable causes. When everyone was telling me to just slow down and bask in the freedom of no alarm clocks or deadlines, I knew I couldn’t relax too much. I needed a happy medium of unwinding and productivity to keep my mind fresh (and frankly, to keep it away from idle time worrying if I had made the biggest mistake of my life). I found a program, likened to a real-world study abroad in various cities around the world, where I could come together with other like-minded individuals in a month-long co-working environment; and not the traditional interpretation of work for pay, but the true definition of any activity of the mental or physical kind. I wanted to challenge myself, to find joy in discovering new parts of me I didn’t know existed before, which lead me to Bali, arguably one of the most spiritual, soul search-inducing capitals of the world.
I didn’t expect anyone to understand my plan, but I had the full support and love from my family and friends. My sole request from everyone was to simply know that my decisions were not rash, they were well thought out, I had a plan, contingency and all. Which is where I am today — to wake up as I please, to not check email, to not obsess over my news feeds, to try yoga in Bali, to suck at yoga in Bali, to focus on myself.
I’m well aware of how dramatic this all seems. I don’t think most people would choose to quit their lives and take refuge in some faraway lands. Though my choices appear eccentric, the themes are common. I was being swallowed by life, by my circumstances, by my misfortunes, by my work, by expectations; I no longer had control. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I’ve spent my life hitchhiking my way to my next point of happiness. Then realizing I’ve made a wrong turn. Every single time. I needed to take control. I needed to be in the driver’s seat of my own life.
Perhaps you may think I’m brave. But I’m not. Far from it, in fact. It’s so easy to choose comfort every time, to take the beaten path over the roads less traveled. And trust me, I get it. I’ve done it several times. Those paths lead to safety. There are footprints there, someone to tell you, “I did it and I’m alright, so follow me, and you will be alright too.” But I don’t think we want to be just alright. I will always accept the life that God has granted me, I am thankful for every blessing, but I simply can’t be complacent if there is room for betterment. We are not here to choose the lesser life, to succumb to its seeming difficulties and obstacles. Discomfort is necessary for growth.
I’ve spent my life hitchhiking my way to my next point of happiness.
So here I am, alone in Bali, trying to figure it all out. Even in paradise, it’s not easy, but I can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment that I at least got myself here, that I took this step towards channeling the direction of my own destiny.
I’m a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, rolled in a burrito. Extra guac.
You can follow Noha’s journey at nohaamer.com and @findingnoha