Enabling Authenticity

At home, there’s always a sense of being a known entity. You’ve met your neighbors. You’ve shared coffee and beers with your friends. Your parents and community have watched you grow up and learn. Your identity has been slow-cooked through the years, occasionally altered by the random spice of life.

Travel, on the other hand, lacks this fixedness. It puts you into contact with lots of new people. Every bus and hostel is a chance to reinvent yourself. They don’t know where you came from, what you do, or what you are like.

You can approach these moments of self-creation with terror or excitement. I choose the latter. There is a danger in this creation, though: you might enter an inauthentic space of self. You might present a charade to your new companions and, in the process, chip away at who you really are.

I’ve found the key to authenticity in these moments of self-creation has two key components. First, you must bring everything you are to the table. Second, you have to encourage others to do the same. When I do these two things, I can skip past the formalities and get to the good stuff: a space to be honest. It’s there that chance encounters feel like fate and quiet moments extend into eternity.

I think the first component is easy when you have a little bit of confidence. I have plenty (probably too much). The second, however, can be tricky. How can you enable another person to be authentic? It requires you to be non-judgmental and appreciative of everyone’s little quirks. I can’t think of someone better at this than Sara.

Everyone in my family has this strange mix of incredible seriousness and outrageous goofiness. My brother is no exception and I think it’s why he and Sara get along so well. She has the rare gift of giving people around her the green light to be themselves. No one feels the need to tone down their eccentricities. To feel comfortable in your own skin around others is no small thing.

When I was traveling, I tried my best to encourage new people I met to come along with me to that interesting space of companionship, but I know that I can always do better. I’m very thankful that I have people in my life who can help me continue to learn.