I recently began working with a life coach and one of the first assignments was to determine my core values. It was a simple yet profound exercise that had me racking my brain. It can be challenging to enunciate the components of who you are because you are too close to yourself to be able to make a proper assessment.
For as long as I can recall, I have been inquisitive. I may not always remember the details once I gather knowledge but it does not stop me from seeking it out. This quality has guided me nearly every step of my life. I guess I needed to hear another person tell me about my own nature in a single word: curiosity—that is undoubtedly my primary core value.
What does this have to do with travel? Everything! Read on…
As a child, I was fascinated with the postage stamp collection my father gave me. Each stamp showed me a world of wonder, filled with things very different from my small town surroundings. Stamp images depicted such things as traditional costumes, beautiful landscapes, holidays I’d never heard of, strange currencies, and foreign languages in a variety of different alphabets.
I tried to imagine actual life in these places. That led me to the library, bookstores, and maps. I poured over atlases and globes to find out where these fascinating worlds were. Almanacs fed my mind with statistics about population and major exports. I purchased a Hungarian dictionary for the heck of it. National Geographic magazines tied the bits and pieces I’d gathered into bigger stories.
My curiosity grew, yet I never imagined harnessing its power to transport me to a faraway place. Sure, we took several family vacations and knew a few people who had been to Western Europe but the overall impression I got was that travel was for the wealthy elite or something you do when you’re old and retired.
I compensated my inquisitiveness by amassing collections that almost unilaterally related to geography or places. The varieties of my hobbies were myriad and obscure. I would write to newspaper offices telling them I was doing a school project and would like their paper. I started writing post offices asking for them to postmark a postcard with their town’s name on it. We stopped at a few publishing companies and picked up phone books. The list goes on!
Once I began driving, I realized I could venture beyond the confines of my hometown. I started exploring places nearby. Even the most mundane tiny town held the possibility of discovery. I kind of became obsessed with Kansas and all her 105 counties.
Throughout college, I continued to investigate places when I could. This led me to the discovery of a geography major, which dealt with all these things I was fascinated with.
The bombshell came when I met people who had actually traveled to foreign countries. These were Kansans my age who had hiked the Appalachian Trail, backpacked around Central Europe, or had visited their uncle in western Africa. I finally realized that I too might be able to do this.
For well over a year and a half, I worked extra hours to save money and did a lot of research towards making this trip a reality. I took my first solo overseas trip at age 23, covering 12 countries in under 3 months. It wasn’t without its moments of insecurity, but it flowed in a way that somehow came naturally to me. Curiosity was surely in the driver’s seat.
Recently I found a letter I’d written someone a few months before I left. While it was written in 1996, I could have been written yesterday. My future self knew what was about to happen!
“I want to go to a small town that no stereotypical tourist would think of venturing into. To me, that is the exciting and adventurous part of my journey.”John McKenzie in a February 1996 letter describing his upcoming travels to a family acquaintance
The following autumn I was on a plane bound for the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan to spend two years in the Peace Corps teaching English in a small town in the western desert. I learned there what books and two university degrees could never teach, and I’ve never been the same since.
Fast forward to today and I still have that childlike curiosity. In fact, I would say it has grown stronger. I’ve been to more than fifty countries and much of the US but I still want to go everywhere! However, now I am savoring the destinations whether they’re in rural Kansas, a distant island nation, or a bustling city.
I may not still have all of my obscure collections, but I wholeheartedly embrace those quirky, nerdy hobbies and interests that have shaped me in so many ways. It’s these “odd” things that make me stand out. Therefore, I chose the name “GeODDgraphy” to represent my brand, as it embodies me perfectly imperfect.
I recently quit my job to do consulting, but I’m calling it “de-employment.” Of course, I am very grateful to have learned from all the places and people I’ve worked for over the last twenty-two years. I am privileged to have the ability to do all that I’ve done and have yet to experience. Now it’s time to branch out on my own and design a life centered around curiosity and travel. I hope to impart some wisdom and lots of stories while I continue on the journey. The next chapter will be about giving back with the intention of making a difference.
I’ll be returning to the blogosphere, and it may look a little different than it has in the past. Writing has long been a part of my life, and I think it’s ready to be channeled in a new direction. I hope those of you who have read this far will stick around and see what’s next. I hope to encourage, promote, and cultivate your curiosity so that you too can find a new way of living your best life.