“How did you get here?”

I don’t totally know how I got here. I can tell you the story, but I don’t completely understand it myself.When I look back, it feels like a snowball that gained momentum and took me with it. It started with something small. I took a risk. And from that risk, I took another. And the questions in my mind slowly started to change from why to why not? The narrative started to change from “I can’t” to “why can’t I?”I watched someone do something that seemed impossible and then wondered what made them so different from me. A cousin I didn’t know that well went on a medical mission to Honduras. “That’s so cool” I thought, but I could never do that. And then one day an email from a neighboring medical school landed in my inbox asking for pharmacy student volunteers to travel to Antigua, Guatemala. I didn’t know anyone at this school nor did I have any idea what this would be like…but I took a risk and I said why not? and I replied with a yes. I was the only one in my class of 105 to reply. I went to Antigua for two weeks, met people that changed my life and flipped my world upside down. Suddenly the word “impossible” carried less weight and staying in comfort for the sake of feeding my fear felt foolish. My risk paid off in great rewards. It pushed me and inspired me to follow the fear. Do the next scary thing, not the next safe thing. I moved to California to follow my (then) dreams. I took more risks, albeit smaller ones, safer ones. I went to Nicaragua on a veterinary medical mission with a group of students I had just met a few weeks prior. I found one of my best friends on that trip and she awakened a bravery and fearlessness in me I didn’t know I had. I knew how to be brave when I had to survive, when bad things happened. But I didn’t know how to be brave for the sake of fun. Two years later I was flipping through a magazine and I read an article on yoga retreats in Bali. I thought Maybe one day I can do that. And then I thought…why not now? What am I waiting for? I’m miserable and lonely. I hated both of my jobs, but kept trying to make them work because admitting unhappiness was parallel to admitting defeat. (Turns out they are not one in the same). So I booked the retreat and a plane ticket and I took my first solo trip across the world. And I stopped letting my pride weigh more than my unhappiness. I left Northern California and relocated to Southern California. A month before Bali, a friend of mine was posting pictures on Instagram from a clinic in Kenya. A medical mission that was relatively new. I wanted to go. It seemed impossible, but the challenge attracted my attention and solidified my intent. If I said I would make it happen, I was bound by my leonine integrity to see it through. And so I emailed him, added my name to the roster of volunteers, and bought a plane ticket. Two months after that, I found myself in Antigua again, volunteering and having fun. Six months after that I boarded a plan to Iceland for my 30th birthday. From Iceland, I went to Denmark and Sweden. And that’s how this story goes: every 4-6 months, I booked a ticket and traveled. Antigua (for the 3rd time). Belize. Thailand. I’m currently in Morocco. Still not sure how I got here. I’m traveling with someone I met on that very first trip to Antigua. You take a risk. It opens a door. You take another risk. It leads to a new path. You walk it and create footprints where there are no trails. There is no one to follow, but my instinct and intent. My instinct tells me where to go and my intent ensures I follow through. If I can’t be what I say I am, then what good are these words? I grew up looking to my elder cousins to carve out new paths, to create new possibilities. I thought my older cousins would break culture and defy tradition. and they did, in their own ways. In ways that were risky for them. They married outside of Gujarati culture. They got divorced. But I was waiting for more. I was waiting for someone to create a path that showed another life. Adventure and Travel and Identity and Financial freedom. I was waiting for someone to say there was more to life than marriage and motels. But one by one, they all succumbed. They all fell prey to our social conditioning, they all followed the premarked path. I don’t know how I got here and I still can’t tell you. All I know is that there is more, I can FEEL it, and now I’m the one that my younger cousins look to. And I want another path for them. It feels like playing Super Nintendo when you’re a kid…passing a difficult level of super Mario brothers that stopped everyone else from progressing…it feels like I’m watching the other paths open up to them so they can play on. (If they so choose). But i have to keep advancing so they can see the map. This world is big and beautiful and this life is long and lonely and we’ve paid our price already. Many of us sacrificed our childhood for the sake of the greater good, for the family, for community, for lifelong security in this suffocating safety net. It’s time to stop sacrificing our identities. And our parents didn’t play by the rules, they broke them. They left everything they knew to create a better life. They didn’t stay inside their comfort zones. they let their wanderlust gene bring them to the United States. But in their success, we sacrificed. We didn’t dream big, we dreamt of what we already knew. Financial security, another hotel, a big wedding and more kids that grew up in or around hotels. Maybe a nice car. Our dreams stopped there. And we were taught and trained not to take risks. Stay in the comfort zone-they said. Marry what you know, run the family business and you will be secure. Happiness was a luxury and having an identity seemed disgraceful, selfish even. How dare we think about what we want or what makes us happy? Traveling is extravagant and having a dog was another mouth to feed. The joy these things bring you are irrelevant because you are wasting money. Your growth and experiences and personal development was wasting their money. What is this money for anyway? I still don’t know. All I know is this all started with one risk that built on itself. I just bought my first house at 31 years old. But I’ve spent the last ten years building its foundation. and No matter what happens, I know with all my heart and soul that it won’t crack. You can blow the house away with Kansas winds, you can make it crumble under California’s expensive consumer driven culture, but you can’t crack it. I laid down concrete that is composed of risk and reward, over and over again, following nothing but my instinct and my fear of sameness. If I could predict what was gonna happen, if I could see the rest of my life laid out in front of me, I knew the choice was wrong. If my decisions didn’t scare me to my core and make me feel crazy for making them, then I knew I was cheating myself out of something bigger. I stopped being afraid of a life I didn’t know and began to be afraid of a life I did know. I finally earned the right to write my own rules and decide my own values. But it all started with one risk, by replying to one email.

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