“So, where are you from, Kathrin?” I pause. And smile. I really don’t know how to answer this question anymore. Every possible thing I say now will trigger one version of an attempt to explain my journey across continents and ways of life. And about where on earth I lost my accent along the way. Sometimes I try out new versions of it, just to see how reactions to it will differ. It’s like working on the perfect pitch, one that needs the least amount of time and triggers the most positive response, the least jealousy and the most interesting follow-up conversation. But let me tell you, that’s not always successful.
As funny as this sounds, it’s usually a make-or-break situation when getting to know new people. It is important to be well crafted. Too much enthusiasm, positivity and bright colors will have some people disengage, become suspicious or even jealous. Too much casual objectivity easily sounds arrogant. But no matter what, my story almost certainly produces some kind of a strong response. And I find myself tip-toeing my way through how much information I share when, how, and with whom, before they get to know me better.
But there’s another caveat to this conversation. It’s incredibly alienating. It’s separating. It’s putting me in a weird spotlight and makes me become aware of that invisible tag on my forehead that says “bold individualist, life artist, inspiring but different”. And in these moments of spotlight, being the center of attention, the moment right before people turn away to return to their conversations about their kids, the last addictive Netflix series or the great new company car they were given, it’s when I feel very lonely at times.
I’ve been lovingly called many things throughout the last few years. Chameleon. System terrorist. Citizen of the world. People have told me straight to my face that I’m crazy, intense, overthinking everything. That I’m agonizing over reality, constantly questioning and crossing borders. That I take a strange pleasure in passionately throwing myself into the depths of experiences and emotions, no matter if they’re pleasant or painful. That I ask “why” far too many times, like my friend’s four-year-old who just got told by her wonderful mom to never stop asking that question. I usually smile a big and happy smile at all of that. First of all, I call that life! We only have one of it, so I’m determined to make my experience the most precious and colorful piece of art that my palette can produce. And secondly, I prefer to call myself a title that a very wise friend has described me as and that I’m proud to wear: A “seeker”.
Not everyone understands this mindset. Not too long ago, someone told me that I needed to find my way back into real life before it is ‘too late’. I had to think about this for a long time, trying to make sense of it, as I’ve actually never felt more in touch with “reality” than right now. I have slowly stripped many layers of false beliefs, superficial goals and trivial environments, bit by bit. I’ve gotten rid of everything that had the potential to hold me back. And I’m experiencing personal growth like never before. So, what did she mean by saying I’m losing touch with reality? Am I, maybe?
I now realize that we were talking from very different approaches to life. The first one is the perspective that most people live with. I call it the “player’s perspective”. Players, like all of us, are born into their generation, family and culture, that is then continuously framing a certain mindset from early years, alongside all the experiences made, until they understand the rules of their game. And then they play it, to the best of their abilities, with hard work and determination. And then, there’s us. I will continue to call us the “seekers”. The ones that, along the way and for many different reasons, had a moment that shook up their life enough to start feeling the corset that the game has put us all in. The ones that sense that there’s something else out there that takes a lot of effort to discover, but the quest for which becomes a sense of purpose. The ones who are determined to wake up!
Sounds somehow desirable, right? And, no matter what perspective you look from, there seems to be some truth in that. Well, here’s the caveat: It’s a path of no return! A one-way street with no way out really. One wise long-time friend had warned me early on about this when I decided to move out of Europe. “You have to do what you have to do, Kathrin. And I agree, this place will get too small for you very soon. But you must be aware of one fact: You will never be able to come back to the same reality. Never.” She was right. You better make sure you want to be a seeker before committing to it, because it comes at a very high price!
Only in the past few months have I realized what my friend meant, and how much this rings true for me! The “aha”-moment happened when I went to my hometown Hamburg, and then happened again when I went to my second home in the Bay Area. It sometimes even happens in random Skype calls or phone conversations. Returning to the known is an interesting process for me these days. And I now realize that what most people would call the feeling of home, belonging, being with your people, feeling the place engrained in every bit of their DNA, is starting to fade for me. I realize I am now wearing glasses tainted with multiple other perspectives and colors, and by looking at the world through them now, I see it differently. The fact that my people haven’t been with me on my journey to see and experience the same things, and that I keep failing at attempts to share and explain my new perspective with them makes me very sad at times. I realized I started talking a different language – not better or worse, but different.
It’s hard to explain how the perspective on established structures and the lifestyle that most people choose to live changes in an experience like this, but maybe it gets clearer if I use another metaphor. Think of the opera, or your local theater. Or even a Hollywood movie production! It’s like you’ve looked behind the curtain, and you start seeing that there are off-stage mechanics in play. You see how the curtain is moved, opened and closed, or how the different takes are announced. How the producer reads the plot again to make sure the production is in line with the message of the play. You see it all, and it is so incredibly exciting and beautiful! You marvel at the colors, laugh about the incredibly stereotypical characters, while loving all of them from the bottom of your heart, and you’re so excited to see what happens in the storyline. But when you start talking to the actors about it in the breaks, you realize that they have no clue what you’re talking about! They think you’re crazy, look at you, talk about you when you turn around. They are so deeply immersed in their roles that they have entirely forgotten that they are acting out a fictitious story written by someone else.
When you realize this, you stop talking. You take a deep breath and step back, realizing how absolutely alone you are in this moment. You realize you have two choices: Either you take on a role in the play and pretend you’re another one of the characters. But how can you refrain from going back to the curtain and see what else is behind it? How can you unsee what you’ve seen? You now have that voice of curiosity in your head that is loud and wants to be heard.
Well, the only other choice you have is to retreat into the audience for a bit and accept your new reality. Feel free to step in and play with the rest at any point, because now there’s so many roles you could play with no strings attached. Or, you start identifying the roles behind the curtain and help make it the best play ever written!
What happened to me in these last few weeks and months is something wonderful. I looked back around in the dark room of the audience, and suddenly I see faces appearing! There’s so many more of us, and I finally am starting to see these peers appearing everywhere in my life. People that have exited their predetermined lives in order to look for a different sense and meaning. Friends all around the world that have woken up from something and have started on their paths to discover what’s behind the curtain. Not all of them go as crazy as I do, throwing their life up in the air and changing countries like others change shirts. Everyone does what they need to do to keep their eyes and hearts open and develop their path in this world. And I suddenly realized, I do belong! I belong to myself! I belong to the world! And I belong with these people that I’m starting to find in all of its corners now.
I have ironically been coming across the late Dr. Maya Angelou multiple times in the last few months, most considerably through an interview on Krista Tippett’s amazing Podcast “On Being” and Brené Browns latest book “Braving The Wilderness. The work of this wonderful American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist contains some of the most inspiring and amazing quotes I know. But one has been sticking with me. And it goes like this.
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
What a beautiful quote to land this blog post on, so much truth and so many lessons. Reading it is like a warm blanket on a cold and dark winter’s night back in Germany. And I am determined to make it true for every cell in my body and every spark of my soul. Continue to question. Continue to seek. And continue to find my tribe!
Thank you for reading this to the end! If you feel like this post resonated with you, I would love to hear about your thoughts and your own journey and perspective in the comments below. Maybe you also have a friend who is a ‘seeker’ and could identify with this! Please share and engage as you deem beneficial – I would be incredibly interested in your perspectives!