November 20th, 2022 | House Is Not Home: How My Travels Influenced My Thoughts About Life.

House Doesn’t Mean Home How My Travels and Self-Development Experiments Influenced Me and My Thinking About Life Natalia Bielczyk

Learning About Self-Love In A Brand New Situation.

This year, I invested in myself A LOT. 

Firstly, I finally took care of my mental health. I went for therapy, hypnotherapy, hug-therapy, and even acupuncture — you can read the whole story in the article “The Piano.” 

Secondly, I took risks and invested a lot in my company. I first spent a month with my parents in Poland. Then, I went to Amsterdam for three months — you can read about some of my conclusions in the article “The Doctor Manhattan Syndrome.”

Subsequently, I traveled all the way to California for another two months, where I experienced a major culture shock — you can read about some of my conclusions in the article “Startup Culture in Bay Area vs Startup Culture in Amsterdam.”

Overall, I spent less than half of my time in Nijmegen where I officially live. I was putting myself to the limits, learning about new cultures, testing new directions and target groups for my company, making new contacts, working hard and reinvesting everything I was making. 

And what’s the overall impact of all these actions on my life and well-being? Pretty weird, I must say.

How Netflix Game Shows Made Me Think.

I recently spent a lot of time by myself. I needed a little time away from the world after all the travels, just to peace out and rest. I guess something that all book writers and introverts need from time to time.

So, I was circulating between my studio, the groceries, the park, and the sauna. I barely talked to anyone. I worked a bit — but most probably, not even nearly as much as I should do in my current situation. 

At night, I had many, many dreams. Many friends and family members visited me every night, and I don’t even remember what they were saying. I was just tripping to nice places and talking to many, many people — that’s all I remember. Some would call it a break, I would call it a downtime.

Anyways, I was properly procrastinating by watching a hell lot of Netflix shows, including the most ridiculous series such as “Drink Masters,” “The Big Flower Fight,” “Next in Fashion,” or “Baking Impossible.” 

Basically, all these shows follow the same formula — they are all about the race between passionates crazy about one hobby, including the weirdest hobbies such as creating gigantic constructions from flowers or making cakes that look like any item. And, the participants go to any length to get crowned as the world champ in their craft.

While looking at these people sweating on screen, I was in awe. They were so determined to become the best of the best in their niche, often nonsensical discipline! And then I asked myself: Why aren’t you as determined? Why don’t you sweat so much? Is this because these people are running on adrenaline? Or, are they maniacs of sorts? Or perhaps, they naturally have a higher level of motivation than you? Or perhaps, they have a different, more expressive personality than you — and you work equally hard in fact?

What Motivates Me?

This lack of drive is something shocking to me, as it has never happened to me before in my life. So, I turned to thinking about myself the most important question: what motivates me? 

At the family home, we had quite a weird upbringing. When I was a kid, our mornings were controlled by my mother who constructed a detailed morning routine for my sister and me. From the moment I opened my eyes, I had exactly 22 minutes to brush my teeth, comb my hair, dress up, eat my breakfast, put on my coat, and leave for school. But my evenings were entirely up to me. I used to study a lot, but no one put pressure on me to do so.

Somehow, as a school student, I always had a natural drive to be the best pupil in class. I did not need any encouragement from my parents like many of my friends did. I was using simple heuristics: good grades mean status at school, plus appreciation from teachers and parents, plus a good start into adult life, plus good career perspectives in the distant future. Which equals safety. 

Plus, scoring grades felt a bit like a sport. It was a game where tracking the progress was very simple and straightforward. Why not be a good student then?

Then came the university where I aimed to make the best out of my time in the classes. It was like an open buffet and I was throwing as many courses into my basket as I possibly could. Plus, it was a competitive, interfaculty study program and only the most ambitious students in the country attended that college. It was a prestigious place to be in. Again, I felt that I didn’t need any additional motivation to work my butt off.

Then came graduate school. I found myself in brand new conditions. For the first time in my life, I had an actual boss. I also had peer pressure. I studied in a prestigious institute for brain science, and since the academic system looks like a ladder, it was more than obvious that there was not enough room for all of us to stay around. One had to pedal harder and harder to stay inside the hamster wheel.

But now, I feel a bit like floating in the air. I have no boss to tell me what to do and push and pull me around. After a long journey, I crafted a job for myself that I really love. And I am a minimalist with almost no needs. 

On Fostering Dreams.

I have an impression that most people have more dreams than they can effectively reach given their level of motivation and their work ethic. For instance, they would enjoy a villa with a swimming pool and a new Porsche, but they are not willing to sacrifice their weekends on working extra or starting a side-business. They would rather go to a football match instead. 

And I feel that in my case, it works the other way around. I naturally have a lot of energy and willingness to work, but I don’t have any particular dreams to work for. I already have a job I love, I am healthy, and I have lots of friends and freedom (which were the qualities that were always most important to me). What else would I want that actually depends on me? 

I don’t care about cars and villas, I don’t dream of being famous, and I cannot influence if anyone loves me or not. So, I already achieved everything that is in my circle of influence and that is actually important.

Moreover, after all the travels — and especially after my trip to America — I realized how much I value my peace of mind. In the US, for two months straight I had people around all the time. Workshops, meetups and events, living in a co-living community house, attending Burning Man — people, people, people everywhere.

After coming back, I realized how much I value freedom, silence, and peace of mind. How introverted I am in fact, and how much I adore my life the way it is now. I think I didn’t even understand the concept of self-love and “being happy on your own” till now. People were always telling me that I need to learn to be happy just by myself. But this was damn hard. And now it sort of naturally came to me.

On the one hand, this feeling of homeostasis was blissful and rewarding… But on the other hand, this also made me think: family would mean “goodbye!” to silence. Forever. I also dreamt about opening a career center before, but now, I start doubting if I would mentally manage to pull off such a project. Is my plan still in power? How discouraging… 

And so I found myself in a sort of a limbo. I felt completely out of power and I started asking myself: what next? What are my goals other than further developing my company? At some point I was so unmotivated that I started reading motivational posts at the Instagram account of my own company (posted there by my social media manager) to motivate myself. How ironic.

So I thought to myself: you need to find a second engine or a new driving force. You need to define new goals. 

Looking For The New Goals.

Goal setting is one of the hardest things you can possibly do. And it gives such a sense of failure… When I learned that I had to redefine my goals once again, I felt like back to the school desk. I felt like I was just going through 20 years of a regress. And yet, I had to do it.

The basic question I was struggling with was: how to set my goals in the right way, so they work on my behalf and not against me? For instance, what is your measure of success as a company owner? You don’t really have a comparison with other businesses and there are no titles of awards that would give you gratification and reassurance in your value. 

Therefore, the only objective comparison you can make is comparing your current results with the previous year’s results. But that leads to an obvious problem: with time, you fall into a danger of reducing all your life goals to increasing profits. In the long run, that means you will live a horrible life in which the only measure of your success is money. I need some better goals than that, or otherwise I will grow old as a darn cynic.

And I know that in terms of setting goals, I am not an easy case. Everything is on its head: usually, whatever is hard to other people, is easy to me and vice versa. 

I can somewhat switch off my pain receptors when necessary, focus, and endure a massive amount of pain and effort in some short time frame (such as, in example, hiking Kilimanjaro as a couch potato, going to burning Man without preparation, or taking 20 exams at undergraduate studies within two weeks).

But when it comes to everyday life, I have lots of weaknesses. I can’t do almost anything on a regular basis. Eating, sleeping, exercising — I overthink all of it, and waste way too much time on stupidities. So, whenever I think of high goals, I know that the “simplest” elements of the execution will be, in fact, the most difficult.

A Little Chat With a Friend.

I recently had a chat with a friend who happens to be a truth-teller and who opened my eyes to many things. Namely, she pointed out that I have a house… but I don’t have a home. And that’s two different things.

I realized that I perceive the world in a different way than most people. I thought to myself: I organize my life so that I have a job that I enjoy, and I am independent from location, and then I travel, find a partner and set my home there. 

I value personality, mental strength, and freedom much higher than material assets and I pay attention to potential in people, namely to their talents and motivation. To me, personal freedom and mental strength to be independent from location are assets.

I thought to myself: at first glance, this makes no sense. Most people of my age wake up every day and go to a job that they don’t even like at all, only to earn money and rent out somebody else’s apartments. How would that be a better lifestyle than mine — doing what I love and living in my own house? It makes no sense!

Plus, they often rent more expensive places than they should and surround themselves with lots of items only because they feel empty on the inside. Research studies have actually shown that happy people usually own fewer items than unhappy people!

But at the second glance, my friend is so right… If you are looking for a partner, you need to take into account that most people look at the face value. They are risk aversive and prefer to stick to one place. For them, your home you create is an extension of you. They don’t want to take guesses — they cannot even imagine living with someone before they get a display of how it would look in practice. 

And they don’t really care about your future potential or mental strength. They want to see how functional you are here and now how you can create and arrange your own space. There is no “later.” If you have no home right now, it means that you are homeless. And that means: meh!

Looking For Home.

And so I started deliberating: shall I bind my goals to certain geographical locations, or to me as a person? I was always of the opinion that the best goals are related to self-development: skills, professional activities, relations, health. Building a character is like investing in the ghost, while getting material assets is like investing in the shell.

I always thought that it would make perfect sense to first find a profession that I would love, then find a partner and in the end, build a home. But now it seems that I need to find home for the ghost first. 

Choosing home works different from choosing a professional career. While in professional life, you can juggle multiple projects, hustle on a side, and collaborate with multiple parties at a home, in terms of choosing home, you can only be in one place at a time. Sure you can go for a vacation a few times a year, or travel for work, but still, there is only one home.

Why Am I Not a Digital Nomad?

Many friends bomb me with this question. They ask me, “Hey Natalia, you have an online business, right? Technically, you could do what you do from everywhere? How cool is that! Why don’t you travel the world?”

Well, the fashion for traveling the world and working remotely broke out a few years ago, after Timothy Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Work Week” became an international bestseller. Millions of young people got hooked by the idea of never-ending party around the world. But there are a few “buts.” 

Firstly, to be able to carry out a 4-hour workweek, you need to be the same efficient as others who work 40 hours per week, and this is not for everyone. Delegating your work is possible but hoping that it will completely eliminate your necessity to work is bullshit. Whatever you do, you will still need to talk to your people, check their work, plan, and answer all the questions on a daily basis.

Secondly, and more importantly, digital nomads typically develop a sense of void and fall into a burnout within two years of starting their travel. As humans, we are mentally built in a way that having our own place in the world where we feel safe and stable is one of our most basic and important needs. A “home” or a “shelter” and “safety” is literally one of the fundaments of the Maslow’s pyramid of needs. If you don’t believe it, just watch some tutorials for digital nomads – avoiding burnout is the main focus.

Lastly, you never really develop long-lasting bonds. You make lots of single-use and short-term friends, but that’s it. Like digital nomads like to say, “People who know who you are, don’t know where you are. People who know where you are, don’t know who you are.

I feel like if I played it out well, living as a digital nomad might be colorful, cheap, and exciting. But on the other hand, my mind would always be on the “survival mode.” Where to go next? How to get to the next location? Where to get food today? Is this a fair price for what I am buying? Is this stranger a good person to be around, or can he hurt me? I would need to sue most of my creative energy of solving such dilemmas instead of creating content. Thank you, it’s not for me at this stage of my life.

Why Don’t I Have Home Just Yet?

When I think about why I still don’t have a feeling of being at home at the age of 36, I can think of one logic reason behind it. Namely, when I look into the past, I can see one pattern behind my choices of places to live. Namely, I was always following my education opportunities first.

I chose to study in a distant city of Warsaw despite the much more beautiful Kraków was much closer. Why? Because University of Warsaw wins the ranks for the best Polish University every year. Then I went to Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Why? Because of the Donders Institute, the most prestigious place to study neuroscience in the Netherlands. There were not too many options for self-development aside form the uni, but I didn’t care at that point. Not the mentality of the locals, not the climate, not the food, and not the living conditions but my education was my priority.

And now, the first time, I am asking myself: where would it be the most comfortable for you to live your life? I will give myself the whole year of 2023 to figure that out. What are my options though? I see at least five of them, and none of them seems perfect at this point:

1. Amsterdam.

A lovely city in a country that I know so well already. I have a good understanding of the local system and customs, plus I know the local language, at least a little bit. Amsterdam is compact, international, vibrant, and meeting new people here is way easier than almost anywhere in Europe. Plus, Amsterdam hosts lots and lots of entrepreneurs in a small area.

2. Warsaw.

A vibrant and not-that-lovely city where I spent 7 years of my life as an undergrad student. Although in general, I am not a fan of stepping twice into the same river, I could still consider living in Warsaw full time. 

The city is becoming increasingly entrepreneurial, the living standards have gone up very high compared to what it used to be 10 or 15 years ago, while the taxes are still much lower than in Western Europe. I still have lots of contacts there, I have citizenship and I am a Polish native speaker. 2 million inhabitants, twice as many as in Amsterdam — and property prices are still two times lower. Perfect conditions for developing a business.

3. San Francisco / Bay Area.

A cradle of entrepreneurship worldwide, and about 4 million in total population. Still the world center of innovation; the best among the best try their luck in there. On the tricky side of things, it is extremely expensive to live there — it’s one of the most expensive areas of the world after all. Plus, I get this feeling of summertime sadness whenever I am in California. And since the summer lasts forever in this place, I am sad the whole bloody time.

4. Berlin.

The European capital of entrepreneurship and about 3.5 million inhabitants in just one city. I heard legends about the city and business culture there, as well as about the open attitude toward foreigners. Many people move from the Netherlands to Germany only because the culture is so different and so more welcoming there. But of course, since I have never lived there for more than a week, I need to test the assumption that it might be a good place to live and to “create home.”

5. Bali. 

The Indonesian capital of tourism which also happens to be a media for digital nomads, influencers, and freelancers of all kinds. A crowd of entrepreneurs living in heaven where living costs are marginal? Why not! It might be hard to stay there for longer periods of time because of the complicated visa system but why not go and check it out?

So, my main goal for 2023 is to travel, check out how it is to live in Berlin and at Bali, and take a final decision with respect to where I am going to set my life base in the future.

Other Resolutions For 2023.

Well, that’s not the end of the New Year’s Resolutions… There are some other things I am planning to do just for myself. Firstly, I need to work more on my spirituality. I don’t spend almost any time on this era of my life. I never find time for talking to god or gods — while I should! I feel sort of protected, and I am never grateful enough for it.

Secondly, I need to exercise more regularly. Somehow, keeping a healthy diet is not a problem to me… but keeping fit is. I need to finally find myself a system to effectively push myself to exercise. 

Lastly, I promised myself to dance more often, even if that would mean dancing around the room. Dancing gives so many endorphins that it’s the best remedy for every problem. That would be it. That’s how my experiences changed me this year. 

Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2022, July 27th). House Is Not Home: How My Travels Influenced My Thoughts about Life. Retrieved from https://nataliabielczyk.com/house-is-not-home-how-my-travels-influenced-my-thoughts-about-life

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If you would like to read more about careers (for PhDs and other white-collar professionals) and effective strategies to self-navigate in the job market, please also take a look at the blog of my company, Ontology of Value where I write posts dedicated to these topics.

Read More On My Past Travels and The Conclusions 🙂

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