To explore the unknown: That was the goal that led me to India at age 17, and to backpack through Europe for an eventual grand total of over two years. Dynamic friendships, exotic languages, constantly new experiences — I was hooked.
But, what was perhaps more striking than the cultural differences, was one similarity. Everywhere I went, I found people facing the same human struggles and desires: The need for basic necessities for themselves and their families, the need for a vocation that gives a sense of meaning, and the need to serve something greater than themselves.
From India to Finland, people strive to meet these needs, and no matter the country, obstacles stand in their way. Poverty, political corruption, an abusive family, a caste system, social and economic injustice of all kinds. The obstacles vary by country, but they are always present, and human beings are always running up against them.
What I found the difference after meeting thousands of people, from hundreds of countries, each with their own set of obstacles, was not how many needs they could meet, or the severity of the adversity that stood in their path, but instead their attitude toward the adversity they faced.
There were those who viewed what stood in their way as a misfortune; an affliction. Then, there were those rare few that viewed them, quite simply, as fuel. Kindling that would light the fire of a better version of themselves. I encountered people all over the world who grew stronger with each obstacle they faced and saw every kind of adversity in their life as a challenge, a calling, a sacred rite.
What I saw was that the universal human needs that unite us are greater than the cultural differences that separate us. And, that satisfaction means realizing that the only thing we can truly control in our lives is how we view the adversity that stands in our way.
Now, whenever I encounter obstacles in my life, big or small, I repeat a single mantra I learned from my time abroad.
Say it with me: This is fuel.