Being battered about

I’ve been at an emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, moral, professional, and social low point for weeks. I’ve failed to really help myself during this period, partly because I didn’t feel a need to. This is unfamiliar territory, as I’ve never been challenged on so many fronts at the same time that I feel ungrounded in knowledge and identity and confidence—I’m completely “fightless”. I don’t intend to stay this way, but I think it’s important to document my state of mind for future reference. The concerns and questions and doubts I have right now may or may not be relevant after I’m through with this rough period.


  • I feel restricted and insecure about planning anything due to my unpredictable schedule. I feel like I might as well not do anything.
  • I barely enjoy talking with friends in this mood.
  • I’m unhappy, but I don’t want anyone’s attention or to receive pity. I’d rather just suffer and be irritable alone.
  • Receiving emotional support or validation seems pointless, because I cannot explain what is wrong. I barely even know what’s wrong because my concerns are so multi-faceted.
  • I’m perpetually trying to distract myself from thought or responsibility.
  • Injuries aside, I feel physically uncomfortable all the time.
  • My hobbies are as unreliable as ever, and I’m not motivated to pursue any projects even though I have the time.
  • I can barely act in my own interests. My daily routine has obviously fallen by the wayside.


I have just a few fragments about what might be going on.

  • It is said that you should rely on discipline and not motivation. Although I’ve been experimenting with that idea, I don’t think it’s applicable right now. Taking care of myself might not be enough to lift this mood.
  • In terms of practicing healthy selfishness, I realize that I have somewhat failed all along. It’s not enough to simply cater to your own preferences in a given situation. Selfishness needs to come from the heart. It should be “I’ll choose this and I deserve it”, not the feeble “I guess I’d rather…”
  • I came across a pretensive blog stating that positive thought always precedes positive action. I know that this isn’t true, because I realize I’ve been hurting myself even when taking supposedly positive action. I need to be doing things for the right reasons and with the right attitude.
  • I’ve been penpaling for three years, but I stopped this year in order to prioritize real-life interactions. I could be experiencing some sort of withdrawal symptoms, as it seems that writing to a compatible penpal makes me feel more confident and secure in myself.
  • Some things I seek from friends include basic attention, social advice, discussions of ideas, emotional validation, cultural exchange, an interested audience for expressive works, and a safe place to cry/vent. Some of these things that I want are not accessible from my current support network, and it’s beginning to bother me.
  • Emotional validation seems extremely difficult to come by, and I often settle for being laughed at in a benign way. If I’m unlucky, I receive pity and it greatly annoys me. Anyhow, it begs the question: if I can’t receive reliable external validation, should I be using self-validation somehow? If that’s possible, what incentive would remain for sharing vulnerability with friends?
  • In terms of having someone to vent to and someone to be a willing audience to my works and projects, I can only put on my rose-tinted glasses and say that these are a work in progress. Although it’s not too hard to come by online correspondences that are willing to listen, I strongly feel that it would be far better for such interactions to be in person.
  • “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” I came across this quote misattributed to Virginia Woolf. I’m completely guilty of avoiding life in the past few weeks. This thought led to me reading about avoidant personality disorder, and although I don’t think I have it, I do recognize these symptoms:
    • Views self as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
    • Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked
    • Is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations
    • Is unusually reluctant to take personal risk or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing
  • I’ve been sorting through a lot of my old stuff, especially from my high school days. I can see that I’ve always been trying to reinvent myself even since before my teenage years. Strangely enough, I’ve been having a lot of good dreams of acceptance and friendship in the context of my high school life.
  • I learned a new term: arrival fallacy. It’s defined as “The false belief that reaching a valued destination can sustain happiness”, such as the belief that you’ll be happy if you just achieve your desired goal like losing ten pounds or getting promoted. I’ve been heavily gamifying my hobbies and self-development interests, and after achieving two significant goals I felt really down and purposeless the following week. I have a long list of things I wish to do, but when I pressure myself to move onto the next goal right after achieving one there is a sense of discontentment and inadequacy. My projects are all tainted with the underlying idea/motivation that I need to become a more cultured, well-rounded person, and that my social desirability depends on it. It’s a terrible burden, really. I need to learn to enjoy the journey and be comfortable with who/what I am right now.
  • I need to stop comparing myself to others.
  • Breakthrough: when people say “be yourself”, what they really mean is don’t try to be someone else. (I don’t think there is such a thing as “being yourself” in the first place.)
  • I’ve been confused about the concept of pride for a while, including what a healthy sense of pride should be based on and why people can be proud of things they didn’t actually have to achieve. I’ve even been questioning why we should be proud of things we worked hard for. There are multiple reasons why I’ve been so conflicted about pride. I haven’t learned much about pride yet and its relation to self-esteem, and I felt especially insecure about my personal values when I was recently exposed to the idea that competence (and even factual accuracy) is neither good nor bad, morally speaking. While there is much left to clarify, I finally took the step to do some basic digging on the topic of pride. All this time I had been acting helpless while partial answers were a Google search away.

I feel a lot better having just expressed my thoughts, even though many questions remain. I’m finally done punishing myself and am ready to get back up.



When traveling, I start to realize that everyone’s struggles are not so different after all. Maybe I’m normal. Maybe I can fit in somewhere one day. But at home, I see that I’ll never be like other people. I’ll never be accepted for my true self. The only way is to isolate myself and carve out not only my own path, but also my own tools. So which is it?

It’s the differences, of which there are none, that make the sameness… exceptional! [desperately] Just tell me what to think! [hyperventilates and faints]

Self-reflection; a cause for experiment

“I care about you but I don’t give a shit what you think about me.”

The past week has been an emotional whirlwind. I guess out of naivety more than anything, I ended up testing the idea of being yourself, allowing your vulnerabilities to be seen by others and owning it. Although I learned a lot in the aftermath of being judged online and trying to decipher constructive criticism from veiled superiority, it was definitely not an experience I would like to repeat. I’m able to dismiss abuse and horrible labels, but the cases where semi-intelligible criticisms turn out to primarily serve the ego of the advice giver, these do kind of get to me because it takes being open to vulnerability to sincerely evaluate these messages, only to discover inauthenticity in a more refined state.

Although this poor experience, especially in an online environment, does not represent what may happen in real life interactions, I don’t think further testing is necessary. INTPs are born by nature to be disliked by the greater good, and that is separate from whether we should choose to serve it. It’s down to the way we think, no matter how normal we can learn to act on the outside. It cannot be inauthentic to distance yourself from people in general if that is required to maintain your own well-being. This is a lesson that has taken me a year to figure out for myself. It will take a while yet to become more comfortable with it too.

In Europe, I re-discovered a huge part of myself that has not seen light of day since I was a small kid. It felt like I opened Pandora’s box; if there was an INTP version then Pandora’s box probably contains emotions and feelings. This is not the first time I’ve opened such a box, but boy, I certainly didn’t expect to find a second. In fact, it kind of ruined many of my plans. I half-expected everything I learned in Europe to stay put, but that didn’t happen. On returning home it was a collision of two worlds—mostly peaceful—but I still have to figure out how to sort this mess and clear out what end up classifying as garbage.

A key difference between traveling and normal life is that when traveling you’ll meet and interact with people that you’ll never see again. In a way, the consequences of how you treat these people are irrelevant to you because they’re externalized, whereas at home it’s a small world and your actions may come to affect you and others with observable long-term effects. The idea that you can do whatever you want in another country with people you’ll never see again, that actually makes me feel more safe about expressing kindness, whether or not it is appreciated. Not being around to see the repercussions is good, because I don’t grow attached (and I don’t have the ability to care).

Unfortunately, arriving home, realizing and coming to terms with the fact that I still have friends from the trip—people who I have grown to care about—is rough. When people get to know a certain part of me, I care too much. I’m too emotionally sensitive. And this contrasts greatly with my logical side, which craves a bit more sanity in everyday life. It’s hard for me to maintain a healthy middle ground, and while switching between the two is possible, it’s still chaotic.

Friends are resources that you invest in for long-term benefits. That’s how most people seem to behave, and I should do well to learn that. The whole feelings and attachment thing is counterproductive and just gets in the way. No one feels the same way I do, and no one appreciates it, not even me. It’s a lose-lose thing.

I’ve learned a lot about this week about my state of progress. This new sense of emotional awareness is dangerous. The effort I’ve put into developing my emotional maturity has made a difference, but all the same the things I have to deal with now have escalated beyond my current capabilities. Human interaction affects my mood. My mood affects my emotions and feelings. Strong feelings get overwhelming and distract me from things that matter more. If I can’t process all these feelings, the logical solution is to limit the source, which really comes down to human interaction.

I need to be more selfish. I need to stop caring so much. I need to realize that what people think of me, especially my friends, is irrelevant. People and friends are just resources, nothing more and nothing less. It is extremely difficult for me to adopt such a mantra, and yet I feel like it’s the healthy thing to do.

I care about you but I don’t give a shit what you think about me.

But to really test my theory, over the next week, I will: not initiate contact with friends, abstain from using empathy around people, stop feeling the need to explain myself, and avoid making new acquaintances. The outcome of the experiment does not even matter so much as the distance I’m trying to create and the audacity of continuing to take risks for the benefit of learning, even if it only makes sense to myself.


What is the purpose of travel?

“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation.”
— Elizabeth Drew

Having been overseas for over two months, I’ve occasionally wondered what the purpose of travel is for other people and for myself. Other personal questions include:

  • How much of the non-material things that I’ve gained here will I actually be able to take home?
  • Are these experiences with people real (and repeatable) or are people only nice because I’m a visitor? (Or both?)
  • Is all of this personal development I’m experiencing going to the right box, or will that box be put away when I go home and everything reset to normal? How bad will the mood crash be once I get home?

Aside: how INTPs feel about travel

It’s kind of funny especially relating to that last point: in an informal survey of INTPs, I found that many of us don’t like to talk about our travel experiences with family, friends, and colleagues. Some of us will pretend like our trip never happened. We only want to talk about it in a high quality conversation and to say exactly what we want to say. This usually requires a friend who’s trusted for that purpose. People who ask about the trip but don’t have to the right or capacity to receive our full enthusiastic answer will often just get a minimal response like “It was fun.” Something that can be annoying is when someone feels they have the privilege to hear your full answer and when they don’t get it they keep asking the wrong questions. We like relevant deepening questions the most. Broadening questions can surprise us but are not unwelcome. Irrelevant and presumptuous deepening questions that are about how the listener wants or expects to think are bad. (INTPs are often highly misunderstood by women, especially the kind of women who think they understand us despite virtually every past experience contributing to evidence of the contrary. Another thing that’s kind of funny. I talk slow when I’m recalling things and I want to pick the right words to describe something. When it comes to abstract ideas, people who habitually try to guess how I’ll complete my sentence almost never guess the right way.) It can very quickly send us to the conclusion “Okay, this conversation is pointless. Minimal answers from now on, end as soon as possible.”

In short, we often prefer to solicit the right listener, and preferably a listener who is actually good at listening. I should point out that being a good listener is a relative thing; you can be a good listener to most people yet fail spectacularly when it comes to INTPs, for example.

All of the above coupled with never finding the right words in a conversation is why I’ve gravitated to writing as the most faithful form of expression. (As a minor benefit, why explain something poorly multiple times in online correspondences when I could just refer to a blog post with my exact thoughts?)

Why do other people travel?

This was my first completely independent solo trip, so it made sense for me to consult on other people’s thoughts. Here are some of the answers to “What is the purpose of travel?”

The simplest reasons

  • For business/employment purposes
  • For medical tourism
  • For religious purposes
  • For shopping
  • For study or conference purposes
  • For training purposes
  • To attend a specific event (e.g., concert or marathon)
  • To challenge oneself and expand one’s comfort zone
  • To escape stress and other burdens
  • To find or experience adventure
  • To learn about culture
  • To learn more about yourself, others, and the world
  • To meet new people and make new friends
  • To not be bored
  • To party
  • To see the nature/beauty of the world
  • To take a break from routine
  • To visit family/friends/other

More involved answers and indirect answers referring to benefits

To share experiences with people you’ll never see again

I think exploring that common humanity is nice, but it doesn’t really sound like a reason.

To tick items off a list so you can brag about it or in response to a fear of missing out

People can do what they wanna do, even if that means visiting Belgrade for one day just to “see how un-European it is.” Despite my inexperience and tragic lack of knowledge about geography/history, I’ve realized that I’m not the least aware traveler when it comes to cultural appreciation.

I’ve certainly experienced the fear of missing out and it has influenced some of my decisions. I’m slowly learning to let it go, because I think it’s not a constructive feeling and it stems from emotional insecurity rather than rational considerations. If you’re comfortable with who you are and what you’re doing, and you choose to be genuine in the moment, there’s no good reason to be anxious about the (often false) perceived consensus of what everyone else thinks is universally worthwhile.

Travel gives us the chance to be truly engaged in an activity, to develop new skills and to discover new cultures. It brings us closer to ourselves and others.

I agree with this; in my own words I’d say:
You get to enjoy things you usually wouldn’t, sometimes because you don’t have a better choice but to enjoy it since you’re already there.

That said, it seems hard to pin this down as a specific reason for traveling, especially if you often have no idea what you might come across once you get to your destination.

To explore the unknown, and to just go with the flow

I suppose this is something you can “plan”, in a manner of speaking.

Learn to take care of yourself

I definitely see this as a side effect of traveling; by learning about culture, food, language, people, art, economy, etc, we inevitably pick up some new ideas on how to live our own lives. Learn from people who do it better than you. I’m a hypocrite for saying this (and not in the sense of the usual negative connotation), but I think this is usually a side effect rather than a primary intention.

Traveling is an art.

Okay, I think that explains. All artists are crazy (the question is just to what degree and in what way) so we travel because we’re crazy enough to.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do….” — Mark Twain

Travel is not a reward for working, it’s an education for living.

Multiple people mention that quote from Mark Twain. The full quote does seem to be referring to travel specifically. Except Mark Twain never actually wrote this, and it’s also a stupid quote so I don’t think he’d be happy to have it wrongly attributed to him. Referring to this quote really does not support a specific reason and it’s not like anyone will respond like “I’m so convinced about going traveling now; I don’t want to feel that disappointment in twenty years,” unless they already had other motivations.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” — William Shakespeare, Pablo Picasso, and whoever else you want to misattribute it to.

The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
The work of life is to develop it.
The meaning of life is to give your gift away.

—David Viscott

The first one is another meaningless quote. The second one which might be considered the original statement makes a bit more sense. I suppose that by traveling and exploring the unknown, one might come to stumble upon some clues as to what they want to do with their lives.

Would you regret NOT traveling the world?

I’m pretty sure many INTPs including myself would answer no. However, I might regret not finding a place where I feel like I belong, but I don’t have to travel the world to find it.

Maybe travel can help you find the purpose that you’re lacking in the first place.

May be.

Other general comments and discussion

Travel broadens the mind.

Travel helps you learn about yourself and increase your resilience.

Although there are many unpredictable aspects of travel, I think we encourage other people to travel for the first time because we know, at a certain level, that it can very much be an eye-opening, life-changing experience. It’s not necessarily that for everyone, but overall it is not unlikely to be the beginning of a journey of many things. The part where we’re forced to adapt and grow and be challenged and surprised and reconsider—one might argue that that is in fact foreseeable on an intuitive level, just not a logical one. The only practical advice, then, is “Do it!”

A personal example is the number of times I’ve told myself: I’m done with churches. There is nothing that can possibly impress me anymore. Oh, how I’ve been made a believer. I guess that’s the thing. You don’t know what might really fascinate you in the moment. In rational terms, our understanding of other places and cultures is so so limited that there’s almost bound to be something we’ve never seen, never thought about, never experienced before that will leave us a strong impression. There are precious opportunities for our preconceptions to be proven wrong if we allow it.

It opens up your possibilities and your horizons and the kinds of conversations you can have, the kinds of experiences you can have.

My goodness, I’ve had so many new normal experiences that I’ve never experienced at home. The conditions aren’t favorable where I live and it’s hard to do something when you don’t know how to and you don’t know it’s even possible. For one thing, people over here actually think I’m an interesting person and a worthwhile friend, whereas life has always told me the opposite must be true. I’m able to form genuine connections here, and what this means is that the same should be possible at home. There must be some people I can connect with like this. Maybe it’ll require a different approach to find these people, but I’m inspired to keep trying despite the odds.

I want to visit every country in the world.

This kinda makes me cringe because I can’t understand it. I’ve met someone who has visited over 100 countries. He didn’t seem particularly different to someone who’s visited 40 or even “just” 10 countries. I get that trying different things is a path of learning. I get that surrounding yourself by the unknown is a unique experience. But if there’s really any objective goal aside from being able to say you’ve been to every country, I feel that this approach necessarily sacrifices depth for the sake of breadth. Although INTPs usually have our fingers in a lot of pies, we definitely value quality over quantity. For me, I would rather explore “just enough” to figure out some favorite places to visit, then mostly revisit around those places. (That said, tastes change with the seasons of life, as do people and places.) One could think of it in terms of the diminishing returns on visiting new countries when you already have some favorites that are very suitable for further enjoyment. One thing I’m starting to realize about myself:

Life is too short to be objective.

Actually, I have no idea what this means. The words just popped out.

Travel provides context apart from me.

This context can include, for example, awareness of and compassion for others. I’m not one of those people that can naturally sympathize like that. I care about people on a personal basis, but I cannot feel the pain of a whole nation. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. I think it’s irrational and non-beneficial. If I were a philanthropist, I’d rather be one who pretends not to care.

Travel as an escape does not make up for having a soul-destroying job or other unsatisfactory life conditions. You can’t escape reality by traveling.

Actually, I traveled in order to escape my studies (which I no longer consider to be important) and search for reality away from the corruption of my past. Anyhow, I don’t really know, but I feel like some people cope really well with difficult jobs and then have really good holidays too. I’m too lazy to persist in doing something I don’t enjoy, even though I’ve basically been persisting like that with education for most of my young adult life. The key difference is that I didn’t realize what was going on.

That said, I feel that there are definitely some jobs that you can’t recover from through travel (or anything else). I mean, can you really enjoy money and travel after you’ve sold your soul?

It’s about the adventure of exploring the unknown, and going with the flow of the unplanned.

Adventure for the sake of adventure. So not me. I like experiments for the sake of learning, but adventure is another thing. This kind of reminds me of what is said about BJJ: To train in BJJ is to continually drown—or, rather, to be drowned, in sudden and ingenious ways—and to be taught, again and again, how to swim. Maybe those adrenaline junkies should try it.

Travel should always have a purpose.

I agree; I think you’ll get less out of something if you don’t at least have some idea of what you want. Locals say this a lot too: “depends on what you’re looking for.”

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. — Lewis Carroll

Mom: Was your trip fun?
Traveler: I learned a lot.


The purpose of my trip

As cheesy as it may sound, the purpose of my trip was to find, learn more about, and develop the real me. I had specific ideas for how I was to go about doing that, though a lot of it went differently to how I expected.

The reason for traveling, as opposed to just taking time off at home, was to distance myself from everyone in my life and all that might have reminded me of my past. Traveling solo is good for not caring what other people think about you. I chose my destinations (originally only Romania and Hungary) in order to not spend too much more than I would usually at home. (There were other contenders of course, but in the wrong season.) It was never really about traveling so much as travel being a good way to experience a fresh, unfamiliar environment and expand my comfort zone and gain a better understanding of myself through the trials to come. The opportunity to practice interacting with people without lasting repercussions on failing was another perceived benefit.

I have to say that I miscalculated on the ideal length of this trip. One month less would have been perfect as there were clear diminishing returns. No matter how much freedom I have, I still need an actual haven in the end. About halfway through, I’d absorbed all that I needed and more. I was tired. I was inspired enough. What I needed was a private space to play; to create and internalize some of the things I learned and make them my own.

As much as I really started getting into this travel thing, my instincts assert that I’m not a traveler or explorer. I simply happened to need travel at the time.

Quotes I like

People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.

I really hope these are true.

Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.

Basically the right idea.

If an ass goes traveling he will not return a horse.

I like it 😛

(If you’re confused, this is supposedly a proverb, not a travel quote.)

My final answer

I never intended to submit my own answer since my trip initially had clear objectives. However, I started asking the question because I was drawn to the experiences that travel brings in a way that distracted me from my goals. I couldn’t explain why I had to try things that I didn’t need to or even want to. I wanted justification or assurance that I wasn’t wasting my time chasing after the fleeting. For better or worse, I went along with it mostly. When one of your secondary goals is to have the bravery to make mistakes, you’re bound to achieve either way ;). Besides, this is hopefully not going to be my last trip. I’m very slow at processing the general picture and it’s completely fine if I overlooked some things. It’ll come one day.

So, for my “answer.” Actually, it’s part of the indirect / non-answer category, but I’d like to share it anyway.

Travel is an investment in one’s personal growth and development.

Although my trip has not officially ended, I’m inclined to summarize my overall experience as follows:

I never wanted to be this happy, but soon I won’t have to be. (º̩̩́⌣º̩̩̀ʃƪ)


My only regret in Romania

I regret not having taken advantage of people more.

INTPs are pretty good at accepting the truth. We’re the type that is least prone to bias, but we’re certainly not immune when it comes to things like emotional trauma, which can damage our sensitive ’emotionalogical’ circuits. Anyhow, regret is one of those emotions we see as logically pointless and a waste of energy. To indulge in regret would mean that accepting the truth of the past is difficult, which it is not. Accept the things you cannot change, and focus on the things you can change. (However, one common INTP bias is to assume we can’t change something all too easily, usually something that requires social interaction.) You can reinvent the past, but you can’t change it.

With that gnarly introduction out of the way, I’ll talk about the only thing that I “bothered to regret about” in Romania.

I regret not having taken advantage of people[‘s kindness] more.

For anyone who’s known me for an extended period of time, this is not at all a controversial statement. On the contrary, it’s somewhat evident that I would be a better person if I was better at taking advantage of people. I’ll clarify for good measure, since INTPs can operate by pretty weird definitions (relative to everyone else) when it comes to standards of behavior (such as honesty).

To me, taking advantage of a person(s) means willfully taking and receiving what excess they were already willing to give, in a manner that results in a positive outcome for both parties.

Like I said, probably not the definition you expected. Why is it so conservative? Despite being prone to breaking rules, INTPs have a strong sense of moral principles. Mix that in with social awkwardness, a lifelong attraction to autonomy and independence, sometimes crippling beliefs about whether one in fact deserves good things, and an uncanny respect for other people’s right to be left alone. And that’s why you have such a strange definition. I mean, normal people would probably call that kind of behavior something else, not taking advantage, but I struggle to identify what it might be.

Life gets better for an INTP once they realize they deserve what they get and what they take. The INTP population is split in terms of this metric. I hypothesize the main predictors as being age and presence of childhood emotional trauma/repression. A large proportion of us (possibly even a majority) suffered from childhood trauma in some form. We’re at greater risk than other types because of how specific our needs are and how different it is from the norm.

Childhood trauma is obviously a barrier to healthy adult development, and it seems to be a rather polarizing barrier that is difficult to cross. Personally, I believe that I am now aware of the appropriate tools to overcome the limitations brought on by my own past. It has been two years since I first became self-aware, and although I made great leaps and bounds initially, it wasn’t until I reached another all-time low in February this year that I realized my methodologies were far too shallow and that I had to deconstruct myself once again to move away from the plateau.

In particular, the mindset that I needed to “fix myself, crawl out of the abyss, and become a normal, healthy adult” was harmful and unsustainable. Although it might not be so far from the essence of what I want to achieve, as a human being I cannot (successfully) navigate through emotional truth in such a precise manner. I’m a human, not a computer. I need principles, strategies, the use of the senses, feedback, reassurance, and light to guide me. But I digress, so I’ll try to wrap up my point quickly. Lasting positive change must come from a place of self-acceptance. (The media and commercials don’t want you to know that, because it’s not a message that sells; in fact, it scares us because it involves confronting our uncomfortable feelings rather than ‘powering through so quickly we don’t have to think about it.’) This leads to one of my favorite quotes, which is the mantra of Sierra Boggess (my favorite Christine Daaé by the way):

“You are enough! You are so enough, it’s unbelievable how enough you are!”

The incident I regret the most was the second time I consciously distanced myself from friendly locals because I didn’t want to burden them. I was afraid that they would invite me a second time, and ashamed to admit how much I would have wanted that. I was afraid that they wouldn’t invite me. I left in a hurry so that I wouldn’t put them in the position to have that decision over something I felt vulnerable about.

It was stupid, but understandable given my flawed upbringing. Expressing my true desires has always been a shame trigger for me, because I grew up under the idea that my wants and needs were mostly a source of trouble. This misconception was something I could not change as a child, so I accepted that “reality” and silenced my needs.

I should have loitered around. I should have expressed further interest, asserted my presence, and given myself a chance to be invited. Because of that cowardly decision, I never ended up discovering the limits of Romanian kindness, which had been one of my specific missions. (And I never got another chance to speak with the first girl to ever strike me as ‘angelic’ in appearance.)

While it still takes courage for me to accept kindness from others, I did eventually realize that I wasn’t the only one to gain from obliging. To be able to give freely is a privilege that I envy. But people received the benefit of my presence too, and if only for a few passing moments, I felt that it was real.

Overconfidence nearly killed the cat

Note: this post is even more INTP-specific than usual.

Building self-belief and self-confidence was always going to be a focus during my trip, but I never thought the cup would fill so quickly. In fact, I was overconfident on several occasions in Romania, often resulting in suboptimal outcomes. It’s a rare kind of mistake for me to be making, as I usually just overanalyze and worry too much instead. Making mistakes is a good thing for my trip, because I never really had the space to make these kinds of mistakes at home. One of my favorite quotes:

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

One thing that overprotective parents fail to realize is that children need to own their mistakes in order to learn from them. Wisdom is often useless without the personal experience to back it up. Of course there are times when we should trust in knowledge from the wise, but for the smaller things we need to discover a lot of it for ourselves. If we always play by convention, we’ll never know or recognize our own limits. Good judgment does not originate from knowledge of wisdom, at least not in a modern Western culture.

But I want to talk about one particular instance of overconfidence where I made a poor decision and was lucky the consequences were not severe. When I was in Brasov, I had the direct opportunity to confront my moderate fear of heights. I’m not sure it’s accurate to say I’m afraid of heights; it’s probably closer to say that heights make me feel uneasy. Anyhow, I decided to take the challenge at Parc Aventura. It’s hard to describe the activity to someone who’s never done it, but basically it’s an obstacle course suspended in the trees. It requires balance and either stamina or strength, as you gain altitude by traversing increasingly challenging obstacles such as climbing unstable platforms and walking across ropes. The ‘reward’ for your climb is to go down zip-lines and Tarzan jumps and that kind of thing. (If this is all too vague then just look at the photo gallery on the Parc Aventura Brasov website.)

The most difficult routes are Red and Black, which are described as being for amateur athletes and semi-professional athletes respectively. I was well aware of my probable limits despite seeing this particular course for the first time, because I had done a similar course in high school (from which I had shied away from the giant Tarzan jump) and had been thinking about training a little before reattempting it. The limiting factor would be my lack of upper body strength, and it meant I most likely could not complete the Black route.

The waiting time and preparation when entering the park was actually somewhat frustrating, but anyway I asked the safety instructor how long a Red route would take. He said he didn’t know and that it depended on how fast you went, so I asked whether it could possibly take an hour. He scoffed and said 20 minutes max. For safety reasons, you have to do an easier course before attempting one of the two Red courses. The thing is, I didn’t even find these “kid’s courses” that easy, and one of the rope climbing exercises took all my energy. I also got stuck in the middle of a Tarzan jump because I had incorrectly prepped one end of the rope, but luckily that was at an easier difficulty and a guy with a ladder came to reset my rope.

So there I was, one hour in, pretty darn tired and having only done the hardest “easy” course. What’s more, the Red course looked a lot harder (and higher) than the Blue course. Like, the first few obstacles in sight were already super intimidating. I’ll admit it—what compelled me to start that Red course was that a younger girl had just began it. If she can make it so can I, I thought. I would also be able to see how she approached the obstacles. We both went slowly. Two really good things about this Park’s setup is that the layout is compact, meaning you don’t feel too isolated even if no one else is doing your course. Also, each route has multiple ‘checkpoints’ that offer an exit option. So if you want to quit, you just need to make it to the checkpoint for that segment of the route and then you can zip-line down to the ground.

The girl in front made it to the first checkpoint and then she disappeared soon after; she took the exit. When I made there too, I had a difficult choice to make. I took a really long time to decide whether to continue or bail out. I couldn’t clearly see what the next few obstacles were, but it was clearly going to get even harder. One mother caught me scoping out the escape option, and she said “You have to go that way.” That angered me as I was choosing between safety and danger, not confused about how to choose the latter. It settled my inevitable decision much faster. The thing is, I knew I could probably complete the next section. I just didn’t know how much it would cost my body. I went through it, very slowly and steadily. At times calming myself and offering words of support. I had no one to rely on except myself. When you’re higher than 10m up and any misstep could cost you, the concept of height kind of becomes irrelevant. Falling simply wasn’t an option, and all the attention and focus made me instinctively unconcerned about the discomfort of being suspended high up. Trust in physics. Trust in the design of the course that this skateboard won’t topple over. Trust in my ability to adjust to imbalance. Stepping over and under some suspended rungs, I finally reached the second checkpoint.

My hands were seriously tensed up and it was painful to relax. I knew that what was ahead was almost certainly the last section of this Red route. I knew that I could make it, but that it would take everything I had left. I would have to rely on adrenaline to get me through. I knew that there was a risk of cramp if I tried to hold an uncomfortable stance, and if another obstacle required upper body strength I would have a very limited window of stamina to complete it.

I went ahead with it. The thing about this course is that you can front-load all your bravery and then you basically have no choice but to follow through. The final obstacle before gliding down was stepping your feet through and balancing on dangling rings. The primary reason it was awkward as hell was because the way you mounted your two safety harnesses to the hand rope dictated that you had to make your next step from the left no matter which foot you were already balancing on. I nearly lost it at the penultimate step; just didn’t have enough stamina left to balance myself. I traded rope burn for my life throughout that obstacle. Your safety harness will prevent you from falling to death, but it might not prevent you from serious injury from losing your grip and not having the strength to recover and re-position. There’s also not much the staff can do to help you even if they can reach you at the higher stages. Basically, you still need to have the strength to pull yourself through. I made it and just barely, assisted by the edge from recognizing it as a life-threatening situation and knowing I had to make it within a few more seconds.

Screw that parent who looked on as if the course was straightforward while her own daughter had quit. Screw that instructor who said it couldn’t take an hour. I took more than an hour, and I was still the only person to finish a Red route that whole day. I’m sure 20 minutes would have been possible for a pro athlete, but only if you’re strong enough and have enough stamina that you’re comfortable spending the majority of your time off balance. Clearly I was not.

The truth is, I felt no sense of accomplishment after completing the Red course. I faced my fears and yet I had proven nothing except that I was stupid enough to put my body at risk for the sake of vanity. I would be injured for days regardless. I had calculated all the relevant factors and made the wrong decision. I achieved nothing because I already knew my limits—to recklessly demand proof of it only indicated doubt in my knowledge and doubt in the principle that sometimes knowledge is enough. I got sucked into judging myself by the measurable but meaningless achievements set by others. Seriously, there is no real shame in only being able to do the “kid’s easy course.”

I should have dug deep and believed in myself and remembered:

You have nothing to prove, only to share.

Then again, it takes bad judgment to form good judgment, right?