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Pushing Your Limits: The Intangible Skills I Gained Through Travel

Pushing Your Limits: The Intangible Skills I Gained Through Travel

When I was younger, my ability to navigate the seas of ambiguity was admittedly not the best. My high school French teacher even nicknamed me the “deer in headlights” due to the almost cartoonish dilation of my pupils the moment he said anything I didn’t understand.

As I got older, I found the best way to strengthen this intangible skill – dealing with ambiguity – was to embrace the world of traveling. More importantly, solo traveling.

I believe traveling solo stimulates your mind and nourishes your soul. There is something refreshingly uncomfortable about exploring a foreign country all on your own. As much as I love a trip with friends or family, I know that much of what I’ve accomplished in my professional life can be attributed to my experiences with just a backpack and my inner compass.

[Related: Born to Lead: Memoir of a Bossy Girl]

I still have a long way to go on my own personal journey, but I know I have the grit and resilience to keep exploring. Below are a few of the lasting souvenirs I’ve acquired through my experiences:

Think outside the box

Traveling has taught me how to think outside the box, and remain calm when the initial plan doesn’t properly execute.

When I graduated college, I hopped on a plane to Australia with about $400 to my name. I thought I was going to get a job working in a café in Melbourne and life would be grand. Suffice to say, that did not work out.

As I watched my bank account dwindle down to the last few dollars, I was forced to get creative and get dirty. I landed gigs handing out flyers for Pancake Day, painted a fence, and even cleaned hostels in order to cover my accommodation. As a recent graduate, I quickly learned my degree alone did not pay the rent so I did what I had to do to survive. Ultimately, I saved enough money to fly out west and got a job bartending. Suddenly, I found my calling and was happy as a clam. I had never even planned to travel to Western Australia, and now those are some of my best memories.

Bill Gates’s right-hand man Nathan Myhrvold sums up this theory well: “Lewis and Clark were lost most of the time. If your idea of exploration is to always know where you are and to be inside your zone of competence, you don’t do wild new shit. You have to be confused, upset, think you’re stupid. If you’re not willing to do that, you can’t go outside the box.”

Gratitude is everything

The levels of gratitude and thankfulness I feel increase exponentially as time goes on. This isn’t merely from seeing impoverished neighborhoods or people washing their clothes in the river, but from watching people from other cultures work their tails off and expect nothing in return.

The man who ran my hostel in Luang Prabang, Laos would sleep on the floor in a tent if all the rooms in the hostel were booked so his family could sleep in a bed. He thought nothing of it. When you see people live happily with much less, it makes you realize what really matters in life.

I’ve truly learned to be thankful for what I have and that it’s up to me to perform to the best of my ability. I’ve learned to take pride in my work no matter how big or small the task. I’m grateful for any problems, rejections, or setbacks I experience because they make you a stronger person and build your character if you allow this to happen and embrace the unknown.

[Related: How to Simplify Your Life by Going Back to Basics]

Go with your gut

You have to trust your gut; it will all work out.

I had the fortune of rock climbing when I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand which was a far cry from the gym I would climb at back home. I really didn’t think I could make it to the top, but I surprised myself five times! Each time was harder than the last and with less guidance. I looked down at the instructor and I don’t think he was paying attention, much less belaying my rope. I had to dig deep, both in my gut and in my chalk bag, and take huge risks when I was reaching for the next rock. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. 

I’ve found that this confidence has not only translated over to my professional life, but it has greatly improved my resilience. Setbacks happen. Rejection happens. Your raw determination and grit will bulldoze through any wall of negativity or uncertainty and you will reach for that next rock. Working in a sales job as I do, this skill is essential.

I’ve listened to the Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech probably a couple hundred times, and every time I learn something new. One of my favorite lines is that you cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.

Always be approachable

I’ve had so many people help me out during my travels.

During my most recent trip to Costa Rica, I had no idea how to navigate the bus system and I could have been on a bus headed to Nicaragua for all I knew. The most kind and compassionate girl went so far out of her way to help me and, I was a total stranger to her. It’s the “pay it forward” notion, and we all help one another. 

Traveling makes you more approachable because you are always wanting to help and support others. I was once in a position at work when an employee I managed was on the verge of being terminated and I knew in my gut this was not right. I fiercely fought for him and put my own job on the line based on his performance. We worked as a team and came out of the situation stronger. I want to be that person who can help others whenever I can fill that role, because so many people have done the same for me.

[Related: 10 Lessons I Learned After Moving to China]

You can never hurt anyone by smiling, and as Anne Frank once said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” Smile. Give. You will help yourself in return.

In Chade-Meng Tan’s book, “Search Inside Yourself,” he says, “When you know yourself at a deep level, you begin to understand your core values, purposes, and priorities.” What better way to explore and reflect upon yourself than to navigate your unchartered waters through travel? Go ahead and scare yourself. I can say with certainty that I’ve approached every intimidating sales goal, ambiguous task, and difficult team member with the skills I have learned from traveling on my own.


Candice Woodward is a Wine Business Manager at Breakthru Beverage Group with an expertise in marketing communications, product marketing and evidence of market need analysis.

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