• Shelley Oto


My life went from a #joyride to real life, in the past couple of years, with the passing of my dad and the transitions that come with adulthood. I often think about my #travels and how they helped support my growth and helped me successfully survive what was waiting in my next chapter. I’ve been stretched and challenged. The wide spectrum of emotions and behaviors I’ve observed in myself have proven to be an interesting self study. Periodically, I read my journal entries and they remind me of the important lessons I quickly forgot as I assimilated back into everyday life. These were hands-on lessons learned from taking chances, tearful experiences, and by being #brave. Writing helps me to bring these lessons forward and hopefully support others in the process.


Taking time, real time for yourself will reward you in ways beyond your current level of understanding. The return on investment will be in currencies you may have never used, seen, or heard of. It’s an interesting unveiling to sit front row and watch the lessons unfold. The last several years of my life have been a montage of newness, joy, tears, and everything in between. With every life experience, I ask myself, “What am I here to learn?” I learned to take greater risks, loosen the grip of attachment to security, and fly both literally and figuratively. The stakes felt high at the time, but the lessons learned were unique, priceless, challenging, and simple -- lessons that could only be learned by dancing in the strangely unknown. Goodbye sweet stability and HELLO #freedom! These are some of the greatest lessons I have learned while #traveling solo, and I would do it all over again in an instant.

Right Before I Experienced the most EPIC and unforgettable Sunset I've Ever Seen

Lesson 1: You do not need much to be happy and content. While traveling, I was completely satisfied with living simply and with #minimal luggage. In my apartment at home, I have a small walk-in closet that’s filled to the max, a storage unit full of “stuff,” and an apartment that I try to minimize weekly. I needed #MarieKondo in my #life years ago, but it’s never too late!

I traveled from country to country determining the next #destination the morning of. I learned to be flexible and let go of “stuff.” Eventually, as my load became lighter, so did my emotional and spiritual space. I was #discovering places and connecting with people and their stories all over the world. I realized that the pure joy I felt on a daily basis had zero to do with “stuff.” It sounds so cliché and like “duh,” but I learned first hand just how little I needed to feel at peace. It had nothing to do with what I had in my closet, my associations or connections, what is parked in my driveway, the look of my micro bladed eyebrows, or the size of my home. #Happiness starts on the inside with how you feel about yourself, your daily decisions, and how those decisions are supporting your #passion pillars, and personal health. When people are truly at #peace with themselves, you can’t help but see and feel it in the way they move and operate with the world around them.

Lesson 2: The power of accepting #impermanence.

As a new traveler, I found myself shedding tears when departing a country. I naturally connect with #people and #experiences easily, which often makes it difficult for me to leave. Some #interactions are meant for a week, month, and/or maybe forever. However long or short, I have learned to accept the lessons from these interactions and move forward. Now, having traveled to over 20+ countries in 2 years, I was forced to practice impermanence after each trip. Traveling is ever-changing, and I have learned to humbly surrender to impermanence. The bi-product is that this acceptance has translated into a #healthier and easier departure in other areas of life, such as in my #career, projects, #relationships, and travel.

Lesson 3:

Feeling grounded without having a steady income. Not having a steady income was very difficult for me. For most of my career, I’ve considered myself very fortunate to have had jobs I really enjoyed. Unbeknownst to me, work had unknowingly become a part of my self-identity. Shortly before departing on my last journey, I felt I was being tested. New opportunities with higher paying salaries and cool perks would present themselves. I ruminated over those opportunities, and it took a lot for me to say no and truly walk away from stability. Every few months, I would return home for 1-3 weeks to change suitcases, connect with my family/friends, and, soon thereafter, continue traveling. Without fail, during these short periods at home, I found myself constantly tempted to throw my suitcase in the closet and recommit to full-time work.

The more #discomfort I felt with my decision, signified to me, how much I needed to keep traveling and continue to practice comfort in this new terrain. It took a full year for me to undo my socialized understanding of “stability” and develop a new sense of what “grounding” could mean from a spiritual and emotional level. The tug-of-war forced me to look deeper into what I was so afraid of. To most, the answer is obvious, life without financial stability is scary. Somehow, I learned to shift this fear into self-love by integrating mindfulness and practicing trust on an entirely new level.

Eventually over time, my narrative and perception changed. I was clearer and #braver than before I first departed. My ego was stripped; my self-identity, related to work, became significantly less; and I discovered my #authentic #power and #self-confidence from a higher space.

My Sweet Friend and Acro Yoga Instructor From Medellin Colombia

Lesson 4:

#Community is a necessary and important aspect for healthy living. My community of #friends, #family, #acquaintances, near and far, have lifted me, held me, and reminded me of what love looks and feels like during my darkest moments. My heart is so full of love that it’s hard to completely fall when you’ve been given a priceless gift that can only be afforded by those willing to take the time to be there for you when you need it the most. #Connection makes #loneliness feel less lonely and life feel less challenging. It can be a juggling act at times; but I’m learning that no matter how busy life gets making time for the “chosen” few, who have been there for you, is important.

Lesson 5:

Be present for those you care about. I will never forget hanging out with a couple of girlfriends, whom I saw shortly after I returned to #LosAngeles (after my dad passed). I was #vulnerable and trying to recover from the shock of losing my dad and the shock that accompanies the journey back into normal life. I began sharing how I was feeling, until I couldn’t help but notice one of my friends who kept staring down at her #Instagram. I thought to myself, “Does she realize that I can see her screen?” “Does she even care?” She then excused herself to take a phone call to discuss her plans for that evening. I couldn’t believe it. I never forgot that. I later realized that her need to check her phone and scan Instagram was probably a habit formed from long ago. Nonetheless, the memory stuck with me; and I vowed to do my best to be mentally present when engaging with people in general and especially with those who have been present for me in times of need. Those moments do matter.

Lesson 6:

Money has high value in the physical world, but it carries no value in the emotional and spiritual world. Hypothetically, I understood this, but really didn’t give it much thought until I had a first-hand experience that connected me to a country riddled by poverty, but rich in all other things, such as family values and love. I met a man (let’s just call him Luis). This man was sweet, open, well-mannered, attentive, appreciative, determined, funny, spoke passionately about his dreams to come to #America, and generous with all things he had to offer from a heart space. My #heart connected with his almost immediately. I met Luis through a mutual friend, and I was taken aback by his fearless ability to express himself authentically and emotionally. At the same time, I couldn’t help but be reminded how different our lives are via luck or lack of luck (depending on how you view it). Luis happened to be born in a #country poor by our economic standards, but rich in emotional and spiritual currency. Whereas, I was born in a country “rich” by his country’s standards, but with values and standards that are questionable. I was so #appreciative to have met Luis as a living embodiment and reminder of what it feels like to be associated with a person overflowing with #emotional and #spiritual #wealth.

Lesson 7:

I will always be okay.

I am resilient. I have lived and survived heartbreak. I learned just how incredible it is to be alone and in the company of the people who love you. In the past, it was hard for me to walk away from something that wasn’t good for me, because I didn’t want to be alone. I’m not afraid to be alone anymore. I can feel it in my soul space when something is missing or incompatible. I’m unafraid to rock the boat, because I refuse to settle. There’s been a shift to speaking my self-worth to KNOWING and #LIVING my self-worth. This KNOWING was gifted to me as a product of being alone. In this time, I experienced uninterrupted intense joy. I accept that not everyone is meant for me, and it’s not personal. I’m more than willing to wait for the right person to see me, know me, and stand in life with me without having to prove anything. I trust myself that when the right person presents himself, I will know.

Lesson 8:

Let go and allow. Surrendering to the process of job searching is a lesson in itself. In an ideal world, one would hope to go through this process the least amount of times as possible. It can be arduous, long, unrelenting, and can really test one’s personal esteem. It shouldn’t, but it can and did for me. I felt like I was robbed of my greatest stable pillars when my dad passed. I reactively reached for a distraction to alleviate the feeling of instability.

“I need a job, quick!!” I thought to myself. Of course, when this happened, I imagine the universe looked at me, took a long breath with a short chuckle, possibly rolled his/her eyes, and was like, “Does she really think I’m going to make things that easy for her?”

This was the beginning of one of my greatest lessons. Month after month, layers of my ego were peeled back. I became more vulnerable as the months passed and interviews continued to happen. The self-talk was riddled by #insecurity, #confidence, second-guessing, and worry. I was up, then down, then on cruise control. I would endure a 9-stage interview process, get my hopes up, and then fail to get the job. I was exhausted by the disappointment and had to get back up to do it all over again. Eventually, what previously was a hard exterior of “I got this, I’m always ok” forced me to pull back the layers and be vulnerable with close friends and family and admit my doubts, worries, and ask for help. This was hard for me. I learned to surrender to the universe’s larger plan -- be it whatever it may be.

I later understood just how important it was that I had that time to heal and process my dad’s passing. I believe the time given to me was a blessing, not a punishment; and the right opportunity would land at the right time and it did. Letting go of control and simply ALLOWING is one of the best lessons I learned on this journey.

Sweetness in Bali

Lesson 9:

Daily #decisions and #priorities.

Undoubtedly, the things we consume, watch, and people we allow in our life dictate our realities. For me, prioritizing #exercise, creating, laughing often, and being with people who operate from a similar space is a key ingredient to a balanced life. Saying no, resisting the urge to over commit and walking away from gossip and toxic programming can be a rewarding battle. I use my time to create, brainstorm, and collaborate with creative people. I use my #money and resources to develop programming and bring concepts to life. I read, write, document, and learn from others. I prioritize my emotional and physical wellness above everything. This is what keeps me in a high #vibrational space, and this is my daily priority. Being back in the workforce has made this balance more challenging, but the difference is, I know better now. Unlike the past, I won’t allow myself to stay in an unbalanced situation for long. That “knowing” is #growth.

Just when you think you’ve learned so much, you realize there’s so much more to learn. #Practice makes progress as the lessons never fail to arrive. When they do, instead of resisting the newness and discomfort that comes with exploring uncharted territory, take a breath, surrender, and ask yourself, “What am I here to learn?” We are all in this life together; we are never truly alone. Someone has experienced exactly what you are experiencing and survived. We ALL experience the same ups and downs of self-doubt, confidence, joy, sadness, and everything in between. The universe operates in our favor, and it’s our job to recognize when we are being called and to show up for ourselves! Life lessons are never in vain. They make us better, wake us up, and remind us just how human we are.

Loving Souls from Beautiful Portugal

Challenging myself to live and think so contrastingly different from my norm was the best decision of my life. Now, my instincts are louder. I live more fearlessly. I see the world differently and have experienced various pathways to joy. My priorities have shifted. I know my worth because I allowed myself to see what my life could look like if I were to be brave. I am forever changed by this decision and choosing courage over comfort (thanks #BreneBrown) was the catalyst to experiencing just how BIG my life could be.

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