Written by Hillary Kirtland + Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world."
– Mary Anne Radmacher
We often envy the stories of those like Elizabeth Gilbert of "Eat, Pray, Love" or Cheryl Strayed of "Wild," when reflecting on how personal travel journeys can challenge the trajectory of lives forever. But we forget that we don't need to travel for months or years to reap the benefits of self-discovery. By taking advantage of opportunities to experience new people and places whenever and wherever they arise, and by remaining open to the lessons learned along the way, our lives – and our hustles – can change forever.
Growing up in the capital of Latin America also known as Miami, Florida, my fascination with foreign cultures blossomed from a young age. I learned Spanish, Salsa, and the importance of a good chancleta all before graduating from high school. Through this exposure to a foreign culture and constantly learning things outside of my Americanized bubble, I often assumed I had all of the tools necessary for wherever the world would take me. I had no idea how much I had left to learn.
My first trip abroad took place by way of a 4-hour boat ride to a tiny island in the Bahamas called Cat Cay. It was there at age fifteen that I realized (while sitting at a bar, sipping on a virgin daiquiri,) that “hustle” looks different to everyone. I observed as my dad connected with our bartender - a complete stranger - over shared experiences of living in Nassau, and it was then that I realized I longed to experience similar connections and conversations with others around the world. This simple observation would motivate many of my future adventures and successes to come.
As I grew, my passion for exploration did too. In college, I volunteered in Australia during my freshman year, studied abroad in Spain as a sophomore, and as a graduation gift to myself, I backpacked through Costa Rica and Europe. I have since visited friends in Korea and Vietnam, and throughout graduate school I’ve completed projects in Luxembourg, Israel, Uruguay, and Argentina. At the moment, I'm planning a trip to Iceland to see the Northern Lights for the very first time. 23 countries, 5 continents, and hundreds of new friendships since that first trip in the summer of 2005, and I am constantly thirsting for more.
Travel challenges everything. It forces us to question opinions, beliefs, privilege, and everything we think we know, all while taking us completely out of our comfort zones and allowing us to view the world through a new lens. The following are the ways in which I've discovered traveling has changed and strengthened my hustle:
It has changed the way I communicate.
Sometimes when meeting people who look, speak, or think differently than us, it’s inevitably difficult to find common ground. All of the friends that I’ve made from different cultures and backgrounds have translated into my ability to walk into a room and connect with each and every person I talk to in some way or another. I look at in in the sense that if I can connect with people who do not speak my language, there is no reason I cannot connect with people who do.
It has made me more comfortable with the unknown.
When visiting a country with no common language, culture or customs of yours, is literally impossible to plan ahead for every contingency that can happen; you have to be confident in your own ability to figure things out along the way. After learning this by my own personal experience, I now have the tools and grit to power through any obstacle or unexpected deviation from my original plans in my daily life and work. Just like I know I'll always be able to find my way (with or without the internet) in a foreign place, I know I can overcome any challenges that arise back home.
It has taught me to celebrate diversity.
Each job I've had since obtaining my undergraduate degree has heavily involved working on (or with) diverse teams of people. To me, "diversity" no longer exclusively means a variation in sex, religion, gender-orientation, age, etc. The definition of diversity has expanded to diversity of culture, upbringing, and ways of thinking. Traveling abroad has given me the upper hand in being open-minded to these differences. Upon returning to "real life" after a trip, we bring with us a better understanding of who we are, as well as a stronger appreciation for all things different. In fact, more often than not, we don't just appreciate them - we celebrate them.
It has helped me to embrace opportunity.
The more places that I visit and the more people that I meet, the more I see that opportunity does not knock on every door. If you are lucky enough to have an opportunity to travel, pack your bags. Go after your dreams and passions with everything you have, and follow it up by paying it forward - help create opportunities for those who may not be as fortunate, in any way that you can.
Growing up, "hustle" always equated to "hard work" in my mind. But the more of the world I see, the more I understand how limited that view really is. Hustle, like success, means different things to different people and one size does not fit all. Traveling has given me the tools to make my hustle more efficient, so I can work hard at other things in my personal life simultaneously.
Now, I work harder to keep my hustle as genuine and organic as the people I've met along the way, and I keep in mind that I did not get here alone; I learned something from every soul I came across. I am excited to see how my hustle continues to change as I continue to transfer countries from the "To Visit" list to the "Visited" list, and thankfully, I have plenty of opportunities left to tackle.
Hillary is driven by her constant state of curiosity. Her truest loves include traveling, reading, film, music, dancing, Disney World, and adrenaline-inducing adventures. She is the current President of the MBA Association at the George Washington University, and will be completing her Global MBA degree in May of 2017. She looks forward to taking on her next hustle in the world of Consulting!