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How a Fortune Cookie Changed My Life: On the Road with Jessica Darling

This is a traveler case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

We all travel for different reasons. When I heard Jessica’s story of hoping to find herself—and how she went about it—I knew you’d like it, too.

Introduce yourself.  

Hey there. I’m Jessica, and a fortune cookie changed my life. Shortly before my 33rd birthday, I read the fortune, “You will never know your full potential, until you try.” Within six months I had resigned from my job, found myself single after years of being with a partner, and was entirely on my own.

So I decided to try.

I gave myself an open-ended sabbatical to really get in touch with what deeper meaning my life had and what work I was meant to do in the world. I wanted to find out what that “full potential” was.


Where did your sabbatical take you?

During the three years I was on sabbatical, I let intuition guide me and traveled abroad alone for the first time (more than once!). I wound up on a month long, vagabonding-style trip starting and leaving from Madrid, ran a B&B in the Denver foothills, spent four months (instead of the planned ten weeks) in Costa Rica doing work-exchange, and then booked a one-way ticket to Italy with no plans other than to stay my first two nights in Venice, and just let the rest unfold from there.

What did you think taking a sabbatical would help?

Honestly, I didn’t know what was missing and that was part of the problem. I’d spent my life pursuing external successes, achievements, and love in an effort to find a feeling of wholeness. But I was undeniably miserable.

I felt like my life needed to be coming from a different place within me.

To get such a radical change, I had to take radical action inside of myself. Removing distractions and traveling seemed like as good a way as any to start.


How much did your sabbatical cost, and how did you pay for it?  

My three years off cost me about $100,000—which is huge, of course, but I’m am proud of that number. I see it as an investment in myself.

I started funding my sabbatical with savings and a gold investment. I also rented out my condo (and eventually sold it).

As I traveled, I explored small entrepreneurial jobs as I explored how I might be of service to the world. For example, I started offering services as an organization specialist, providing spiritually-infused interior design services. My first client was a consult in Seville, Spain for a famous Flamenco couple, which was cool!

Tell us about an encounter that sticks out during your travels.

Something that I recognized across all of my travels was that when you are living under others’ roofs you are living in their individual culture, and it can be an adjustment to feel your own sense of self and space.

A woman generously offered me a room in her home, despite her struggling with diagnosed OCD. Her opening her home to me was huge for her—and for me. Not simply because she was generous, but because what I learned about myself while living with her.

Part of my rent to her included utilize my organizational services so she could live a more balanced and creatively fulfilled life. However, every time that I shared my experiences with her, she blew off what I was hoping to convey, claiming to know everything already—even things she had never experienced.

At first, her behavior made me incredulous. I value the differences we learn from books versus being out in the world. But then, I began to see how arrogant and unreceptive I could be in my own life.

I was horrified when I finally saw this, and deeply ashamed that I had been treating well-meaning, helpful friends with more experience than me as though I already knew everything. Everyone is a teacher in life, in various ways, and arrogance has a way of shielding us from that which we need to learn. Living with her was a mirror to some of my own undesired behavior.


How did you overcome a low point on your sabbatical?

I was afraid of being in a foreign country, afraid to spend money–just really scared to answer the questions where should I go? and what should I do? I chose to travel because I needed a catalyst to move me out of the stuck place I was in. But moving forward when I didn’t even know what I wanted was hard.

I booked a month in Spain on what amounted to a feeling.

My first night there was symbolic of how low I felt. Desperate for a shower and warm bed, I arrived to my room realizing the lights and heating had been shut off. I managed to work the space-aged shower booth, then curled up in the cold bed. It was a tough first night, and the symbolism didn’t escape me: I was naked, cold, wet, alone, and fumbling around in the dark. I felt vulnerable, like an abandoned baby.

I spent days partially paralyzed in Madrid. Eventually I became frustrated. There I was in another part of the world, yet not really experiencing it. Through that frustration I was able to move myself through my resistance further outside of my comfort zone.

What surprised you while traveling?

I have been a spiritual seeker for most of my life, and my sabbatical was ultimately about finding myself in a deeply profound way. Little did I know that it is actually possible to find our literal Higher Self.

The biggest surprise I experienced was a shocking and difficult transformation where my spiritual Self was revealed to me after a week of silence and fasting in Italy in an experience known as Samadhi and Kundalini Awakening.

I credit my willingness to travel to unknown countries and through adventurous uncertain experiences as a foundation for my experiencing this rare, spiritual, brain-awakening phenomenon. I have never experienced myself or reality the same way since.


How did travel bring this shift about?

Travel is a way to become comfortable with discomfort, navigate personal power, and find more surrender of our self-centered ways. In being a guest in other countries and other cultures, I learned to be a guest in the world—which carried over to being a guest in my own existence.

If I could remove myself from the judgment and separateness of other cultures with humility, false ego identity structures fall away, and I could lose myself and find myself in the same moment. Enlightenment involves a complete disillusionment of the reality we see it as, which necessitates a dropping of all that separates us from each other.

Before this shift, I didn’t know who I was or what my life was for. It was an existential anguish. Life is a lot different now. I no longer live in my own ego-centric world. Instead, my life is directed in an even more spiritually-oriented way where I am placed in the service of others’ needs.

The great debate: aisle or window?



Best travel tip for when looking to find yourself. Go:

Learn to trust your intuition.

It takes practice to trust yourself. I developed my intuition in two seemingly simple ways:

1. Asking myself for guidance in mundane daily choices, like what to eat for lunch. I listened for an answer in the form of what feels like an inner knowing, a pull, a magnetic desire or feeling, physical comfort, or sometimes verbal or visual cues.

2. Going for a drive or a walk ,and at every decision point, like an intersection, asked for intuitive guidance on which direction to go. This one is the most fun for me! I love road trips and get to see all sorts of interesting and off-the-beaten-path sites because of this skill.

Trusting yourself may not always lead you through the safe and easy routes, but it will always lead you to your self and the greatest lessons to strengthen and humble yourself to your greatest power and full potential.

Where are you headed next?

As a result of my experiences, I’ve become an Ordained Minister (non-denominational) and have turned to focusing on my spiritual calling, supporting others’ in their spiritual quests for living their full potential. It takes guts! I’m looking forward to eventually leading spiritual retreats all around the world.

Follow Jessica on her site, Mystic Darling or on Twitter @MysticDarling. 


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