People are fascinating. Did you know that?

These days, I’ve been spending a lot of time on my own. I’ve found one of the perks of flying solo is that my brain has become hyper-aware of the world going on around me. I’m attuned to micro details, so I hear snippets of loud conversation and notice scenes I thought only existed in movies. It’s a unique experience and one I’m grateful for, even if it does get a little lonely at times.

You can only spend so much time with your thoughts before it becomes monotonous and boring, so one of my favourite ways to pass the time has become people watching. I’ve never been one for spending endless hours on my phone or reading on the road, and this is the next best thing to having my nose stuck in a book. Actually, in some ways it’s even better.

Life can be highly entertaining.

Some days, I seem to be invisible to passerby, while others there are multiple instances of fleeting eye contact. I find it amusing, how quickly most people look away. This seems to be a distinct trait of the generation I’ve grown up in – those who are later on in life are much less afraid to share moment a moment with a stranger. And then, of course, there’s the children.

Younger than the age of seven, most kids have not yet been taught to enter each human encounter with the level of suspicion most adults do. I remember even I was a somewhat extroverted child. I loved to chat with adults and bring a smile to the faces of people I didn’t even know. I have a distinct memory of being four years old and crossing the street with my mom: one of my hands held my mother’s, while the other hand waved to all the people in stopped cars whom I wanted to thank for ever so politely allowing us to pass. I didn’t really understand the concept of traffic lights back then…nor did I have a care in the world what other people thought of me. I was so light and free.

Children are so pure and special because they haven’t learned to hate or judge or worry – they simply show up as they are and exist within the moment. Then they’re there for the next moment, and the next, and the next. They aren’t too busy to play a game of peek-a-boo with that friend they made on the bus or the stranger they see on the street while waiting in line for ice cream. Everyone is equal in their eyes, and they don’t take themselves so seriously. Life is a game, and the first rule is you have to have fun while you play.

We could all learn a thing or two from younger generations, things we seem to forget over time.

Sometimes I wonder what these children will grow up to be like. Everyone has a story, after all. While these stories may share plot points, no two are alike. There are details and nuances to each of our stories that make them entirely our own. No one else on earth has ever been born with your unique combination of DNA, dreams and memories. No one else perceives the world exactly as you do. Sometimes I wish I could step into someone else’s mind for a day to get a feel for how they view life – I have no doubts it would deeply impact my own thought process and open doors I didn’t know existed.

Books, I believe, are the closest thing we have right now to being able to share our consciousness. Books, and the ability to listen to others speak about their own stories and experiences of life. This ability sits right at our finger tips, but how often to we actually slow down enough to listen? I get the sense that the question, “How are you?” has taken on the role of a greeting we are expected to exchange in passing. It is so rarely a genuine question anymore. But to take the time to show up for another, to check in and see how they’re really doing is a small thing that holds immeasurable power. I know a few people like this, people who have the ability to make you feel like you are truly being heard for the first time in ages. It is a quality I myself am working to cultivate. It starts with this simple rule: if you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask the question.

Empathy has never been a problem for me. In fact, I find I often empathize too deeply. I fall into other people’s stories and experience their emotions with them, so much so I find it hard to separate their feelings from my own. I’ve only recently been able to put words to this phenomenon; there was a time when this habit of mine became unbearable and overwhelming, and so my brain took emergency measures for the sake of self-preservation. I stopped feeling anything at all.

Maybe this sounds like a dream to you, but trust me – it was quite the opposite. I became adept at the reliable smile and nod, boys. Smile and nod. I would give the appropriate answers at the correct times. “I’m excited, really, I swear.” I think I must have come across as quite heartless at times. I forgot what sadness felt like; if I was rejected, there was only a dull ache. I wouldn’t cry for months at a time, until there was an overload on my circuitry and I would break down, sobbing at some small, insignificant thing. Then the cycle would start all over again.

My body was in survival mode. This strategy may seem like it can work for a period of time, but the problem is, when you kill the “bad” emotions, the “good” ones die, too. There is no internal peace, or joy, or fleeting happiness. There is no overwhelming sense of gratitude and love for all the amazing things in life. And there is no wonder. Life is work; that is all.

Gradually, over time, changes occurred in my life that made me realize I’d been living a life not my own. Somewhere along the line, I’d picked up the habit of saying sorry for who I am, of attempting to fit myself into a series of boxes in which I did not belong. When I stepped out of the old boxes, I tried out some new ones, but those didn’t work out either. I’ve never exactly been good at doing what I’m told, fitting into a specific mould. I tend to do best when I do my own thing, and it has been hard for me to accept, that is okay.

No matter what anyone tells you, you don’t have to fit into a box. If that box is comfortable, then by all means, make it your home – but know it is not a matter of “right” and “wrong.” It is figuring out the steps that are right for you, and acting accordingly.

It has been a journey with many ups and downs and detours to get to where I am at this moment, doing work I believe I am meant to do and feeling all the feels. If there is one thing I have learned in the last few years, it is this: deep down at our core, we all know what we truly want. Don’t ever let any one make you question who you are or make you think they know you better than you know yourself, because they don’t. That is a question only you can answer. You may not know right away. You may not know for a long time. Life is simply the process of figuring that out.

If life is a game, the first rule is this: don’t ever apologize for who you are. And of course, remember to have fun while you play.