Recently I was visiting a client's offices in Amsterdam and had lunch with two colleagues. It was overcast and windy and we were sitting in a lovely little café with wooden tables and warm bread that they were baking in the back. It was one of those perfect moments to be savored and over a lunch of delicious salads, we started talking about each of our lives and getting to know each other a bit.
Both of my lunch companions were very impressive, strong, successful, European women and I was particularly struck as one of them, Naomi, shared her story about taking a year-long trip through Asia and South America. She said she had always wanted to do it and started off with a friend. After several months, her friend decided she had had enough traveling but Naomi was determined to stick out the year and experience all that life had to offer. Solo.
I asked her what it was like to spend eight months traveling alone. Was it hard to meet people? Was it lonely? To me, the idea of spending a day wandering around a city, shopping and going to a museum alone is bliss, more than that and I start to feel a little lonely. She said that being on her own it was actually easier to meet people. And then she said something that really struck me. She said to travel that long by yourself -- you have to really know yourself.
You have to learn about yourself, she elaborated -- what you like, what interests you, who you truly are. Because when you are traveling that long with only a small bag for your things, who you are is no longer defined in part by the job you have, what neighborhood you live in, what car you drive, the purse you carry and the things you can afford to surround yourself with. It is about you -- as a human being -- traveling along, experiencing life and the people you meet.
I think I was so struck by this because often in my advice to businesswomen I say how important it is to be authentic. And being authentic means being true to whom you are and then making genuine choices. But this got me thinking: In this always on, fast-paced world, how can you really get to know yourself?
For those of us who don't have the luxury, time or even interest in a year-long trip, here are some ways to get to know the real you.
1. Listen to your gut -- it's rarely wrong.
2. Decompress alone -- yoga, walking, meditation, running, exercise; turn everything off on a regular basis and just be.
3. Think about what you loved when you were a child -- horses, bike riding, sewing -- and reconnect with those things and see how they make you feel today.
4. Embrace creativity. My friend Alison Arden wrote a terrific book called The Book of Doing that speaks to the many ways you can do this (and also to the last point).
5. Slow down. When we move too fast, we miss so much.
6. Don't be concerned with what other people think. Really. And this one is hard to do.
7. Get enough sleep. Read Thrive by Arianna Huffington for more on this.
8. Be curious. In my interviews on my online show "Perspectives with Katie Kempner," time and again my guests discuss how important it has been in their careers and lives to stay curious. As we get older, it gets harder to do and yet it becomes even more important.
9. Choose to be happy. This one is really up to you but isn't it so much nicer to get to know a happy person?
10. Be present. So hard to do when there are so many mindless ways to eat up our time. But necessary so you can focus on you.
As we start the new year chock full of resolutions and new paths, it's time to take yourself out to a little café, sit at a wooden table with a yummy salad and hopefully warm bread (and a nice glass of wine) and get to know how fabulous you truly are.