If you saw my mother’s horrified reaction to my decision to quit my job, give up my apartment, apply for a passport and move to Asia, you would think I was throwing my life away.
To some, the decision to leave your country means you are writing off the clean career path set before you, wasting your hard-earned degree and deciding instead to spend the rest of your life bumming on a beach somewhere.
It turns out, there was indeed a significant amount of bumming on beaches, but when I came back two years later to look for a job stateside, I found the reactions from the professional world were nothing short of inspiring.
Instead of asking why I left the United States, interviewers wanted to know what I had learned. Instead of asking how I would handle a difficult situation, they knew they could simply ask for an example.
They didn’t need to ask if I am a self-starter or an independent worker; the answers were lying there in the gap in my résumé and the story told in my cover letter.
Here is why, in today’s work force, being a global citizen can help more than hurt your image, as well as impress your potential next boss or empower you to become your own:
You can manage your time and a budget.
One third of the way into my trip to Japan, I spent 100 percent of my money. I ended up not eating for an entire day and cleaning a hostel in exchange for shelter while I waited for my credit card to be cleared for international travel.
Whether you’re an ultra-budget traveler or a glampacker, you still need to be responsible enough to save money and allocate money for your trip. Knowing when to make sacrifices and when to splurge says wonders about your ability to manage money responsibly and intelligently.
Time management is just as important. When visas are about to expire or the sun is going down as you kayak out in the middle of the ocean, your skills (or lack thereof) become all too apparent. Different countries assume different levels of responsibility for your well-being (ranging from a decent amount to absolutely zero), so travelers quickly gain the survival skill of budgeting time and money.
You are an independent thinker.
To move to another country or spend long periods traveling independently takes an impressive degree of self-confidence. The world is a big place, and you quickly find that there is no definitive right or wrong path.
If you spend the night making friends at a hostel, the next morning, you’ll say goodbye to eight people going in eight different directions. You discover a lot about yourself, like whether you prefer museums or sightseeing and the nightlife or wineries.
You are choosing to go places because you want to go and you are choosing what parts of the culture suit you. Knowing what you want is just as important when making decisions at work or in your personal life where the right answer is the one you believe in and have the confidence to act on.
You’re not afraid of a challenge.
Eating street-stewed scorpions? Scuba diving in a tank full of sharks? Walking the streets of São Paulo at night? If you can do that, you can certainly make an impressive PowerPoint presentation.
After traveling through different cultures, meeting a wide range of people and traversing unique landscapes, you learn just how powerful you are, and that your limitations extend far beyond where you may think.
You also learn the most important lesson in challenging yourself: You never know until you try. How can you say for sure that you don’t like eating live octopus unless you try it?
You become brave enough to be uncomfortable, and you know you have the ability to learn and adapt to whatever challenge you’re faced with. You’ve learned that the worst thing that can happen is you fail, and when you do, it’s really not that bad.
You can handle change.
Lastly and most importantly, you are not afraid of change. Change is the only constant in life, not only in your personal life, but also in your professional life.
Business today is inherently global. Advertisements in Italy can damage sales in China; products in China are sold to the United States; companies in the US expand to South America, Europe and beyond.
To speak another language is invaluable, but to be able to understand another culture that you’ve experienced firsthand is to truly communicate.
Living and traveling abroad is a challenge that forces your perspective away from the narrative you’ve know your entire life. You quickly realize that the rest of the world is not the desolate and scary place that it is made out to be.
People all over the world have the same type of hope, dreams and even struggles as the rest of us.
Through these experiences, you will learn not only who you are, but also where you fit into the world. The skillsets you learn as a traveler could be the most important part of what you bring to benefit projects of all types.
So go and spend some time challenging yourself, exploring new things and, yes, bumming on the beach in the process.