They say a different version of you exists in the minds of everyone who knows you. And with the world getting smaller by the day, there are likely a thousand or even a million versions of you today. The annoying workmate, the supportive friend and the stranger you met on a foreign land – everyone you cross paths with sees and paints a different image of you. You can be a cut-throat villain in someone’s world, a harmless sheep in the eyes of your parents, or a symbol of hope to the friends who adore you. Heck, even the woman selling cigarettes on the streets creates a version of you in her head.
There are literally infinite versions of you out there. That’s why everyone has a different opinion or answer, whenever you seek their advice.
Ask every person you know to share their thoughts about you, and for sure, you’ll get a wide range of answers.
As a matter of fact, some people develop an identity crisis because they try to live up to the numerous opinions and expectations from others.
But, there are also some people who know you better than others do. And sometimes, these people can give you encouraging words of advice that can leave a positive mark in your life.
In one of my travels, I’ve encountered a stranger that somehow had the answers to some of my questions. Although the tips the stranger shared weren’t exactly life-changing, they’ve at least made me a little bit better.
My encounter with a stranger
It was a gloomy Saturday afternoon when I encountered this fascinating stranger.
I just finished a solo adventure somewhere in Southern Cebu, and was about to head back home.
While I wasn’t troubled or overwhelmed by life, I preferred going solo those days.
Back then, I thought that going alone was the best way to see and explore the world.
After all, it’s drama-free and gives you the freedom to do anything that your heart desires.
I, however, knew this wasn’t an ordinary solo travel story, the moment the stranger uttered his first word.
The stranger was friendly, witty and smart.
Plus, he was sharing the highlights, moments and pictures of his recent escapade through his camera.
And, as I was staring at the mountainous background of a town in Cebu, I noticed a car blitzing its way on the other lane.
“Why aren’t you driving your own car?”, I asked the stranger. “Isn’t that more convenient? Or cool?”
“I’m an unconventional thinker”, replied the stranger. “I’m an anomaly and a rebel against today’s society. I don’t like cars because it’s the symbol of success, wealth and status in the eyes of the modern-day man. It’s, to me, the epitome of our materialistic and consumerist culture, which is something I really hate.”
“And, I don’t think it’s a great investment either. Sure, a car may be an asset, but it depreciates over time. Plus, I don’t want the extra hassle, upkeep, maintenance, repairs, payments and worry of owning a car. Do you know how much the fuel costs today?”
“From a practical or functional perspective, a car isn’t really worth it in a place like Cebu. Not only is Cebu an easy place to commute, but the streets are fairly small here as well. And, years from now, Cebu will become one of the worst cities to drive and own a car. I’ve seen the signs, and one day, our island will become a nightmare for drivers and car owners.”
“And, besides, I’m a fit and healthy guy with a strong pair of legs.”
“I can climb mountains and walk non-stop for hours. I can go wherever I want. I love to walk too, especially when I’m alone because it helps me organize my thoughts.”
Later on, the stranger shared some practical advice in financial management, career and even helped me out with my schedule.
He even gave me some tips on my next investment.
Along the way, I also learned and rediscovered a bunch of eye-opening ideas from the stranger.
“Contrary to popular belief, we’re not free” whispered the stranger. “We’re trapped in a cage that society has built for us.”
“We are hamsters running endlessly on a wheel inside this cage. “
“When we were young, we were urged and encouraged by our society to study hard and be a good citizen, so that we’ll get a rewarding job. In fact, we pay huge amounts of money to universities, to get their seal of approval. Then, we enter the workforce, and work for decades, to live and survive in this world.”
“Why do we have to spend half our life working our tails off?”
“When we finally have the time and money to enjoy, we’re just too old and weak to do some of the things we want to do in our younger years. And the worst part is, our children have to go through the same cycle or pattern.”
“Isn’t that a tedious cycle?”
“Is that what you call freedom?”
“To be trapped in someone’s idea of a perfect life?”
“And, here’s the thing. This is the type of life that big companies want us to live. It gives them the power and leverage to push ideas on our heads. They want us to work our tails off, so we can buy the products and things that they are selling.”
“Everything they create screams ‘buy your way to happiness’. They paint an ugly picture of life. They want you to become a well-paid professional, so you can own the latest iPhone and drive the fanciest car.”
“So, live a life that you want and choose a career that’s ideal for you. Be a writer, painter or musician or anything that you want. Don’t let others and the world tell you what’s best for you. Don’t be afraid to escape the societal norm. ”
“And more importantly, be a minimalist.”
“Believe me, a 2,000-thousand peso underwear won’t make you a better performer in bed.”
“Don’t beat yourself up too. Work hard and be passionate with what you do, but reward yourself with something that will aspire you to do better at what you do.”
“Some people say I’m lazy because I have some unfulfilled potential. As the eldest son of a doctor and engineer, most people wanted me to become a role model or the archetypal professional. But, the bills and endless paperwork don’t work for me. I’d rather live simply in a farm or a secluded island.”
The stranger, clearly, didn’t like conventional wisdom. On the surface, you won’t notice that he has all these crazy ideas. But, once you dig deep into his mind, you’ll find a world filled with bright colors, wondrous stories and bizarre ideas.
Through a psychological exam, a big semiconductor company discovered his rebellious side, and how he hated the idea of working like a workhorse.
And, he seemed like a nice and intelligent guy. Sure, he’s a little pessimistic, but he did make a ton of fine points.
To sum it up, his ideas were like Buddhism with a heavy dose of cynicism.
So, I ask him, about our purpose in life. “Why are we here?”, I asked the stranger.
“I’ve faced death three times – a car accident, a sinking boat and an electrical explosion”, the stranger replied. “Not to mention, I was a second away from being hit by a stray bullet on Christmas Day, when I was still a baby. I’m a disaster magnet!”
“And yet, I’m still alive and kicking. There has to be a purpose why I’m still here. Soon, you’ll figure out why you are here.”
“Nothing happens by accident. Every moment, experience or mistake is part of the grand scheme of things. Be patient.”
Those days, I asked the Universe for signs of my purpose.
I had everything I need in my life – a flourishing business, a happy family and a smart and beautiful fiancé.
Yet, I felt something was terribly missing.
What’s my role in this galaxy?
How can I help create a better environment for my future kids?
How can I make the world a better and nicer place to live?
And though he didn’t give a clear-cut answer, the stranger did give some hints.
“If you want to find a purpose, step outside your comfort zone”, the stranger added. I know you don’t like being surrounded by people, but being in a group may be your ticket to finding the meaning of your life. You can’t do something monumental without a great team. As my mom always says, no man is an island.”
Like a good storyteller, he also shared his thoughts on religion and the world.
“Sometimes, I feel like we’re living in a stimulated reality”, the stranger said. We’re like living in The Matrix or a video game controlled by higher and more intelligent beings. And just like any video game or virtual reality, I’ve found a pattern or code that makes my life a bit easier at any place or stage in my life. And, that code is don’t be an asshole or a jerk.”
“I’m an Omnist”, the stranger said. “That means I believe in Allah, Jesus, Buddha and even Shiva. And my cheat code or golden rule is an idea common in every philosophy or religion I’ve studied. To me, it’s the sum of all the commandments, rules and principles of all religions on earth. Believe me, you won’t have any problems if you’re nice, friendly and helpful.”
Although the stranger loves to talk, he despises political discussions and debates.
“Just because I don’t talk about politics, it doesn’t mean I don’t love my country”, the stranger said. “I want to develop a positive and happy mind, and I can’t do that by debating and talking about politics. Normally, political talks lead to heated exchanges, meaning it can ruin relationships and friendships. And, besides, we really don’t know the truth. From fake news to black propaganda, the world of politics is a web of lies.”
There were a lot of things we talked about on our way to Cebu. And, one of them was his idea on how some people act on social media, these days.
As far as I can remember, he said it when he saw a girl pouting her lips while talking a selfie on the bus.
“We pressure ourselves to perform well and look good, to make others see a better and cooler version of ourselves”, said the stranger. “We wear sleek clothes and act like mini celebrities on social media, so that the other versions of ourselves will turn out great. We put on a mask, façade or an act because we worry about our image and being measured by others. And, that’s okay. Remember, wanting to be loved and approved is human nature.”
“But, in our attempt to create the perfect versions of ourselves, we often lost our own identity. Some of us become so busy creating an appearance of perfection and happiness that we’ve transformed ourselves into a completely different person. Don’t lose that inner voice. Be yourself.”
Eventually, we arrived at our stop, Shopwise Cebu. There, we chilled for a while and ate a not-so delicious snack at its food court.
Afterwards, we walked our way to Punta Princesa, to catch a ride home.
Before leaving, though, I tapped my shoulders and said “thanks for the tips”.
And no, that’s not a typo.
There was nobody beside me on that bus.
I was literally alone the entire time.
And the stranger is not my imaginary friend either. I may be a little weird, but I’m not suffering from schizophrenia.
The truth is, the fascinating stranger on the bus was no other than the voice inside my head.
If you’re an introvert like me, you definitely have this distinct inner voice that’s constantly running in the back of your mind.
And, everything that my inner monologue said was about me.
They were, in some ways, my flashbacks, reminders and reflections.
Here’s the thing. My alone time isn’t just about indulging in my favorite hobbies.
I prefer to isolate myself from time to time, so I can get in touch with myself and organize my thoughts.
Being alone gives my mind the time to decompress as well as replenish my energy.
When I’m surrounded by tons of people, I feel like my brain is too overloaded to function the way it should be.
But, when I’m alone, I’m free to tune into my inner monologue, instead of paying attention to what is going on around me.
I am more creative, and have deeper insights, in solitude.
Truthfully, I made some of the biggest decisions in my life, when I was alone.
I decided to quit my job and open a new business, after the butt-numbing 9-hour bus ride from CDO to Davao.
I came up with the idea of creating my own blog, when I was flying back to Cebu from Singapore.
I decided to marry my wife, while I was on a bus ride to Carmen to hike Mount Mago.
And this encounter with my inner monologue, or stranger, also helped me make the right decisions in life.
I was on the verge of buying a motorcycle or car, and the stranger gave me some good insights.
I was thinking of going back to the corporate world, but the stranger reminded me on my true nonconformist nature.
I was planning of building a group for charity works, and the stranger shared his opinions and tips.
And, I was about to beat someone up, when he reminded me of my code – don’t be an asshole.
There are over a thousand versions of you out there. And sometimes, it’s the one inside your head that matters.
After all, no one knows the whole situation in your life better than you.
No one knows your strengths and weaknesses better than that voice inside your head.
And, certainly, no one knows the truth about yourself more than your inner monologue.
So, listen to that stranger inside your head. And who knows?
You might find the answers and secrets to your life’s biggest mysteries.