The Invisible Hierarchy of Transformation

Lone tree on pink ground and a clear sky
Photo by Simon Matzinger

The author, Courtney Loechl, is a Make Shit Happen coach, hostel management consultant, and avid world traveler. With a focus on consistent, tangible steps paired with the right mindset, she guides her clients to transform overwhelm into action in order to grow their businesses and achieve major life goals.

After years of living around the world—teaching English to child monks in Thailand, guiding whitewater rafting in Swaziland, hitchhiking through New Zealand, managing a hostel in San Francisco, and much more—she made it her mission to help others follow their dreams instead of just talk about it. Courtney lives with her wife Candice in a ’79 Dodge camper van they renovated into their tiny home, with plans to convert a full-size school bus into a mobile hostel called The Wanderbus.

Have you ever found yourself craving the company of others who had…

studied abroad, because they too weren’t just another tourist?

Or traveled long-term, because they too had made it a lifestyle and not just a vacation? 

Or lived as an expat, because they too weren’t just a temporary student or forever backpacker?

Or went to transformation festivals, because they too were looking for more than just a party?

Or participated in Burning Man, because they too sought out more than any festival could provide?

Or some other version of the above?

There’s an unspoken hierarchy that can come out when people are discussing their experiences or searching for those with similarities. I used to see it a lot in my days managing backpacker hostels when travelers would try to one-up each other with their tales of adventure.

“Oh, you went to the top of the Eiffel Tower? I scaled a mountain in Nepal with one avocado and an alpaca named Sage.”

Or “Oh, you saw a cute stray dog in Thailand? I had a monkey mad chillin’ outside my house in Swaziland.” (Which, personally, I did, and that fucker looked all cute till he raided my entire kitchen later, leaving only the reject avocados.)

It can be both hilarious and obnoxious to witness or be a part of a conversation like that. And the motivation really can be as simple as the desire for an ego tickle to reinforce how much we think we’re the shit.

But I also think many of the examples above are really just a symptom of the deeper connection we’re so desperate for and a way to feel less alone while experiencing big changes, rather than just a holier-than-thou attitude.

It can be easy to separate ourselves into boxes or assimilate into groups, and there is definitely a time and a place for it. Yet part of integration is learning how to adapt around different people.

Familiar, comfortable spaces can be essential for processing big transformative experiences.


If we constantly feel the need to surround ourselves by only those who “get it,” what are we really changing? It’s just another echo chamber, and we have enough of that in the world already.

How do we expect major shifts to happen in our world if we keep our experiences compartmentalized? If there’s no discussion around bringing our experiences to others and impacting our communities?

Nothing really changes if we keep the mentality that the places where we experience transformation and the places where we experience daily life cannot be one and the same.

It’s not enough to experience transformation for ourselves if we ignore the bigger picture. Change starts with us, but it grows with the collective.

It can be challenging to integrate personal shifts or bring new ways of thinking into unfamiliar communities, but that’s where the real, meaningful work is. That’s where we give others permission to do the same.


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