I truly enjoy analyzing the personal habits of myself and those around me. It’s a character trait that somehow, most of the in depth horoscopes out there seem to predict very well. I don’t do it to be judgemental, but to understand the motives, mindsets and rationalizations behind people’s actions. It is what creates most of my ideas for content and helps me to empathize and understand behaviours I see in myself and others. This past weekend I was driving on the highway with a good friend of mine when an incident occurred that sparked up a long and creative conversation that lead us onto a variety of topics. While blasting down the road far above the speed limit, we changed our lane to let a car travelling even faster pass by. For whatever reason, this lady drove past us with all kinds of fingers in the air and what lip reading told me were some pretty aggressive comments. Her scowl didn’t help. The question of how is it that any individual could be so offset over our 15 second highway interaction was mind boggling to both of us. All that anger and stress just to end up 30 feet ahead of us in traffic. While there was no way for us to know the personal situation of this woman, we both agreed that the given circumstance was likely a first world problem at best, and our chat proceeded down a similar path. It is sometimes wild to think of how much unnecessary complication we throw into our lives in the form of stress. Life is much more simple than people living in the developed world often make it out to be.
There are communities around the world where the inhabitants are poorer than we can even imagine. They live in third world circumstances where the concept of entering a “workforce” doesn’t even exist. Their version of getting a job is simply to hustle and brainstorm whatever method they can utilize over the foreseeable future to stack a few pennies. The ironic thing about this, is that these individuals are often happier than most anybody in the first world. They don’t feel pressure to live a certain way or accumulate a massive bank account. They are able to simply enjoy and appreciate whatever it is that they do have going for them. On my first big trip abroad I noticed this trend everywhere. Locals in these towns lived more simply than I had ever seen before, regardless of their financial status. Those considered “wealthy” by local standards simply had a driveway, a better lawn, or maybe a newer surfboard. They didn’t crave a luxurious home or car, because they didn’t need it. Their families were together and they lived near the beach. Those two things alone were often enough.
As young adults in the modern day, we are living out a social phenomenon that never ceases to amaze me. The complication that technology brings into our reality is still incomprehensible, but it is certainly apparent. Everywhere we look, the world is stimulating us in new and perplexing ways. Our attentions have shrunk and our addiction to the short fix is now beyond control. We are like crack addicts, except with Snapchat, Instagram, and nicer shoes. I have the same millennial ADD as the rest of us, and it gives me the creeps to realize how significantly my cell phone use can affect my mood. At times I catch myself constantly checking for any kind of notification, as if this action has become some kind of subconscious auto-response, programmed from years of time wasted on social media. Sometimes deleting apps from my phone entirely seems like the best option for breaking this pattern. These feelings and habits are based upon a literal addiction to the quick boost of dopamine received from external validation. We have come to appreciate short lasting highs as a feeling that is actually real and of substance. Hint: just like all the sugar coated content we see on our phones, it isn’t. Instant gratification is now an expectation and we are beginning to falsely attach these brief hormone spikes to our understanding of processes that are absolutely long form in nature. I am beginning to prescribe to a small belief that our subconscious obsession with stimulation is causing us to detach from the seemingly boring nature of real life progress. I may be simply imagining the thought that complacency is prevalent among millennials, but if this turns out to be true, I would put money on the fact that technological bombardment is a major variable. The thing nobody realizes about constant dopamine spikes, is that they eventually come to lower our baseline hormonal levels. A phenomenon that is now being linked to a whole host of personal and mental issues. If you have ever read into it, this is the exact argument behind the growing modern anti-porn movement.
“Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master” – Christian Lous Lange
There was a time when everything in life was a long term game. People actually migrated to countries like our own, signing their lives away to work like slaves building infrastructure and railroads. They found comfort in the thought that one day, though closely followed by death, their foot would finally be in the door. Of course this is a drastic comparison. The world has changed tremendously since times like this, but things like love, success (however you personally define it) and happiness still rarely ever happen in the short term. They are not derived from a collective series of short highs, but from long term experience and learning. Real connection with anything, or anybody takes time to develop. It is part of a process where we are constantly leveling up, learning and understanding more about these things as we go deeper. The media and advertising world has taught the public to value quick solutions in areas of our lives where they simply do not belong.
While the life throws at us are likely a lot more simple than we realize, they certainly have no quick fix. Don’t let that dopamine boost fool you.
Anyone who knows me well knows I make semi-serious, and self-aware jokes about moving to some exotic place so that I can finally “find myself”. I am chronically poking fun at the entire concept, and for good reason. On that same note, I am certainly guilty of chasing this notion myself. Although the trips I have taken since graduating have definitely been life changing in many ways, what I “found” wasn’t some new and unfamiliar personality or life mantra. What I did acquire was a more accurate worldview and a broader comfort zone. Neither struck me as an epiphany of any sort, but they are both qualities that have contributed to my growth as a person and as an adult.
“Finding yourself” is an arbitrary concept. I’ve come to realize that “finding yourself” is a lot less about looking outside of ourselves for answers than it is about looking within. Instead of searching, it is more about increasing personal awareness: putting ourselves in the process of continual transformation where we internalize, process, and become conscious of all the things that we already know but may have yet to put together. We all know what kinds of things make us ecstatic and what instills fear. We know who we are, including the worst parts of our character. What I am doing to “find myself” nowadays is very different from searching for some singular definitive moment or experience in the unforeseeable future. Instead, I am focusing on further understanding my own needs and living as true as I possibly can. Life is perpetually changing and always uncertain. In my mind, the best way to live is with vulnerability and authenticity. It’s about accepting the uncertainty of life, and doing the best we can to make time for the things that make us the happiest. I make a point of consciously and regularly reflecting on my choices, goals and dreams. We draw closer to the understanding of ourselves when we make the priorities that are right for us. When we make decisions free from peer influence that best suit our vision. I’ve come to appreciate the importance of the things in my life that matter the most to me: being in the presence of friends and family, being able to participate in activities that ignite my passion, taking care of my body/health, and actively chasing dreams and goals that are bigger than myself.
Instead of “finding ourselves”, we need to realize that through observation and consideration, we are indeed capable of knowing ourselves on a deeper level. We know what makes us the happiest and the things that just don’t work for our personalities. In my mind, this is what “finding yourself” is all about. It is about shaping the lifestyle that is right for who you are. It truly is more simple than it seems. Certainly, nobody out there knows you better than yourself.
After finally escaping the ceaseless San Jose traffic, the cab driver lets me out at my hostel. Possessing no energy to question him, I pay for the absurdly overpriced ride and hop out with my bag. At this point the excitement of finally arriving is too much for a few dollars to affect me. The hostel is on a dark street across from a park and it is about midnight. As the cab driver takes off down the closest alleyway, I ring the doorbell outside the courtyard and anxiously await acknowledgment. After a few long minutes the hostel attendant greets me at the gate. I quickly head to my bed and pass out for what feels like the shortest five hour sleep of my life. As dawn cracks, I munch on a plain tortilla and make my way to the bus station for my trip to the coast.
This time my taxi driver doesn’t understand a single shred of english and naturally, we zig zag through San Jose visiting half a dozen bus terminals before finding the right one. I grab some plantain chips and snag the last seat on the bus. It doesn’t take me long to realize that what would be a 2 hour drive back home is quickly quadrupled due to the slow, winding roads swerving through the rainforest. We finally roll into a strange town and all I can see are hostels, surf shops and dust, everywhere. Not quite the main strip I had imagined. As I step down from the bus I spot a couple drunk Canadians with devious looks on their faces and realize these are just sunburnt versions of my friends. I’m finally here. They surprise me with the first celebratory drink of what would soon become four months worth. Apparently we had plenty to celebrate. Soon after we make our way down the road to our rental and the place is incredible. A full beach home all to ourselves, including a crisp view of the palm covered pacific beachfront. My friends point me to my bed, which is basically a piece of foam. Cheers to showing up last. Once fully settled in the guys take me to meet our landlord. I trudge down the twisting steps and set my gaze upon what looks like a Spanish, surfing hulk Hogan. With a firm handshake he smiles and says to me “welcome to my country, my name is Diego. Pura Vida!”.
We spent the rest of the night listening to Father John Misty and sipping on Cortez with our German neighbours. Everybody came to the consensus that a trip to the local pub was in order. Although at this point I can barely keep my eyes open, my response is a resounding “I’m in”. We join the flow of locals into the bar and blend in to the tourist corner for awhile. When it seems obvious enough that the evening has come to an end, we follow the departing crowd and inevitably join the road party going on outside. Immediately I notice a small but intimidating local kid walking directly toward me. I have no idea what to make of his glares and gestures, but soon understand he’s looking to push drugs on me, with persistence. Before I have a chance to re-affirm how uninterested I am, two more locals confront the young tico and do it for me. A couple moments go by and suddenly I was surrounded. At this point I was prepared to empty my pockets on the spot. To my surprise, instead of the mugging I was expecting, the locals actually pull aside sketchbag number one. After a little bit of violent shaking, they affirm with him that I’m Diego’s new tenant. I see the fear in his eyes as I receive what seems to be a truly genuine apology, and that’s that.
The shrieking of howler monkeys and a rum induced hangover wake me early in the morning, and coffee is a must. I walk down to the store to buy my first groceries: eggs, cereal and the biggest avocado I’ve ever seen. When I get back to the house, I notice the same three locals from last night hanging out with my landlord. To hide my discomfort I make sure to give them a wave and they call me over. Casually, they mention the encounter from last night and all burst out in laughter. One of them says to me “you don’t worry about anything brother, you’re staying with Diego”. Slapping my shoulder, Deigo roars with laughter and the four men stroll down the hill.
When I get back to our unit my friends are finally awake and I fill them in on the strangeness of my first night. It took us all a few minutes, but the realization hits simultaneously, Diego is a big deal around here. Suddenly everything about him makes sense. The wealth, the random excursions, the friends and the lifestyle. He was the mafia, on a big scale. What that meant for us was not what you might expect. Instead of being fearful, it basically meant total immunity. Nobody in town wanted to mess with any business of Diego’s, and that literally meant us. For the rest of our trip we relished in the joys of the town without a single ounce of worry. We were never bothered by a single local on land or in the waves, and were never charged the implicit “gringo tax” that most tourists unknowingly pay. We were the tenants of a man who was probably scarier than we could imagine and surprisingly, it was pretty comforting.
Being a visible woman in the world, traveling, moving, existing, without any apparent other, is such a frustrating, empowering, scary, awakening experience, realization and remembering.
Before heading to Chongqing China to teach an intensive academic language proficiency test, a co-worker casually tells me to, “Go relax a few days in Thailand after teaching”. I arrived in a hotel in Beijing around 11pm, after a long day of travel. I met a Canadian guy in the lobby the next morning, the first foreigner I had spoken to in weeks, and he proceeds to tell me about when he arrived to the same hotel the previous night. “I arrived at night too and walked down the street and found my way to the little town, to buy some smokes and beers and get some food”. These brief comments and those like them do not upset or offend me; they simply make me think, if only it were that easy.
Taking the few days I had for vacation after my work trip to go over to Thailand was something I played with in my mind and yet the idea was interrupted by the reality that there would be too many taxi rides in the dark, too many eyes watching me wander alone- tall, confident, excited, fierce and yet alone. Similarly, I had a craving to venture out of the hotel at night and get some food and explore the dim-lit street sales and groups of people playing cards and drinking in the dark. My mind wandered but my feet kept me in place, in the safety of my quiet hotel room. I couldn’t help but wonder, if anything happened to this strong, handsome, young man, would anyone blame him for wandering out alone at night?
Nothing happened to him and maybe nothing would have happened to me, but I’ve learned not to trust maybe.
If I did wander out at night and was followed, assaulted, taken, uncomfortable, or scared, would it be my fault? Although I seem to get slightly high off the exhilaration of being alone, on the work-grind, exploring new corners, meeting strangers and flowing in and out of spaces like a straight up secret agent.. it’s also a space I’ve never been able to truly let go in.
I don’t remember the first time I wished, if even momentarily, that I was in another body.
Mostly, a male body- a big, strong, intimidating body. The kind of body that has never felt vulnerable, weak, or like a target. The kind that has never had to run, sweating and scared through a metro in Paris at midnight, in transition and on it’s way home from visiting a friend. The kind that hasn’t had to call other men to come walk them home to their apartment because the night lasted a little longer than expected and the streets of Buenos Aires were like the streets of any big city at night, unpredictable. The kind of body that doesn’t feel like a walking sex doll in tight or loose clothing. The kind that rarely thinks about how easy it is to go from feeling safe and strong to feeling utterly unsafe, alone and scared.
I learned to stare men straight in the eyes when I was young. Nobody told me or taught me this self-defence tactic, it was something I picked up on. Although I was often more serious than most kids, I remember growing up thinking that strangers were capable of their worst, before I could trust them. This came from stories and secrets about what happens in your neighbours house, on the street, in the night, in the day, in your own house. This dark reality is something that many people walk with, but mostly one which is familiar to most women. Some are more familiar with the depths of darkness, violence, fear and insecurity more than I, perhaps some less. What amazes me though, is how many people don’t experience this fear, insecurity and consciousness. This is a narrative we know and one that I’ve discussed in classes, with friends, partners, fathers. ”Yeah, yeah, male privilege has something to do with a different consciousness, we get it.” But do we?
Rather than talking about how guilty men should feel, can we start talking about what we can do about it?
Can we start making more space for women to talk about what it’s like to feel scared, vulnerable, victimized, small, helpless, unequal? To be on the defence and to suspect before being able to welcome and trust? To allow images into her head that assault her in a way that we don’t even justify? It’s so different for me to travel alone, anywhere, then it is for my tall blond friend 3 seats back. So different for me to be taken seriously in the “working world”, founded upon power structures that value certain types of strength and dominance and exclude many other forms of leadership. So different for me to walk alone at night, night whom I love and yet mistrust. Last night, I realized how much tension and anxiety had everything to do with the blanket of dark covering Beijing’s sky. How many screams, invasions, murders have been silenced by the blanket of night?
Fast forward, I was walking home from a friend’s house around 10pm, downtown London ON. For a while I was blissfully alone on the street, grazing my hand on every tree and bush and flower patch I walked by, probably whistling softly, eyes wide open. Eventually, I started to approach a smaller, older woman who was walking in front of me. I was walking at a faster pace than she was and I became aware of how my footsteps sounded to her, how my presence would make her feel. I knew the feeling well. I tried to step more softly and make my energy as calming as possible, to ease her own. Soon enough, I passed her and she moved aside quickly and abruptly and shot her gaze at me, to see who I was. I responded with a steady and assuring smile. Her face instantly relaxed. I said hello and she responded and we started chatting. I apologized for startling her and she said she was used to it, she had experiences that made her more jumpy than most and although she knew she was in a safe area, she lived with a familiar tension and defensiveness, one that was not hers to hold. We shared a few more words and then went in opposite directions. “Stay safe” she said to me softly and I nodded gently and said “you too”. Like some unspoken sisterhood between strangers.
I want to find ways that we can get some power back. We can feel strong and whole in our own bodies, capable, not threatened and not like targets, not some little lambs that need to be protected and told to be careful. As if we didn’t know, as if I didn’t know this world is not a safe place for women to roam freely. We learned that before we learned to walk. We’re not always reminded of this understanding. Some women don’t see the need to be alone, perhaps they have the privilege and the spaces they can hop to and from, out of the reach of any potential danger.
Some of us are more privileged than others, who may be forced into the darkness, the streets, the red lights, the war-zones. Others of us choose to chance what we think we have the right and freedom to do, what our brothers often do without a care in the world.
We travel, live alone, go on jogs when the night is young and deliciously fresh, dark enough to feel hidden, but never quite. The body of a man or an invisibility cloak, that’s what I’ve wished for. This narrative isn’t fair for any of us. Let’s open our eyes, protect our sisters and swallow reality without sugar coating, interrupting our stories or giving people “the benefit of the doubt”. Let’s stop saying rapists are monsters, predators and creeps or worse, harmless. Let’s stop blaming women for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the wrong clothes, with the wrong body. I remember writing this, sitting on the plane home from China, surrounded by images and action films of men chasing women and women looking as helpless as I’ve learned to feel. This is some institutionalized, colonial, patriarchal, out-dated, power-play BS that needs to be deconstructed. Let’s keep an eye out for our mothers, sisters, daughters. You see a girl walking home alone, keep an eye out for her. You see a guy being too aggressive, non-consenual, violent, creepy, do something about it. You notice the video, tv show, movie you are watching is highlighting violence against women, sexualizing and objectifying them, you turn your critical thinking skills on, filter that shit and/or turn it off completely.
Even writing this, I resist the way I’ve painted women out to be helpless. We are not helpless, we are not weak, we are not always vulnerable and victimized. I don’t want to perpetuate a narrative that creates fear and disempowerment but I want to be real about what many of us face. I want us to change the dynamic of power structures and relationships, starting with creating spaces for conversations. I want us to demand better entertainment and media and to have higher standards for ourselves and our communities. I want us to all share our stories and struggles and for others to recognize and honour them. I want us to consider emotional intelligence, femininity and women’s voices powerful. Street harassment, rape culture, oppressive power relationships, domestic violence, the objectification of women identified bodies, the devaluing of women’s work and potential to lead, heal and write new narratives- we have to see them before we can address them.
With eyes wide open, let’s talk.
At this exact moment I’m heading into the future on an entirely clean slate. Coming off the completion of my degree, the end of a classic post study backpacking adventure, and the reparation of a serious injury to my knee, I literally have no commitments and not a clue what will come next. It’s exciting. Realizing that this point was approaching fast, I made ditching the negative influences in my life a priority, and began consuming myself with fresh ideas and a new perspective. The short adventure that brought me to this point has taught me a few key lessons that I believe are going to be really significant for myself in the future:
On my trip, I met more people in a shorter time period than I ever have.
Each and every person was different from the person before. Some had more of an influence on me than others. The personalities of my new friends were also incredibly diverse, but I noticed a similar trend in most of their stories. The majority of these people were from developed, privileged countries, where they had good jobs, great families and tons of opportunity. Many of them were actually university and college graduates from places like Germany, Sweden, the UK and of course Canada, like myself. That being said, these people were leaving the jobs that they studied so hard to get, and decided to try and find something they were missing by traveling. They were not satisfied with the regular lifestyles their education had provided them with. I definitely value my education beyond all my other achievements. Even though I have never fully subscribed to the logic behind systematic education, the amount of lessons and information that university has taught me is truly incredible. The problem with the current education system is that it teaches us how to be similar to everybody around us, how to fit into the economic puzzle. It does not teach us to think differently, or to take new and original actions. Tons of jobs require formal education and tons of people are incredibly happy with their professions, so this is not necessarily a bad thing. However, to create a unique lifestyle, the answer isn’t necessarily to get a degree, and fit into a job. Thinking outside of the box is an entirely different type of education. If this is what you want then practice being creative, practice a being different. It may require trying a new approach other than following the path already paved for you, but anybody can go for it. Education has stimulated my mind, and travel has helped me to open that mind, something which I am practicing every day.
I cannot speak for all the countries out there, but in North America we are plagued by a consumer mentality.
We buy things left right and center. Instead of buying items for their purpose, we do so for status, validation and a lot of times, just because we can afford to. People from countries on the traditional backpacking trails are usually incredibly poor, and live with next to no possessions at all. Even those who live above the poverty level don’t have much more than they actually need. Living out of a bag in these places really teaches you the worthlessness of most possessions. When you can have the time of your life with a bag of clothes and the few accessories you need, you really come to understand the value of experiences over material objects. If we are going to buy stuff, it may as well have a legitimate purpose. Save your money and save your space while you are at it. When you need something, buy a quality product. If you don’t need it, why bother having it? No amount of random stuff will improve your situation. After all is said and done, “things” will still only be “things”.
A frequent problem in second and third world nations is the incredible amount of trash that is everywhere.
You do not have to go far to find a pile of garbage, in some places it is literally everywhere. Generally, many of these regions lack the infrastructure to create a proper trash disposal system. The garbage doesn’t get to any designated location, and recycling is often non-existent. The reality is that in these places, locals are uneducated about trash and pollution. We cannot just blame them for making a mess of the areas they live in. That is simply an ignorant perspective. In the developed world we know all about this problem, yet we continue to be wasteful and pretend we are unaware of the results of our actions. In truth, we have no legitimate excuse. We create tons of waste and use recycling as our justification. Recycling doesn’t eliminate plastic, and it takes oil and gas throughout the entire process. I am no scientist, but to stop producing unnecessary waste is clearly better than improving the methods of dealing with garbage. As an avid winter sports enthusiast, I have always been conscious of the pollution problem that is ruining our winters. Noticing slight changes in snowfall is certainly frightening, but seeing poor communities buried in trash is much more awakening. Witnessing beautiful landscapes covered with plastic bags and bottles made me realize that I have to start being part of the solution, instead of just being less of a problem.
Originally Published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com
This is not an article about how I “found myself” while backpacking through some tropical country near the equator. I’m also not going to list a bunch of reasons why we should all quit our desk jobs in favour of a beautiful beach somewhere with endless pina coladas, although that would be fantastic.
However, I am still here to preach about why and how travel can help all of us to live our lives in ways that are a little more conducive to happiness. Of course there are many reasons why travel is great for us. Travel broadens our perspective of the world by showing us how differently people live in other places. Adventure forces us to expand our comfort zone by placing us in circumstances that are entirely new to us. Visiting new places teaches us about other cultures and allows us to appreciate and love the qualities that make each people unique. Travelling allows us to test out new experiences, and feel that child like excitement we all wish we still had more of. Most importantly, travel teaches us that we are insignificant. It reminds us that we are only one human out of the 7.3 billion others.
Before you decide this article is too cynical to continue reading, please, let me explain this concept further. This is not a depressing statement but a powerful one. This reality gives us the power to take control of our lives like we may have never done before. If anything, to realize that your decisions don’t have to affect anybody but your self is humbling. I am just one guy in this giant world. I am living out my little life, and the only person I have to make sure this life is right for, is me. Sure, people do have tons of expectations for my future, especially my parents. And yes, my parents do want the best for me, of course they do. But what is best for me in their eyes may not actually be what will make me the happiest.
We have all grown up in a world that constantly tells us we are supposed to be special. As a result, most of us have a little voice in our head that tells us how we should act and what we need to do to fit into the societal definition of being successful. Feeling special has become a need rather than a desire. The funny thing about seeing the world through a new lens, is that we realize how minimal our existence truly is. I believe that this is something to be celebrated. If your ambition is to impact the world, than by all means, I encourage you to keep going. My point is that this realization should come as nothing but humbling. We are all just people trying to get through life the best we can.
For myself, I chose to accept this as a refreshing reminder to live out my own little existence just how I want to. This is my life, and why should I settle for anything less than what makes me happy? If I want to move to the mountains and snowboard everyday, I’ll do that. If I decide I want to pursue a career or start a business, I will do that also. Every decision in our lives should be filled with willful intention. There will always be a list of distractions that can cause us to forget what matters to us most. I think adopting a philosophy of insignificance could get all of us a little closer to true enlightenment. By staying passionate and humble, we will always be on the right path.
Originally Posted By Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com