Prolific travelers often joke that we have commitment issues. It’s a joke I’ve often made – after all, when folks asked how on earth I could pick up everything and re-locate to Europe for a 2-year Master’s or how I seemed to perpetually be traveling I would flash a smile, shrug, and explain, “No mortgage, no dog, no girlfriend”. There is, undoubtedly, some truth to this somewhat cavalier statement…but it’s simultaneously an equal part bullshit. I don’t have issues committing and I’m most certainly not running from things. There is a path I chose a number of years ago, mostly aware of the trade offs. I do not commit casually and I do not commit without reason. Why? Because each commitment is a rope (or chain) which binds us to a place and time. The weight of these can, at times, be light or transient but even the smallest commitment, when taken seriously, is binding.
In life I can be uncompromising though I combine this with a personality and lifestyle which might seem in direct conflict due to its fluidity and socially-engaged but relaxed approach. How can someone who grew up with a mediator-oriented personality and leadership style be simultaneously uncompromising? As I’ve matured as a person and grown increasingly confident in myself, my abilities, and the decisions I make I find myself less inclined to doubt myself and more ok with the trade-offs that come with decisive decision making.
Today I turn 30. It is an interesting opportunity to step back, reflect, and share some of my observations to date. Below you’ll find a mixture of items I think you may find interesting – either as insights to reflect upon, or as advice garnered from life-lessons I’ve learned and am happy to share. Others are just general musings about issues I find interesting, which weigh on my mind, or which have shaped the person who I am today.
On Personal Identity
- I’ve come to realize that often the line between passion and a desire to share and arrogance is a thin one. Both in how it is expressed and in how it is received. When you are passionate and grow comfortable enough with ideas to the point where you are willing and able to speak with conviction, no matter what you do, you’ll perpetually threaten some people while others will mistake that passion and excitement for arrogance.
- There are two primary levels of confidence when it comes to personal identity. The first is social confidence. This involves developing the ability to convey being confident to the people around you. For many this is perceived as true personal confidence. It’s not. It is a step along that path. The second and more important type of confidence is internalized confidence. This is far more difficult to achieve and usually comes through various formative experiences. For me both solo travel and dance have been instrumental in nurturing the transition from simply projecting confidence towards embracing that core confidence. Once you’ve internalized your self confidence you’re able to act from a position of strength and independence. To phrase it slightly differently, social confidence is when other people believe in you. Internalized confidence is when you believe in yourself. This doesn’t mean you won’t doubt yourself and that you don’t constantly push yourself or that you’re recklessly self confident. It simply means that you know that when you apply yourself to something, that you are the master of your own destiny and that you are not only responsible but capable of being responsible for making those decisions.
- You must choose who you want to be and what type of life you want to live. When I was 16 I wanted to be a marine biologist. I still harbor a fascination with the sea, but I now know that the life and pursuits of a marine biologist would have led me down a course very different from the one I have charted. It would have been a rich life but one I am eternally grateful I did not choose to pursue. Since turning 18 I’ve changed significantly as an individual. My needs, passions, goals, and personal identity has evolved as I have matured. The result is an adult who is on a course towards becoming who I want to become and living the life I want to live. While that will never stop, the way we live, act, and make decisions in our 20s shapes much of who we are as adults. For many, the choices of their early 20s and late teens are fundamentally binding. Not only because of the careers that they choose but the relationships and commitments that they enter into. This creates a critical challenge for people as they enter their later 20s and 30s. Are the decisions and relationships they entered into at that point of time binding or liberating? Do they nurture growth or constrain it? There is no good or bad here. Rather it is a matter of priorities and personal need and preference. But, when making these choices there are profound ramifications and it is something we must be very aware of.
- There is an old thought experiment which I find critical to shaping my understanding of life. It’s a simple dilemma – you exist in a black room devoid of any variation. You don’t know hot or cold, light or dark, pleasure or pain. You are ostensibly neither utterly happy nor utterly unhappy. You are in a fixed state and as such essentially content. Then the opportunity presents itself in the form of a doorway to the outside world. If you pass through that door you will know pain and bliss, hot and cold, light and dark. As an individual it is important to ask yourself which option do you prefer? Would you rather be in the room in a perpetual state of contentedness? Or would you prefer to step outside and be “less happy” but to live a life with much richer stimulation and contrast. This question ultimately is one about curiosity and life-ambition. For many people a lifestyle that aspires towards contented consistency on-par with that achieved within the room is preferable. For me, I am squarely in the other camp. I will always choose the path towards knowledge and curiosity even if it means I get my fingers burnt from time to time and that I am faced with questions that are utterly impossible to answer. It is disconcerting but it is also fundamental to who I am and likely one of my most definitive personality traits. It is also what pushes me and makes me tick.
- Travel is critical to understanding yourself and the world around you. If you fail to travel, at least periodically, then you will live a life threatened by the world at large and be intimidated by what you don’t understand and don’t know. It is not the alien nature of the destinations that makes travel intimidating. It is the personal growth and introspection that is required to make a trip happen that makes it terrifying. Travel forces us to accept different perspectives, to accept the risk of our own failure, and to admit our own gaps in knowledge.
- With time, core aspects of the travel experience change. While in my mid-20s I was confident that I’d be a budget backpacker for life and was convinced that the hostel lifestyle would appeal to me for decades. Now, at 30, I can already sense the allure of elements of that experience starting to wax and wane. The world is perpetually changing and so are we. I have recently realized that it is of the utmost importance to travel throughout your life because what you can do, what you will experience, and what will be important to you will similarly shift and evolve. Not only as you gain more experience as a traveler, but as you gain more life experience as an adult. Those who put off travel until they retire miss out on much of what travel has to offer.
- Travel is a prolific muse for discovering passion and creativity. This blog is a prime example of how travel can foster our inner passions and creativity. VirtualWayfarer, driven by my travels, has served as a platform and muse which has allowed me to delve into writing, photography, videography, public speaking, academic research and a wealth of other interests. The trip itself is always important, but every bit as important is what you choose to do as part of that trip. As a species we are profoundly adaptable. We are also inclined towards routine and ritual. In daily life our typical ritual has a predictability rate of around 87%. Travel on the other hand re-sets our rituals and our routine. It breaks us free of the day-to-day and creates windows for re-definition, exploration and innovation.
- Travel can also be a rich way of strengthening your relationships. I come from a family of travelers who have a lot in common and grew up traveling together. This makes family travel, even as an adult, a bit easier than for some folks. Never the less, one of the things we’ve done over the last few years is meet up for a few weeks each year of travel together. While other families gather for Christmas or the Holidays, we take to the road and create new memories. There’s a lot to be said for both experiences, but I also find that one of the biggest challenges when “going home” is that no matter how old you are you revert to many of the same behaviors you had when living with your parents. For me, traveling with my parents has allowed us to strengthen our relationships and means that the time we share is time spent doing more than watching TV together and eating large amounts of food.
- Solo travel is amazing. But, solo travel is not good for all destinations. When hostels or couch surfing isn’t available as a method for meeting and socializing with people while traveling it is important to have a travel companion. There are also other locations which are made to be shared. The sense of companionship that can come from meeting new friends while traveling can be incredibly rich and rewarding. Similarly, the sense of loneliness that can come from traveling to a place best-experienced with a companion is equally powerful.
- Being highly selective about who you travel with is of the utmost importance. Traveling with the wrong people can not only ruin relationships it ruins travel experiences.
- Aim to travel with people who are at a similar place in their travel experience. Contrary to popular belief, novice travelers shouldn’t travel with veteran travelers or vice versa. Why? Because when you first arrive in a new place and are new to exploring places, cities, and history it is important that you experience the various phases of travel. Many veteran travelers move away from doing every museum and marveling at every exotic detail. I remember when I first arrived in Europe – the pure novelty and beauty of cobblestone streets kept me entertained for hours. Now I only notice them in passing or when they stand out as part of a particularly charming moment. I’d also get lost in Europe’s grand cathedrals enjoying every ounce of history. About 1,000+ Cathedrals later I now pop in, explore quickly, focus on a few things that stand out, and then continue my journey. As the old saying goes, “Don’t rush to grow up”.
- It’s old advice, but it is important advice. Cut people out of your life who don’t deserve to be in it. We all have assholes that somehow work their way into our lives. People who regularly commit wrongs or questionable acts but which we dismiss as merely a reflection of who they are. Simply because someone is a jackass a majority of the time, doesn’t make that person exempt from getting the boot. Cut them out of your life and say good riddance. You’re not responsible for transforming them or parenting them. They may be funny and they may be somewhat charming, but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy. What type of person am I talking about? You know the type – especially if you’ve ever watched Top Gear.
- Earlier I mentioned the difference between social confidence and internalized confidence. More than that, I’ve come to realize that there is also relational confidence. Relational confidence is incredibly deceptive and creates problems since it can either coincide with social/internalized confidence or be vastly different. While I find that my overall confidence has progressed significantly, my relational confidence has lagged behind somewhat. In many ways one of my priorities over the last couple of years and moving forward is to re-write my confidence when it comes to dating, pursuing, and initiating romantic interactions in a way that better reflects and aligns with the social confidence that women initially see, experience, and expect from me. I’ve found that while I view and consider myself as quite shy, particularly when it comes to being overt in my interests or establishing concrete dates – the perception and expectation that women often hold for me due to my social presence and competence fails to align. A disparity which in turn triggers confusion, mixed signals, and a wealth of missed opportunities.
- Travel, intellectual curiosity, my personal and professional drive have made it much more difficult for me to find a suitable match for a long-term relationship. This initially freaked me out in a big way and has, to a certain degree, weighed heavily on my mind in recent years as many friends not only got married but began to have children. We have so much pressure placed on us to conform to the traditional timeline that it can be exhausting and a bit nerve-wracking choosing not to. Luckily, my Dad shared with me a piece of wisdom from his own story and it has resonated with me ever since. Distilled down the the basics, the advice was simple – the air is thinnest at the top. The more complex a person you become and the more passions you have as an individual the more challenging it is to find the right match. This circles back, in part, to the earlier example of comfort and a dark room vs. curiosity and knowledge. I still have a LOT more growth ahead of me. I’ll often get grief from friends for not diving into exclusive/committed relationships to just test out the waters. The reality is that to do so would not only waste my time but the other person’s time. That’s time and emotional energy which I’d much rather spend more wisely and save for women who are closer to being that mutually dynamically aligned snug-fit. I have also learned (with a not insignificant amount of relief) that those women ARE out there for me. They are just incredibly rare and hard to find.
- There are different types of compromise. Some are good, some are not. In relationships it is important that we are willing to compromise and find common ground with the other person. This of course means compromising during arguments, but it also means appropriately prioritizing (and re-prioritizing) our wants and needs to match those of our partner. At the same time, there is a vast difference between compromising over what to have for dinner because a potential partner is vegetarian and compromising what you know you want and need from a relationship simply out of convenience or fear of a lack of better options. In the past I’ve entered into relationships which compromised what I knew I wanted and needed from a relationship. These rarely lasted longer than a month. Why? Because they were doomed before they began. I had compromised to explore what I knew wasn’t actually a fit that would work for me, for the sake of “just giving it a chance”. Sometimes it was curiosity, other times it was convenience, and other times it was self doubt – was my inclination right? I’ve heard similar justifications and compromise-based statements from friends time and time again. It often leads them down paths to confusion, frustration, and bucketloads of heartache. I find that part of developing a strong emotional maturity is learning to embrace what we are seeking, what makes us tick, and what we want and expect from a partner. Far too often we have been told to enter into relationships completely selflessly. It’s horseshit. The start of meaningful relationships must be deeply selfish. They must be based in both partners knowing what they want, what they need, and seeking that in a respectful and collaborative way. It’s only when those interests align and those partners come together that they can hope to have an equal and healthy relationship. Otherwise you find yourself floating in a morass of unsatisfied potential, what-ifs, and exploitation.
- Leave people better than you found them if at all possible. It’s simple enough to say, but also far more difficult to do in practice. I’m a firm believer that empathy is a fundamental part of being a good person. I also believe strongly that in life we should keep to a pay-it-forward approach when and where we can. In all relationships, especially my romantic ones, I seek (though I do at times fail) to leave the people I share time with in a better state than when we first met wherever possible. This doesn’t mean I see myself as a mechanic working on and fixing people – far from it. It simply means that in life it is important that we respect the people we spend time with romantically. If we respect them, treat them fairly, and are attentive not only to our own needs but theirs as well – both spoken and unspoken – then regardless of how long (or short) those relationships may be, they leave us both enriched as people. Being honest and communicating are perhaps two of the most difficult parts of this process, but also two of the most fundamental. It saddens me deeply that respect is often one of the last things on the list of people’s priorities when it comes to sex, love, and relationships.
- My personal time is deeply important. While I’m sure this will change for the right girl, I find making time to date on a regular or consistent basis difficult. This is purely a lifestyle choice and something that is quite selfish on my part. However, it is also something that I have come to value greatly. As a geek in high-school I dreamed of falling madly in love and intense relationships. While I’ve yet to find the head-over-heels love of my life, as relationships and dating have become much more accessible and prolific I’ve found that in life I not only need balance but treasure having the time to work on my projects and passions. This often gets distilled down as the lifestyle of a “career professional” but I find that grossly misleading. The reality is that while I am open to a serious relationship, many aspects of the lifestyle I’ve chosen over the past 6 years have not been conducive to a relationship. From constant travel to uncertainty over when and where I’d be living three months down the road, I’ve had to choose to prioritize flexibility, freedom, and my passions over relationships. It means that the relationship style I need and the partner that will fit is someone who is independent, has her own passions, is self confident, driven, highly intelligent and in the active pursuit of her own dreams. This is fundamentally different than what works for many friends. Made even more complicated by the reality that all of these shared attributes result in a resistance to compromising on schedule, priorities, and a shortage in available free-time to properly date and explore relational potential.
- When I was younger and my social circle was quite small I found myself periodically forced to pass on going to places or doing things I wanted to out of fear of being seen as a social failure or “weird”. The thought of eating alone at a restaurant or seeing a movie on my own was terrifying. It still makes me chuckle as I watch people – often women – pick up takeout food for one, fighting that same fear and awkwardness. With time and as my social network and dating experience has expanded I’ve become comfortable acting on my own. Solo travel has also played a fundamental role in this, but it is heavily bolstered by the knowledge that I can or could have company if I prioritized it. Increasingly I find myself busy and inclined to act on my own schedule, enjoying the absolute freedom that comes from being comfortable doing things when and how I want to do them. To use movies as an example, we’ve all missed seeing a movie we were looking forward to in the theater because friends were unavailable or kept delaying. As I’ve grown comfortable with myself both socially and alone I’ve found that for part of my daily routine how I do things has changed. Where before it was important to line up the social aspect before the event would occur, now far more often I find myself choosing an event (dinner, a movie, etc.) and then issuing social invitations to join. If people join me? I’d love the company (most of the time). If not? I’ll enjoy the movie, meal, or event every bit as much on my own. This opens up and has led to a much richer lifestyle. Though, it also comes with some dangers, as it also makes me less inclined to compromise and at times less available for events – which quite likely factors into shaping how I date and which draws heavily on the previous couple of points.
- Our lives are full of passions. The big challenge, however, is that these passions often don’t feel overt, concrete, or like the type of easily defined “passion” we expect. Ask people who have accomplished a lot what their passions are and you’ll get a mixture of answers. Many will give you a rehearsed elevator pitch born out of necessity due to the regular nature of the question. Others will shrug and have trouble answering. I know that I have a number of passions and that I am perpetually active with projects, ideas, and engagements. Yet, over the last decade I have often struggled with this question – feeling as though I lack a defining passion. The reality is that embracing opportunities, pushing ourselves to say yes to new challenges, and exploring what stimulates us is all that is necessary for a life full of passion. These may be hard to explain or recount – but so is what you did yesterday. Why? For the same reason. When we live lives immersed in our passions they become part of who we are, every-day, and seemingly mundane. It is only with outside eyes that the reality is revealed.
- Seek out the people you want to surround yourself with. They are out there but perhaps not where you’re looking. Success is heavily influenced by the people you surround yourself with. I’ve known a number of truly brilliant people who surrounded themselves with the uninspired, unintelligent, or those who lacked the emotional maturity to take action or take ownership for their own lives and identities. There’s an old saying that the path to wisdom is ensuring that you’re always the least intelligent person in the room. If you want to succeed and if you want to push yourself to become a richer and more robust person, choose who you surround yourself with carefully. Don’t just look at how intelligent, or successful the people around you are. Look at what type of people they are. You will mirror them – and if they lack empathy, humanity, or integrity they have every bit the negative impact on who you are and who you become as people who are uninspired or unmotivated. Finding the people you want to surround yourself with is no easy task. It often requires re-visiting our daily routine, where we go, what we are involved with, and the people we meet as a result.
- I am a stimulation junkie. I don’t mean this in the sense of drugs – something I’ve always avoided completely as I view my mind as something not to be toyed with idly. I mean it in the sense that with travel as a passion and as someone who is extremely curious I find myself perpetually seeking new experiences and sources of stimulation. From flavorful foods, to new cultures, to history, to architecture, or even social interactions – I am restless. This is something I love about myself and something that I constantly seek to nurture. However, it is also something that I’ve recently realized I have to be aware of. Why? Because while it opens up doors and is part of what gives me the energy to pursue and explore the things I do, it can also distract me from taking a deeper or more prolonged dive into experiences. I’ve discussed this a bit in my youtube videos about pipe smoking – but in short, the pursuit of new stimuli is deeply important, rewarding, and healthy but must be tempered by a connection to follow through and a head-nod to practical factors and considerations. It’s all well and good to chase the next adventure and the next great dragon, but from time to time we must also pause and fight the dragon or properly relish the adventure we’ve just completed.
- Another key area I’m working on is learning to celebrate, document, and to be open about my achievements. I often think about being a child and looking forward to my birthday or holiday gifts. I would dream for months about some item, toy, or prize. Then, upon getting it, I’d enjoy it for a stretch before my attentions oh-so-often moved on to the next item or experience to pursue. I find that successes are a bit like this. I’m hard wired to constantly perform. To achieve new things and to focus on the next challenge. It is a formula that keeps me busy and has pushed me to accomplish a lot at an early age. Still, one thing I’m horrible about is actually documenting and acknowledging these accomplishments. True, I’ll share them with friends or family and I am undoubtedly incredibly proud of them when they occur. But, they fade from sight and from mind quickly. This can be an issue when I hit unexpected delays or am reflecting on life and my accomplishments as during these periods I tend to be overly hard on myself failing to acknowledge or at times even remember many of the relevant accomplishments I have achieved. This over-achiever dilemma is a challenging one. In no small part because documenting and cataloging accomplishments takes time and energy that seems better spent doing something. At the same time, failure to do so leaves us unbalanced and warps our perspective. I’ve seen numerous friends and colleagues who were prolific over-achievers and had accomplished great things fall victim to crippling (or sometimes lethal) self-doubt. While I’ve never felt that far out of balance, a cornerstone of success is being attuned to what you are doing, what you have done, and what you are capable of. It is also just flat out healthy to celebrate and document when a new milestone is achieved.
- As part of learning to celebrate achievements a key skill to develop is learning how to accept praise. Frankly, I suck at it. It’s complex, it is uncomfortable, and it is awkward. It is also essential. Learn how to be gracious. Learn how to be humble. But also learn how to accept praise and accolades. Also, realize and accept that praise is not always all about you. The person that benefits most or feels the greatest reward from praise may be someone else entirely. Just as we listen to a loved one’s tired old story time and time again because of the knowledge that the telling gives them pleasure – be open to and accept that accolades and praise are just as often about those around you and those who care about you. Embrace it and see it as an opportunity to share a small gift with them.
- Be multidisciplinary if you want to understand any concept and be successful. In college it always baffled me that economics students learned so little history, sociology, or anthropology. The result was disastrous and led to grossly unbalanced economists with massive holes in their ability to judge, understand, and analyze behaviors. At the end of the day, if you want to be successful and desire the ability to digest data, understand it quickly, and then apply it – you have to aspire to be interdisciplinary. This means diverse interests, being curious, reading and socializing outside of the given area you’re exploring. Aspire to be a renaissance man (or woman). Train yourself to be able to have a capable conversation with anyone – no matter their career or level of education. Do that, and you’ll find that doors open up for you.
- Luck is bullshit. Opportunities are created by the way in which people interact with situations and justify their experiences. People with good luck didn’t bathe in unicorn farts. They made well-informed decisions, said yes to opportunities, were open to tackling challenges, and didn’t focus on how they were wronged or how lady luck neglected them. They face roadblocks or setbacks, bypass them, and forget about them. Luck is simply the result of moving forward with an equal blend of optimism, persistence, and situational intelligence.
On Accepting Failure
- We all experience failure differently. The one truth that is the same for all of us is that we will inevitably fail. Some of those failures will be big, some of those failures will be small. However, it is easy to look at our own failures and to beat ourselves up over them. Often we look at those around us, or those we aspire to, or even those we dislike – and mark our successes and failures against theirs. This is an inescapable part of being human, it’s also grossly misleading and a disservice to ourselves. Why? Because people rarely advertise their failures. Even in the peer-reviewed academic world there is a huge problem with misleading findings, not because the positive research isn’t valid or good but because the failures – the negative findings or failed experiments – are rarely disclosed or talked about. It is painfully difficult, but the truth is that we learn the most from our failures. The issue isn’t the failure itself. It is how we respond to it and what we do next.
- I recently went through a fairly prolonged job search process. As part of it I had numerous interviews. One of the most difficult questions to answer was the question, “Have you ever failed at something, and if so, what was it and how did you respond?”. I knew that I had, of course, failed at things. But, as I sat wracking my brain I struggled to recall a failure of any consequence. Eventually I realized why – I’ve trained myself to learn what I can from a failure and then to put it behind me and to progress. It’s no easy thing to do and it took years of working on accepting that I cannot excel at everything and that there will be missteps. It wasn’t until I truly delved into my past experiences that I was able to re-call specific incidents. They remain uncomfortable for me to dwell on, but I also got what I needed from them. The moral of the story? Don’t ignore or pretend you didn’t fail or make mistakes but at the same time don’t get lost in self pity or excessive over analysis. Accept that they are part of life and move forward.
- One area I still struggle with is accepting a simple learned truth: the fear of failure is often significantly worse than the feeling of failure itself. Quite often we fail to chase opportunities, initiate conversations, or pursue opportunities out of a fear of what will happen and the judgement and horrible feelings that will ensue if we fail. The truth is that these are often grossly over-stated. More over, hesitation and fear that keeps us from acting often actually facilitates and brings them into fruition. I know this, I have accepted this, but I still have to fight myself on a regular basis to push past that fear and to pursue challenging or “risky” opportunities as they arise.
This past year has been an incredible one. In it, I’ve thrown myself into two vastly different industries – Biotechnology and Ad Technology. I’ve transitioned from a job-seeker in a foreign country weighing the decision to stay or return to the US to being a committed full time employee in a Danish company as a member of the Danish society for what may very well be years to come. I’ve also seen new heights of success with VirtualWayfarer and my travel craft including mentions and features in National Geographic and partnerships with major publications which I highly respect. I’ve been featured by Instagram and had my content well-received by millions of people – something that still takes my breath away and blows my mind. I’ve had the opportunity to give exciting talks, see my research published academically, and overcome a number of challenging hurdles. I’ve also added another country – bringing my grand total to 42 and while I failed to hit my goal of 50 by 30, I am confident that I’ll manage to visit 50 countries before I leave 30 behind and embrace 31.
Life is wonderful, and that is in no small part because of decisions I’ve made, the support of loved ones, and because of the path I chose and have stuck with. While there is a white picket fence in my future, the path I’ve chosen is one I am firmly in the midst of and happy to be on. It can be more lonely at times, though it is also simultaneously more social than I ever could have imaged. Thank you for sharing in this journey. For your feedback, for your questions, and for your insights.
Today I turn 30 and it is a profoundly exciting time in my life. It staggers the imagination that a mere 12 years ago I was packing up and tearfully preparing to say goodbye to my folks as college started and I began a grand new adventure. I’ve added a few new adventures a hundreds of thousands of miles to the odometer and I know I’m just getting warmed up.
My grandfather would always say, “The roads will open up for you”. They have – and with this thought in mind I am endlessly excited by what I have yet to learn, experience, and explore. Thanks for sticking with me for these 5,800 or so words. If any part really resonated with you, i’d love to hear about it.