Updated: Aug 7, 2019
Whether you see/believe it or not, every person is trying to do better in life. We're all at different places on the continuum of emotional evolution; but, we really all want to be better than we were before. When I stop to think about HOW I want to grow, the list is short but powerful:
Understand others better
Enjoy the present
These are not super easy things and I have a LONG way to go. At the same time? I've come a very long way. I grew up in the Midwest. The people were kind and looked after each other. There wasn't much diversity, so there wasn't much talk of prejudice really. We were lower middle class for most of my younger years; but, my parents worked hard, saved, and invested. By high school, we'd moved to an affluent suburb of Chicago and we were firmly "upper middle class" with a continuing upward trajectory.
Going to high school in Chicago opened my eyes to many new cultures and customs and I LOVED it. SO MUCH. Fast forward to college and I dated someone from just about every ethnicity that I was introduced to. I think I was more excited about their food, beliefs, and customs than I was ever actually interested in any of the boys.
I learned that even when we come from very different worlds, we have more in common than not. Love, joy, kindness, sorrow, friendship, grief, frustration - these are universal human experiences. In immersing myself in each culture, I learned countless ways to move through all of these emotions- each culture adding its own tactics and traditions to my coping arsenal.
My curiosity really peaked when I attended the East-West Center for special studies in cultural pluralism. I can distinctly look back at that experience and identify it as THE moment that traveling the world would be the best way for me to learn all about the different people, belief systems, and practices that are part of the human race.
How does this tie into my three self-improvement goals? So glad you asked!
UNDERSTAND OTHERS BETTER
The more I learn about people that are different from me, the more I understand what has shaped their world view, and the better I become at viewing the world with compassion. Each of us has a story. I can't apply the "rules of my reality" to yours- it simply does not work. If I want to understand you, I have to understand your culture. I can read ABOUT your culture all I want; but, until I experience it, I really have no idea what I'm talking about.
If you to dig deeper, one of the the BEST books on this is Duane Elmer's Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving The World in Christlike Humility.
ENJOY THE PRESENT
Another powerful lesson from travel is that the magic always and only happens "now." For anyone that's familiar with the Enneagram (something I talk about a lot on Instagram), you should know that I am a Type 7. I tend to live in the future, excited about the next thing and planning where I'm going next. While forward-thinking can be a real gift, at times it makes it a challenge to enjoy the current moment.
I have to choose to let my surroundings sink in. I have to choose to slow down. When I successfully do this, I find peace and contentment. I find clarity and real joy. The next moment will be here before I know it, making it ever more important to live in THIS one.
Same, same, but different. Travel is always upredictable. Even the best laid plans go topsy turvy when you're in a new place or at the "mercy of the airlines." Through my extensive travels, I've learned that worrying about how it was "supposed" to go does nothing but steal my joy in the moment. If I can find a little gratitude in the missed flight, I'm all the better for it!
Speaking of gratitude, did you know gratitude physically changes the shape of your brain? Don't believe me? Try Science. To me, gratitude is a form of love. When I am grateful for the people in my life, I can love them genuinely and in a way that connects my heart to theirs. Travel opens our eyes to a multitude of human experiences - we see suffering, we see success, and we see everything in between. Pair understanding with presence, and I can physically feel the hurts of the people I encounter in my travels. When I pay attention, I can see what's in the hearts of the people working in the "tourist traps," or those trying to get a ride to the next town, or the person serving my meal in that local dive. I may not know their story, but I do know they have one and find myself grateful for their presence and experience a caring for the health of their heart. There are a few faces from my travels that will never leave my memory. Some of them are overflowing with joy, others with pain - and I feel love for them all.
I am immeasurably grateful for the different colors of our world - the food, places and people. All of it. I am a better human when I open my heart and become vulnerable to the stories of those people and places I encounter. I don't have to go to the most remote part of the world to find people to love - they are right here. They are right now.
I still have a great deal to learn. More to understand, more moments to embrace, and more love to offer. I will never "arrive"- being better is not a destination...it is the ultimate adventure!
I'd love to know what travel teaches you and how you are better for the adventures you've been on! Email, share, comment, or join the Travel Talk community here to chime in!