What is a Good Life? #26
Good day to you all,
If this is your first time reading this newsletter, please click here for background information on the project and how it is structured (4 separate sections).
The key theme this week is Travel. The interviewee speaks about the importance of understanding others and broadening perspectives, while I reflect on its effect on shaping my worldview.
1. This week’s interview
Each week I share direct excerpts from an individual interview
This week’s interview is with Monica*. She is a Teacher who speaks about the importance of travel and new experiences in shaping her perspective in life.
*not the participant’s real name
What is a good life for you?
A good life is spending time with people I care about, family, or friends that have become family. Having a comfortable home and being able to, under normal circumstances, travel and experience new things. As people we are continuing to grow, gain new information and develop certain perspectives, and it’s important to regularly experience different outlooks on life than you do.
Everybody lives very differently and has a different perspective based on where they are from and where they live. It's important to understand and respect that or acknowledge where others are coming from. I grow and gain so much from travel and learning how people live.
So travel, for you, has a close association with broadening your perspectives and connection with others?
Yeah, it's really easy to stay in one place and say, “this is the way things are done and this is why we do them”. But if you never gain an outside perspective, you can stagnate a lot in your views.
I've seen, so often in my own American culture, that people, even if they travel, they're not really interacting with people in those places. And even where they live, they're only interacting with a handful or two handfuls of people that they've interacted with for a long time. That can really close you off. Having friends within different demographics, stages or roles in life, really helps you to understand much more.
Have travel and new experiences always been important to you?
Yes, my parents were always good at giving us new experiences. So instead of my mom saying, “oh, I was a swimmer when I grew up, you're going to swim too”, or my dad doing the same with music, they gave us chances to try different things. And within the United States, we did travel a lot as children.
My dad was always saying, “when you meet someone, go somewhere, or you try something new, you take what you want from that, and you leave the part you don't.” That shaped me a lot too. I never felt obligated to belong to a certain group or having one thing I had to do.
Can you expand upon that idea of not belonging to a certain group?
It's something I've thought about a lot more recently as I've grown older. Neither my husband or I necessarily subscribe or belong to one type of group. We're not really group people. It has advantages and disadvantages. For us, we were able to experience things maybe we never would have experienced, my husband in particular, by belonging more to a cultural identity.
Having travelled and moved to different states or countries, I also have a lot of autonomy in deciding whom I become and remain friends with. I know a lot of people who stay friends with people because of their connections to other friends or families, even though they are mistreated by them.
But the other part of that is we don't have a huge central community where we've always lived. It has advantages in terms of having a lot of freedom in life, but then at times like this where you're locked down for a year, and you're halfway around the world from a lot of people, it can be limiting. Normally, I would say 80% of that freedom is really satisfying and then there's always 20% where I wonder, would it have been better to stay? But then I’d have limited myself. So, I struggle with that a little.
What are the missing elements with that 20%?
Sometimes it can get exhausting from having people that don't know you as well. If you've chosen to live somewhere else, you have to explain yourself more, or you're worried about how people are going to take things you say. It can also be harder to establish yourself. Part of it is also a little bit of guilt with family. My mom's really good at that! Reminding me, obviously you can't control Corona, that it'll be almost two years since she’s seen my son, and things like that.
Sometimes I look at my friends who have stayed in the same place where we grew up, or that choose to live near their parents, that they have a larger community, or if not larger, it's more secure. That I've given up the security of having my parents to call on or someone I've known for my whole life - that can have some drawbacks.
With the travel restrictions this past year, what have you learned in the absence of travel?
When I'm just with my immediate family, especially my husband and my son, I can be very content. That we don't need anything or anyone else as long as we have our basic needs met. While I do feel an immense comfort in change and travel, a lot of it is to do with experiencing new things. Which has had more to do with reading in the last year.
We’ve also explored more in our own city, just going to different parts of Berlin makes me content somehow and happy - it doesn’t have to be something really big, it could just be a new park.
I’ve also tried to be, or I've gotten better at being, very present with my son. To see that he brings so many things to the table, so to speak, of what we're doing, or what he has to share - his interests are so different from mine and from what I did as a child. We're very opposite, so I've always tried to be present and see what he's experiencing. Listening to that, and hearing what he's saying or watching what he's doing. Or when we experience something new, see how he's seeing it compared to how I'm seeing it.
Obviously, parents have to lead, but I think also for me, I realised a lot of times that maybe my parents for several different reasons, didn't see things from our point of view. And so it's been more important for me to kind of take in what we're all - my husband and I are very different in our interests too - saying and experiencing and where we’re coming from.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” - St. Augustine
2. This week’s insight
Each week I share an overall insight from reviewing 100+ interviews collectively
Travel was mentioned by approximately 20% of the participants in this project as an important part of a good life.
Participants listed a number of reasons as to why they valued travel: expanding their worldview, experiencing new people and cultures, making new friends, fulfilling their need for adventure and exploration, learning something new about themselves, and answering big questions they had about existence and spirituality.
Many participants associated travel with fulfilling times with friends and family, while other participants said it helped them to appreciate more what they have at home.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” - J.R.R. Tolkien
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3. This week’s reflection
Each week I share a personal reflection on the weekly theme
However well we may think we know ourselves, there are limits to what we can find out if we are consistently in the same routine or environments. Through the two sabbaticals I took in my 30’s, travel helped me discover more about myself.
I got to observe how I reacted to initially being alone, how I handled regularly changing environments / having no fixed base, how I responded to having no externally imposed structure on my day and to moving away from having a clear long-term plan. All that change and uncertainty can take some getting used to.
I sometimes see travel as being a little over-glamourised from the assumptions we make of other people’s experiences, based on a picture of a beautiful beach or an incredible landscape. I reflected a number of times during these stints away, that it was sometimes easier to have a full-time job than being left with my thoughts for large parts of my days, or at times when I was craving consistency and stability.
While travel helped me to discover more about myself, it also played an instrumental role in readjusting my own worldviews and perspectives. For most of my life the network of people around me was extremely homogenous, made up of people who went to similar schools and universities, and worked in similar industries, with many holding very similar worldviews and values.
It’s very easy to believe that one set of views are reality when that is all that surrounds you. Travel has played a key role in the plasticity of my own perspectives, while also bringing an awareness that whatever I believe, it is just one of a myriad of possible viewpoints.
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” - Anita Desai
4. This week’s questions for personal reflection
Each week I pose questions to support your own inquiry into what a good life is for you
What is your favourite experience from travelling? What made that moment particularly memorable?
Has travel ever helped you to discover something about yourself that you didn’t know already?
I’m a coach, based in Berlin (via Dublin, Ireland). I formerly had a 15-year career in Capital Markets, and for better or worse, I’ve convinced myself that I’m going to make a discovery around human thought / behaviour. If you want to contact me directly, here’s my email and LinkedIn.