Insights from the Pavement: Living By Our Own Standard

How many countries have you been to? How many miles have you hiked? How many top ten mountains have you climbed?

For those of us who’ve been traveling for any notable length of time, we can recall a period when these questions were important to us. But, as the natural progression of exploration goes, these inquiries make less of an impact on us than, say, questions like ‘how much do you know about this culture,’ or ‘how much time did you spend researching the ancient ruins of [wherever],’ or ‘how many languages do you speak?’

This is the graduation of interests that comes to any long term traveler who’s put in their dues and thought a little deeper about what it means to explore our world.

The truth is, there will always be someone out there that has done more, seen more, or is better at one thing or another than we are. And this is also true of us — as we certainly have our own talents as well. We may be better at keeping a blog than the next person while they may have visited more temples throughout Asia. And they may have travel stories from 50 countries while we have just as many stories from only a few.

When we boil it down to its most basic parts, the game of comparing ourselves to others is all relative. And ultimately, there’s never a need to do so. Because, even if we strive to visit the most countries, to learn the most about other cultures or to ride the most trains in the world, the person sharing that exact same experience will do so a completely different way. And therefore, they’ll value very different parts of that same event.

Leaving the contest to the inexperienced is best, so that they can learn to achieve in their own speed. Eventually, they will come to a point where they may realize that in the game of life, the only thing winning or losing determines is how we feel about ourselves. And in that, the same result can be achieved simply by doing our best or performing at our worst. It’s not others we’re competing with, after all.

So if we remember that the competition only exists within ourselves, it will only be our previous accomplishments that we will seek to surpass. And in that particular game, we always win.

Insights from the Pavement: Stop Running Away

One can travel every corner of the world and never get any farther away from his problems. He might gain new problems which, for a time, allow him to forget about his old problems. But a universal constant is that issues are never too far from the surface.

Smiles offered to us as we travel through Thailand come from monks who have problems just as gang members in Guatemala City might give us scornful looks. Each of us has problems, and each of us feel equally compelled to fear them.

Nevertheless, the more we run from our issues, the more destructive it becomes to us and likely also to those around us.

Think about it: Has our running away made us any happier? As travelers, it’s difficult not to be overwhelmed with pleasure and awe when we encounter the new and amazing things on the trail. But when the evening creeps around and we find ourselves staring at the hostel bunk above us or the stars overhead, we may still find our wonderful memories stained by the return of that old issue we never dealt with.

It is there for a reason. And it’s not going away. Not until we turn and face it. And it will only grow in time like a cancer.

But there’s some good news involved with this frightening thought. Firstly, even the most minuscule problems that others deal with mean just as much to them as the bigger issues do to us. We may see their problems as less profound than ours, but there’s no proof that this is the case. So it might help knowing that each of us are made aware of our problems in our own way and with an individual, yet collective sense of urgency.

Essentially, we’re all fighting a private battle with our past. And each of us feels the same apprehension over sharing, fear of failing to overcome, even the embarrassment of the original issue. So that leaves us — the entire human population — all fighting the same battle but on an individual level. Imagine how easy it would be to simply deal with it as the collective group of the equally frustrated mind-warriors that we are!

Also, problems seem more profound to us at different times in our lives. But the imperative to act is always constant. If we close our eyes and think back to the last long term pressing issue we had, we will note that the initiative to handle that issue may have come and gone, but never lessened in intensity. Even when we have sought to skew it with projects, detour it with distractions or even drink it away.

Looking up a hill before we climb it always seems to look much less intimidating from the top. But if this hill stands between where we’re at and where we want to be, it simply must be scaled.

Tools that make this process much easier include communicating with others and stating reachable goals with their assistance; forgiving others who might have wronged us along the way; forgiving ourselves for the same; offering genuine trust in order to realize that pitfalls as well as safety nets are available and inevitable; being a person others can trust; and of course, love for the people who’ve taught you.

No more running away from our challenges. Change the pattern. Surprise the world. Chase them down instead.

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Insights from the Pavement: Our Right to Be Wrong

All around the world we will run into people who, for one reason or another, feel that they can never be wrong. The hotel owner who argues with customers over the bill, the flight attendant who takes the “control” factor of her job too seriously, or the cook who just swears that your steak was medium rare as you requested – they are all just like us. They, too, can overreact and fail to accept their place in impropriety.

Our ability to learn new things and move forward in this life is largely dependent on whether or not our pride will allow us to do so.

We all know someone who can’t be wrong. And if these people start to see themselves being seen as wrong in a conversation, they’ll change the subject, or allude to different circumstances, or reroute the conversation so that it brings them to a place where they can still be right. Some may even become outraged at even the slightest hint of their authority being challenged.

One sure way to find out if we are among these types of people is to think back to the last time that we argued for our own side of a conflict. Did we huff and puff in defense, stating how strongly we felt about our side? Or were we confidently and responsibly proffer our stance, tendering evidence that proved our argument? Was it a battle of wills or a mêlée of truths?

And how did we feel about the conflict once it ended? Did the victory seem slightly empty and overdrawn? Did the defeat hurt our pride so much that we changed how we thought of the other person? Or did the stalemate end in parting ways?

In all of these cases, if we had the power to understand that we always have the right to be wrong, and that it’s completely okay to do so from time to time, we will never overreact in defense. We’ll never feel shame for defeat. And we won’t have any need to yearn for the friendship to be rekindled. We will simply own our place in a conflict and move on with our lives.

In the end, which is more important; to destroy our opponents or let the conflict go? To fight every single battle? Or to weigh the consequences of the fracas such that we can support our ideas while still understanding those of others?

The answer to these questions will offer us guidance as to how much control we offer over to our pride. And, not surprisingly, pride is often at the helm of many of our conflicts.

Large or small, conflicts and clashes can involve a couple of school children or a league of nations. But no matter what the scale, who spoke first or who is involved, none of us are limited to always being right.

And the closer we hold onto that ideology, the more likely we are to grow individually, embrace differing views, and resolve our issues amicably.

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Insights from the Pavement: Detouring Outside Control

Often when we travel, we are faced with situations in which we really don’t know how to act. And every so often what we do in these situations is not seen in the most positive or pleasant light.

When faced with a situation most of us would be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with, our first reaction may be to smile, to make an open gesture with our bodies or hands, or to altogether look for an escape. And in many cases, this could signal a variety of responses from out onlookers – not all of which are good.

In this way, travel is a metaphor for a larger lesson in our lives that might help us to prevent the reactions of others, to impact our actions or feelings at home. Because, as our attention may be acutely focused on the reactions of others, we are also keenly aware of how our friends and family will react to us in our own communities.

It’s tough, sometimes, to say or do things that we know others might not like. But if we concentrated all of our actions on what we thought others might think of them, we’d likely never act at all.  And allowing the opinions of others to control our lives, even in small ways, is never good.

What matters in this life is not what others think of us. It’s what we think of ourselves that’s most important. In fact, the more positively we think of ourselves, the more likely we are to act in ways that might seem bold or adventurous to others. And we will begin to see ourselves taking chances that we would have never taken earlier for fear of what others might think.

Of course, this activity is limited only to positivity and that which doesn’t adversely affect others. Abrupt, negative, angry actions made against others may also be seen as bold and adventurous too. But positive actions are those which harm no one – including ourselves. And when seen in this way, the negative comments others made in response to our actions, is their version of negativity – not ours. And it in fact, more likely reflects their own self-consciousness or lack of personal strength because that’s the exact message that they are projecting.

When we resolve to make decisions that make our lives better while not affecting (or positively affecting) others’ lives, we’ve chosen to carve our own path out of this life and seek only that which makes us happy.

After all, the more we do what is best for ourselves, the better equipped we are to make a greater impact on our lives. We will be stronger, bolder, more adventurous versions of our once-selves. And we will see this mindset grow exponentially as we offer ourselves bigger, bolder, more adventurous lessons in the future.

Insights from the Pavement: Being Decisive

It’s only when we choose our path that we will see where the road leads. And this is as true of our time on the road as it is in our personal lives.

The power to make decisive action is often the difference between seeing something new and seeing the same things over and over. And it’s in our nature as the offspring of a nomadic species to seek out new experiences, learn from them and grow into better people.

Making choices is always difficult. Whether it’s sending our children to a better school, taking on a new job or simply which route to take to work. Decisions are difficult because we know that they will each have a lasting effect on our day, week, year, or possibly even further.

But while this is something that most people might seek to limit as much as possible, it’s those of us who have made the most decisions in our lives that are rewarded by the widest range of experiences, and therefore the most knowledge gained through these experiences.

Being indecisive, on the other hand, will always limit us, keep us stagnant and hold us back from the progress that is awaiting us with the lessons that we need to better ourselves in this life. And whether or not we wish our choices to present themselves to us at the time they arrive, we still must all face them as we have all the others in the past.

So we must weigh our options responsibly, taking into consideration what will make us happy, make our decision, and stand behind it vehemently — knowing that ultimately this one decision is not the difficult part; it’s the follow-through that challenges us the most. And so it may not be the decision that intimidates us. Breaking down the post-decision activity, then, may well make things easier.

No matter what we choose, we must never look back and think regretfully of our effort to make the decision. The action of pursuing our choices passionately, is the natural conclusion to having worked so hard at choosing appropriately.

Insights from the Pavement: Be a Failure

Along our travels, we will undoubtedly run into a variety of people. Among them will be people at various places and opposing sides on the teetering scale of success. Some people will exude success as if it were a glimmering coat of armor. Others will seem lost and simply working on challenges that would seem minuscule by comparison. And the rest may fall somewhere in between.

It can be said of the more successful people among us that our failures are many, and our victories are few. And this is not because we are failures. This is rather because our motivation for success greatly outweighs our worry of failure.

And never could this be more profound than when realized as an end result of many years of successes. Because for each successful venture, we’ll know that the many attempts that we made to achieve it has taught us how to do things better.

Growing only happens when we make mistakes. And the more we take risks at attaining our goals and dreams, the more opportunities there are for wins and losses. So it should logically follow that the most successful of us are those who have tried and failed the most (the operative word being “tried”). Unfortunately, though, this is not the mentality that most of us attach to our failures.

On the contrary, the stigma is that once we’ve failed, we are failures – we’re useless. Most of us feel terribly defeated when we’ve tried for something and not seen it come to fruition. We get down on ourselves and become unambitious as a result.

But if we look back over the process of finding success in our lives, it is not the success that teaches us our strengths. If anything, success not borne by hard work generally leaves us weaker and less capable of handling the challenges that our failures would have easily taught us about.

It is important to set goals. But it is just as important that we see them through to completion. And at first our paths will be riddled with wrong turns, missteps and miscalculations. But once we realize that these hurdles are teaching us how not to go about achieving our aims, we will quickly get the footing of what we should be doing to succeed.

This process, if continued, will undoubtedly find us winning battle after battle and learning lesson after lesson about our ever-expanding capacity for greatness. And it all starts with failing.