Advice and Idleness

Lately I’ve been thinking about life decisions. I find myself reflecting back to when I first arrived here. On the flight between Atlanta and Charleston, I had a long conversation with another passenger. As our conversation ended, I asked for an opinion. I said, “if you could give advice to a younger person, or younger version of yourself, what would you tell them?”. She said:

“…it’s best to keep many opportunities open when you’re younger. Try to keep many possibilities in your life. She also said that even if you’ve gone a long way in your journey, sometimes you find that you’re on the wrong path. It’s okay to restart or go a different direction. […]

The last words roll around in my head, “it’s okay to restart or go a different direction”. She spoke with regret for cornering herself, and although she didn’t specify what it was, I knew that didn’t want to feel the same way.

Those thoughts have returned and I question if I’m taking the right path. Maura O’Halloran gave up her life in Boston to move to a monastery in Japan. She did this back in the 1980s when her only communication with family or friends was through snail mail or brief long-distance calls. I cannot imagine the amount of courage it took for her to leave everything she knew.

David (AWOL) Miller quit his stable job as an engineer to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. The hike is 2,100 miles long and takes between 4-6 months. While this journey happened in 2003, he didn’t carry a cell phone or have regular connection with his family. It was his first major hike and he didn’t know what would happen. He had faith that it was something he wanted to do and that it would bring him happiness.

Robert M. Pirsig took his motorcycle across the country from Minnesota into California in the 1970s. Hunter S. Thompson hitchhiked through South America in the 1950s. Twyla Tharp moved across the country to escape her family and to eventually start choreography. Bryan Benson and his girlfriend rode their bikes between the Midwest and the West Coast. How can I see these figures sacrificing so much for a dream, while I sit here and idle?

Internally I return to the advice I received on the plane… “it’s okay to restart or go a different direction”… Maybe this path wasn’t the correct one. Perhaps now is the only time to change it. I read letters from last year when I had the same thoughts. So is it time to cut the line and change paths?

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P.S. The Danish song “Tomgang” by Shaka Loveless is stuck in my head. Why isn’t this genre popular here?!

 

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You cannot pass your Realizations to Others

Everyone looks at the world in a unique way and understands it from their own perspective. We know where our life is going and we look ahead at our own path. When we do this, we neglect other’s paths. Each person exists in their own world, oblivious to the real world in front of them. By focusing on our own life, often we think that others are walking with us in the same direction. However, this is not the case, everyone moves in their own way.

Your goal in life could be to make a lot of money and retire into a pleasurable life. Every day you focus on building that dream and walking down that path. You go to college for a profession that will assist in this ideal and you spend most of your life working until your retirement.

Another person’s goal could be to see the world. Each day they focus on traveling and how they can support it. Instead of going to college, they choose to be a waitress at a restaurant. This job provides them with enough money to travel to a new place, where they can get a new job until they leave again. Everything they do is about experiencing a new place. They don’t understand the concept of retirement because their goal is to travel over their entire life, not just later in life.

Imagine these two very different people go to a bar. They sit down and have a drink together. The conversation builds until they start talking about their life. The traveler doesn’t understand the worker because her only focus is on traveling. The most pleasurable thing for her to do is to find a new place to live and experience. On the other side, the worker can’t understand this because it’s a dream for the end of life. How could they abandon their life to visit new places? How will the traveler ever retire?

We look at the world from our own perspective and often this means that we neglect others. The worker may see the traveler as “irresponsible” for moving but the traveler thinks the worker is too “uptight”. Immediately there is a difference between these people: all the worker’s actions support their retirement while the traveler just wants to explore.

Both of these people only look forward on their path, the actions they take will only benefit them. The traveler won’t benefit by taking the worker’s characteristics. His path leads to retirement, not world exploration. Therefore, both will be unsatisfied by taking one another’s path.

This isn’t a difficult concept because we know that everyone has different goals in life. We understand that what works for you may not work for me. This is because we’re moving in different directions. So why is it that we treat others like they’re wrong for their actions?

We all exist on different levels of consciousness, with a different understanding of the world. The traveler understands how to live off $15 everyday to save for moving. The worker knows how to dedicate himself to his job and secure his retirement. When the traveler speaks to the worker, she doesn’t understand the other person’s skills. She assumes that worker knows how to live off $15.

When she gives advice, she acts as though it’s easy to live on such little money. For the worker, this would be incredibly difficult. He’s used to working and spending much more money. Their skills don’t line up and the advice may be useless.

Now apply age to the equation and it become much clearer. If you have a 25 year old explain how to live independently to a 15 year old, they’re going to be a lot of confusion. The younger one doesn’t understand how to live alone, nor can he learn by being told. He has to figure it out himself.

The knowledge you have is only useful in context. It’s not usable for people who aren’t ready for it. The traveler can’t understand the meaning behind work until she becomes curious for it. The worker can explain it to her because she won’t understand it. He’s trying to get to retirement, so the meaning behind work is obvious. She had to find her own context to why work is important to her.

This is why you can’t tell a person something they are not ready to hear. It goes over their head and often ends in frustration. The only thing you can do is intrigue thought and questions. Other people have to walk down their own path to their own dreams. You can’t tell them how to arrive or which way to walk. Your advice only has context for what you understand.

The purpose of this long post is to show you that there are some things that you can’t intellectualize. You can explain a concept to another person for hours but unless it has meaning, it will remain useless. Meaning is something you cannot supply, the other person has to be intrigued and apply it to their path. Everyone moves in their own way.

Here’s a quote recited by the Dalai Lama:

  “The Buddhas do not wash away the karma of other beings,
    Nor do they remove the consequences with their hands;
    They do not transfer their own realizations to others,
    But they reveal the truth that liberates beings.”

The only way you can help others is to provoke that questioning behavior. To make them engage in their own though and come to their own realizations. You can’t tell a 15 year old what it’s like to on have $50 for food or what it’s like to work 40 hours a week. That’s something they have to experience. You can provoke them to question what it would feel like but you cannot give them your understanding. You cannot transfer your knowledge to another person.

By leading your life and following your own pursuits, you will find that others can learn through you. Your actions cannot be fully understood by others but they can intrigue thought. You can’t give them your thoughts but you can excite them to find their own thoughts. To find their own way down their own path in life.

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Grabbing onto the Wheel

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July a couple of years back, a girl named Elodie lived in my house with my family. She was from France and came wide-eyed to America with the intention of improving her English. At the time, she was only 16 years old with the curiosity of a 4 year old. Her goal soon became to explore as much of our culture as she could.

As it turns out, part of that culture was taking private flying lessons. When the opportunity presented itself, she took up the offer and flew away with it so to speak. Having no previous experience with flying, she hopped in ready to go.

When the plane took off, her nervousness became apparent. She sat quietly in her seat while her whole body trembled. The flying instructor got her into the air and when we reached a high enough altitude, he took his hands off the wheel.

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Elodie slowly reached forward and grabbed on. It was clear that she was unsure of herself and her ability to steer the already flying aircraft.

It took a few minutes until she became comfortable with turning the aircraft. After many more sweeps she gained a confidence in herself. The trembling was gone and she steered fluidly left and right above the beautiful chain of lakes below us. For the next 20 minutes, she was in bliss at how remarkable it was to fly. We were thousands of feet in the air and she could direct us anywhere.

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Life moves in the same way; we’re nervous to grab the handles and steer for ourselves. Internally we quiver at the thought of being in control of our lives. We understand how to steer the plane but we’re busy thinking about how many things could go wrong. After all, when you’re a thousand feet in the air, you have a thousand feet to fall if you make a mistake.

Everywhere people are telling you what to do with your life: “You should go to college” or “You should start a family. Where you’re from, the society you live in, the people you hang around, and the family you love, all tell you where to go in life.

Equally importantly, they tell you what you can’t do with your life. “You can’t fly to Europe, where will you stay? How will you afford it?”, “You can’t go to art school, you’ll never make enough money to live!”, or even “What are you doing with your life?”

It’s in these moments that you’re shaking like Elodie was during that flight. Internally you know how to fly the plane. You know generally where you want to go and a little on how to get there. At this time everyone’s voice has gotten into your head and suddenly the voice you hear is your own. “You can’t do it, you’re going to crash this plane.”

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Deep down inside of yourself, you know this isn’t true. When the pilot took his hands off the wheel, Elodie nervously grabbed on. She didn’t know how it felt to fly, or how to move, but she had to take charge.

I want you to feel that same responsibility in yourself. After a few minutes of flying, Elodie calmed down. She took a breath of air and steered us around the lakes. After you start steering your life, you’ll calm down and realize you can go wherever you want to. The sky is the limit.

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People snicker at me, and I assure you it isn’t because of this beautiful face. Instead it’s from openly telling others my dreams. I want to hike the Appalachian Train (2,000+ miles), I want to spend six months CouchSurfing across the country, study at a school in Denmark, and somewhere in there I want to WOOF in Australia.

It is my greatest hope that other people realize that their dreams are within their grasp and that they are free to fly their own plane. When I share my goals, I hope that the fire in my belly lights a flame in yours. When you see that I’m not listening to everyone else, I hope that you grab that steering wheel and set your own course.

At first you may shake, but after a few turns you’ll calm down. I guarantee that you are capable of doing so much more than what other people say. You can set your own course and fly until the skies end. If you do this, when you finally land, you’ll find that you’ve gone to the place you’ve always wanted to be. There’s no greater feeling than doing what you love.

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Falling in love with the Airport

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This photo was taken four years ago during my first journey over to Spain. It was the first time I traveled alone internationally and I will never forget the experience. The people I met and the places I saw forever changed how I saw the world.

Everything starts at the airport, and the airport is built on rushing people, overpriced food, and repetitive loudspeaker messages. Behind the blare and initial discomfort, there’s a deeper emotion: the feeling of excitement and wonder. It’s the blood of traveling and if you listen close enough, you can hear its heartbeat.

Each person is moving in their own direction, completely unaffected by everyone else. The paths that each person takes are varied and go to different destinations. You see people dressed up going to business conferences while others lug around family members on vacation.

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This trip to Spain was significant because it was the first time I went alone. No one was there to tell me which way to go or who to be. I could find my path and make my own accomplishments. Getting to each gate wasn’t difficult, but I felt great knowing I could get around.

Everyone was so diverse and unique but we were all the same. On the flight to Paris, I sat next to a girl in her mid-20s. She was flying from a Google business conference in Hawaii back to her home in France. On the flight she spoke English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German to me. What amazes me is that she was only a few years older than I am now. She was born in Colombia, an incredibly poor country, and grew up to be a Google Analyst living in Paris. What have I done in my life that can even compare?

Occasionally when I meet new people at the airport I ask them what advice they can offer to a 20-year-old. The words they give often shock me. On the flight from Minneapolis to Charleston, a woman told me: “No matter what paths you take in life, know that you can always change course. It doesn’t matter how far you go in one direction, you can always change. Don’t ever think that you have to keep going on one path”.

That is the spirit of the airport: the power to choose your path and destinations in life. You become closer to your goals and the excitement of pursing your dreams. Each flight leads to new places and new experiences where you could do anything. I think that is where we feel most alive, where we can follow our dreams and pursue anything without the baggage of where we live or who we are. In the airport, we are stripped of everything and left with only our pursuits. That is why I love the airport.

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Paths

There are billions of people on this planet with an infinite amount of possibilities tied to each one. One of them could lead this generation to its peak or start a complete new social system. A story of a child could inspire millions to change the way they live their lives. None of us doubt this power that people carry over one another. We all influence each other tremendously.

What most people neglect to think about is how much of a role we play in the world. We get so wrapped up in the possibilities that everyone else carries, that we forget we’re part of it. We forget our own potential and only focus on everyone else’s.

This is incredibly dangerous because when we mistake other’s paths as our own, we lose ourselves. Both our purpose and our sense of self.

Instead, try to find what thrills you. What makes you talk in conversations? When a group of people are talking, when do you jump in? Is it about sports? Art? Music? Kayaking? Traveling? What lightens your face and motivates you?

When you find what drives you, start moving yourself in that direction. Your sense of self is infinitely stronger than how others could direct you. Find your path and follow what you are passionate about. There are billions of people on this planet doing amazing things, and you’re a part of it. Your path builds this world up. By following others’ paths you make the world less. You lower the potential.

There is no greater joy than following oneself. Find your passion and don’t look back.

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