Traveling the world has always been a non-negotiable for me. In 2009 I took my first trip abroad to Costa Rica while still in college and have gone to at least one new country every year since. That’s not a statement to brag. I believe it’s been one of my greatest teachers when it comes to the school of life. No classroom, job, business venture or relationship has imparted the wisdom that I’ve gained from hitting the road.
I know that many men don’t get the opportunity because they’re tied down to their businesses, careers or families, so I wanted to bring the lessons back home to share with those men. My hope is that the wisdom transfers to your day-to-day life philosophy and that we can all become more aware of how our culture and belief systems are hindering our growth.
1. We lack a real sense of community
When you land in Guadalajara, Mexico what becomes apparent quickly is that there’s a real sense of community. Families have lived in the same neighborhoods for generations. The kids never venture too far. The elders never have to worry about being taken care of or shipped off to retirement homes.
In the West, it’s not uncommon to see our families once or twice a year. We can live in the same neighborhood for years without knowing our neighbors. By eighteen or nineteen, we’ve pretty much moved out of the house or went off to college. This mentality is present in corporate culture, in our spiritual communities and in our social circles. Every man is out for himself.
The stark contrast that you see abroad makes you wonder what it would be like if the tables were turned. What life could be like if as men we actually took the time to lift each other up rather than tearing each other down.
2. We’ve become too comfortable
Let’s be honest, we have it pretty freakin’ good as men. We no longer have to hunt and kill our food because everything can be purchased at the local Wal-Mart. Air conditioner, hot showers, and warm meals are a standard. But until you’re deprived of them, you don’t realize that they’re luxuries.
We’ve become so accustomed to these “necessities” that we’re grossly dependent on them for our well-being. I spent many nights shivering in the cold without heat. I experienced the frustration of getting off the bus in the wrong town. I had to get used to throwing paper in the can because the pipes couldn’t handle it. Sound terrible?
How much more grateful do think you’d be if they were gone for a week, month or year? I can honestly say that experiencing perpetual discomfort made me into a better person. As men, we need discomfort to keep us sharp. Traveling forces us to lean just beyond our edge. It reminds us that security is an illusion and at any moment the things that we’ve become heavily reliant on are mere luxuries. When we try to deny this fact, it only solidifies our disappointment when we wake up one morning and they’re all gone.
3. We’re deprived of adventure
I remember growing up and playing things like hide-and-seek and building forts in the middle of the woods. As I got into my teens and early 20’s, the adventure in my life subsided. When I was stuck in my corporate real estate gig back in 2010, I felt like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. I was deprived of adventure. The routine sort of went like this: wake up, eat, sit in traffic, work in the office, sit in traffic, eat, sleep, repeat.
Fast forward to 2013, I was out on the road and found myself on a chicken bus criss-crossing the Nicaraguan highlands. For the first time, in a very very long time, I felt alive again. I reconnected with the adventurous spirit that I once knew as a youth. Everything was new. The food. The people. The experiences. It was all pure bliss.
As men, we have a deep yearning to go out into the wilderness and tame the beast. We have a desire to compete and seek out the unknown. Having a successful job or business will never be enough to quench our insatiable appetite for exploration.
4. We don’t care about cultures outside of our own
There’s not enough emphasis placed on men learning a foreign language anymore. I remember in both grade school and high school telling my teachers I’d never use Spanish because everyone should speak English. Boy, was I wrong!
That came back to bite me in the butt when I had to ask for directions to the bus stop in Antigua, Guatemala. I’ve since learned that it’s more than just being able to order food or ask for directions. You connect with locals on a much deeper level when you speak in their native tongue. Having the willingness to learn a language shows that you’re compassionate about the people and care enough to put in the effort to understand a culture beyond your own.
5. We don’t have patience
We’re obsessed with speed. Our culture is predicated on things getting done fast. Faster means more profits. Faster means more efficiency. The drive-thru Amazon Prime mentality has made us into impatient, restless zombies. We get agitated when the server takes longer than five minutes to greet our table. We get upset when our expectations don’t pan out. We even get angry and pound the steering wheel when traffic sucks.
Traveling has opened me up to becoming more patient because of practices like yoga and meditation. They’ve taught me to have more understanding and kindness toward others as they may not be on the same journey. As men, we scoff and make jokes saying we’d never wear tights or go on those “new age” hippy spiritual retreats. The blow to our ego would be far too great. Meanwhile, the world is crumbling to pieces because we refuse to elevate our consciousness.
6. We’re all the same
When you get down to our core, a man in Denver, Colorado struggles with the the same issues as the man in Ometepe, Nicaragua. This may not be so obvious when you look out at the world through a lens shaped by the culture of your home country, but it becomes very apparent when you’re outside of your bubble. Black, white, jewish, muslim, democrat, conservative…. and all these labels of classifying and compartmentalizing humanity leads us to believe we’re different than one another.
What I’ve discovered from my travels is that we’re all the same at our core. Nobody wants to have to struggle for the basic essentials that are a prerequisite for life.. Every man wants to be able to provide for his family. And every man wants to leave a legacy or impact his community in some meaningful way. We have a deep desire to fulfill a calling beyond ourselves. Even if you don’t feel compelled to give at this point in your life, eventually you will. It’s just in our DNA.
These are only but a few observations I’ve gathered on the road less traveled. There are far too many to list. If you never get the opportunity to venture out beyond your current locale, these six lessons will help shift your perspective today. Now more than ever, it’s important for men to openly address our shortcomings. We can no longer escape in the busyness of the day-to-day with the hope that it will get better, it won’t. We have to make good on our promise to live up to our highest potential. I’d be curious to know if you’re up for the challenge?
Photo Credit: Getty Images