Life Lessons from Missing the Train...Twice
"It's already left," the conductor replied out of the window to me when I asked if this was the 11:15 train. I looked above me at the clock that read 11:14, then down at my ticket that read 11:15, and back up at the conductor, who smirked as the train slowly started moving. Just then, I heard a loud click above me as the clock turned to 11:15. It was a familiar scene, as not even 12 hours prior had found me running into a South London TUBE station, missing the last train of the night by seconds. I may have been at Platform 6, just a couple platforms down from the famous Platform 9 3/4 to Hogwarts, but my magic wand had no power here. So I slammed my bag down, sat on top of it, and did the only natural thing: I took a selfie in the reflection of the platform display as proof that when they say 11:15 in London, they actually mean 11:14, and 45 seconds....sharp.
One of the most interesting things I've observed about both my own culture and the culture of those destinations I've visited abroad is that of "time." In some countries, where life expectancy may be lower than other countries, time is like a precious gem, each moment of time, a gift. In other cultures, time is more subjective than it is objective. When I was living and traveling around Costa Rica, for example, if a local told me they'd swing by at noon, then I'd make myself available at noon, but wouldn't expect them before 1. The U.S. seems to be one of the more stringent destinations when it comes to time. Growing up in North Carolina, I can't tell you how many times I've heard the story of Michael Jordan being benched for being a minute late to a team meeting.
This idea of time seems to be many of the reasons why many Americans don't travel. I don't have time. My responsibilities eat up all my time. I don't get enough vacation time. It takes too much time to travel. These are some of the responses I hear from people who tell me that they wish they traveled more. One of the most intriguing responses is one that I've heard in various forms from those who wish they could take a long-term trip. They've told me that they are afraid that the time involved in the planning of the trip, as well as the trip itself, would derail them from their career and life path.
For the last two years I've taken an unplugged trip once every three months to a destination (sometimes domestic, sometimes abroad) I've never been to. I've chosen to do it every quarter simply because that's what I've learned about myself that I need. I once went just over three months without taking one of these trips and in the middle of the week hit a wall like never before. Needless to say, I was on a plane 12 hours later.
Time is all you have and you may find one day that you have less than you think. -Randy Pausch
I have a book transcript waiting for me at home, several business ideas, three unedited videos, scores of unedited posts, a new project that was ready to be published last week, and laundry that needs to be put away. This week of "non-work" to "play" is a week that I won't get back. I hold as strongly as anyone to Randy Pausch's words that all we have is time and that one day we'll realize we don't have as much time as we thought we did. However, if the weeks I spent traveling in this way wasn't an investment in my present and future self, then I'd never do it. Because the human being, brother, friend, worker, philosopher, and writer I come back from on these trips is the best version of myself. Who I return as, isn't who I departed as. Travel is my great love affair.
After I plopped down on my bag as my train left the station, I just stopped and breathed. I sat there for 10 minutes. I didn't pull out my phone. I didn't put in my headphones, I didn't grab my computer. I sat there and tried to just be, if only for a few minutes, while people whizzed by me and trains came in and out of the station. How can we know which direction to go, if we don't sometimes stop to make sure the road map in front of us is matching where we are and where we're going? That is, at the end of the day, what these trips have become. A chance to stop, reflect, and re-chart the coming weeks and months. And I've found that in those weeks of unplugging, it results in a more creative, productive, and happier me, more so than anything else I do the rest of the year. When travel ceases to do that, I'll cease traveling. Until then, I'll continue to take time to not just slow down, but to stop, so I can better navigate the waters of life. And I'll continue to try to look for lessons in the cracks of life's pages.