Does Travel Support or Hold Back our Passions?

What were you doing a year ago? I was doing the same thing I am now: Looking out over the Pacific Ocean at sunset. However, elements are different, like I'm not in flip flops and board shorts, but wrapped up in a hoodie  and wearing hiking boots. Also, instead of sitting on a beach in Costa Rica, I'm sitting on top of a mountain in San Francisco. And instead of living and traveling through Central America and writing part-time, I'm now a full-time writer and launching a consulting business. Reflecting on the past year recently has made me consider whether that stint of travel did in fact support my passions or whether it was an inhibitor.

I can pinpoint the most significant moment of my nine-month trip through North America last year to an evening late in February. I was sitting on the beach in Coco, Costa Rica watching the sunset, something I did every night. Shortly after sitting down, a retriever walked up from behind and sat down just to the right, watching the sunset alongside me. For the half-hour that I sat there, the dog hardly budged, looking intently out across the calm waters as the sun was setting. Then, as the sun dipped behind the horizon, he turned to me and stared intently for several seconds, before glancing one more time at the horizon and then walking off.

I'm not going to try to analyze what happened between Fido and I, but something happened that night. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen and between the sunset and having Fido there beside me, this sense of accomplishment and satisfaction came across me like never before. It was a feeling that no golf tournament, basketball game, degree, or promotion had brought. It was as if I had been set free and that I could now move on to what was next. I didn't have a pay raise or trophy to show for it. I had something better - something a price couldn't be put on. I had come into my own and for the first time in my life, I was comfortable in my own skin. I was innovating and winning in the most important game: my life.

I then got on a plane the next day for San Francisco and lived happily ever after. The end. Right? No. At that point I was planning on going back to the states only briefly until going to Europe for a few months. However, it was that night on the beach and then my experience getting back to the U.S. that reminded me that continued travel would only inhibit my passions, which wouldn't benefit anyone. After a six-hour ride to San Jose, Costa Rica, overnight stay at Juan Santamaría International Airport, flight to Mexico City, six-hour layover, and flight to L.A., I realized that I couldn't maintain this schedule. Something had to change. I just didn't know what. Yet just three days later on a leisure trip up the California coastline, I realized San Francisco was next.

In true philosophical fashion, I can't answer my question with a concrete answer one way or the other. A stint of long-term travel was the best decision I ever made. The person I came back as, isn't the person I left as. It allowed me to come into my own personally, which now finds itself influencing me professionally. However, just as much as it supports my passion and purposes, it can also inhibit them. Traveling like that took a lot out of me. I was exhausted come the last couple weeks in Central America. By the time I got to the U.S., I was spent and I realized that while travel would always be a pillar in my life, I would have to re-consider what it would look like in the future because now that I had innovated my personal life, it was time to innovate my professional life, and I wasn't going to be able to do that while traveling continually.

The inspiration of this post comes from two people: Amy Jo Martin in her post about the intersection of innovation and Jason Cochran in his post about travel delaying your life's true calling. Jason brings to light the lessons that can be learned from travel, while also discussing how it can delay one's purpose. There are many gems from the article, but my favorite sums up where I was: “If you don’t put down roots, you can never grow.” That's what had been missing. There was no place that felt like home. A sense of home was something that had been missing for years. That is, until I stepped foot in San Francisco.

When I think about that night in Costa Rica and then consider where I'm heading now, my eyes start to water. As Amy alludes to in her post, it's as if it's all intersecting now: My passions, skill, and purpose. And I feel just as happy and fulfilled, if not more so, than when I was traveling. Yet, it's not as if I've finished traveling and move on now. In fact, I'm traveling as much as ever, with a leisure and business trip to Southern California next week, Lake Tahoe the following week, and tentative trips for Toronto, Hawaii, Belize, and London in the coming months. No, the journey hasn't stopped. It's really just beginning. Or rather innovating, and thus evolving.

How has travel either supported or inhibited your passions?