I’m sitting on the porch, and it’s raining.
For the past week, I’ve been manual laboring on a coffee and banana plantation outside of Bucaramanga, Colombia, through a program called WWOOFing. WWOOFing is an organization that gives individuals the opportunity to work on farms in exchange for accommodation and food. It is a worldwide organization, and this is what I’ve been doing for the past week.
This particular farm is situated roughly 1,600 meters above sea level, where the air is moist and the ground is soft. The environment is ideal for growing coffee, one of Colombia’s most popular exports. I don’t drink much coffee myself, but I’ve tried a bit in the past week, and I’ve rather enjoyed. We’re in the tropics. And right now it’s raining.
On this farm, there is no internet. No internet is nice for me, because I use it too much. I write this post in a Word document, and when I finally do get back on the net, I’ll post it as is.
The last post I wrote was called 10 Things I’ve Learned After 30 Weeks On the Road. The title of this post is overtly similar. The thing is, I generally write these posts in my head, when I am hiking in the mountains or Anthony Bour-downing homemade rice pudding in the markets of the ghettos of Lima. Apparently, I had wanted to share morethan 10 things I’ve learned since leaving home, because after I clicked “publish” on the last post, the rest came to mind. I added the decimals into the title of this post to give it some edge – to make it stand out a bit more in your brain. I’m certain I accomplished no such thing. Anyways – here we go. 10 more things I’ve learned after 32.143 weeks on the road.
1. You can’t connect the dots looking forward – only looking back.
This one comes from Steve Jobs. In the context of my trip, it is very easy for me to try to connect the dots looking forward. I’m here, and then I’ll go to that place, where I’ll meet this type of person, and learn this new sport, and then I’ll take all that stuff and move on to the next place, where I’ll use my new talents, and then National Geographic will hire me as something, and then this, and then Africa, and then smile, and then that, then India, lunch was great, it’s still raining and I’ve broken two garden hoes today, blisters and airplanes and life and good things to come.
No. It doesn’t work like that. Steve gave us the iPad, and we thought it was weird, but heknew us better than we knew us, and now everybody loves and understands the iPad. You do what Steve says. You don’t waste energy and imagination and time connecting the dots looking forward. You don’t guess why one thing should or is supposed to or must lead to the next, or whatever. You act presently and intelligently (broad word – many possible interpretations), and then you gaze back with a playful romantic grin at how it all went down.
2. Doing the same thing twice and expecting different results is the height of stupidity.
This is so basic, but man, we ALL do this. Although the majority of situations have distributed outcomes (a die has 6 faces, so if you roll a 2 and then roll again, it’s clear that expecting a different number this time is not the height of stupidity), the concept is still supremely important. It’s like my hiking story in Chile. I stepped in the same mud for the second time – why did I expect notto fall in up to my knees once more?
If you didn’t read the last post, I did fall in up to my knees once more. And of course, I did still have to poop.
3. Do things that make you uncomfortable – then you get comfortable!
Another easy one. The single only way to get comfortable with things with which you are currently uncomfortable is just to do to them. Fail a bunch – sure. But keep doing – life isn’t all that serious anyway. And then you get comfortable. People who do this well are generally very successful in life. Just like our man Steve.
4. It’s not all supposed to be great.
I’m more than 7 months into my round-the-world trip. The concept is a dream, the line-up is a dream, the things I’ve been fortunate enough to have done and plan to do all come from dreams. I’m well aware of this, and I feel incredibly blessed to be doing what I am doing. I’m just living the dream. MOM – THE MEATLOAF!
But it’s not all supposed to be great.
These days, I am speaking in Spanish far more than I am speaking in English. My Spanish is pretty good, and I’ve made many friends with whom I speak only Spanish. This past Sunday, the family for which I am currently WWOOFing took me out, driving me around Bucaramanga and teaching me about this and feeding me that and pictures here and Spanish there. If you presented this situation to me in the middle of October midterms, I’d say “wow, I’d f*cking love to be doing that right now.” But this past Sunday, there were a few moments that were a little low. I can’t tell jokes about Curb in Spanish. Nobody knows what’s happening at Penn State. “EOH” is of no meaning to anyone. I’ve eaten 2 bagels in the last 7 months. So sometimes, as awesome as the situation might objectively seem, and as stupid as I might feel for not enjoying it in a kid-in-a-candy-store manner, there are moments where it’s not great. And sometimes, it’s just not supposed to be.
Do not feel sorry for me – this is not the point. It’s just that to feel really and truly and constantly charged up, you need your closest friends and your family and your favorite food and probably English and stuff like that. Having said that – having learned that – there is still no other thing in the universe I’d rather be doing with my life right now. But yes, I am definitely looking forward to the next time Bryan and Scott and Savran and Puklin and Lavner and Mona and I sit down over Shmoozers at Hymie’s. Hopefully Andy makes an appearance too.
5. You’re doing it.
It’s easy to think that you’re not. We have these visions, these mid-class daydreams of what we want to be doing and how badly we want to be doing it, these pictures and ideas of how sweet it’s going to be and how our world is about to change. We have these songs of how we’re going to be achieving everything we’ve always wanted and how we’ll always be spontaneous and sleeping here and partying there and hitchhiking from the snow to the beach to the moon and back.
And then you’re there. Class is over you’ve graduated you’ve eaten at the delis and cried a little bit when you waved goodbye to your buddy Nick Kluthe went skiing with your family had a little party with a bon-voyage cake got on that plane and the next and saw some dude just wandering merrily Tony Stark naked in a public bathroom in the Zurich airport and the next plane and then you’re there. And it’s great. But there are a few moments that are dull. Sometimes you just sit. You’re not dodging street gangs and dancing salsa and railing cachaça and wheel snipe party until ten in the morning every single day. You’re not Dean Moriarity reincarnate – you can’t always dig like Dean. Sometimes you go to bed early. It’s not quite like you pictured when you were sitting in class.
But you’re still doing it – and it’s important to keep this at heart. You’re still living your dream. Looking forward or looking back, the mind has a tendency to ignore the interims and focus soulfully on the greats. When you graduate college, you don’t remember any of the schoolwork; you only remember the fun stuff. It’s all great looking forward, and it’s all great looking back. But when you’re actually there, when you’re actually at the present with midterms and traffic and snow inside your tent, it’s not quite a movie – it never is. But this is so OK. The present rarely, if ever, aligns exactly with the expectation. But it’s OK. Keep calm and travel on – keep pushing the limits.
You’re doing it.
6. You don’t make big decisions – mental or physical – when you’re feeling low.
Why would you?
The key is to be able to acknowledge that you are feeling low (try this post), and then yea, don’t make big decisions mental or physical. Don’t resolve to give up when you’re feeling down. Don’t ditch your travel buddy when you’re feeling bummed. It just doesn’t make sense.
Make important decisions when you’re in high, lucid spirits. Drugs/alcohol never included – as much as my phrasing suggests otherwise.
7. Stuff just hits you.
I’m traveling solo, and I have time to think. I often think about life and life lessons and self-improvement and stuff like that. Stuff like this post.
The real stuff – the real lessons – they just hit you. You can think and think and twist and think, but you often get nowhere. And then when you’re eating avocadoes from the guy from the street or “hedonizing” your 3rd Sublime of the day (a chocolate bar found at all of the little street tienditas in Peru – I’m really addicted to chocolate these days and I’m eating some chocolate right now), something just hits you, and it all makes sense.
Think, but don’t force it. The real stuff just hits you.
8. It’s just not yours anymore.
I’m pretty good at not losing things. You have to be good at not losing things if you want to live out of a backpack for two years.
In the last 7 months, I’ve lost a few things. I’ve lost two combination locks (one in Rwanda, one in Peru) that I really liked, I’ve lost a decent pair of Raybans (in El Chaltén, Argentina), I’ve lost a t-shirt in Brazil and then found a Polo shirt that very same day and then lost the Polo shirt in Peru, and a couple of other small things.
I tend to get annoyed when I lose things. So these days, when I lose things, I pretty quickly resolve my frustration to: “it’s just not yours anymore.” It’s not yours anymore, and that’s that. Get over it. Move on dude.
9. Doing new things never gets old.
This lesson is two-fold.
1) In the literal sense: doing new things never gets old. There’s always more to learn, more to experience, more to see.
2) It’s kind of weird and kind of exciting being in a new place. Although I’ve been in many new places in the last 7 months, I haven’t gotten “better” at it. I still feel weird and still feel kind of excited when I arrive somewhere new. Doing new things never gets old.
10. The present is a gift, like I just won a bee.
This is Common sense, right?
I like doing this kind of post, and I’ll do more in the future. I’ll probably wait at least another few months, though. I’ll wait until I get to Scandinavia. Maybe I’ll title it The Largest Lessons Learned in South America. Although alliteration is often cheesy.
Back to the beach soon, baby; the Caribbean Coast. I think I might take a salsa class when I get to Cali, Colombia – the salsa capital of the world. Or so I was told.
Where in the hell is Shakira,