Over the past year my work has taken me to three continents, 10 countries and numerous cities. I’ve circled the Parthenon in Athens and sat in Barcelona’s fabled Camp Nou stadium. I’ve found myself lost in the streets of Bogota only to emerge under the pouring rain in São Paulo.
I’m very lucky that my job description includes undertaking substantial business travel. Because of it, I’ve been able to see the cities and sights I used to fantasize about growing up in Modesto, Calif.
But perhaps the most exciting and rewarding trip I took last year was to “nowhere.”
After a week of purposely doing nothing and “sitting still” in my childhood bedroom, I must agree with British author and essayist Pico Iyer who said in his TED original book, The Art of Stillness, “if you want to come back feeling new, alive and full of fresh hope and in love with the world, I think that the place to visit may be ‘Nowhere.’”
It seems counterintuitive, especially to members of my generation, to sit still. As millennials, we’re surrounded by travel bloggers and “lifestyle entrepreneurs” who herald and boast of their ability to be anywhere, at any time. In a way, this distorts our perception of travel, as it becomes an end goal and not a means to becoming a well rounded, cultured and open individual.
Just a few months after graduating in 2010 and while working at a job I didn’t like, I thought travel seemed like the perfect, romantic escape. I dreamed about dropping everything and going backpacking through Europe.
Looking back now, I ask, What would that have accomplished? After a trip like that ended, I would have been right back where I started: unhappy with my current situation and uncertain of my next move.
I didn’t need to change my location: I had to change my perspective. Only by looking inward and being ruthless with considering my goals, my dreams and myself would I be able to take the proper next step towards fulfillment and ultimately happiness.
As Seneca said, “And so we must realize that our difficulty is not the fault of the places but of ourselves.”
You could be happy in your hometown or depressed in Paris. The fault lies not in the location but within you. In times of un- and underemployment, travel might appear to be the perfect escape. And it did to me, too, in 2010 and 2011.
But now that I’ve become lost in the world, I can see why in The Art of Stillness and his related TED talk, Iyer made the case that sitting still is the most rewarding and exhilarating destination available.
In book, Iyer said that despite all the travel and moving around that “something inside me felt that I was racing around so much that I never had a chance to see where I was going, or to check whether I was truly happy.”
Throughout my travels this past year (admittedly much less than all of Iyer’s), I never gave myself time or space to reflect on the work I was doing or the voyages I had embarked on.
Sure, on the surface things seemed fine and waiting in line for an airplane to Paris is much more fun and rewarding than queuing up to enter a bar in the States. But I felt that I was losing sight not of where I was but who I was. Without reflection, it’s possible to become caught in a travel purgatory, where you are always going yet never really arriving. It’s a terrible limbo.
Once while in Milan on a business trip, I had to stop mid-jog and ask myself “where am I?” It was a very weird feeling, neither good or bad, because I literally was in a foreign, nameless, faceless land.
For the past week and a half, I’ve been sitting still, going as Iyer said to “nowhere.” Most of my days during this mini repose have involved reading, literally running and then, well, not moving. I felt a bit guilty, as I let calls go and wasn’t as proactive in seeing my hometown as I typically have been during holiday visits. But this break provided much needed time that I needed for myself.
It’s hard to write this without making it seem like I’m complaining. After all, I love what I do, and travel is a means to doing a good job for the company that I love, Waze. If anything, this period of reflection and stillness only confirmed that.
Because I was moving so much, I don’t think I took the time to feel anying (if that makes sense). It was only after really reflecting and looking inward that I was able to confirm that I love what I do and analyze the work I was doing on a deeper level with better insights, better ideas.
I’m at the very nascent stages of understanding and appreciating the benefits that sitting still and looking inward have to offer, but this was a good first trip to “nowhere.”
And as Iyer summarized in his book, "the nowhere I was interested in had more corners and dimensions than I could possibly express … and somehow seemed larger and more unfathomable than the endlessly diverting life I’d known in the city; it opened onto a landscape as vast as those of the Morocco and Indonesia and Brazil I had come to know, combined.“
I’ve already booked my next trip. The best part is, I didn’t even have to use miles.