Of the many reasons why I love to travel, particularly abroad, is because it offers great perspective. Typically, that perspective takes shape in helping me to see how other cultures live. It helps me to realize that while our terrains may be different, our landscapes varying, and our languages diverse, I often see the similarities between us. It takes a “them” mind-set and makes it an “us” mentality.
I also love to learn from the lifestyles of other cultures. In some cases it’s the joie d’vivre, the appreciation of arts and culture, the joy in the small things (or few things at all), the music and style, language, innovation, and/or the focus on family and relationships before work and money.
I generally come back from travels feeling inspired and like a part of a larger global landscape, ready to bring back my lessons and experiences to my day-to-day existence.
I had the opportunity two weeks ago to visit Argentina and travel around the country to experience it’s diversity. For whatever reason, this trip left me with a more rare takeaway, most simply defined as ‘who cares?’. To be clear: not ‘who cares?’ about the country, but rather, ‘who cares?’ about my goals, my work, my ‘impact’? Why does it matter? For what am I striving and am I really making a difference?
There are times when I look from the outside to people who seem to live a peaceful and simple life. Their needs are met. They don’t yearn for much and don’t veer far from their individualistic needs. Perhaps they share of themselves in some way with their immediate community (neighbors, family, friends), but that’s it. There are days when I envy that simplicity.
Most days, though, I’m driven by achieving. By identifying needs that I think I can fill and working to do something about them. And usually I feel satisfied with this mission. But not in Argentina.
In Argentina, I continued to have this nagging feeling that asked me, ‘What for?’. Basically: why are you pushing? Are your efforts really amounting to anything? You think you’ve made a name for yourself in your community, but really, in the world’s span, no one knows you, or your work, so why and who cares?
There is a part of me that sees this is an important reminder to stay humble, to keep the ego down. There is another part of me that sees this is as moment to reflect and think about the balance between feeding myself (spiritually, emotionally, etc) versus pouring into others. I know from experience that you need to be full to give of yourself. But the question then extends to: ‘Who are the others?’. Is it the people who network at my events? Is it the merchants whom I assist by saving them money on their credit card processing fees? Is it the kids who are learning about money by reading my books? Is it my friends? Or is it none of them? Is that enough? Are they the right audiences? Or should I care at all (and just pack up and do what serves me)?
More questions arise: Shouldn’t our natural gifts overflow into the things we offer to our communities? On how large of a community should we focus? Is my asking these critical questions evidence that I have more in me to do more and stretch farther? When is enough enough? To what degree do you focus on the ‘me’ before the ‘we’ or the ‘them’?
In some sense, I guess I got what I sought from another international adventure: perspective. Perspective that I am just one of about 7 billion in the global population. And with that I have a choice on how to live my days on this planet: serving myself and/or a small community around me and/or a larger one. And with that, wondering what service is adequate given my skills and gifts and continuing to determine the why that drives me.
I’ve pondered on these questions over the last couple weeks and even debated them with some friends and family. I continue to get to the same dead end, feeling like none of us will come to an answer. Also feeling that we need to live with some sense of naivete’ and ego to keep waking up every day and thinking that we and the work we do matter. I don’t want to quit thinking about this topic yet inevitably fear that habits will take over and I’ll continue to work in the same manner I have in the past, and shy away from asking these important questions.
I hope this post will spark in some of you similar questions for you ‘why’ as opposed to leave you feeling like I’m bitching about an incredible experience in a foreign country (because that’s by no means my intention). I’d love to hear from you if you have feedback on this or have wrestled with the same thought patterns.
Cheers to asking the challenging questions. Onward…