To Feel Alive

Being abroad always has a way of putting my life into perspective. I live on a day to day basis of being judged on guest experience, food safety scores, how long I can dodge my negative coping mechanisms, and worrying about inconsequential first-world problems. Somehow though, being in countries where people have less, make less, and fret less always slaps me in the face.

I am currently in something of a mid-twenty-something crisis. What started as a couple of mental breakdowns that led to therapy slowly became a period of self-discovery and adventure. 

I’ve talked about everything from my different years as a student, to post-graduate struggles, to cynicism with faith on this blog. All of those pieces have slowly begun to form the semblance of a picture.

It’s been a struggle chasing happiness and fulfillment for the past couple of years. I’ve tried completing escape rooms, running a marathon, binge drinking, building my rolling LinkedIn resume, seeing my favorite artists in concert, and the list goes on. It’s always felt like there was something missing. 

You know that feeling where you believe that you are good at something and that you bring something valuable to the table? If so, do you also know that feeling when people dismiss that which you believe makes you different or valuable to the world?

I think that’s why we love Disney movies.

We are all misunderstood Disney movie protagonists. Our strengths are misunderstood. Our wit has been labeled as something negative. Our desire for knowledge has been deemed inappropriate. We have been discredited because of where we come from. We have been told that we belong in the world we were born into and that even dreaming of being elsewhere is folly. We have been told that we have a place and that we must stay in that place. We have been told that dreaming is for fools and that we are what society tells us to be.

I’ve got a few dreams. I want to tell stories through film. I want to help end human trafficking. I want to provide underserved communities with the resources to pursue higher education and careers if they so desire. 

I remember telling this to my family, my closest friends, my therapist, and my lifegroup. I remember fear telling me that the fruition of any of these dreams was utterly impossible.

In my mind, fear as a motivator works only as long as you believe that self-preservation is an end-all. With the news, the way that it is nowadays, death as a topic enters my headspace much more often than I believe is probably healthy. One particular day as I was pondering what I would think about as I lay bleeding out on the floor if there was a mass shooting, I got hit with a double dose of death as someone who I worked with briefly also passed away unexpectedly.

See, having a job that pays the bills and saving in a 401k works as a motivator if you are guaranteed to make it to retirement. Deferring dreams or passion projects makes sense if you can do them later… if.

I’m not saying that financial planning or prudence, in general, should just be thrown out the window, but I am saying that I used financial security as a reason to logically convince myself to push dreams out of my head.

Traveling is interesting as a millennial mainly due to the fact that the people you see as tourists are generally much older than you are. There are an occasional few other young people out there also seeing the world and learning about different cultures, but for the most part, you walk past a lot of people who have seen better years. 

Traveling is also a double-edged sword as the ever-spinning wheel of tourism that brings improvements to the economy and hopefully more awareness to the indigenous culture, also brings about a slow (or not so slow) degradation to the authentic and genuine cultures of the countries that are traveled to. 

As my fellow travelers Aaron, Brian, and Crystal sat on a terrace in a Moroccan City known as the Blue City, we discussed the pros and cons of traveling. We learn so much from the locals and travelers we encounter. We also learn from the adverse circumstances we face as we travel. 

In many ways, traveling is much like an escape room. You have to decode the language, plan your steps, learn new ways of acting, all while under a time constraint in a generally uncomfortable environment. 

All of the lessons I learn while traveling, I am so grateful to be able to learn now. It would be a shame to wait until I was more set in my ways of thinking to question the stereotypes and prejudices I might have against different people groups, religions, or whole countries.

Paul, where are you going with your random as heck points about a mid-life crisis, Disney movies, dreams, fear, death, and traveling?

Life is short friends.

The world is both smaller and larger than we think it is.

We have more in common with the people that are demonized on the news than we think we do.

Dreams and personal strengths are not meant to be deferred. 

Contrary to what you might have heard, you are more than a number. The world doesn’t need you to be another cog in the machine. Our world is in a state to put it lightly. There are so many people that need advocates, so many problems that need to be solved, and so many people that need to be united and encouraged. 

I challenge you to acknowledge your strengths and dreams not so that you can tout them in the entitlement of fame or accolades, but so that you can help to make our world a better place. Life is much too short to pursue something as fickle as wealth or the approval of the masses. Life is also too unpredictable to pursue a life of security and self-preservation. Morbidity aside, the truth of the matter is that we all die and all we can do is slow the process. 

One of my favorite questions that I ask people who I want to get to know is this:

“If you live in a world where you had unlimited resources and you found out after going to the doctor’s office that you had only one year to live, what would you do?”

They usually mention traveling, buying houses for family and friends, and some bucket list items.

I follow that question with this one:

“The same scenario but you don’t have unlimited resources?”

Now the answers generally swerve away from traveling or grandiose fantasies of spending wealth. Now they focus primarily on appreciating those they care about and those bucket list items.

I end the questioning with this:

“So, what is stopping you from doing any of those things now?”


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