Other Options

Note: The first  half of this is a post I drafted in the second week of my trip, but I never published it. I am publishing it now because I have learned so incredibly much since I wrote this, and it is kind of funny to look back on this. Plus, there is something that I think is important to add here, which I do in the second half. There are no pictures because the week I wrote this my camera got stolen, sorry.


One of the first things I have learned is that there are many, many options for pursuing success, and my definition of what success was far too narrow. I've met people who have started hostels in foreign countries, trekked for years, lived in monasteries for months, and what they have come away with makes it clear as day that they are examples of other options. In just a few short weeks, I have met travelers who have done incredible things, and what has been most striking about them is how successful they are. Their wealth is the power to see, hear, speak, and emotionally feel in ways that I had never considered possible for myself. Their outlooks can be breathtaking. When really needed, their advice can be dazzlingly creative.

What they do is hard - saving money, then spending it wisely is certainly hard - but then traveling is also harder than I initially thought it would be. Their skills are applicable to anything they want to go into later, and their ways of addressing problems will likely be deeply influenced by what they have seen. Traveling is job training as I see it, and I think it is something everyone should try to do. When you're at this for a while, it isn't a vacation in the least bit, and you pick up skills and emotions you didn't know about before.

There are tons of options for learning about new ways of thinking - more than I could list here. Have you ever thought that you'd like to live at sea? There is an entire subculture of people who this as deckhands, and they do it all year, every year. (Check out floatplan.com) If I had more time, I would try to do this one for sure. Are you interested in sustainable farming and developing new ways of approaching food? You should check out the job entries on helpx.com for positions in botanical gardens near Iquitos, Peru in the Amazon Rainforest. Perhaps you're interested in Buddhism or in thinking more about religion in general. Consider joining me in Nepal at the Kopan Monastary (they have a website, I'm surprised to say), which apparently gives you a bunk with the monks and three meals for a little more than one dollar per day. I met a former teacher who was able to save enough money in four years to travel the world for three. Western Europe is expensive, but traveling outside this zone, where places usually have even more to offer, isn't expensive. 

And the change that has happened within almost each person I have met is change that is hard to come by. One person didn't like her homeland, but after years away, she has been able to commit time to thinking about herself and what makes her happy, and she is excited to return. Others just quit their jobs and moved here to take classes in Spanish and see more of what's out there, and they will return home with new skills and a better appreciation for how people are connected. I bet that all of these people are more compassionate, and therefor better friends and workers, for knowing about different ways of living. Too often we expect people to just immediately change their opinions and emotions when presented with evidence, but opinions and emotions, like any other mental skill, can take many years to form and train. And seeing the world arouses a whole set of new emotions that reading about it sometimes does not.

But, just like anything else, these options can lead to failure - I've only seen the products of success. To be sure, any evidence I have now is anecdotal evidence. But that's okay and besides the point, because each path for each person will be different, and it's exploring the different options that is important, I think. Either you find another way of life you like more or you realize that your life back home is great - either way, that is success. So, in thinking about what would make my trip successful, I've added at least one thing.

If by the end of my trip I can think and feel with at least one third of the brilliance that these people can, I'll have been successful. And I won't stop there either - it's become harshly clear that the path I had chosen for myself, one where I go to law school and all that, was the result of choosing from a limited pool. There are so many other options for my life, and, even if I don't choose them, my knowledge of them will make me more confident that my eventual choice is the right one for me. 


And now today, four months after writing this, I want to add some more thoughts. To take up on that last point, I have actually come back to law school being in my future, but for several different reasons than I initially had for wanting to go. Also, I am not as anxious to start as I once was - I could move back to Uruguay and ranch cattle there once I get good enough on a horse, and I feel like there is something important there to learn. Or I have also considered moving back to Bolivia and teaching English for free while learning Spanish, because there are a lot of indigenous people who get taken advantage of in part because their English or Spanish is not good enough. And simply traveling has awakened me to how little I know about the world - I thought that I would be totally on point when I got to Dharamsala, where there are lots of Tibetans living, because I took a class on Tibetan Buddhism, but I have since realized that the amount of knowledge I got from that class is a rounding error compared to the amount of things that I have to learn in order to understand their lives. This realization further prompted me to realize that I probably know very, very little about what it is like to live in United States, and I want to continue what I am working on now when I get home, but next time looking inwardly at the US. 

But it is more than just emotional understanding of others' lives that I have been learning. Growing up in the West, I have a developed a powerful appreciation for the scientific method. The scientific method is how I form opinions, answer questions, and approach life in general. I am proud to have written a thesis based entirely on applying the scientific method to a simple question over the course of a year. But the scientific method, forming a testable hypothesis and then repeating experiments to find results, is not the only thing out there, and in India, I have encountered something totally different, totally apart from the scientific method.

First, let me explain why I care about this. To embed different and conflicting patterns of thinking within you is what separates the good from the great, in my opinion. Scott Page, a researcher at U of M, has demonstrated that a group of people with bachelors degrees in different fields is better at solving complex problems unrelated to their degrees than a group of people who all have PhDs in the same field. People develop patterned ways of thinking, and we apply those patterns to each problem we encounter. Think of the adage about if all you have to work with is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. Developing new patterns of thinking is like adding new tools to your problem-solving tool box. That is what I mean when I think travel changes you in ways that can give you the edge in business.

So far, this is probably the most important thing I have to say about traveling. I am still struggling to overcome my commitment to the scientific method and to learn what it is people here use. I simply cannot understand why my well-educated Indian friends believe in traditional medicine, chakras, or the power of energies, especially when they have adopted several non-Indian cultural elements into their clothing and homes. Some of the things they have said casually to me have made me have to hold my jaw so it wouldn't drop, because they are so different from things I would say. Yesterday I was playing cards in a tattoo parlor with a friend and some other Indians (it wasn't as cool as it sounds), and one of the Indian men playing was betting based on the position of the stars. This just doesn't compute for me! I mean, notice my reference to "anecdotal evidence" in the previous section - that was hilarious to reread for me because it's a nod to the fact that I was offering an opinion that was unsupported by the scientific method.

I still have a lot to figure out about all this, but I think one of my friends has offered advice that was really helpful. She said that the Indian way of thinking that I have encountered is more based on feelings and emotions. We in the West are often so busy that we have no time to feel. Simply, we think too much and feel too little. Overcoming my skepticism and internalizing this way of thinking is my main goal for my months in India. Steve Jobs called the thinking I have encountered "intuition," and his biography is stuffed with examples of times where he cites his 7 months in India as the reason for some specific business decision. Encountering and learning this way of thinking is why I think everyone in the US should come to India for a long time, and it's what I meant when I talked about how travelling should be seen as job training and another option. The days when a university degree was valuable simply because it conferred facts are over - with search engines, now the value of a degree is in its ability to teach you ways to think. Traveling is just the same.