Ignorant inspiration

The other day I read a blog by Chelsea Fagan in Time about the unintentional hurtfulness that is sometimes caused by the inspirational quotes on traveling, freedom and making life choices. We all know them. I’ve probably liked and shared these images on Facebook on several occasions.

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After reading Chelsea’s blog and thinking on it a bit, I totally get how these quotes that are meant to be encouraging and empowering are really hypocritical, elitist and insulting.

The point that Chelsea makes is that we westerners have become very much obsessed with “being happy” and “following our dreams” and not letting our lives to be dictated by material desire, career ambitions or what society (or our parents) expect of us. We are oh so mindful.

What we forget when we proclaim our freedom in that way, is that we implicitly label people who do not travel somewhere new every year as boring conformists, uninspired souls or cowards. In all honesty I still believe there are people being held back in pursuing their dreams by the dogmas they have adopted or been implanted with. I have seen people living with regrets and unfulfilled dreams because they are convinced “it is not meant to be” and this is often not true.

However…… I do realize now that being able to drop all your responsibilities and “just go” is an enormous luxury that not everybody can permit themselves to have. I have grown up knowing (albeit mostly sub-consciously) that if I were ever to get into serious trouble (financially or otherwise) someone would be there to help me. It has never been necessary, luckily, which isn’t even really my merit either. I have the great advantage of having been born in a wealthy European country and having a matching passport to go with it. Finding work has never really been an issue (all though I may have thought so at some point).

I can permit myself to take chances and be adventurous because failure is also an acceptable outcome. I know this is not the case for many people. Failure could mean falling (deeper) into poverty, or as Chelsea describes:

Encouraging that person to “not worry about money,” or to “drop everything and follow their dreams,” demonstrates only a profound misunderstanding about what “worrying” actually means. What the condescending traveler means by “not worrying” is “not making it a priority, or giving it too much weight in your life,” because on some level they imagine you are choosing an extra dollar over an all-important Experience. But the “worrying” that is actually going on is the knowledge that you have no choice but to make money your priority, because if you don’t earn it — or decide to spend thousands of it on a trip to Southeast Asia to find yourself — you could easily be out on the streets. Implying that this is in any way a one-or-the-other choice for millions of Americans is as naive as it is degrading.

Another conclusion that I have come to is that travelling is not some sort of holy ingredient to find ultimate happiness or fulfillment. Quotes like the ones seen above imply that people that do not travel are “only reading one page” of the book of life and are condemning themselves to live nothing but the lethal routine of life. I realize now that there are many people that are simply content with their life as it is, and they don’t just say this because they don’t have the nerve to book that flight. Travelling would not make them happier.

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There are people whose world is big enough as it is and do not wish to expand it. Dealing with the surroundings they are familiar with is challenging enough. The idea of going out to explore new areas does not sound like an adventure but a nerve wracking experience. There are people that like their food prepared thew same way every day and have no urge at all to taste that odd looking fruit (let alone that insect).

Now it seems as if I am saying that everyone that does not travel has some sort of anxiety disorder, which isn’t my point. My point is that there are people that love to travel and people that don’t and they are both completely justified. Some enrich their lives with new smells and tastes. They learn new languages and meet people from different cultures. They come back with tons of pictures, dozens of new FB friends and a brutal tan. Good for them. Others enrich their lives with the comfort of a true home, with family and a loyal pack of friends. They learn to perfect their favorite meal and find pleasure in everyday life. How about the enjoyment of having sound roots and knowing where you stand in the bigger picture? How wonderful is it to build a place for yourself that gives comfort and happiness?

Some people don’t need to leave to be able to appreciate the joy of being home. 

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5 thoughts on “Ignorant inspiration

  1. Well written! I hate quotes like these. They suggest that THIS is the only way to be happy. I have a little story here. (Sorry this will be a long comment! This post has stirred something up!)

    There is an extremely famous Bollywood movie by the name – “Zindagi na milegi dobara” (You live only once). When it was released in 2011, I asked my best friend (who had seen the movie) what it was about. He said he felt inspired to leave everything and travel the world, meet people, make girlfriends, eat all kinds of food and come back when he was 40. I could not reply for a couple of minutes and then I said, “Bro, we’re Indians. We’re 22, just graduated with an engineering degree (like most 22 year old guys in the country) and don’t even have a decent job. Thank your lucky stars that children stay with their parents in this country irrespective of age. Without them, we’ll be on the streets. With the current salary, we can’t travel in India, and you’re thinking Spain I suppose? Snap out of it!”. He said, “Bro, you’re missing out on life. You don’t do road trips and you don’t go drinking at bars. You don’t know what having fun really means. If you haven’t traveled, you have wasted your youth! Watch this movie and you’ll know.”

    Since that day, I tried almost 5 times to watch the movie but always got bored of the hypocrisy in the first 10-20 minutes. Haven’t seen it. Don’t want to see it. There is so much more to life and the pursuit of happiness. As you wrote, it varies from person to person and how they see the world around them. Staying in one place with family and friends and maintaining relationships with them takes a lot of work too. I find that particularly hard for me! If you’re content at being the best you can be, then there’s nothing more to be said or done.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this. I liked it.

    1. Thanks so much. It’s great to hear your own experience in this. I hope you find your own corner of happiness and peace of heart in whatever form feels comfortable for you!

  2. Hi. 🙂
    I tend to hate little inspirational things people post on FB, but that’s just because I’m a cranky pessimist. “Be yourself!” a friend proclaims. “But what if I’m an asshole?” I respond. But I don’t really take them literally; I think people really mean to express some vague emotional state that they are trying to put into words, rather than the objective, actual meaning of the words they use.

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