Crave Discomfort

The mountain looks intimidating. You’re chilled to the bone as you make the final ascent. You didn’t think you were prepared for this moment but you wanted to push yourself to the physical limit. You made this hike not because it was easy but because it was hard. In order to understand your mentality and physicality better, you had to put yourself to the test.

There’s no other way to know what you are capable of than to test yourself and to do it often. It does not matter if you are cold, you are tired, you are hungry, you are sweaty, or you are sleepy, there are times in life when you must simply crave discomfort because you know deep down that you will be more fulfilled from pushing yourself than from having played it safe.

Imagine being on the side of that same mountain and you are rock climbing to get your way to the top. Each move that you make must be analyzed quickly so you don’t make a mistake. It’s likely that you will have a harness or some kind of restraint to catch you if you fall but that’s not always the case. You’re under a large amount of emotional stress and personal discomfort but you feel invigorated when you successfully climb or hike your way to the top. You’ll never regret those times when you put yourself out of your comfort zone especially when you are able to push yourself past those previously held limits that you thought you had.

There is no such thing as a challenge-free life. Putting yourself out there is going to be uncomfortable and you are going to be vulnerable. However, you may find that you will be the most fulfilled emotionally and physically when you challenge yourself. Discomfort as a concept may seem unappealing but it is in those moments or those times of discomfort where we advance the most.

Having the means of comfort may give short-term happiness but it is definitely unlikely to lead to long-term fulfillment. The only way to achieve satisfaction or fulfillment is to acclimate yourself to dealing with discomfort and being able to overcome it again and again. Being able to handle uncertainty will set you apart from other people and give you a level of maturity that will make you a stronger and more resilient person.

Discomfort does not only show up in the form of physical challenges but also in the realm of mental obstacles. Keeping your mind active by putting it to the test will improve you in numerous ways. Whether it’s reading a 400-page book, writing a research paper, or studying a foreign language, these mental challenges will definitely cause some discomfort and that’s a good thing. These personal projects will be very uncomfortable at first, but you will notice results when you stick with them, little bit by bit, and you’ll realize that the discomfort was worth it because of how far you have advanced with your mental development.

Living a life of ease and pleasure is not going to lead you to be the best person that you can become. Only by overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges will you be able to develop yourself fully. It’s good to kick back every now and then to relax and enjoy life yet that kind of pleasure is temporary. True personal growth lies in craving discomfort in whatever form it may yield the highest rewards for you. Whether it’s running a marathon or climbing a mountain to reach new physical capabilities or to writing a thesis paper for your doctorate or solving a complex physics equation, both our body and our mind need these challenges.

If you are ever feeling lethargic or lost, you should evaluate whether or not you are challenging yourself enough. Giving yourself personal goals to work towards will make you uncomfortable but you will also be able to greater fulfillment and longer lasting happiness. Being able to put yourself out there, use your physical and/or mental abilities, and logically think through and solve problems will get you out of your self-imposed funk.

Having a deeper purpose in life that is fulfilling and meaningful is necessary for everyone to pursue. Everybody will struggle at first to find out what exactly they were meant to do. Instead of doing nothing about it, I think it is best to try out different things that are uncomfortable to find out which challenges make you feel the most engaged and willing to overcome. Doing a bunch of different things to keep yourself active is better than to do nothing at all. Time is limited so it’s best to challenge yourself in a variety of ways first before you settle on the one or two major challenges in life that you want to succeed at.

Craving that discomfort is a necessary part of this part of self-development. Failure is possible and you may not ultimately succeed. However, if you fail, you will learn from having tried your hand at it and you will be the better person for it. Once you try at something, even without ultimate success, you know that you have the ability to take on challenges and eventually you’ll meet them without unease and with greater confidence. It is far better to have failed one hundred times and to have succeeded on your 101st try, then to have failed only once and then give up entirely without trying again.

Many people today shy away from being uncomfortable at all, even for a minute, but this is much to their detriment. Being in discomfort and going through painful times is part of being human. Without experiencing that pain and that discomfort, you won’t be able to become a stronger person. The person who has been through several trials by fire is the person you want around in times of discomfort and distress. You don’t want to be around a person who only indulges in pleasures and shies away from any pain.

Having physical toughness and mental fortitude to meet challenges head on are traits that you should want to make part of yourself for the rest of your life. Putting your fear and your doubts aside to climb that mountain, write that book, learn that language, or solve that Math problem will give you an advantage over others who deny themselves discomfort. You have to want to engage in the discomforts in life because in today’s day and age, it is easier than ever to avoid discomfort. Those who pursue discomfort will be rewarded long after the challenge(s) you set for yourself have been overcome.

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Reaching The Gold Standard

‘The Gold Standard’ is a popular term that is used to describe the best quality and ideal that you can hold yourself to. The term of ‘gold standard’ has often been used to refer to the finance, medical, and other industries where people are trying to get the best outcome and live up to high expectations. The gold standard can also be a benchmark that can be set for yourself or a company that is trying to reach a goal that would be difficult to achieve but is still within the realm of possibility. Often times, when it comes to the gold standard, you’re going to be comparing two different options together and seeing which one falls within a closer range of that needed benchmark. According to Google, the official definition of a gold standard is when something or someone is “the best, the most reliable, or most prestigious kind of thing of its’ type.”

The correlation between something being golden and something being the best has been linked as being one in the same for a couple of decades now. It is often considered to be an analogy to the literal definition of a ‘gold standard’, which is when the value of a currency is defined in terms of its’ overall worth in gold. In this case, there are many different standards with gold being one of them when it comes to the finance world, especially when currencies are being compared to gold in terms of overall value. Since gold was seen as a reliable resource to base value off of, it was held to an increasingly high standard, which other currencies were able to base their own value on and see how much gold they could own on the world market. The gold standard can be defined when it comes to both economics but also in terms of behavior as a scientific factor.

As for the first modern usage of the gold standard, it is believed to have occurred originally in a written paper from 1979, explaining the scientific usage of the word. The paper was titled, “In search of the gold standard for compliance measurement.” In this same academic paper, the gold standard is linked directly to the ideal standard of being compliant. The excerpt from this article states that, “While other methodological problems are involved, these four highlight the absence of a real gold standard for compliance, the ideal standard would be…”

While the gold standard is often held as the ideal for currency exchanges, for medical advances, and for statistical accuracy, it can also be referencing a person’s behavior or conduct especially when it comes to business or personal matters. While the gold standard phrase may have been invented with finances or medicine in mind, the expression has become mainstream over the past couple of decades and is now used quite regularly when it comes to people’s achievements.

For example, if you are an Olympic athlete whose competing in a number of events, you are also being held to a ‘gold standard’ as you compete for a gold, silver, or bronze medal. The gold standard here is definitely the ideal standard that is held not just for athletes that are competing in the Olympics for all major sports.

In order to be the best, you need to hold yourself to your highest standards and work you’re hardest to win the gold medal. In our society, even before the phrasing of ‘gold standard’, striving for gold was seen as an endearing quality and that it often symbolically represents the best that you can achieve as an athlete who is competing in a tournament or championship. It seems to be no coincidence either that most of the trophies that you receive for coming in first place or for winning a competition are made out of gold, whether it is real or fake. The gold standard in sports is a concept that has been around for many decades and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Winning gold medals or trophies in competitions is strongly linked to being the best of the best, making it a significant part of the idea of the gold standard.

Beyond signifying personal achievements and athletic success, the idea of holding yourself personally to a gold standard of behavior is quite common in our society. When it comes to having the ideal behavior, you’re going to want to hold yourself accountable for your actions, and you need to have such qualities as being honest, fair, responsible, organized, and hard working.

Many businesses and companies, when they decide whether or not they are going to hire someone as their new employee evaluate if you hold yourself to a high standard of behavior or ethics. They do not want someone who is going to lie, cheat, and steal to make the company and your colleagues look bad. The idea of holding yourself to a gold standard is quite popular in many of today’s companies. Many contracts and work agreements come with behavioral clauses that lay out the do’s and don’ts of what they require of you as an employee when they decide to hire out. If you do not hold yourself to a ‘gold standard’ of behavior at work, you may be out of a job much quicker than you had imagined.

Outside of your work life, setting the gold standard of behavior in your home life is a good habit to practice. As an individual, you need to set the standard for your friends and your family as to how to act and behave as a member of a society. You need to show them that being kind, honest, hard-working, organized, and reliable are good qualities to have both at home and at work and that these are personal characteristics that should be emulated, and spread around as much as possible.

If your children or other family members see you behaving well at the grocery store by saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the workers as well as when you leave a nice tip for the waiter or waitress at a restaurant, you are setting the gold standard for them by acting as a good example of how to behave and act as a regular person. Sometimes, you have to set your own gold standard and to have it be a high one in order for other people to follow similarly. If you are able to follow your own rules and ways of conduct, you will make yourself more of a leader and a person who is to be respected by others.

By having a gold standard whether it is in the field of athletics, statistics, science, economics, finance, etc., there are a lot of benefits to holding yourself or holding others to a very high level of standards. If everyone in society just did the bare minimum, then not much would change or advance. By being responsible, using sound judgment, working hard, and striving to be the best we can be, we become better people and we develop a strong code of conduct. You don’t need to have a gold standard in order to be a good person or a good worker but it certainly helps in setting some key boundaries, rules, and ethics that should be followed in order to get the most out of yourself and out of others.

Those who strive to be the best are rewarded with reaping the benefits of the gold standard in many different fields. If you’re able to hold yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally to different ideals, you’ll reach the high standard that is set for yourself. The gold standard is not for everyone because not everyone can reach that highest level of human conduct and action. However, the purpose of the gold standard is for people who have the means and the drive to be the best can do just that if they set their minds and bodies to that illustrious goal.

To put it simply, if there were no gold standard or no standards at all to hold yourself or others to, society would not be as civilized and humans would not have as advanced as much as we have to the present day. While the gold standard is for the best of the best, there are other standards that we accept and implement whether it is an employees’ code of conduct from any regular company or the Constitution of the United States. Regulations, rules, and codes of conduct can be difficult to follow and observe at all times but they are necessary in order to keep society functioning well.

Those people who disregard these norms of behavior are often castigated and are excluded from being the best of the best. If you lie, cheat, or steal, you won’t meet any normal standard let alone the gold standard. The gold standard is aiming for all of us to achieve the best of human nature and to do so in different fields of work and in life. While we may not successfully get to the gold standard in finance, medicine or in athletics, we always have the chance to reach the gold standard in our personal behavior and conduct.

 

 

‘Collateral’ – Film Review and Analysis

It’s not often the case that a Hollywood film can go beyond its’ genre to relay a deeper message about the human condition and why people are the way they are. ‘Collateral’ (2004) is one of those movies that is able to achieve just that by making the audience member such as myself care about the characters as well as appreciate the deeper meanings beyond the dialogue and the setting.

While there are numerous crime thriller films out there, ‘Collateral’ is able to go above and beyond the clichés and be original in its’ own right. Part of this is due to the fact that Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx give outstanding performances for their respective characters along with the rest of the credit that should be given to director Michael Mann who relishes being a director for crime noir dramas that are set in Los Angeles. While ‘Collateral’ was not an Oscar award winning film unfortunately, its’ characters, the setting, the action sequences, the directing, and the overall message that the plot sends to the audience make it a unique and reputable movie that deserves a viewing or two.

Without going into too much detail, the plot of ‘Collateral’ stars two men who come from very different circumstances and live very different lives. However, the Cosmos align to have them meet for the first time at night in Los Angeles. “Vincent” played by Tom Cruise, has just arrived in Los Angeles from the airport and is looking for someone to take him around the city. What better way to see L.A. than to do so by taxi so Vincent goes to the nearest taxi stand to seek one out for a ride. That’s where the plot of the film begins as Max, played by Jamie Foxx, accepts Vincent as a new passenger after ignoring his presence initially. Vincent, dressed in a gray suit with gray hair could be just like any other businessman in Los Angeles but he’s not what he appears to be. Max starts to realize this as the night goes on but not until after he drops off Vincent at his first but not his last destination.

Vincent is more than just the new guy in town here for business. He’s a contract killer and a hitman who is in Los Angeles for one night only in order to carry out a series of hits. After bearing witness to the first of Vincent’s murders, Max is forced into being Vincent’s chauffeur for the rest of the night as he has four more contract hits to carry out for his boss, “Felix”, played brilliant by actor Javier Bardem. Vincent’s goal for the night is to carry out the rest of the contract hits successfully and then get a flight out of Los Angeles as the sun rises after his boss pays him handsomely for his ‘work’. Max’s goal for the rest of the night is to get out of this situation alive without getting killed by Vincent or being seen by the police as an accomplice of Vincent who is dragging him along as he commit these vicious murders in cold blood.

Mixed up in all of this madness is “Annie”, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, who is a prosecutor in the U.S. Justice Department who works out of their office in Los Angeles. She ends up being the first passenger of the evening in Max’s cab before the fates intertwine and Vincent comes along to change Max’s life forever. The only good part of Max’s night is when he meets Annie and they hit it off enough to the point where he is able to get her phone number but it is uncertain whether or not he will have the confidence to call her and make plans.

Unfortunately, Vincent, the contract killer, has Annie in his sights as one of his five targets setting off a series of events that put Max and Vincent on a tense collision course. On top of all of this, you have members of both the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department noticing what Vincent and Max have been up to which causes more violence and bloodshed to occur. “LAPD Detective Ray Fanning and FBI Investigator Frank Pedrosa” (played by Mark Ruffalo, and played by Bruce McGill) are the ones leading the investigation into these random but coordinated killings popping up all over Los Angeles in the dead of night orchestrated by Vincent with Max as his unwilling accomplice.

There’s no character in this film that isn’t in danger or who may come into harms way and that is partly what makes the title of the film fitting as called ‘Collateral’ because everybody in this movie feels the damage caused by Vincent in some way. Max has feelings for Annie so he wants to do the most he can to protect her before she become apart of the ‘collateral’ damage that is being inflicted by Vincent.

Michael Mann, the director of ‘Heat’ (1995) previously and of this film ‘Collateral’, does an excellent job of making the setting of Los Angeles feel like its’ own character that sets the tone for the movie as well as provide an analogy for what the characters of Max and Vincent are like. Los Angeles is a sprawling urban city of more than four million people and has highways, tunnels, and bridges that loop and wind through the various neighborhoods that can only be connected by car.

For Max, Los Angeles is the only home he’s ever known but for Vincent, it’s a sprawling, disconnected mess of alienated people who don’t know or care about each other even if the collective Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of their city is more than most countries on the planet. Vincent regales Max about a story of someone who dies on the Los Angeles Metro one day and nobody else on the transit system notices for many hours, which proves his supposed point about the city’s culture of alienation. Similar to L.A., Max and Vincent are disconnected from other people in their own ways. Max is shy and reticent with new people he meets and doesn’t go after what he wants while Vincent is a sociopathic killer who doesn’t have much regard for people in general.

There’s one excellent scene in this film where Vincent and Max chide and prod each other as to why they are who they are. Vincent wants Max to call Annie, the girl whose number he got earlier in the evening, because “Life is short. One day it’s gone…” Max doesn’t reply regardless of what Vincent’s opinion is of his dating life. Later on in the scene, they both see a lone grey wolf walking through the streets of Los Angeles presumably searching for food or for some sort of purpose. In so many ways, this is symbolic of who Vincent and Max both are.

Vincent knows his purpose is to kill people because it’s what he ‘does for a living’ but this job alienates him from his humanity and causes him to be a lone wolf. Max is unsure of his purpose in life and wants desperately to be more than a simple taxi driver. He has dreams to start his own limo company one day but never takes the first step to making that dream come true and actually become a reality.

Even though they are two different men from very different circumstances, they are able to see what they should become if they weren’t so set in their ways. Max is a compassionate person who cares for others but is stuck without a purpose and isn’t able to take control of his life. Vincent is a sociopath who can’t relate to other human beings but knows what his one true purpose in life is and this allows him to feel some control over his existence, which he deems as being ‘meaningless’ in the long run.

Even with the fact that they detest each other, they begin to understand the flaws in their own character and how they could be different if they gave themselves a chance. Max could be more spontaneous and avoid having a repetitive life if he chose to be something more than a taxi driver. There’s no changing that Vincent is a cold-blooded killer but you start to see the circumstances that created his monstrous self. He never knew his mother, and his father was an alcoholic who beat him mercilessly and let young Vincent to grow up in foster homes. Max, nor the audience, can show much sympathy for Vincent’s plight but you start to realize that he is not just a simple-minded killing machine.

While life may be meaningless for Vincent, he still thinks that Max should live it to the fullest and ‘carpe diem’ before it’s too late for him. Max gets Vincent to ask himself why he is a sociopathic killer and gets him to reveal a little about his troubled family as well as to why he is a nihilist. In response, Vincent gets Max to ask why he never did anything to make the Limo Company to become a reality. He implores him to think deeply about making his dream come true because someday it may never come to pass if you don’t do anything to make it happen in the first place.

‘Collateral’ is a great crime thriller that is extremely well written, has great acting, and is directed and choreographed superbly by Michael Mann and his team. Beyond that, ‘Collateral’ is a film that makes you question certain things about life and the limits that we put on ourselves. The nihilism and disconnectedness of both Los Angeles and the main characters of Max and Vincent is both surreal and powerful. This is not your typical Hollywood drama and that’s a good thing. This movie is not a blockbuster and feels more like an independent film that came in way under budget.

‘Collateral’ is a gripping take on two men who are forced together by fate to go through a night together that will change them forever. I highly recommend this movie based on the excellent writing, acting, directing, and the strong storyline that keeps the viewer interested. Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise do an excellent job and have great chemistry together, which is what makes ‘Collateral’ really shine, and have longevity as a unique film over a decade later. If you get the chance sometime, you should really see this movie.

View From The Top

Tired and thirsty, my friend and I had finally reached the glorious peak at ‘La Piedra’ or ‘El Peñol del Piedra’, which loosely translates in English to ‘The Stone.’ It was quite a physically taxing climb up to the top of the rock as my legs burned and my feet became sore as my friend and I ascended the 750 steps along with some steep hiking up a good-sized hill to get to the base of the ‘La Piedra’ rock.

I came to Guatepe partly after hearing from friends in Medellin on how beautiful and unique it was and after seeing various pictures of the stunning landscapes that make up this tranquil part of Antioquia. I was skeptical of the place and didn’t think that it would live up to the hype but I am happy to say that I was completely wrong. Out of all the places I’ve visited and the landscapes I’ve traversed, Guatepe is a really special place to visit. The area is made up of dozens of intertwining, clear blue lakes surrounded by the greenest forestry you could imagine with soil rich in different colors. My friend compared it to the southern United States and thought that it was similar to the state of North Carolina. To me, that’s part of the beauty of Colombia in that there are so many varied landscapes. You could sometimes wonder whether or not you’re in a different country entirely depending on if you’re in Atlantico or in Antioquia.

The landscapes were beautiful, the air was clean, the people were friendly, and the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ was unbeatable. A 360-degree vista of all of the lakes, hills, and greenery that make up Guatepe was quite breathtaking and peaceful to behold. It helped that my friend and I had great weather to enjoy where the skies were clear blue and the bright sun was shining down on us.

It was really pleasant to take pictures, to soak up the view, and to have a cold drink after the long journey to the top. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape but walking up the steep 750 steps is not for everyone and it really is quite the challenge. While it’s not insurmountable, your feet and legs feel the pain and you wonder when the full view is going to come into play. At ‘La Piedra’, they really make the tourists and the visitors to the rock work for it. There are no escalators or elevators. You have to pay for admission and if you don’t make it to the top, you don’t get your money back. Like a lot of things in life, you have to invest yourself physically and mentally in order to reap the benefits.

Similar to many other moments in life, I reflected on those 750 steps of ‘La Piedra’ as being a necessary yet temporary struggle to reach the top and enjoy the view. For me, it wouldn’t have been as worthwhile at all to check out ‘La Piedra’ if there were an escalator or an elevator to shortcut the journey. I believe that I enjoyed the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ much more given the fact that I was tired, hungry, and in need of a rest. The struggle was tough enough for me that as a result, the ultimate reward became more fulfilling. If the climb up had been much easier, it simply would have been less rewarding. Because the views from this rock were magnificent, I was willing to climb the 750 steps to get to the top. Sometimes in life, the struggle is worth the reward.

Whether it’s traveling to a new country, starting a new job, moving to a new place, or working on a blog, there’s going to be some struggles and setbacks involved. Sometimes, you’re going to have to decide whether the sacrifices you make and the challenges you have to overcome are enough to justify the rewards. Nothing in life is as easy as it seems and if it appears that way, you may be let down when the reward or success you’ve seen from it doesn’t feel as good as a result. It’s important to realize that working hard and trying new things can lead to failure but it can also lead to a success that’s more whole and fulfilling.

Putting blood, sweat, and tears, into a project, a job, or a relationship takes a lot of work but you can rest easy knowing that it was your labor, which brought it into fruition. If everything in life is simply handed to you, you may feel happy and experience pleasure from it in the short-term but it’s likely to make you miserable in the long-term. Being able to exert yourself in the world physically or mentally can give you a much more lasting feeling of success and contentment. While I would have been happy with the ‘view from the top’ had there been an elevator for tourists like me to go to the top, I felt much more relieved and excited from the view after step #750 because it was the sweat and the toil to get up there physically that filled me with contentedness and satisfaction.

Before I left Guatepe, I wanted to see more of the area so I rented a kayak in the morning and set out by myself. I untied the canoe, got ahold of the equipment and the oars, and pushed the kayak out into the open waters. The day before, I had viewed Guatepe from the top but now I was back on level ground exerting myself physically stroke by stroke on a two-seater kayak in order to enjoy the scenery, and the peaceful quiet of a Sunday morning.

For anybody who’s done kayaking by themselves before should know, it’s a struggle at first to steer the kayak and to move in sync with the tide. Like the day before, I was challenging myself physically and thus, I felt more rewarded when I was able to glide by the birds chirping, the local residents fishing, and taking in the sheer greenery of Guatepe. I have to say it was a good way to end my weekend trip to that part of Antioquia, which is a truly beautiful and well-preserved area of Colombia.

I hope to get across to my readers that it’s very likely in life that you’ll get the most satisfaction from those challenges you endured and personally overcome. Whether it’s that huge rock in Guatepe you climbed or that successful business you started on your own time and with your own money, these efforts will create sustainable happiness and noticeable self-confidence. It’s not easy to get to the top and that’s why you have to work hard and exert yourself in order to enjoy the view.

 

The Art of Traveling Solo

The famous English author, J.R.R. Tolkien, once wrote in his poem “All that is gold does not glitter” a line that should be noted for its’ truth and its’ profundity. The 2nd line of the poem states, “Not all those who wander are lost.” This is a fitting statement for those of us travelers who have stepped foot in another city or country being completely on our own. It’s not something that can be easily done and requires a bit of mental fortitude to be able to enjoy it despite the inherent challenges.

While most travelers like to go from place to place in packs, big groups, or in guided tours, I believe that it is necessary to try out traveling alone especially if you have prior experience in traveling to other cities and countries. Once you are comfortable with the art of traveling itself, I think it’s a good idea to challenge yourself by traveling alone. I won’t choose to judge you if you decide to never try it by I respect any fellow traveler more when they tell me that they have been by themselves in a new country for days, weeks, months, and even years at a time.

In order to travel alone successfully, I would recommend that a person be able to adapt or inherently have a few traits or characteristics that will put them more at ease with the idea. First, you have to be comfortable being alone. You have to be able to embrace the solitude of your thoughts and to be more observant of the world. This is a hard thing to accomplish for strictly extroverted people who thrive off of the energy of being around others. However, if you’re a strict introvert or fall somewhere in the middle of those two broad categories like myself, then you won’t find traveling solo as hard as pure extroverts. Sometimes, you will have to be alone in a restaurant, in a museum, or in your train/plane/taxi.

I think there’s a benefit to this because then you’re more likely to focus on the place you’re traveling to and be able to better absorb the culture, customs, and especially the food/drinks of the new place you’re traveling to. When you’re with your friends and family on a trip, you’re often wrapped up in what they’re thinking, what you’re going to do with them for the day, if they’re having a good time or not, etc. With friends and family, you’re in a mini-bubble that’s hard to break out of. When you’re traveling with another person or a group in general, you’re less likely to appreciate other aspects of the trip. How can you focus on the sheer beauty of the Coliseum in Rome, Italy when your close friend is trying to discuss the latest Game of Thrones episode with you?

Some critics of traveling solo also forget about the fact that you will still meet people during your travels to new places. You’ll only truly be alone if you never open your mouth and be social. It’s easier now than ever to connect with new people and make new friends due to the wonders of the Internet. Due to the popularity of websites like AirBNB, Couchsurfing, and the ubiquitous amount of hostels in every part of the globe, even if you travel alone for an extended period of time, it’s still easy to meet people due to the sharing economy’s emphasis on affordable, shared living spaces.

I also couldn’t forget the sheer amount of other opportunities to have language exchanges, expat gatherings, and to just make the effort to open your mouth to someone and start a conversation. I find that it’s easier to meet people on the road than it is when I’m at home because they’re curious about where you’re from, how long you have been traveling for, and what you are doing in their country, etc. and you’ll also be curious about the same things.

During my recent trip to Santa Marta, which was done solo, I was able to befriend my kind AirBNB host from Bogota, hang out with the locals at a bar, and practice my beginner Portuguese with a Brazilian woman from Rio de Janeiro. When you’re traveling alone, you really have to put yourself out there and be more social. That’s not easy for a lot of people but it’s important to try it at least once. If you have any kind of social anxiety or shyness, you’ll be able to overcome it more and more due to solo travels.

Traveling alone is something that you have to ease into over time. I think it’s wise to start with a day trip to a nearby city where you don’t know anyone and then eventually work your way up to visiting a new country by yourself for a few days or a week. Personally, the longest that I’ve traveled by myself for has been about two weeks. I’d like to eventually reach that level of a month or more on the road without anyone holding my hand. Traveling alone forces you out of your comfort zone and mentally challenges you. You have to navigate a new city and country, practice the language by yourself, and be able to handle flights, trains, and buses without the guidance of others.

While this is not easy and takes practice, you’ll feel more confident and sure of yourself as a result. The times where you could have been taking selfies with your friends or partying until the wee hours of the morning are instead focused on having a nice coffee by the river or taking your time in an art museum by going through the galleries at your own pace. Traveling solo is a good time to be selfish as you can set your schedule, your own destinations, and decide where you want to go and when you want to go. There’s nobody holding you back and that’s quite liberating. I often get a feeling of true freedom while traveling alone that’s not easily replicated.

Even if there was no one else physically with me, I have nice memories of my past solo travels. The moment when I woke up on my train to Krakow, Poland in the early morning to open my window to see fresh snow on the ground and the sun rising as we entered the train station. The feeling of pure relaxation as I enjoyed a nice mid-day cappuccino with a view of the Prague skyline in the Czech Republic, and the absolute quiet I felt as I sat on the beach in Parque Tayrona, Colombia and heard nothing but the soft, sea breeze and the waves splashing against my feet. These are the memories that I will cherish and never forget. That is why I enjoy the art of solo traveling.

The Limits of Perception

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“Do you see what I see?”

“Perception” is an interesting word when you think deeply about it. No, I’m not just talking about your two eyes, and the vision that allows you to perceive the world visually. In other words, we can only perceive the experiences that we have or had in the past, the people we met, the places we visited and lived in, and the choices that we make or made.

Human beings are mortal which means we have limited time on this Earth to see and experience all that life has to offer. For some people, this is a very frightening and gloomy notion. However, others would see this fact as a way to get the most out of life and expand their perception of the world as much as possible.

A limited “perception” of life and the world has consequences when you think about it. If you don’t have the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes or to imagine or experience life as they do, then your ability to emphasize with them would be diminished. Yes, you can have sympathy for their plights or jubilation for their successes but you wouldn’t be able to connect with them on a deeper level.

A consistent problem in human nature is our lack of ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see life as they do. When we are unable to break down barriers between social classes, races, religions, and gender, disagreements and hostilities between these groups is likely to continue. From my perspective and my past travels, the similarities of humans around the world drastically outweigh the differences. That doesn’t mean that these differences are bad or that they should be eliminated. I happen to believe that cultural and social differences are part of what makes humanity unique and should not be demonized.

This leaves the question that my blog readers would wonder to themselves hopefully after reading this entry: How do I expand my perception of life and the world around me? Now, when I ask this question, I do not mean for you to go out to the nearest pharmacy and get yourself some contacts or a pair of prescription glasses.

What I mean and what I believe is that we humans have limited time on Earth and we can’t live forever to experience everything and to meet everybody around the world. However, there are ways to expand this perception by traveling the world, reading books, and meeting different kinds of people. These three concepts are not crazy ideas but rather novel concepts to create greater empathy in yourself and for others along with a more profound view of humanity as a whole.

Traveling has always had the highest return on investment for me and the experiences I have had have helped me view the world in a different way. I know that it’s not feasible for everyone to travel but if you can’t make a huge jump to another country, try to travel to different places and cities within your own country. Learning about the local culture and customs, enjoying the local cuisine, and indulging in the history and background of the society are important for any seasoned traveler.

You will start to view the world in shades of grey rather than pure black and white. You would also learn that cultures and societies are complex and that it takes a lot of time to immerse yourself in its deeper reaches. Most of all, you are communicating in a different language which is fascinating and complex in its own right. Above all else, you are seeing the commonalities and similarities that exist between your family and their family, your town and their town, and your country and their country.

Meeting new people from different backgrounds and places ties into traveling as well but it really makes your perception of the world grow. If you stay in the same town where you grow up and never leave, chances are that you’ll have a limited perception of people and life itself. Talking to different people, hearing their stories, cooking with them, and sharing a meal or drink has many benefits. You may be able to build a friendship that lasts for years even if you don’t speak the same language or come from the same culture.

By hearing their story and listening to them, you expand your own perception of the world and the people who inhabit it. You can get beyond the stereotypes and the clichés and really get into deeper social connections with people, especially in this interconnected world that we all live in.

Lastly, reading books is an integral park for learning about the world and facilitating a deeper perception. As individuals, we cannot experience everything or know everything there is to know. However, by reading about the stories of others who have come before you and who had lived, and died, you will gain greater knowledge and wisdom. Regardless of whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, you’re reading someone’s life story or reading about a subject that spans a part of human history.

Book by book, you are enlightening yourself by learning about the experiences and perceptions of others. By learning about the men and women who have come before you and who have lived exemplary and distinguished lives, you can take lessons from their existence and apply those lessons to your own life. If you can’t travel or meet different kinds of people, reading books by those authors who have and whom shared those unique experiences with their readers is the next best thing.

We all have one live to life, and you can only see what’s right in front of your eyes. Make sure that you continue to give yourself the opportunities and chances to indulge in the knowledge and wisdom that can be gained by expanding your perception of the world and its inhabitants. Travel, read books, and meet different people for as long as you may live. Only then will you gain true enlightenment and wisdom.