Self-Portrait at 30

April 29, 2013

I’m in Dallas until the next opportunity to fly out. I’m listing these potential travels as much for me to see them as for you to understand what’s available to the long-term traveler: volunteering with All Hands in NYC to assist with storm cleanup; taking a random flight to Peru to finally see Macchu Picchu and the Nazca Lines (would prefer not to do this alone); lead a teen travel group through Cambodia; wait and see on a job tailoring Japan tours in Boulder; return to San Francisco and see if anything falls into place (unlikely); prepare myself for a teaching position in Gwangju, South Korea.

I was recently back at an alumni event at my high school and happened to come across a teacher who interviewed me via Skype in Korea for students wondering what their lives could be like ten years out. Discovering he had profiled men and women with complete financial security (making +$100,000 annually), yet still felt like their jobs were weighing down their souls, reminded me once again of travel envy: here were people from identical educational backgrounds still struggling with the idea of satisfaction in their lives. I’m the same way, but on the flip side of the coin. And that’s when it occurred to me…

I’m Batman.

No, I don’t have the billions of dollars of capital, nor do I make it a practice of becoming the night and striking fear in the hearts of criminals. But lately, it seems like my struggle to make it in life, my mission, has been the only thing driving me. I’ve been so obsessed with a seemingly never ending battle that it’s almost impossible for me to be truly happy; I laugh at jokes, I smile when I’m standing in the sunlight, and I pause and reflect on how wonderful it is to be able to bite into a freshly baked cookie, but beneath it all, there’s a constant frown, an emptiness that has been growing for many years. While Batman was able to cope with this on his own because he’s Batman, us mere mortals can’t deal with that kind of comic book lifestyle.

family batman

I’ve been trying to express this feeling for quite some time, but have hesitated because so many people tell me to simply “snap out of it”. This isn’t depression. If anything, I feel arrogant at assuming depression is beneath me and it’s a problem not many will understand… but I still believe that. Why? Because I believe (perhaps mistakenly… I hope), the majority of people don’t take the time to properly examine their lives. Maybe a few do question their choices and wonder how it could all have gone differently, but the action is lacking.

This is most apparent to travelers who come home and see nothing changed: people working the same menial jobs, no closer to satisfaction. But do they even question if things could be better? Hope is one thing, but expecting lottery numbers to simply pop up Saturday night isn’t a healthy way to live. I know people of people who could benefit from a year or two abroad, who have the means, financially and personally, to buy the ticket, take the ride. But they don’t. They’re scared of change, but also want things to be better. These are the ones who can get out, but there are many more who won’t even think about it.

I’ve gotten out. I’ve looked within. I’m very awake. And it makes me sad. Not only because I feel isolated from most of humanity, but because my standards keep rising. For example, when I landed in Japan, I would have been friends with anyone who spoke English. Then I realized just because someone is living abroad, doesn’t mean he’s not capable of being a complete douchebag. So I looked for more with common interests, and the pool of available candidates shrunk.

It’s still shrinking: for friends, relationships with old friends and family, and lovers. How can I relate to someone who finds satisfaction working retail? Or to those who get their passports but never use them? Or have never really practiced meditation? Run a marathon? Climbed a mountain? Seen the sunrise? Wanted more? My life has been filled with people like this, but I never really questioned where they were coming from. I want to clarify: I am not the superior being here. Just different. Different than most, I believe. I’ve seen others finding satisfaction in their lives doing things I just can’t enjoy, making sacrifices I see as unnecessary.

One bloke worked as a film processor at Kodak while being an excellent knight at the Renaissance Faire; he dated someone ten years his junior and lived in a sketchy part of town. Could he have found something better? Of course. Would he have enjoyed it, found as much to his liking? Maybe. The point is, where I was more accepting of different ways of life before, now I find them lacking. “Ways of life” isn’t right… more like critical analysis of oneself. Searching for more than today, but still taking the time to appreciate the little things. Life’s ultimate catch-22.

The businessman smiled and remarked about how special that must be. He wasn’t jealous though, he had what he wanted. He made money: enough to be more than comfortable and travel the world. He could pay for his children to attend his high school, send them to exotic places… the traveler noticed the thoughtful look cross the businessman’s face. The traveler knew he’d have a hard time “making it big” after all his travels. His work would be hard to get to where the businessman was going. He took pleasure in his stories though. The businessman hadn’t seen what he had. He hadn’t met people he had. When his grandchildren sat on his knee, his best stories would start with “When I was in China…” and continue through loops and swirls of language, with characters unimaginable and acquaintances spectacular. He had experienced so much in this short time, he took pleasure in his stories.

Thirty has been a sad year for me, a year of introspection, rising standards, and isolation. But it won’t stay that way forever.

I will keep looking within, but hopefully discover I’m not as alone I had thought.

I will try to learn to appreciate others’ satisfaction, even if I consider them sorely lacking for me.

I will hope, when emotionally there don’t seem to be too many reasons to hope (intellectually, I know better).

I will not become Batman, because if there were ever a superhero to pity, it would be him.

2 Responses to Self-Portrait at 30

  1. ihavethewanders on May 2, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I relate to a lot of what you are saying here. Don’t lose hope. The game changer for me was realizing that everyone is just trying to be happy the best way they know how and that looks different for everyone. Learning not to judge them for their decisions and recognizing that they are just that, their decisions, helped lead me away from dwelling on other people’s seemingly baffling choices. Everyone is on their own path and we don’t always have to like it but we can respect it as their own and carry on traveling. 🙂

  2. Cornelia Bonner on May 9, 2013 at 2:36 am

    Why stress at all? It doesn’t accomplish anything. Just do the best that you can with the things you can control and don’t sweat the things you can’t.

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