The Catch-22 of Steady Work

July 5, 2013

Desk job

I’m in Santa Monica. Last night I had free BBQ burgers courtesy of Hosteling International and walked towards Venice as the fireworks started lighting up the darkness over the Pacific. I had been walking with a little more spring in my step, and feeling more charitable. Dare I say it… happy.

Happy, but not satisfied. I had always thought being bound to a job for any length of time would lead to itchy feet, but my current position allows me to bounce around California. And when I finish in August, I’ll be traversing the US on a different assignment. Nevertheless, there was one moment at which I thought: “I can do this; I can do any job, and as long as I have money going in the bank and opportunities to travel, I’ll be happy.”

Happy… but not satisfied. For you see, I’m extremely picky with how which to spend my time. This job satisfies many of my current needs: income, not a completely soul-selling product, chances to see new areas. But it was returning to the hostel that night that made me realize I’m still missing out on something critical to my survival. The others.

I’ve had plenty of luck meeting like-minded souls on the road, and socializing at a traveler mecca like HI certainly increases my chances. But for as many as there are out there, there are more who want absolutely nothing to do with me. And that’s ok. That’s the world. But it stings a bit to be alone in one’s travels. I want someone to talk to. Last night, as I was filled to the brim with stories of the last few days, I realized I had no outlet. No girlfriend. No friend. No travel partner. I could Skype someone abroad, of course, but without physical contact, without hearing a real voice with my own ears, it felt like I was alone in a sea of faces.

All these accents floating around me – Australian, French, American – and all I can do is see the endgame, never the present, i.e. “Who is that? Interesting accent. Maybe I should talk to him/her. No, I’m only here one night, and I’ll never see him/her after that. Besides, what could we have in common? I’ve traveled the world, lived in so many countries, and he/she sounds like his/her biggest concern is complaining about the amount of cream cheese for breakfast.”

It doesn’t help that I’m also in LA, where there’s a certain degree of plasticity among the general population. Waitresses and waiters trying to be models and actors. Spray tans. Almost a fervor to stay in peak physical condition. Makeup always on, even when going to the beach. As superficial as it is, America as a whole isn’t much different. Ask any travelers returning from living abroad what they think of conversations back home: the answer will inevitably describe some kind of disconnect, a shallowness they had forgotten existed. How can bickering about the line at Starbucks, or the latest plot on Suits, compare to catching a 2 AM train in Suratthani in the pouring rain?

We all come down to this level eventually. Even seasoned travelers start to realize the majority of those around them won’t understand, can’t understand, don’t want to understand what life was like for us away from the familiar, and so we become a little more like them… at least on the surface.

Steady work may do it for me for now, but my next position as a volunteer recruiter may be the biggest challenge I’ve faced in many years. Not so much the work itself, but because it will be an important test of whether I can remain employed, happy, and stable. I’ve never had those three things at once.

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