The Worst Thing You Can Say to Someone who Creates
I’ve been blessed with the ability and the privilege to travel the world and write about it. I’ve hiked mountains in the far East, and I’ve explored glaciers, peaks, valleys, and cities all throughout North and South America, and abroad. My passport is tattooed all over with stamps marking my exits and entrances, and I feel immense joy in being able to wake up in different time zones and cultures, and then write about my experiences on my blog. It’s upon my return home, however, when I face the comment that my soul dreads to hear:
I wish I had your life.
I know it comes from a place of good-will. People are generally inspired by the courage someone could show in simply picking up and taking off into the world. That desire for freedom is in all of us; it runs through our veins in a way that connects us all. So I often allow the comment to simply sit there between me and the person who said it, like a small confession on their part of that adventure they’re vicariously living through me. But I wanted to come out and say exactly why I believe this is the worst thing you can say to someone who creates, in the hopes that it will shed some light on my own personal truth and the truth of my fellow creatives, should they feel the same.
Saying that you wish you had someone else’s life is admitting that you’re not happy with yours. Most people will argue that this comment is innocent and just a phrase; but we all know that’s not true. Besides, is it not also true that we tend to hide behind these phrases when we do have something serious to admit, like not loving our life at the moment? It also leaves a great weight to accept on my part, as I’m now the recipient of something heavy that you’ve been holding onto — this idea that you’re not happy with yourself. But what’s more important is that you believe that travel and writing and adventuring all over the world come at no cost, no sacrifice, and no struggle. That’s where my unease begins with your comment. Because to be perfectly honest, anyone’s life is a struggle, and to wish that you had it means that you only see what’s on the surface, what looks beautiful and shiny and unique. I invite you, therefore, to dive deeper into the current of my story.
When I started traveling, I did it for personal reasons. I wanted to spend my time seeing the world and spending money on experiences rather than things. I imagine that’s why most people travel — to feel closer to the world in which they live. But a lot of my traveling took place in boughs of isolation. As much as I enjoyed being around family and friends, and meeting people who intrigued me, I wanted to so very badly use my travel time to be alone. People didn’t often understand that — my desire to not want to immediately share these experiences with another person. But I knew that for me, being alone in my travels would bring me closer to myself. Oftentimes, even though this was the case, travel would also bring me closer to the triggers and traumas that now had space to be louder, more wanting of my attention. Many times after trips, I would come home with more questions than answers, working through personal stressors that needed to be addressed, that somehow popped up in the valleys of Machu Picchu or in the streets of Amsterdam. As Anthony Bourdain once beautifully said, “travel changes you…it leaves marks on you…most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often though, they hurt.”
They do. Either no traveler wants to admit it or people aren’t usually aware, but there is a pain with travel, especially when done solo, that is difficult to explain. Maybe it’s because going through the experiences that travel affords, the kind of pain that comes up is personal and deeply rooted to the entire reason why we travel in the first place — to heal and meet ourselves in every part of us we’ve since discarded. In order to heal, however, we have to break down. Travel does that beautifully. This is why, when I come home, I go through episodes of deep depression. Coming back to a routine job and life that somehow doesn’t fit what I’ve opened myself up to during traveling leaves me unable to motivate myself to accept reality. Because reality will slam into you. Hard. And it will force you to pull yourself out of this incredible adventure, back into cold-stone concrete jungles and spreadsheets. It takes a while to recover from that, and what usually heals it is just more travel. And the cycle continues.
I don’t want to paint the picture that travel is a struggling art. It’s far from it. In fact, it paves a way for anyone to experience that art and create it in far better ways than if you were static and in one hemisphere. Even during my difficult times post-travel, I wouldn’t give up this experience. Travel has changed me, but many people fail to see the road up until that transformation. It also leaves no time for me to establish friendships or relationships that won’t be affected by long absences. At some point, it begins to feel like you’re choosing between seeing the world and seeing your friends. As silly as that proposition may sound, it’s actually fairly realistic; and the chances of you feeling guilty knowing that you will always choose your creative endeavors over your friends is an extra burden to carry (and then admit). As far as dating goes, I’ve accepted that the men I find attractive are as elusive as the countries I visit. There is no permanency in travel, as it constantly shifts. I can either settle for a travel fling that will undoubtedly open the flood gates of emotion and attraction — and then be somehow cold-heartedly willing to detach from clinging to this person, as I’ll never see them again. Or I can settle for meeting a man who doesn’t share my passion for adventure one bit, and stoically accept his proposition for endlessly telling him all about my travel stories while he listens. Some may find that endearing. I find that futile. Why tell you, when you can just as easily come with…? But not many will.
At some point, travel becomes a solo mission, even if you’re in a group. So much of what you experience and how it then changes you becomes a journey that you spend years analyzing and coming to terms with. The person who you were before you packed up your shit and left is not nearly the person who comes back with half of that shit missing. And to turn around and explain this new you to a handful of friends and family who have no idea anything’s even changed about you is probably the single-most hardest part of dealing with that comment I hate to hear so much — I wish I had your life. Are you sure?
Creativity is what keeps me going. It’s my way of expressing myself when my cup is full, and then finding drive to keep going when I feel that cup is empty and thirsty for more. When I started writing about my travels, I knew I would face competition from so many adventuring souls all over the world. If you ever Google “travel stories” or “writing,” you’ll face thousands of blogs and websites just like mine. People have a real knack of taking their adventuring spirit and turning it into something profitable and expansive — a career, if you will. So it would be fitting for me to get pulled into that vortex of questioning my own job and wondering if I am somehow under-utilizing the privilege of being able to see the world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home and wanted to cut ties with anything and everyone who didn’t fit my adventure itinerary. Quit your job and travel the world. Pull out every penny and carpe diem. And this happens because when we travel, we feel immortal, invincible, indestructible. We come home and throw caution into the trash, alongside reality, and it’s not long before we realize that money is a real thing that you actually need, and love will not get you fed nor clothed.
I question my worth a million times over as a writer. Every time that I sit down to record my experience in a different country, I push a million demons to the side to get to that one sweet spot of creative energy. And people don’t see this struggle, mainly because I do a great job of hiding it. But it’s there, and I want you to see it so that you don’t wish you had my life. Behind every published story are hours of self-doubt and criticism, deep enough to fill every canyon in Arizona. The amount of heaviness behind creation does not make creation in itself an innately difficult art. No. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “creation doesn’t have to be done in pain.” But pain will find itself into your art so that you can turn it into something beautiful. That’s my mission, my purpose, and my struggle.
I don’t want you to want my life because it looks lavish. Instead, ask me what it took to get to where I am. Ask me about my fears, my failures, my moments of stagnation and desperation, because that’s what I hardly ever show to the world, but it’s on that backbone that I’ve been able to pursue what makes me happy. It’s from that same place that I hope you find the courage to live your best adventure, and share your story with me.