Many of us aren’t sure where to find meaning anymore. We want to find meaning in our studies, careers or a hobby — avenues where we feel safe and connected. But after a couple of let downs, many of us look for a way to find meaning somewhere else possibly in deep, powerful relationships. But 21st century technology has made it too easy to keep every type of relationship — from the platonic to the romantic — at a pretty superficial level.
We read about those who have given up the nine-to-five life to start traveling the world and we can’t help but go, “That’s it. This is how I will get meaning in my life. I will travel the world.”
I hate to break it to you, but you will not gain meaning by traveling the world.
I do not have a severe case of wanderlust. However, I did leave a small hometown to live in South Florida, so that may give me some credentials. Since the moment I left, I seized every opportunity for a new experience. I’m the type of person who sees pictures and articles of beautiful places and checks her bank account, bemoaning the fact that she can’t just cancel everything and take a sporadic trip to France.
Travel is in my blood. But it doesn’t give me meaning.
I never understood why people jet off to South Korea, England or Brazil because they are unhappy with their lives and want to find meaning only to roam around aimlessly in their new country and return home essentially the same person, albeit with a few souvenirs. A person can travel to new places but remain confined in their old ways of thinking. They’ll return to their old jobs and count the days until they can “find meaning” again.
We cannot go to any new place expecting it to give us meaning. The same way we cannot go into a church and expect to feel a spiritual awakening from entering alone. And the same way we cannot go into the dating world and assume that simply “finding a man/woman” will give us clarity and purpose. It would be nice if everything had this intrinsic quality, but it doesn’t.
Here is the nasty, gnarly, unfortunate truth: at the end of the day, cities are cities. Towns are towns. Countrysides are countrysides. In all places, there are roads, buildings and a plethora of jobs that need to be done to keep the community going. These places will vary greatly in shape, size and texture, but at the end of the day, it is still just ground beneath your feet. The cars might be on the opposite side of the road, but that doesn’t mean the asphalt will provide you anything on its own accord.
So what does traveling give you, if not meaning? The answer: perspective.
Go onto those roads and into those buildings. Experience the shapes, sizes and textures. Take in these experiences gently; see what resonates with you and what passes you by. Take it all in and recognize that perspective is not meaning, but it can help you shape it.
Travel can open your eyes; however it doesn’t improve your ability to see. Meaning can’t be given, shared, sold or exchanged. It is created from within. It is made from understanding what makes you tick and what shuts you off and realizing all the little aspects that make “you”. It is made when we observe how we connect with the world and pause a minute to ponder why.
And it is created with the understanding that anything can be a catalyst for that deeper understanding. You don’t need to backpack through Europe. You don’t need to do anything that doesn’t resonate with you. You just need to step out into life with an open mind and a fearlessness to accept whatever emotions and experiences come your way. Whether that step is off of an airplane or onto a backyard porch is irrelevant.
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