Travel, Identity Resets, and Action in the Absence of Fear

If it’s Monday morning and I’m on the way to work, it’s time for a breaking ferriss post. More by happenstance than by design, these posts have alternated between tactical things about business and “ethos posts” about what it “feels like” to be living this life, and things I’m thinking about. Today’s post will be the latter variety.

I’m lucky to have had to opportunity to get out of New York for at least a week twice annually for the last two years, and in every case these trips have been important “identity resets”. I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, but for me travel removes both the daily routine and the geography component. An American in Paris. A New Yorker in… So if I’m not defined by my daily routines or my geography, who am I? That’s the beginning of a really productive question. (Actually I think I am the only one I know who thinks this way about travel. For most people it’s no big deal.)

I need at least a week away, and if it’s going to be a “vacation” instead of a “work trip”, I need no access to the drums, and no requirement that I produce any business related content. The idea being to wake up in a fresh environment with no “work” to fill mental space. It can actually be depressing for the first couple of days. Workaholic Withdrawal Symptoms. Then there’s a gear-shift, and the “what am I going to do today” question starts to feel good. “From the endless list of possibilities, how will I fill my time today?”

Then the ideas start to come. You have space to think of them and time to execute them. I tested two new business ideas while in San Francisco.

The Time Abundance framework my wife calls Vacation Mode is also an important baseline. What it Should feel like to be a human being. That stress you feel at home, that expectation, that regret that you’re not living up to this or that arbitrary benchmark that’s almost certainly beyond your control, is the anomaly. That low-grade fight-or-flight feeling you’re ignoring day-to-day isn’t supposed to be there, and it’s eventually going to kill you. We think we’ll die if we don’t have as much furniture as the Williamses. We’ll actually die from worrying about it.

But there Are important things to worry about. Am I living up to my potential, or is fear or vanity or disdain for hard work keeping me in a rut? (“Hard work”, meaning work requiring stepping out of our comfort zone e.g. cold calling a client or putting our ego on the line to hustle a better job, as distinct from “busy work” that we all do to feel busy and stave off those identity questions.) What unproductive patterns do I keep repeating (key distinction – that are Within my ability to control) even though I always say I want to change them? What social relationships should I prioritize more highly? Which are unproductive?

And here’s the crux. I’ll often come up with great ideas to change and evolve my life when the “panic” seizes me on the flight back home, and as soon as I’m on the ground, in the cab, sitting on my own couch, and that panic melts away, and the gauzy comfort of routine returns, will I actually act on them? And here was the answer to my fundamental question from earlier in the summer – what mindset did I not share with “successful” people? What about my thinking needed to evolve? Once you know the steps you need to change your life (not in a destination-focused way, but in a break-out-of-unproductive-patterns way), do you still follow them when the fear of dying without conquering your fears and realizing your potential abates?

Train’s pulling in. Good time to leave it.

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