Posted: 5/11/17 | May 11th, 2017
I vaguely knew about Mark Manson. He was a friend of friends, a fellow blogger, and someone I knew who wrote well-researched (and always a little controversial) posts.
When he and his wife moved to NYC, we finally met in person (I actually met his wife first). We became friends — we’re both nerds, entrepreneurs, writers, poker players, and lovers of whiskey (I even blurbed his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, which is a phenomenal book about focusing on what matters).
His book exploded onto the scene, popular with big names like Chelsea Handler and Chris Hemsworth (aka THOR). Mark is a phenomenal writer and in this post, he talks about how travel made him the person is today — and laid the foundation for the book.
I have vomited in six different countries. That may not be the most savory statistic for a travel article, but when you’re huddled over a drainage ditch, spewing up what for all you know could have been sautéed rat meat, these moments have a way of staying in your mind.
I remember getting a flat tire in the India and the locals being flabbergasted as I changed it myself.
I remember staying up until 4AM in a hostel arguing with a drunk English kid who thought 9/11 was a hoax.
I remember an old man in Ukraine got me drunk on the best vodka of my life and claimed he was stationed in a Soviet U-Boat off the coast of Mississippi in the 1970s (which is probably untrue, but who knows).
I remember climbing the Great Wall of China hungover, getting ripped off on a boat trip in Bali (spoiler alert: there was no boat), sneaking my way into a five-star resort on the Dead Sea, and the night I met my wife in a Brazilian night club.
Since selling my possessions in the fall of 2009, I remember a lot of things. I set out with a small suitcase to travel around the world. I had a small internet business, a blog, and a dream.
My year (maybe two) long trip turned into seven years (and sixty countries).
With most things in life, you know exactly what benefits you’re going to get from them. If I go to the gym, I know I’m going to get stronger and/or lose weight. If I hire a tutor, I know I’m going to learn more about a specific subject. If I start a new Netflix series, I know I’m not going to sleep for the next three days until I finish it.
Travel, unlike anything else in life, has the beautiful ability to give you benefits you didn’t expect. It doesn’t just teach you what you don’t know, it also teaches you what you don’t know you don’t know.
I gained a lot of amazing experiences from my travels — experiences I expected and looked for. I saw incredible sites. I learned about world history and foreign cultures. I often had more fun than I knew was possible.
But the most important effects of my years of travel are actually the benefits that I didn’t even know I would get and the memories I didn’t know I would have.
For example, I don’t know the moment I became comfortable being alone. But it happened somewhere in Europe, probably in either Germany or Holland.
When I was younger, I would consistently feel as though something was wrong with me if I was by myself for too long — “Do people not like me? Do I not have any friends?” I felt a constant need to surround myself with girlfriends and friends, to always be at parties, and always be in touch. If for some reason I weren’t included in other people’s plans, it was a personal judgment on me and my character.
But, by the time I returned to Boston in 2010, that feeling somehow stopped. I don’t know where or when.
All I know is I flew home from Portugal after 8 months abroad, sat at home, and felt fine.
I don’t remember where I was when I developed a sense of patience (probably somewhere in Latin America). I used to be the guy who would get angry if a bus was late (which often happens in Latin America), or I missed my turn on the highway and had to loop back around. Sh*t like that used to drive me insane.
Then one day, it just didn’t.
It ceased to be a big deal. The bus will eventually come and I’ll still get to where I need to go. It became clear that my emotional energy was limited and I was better off saving that energy for moments that mattered.
I don’t recall exactly when I learned how to express my feelings either.
Ask any of my girlfriends pre-travels and they’ll tell you: I was a closed book. An enigma wrapped in bubble-wrap and held together by duct tape (but with an extremely handsome face).
My problem was that I was afraid to offend people, step on toes, or create an uncomfortable situation.
But now? Most people comment that I’m so blunt and open that it can be jarring. Sometimes my wife jokes that I’m too honest.
I don’t recall when I became more accepting of people of different walks of life or when I started appreciating my parents or when I learned how to communicate with someone despite neither of us speaking the same language.
But all of these happened…somewhere in the world, in some country, with somebody. I don’t have any photos of these moments. I just know they are there.
Last year, I wrote a book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. The premise of the book is essentially that we all have a limited number of f*cks to give in our lives, therefore we should be conscious of what we’re choosing to give a f*ck about.
Looking back, I think that it was my experience traveling that subtly, without me realizing it, taught me to not give a f*ck. It taught me to not give a fu*k about being alone, the bus being late, other people’s plans, or creating an uncomfortable situation or two.
Memories are made from what we give a f*ck about.
I have all the usual photos from my travels. Me on the beaches. Me at Carnaval. Me with my buddy Brad surfing in Bali. Machu Picchu.
I gave a f*ck about those.
The photos are great. The memories are great.
But like anything in life, their importance fades the further removed you get from them. Just like those moments in high school that you think are going to define your life forever cease to matter a few years into adulthood, those glorious peaks of travel experience seem to matter less the more time passes.
What seemed life-changing and world-shaking at the time now simply elicits a smile, some nostalgia and maybe an excited, “Oh yeah! Wow, I was so skinny back then!”
Travel, although a great thing, is just another thing. It’s not you. It’s something you do. It’s something you experience. It’s something you savor and brag about to your friends down the street.
But it’s not you.
Yet these other, memoryless qualities — the outgrown personal confidence, the comfort with myself and my failings, the greater appreciation for family and friends, the ability to rely upon myself — these are the real gifts that travel gives you.
And, despite the fact that they produce no photos or stories for cocktail parties, they are the things stay with you forever.
They are your real lasting memories…because these things are you.
And they will always be you.
Mark Manson is a blogger, entrepreneur, and author of the New York Times Bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. His book is one of the best books I read in 2016 and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s well written, funny, self-deprecating, and even works in a panda bear! You can read more of his work at MarkManson.net. You can also check out his more recent 2019 interview about his newest book, Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope.
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