After wrestling with the decision for more that a year, I decided to leave my dream job.
Friend, family and even foe thought that maybe the effects of the many collisions that I’d initiated while playing football in college were finally being manifested. I was the CEO of an award-winning social venture in Connecticut that inspired and prepared underrepresented student to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The company won 15 awards in the three years prior to my decision and all indications were that the organization was headed for great things.
However, at a time when most thought that I’d be celebrating, I found myself struggling to accept that we couldn’t create enough capacity to serve all of the students and families in our communities. As I searched for solutions, I stumbled upon a quote by Albert Einstein that changed the game for me. He stated, “The world that we have created is a product of our thinking; it CANNOT be changed WITHOUT changing our THINKING.”
At that moment, I knew that I would need to take drastic actions to change my “thinking” if a solution to this challenge was to be revealed. What action this would be was the difficult question.
12 months later, the wheels of the 757 touched down in Madrid. It’s 2pm and I’m a bit freaked out. While I’d traveled extensively in the US for business and South America and Europe for short vacations, the intent of most of my travel, prior to this trip, was to find a place to unwind and engage in structured activities so I could relieve some stress. This new open-ended and unscripted travel adventure was designed to be anything but comfortable and stress-relieving.
I manage to hail a taxi and I’m off to the micro-apartment that I would call home for the next two weeks. I take the keys and Daniel, the property owner, explains how to lock and unlock the vaguely familiar locking system (appears to be easy enough, its only a lock, right?). I drop my bags on the bottom bunk in my shared room and I’m off for a quick walk. Exhausted, I return to my apartment after a disorienting 50-minute walk (it took me 30 minute to learn how to use the “bano” or public toilet).
If that wasn’t humiliating enough, to my dismay, I cannot unlock the apartment door. The key fits but I cannot get the lock to open. So I toil while passersby look at me with increasing suspicion. A policeman appears. I guess one of the concerned neighbors sounded the alarm as I’ve been wrestling with this damn lock for over an hour. Using my “mastery” of Spanish from a 3-day online crash course, I try to convince the increasingly agitated policeman that I’m not trying to rob the joint. Eventually, I succeed and gain access to the apartment.
As I reflect on the events of the first day of my new travel adventure, I’m frustrated, disoriented, humbled and hopeful. Fortunately, the next 11 days in the vivacious city of Madrid were Muy Bueno (very good). In many ways, I felt as if the city, knowing the I was a “travel infant”, embraced me like a caring mother. The many walks through the indescribably beautiful Retiro Park, Plaza Mayor and El Rastro Market provided much-needed spiritual nourishment as well as daily inspiration. And yes! I gorged myself on local delicacies including my favorite dish, Patatas Bravas.
Todo está bien!
According to Seneca, “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”
I’m now in Italy and as the plane touches down in Florence, I feel a rush of excitement at the prospect of the culinary delights ahead. La bella vitta! I manage to successfully navigate the door locking device at my accommodation (lesson learned from Madrid) and I’m off for a day of exploring.
The sights and sounds of Florence are overwhelmingly delightful. Every person, building, scooter, statue, picture, street vendor, train, gelato shop, restaurant, monument, cobble-stoned street and even pigeon seems to cry out to me in a sweet voice, inviting me to set my gaze upon it, assuring me that a few hours of my undivided attention would be greatly rewarded.
I sit outside at a restaurant and allow my brain space to sift through all of this new and delicious information. And while I wait for my first gastric dance with penne con quattro formaggi (penne with four cheeses), I stare at Ponte Vecchio in the distance and the sensory tsunami intensifies. A scooter whizzes by and I listen to the humming of the 110cc motor of the Vespa until it dissolves into the other melodious sounds in the piazza.
The layers of beauty in Florence astound me.
Barbara Sher stated, “When you start using senses you’ve neglected, your reward is to see the world with completely fresh eyes.”
Energized by my time in Spain and Italy, I choose to visit a place that had fascinated me as a child. I arrive in Egypt refreshed and am instantly engaged with locals drinking tea and sharing delicious bowls of koshary (a simple dish made of rice, pasta, lentils combined with chickpeas, tomatoes, garlic and crispy fried onions in a tomato-vinegar sauce).
My first up-close encounter with the Great Pyramid of Giza blew me away. The sheer scope, size and simplicity of the structure coupled with the knowledge that it was conceived and constructed maybe 7,000 or 10,000 years ago created in me such a neurological firestorm that my only reaction was to sit in the sand and cry. I struggled to stand or walk as I wrestled with the idea that someone had the audacity to imagine such a structure and the will to see it through completion.
Add visits to Memphis, Luxor, Aswan and Alexandria and I feel I’ve experienced the equivalent of a new birth.
Oliver Wendell Holmes famously stated, “A mind once stretched can never regain its original state.”
The new perspective and confidence gained through my first few travel experiences have led to subsequent trips to Malawi, South Africa, Namibia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos and England. The travel experiences have including trying new things ranging from sand boarding to surfing, hip hop dance to DJing a party, learning basic languages to eating tarantulas.
I’m actually writing this blog from a café overlooking West Lake in Hanoi; a place that I’d never thought I’d visit, doing something that I never thought I would do. And the people that I’ve met along the way. Wow! They renewed my belief in the beauty and potential of mankind. I’ve fallen in love with life again. All of the colors seem brighter and the most mundane things have a magical quality to them that I’d long forgotten.
Leaving the comfy confines of my corner office was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make. But as I drink Vietnamese iced coffee and consider the considerable personal growth I’ve experienced, I now realize that it was one of my most important and courageous decisions. I have every intention of creating and leading another social venture as improving the human condition is my passion. However, I’ve gained a new perspective and my mind is flooded with new ideas.
Joseph Campbell, author of the Hero’s Journey stated, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
I couldn’t be happier that I’ve entered that cave.
Ready to explore our big, beautiful world for yourself? It’s time. Let Intrepid’s range of small group tours help you out.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel x2, Bruce Dixon x2, Intrepid Travel.)