I was asking a client today when the last time she felt the most alive. When had she last jumped out of bed with enthusiasm, excited about what might be possible, looking forward to what lies ahead.
Like so many of us, she comes alive when she travels. I spent the last 14 months traveling with my family all over the world. I agree wholeheartedly that travel makes me feel alive. But importantly, critically, travel is not the only way to feel that way. (Keep reading to the bottom to see what I mean.)
How I fell in love with travel
I fell in love with travel because of the tear-soaked dust of Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Jerusalem was culturally the polar opposite from anything I had encountered in my life to this point in the middle of my college years. My family was as atheist as they get, yet here was a city with three religions simultaneously vying for attention: Islam, Judaism, Christianity. My childhood in upstate New York, Dallas, and Honolulu was a bland sea of upper middle-class suburbia, yet here was a city that was anything but bland. Couples in crisp New York City attire walked past Orthodox Jews in black hats and knee-length coats. The air itself hummed with history. My ears rang with a smorgasbord of Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, English, and mysterious languages I couldn’t name. It was a fish out of water experience.
Our feet clicked on the paving stones as we approached the towering limestone wall. The hushed voices of prayers and conversation swirled all around. We followed the crowd, trying to copy their actions so that we wouldn’t accidentally commit a huge cultural or religious faux pas.
Each stone of the Western Wall was at least a meter high, pocked with cracks and divots into which hundreds of thousands of slips of paper had been lovingly tucked. This was the most sacred place that Jews may pray, a portion of the retaining wall that once surrounded the Second Jewish Temple, built by Herod the Great in 19 BCE. Prayers and wishes shared here are said to have the best chances of being heard by God. All around us, people had transcribed their prayers onto strips of paper, nestled their notes amongst the others, then leaned their foreheads against the wall to whisper their deepest hopes, dreams, and wishes to God. Tears flowed freely.
Though I am not Jewish, I too had written a wish on a slip of paper. What I wished for is lost to the forgetfulness of time, but I clearly remember how I felt. As I solemnly laid a hand on the Western Wall, a spiritual force wrapped me in its arms. I felt part of something much larger, connected to all these people around me through our common humanity. I felt small and insignificant, yet simultaneously expansive and tingling with life. Though we didn’t know one another, though our clothes were different, though I couldn’t understand their Hebrew prayers, the longing of our hearts within the current of history was the same. There was a widened awareness, a connectedness, and a spirituality that I’d never felt before.
I found a little crevice, added my wish to the others huddled in that corner, and added my voice to the chorus rising up toward the Gates of Heaven.
This. This was what being fully alive could feel like. This was living.
Why travel makes us come alive
The question is: Why? Why is it that we often use travel to self-medicate the dissatisfaction of our everyday lives? Why do we come alive so fully when we travel?
Travel writer, Paul Thoreaux captured it well:
“In the more fugitive, trivial association of the word exotic, the charm of a foreign place arises from the simple idea of novelty and change – from finding camels where at home there are horses, for example, or unadorned apartment buildings where at home there are pillared ones. But there may be a more profound pleasure as well: we may value foreign elements not only because they are new but because they seem to account more faithfully with our identity and commitments than anything our homeland can provide.”
Every one of us has core beliefs and ways of being that are most important to who we are. They are natural inclinations and beliefs you have been drawn toward your whole life, from childhood to today. They summarize who you are and shape how you choose to live. They are your being. They are your identity.
They are called core values.
Travel connects us to our core values like nothing else. That is why it is said, “If you really want to know someone, travel with them.”
My core values are community, inquiry, growth, and adventure. I loved the Western Wall because all of my values were there, shining brilliantly. There was community all around me in the people at the Wall and throughout Jerusalem. There was inquiry, the deep seeded curiosity that history, politics, and culture offered. There was tremendous growth in the way that singular experience touched me. And there was adventure, that feeling of wonder, presence, focus, and transformation. The Western Wall connected me to my core values. I felt alive because I knew who I was deep down in my bones.
Though I have limited personal experience with LSD, mushrooms, or ecstasy (that I’ll admit), I get “high” on travel. Travel feels intoxicating. I wait in jittery anticipation for my next hit. The Urban Dictionary defines ‘tripping’ as, “A state of mind brought on by experiencing a different state of consciousness -- mostly through vast changes in perception, senses and thought patterns.” Travel does that for me because I’m so intimately connected to my values that I’m “high”. I'm brain tripping. (Brain Tripping is the working title of the book I'm writing about the science behind why we love to travel. What do you think?)
Do you know your values?
Language is really important. Cognitively, it's very hard for our brains to understand a concept if we can't name it. That's why it's important to do the hard work to name your values. Once you do, I'd love to know whether, like me and many others, they help bring into focus the reasons you like to travel.
But values aren't just important for knowing why travel feels so good, why it makes you come alive. They are the key to making big, heart-wrenching decisions in your life (see this blog post for more on that). They are the key to coming alive in your daily life. For instance, when I'm doing something that plugs into one of my core values -- community, inquiry, growth, or adventure -- I feel more vibrant. When I'm doing something that builds community, like facilitating a group that's really grooving together, I am excited to jump out of bed. When I'm doing something that touches on inquiry, like researching my book, I look forward to the day. When I'm doing something that helps me grow, like taking a thought-provoking class, problems and challenges are easier to handle. When I'm doing something that is adventurous, like going on a new-to-me hike, it feels effortless and fun. The more and more I lean into my values, the more and more fully I come alive.
Identify your values
To name your values, follow these steps:
1. Look at the list of possible values attached here and circle any words that attract and naturally appeal to you. You’ll probably end up with 15-20 things circled.
2. Prune your list.
Beware of anything this is a “should” (e.g. you “should” be a leader); your values are not dictated by others.
Beware of anything that only shows up in one context (like work) but is absent in others (like home); that’s a role you are playing, not a value.
Beware of anything you need to be happy; that’s a need, not a value.
3. Fine tune your list to no more than five. Better yet, shoot for two. Perhaps, like me, you have tiers of values — core values that are most important and secondary ones that play a supporting role.
If there are related words, group them.
If anything core to who you are seems missing, add it.
If it defines who you were as a child, it’s probably a value.
If it’s who you are at your best as an adult, it’s probably a value.
If it’s a filter you use to make really hard, life-changing decisions, it’s probably a value.
If the word brings up a feeling of deep self-identification and resonance, it’s definitely a value.
4. Tell your loved ones and friends about your values. See what they think because they will most likely have some insight on how to fine-tune them to make them ring even truer.
I learned to identify my values through Brene Brown's book, Dare to Lead. Get it. Read it. It changed my life.
Or if you prefer short articles, this one from Forbes by Soulaima Gourani is excellent.
Last chance to join me in my Collective Wisdom Mastermind! Enrollment closes in one week, on August 11, 2022. Six out of the eight spots are already filled with the most incredible team of leaders from all over the country. If ever leadership feels lonely, if ever you had a big dream but didn't know where to begin, if ever you craved a truly supportive team at your back, then apply today.
If you want some support in crafting your values, don't hesitate to reach out. It'd be an honor to spend some time with you or your team to name and lean into your values.
While this blog will continue to deliver insights and ahas to your inbox (not too often, no spam), more and more of the blog posts will be drawn from the book I'm writing. If you love this mix of travel, science, and leadership development, then please subscribe. If you know someone who might love articles like these, please forward it along.