Why You Should Plan a Trip (ideally with a bunch of strangers) for the Start of 2020
At the end of last year, I had a strong warning shock of a breakdown. It was the classic working too hard, Brexit world, brain overwhelm. I did a digital detox and ate healthily for a week or two and then carried on as normal, hoping that those couple of weeks had cured my problems.
At the start of 2019, though, I had a trip booked. I headed over to India for a few days travel with a group of people I didn’t know, then I was booked in for a conference. This was to be the best start of a year I’ve ever had.
Because I hadn’t been to the country before and my phone can be unhelpful at the best of times, I prepared for the worst and told everyone that I may not have access to the internet and to assume I wasn’t available to answer any work emails in that time.
Initially this seems like a pretty obvious rule. When my grandparents were in their twenties, working hard, my grandmother couldn’t work with her psychotherapy clients when she was on leave from the military. My grandfather couldn’t drive buses when he was clocked off work at the end of the day. And they simply didn’t have a way for their workplaces to contact them in a way that was worth it. By the time a letter had travelled to their home, it was probably time to go back into work again. Even if they got pulled in for an extra shift, the lines were clear. We don’t have that luxury now. Even if you drive buses for a living, you still probably have emails building up in your inbox asking you to update to the latest payroll software or do some up to date manual lifting training.
Meanwhile in the twenty first century, I was in a pattern of checking and replying to emails wherever and whenever I saw them, including on leave, along with 6 out of 10 Brits. I regularly was checking my emails on weekends, during trips, baths, all sorts. I identify as Christian, but acting out of the spiritual discipline of Sabbath had left my lifestyle a long time ago.
These ten days of my trip were different. Because I had told everyone I couldn’t work while I was there, and because I was busy exploring, it actually happened: I didn’t do any paid work.
It was a hard reset.
For the first half of the trip, I had only met one person I was with before, and her only briefly whilst on a work trip the previous year. And the second half, I only added a couple more acquaintances and a very distracted friend to the mix. I had nothing to ‘catch up on' with them. We had no friends in common we could gossip about, so our conversation had to be better quality than that at least. We couldn’t ask for updates about work or family or anything else. Most of all, no-one knew me. My travel group in Delhi had been introduced on a Facebook messenger chat and that was it. It was wonderfully freeing to figure out who I was when no-one had any presuppositions or had heard my name dropped in conversation. They had no idea if I was sarcastic, or excitable or cranky in the morning (two of the three). It was wild and so very freeing.
The second half of the trip was an international conference. There were attendees from over 60 countries, and no-one else English. So over the week with all 200 of us, I had dozens of conversations with people from backgrounds and lives completely unlike mine. Most of them were working with young people, like myself, so a lot of the conversation was about that. But a bunch more discussions were about what they did with their days which paid them enough money to survive, about dating in their culture and the pressure to settle down and get married, about their long term life plans and dreams.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that you ‘are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ I’m not sure I agree with putting a number on it, but the overall concept has always seemed a sharply honest point. In the UK, most of my people work more than 35 hours a week. They are aiming to own a home, and if they do already, they would like to build secure financial assets. They have busy and generous social lives, filled with new experiences. Somehow these simple and valid choices have sunk into my brain as the bar for success, if not just the bar for not being a failure. But somehow whilst I was having conversations about life with people from the US, from Sri Lanka, from Puerto Rico, Trinidad, the Netherlands, South Africa I realised that these successful, hilarious adults were not all aiming for the same bar. And I did not have to either.
I’ve come home with a shift. My life doesn’t have to look like those around me. I can work less hours and write more, breathe more. I can resist buying a car a little longer and go on an extra trip. I can say no to a social invitation and sit down and write articles like this one. There are billions of ways to do life, and mine didn’t have to look like the society around me.
I know that my life is steeped in privilege to have the space to do what I did. I don’t have any pets or humans relying on me at home. I had employers who let me have the time off. And you may have more flexibility or less. But. If you can get a chance to escape like I did, for ten days, two weeks, a month, I’d tell you to grab it.
I didn’t start the year with a resolution. I gave up on those a while back. But as I landed back on the ground in the UK, I knew I had stepped into a new season. One where I fight for the time to rest, find my new bar to aim for and make sure that I surround myself with people where I can be the most myself.