When you travel, does it bring up anxiety for you? It does for me. And it’s always weird little stuff that gets me.
For example: I just rode for about 30 hours in airplanes over the world’s largest ocean, and I had almost no conscious anxiety about that. I wasn’t fretting about the airplane breaking in two and falling into the ocean – or worse, just disappearing forever. (They’ve been known to do that from time to time in this part of the world, you know….)
No. It was the small things. Like whether I would have the correct change to pay for my Bali travel visa. See, they charge all arriving tourists $35 us dollars for a 30 day visa. Oddly enough, you can only pay this in USD, not in Australian dollars or even the local currency. I figure they make about $10,000 USD per plane load of arriving…
So there I sat on the plane wondering. Are there going to be hassles because I don’t have exact change for $35? Yeah, really!
That, plus the flight attendants mentioned something I didn’t quite hear about how they have strict policies about bringing food into the country. You know how those rushed and garbled announcements happen that interrupt your in flight entertainment for the 100th time so you’re only halfway listening? (and, halfway asleep from all the time changes and jet lag?)
It was one of those. And it gave me another thing to fret about.
Will I get in trouble because I brought some snacks – nuts, Larabars, vega protein mix? When they passed out the immigration forms, I felt like an evil villain having to check the “are you bringing any food” box as Yes. I am compulsively honest. The form warned me that I had to go to the “red” line to be inspected because I checked yes. So I wondered: am I going to go through some kind of grueling inspection where they tear all my luggage apart to find forbidden food sewn into the lining?
These are the things that my mind found to worry about. Yes, I have an overactive mind. I’m sure you can relate!
At least I’ve gotten pretty good at redirecting thought loops like this to more fruitful avenues. For example, with the food thing I figured the worst that would happen is that I have to throw it all away and get a scolding. With the visa, I figured the worst would be that I give them $40 and lose $5. These helped me redirect the anxiety, and yet it’s weird how my mind kept coming back over and over to these things, and I kept having to redirect it.
Really, I think this is just a reflection of a deeper anxiety of the unknown. Almost all of us have it, but it just expresses itself in different ways. I’d never been to Bali before, and I’m traveling alone, so this was fertile ground for anxieties over what was going to happen.
Nothing bad happened. For the food, I pulled it out of my bag before going to the red line (I was the only one who walked to the RED LINE…). I showed it to the bored looking guy tending the “red line,” and he took one glance at it and waved me back over to the green line. Apparently my little bag of snacks wasn’t enough to trigger a national security crisis. For the $35 visa, I handed them $40 and the guy handed me $5 back.
I got through that quickly, found my pre-arranged ride, and headed to the hotel through throngs of motorcycles the likes of which I’ve only seen in Bejing and Shanghai before. It really is amazing that with them buzzing about on narrow roads like this that there aren’t people getting splattered all over the pavement once every minute or two.
What anxiety about the unknown do you have? How is it holding you back in your work/life/business?
See, I’m sitting here on the balcony overlooking this fantastic view of the ocean, enjoying the smoky and salty smell of the Balinese air. In hindsight I can see that none of my anxieties about the unknown travel were “real.” In fact, the only “bad” thing that happened was my embarrassment after I tipped the guy who got me to my ride with 2,000 rp, thinking that sounded like a lot of money. The look on his face was a bit disappointed and so I wondered: did I short him? Once I realized that I had given him the equivalent of about $.30, I felt spears of embarrassment about shorting the guy. I made sure to tip the driver well to assuage my guilty conscience (100,000 rp, closer to $8).
So the actual “bad stuff” that happened was totally different than what I had worried about. Isn’t it always that way?
Why do our minds do this? I know that my own is a product of being trained for years and years to try to plan, to make sure everything is predictable and rational, and to never get myself in a situation that could have been avoided by better planning. Yet life does not ever unfold linearly “as planned.” It can end up being a stifling noose to experience to try to anticipate all possible scenarios and plan for them.
It reminds me of the movie Wild with Reese Witherspoon – it was one of the four I watched during my trans-oceanic flights. She was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, alone, and at one point she encountered a guy who did an inventory of her massive, heavy pack. It turned out that she only needed about 2/3 of the stuff she’d brought. She’d weighed herself down and made her journey far more difficult with that weight. I think many of us do that in our lives.
So here’s my motto from now on: screw that. Life is unpredictable – especially when you are doing creative work (or traveling!). You never know what’s going to happen, and yet so many of us crave the predictable result – because that’s what we’ve been programmed to do. That is exactly the thing that keeps us forever two steps away from getting that big “breakthrough” we so often crave. Because big breakthroughs in life are never predictable.
Embrace the unknown. Enjoy it!