«I would have loved to travel the way you do!» The statement came from a friend I met at the airport the other day. I had just returned from two weeks in Ethiopia – a trip from which you have been able to read daily posts on this blog as well as on Untold Stories, the blog I do together with my friend and colleague Øystein (and from which this photo was captured). Moreover, I was about to take off to go to Park City, Utah, USA, to cover Sundance Film Festival – and go skiing. My friend’s statement was an expression of both envy and awe.
It’s not the first time it happens. Many a time friends, acquaintances or random encounters pass on the sentiment. They think I am lucky, that I am fortunate to be able to travel the world. Usually statements like this make me both uncomfortable and annoyed. Yes, compared to the refugees in the camps of Ethiopia I have just visited; no doubt, I am extremely lucky. However, not the way they conceive of luck, those who usually express the sentiment. Mostly when I encounter statements of this kind I just smile and shrug my shoulder. Let it go. However, this time, inspired by the book The Element by Ken Robinson I have just read, I decided to speak my thoughts.
«No, you wouldn’t,» I told my friend. «You just love the idea. If you’d really loved to travel like I do, you would already be doing it.»
My friend got offended and curt. He was about to tell me all the reasons why he wouldn’t be able. And that, of course, was my point. I cut him short, and told him that he would never commit himself to the necessary sacrifices to be able to travel like me. «Would you give up your 150.000 dollars a year income? Would you leave your love ones behind for maybe 200 days a year? Would you love to sleep in a shed with no shower, no toilet, where the smell of sewer drapes like fog in the room? Would you be able to enjoy eating meagre rice porridge as the only food a whole day? Would you be willing to encounter poverty and distress almost physically as I do when I travel to places like Ethiopia?»
Of course not. No doubt, my friend loves to travel. And does so. However, he goes with his family on holidays to nice hotels in places where he will always be able to eat and drink well. That’s not the way I travel – most of the time. I love the simple and real life I seek out – and certainly wouldn’t be able to sustain myself on four or five star hotels or eat in luxury restaurants, but occasionally.
I don’t feel I am lucky to be able to travel the way I do. I have fought for it, I have carved it out for myself, I have been willing to sacrifice a steady income, I have never had any security. It’s not been the easy way. It’s been a fight – still is. But it’s the way I want it to be.
What I feel lucky about, is that I discerned my passion for photography, journalism and travel and had the guts to pursue it despite everybody saying it was a crazy and uncertain quest. Yes, it was, but I had the nerve and stubbornness – or maybe just the naivety – to go for my passion. In the before mentioned book, The Element, Ken Robinson writes about exactly this; pursuing one’s passion. Robinson’s point is that there is a powerful driving force inside every human being that, once unleashed, can make any vision, any dream, a reality. That is The Element. Robinson uses it as a term that describes the place where things we love to do and the things we are good at come together. According to him, The Element has two main features, and there are two conditions for being in it. The features are aptitude and passion. The conditions are attitude and opportunity. Or as he writes: I get it; I love it; I want it; Where is it? .
The thing is we all have something we are good at in us. We just need to find it in ourselves somehow. All those dreams and creative impulses we once had as children, are slowly by slowly removed by the society when we grow up. The conformity of the education system and the professional marketplace, doesn’t encourage us to find our own way. Nevertheless, somewhere deep inside us lives the dreams. When this aptitude is paired with passion, you have found your Element. Then you have to be willing to fight for your dream – and seek opportunities as they arise.
My friend I met at the airport and I got befriended at university when we both studied natural science. He pursued an academic career and a very successful one as such. As for myself, natural science was always easy for me. Without much work, I would understand physical equations, chemical laws or mathematical calculus. As a matter of fact I floated easily through my studies, still getting good grades. I could easily have become a professor in physics or mathematics – and having had a successful career as my friend. But the passion was lacking. When I realized it, I turned around and started to pursue my passions. And on that way it has been ever since, never looking back again.
I would love to hear about your dreams. How do you pursue them? And if not; what would it take for you to pursue them?