In the past month, I’ve been forming a theory. There are spectrums to most things in life. We sit on a series of points in a series of spectrums at any given phase, point, or moment in our lives. One of the easiest spectrums to recognize is given physical ability. This is to say that a boy who is 7 years old can never be as strong (at 7 years of age) as a man who is 21 years old. This is an exaggerated example, but you get the point.
Now for a situation that is a little closer: A 11 year old boy who works out 6 days a week for 6 months can’t be stronger than a 25 year old man that has been working out for 2 days a week and only 1 month. Make sense? There are many more obvious spectrums including metabolism. A woman at the age of 65 is simply never going to have the same body fat percentage (no matter how hard she works at it) as her 15 year old granddaughter (who eats junk food and sits around all day).
Another example of a spectrum that is more theoretical (my theory) is awareness. I believe that someone’s awareness of others is never lower than when they are an infant. Sure they see things swirling around their faces, but their only concern is their own survival. They feel hunger, pain and drowsiness (to name a few). Then you make your way to your adolescent years where you know that there are many other people in the world with needs that are not nesses airily your own, but you don’t always care. It’s somewhere between 16 and 22 that I believe most of us are most aware. This is when good professors and teachers are exposing you to other things and people in the world. This is also the age where most (not all) people get involved with some sort of charity work. It happens to also be when many of us do not need to support ourselves financially. This gives us a lot of free time on our hands. Once 22 hits, I think it’s safe to say that more of us are worried about paying rent or what career we are going to seek than saving the whales. From 22 on, (usually/unfortunately) our awareness of the rest of the world begins to decline in most cases. This leads to us eventually voting for a president when we are 80 years old because of one single issue (that usually only affects us). This could be something as embarrassingly selfish as a president who is going to essentially bankrupt the world (in the long run/big picture), but in an unrelated policy is going to make it 20% cheaper for you to purchase your favorite brand of cigars (again, an exaggerated example to make the point clear). The awareness spectrum can also be shaped as a bell curve with the bell at the age of 16-21 and a long tail (for most of us).
I know I haven’t referenced the title of this post yet, but the ground work as been done. My next theoretical spectrum is the exposure to new people in your life. At one end is no new exposure and at the other end it is meeting a ton of people every day. The old person in a hospital bed sits right beside the kid who is grounded for a year, the hermit in the woods, the shy person who just moved to a new city, and the proverbial person who has just moved back in with their parents in their small home town. These are only a few. On the other end of the spectrum is college, summer camp, and backpacking (to name a few).
Today we are going to concentrate on the end of the spectrum where you meet a bunch of new people. In the world of backpacking (especially alone), you will meet as many people as you do in your first days and months of college (at a small college). It’s a rush. It’s life in fast forward. You are a 9/10 when it comes to things in common. There are an army of people who are (at the moment) in exactly the same shoes as you. Back home, their situations vary from high school graduate to entrepreneur who just sold their business, but here in the sea, we are all the same.
You have a plethora of ice breakers including “Where are you from? Where are you going? And how long have you been here for?” This leads to a 3 hour conversation if time and language barriers permit. And if you get lucky enough to be in the same place, doing the same thing, for even as little as 48 hours, you can easily have forged a friend for life or a supercharged romance. But it’s not like college. You won’t get to spend the next 4 years of your life with these people. You have a day, an hour, or sometimes only a few minutes to meet these new people, before circumstance or itinerary, rips them away back into the sea of backpackers. Sometimes they poke their head above the water, weeks or even months later, sometimes for a day, sometimes a week, and sometimes for only a passing glance.
Here in lies the backpacker’s dilemma. You meet people who you never would have at home, but you can’t keep them. It’s a series of small losses that lead you to feel at the end of a month like you have suffered a serious loss. It’s the chronic water droplets that fall on your head that compile into a form of torture.
Often I feel jaded after I meet someone for the first time that is traveling in the opposite direction and leaving the next morning. You tend to learn how to read people in just a few moments which is a terrible skill because you can pick out the “would have been-s” instead of just turning a blind eye to the whole thing. Often I use my newly acquired skill of comfortable public solitude, but then get interrupted by a text message from a 48 hour friend that I have met a few weeks back. It’s a lot like bumping into a beautiful woman in the elevator of a sky scraper in New York. If you don’t say something at that very moment, they are gone forever. You simply will never see them ever again. Only the difference is that you did say something to that woman, every time, but you still won’t see them ever again. From the painfully beautiful Norwegians to the perfectly skinned Swedish, to the mysteriously brilliant Russians, to the warm and friendly Argentines, to the French girl who could have farted in her accent and made it sound sweet as a rose.
From the bold and deep feeling of camaraderie I got from my English brothers to warm and accepting nature of the Italians who I have met. I haven’t even arrived in Europe yet but I have received a full dose of European culture. You find yourself running through the inner monologue again and again “If I had just me this person under a little different circumstance, maybe at home.” But that’s the whole point, you wouldn’t have met them at home, and if you did, you wouldn’t be in the same place in life. You wouldn’t be a 9/10 in common and you and they wouldn’t be as approachable or reciprocating as you are when backpacking. You would be late for work, or studying for a term paper, or just on your way to previous plans with your current friends or family.
But what if we weren’t this unapproachable at home? What if we maintained the mentality of a backpacker whilst at home? Could I be onto something? Would you instantly bump yourself over to the other end of the “meeting new people spectrum”? Or is it one of those recycling situations where it won’t really work unless everyone pitches in?
Some people are happy in their current rhythm. Some people don’t want to meet new people, or try new things, or go to new places. We are creatures of habit and I am absolutely no exception to the rule. At home I go to the same supermarket every time because it has taken me over a year to get the rhythm down just right to find what I need in the first pass instead of wondering around for at least an hour.
There is something to be said when it comes to being approachable though so if you are feeling a bit stagnant at home and you want to try something new, just remember that it might be harder to create something new, but if you do seem to overcome the initial barriers, you can more than likely, actually, keep it.