Out there things happen,
And frequently do,
To people as brainy and footsy as you.
- Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!
There is a place where travelers go, full of wonder and exotic foods and people. Conveniently, everyone speaks English when you need to communicate, but they maintain their quant, authentic accent and obligingly speak in their native tongue among themselves. They can show you around, if you can pay them.
It’s a new, distant country, so you’re guaranteed an adventure, and you can rest secure in the knowledge that you are widening your horizons, being cosmopolitan, and expanding your mind. Perhaps many of your friends are still at home, taking vacations to safe, boring places like Florida or Yosemite. But in this country, you can See Things.
You can get very, very comprehensive guide books, written by Seasoned Travelers, and so presented from a perspective you’d understand. There are signs, too, printed so you can read them. The books and the signs will tell you all the best places to go, so you can be sure you won’t miss out on the Complete Experience. Every tourist who comes through has seen these most wondrous sights, and if you didn’t, you’d be missing out. It’s really very easy anyway, so why not just follow the signs?
The paths are well-marked, and well-trodden. They are paved and kept in good condition (but with careful attention to preserving the suggestion of age, the patina of local culture). You won’t trip or sprain an ankle. All the best restaurants are on these paths, and plenty of comfortable, accommodating places to stay.
And that’s it.
What about the countryside, you ask?
Well, it exists of course. There are people living there, living their lives in their own way. They don’t speak English, so you won’t be comfortable, and the food is distinctly local, so you might not like it. Your cash is no good out there, so you’ll have to rely on your ability to win their hospitality.
The paths are not well-marked, and not all of them go places. There are no signs, and no tourists care about going there, so there are no guidebooks written about it. There are some places with no paths at all that lead to them. I can’t tell you how to get to those places. You’ll have to figure it out on your own, if you want to go.
But why bother, when you can see all the important things about this wonderful land by staying in the city?
If you step out of line, you might not enjoy your vacation. You might get lost, or spend more than you need to. You might not see anything interesting at all.
Then again, you might see or do something nobody has done before. But why take the chance?
Of course, maybe you’re not the kind of person who is afraid of getting lost. Maybe you’re not the kind of person whose life revolves so tightly around money that losing a bit of extra cash will ruin your whole week. Maybe you’re not the kind of person who always wants to stay on the marked, trodden, illuminated path.
Maybe you’d like to make your own path. Maybe you don’t care so much about the Complete Experience, and you’re more interested in a Unique Experience.
If there was never any possibility of getting lost in the first place, did you really find a path worth walking?
After all, where’s the value in an adventure that was planned and plotted from the beginning? And where is the value in doing something that is safe and guaranteed to succeed?
What does it say about our character if we’re only willing to undertake quests in which we know we will not, or cannot, fail?
Many, many people see no reason to do things that carry even a small chance of failure. Sometimes it feels like our entire society is built on the notion of eliminating all possible uncertainty from life by churning out carefully measured, prepackaged experiences. Even travel, the usual means for stepping outside our safezone, has become an extension of our backyards, a garden path connected to our doors by carefully roped-off airport queues, tourist guidebooks, and hostel networks, all paved in credit cards.
Suggest to anybody that you might want to go somewhere without those helpful guides, and They will have something to say about it.
They might say that this or that is too dangerous, that nobody has done it before, or that it’s against the rules. They might say it’s just not a good idea, even when it is. They might say it’s not the sort of thing people like you ought to do, after all, considering your prospects, your potential, your upbringing, or the cost of your education.
What They are really saying is to just do the things that are safe, secure, and well-defined. Stay in the designated tourist zone. Don’t step out of bounds. Follow the known career path. Millions have come this way before, so it’s got to be good enough for them. Would you dare suggest you want–deserve–something more?
In case it wasn’t clear, I’m not just talking about travel. If you’ve ever thought about doing something, only to have someone tell you that you need a degree for that, more money, better credentials, someone’s permission, more real-world experience, approval, important friends (or maybe you said it yourself), you’ve walked right up to the velvet rope.
The question is, did you duck under and run, or did you turn back to the line to keep waiting your turn?
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