Ryan and I returned from our sabbatical about two months ago. The blog has been silent because we’ve been in the thick of all the return activities, which mostly involves evaluating job opportunities and answering lots of questions from friends and family. (We do have more to share about our last few stops and I promise to post that stuff soon.)
Since our return there has been one question we get asked more often than all others: Where was your favorite place?
Every time someone asks us this we look at each other and despair. Every country, every city, every neighborhood made its own unique impact on us.
Oh, the places we went
Here’s a quick, by-the-numbers rundown of our seven months overseas (U.S. by-the-numbers is here):
Concentration camps: 1
Refugee camps: 1 (we drove by a big one in Jordan)
Answering the big question
As unsatisfying as it might be given the spirit of the question, here’s what I’ve been telling people:
The whole year was my favorite. We touched the bones of dinosaurs and marveled at cave paintings made by early humans. We climbed to the top of grand cathedrals, floated effortlessly in the Dead Sea, and picked wild sage in the hills of Croatia. We walked through the ruins of five thousand year old temples. We met a survivor of the Holocaust. We drank tea with a Bedouin family while surrounded by a hundred goats. It was life changing and we loved it all.
What I’ve learned
It may take the rest of my life to fully appreciate all the ways this mid-career sabbatical affected me. Here’s what I can offer after six weeks of reflection:
I am happier with fewer things. For most of the year my possessions were limited to what I could carry. My daily wardrobe was a variation on the same two pairs of pants, four shirts, and a coat. I didn’t wear a stitch of make-up the entire time. It was fine. More than fine; it was freeing.
Cultures dance together more often than they clash. You wouldn’t know it from watching television, but it’s true. Traveling is a vaccine against the notion that we are in constant conflict. Consider this scene: A Bedouin man (Muslim, I presume) playing Amazing Grace on Scottish bagpipes in the amphitheater of a Roman ruin in the Middle East. I never expected to see something so wonderful. We humans can be awful to each other, but mostly we’re eager to delight.
The value of the long view: The ancient Egyptians believed that the key to immortality was ensuring your name would be remembered for all time. That’s why they chiseled the pharaohs’ names so deeply into the walls of the temples. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because in the business world we’re almost obsessively loyal to our monthly and quarterly metrics. But in my line of work, reputation management, you have to stay focused on one thing you want to be known for. You have to keep chiseling away at it over a long period of time. I’ve seen a number of reputation programs launched to great fanfare only to be abandoned after a short time because the results were too slow to payoff. These temples are 2-3 thousand years old and we still know the names of the pharaohs. Even when the empire fell, their reputations are standing the test of time.
The difference between being calm and being bored. We decided early on that only one of us needed a cell phone, and that Ryan would be the designee. This meant that my phone was useless unless I was connected to wifi. I spent a lot of hours on trains and buses just staring out the window (I get motion sickness, so reading is out). We were on a long bus ride somewhere in Southern Spain when I realized that I should be bored. I wasn’t, though. I was calm. The only difference between bored and calm was that I wasn’t trying to occupy my mind with something else. I was finally present.
We’re still getting all of our thoughts and photos in order, so there will be more posts. Until then, get out there and travel more. Even if it’s just to the museum in your nearest big city. Expand those horizons.