This post is contributed by Deidra Razzaque, a SPS Featured Blogger.
As a coach, a big part of my work is motivation. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why, when we have the financial means to do so, and we feel passionate about travel, some of us actually get out there in the world, while others stay at home and dream. Or why some of us follow some of our dreams, like traveling, but then find it so challenging to make other dreams a reality for ourselves.
While I was growing up, my grandmother said at least once a week for all the years I knew her, that she dearly wanted to travel to Slovenia. Her own parents were from Crnomelj, and she grew up speaking the language, eating the food, and feeling homesick for a place she had never been.
When she married my grandfather, who was also from Slovenia and had come to the United States at eighteen, she thought that they would travel to his homeland regularly. My grandfather, however, would never even consider visiting. And he would never say why this was so. My grandfather died when I was eleven, and I thought that surely Grandma would finally decide to visit the country she had dreamed of for so long.
But she never did.
After my grandma died, I decided to use a small inheritance from her to travel to Slovenia myself. I wanted this to be a tribute to my grandmother, and also a reminder to myself that following my own dreams was important.
In preparation for my trip, I found 20-year-old letters from Slovenian relatives in my grandma’s drawer. I wrote to these relatives in English saying that I would be visiting. I had no idea whether they would be able to read English, or whether they were even still alive.
I didn’t hear back from them before I left, so I had no idea what adventures awaited me in-country. In the Ljubljana airport, I found a man who spoke English and Slovene, and asked him to call my relatives. It turned out that their grandchildren spoke some English and they invited me to visit.
A few hours later, I received a homecoming welcome like none other. I thought I would have to explain who I was, but instead, I found myself looking at my own baby pictures, at gifts my grandmother had sent years before, and at people who welcomed me utterly as part of their family.
My time with them was an enormous gift—and our relationship continues to grow. This fact is bittersweet. I love my relatives, and I am grateful to have them in my life. But I also wonder how my grandmother’s life might have been enhanced if she had made this trip before me–or with me.
So, what is it that makes some of us leap into journeys, while others mostly dream? New research suggests there might be a “wanderlust gene” that makes some people adventurers. But that doesn’t give much hope to those of us who tend to hang back but really want to change that tendency.
Here’s what I think mostly holds us back: the stories we tell ourselves, and then continue to believe. My grandma’s story was that she wanted to visit Slovenia, but couldn’t. When we change our stories, we change our actions, and vice versa. Sure, there are things about our circumstances that we can’t change, but we get to choose our responses to those circumstances. My grandmother never learned that, at least not in relation to her dream of going to Slovenia, but you and I can learn it.
We can use my grandma’s experience as the leverage to recognize when we’re telling ourselves stories that aren’t true. Maybe those stories are about travel. Or maybe they’re about important things our travels have rubbed up against in each of us, like old fears we cart around or insecurities we’d rather ignore. Or the jangling sense that certain experiences are right for us and others are not—even when our hearts are crying out precisely for those “wrong” experiences.
It’s strange, isn’t it? Many of us glibly travel to places where we can’t speak the language–but we memorize key phrases, use gestures and laughter, let ourselves feel vulnerable, and figure out how to thrive. But then, once we adjust to all that was once completely new and foreign, we forget just how brave we have been. We encounter something new that scares us, and we go ahead and tell ourselves a story that won’t let us open to that new experience.
If this is happening to you, remember that change is a process, and that it takes practice. It takes acting “as if” while you put one foot in front of the other. It takes recognizing that you don’t speak the language, and being compassionate toward yourself while you learn it.
What is one step you can take today toward where your heart is longing for you to go?
Remember my grandma, and take that step while you can.