Monday, September 21, 2015

Your Life is an Adventure, But No One Wants to Hear Your Story

I'll never forget the time I came home after living in Tanzania and went to the local bar where many of my high school peers would occasionally hang out. had been gone three years and was dealing with a fair amount of reverse culture shock - and subsequent depressive "funk" - as a result of my return. I self-consciously walked into the bar, saw some people I hadn't seen since highschool and after striking up generic "what have you been up to?" pleasantries with all of them (this was pre-Facebook, people!), I found it a) hard to describe that I had been living in Africa without sounding like a pompous asshole and/or dreaded 'travel snob' and b) interesting that once I did describe what I had been up to, "Err...I've been...in...um....Africa" - no one really cared. Sure, I got a few, "whoa's" and some "very cool's" but, in general, it ended there. No one wanted to know any details about anything I had experienced at all. Zero. 

It was an important lesson for me, and one that I am grateful I learned. While I'm embarrassed to admit I was feeling rather "interesting" and "exotic" coming right off my worldly travels and experiences (I mean, I witnessed a Masai circumcision for crying out loud), the fact that I did not 'hold court' in that hometown bar regaling tales of African adventure served me well by knocking me down a peg. It taught me an important lesson about sharing stories. Namely, that "sharing" plays a huge part in the telling of stories, and if there is not something shared between the listener and the storyteller, the story is irrelevant. A hard pill to swallow for someone who just had the most intense and incredible three years of her life and possesses an almost intrinsic compulsion to share (hence this blog). It doesn't mean that your 'audience' needs to have had the same experience as you, but there must be an interest, a desire...something to connect with. Many of the people in the bar that night had never been out of the country, let alone to Africa, so there was a lack of understanding. Not "ignorance" or "jealousy", simply no frame of reference. It hit me like a ton of bricks: just because you have a story to tell, does not mean others want to hear it. A humbling lesson for a twenty-seven year old gypsy spirit to learn.

Take parenthood, for example. For many of us, our kids dominate our conversations, thoughts, and Facebook feeds. Being parents is the most important thing we will ever do, and those of us who have children cannot imagine a life any other way. We find tremendous joy in watching our children grow and sharing our lives with them. We actively seek out friendships with other parents who understand our happiness and empathize with our struggles. Is parenthood is for everyone? Are people who chose a child-less route are any less fulfilled? Can we no longer sustain conversation and friendships with people who don't have kids? Absolutely not. I believe it's this way with cruising, travel and adventuring. It no doubt enhances and enriches the lives of those that chose it, but it's not for everyone. And that's a good thing.

It's the same now, after having lived on the boat. Rarely do Scott and I talk about our travels or life on our boat when we are out with our friends back home. It comes up almost never, and if it does - it's brief and not something we dwell on. Does this mean we don't love our friends? That we have nothing in common with them anymore? That we feel 'lost' in our own country? No, no, and no. We are blessed with amazing friendships that transcend our need to share our experiences abroad and we connect with them on other levels. The fact of the matter is this: not everyone is interested in travel or sailing or adventure. It might seem shocking to us that are, but people find happiness and contentment in many ways. When we get the pleasure to meet up with fellow travelers, adventurers, sailors or soon-to-be cruisers, the questions come flying. Why? Because these are people with whom we share our wanderlust with. People who possess this adventurous spirit, either in desire or in actuality, will revel in your tales from off the beaten path and you will revel in theirs. Stories have a time and place.

So don't be surprised if people aren't asking about what it's like to live on a boat, what it feels like to sail overnight, or what thoughts go through your head when you sail into a squall.... There's a quote that says, "We share with people who've earned the right to hear our story..." and while, at first, that sounds snobbish, I don't think it is. We are each of us a composite of a million stories, and how we connect truly and deeply with another person is in shared experiences. We are all multi-faceted individuals and most of us don't fit into any one single box, we can connect on many levels. We are a conglomeration of many: Traveler. Poet. Surfer. Musician. Writer. Athlete. Widow. Artist. Botanist. Addict. Parent. Teacher. Sailor. Animal lover. Techie. Husband. Wife. Sister. Brother. Daughter...etc.These shared experiences are what 'earn' us the right to hear, and share in, another's story. If you find that people aren't interested in the story you want to tell, don't take it personally; sit back, enjoy their company, and ask questions. You'll find a story that is shared.

And if that doesn't do it for you, find another outlet for telling your stories and start a blog. Worked for me ;)

18 comments:

Lindsay Dugan said...

This is soooo true! I'm American but grew up overseas in Africa, Asia and Europe and then was plopped into a US high school sophomore year. You learn VERY quickly that nobody can relate to your experiences so the conversation stops there. Or the person launches into their story about that time they took a school trip to Italy for a week ;)

Arizona_Bob said...

Well, a BUNCH of us want to hear your story...and we've been listening for quite some time. You make this crazy awesome life we share come alive for many others, and do it better than most. Please keep up the good work. I don't know how or where you find the time, but THANK YOU !

Bob
SV Carly D

Mel said...

After nearly 3 years away, on a boat and an RV, we returned to Oz to find we needed to learn the exact same lesson. Very few family and friends were interested enough to ask even a single question. Then we realized that we'd done it for us, so the sharing wasn't essential...and we certainly didn't need any validation for our choices. Interestingly, virtual strangers have heard more of our story - because they've asked, are interested and can relate on some level. Just one of the reasons we now call the US home!

Olivia Menghini said...

I agree! Its hard when you come back from an amazing trip and people just don't ask the questions you want/ expected them to ask! Sad sad times. Olivia

AJacobs said...

This is so true, even for those of us who live a basically simple life in the area of our roots...frequently in the presence of family and friends who just don't seem to care, or are just too busy and preoccupied to care what others are up to, what others are doing in their daily lives, what's important to others, what struggles others may be going through, what joys others are experiencing, what hopes and dreams others have for themselves. It has become a real pet-peeve of mine....when I am at lunch with a friend, when I am in the gathering space at church, when I am on the phone with a family member....wherever it may be....very few people seem genuinely interested in anyone but themselves. People are too deep in their own thoughts, their own agenda, their own to-do lists, and their own electronic device(s) currently in front of them....rather than focusing on the precious individual sitting right there with them, who just might be their own blood relative or best friend. For someone who is usually asking the questions of others...."what have you been up to?"...."How is so and so?"...."How did it go with ....?, I often leave a conversation saying to myself, "WHAT ABOUT ME?!?!?!" "Yes, I'm just fine, thanks for asking!"

aventeren said...

This is one of your best posts. Well done. Only those that have experienced this will get it. Good stuff.

Mike Schock said...

Wonderfully written and insightful post. Thank you for sharing.

I have a tendency toward thinking that I'm a self made man when the truth is that my path has been guided or inspired by the stories of so many others.

You never know who and how your story will help to expand another person's world view. We grow and live more completely when we expand our world view by seeing it through another person's eyes.

I have been following your story for a while and truly appreciate your candid portrayal of life afloat. It fuels my on-going desire for a similar lifestyle that I hope to begin in January of the coming year.

Keep the stories coming.

Allison said...

Completely agree with all of this! I did crazy amounts of traveling myself before this sailing thing and every time I came home I realized no one really cared where I had been. Happy to have me back - but let's get back to talking about American Idol and the latest fad diet. Took me a LONG time to be ok that no one really cared. Now happy to enjoy the relationships and share with others who have had similar experiences.

Anca | Globaloud said...

Exactly the same thing happened to me after I got back from my 2 months-in-Asia trip. I walked into a bar, also didn't want to sound like, as you said, pompous asshole, so I asked 'What's up with you guys?'. After they finished taking about their, mostly non that interesting, everyday life, which lasted for an hour or so, nobody even asked 'How was your trip', and they barely know anything cause I don't use any social network. So, practically, they were telling me about their life while I was gone, just because nobody didn't want to listen about me having a real adventure somewhere else. Why? I don't know, but at the end I didn't even care.

Bo said...

So well said. I do think it's maInly limited of people who have never traveled abroad, however. It seems they expect you to be able to sum up your entire experience into one 2 minute story that confirms their stereotypes and reinforces their reasoning to never leave the US.

I'd like to think other travelers are different. The knowing look from a fellow traveling soul says it all--showing they've earned the right to hear your stories, and you theirs.

Ben & Terri said...

The picture at the beginning of this post looks like a story to tell.
You are stunning and the stories compelling. keep them coming.

svwrightaway.com said...

We discovered this is true, your writing explained it so well. I am glad that I learned this lesson before we started cruising, it was the main reason I started to blog. I knew when I did catch up with friends again after being away I would be trying to fit my whole adventure into a five word sentence. By writing, those who are interested read and when I meet up with them we can have conversations about what I've been up to (and what they have been up to) instead of just trying to explain what I've been up to with no photos, context, or in the moment emotions . So thanks for blogging, you inspired me to and now I have a stronger friendship with my friends I left behind. :)

Nikki said...

This post really resonates with me. I felt very similarly after studying abroad for a year in college. I always wanted to talk about my experiences but after a few days, my friends stopped asking and I could tell were tired of listening. I'm still always thrilled when I get the chance to talk about my experiences organically. :)

ana said...

Love this post! In Miami right now heading to Grenada for a little adventure around the Grenadines. There's nothing more that I love, love, love listening to than the adventures of others.

Alan said...

Very accurate post. 30 years ago we returned from living in Europe for a time. It was one of the most remarkable experiences of our lives and no was interested. Not a single friend, family member, or work associate asked a single question about the experience. Stunned us at first but we came to understand what you so well articulated in your post.

Anonymous said...

I was living 16 Years all over the world, finally came back to Germany.
Nobody is really interested hearing the stories of my life. I believe because it makes them feel small. Makes them feel how much they did not expirience and how limited their life is.
I think humans are experts in deceiving themselves and than when someone tells, how beautyful and complex life can really be, one realizes that this complexity is out of ones scope, be it finacially or because of other reasons.

Debra said...

I totally relate. I spent 7 years in St. Thomas for college and had only one friend visit:-( when I returned home no one wanted to hear my adventures. Now hubby 3 kids under 6 and possibility a dog will attempt to return to Caribbean in 5 years to live aboard and give our kids an awesome and unique experience and opportunity. Love your tales and life and can't wait to join you!!! Under construction website and blog to document our journey to the sea... climbingmangotrees.net

Sena said...

I don't know, some of the things people have said in the comments section seem a bit elitist. There is a hint of judgement for people who have chosen an "ordinary life" in an ordinary place, and the inability of said people to comprehend anything beyond their geographical boundaries. Life is not limited by geography. An open mind and heart are not created by a series of travel and extreme experiences (although for some people, this can certainly be a catalyst), and small-mindedness is not a phenomenon specific to people who are "unworldly." Intrinsically speaking, I don't believe that a life spent at sea compared to a live spent in an "urban jungle" in the US compared to a life spent on a farm in France are valued any differently.

Brittany, I totally agree with you that people gravitate toward those in similar circumstances. I used to talk about breast feeding, child development, and tips and tricks of parenthood for hours with my "mom friends." Motherhood was the center of my existence for a very long time. It's still a very important part of who and what I am, but now, as an empty nester in a different stage of life, I admit, I sometimes mentally wander when I'm around young moms who are having those same conversations. It's not that I don't care. It doesn't mean that I can't appreciate the joy in a mother's voice when she describes her child's first steps or giggles, or describes the all-encompassing nature of having young children in one's life. We seek out camaraderie... fellow parents, sailors, caregivers to older adults, people of the same profession. This is human nature.

The reason that we often want to share experiences, at least from my own perspective, is because these experiences have changed us. Awed us. Made us weep. Made us feel joy. Changed our perspective and the fabric of our being. When I studied abroad, it changed me. When I came home, most of my friends and family didn't really want to hear about what I had seen or done. When I started to talk about how I felt the experience changed me, I often found a willing ear. We can all relate to these types of experiences, no matter where or how they occurred. I would challenge some of the commenters above to consider the following: sometimes the traveler returning to the natives presumes that he/she has much to teach and nothing to learn, and I feel that this often is the source of much misunderstanding. We can all learn from each other, regardless of circumstance. Sorry for such a long comment!


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