Spotlight, The Heroic Life, Travel

I told a friend I would never be happy

Used without permission from Jodi Ettenberg.

This is an excerpt from an essay by Jodi Ettenberg.

A long time ago, I told a friend that I would never be happy in life. That my brain was too whirry and too busy thinking of all the things I could/should/will be doing and never able to focus on the present. How can someone be happy if they’re thinking of something else all the time? In the last few years, however, I came to accept the fact that this overarching, fuzzy idea of happiness couldn’t be my goal. It was unrealistic, and I felt that I was failing  – people were writing to say “oh, you’re living the dream!” — but internally I was struggling with what I was doing and why I was doing it.

What I was feeling made sense given that I got here by accident (as in, I didn’t quit my job to be a travel writer or seek happiness), but I still needed to parse through my thoughts and also take stock of who I had become after many years of travel.

* * *

I use the term “building a life” a lot lately. It’s become my preferred expression to discuss my choices because there is such weighted agency in it – I, Jodi Ettenberg, chose this path. It has been a fallback to say I got here by accident — factually accurate, no less — but relying on kismet or coincidence also lets me off the hook for the hard and very damaging decisions I made in leaving New York. I left a place and people I loved, and a career that was going well for me.  It’s true that I didn’t do this to “be” happy or because I was burned out. But regardless, I did it because I wanted to see the world, and the pull of that otherness – not just to see it on a short vacation, but to live it and get my hands dirty – it drew me in. It became bigger than me, a restlessness that corroded. It grew and it grew until I had to act on it; ignoring it was just hurting people around me and myself.

When I left for what I thought would be a year, I found that the restlessness dissipated. I wasn’t looking to travel around the world indefinitely. That’s never been an aim. However, the restlessness was replaced by an extraordinary curiosity for just about everything I saw. I wanted to build a life around that curiosity. All of the work I do – the consulting, the food writing, the blog – is to facilitate that, and to enable me to see and experience more of the little things in life. In acknowledging this shift away from restlessness and toward learning, I came a long way to accepting more of where I am today. I’m making choices only for me, which is not something everyone has available to them.

Jodi is different than other travel bloggers. She speaks about her own experience and doesn’t try to sell you on anything. Here, she really inspires me by showing that travel really does work as a practice—one that helps you find your purpose and live by your values. And that means it also works as a lifestyle. 

This is one of my favorite articles about travel. I hope you will read the rest and share your thoughts. 

In the last year you have helped me launch an adventure, complete a novella (currently in editing) and fund a community atelier of magic. You are the best readers in the world. Thank you. 

Standard
Thailand, The Heroic Life, Travel

The Tragic Joy of the Heroic Life

“Love it the first time.”

These words have been my credo since Day Zero.

They came to me literally on the eve of my departure, as I biked into Minneapolis for the last time and saw her skyline above me. Spotlights in the mist, rainclouds parting, 3 million lives unfolding. I caught my breath and wondered if I’ll see my city again, or if I’ll die on my walk.

I breathed out loud: “Love it the first time, Drew.”

I committed the scene to my lifelong memory, put my head down, and resumed biking.

Tragic Joy

This credo has come to serve me many times on my quest. Almost daily I recite these words, beholding with joy some happy scene or experience.

In part, this is because the Heroic Life involves travel. I can never see everything. I pick my priorities and live with my choices. Instead of making phantom plans, I cherish the memories I have. And I look forward.

I believe this view is required for the Heroic Life. You must accept that today may be your last experience. And you must love that truth. You must love that there may be nothing more: the moment is enough. It is sacred in itself.

This is the tragic love of the Heroic Life.

In moments of happiness, my heart soars like I’ve leapt from a cliff. Moments are fleeting and mortal, as we are.

Soul Mates

In the story of the Temple on Doi Suthep I mentioned someone important. I didn’t see her, but a few paces away was Saarein. We wouldn’t meet till later. Heaven brought us together.

When I got home I rested and showered. The temptation was strong to go to bed, but I wanted to keep my ankle moving. I went out for Indian food.

At the next table, a Dutch woman in a breathtaking shawl sat down, alone. (A woman on her own is an unusual sight in Thailand.)

I pushed weariness from my mind. Summoning my training I asked if she spoke English. She did. Would she like company?

We talked for hours.

“I follow the gods of nature,” I said.

“Me too,” she said.

The next day she taught me to ride a motorbike. First I clung behind her as she tried to kill us. Then she let me try to kill us. She was a patient teacher, one hand gently on my shoulder to show she wasn’t afraid.

We walked through caves with the Buddha. We offered incense, we prayed, we talked. As the sun set, I drove us through country roads. The sun hit the rice fields and the old walls and rooves. Everything glowed gold; we waved and the people smiled.

It was picturesque, but we didn’t capture it. “I’ll remember without a camera,” she said.

“Me too,” I said.

I knew this was our only day. Tomorrow she was leaving for Laos, then onward on her travels across Asia. In two weeks I’d go on to Mexico. From the moment we met we had 30 hours together. The clock ticked down.

We didn’t speak of this. We understood. She taught me many Dutch words, but never good-bye. Late that night I watched her zoom away on her motorbike, my fellow adventurer and my soul mate. I went to bed, and I slept easily.


It may seem that the Heroic Life brings this upon itself. If you travel to challenge yourself, you will part with many soul friends and lovers along the way.

In truth, every love is fleeting. Every joy is mortal. Most people choose to forget that. They try to build eternal happiness. When things change their hearts break. The Heroic Life allows no illusion. It confronts you from the start.

          The tragic joy of the Heroic Life:
                    Love it the first time.
                              Heaven may be a dream…
Standard