I have long found the word “successful” to be nebulous and imprecise, a vague term applied to an uncertain set of goals determined by a group.
I remember when I was in college, I would often earn a hodgepodge of A’s and B’s when my final term grades posted and feel wholly like I had failed myself. For the time being, we will set analysis of the problematic nature of an educational hierarchy that enforces letters as a marker for whether an instructor feels a student has “learned” aside. The mentors and leaders in my life would applaud me for my success, for the sheer incredible nature of earning such wonderful grades. Yet I was also taught that one determines their own successes – if my grades were not up to the expectations I set for myself, was I really successful? Does their support undermine my ability to set my own success markers or merely support the seemingly false notion that success is a cultural rubric?
In the wake of a trip to Europe (mostly Copenhagen) at the end of an incredibly eventful summer, I find myself confronting things I have long believed to be true, and now know are not.
At some point, I learned residually through my socialization and interaction that in order to be A Successful Adult, I would have to buy a house and get married and have kids. At some point, I began to feel that no one would take me seriously if I did not have a house, and a wife and kids. The reality I came to, is that I need none of that to be A Successful Adult.
On our way to Copenhagen, my group had a nine-hour layover in Brussels. I tagged along uncertainly as we made our way through the airport to the customs line. We showed our passports, chatted with the agent and then went to find lockers. Our bags stowed for the day, we bought tickets in a country where English was not the first language to take a train downtown. Ambivalently, I point to a train that has words matching our ticket and we board it, hoping for the best. The train whisks us away to wherever and I stare out the window, enthralled. This city is just like every other, but nothing like any other. My blood races, my heart calmly reminds my head that it was wrong. Since moving to Portland, I have been so tied to being in Portland, surviving and finding as many local adventures as I can that I forgot how big the world is around me. I am, suddenly and completely, in love with traveling. Thing is, you take with you what you absolutely need and forget the rest. You set foot in strange places and sometimes there are tourist waffles and sometimes there are castles and comics in foreign languages.
We went on to Denmark. I traded a four-year old boy who spoke French and wanted the window seat for an aisle seat – “merci,” he said, as I sat in my new seat – and napped as comfortably as a six foot tall dude can on an airplane. Water on the flight from Brussels to Copenhagen cost three euro. Hell no. Our flight lands early and we make our way through the airport to the point where it seems most people are meeting up with their greeters. Slightly late, one of the women from the church hosting us arrives and hands us each a paper Denmark flag – “it’s a custom to welcome folks to Denmark,” she explains. We suddenly realize everyone else coming in has one. After buying train tickets, we sit at the very front of a train that is run by computers or something. We are literally sitting at the front window. After awhile we arrive at Nørrebro Station, and we take a glass elevator out of the station to the street level. Looking out of the back of the elevator, I watch the sub-level train shoot away, and see the street come into view, first above me, then at eye level, and now we are walking across the street – but hurrying because “the bikes WILL hit you,” we are told, I think. This city feels so much like my Portland, but so different. I have no idea what time it is at home, and I only barely can connect that it is evening here. My body is so tired, but I am so ready for all of the adventures.
The whole trip, the whole time in Copenhagen was an adventure, it was a lesson in when to be assertive and when to be passive, a point for growing my self-confidence, and an opportunity to remember that there is more to the world than what I see every day.
The feeling I had in Brussels, that one where my blood was rushing and I just wanted to travel? It stuck with me. The whole time, I just wanted to be on trains and go places – we had a day where we took a train across the water to Malmö, Sweden. That feeling sticks with me now, almost three weeks after returning. And so I have come to the realization that to be A Successful Adult does not necessarily mean that I have to “settle down” and own land and create tiny humans. I can be A Successful Adult without all that, my experiences and opinions have merit and value, and traveling is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. In fact, I have come face to face with the reality that I almost need to travel to maintain some level of grounding – that going other places makes me feel at home in my own space.
So, I think I will be devoting more time and effort and energy to traveling.