It’s January of 2006. I have just graduated from college and I am sitting in the courtyard of a Hostel in Melbourne, Australia.
The summer weather is perfect which means the courtyard is a cosmopolitan mix of young people drinking, smoking and sharing their nascent worldviews. I am at a table with 10 other people from around the world, including a girl I’ve just met from Minnesota named Betty (with whom I am trying to flirt) and a guy from Sydney who I’ll call Jake.
Jake is a bit intense, his eye contact lasts a little too long, and it seems strange that he lives nearby but is hanging out in the courtyard of a hostel. I ignore all of those things because I’ve traveled around the world for exactly this kind of experience. Interesting, bordering on strange, interactions with people I’ve never met and will never see again. I’m into it.
We are talking about meeting new people and having authentic experiences and how it is so much easier to do when traveling abroad than in your own city. Jake says that’s why he hangs out at hostels, to have these unique experiences. He then reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small black pouch which he holds up in front of us. He asks, “Do you know what this is?”
Nobody responds. We are silent as we watch him remove some sort of white rock from the pouch. His already intense eyes don’t blink as he says “This is the only crystal in the world that harnesses no negative energy.”
Betty is transfixed. I want to leave the table, the hostel, and possibly the country.
I have so many questions that I don’t want to ask but need answers to. What do you mean this crystal harnesses no negative energy? What does that even mean? Why are you carrying a crystal around in your pocket in the first place? Also, how long have you been waiting to take that crystal out of your pocket? Is this what you do? Go to hostels around your city and engage foreigners in conversation until you can whip your optimism rock out of your pocket and get people to join your energy healing cult?
I ask none of these questions because sixty seconds after he pulled the crystal out of his pocket I was gone.
It felt quite good actually, deciding to pull the chute, knowing I wanted out of a scenario and acting on it immediately. This was far different than my normal practice of just staying with something I am uncomfortable with far longer than I should merely because I don’t want to offend anybody. I will subject myself to hours of discomfort, unable to decide if and when I should go.
But also as I get older there are fewer of those experiences that I encounter. Between food delivery, Netflix and Amazon I could survive without leaving the house for months. So why would anybody, when they finally do leave, put themselves in any kind of experience that wasn’t reviewed, approved, and guaranteed to be exactly what they want?
We don’t put ourselves in situations we are uncomfortable or unsure about as we get older. We seek clarity, confirmation, and above all comfort.
This is what I like, I am used to, and will embrace.
I have friends who talk about places being outside of their geographical bubble. Sometimes things are just too far away. I get it. It’s easy to be that way living in New York City. Because Manhattan is the hub of where people work, you could meet people who live hours away from you. I’ve been to events that I had to take a bus, a train, and a boat just to get to. You only do so many of those before you stop putting in the effort.
And that’s what it is right? Effort. The effort required to get somewhere has decreased significantly. We don’t even have to know how to get anywhere. We can put the address in our phones and somebody else will come and get us and figure out the route.
When things become that easy, anything that seems even remotely more challenging becomes less interesting. Which also means there is less predictability, less nuance, and I think less surprise. I find that depressing.
I get that not everybody likes surprises. That in a world filled with time-saving apps, hacks, and technologies, we are somehow busier than we’ve ever been and less likely to try something sight unseen. But I think that is a wasted opportunity.
My fiancee and I recently realized that we are slowly becoming the older end of the crowd in some of the things we enjoy doing. We went to two concerts recently where we looked around the room and wondered if people thought we looked as old as they looked young. In both cases, we stayed and had great times. But I know it’s going to happen more and more.
We are going to get invited to something, or buy tickets for an event, get there and realize we are not the target demographic. And as long as we can enjoy ourselves, that is fine. I don’t care as much about fitting in as long as I am having a good time.
But here is the great thing about the context of getting older. We will never be able to fully predict the kind of experience we will have, nor do I think we should try. While our tastes may narrow, and our experiences become similar, I still hope we end up at some strange or uncomfortable events. Because I’d rather have an unpredictable weird experience than a predictably OK one.
We will always have the capacity to know when it’s time to leave. To take a look at the crystal that harnesses no negative energy and realize yea… it’s time to go.
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