One of the many things I’ve had to adjust to since I started traveling full-time, in addition to the difference in climate and culture and language and food, is my perception and treatment of time along the way.
When I visit my family in Missouri, I tend to sleep in until nine each morning, stay up late, maybe take a nap in the afternoon, and base my eating habits on those of my family.
In Iceland, I’m far more likely to doze until ten or eleven, stay out until five the next morning, and eat meals based on my social schedule.
When I’m in transit, time ceases to be a reliable standard of measurement, as I gradually shift between time zones, sometimes for days on end. Trying to adhere to a regular schedule under those circumstances becomes an exercise in futility, so I try to time my sleeping for when I’m on a plane or other secure mode of transportation. I schedule eating for when I’ve landed for a layover or arrived at my destination.
When living alone and far away from my family and existing group of friends, I tend to wake up early, maybe six or seven, and go to sleep at around one. My eating schedule is unruly, and I’m far more likely to eat one large meal and snack all day than to eat three regular meals.
This last schedule tends to be best for my creative process, as it allows me to pounce on a clutch of creative energy when I feel it rising up and ride that wave until it disappears, resulting in a whole lot of work I can be proud of. I also tend to eat healthily, work out off-and-on all day, and feel a sense of general happiness that doesn’t go away. I’m able to socialize when and how I want, but also able to disappear for days without consequence.
Knowing this, it seems like the logical next-step, based on my penchant for moving closer and closer to an ideal lifestyle, whatever that happens to mean for me at the time, to find a nice spot somewhere in a foreign country and just settle there. Put down deep roots. Enjoy the pulsing of the ocean as it sends wave after wave of creativity my way, leading to a personal renaissance of sorts.
I’ve considered this. I frequently consider it, in fact.
But I’ve come to realize over the past few years that without the periods of discomfort, without the seemingly spastic change in cultures and languages and foods and perceptions of time, the periods of solo excellence don’t have quite the same shimmer. They’re still productive and wonderful, but not as productive and wonderful.
You might say that the imperfect fuels the perfection of my ideal. Like looking at a black and white TV and then at a modern color screen, the contrast between the two serves to make the latter even more vibrant than it actually is. At the same time, the difference makes the former more tolerable in a quaint, ‘isn’t that interesting,’ artsy kind of way.
The result is that I know what circumstances are my favorite in terms of being happy and comfortable and creative, but I also know the alternatives to that lifestyle have value, and are enjoyable for completely different reasons. They challenge me. Keep me growing. Learning. Without those imperfect moments, the perfect ones would slowly but surely become drab and monotonous. I don’t want to lose that.
I would also almost certainly miss out on opportunities to evolve my lifestyle preferences. Without seeing what else is out there, giving them all an earnest shot at becoming my new fave, I would find myself doing the same things over and over, my perspective shifting not a bit. I’m not willing to lock myself into that kind of formulaic fate.
So although walking into a time warp may sometimes wear me out, and although in the moment doing so may seem stressful or dull or imperfect, I know that I’ll continue to do it again and again.
Update: February 19, 2017
I do enjoy these types of contrasts, but I would add, with the benefit of hindsight, that there are many ways to achieve that feeling, and not all require killing yourself by shuffling back and forth across time zones. That’s one way to do it, but fortunately just one of many.