In a world that is so filled with violence and despair, it gives me hope to coach people from all over the world. I love knowing that clients in Australia struggle with the same thing as those in France or the UK or Germany or the States. We all want meaningful work and we want relationships that bring us joy. We all have challenges with bosses and family members and we all struggle at some point in our lives with feeling stuck or afraid or alone. It’s easy to forget that, however, if you haven’t traveled, or you don’t have the privilege of getting to know people from all over the world. When I think about Europeans and how freely and frequently they travel, because of proximity, it makes me sad that Americans choose to be so isolated. Yes, we are mostly surrounded by water, other than bordering Mexico and Canada, but we are also figuratively isolated.
According to the most recent statistics from the State Department, most Americans do not have passports. Only 46% do, but it varies tremendously from state to state. New Jersey has the highest at 62%, followed by New York (59%), Massachusetts (58%), and Alaska, Connecticut and Delaware (all were at 55%). Mississippi has the lowest, with just 17%, followed by West Virginia (19%), Alabama (22%), Arkansas (22%) and Kentucky (23%). (The Expeditioner.com, Dec 11, 2016.) Most of the red states that voted for Trump are states with fewer passport holders, which makes sense, given the fear of a global economy and foreigners. And the fact is that international travel is much more expensive than travel by car, something even middle or working class Europeans can easily do.
Travel for me has been such a gift, from the first time I went to Europe as a 12 year-old with a few French phrases memorized, and flirted with a cute boy at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Or the time I backpacked through Europe solo and got lost so easily (pre iPhone and GPS), that I had a number of concerned citizens walking with me to make sure I got where I needed to go. I am grateful for the Swiss family who didn’t speak a word of English and tolerated my very basic and slow French, while feeding me the most incredible cheese and chocolate and doing my laundry. I remember my husband’s Irish great aunt, not a day younger than 70, squealing in delight when she met us, having prepared a huge feast even though we arrived mid-day for a quick stop. I remember the first time in Japan in my late twenties, when I forgot to take off my shoes or tried to shake hands instead of bowing, and for being grateful to get to experience such a different culture and language.
The greatest gift of traveling and living abroad, as well as coaching people from other countries, is that I remember that there is no right way to be, to live, to work, to raise children, to find love. All of us want similar things, but each of us seeks it in a unique way, partly based on our geography, values, upbringing and culture. It is dangerous when we start to believe that our country is the best and the only place to live, that our way of doing things is right and everyone else is wrong. I used a stroller to transport my kids, but many Africans carry their babies on their backs. We take off our shoes inside our house like the Japanese, but most people don’t. I chose my husband based on love, but many couples from other cultures swear by arranged marriages.
To find your world stage, remember that we are more the same than we are different. We are humans who want to love and be loved, to work in a meaningful way, and to make a difference in our families, our communities, our country and our world. In the end, no matter our country or politics or religion or race, we are all the same.
My son in Japan in 2014.