The Post-Travel Come-Down
* This post will predominantly address the problems extroverts face following the end of a Voyage. Being an extrovert, and a pretty extreme one at that, this topic comes naturally. However, if any introverts have thoughts or suggestions, I’d love feedback in the comments section below!
“So now what?”
This is a question I’ve asked myself – and have had asked of me – thousands of times in the past few months.
“Where am I going in life?”
“What is going on in the world?”
I hope you understood that those were rhetorical questions, because the truth is: I have no clue. But as many Burning Man-types would say, if you’re enjoying the journey, why care about the destination? (There are several flaws in this logic, obviously, and this might be one of reasons I didn’t attend Burning Man this year. […I’m sort of kidding, but I’m also sort of not. Other reasons: fear of Port-a-Potties, need for water in dental hygiene process, lack of disposable income, etc.])
But I’m a planner by nature – I like knowing that putting one foot in front of the other will get me closer to where I need to go, not blown up by an unexploded ordinance. I get anxious when so much uncertainty dictates very critical elements of my future. Though the “go with a flow” vibe of traveling has definitely softened my iron grasp, I still won’t (and probably shouldn’t) give up total control over my circumstances. However, as with anything, moderation is key – while I could do with some calming down every now and then, I would assert that most people need to get their act together as well. Unfortunately, post-travel, now that “most people” includes me too.
A friend and I were discussing our relative situations. Both of us were back at home – he had graduated from Berkeley and moved out of Cloyne, the school’s biggest co-operative housing building, and I obviously had just completed the Voyage. Though we love our families, we agreed that it’s jarring to step away from our formerly fast-paced lives and into the sonorous lull of suburbia. Like Wile E. Coyote, we’ve run full force into a wall, and we’re dazed by the impact.
The biggest change was the shrinking of our immediate social circles. Unlike college campuses or metropolitan cities, suburbia feels like an empty landscape, particularly when our friends from home have moved or drifted away. My grandparents noted this, in response to my complaints that India was too crowded; they said coming to America felt like visiting a “ghost town,” as there’s no real sense of community. Mostly everyone rushes between different shades of inside – work, school, supermarkets, malls, coffee shops, restaurants, home. This can be very isolating, and can make readjusting to such a life especially hard for an extrovert.
Point #1: Extroverts require a certain amount of input – social interaction – to function.
Another radical change comes from the tremendous reduction in expected quantifiable results. To put that in non-scientific terms: we don’t really have anything to do. While in school, there are papers to write and internships to excel at and social engagements to uphold. While traveling, there are bus schedules to memorize and historic sights to ogle and blogs to update. These are obviously self-interested activities and can be dismissed if that self-interest changes. But in order to get a degree, or to feel accomplished, or to live one’s life fully, there are necessary evils to face. But now, though studying for the GREs (him) or applying like crazy for jobs (me) are very important activities, they’re not particularly fun, and there is very little expected of us beyond familial chores. This, obviously, explains why I’ve been writing so voraciously recently – not only am I attempting to maximize on this time off, but I need to create something.
Point #2: Extroverts require a certain amount of output – quantifiable production / impact / productivity – to function.
So if you combine the two points, you see that the typical energy cycle for an extrovert goes as following: seek social interaction as to fuel one’s personality, then expel excess energy through the production of something (tangible or intangible). This is why many extroverts are oftentimes visible high-performers. Though introverts do create amazing output as well, their energy cycle is an almost inverted version of that of extroverts, and they avoid attention or praise for their work. Obviously, everyone contains elements of both introversion and extroversion, so this conclusion isn’t fool-proof, but it’s a theory I’m willing to throw out there to see how well it sticks.
When people ask about how I’m adjusting to life post-travel, this is what I should have told them: I feel like someone else entirely, and not for the reasons that they would think. Transitioning from college to travel was pretty smooth – my natural personality seeks the same challenge, the same learning experience, and the same social experience in traveling as I did in university. But returning, even accounting for the subtle ways in which I’ve changed as a person, has been a bit rougher – both my input and output have been changed by my external environment, and until I get a job and get back into the hustle, I won’t feel fully like myself. And yes, maybe I’ll get tired, and maybe I’ll long for the lazy days of Summer 2013 where my biggest responsibilities included taking out the trash and clearing the dishwasher. But that’s a trade-off I’m willing to accept.