My supervisor at Peace Action, Scott, and I went into downtown for a training, but, upon arriving, found that it had been canceled. It was a cold January day, a brisk breeze coming in over the Potomac valley, so instead of taking the train back to our office in Maryland, we decided to have lunch and warm up. It was the only time Scott and I ever hung out outside the office.
Scott was, in my my mind, dull, the antithesis of a traveler. As a supervisor, he was lax, giving me ample leeway to work as I pleased, as long as I got the basics accomplished. The job had turned out to be fairly monotonous, though Scott’s style gave me plenty of time to research travel places and set up a travel blog for the Trippers.
This routine office job was only bearable because I was there for just six months. Scott, however, had been there for ten years. Ten years in the same boring job, in the same, unchanging office. There was no variety in his life. He wasn’t married, had no children. His job was a dead-end job at an organization slowly dying along with its aging membership. Six months working there was burdensome enough, day after day of repetitive routines, staring at a computer without end, trying to figure out whether or not I was making a difference. Ten years? Unthinkable.
I hated routines, so I was going around the world. Peace Action wasn’t the path to change, but travel was—it would show me the true path. It was, deep inside, the ultimate goal of going abroad—not just to learn how to change the world, but also to break through my own personal barriers.
Scott could thrive in this environment because this was his life, because he’d never experienced anything else but Peace Action.
We choose a Spanish tapas bar in nearby Chinatown. As I watched Scott sit in front of me, I realized that he looked young for his age, with his beady eyes and thick brown hair. He seemed happy, generally, smiling often, showing off his buck teeth. Ignorance is bliss, I thought.
“So, you’re leaving us soon,” said Scott as the waitress brought out our tapas: chorizo for me, and a mini-plate of Paella for him. “Where are you headed off to?”
I smiled. “Italy, and then Spain,” going into my plans. I wondered if Scott had ever been abroad.
“Are you going to go to Southeast Asia?” he asked with a snicker. Though he was more than ten years older than I, Scott’s slightly unkempt curly hair and beady eyes sometimes gave him the face of a mischievous middle-schooler.
He nodded wistfully, looking up.
“That’s great,” he said, “I did something like that after college. In Southeast Asia. It was amazing back then.”
Wait, What? The person in front of me morphed from a caricature into a real person. Scott had experienced the world, and told me about having been in Thailand before Leonardo DiCaprio and The Beach, having gone to Laos before guesthouses and capitalism.
“Was Southeast Asia better back then?” I asked.
“Definitely. I’ve been back since. It’s completely changed,” he said.
I realized that even though I had been working with this guy for months, I knew nothing about him. Scott was far more complex than I ever realized. That beyond the cubicle walls, he was a lot more like me.
I looked at him deeply for the first time. I didn’t get it. He dressed similarly, a casual collared shirt and khaki pants, every day. He brought the same exact lunch, a Mexican sandwich, and always ate it alone in his office. His life had been whittled down into a routine that had been repeated over and over again for years. How could someone who had traveled and gone through experiences diverse and challenging, return home and fall into such a monotonous routine? It seemed impossible, to have experienced so much yet live in the present with so little.
Scott wasn’t as simple as I’d thought before. No one was. But I still couldn’t see how.
What about me? I was idealistic, hopeful, but at the same time shy and fearful, easily intimidated. During my four months at Peace Action, I fell into a routine just like Scott. It was nearly unbearable except for one fact. That in a few months, I was going around the world.
Could it work the other way too?