Reflections

(Dana) In recounting this year to friends and family back home, I have found myself reflecting on the more personal lessons I have learned. Some are obvious, but I wanted to get them onto the site in part to share them with others and in part to hold myself accountable to them as we return to “normal” life. Some of our lessons:

Cherish our family: Perhaps the greatest gift we received this year was spending so much time together. We laughed; we cried; we talked; we fought. We shared experiences that will form the foundation for a lifetime of conversations. Greg and I got to know each other and each child better than ever; hopefully we can use that knowledge to soften the downs that we will undoubtedly hit in the years ahead. And hopefully we all learned that friends will come and go, but family is with us forever.

Remember the big picture: It sounds clichéd, but the world is a big place. Many people struggle for food, clean water, shelter and clothing. Countries face critical dilemmas of overpopulation, corruption and trash. In comparison, which soccer team my child makes is not a big problem. Of course, we will all face challenges that are major for us, but how we respond is what is important. Will I panic or will I calmly assess the situation and respond with grace? I need to keep perspective.

Let it go: I am a type-A, perfectionist. I have always given 100% to the organizations with which I have been fortunate to be involved. But being away has reminded me that I am dispensable. Things don’t have to be done the way that I would do them. In fact, I can take pride in knowing that organizations I have helped build will last far beyond my personal involvement. Similarly, I have always had high expectations of my kids. And while they definitely won’t do everything the way that I would, they need to develop their own internal compass and measures of success. I can guide them, but I need to let more things go.

Live simply: Millions of people live life happily with 1 or 2 meals a day, the clothes on their back, a hut or lean-to over their heads and some hand-made toys. They work hard. They are surrounded by families who love them and villagers with whom they survive and grow. We lived out of a suitcase for one year — the same 3 pairs of pants and the same 5-10 shirts. We don’t need all the things we have at home. Our first task at home was to donate a truckload to a non-profit to share what we clearly can live without. Going forward, can we balance “making due with what we have” with the pressure for the latest-and-greatest-whatever-it-is?

Take time: Another luxury of the year was having the time to do most things at a slower, more deliberate pace. We observed how mere survival for most people requires long tedious hours of exhausting work. Animals in nature don’t operate on a schedule; observing them required patience. Long treks and long car rides offered time for reflection and contemplation. And once we returned home, I realized that many of my prior mishaps (especially in the car) came from trying to rush. Can we maintain a slightly slower cadence as we return to American pace?

Conserve resources: At 6 billion people, humans are definitely pushing the limits of our planet’s resources – clean water, food, oil, etc. Prior to our trip, we were aware of conservation but in the end, we still acted as if resources were infinite. After living at times with limited water, different foods, alternative forms of transportation, and – gasp – no Internet, we are acutely aware of how blessed we are at home. Hopefully we can continue making our small dent in resource conservation: turning off the water when washing dishes, brushing teeth or taking a shower; not wasting food; using a sponge instead of always grabbing a paper towel; carpooling or even biking/walking; and turning off items when not in use. If we all did just a little, it must help.

Appreciate our rule of law: Living in the US, I have always taken for granted our rock-solid legal system, but now I have seen what can happen when the rule of law and accountability are weak or absent. Papua New Guinea is one of the richest countries in terms of natural resources but the second most corrupt. Subsistence farmers in PNG must scrape up money to send their children to “public” school. No surprise, only 75%of children finish primary school. In India, inefficiencies stemming from corruption are everywhere. Simple tasks like getting a drivers license or protecting your family are fraught with problems. By comparison, our political wrangling seems pardonable.

Be thankful for our job options: After completing our education, there are a remarkable number of job paths we can pursue in the US. In contrast, youth in countries like Bhutan and Vietnam complete free education and head to the few cities in search of jobs rather than return home to the family’s subsistence farm. Many countries are struggling to provide opportunities for their youth. Hopefully I will appreciate all of the options here in the US when I am freaking out that my children are not taking the “right” path.

Take care of our health: We were very fortunate that we were rarely sick on this trip – only 40 incidents over 2100 person-days of travel. But Greg’s injury put it all in perspective. We were so very lucky that his trauma was not life-threatening, but it did have a significant impact on that one month of our adventure. As the kids know, we are both now committed to being “younger next year;” we want to keep exploring together for decades to come.

Strive for inner peace: Prior to the trip, we knew very little about Eastern religions and philosophies. Now, Greg and I hope to embrace some of our Buddhist and Hindu lessons by being more contemplative and reflective, not letting silly stuff get in the way and contributing to positive karma. We look forward to studying more.

Spend time at home: I have always been a very involved person (see Type-A acknowledgement above). I have channeled my old professional drive into local organizations, which has been very fulfilling personally and of benefit to the kids. However, it has come at the expense of more direct benefit to my family. After an entire year of family meals and really adventurous foods, I realize that I can spend more time cooking and making meals fun. I plan to start at least one “cook club” modeled after book clubs where we share ways to cook international foods for our families. Those who know me well can stop laughing now; I am serious!

Be adventurous: This year was the pinnacle of adventure. We will likely never spend this amount of time as the 6 explorers, but we must continue building adventure into our lives: travelling whenever possible (international, within the US and local), finding experiences outside our comfort zone, eating new food, learning about new cultures. We have already started a list!

Be happy: We only have a short time on this planet. Many of these personal admonitions are meant to make me happier with who I am, what I have, what I have done and what I will do next. My New Year’s Resolution this year was to laugh more. I haven’t always been successful, but I am trying.

How fortunate we were to have this year exploring the world, its cultures and ourselves as 6explorers. While this major experience helped me embrace some of these very basic life lessons, it doesn’t take a world trip to learn them; it just takes recognition and effort… and accountability. Maybe this will provide all of us with some accountability.

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5 Responses to “Reflections”

  1. Hello Dana, Greg, Alex, Emma, Reis & Andrew!
    First, congratulations, welcome home & thank you, we have been following your posts since we got back from the KK. Our favorite videos of course, were the Antarctica ones. Leaving that land we felt like we had been ejected from the most unique place on earth.It haunts us both still. We will miss checking out your adventures at the end of each month (what will those crazy Whites do next?) And, we were always amazed. We had expected that there would a final posting to sum up. I think this was perhaps the best of all of them but felt everyone in the family found their writer’s voice. Superb writing by all. ,Thank you for all your sharing, the various viewpoints really captured your experiences in a very real, thought provoking way. BTW. I had read a NY Times article about Holi in Brooklyn of all places!! It seems there is a community of people from Trinidad, Gyuanna, etc. of Indian descent who, despite being several generations and a couple of countries removed from India celebrate Holi in the streets of the Ridgewood section of Brooklyn. We have pals in Brooklyn so will have to round them up with paint and try Holi ourselves. Wishing all of you the very best in the future and a smooth reentry. Be sure to contact us if you are ever in Northampton for soccer or 6 explorers talk and we’ll come cheer you on. Also-please e-mail the name of the actual historic six explorers if you have time.

  2. Rosalie Stavens 09. Aug, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Dana, You brought me to tears!!!! and I am not even finished looking at everything. I am going to savor this lovely experience you had. Thank you for sharing. It is a priviledge to know you. How fortunate your family is to have accomplished this.

    Rosalie

  3. Well said, Dana. Enjoyed your reflections on the trip. My best to you, Greg and the kids as you re-adjust to the states.

    Paul

  4. Joanie Twining 27. Oct, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Dana,

    We are having so much family fun looking through the site. Thanks for being so dedicated to getting it recorded here – it offers so much. Taking the time to read is very rewarding. Amazing how much older the kids look after one year in pictures! Thanks for sharing!

    Joanie

  5. George O'Shea 18. Nov, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Dana,

    I stumbled on your site through old work contacts of Greg. I was drawn to the story, and, thrilled to learn more of your adventure. Your writing is wonderful, your story compelling – it’d make a nice movie.
    George O’Shea