The Grass is Flourishing on My Side

This article was first published in The Western Gazette. The original article can be found here

It’s supposed to be the only expense that makes you richer. It’s about finding yourself and becoming self-reflective. It’s also something that when you do it, we want to share with the people in our lives — but people, I have learned, don’t want to hear your stories.

My relationship with travelling is a fond one. I have spent my last three summers exploring — from the great white north of the Yukon, the West-Midlands of England, to the land down-under — I have only seen a fragment of the world. I have, unabashedly, done the stereotypical Europe backpacking trip. Hostels became by best friend and I proudly wear the flags of the countries I have explored on my back.

By virtue of who I am, I wear my heart on my sleeve, but there is no doubt that over the years, my travels have changed me — because they have. They gave me my independence. They have opened my eyes to new experiences. They have also, unexpectedly, made me quieter.

In the middle of all of the incredible experiences I was having, I realized I wasn’t ready for one of the harsher realities of travelling. It startled me to realize that the grass was greener on the other side — green with envy, that is.

I began to notice that not everyone wanted to hear my stories. Not everyone wanted to know that I have been places where they have never been, or worse, where they may never go. Upon returning home after my second summer in Europe, many acquaintances greeted me with variations of “I saw you travelled this summer — I’m so jealous.”

To me, there was so much left unsaid in those statements. There was a an untold accusation that because I had travelled, I must be privileged. There was an overwhelming feeling of “we’re glad you did that, and that’s great for you — but we don’t want to hear about it.”

There were of course, the handful of people who actually wanted to hear about my stories. These are the people that made me realize that in the process of sharing my experiences, I was growing. It was in these conversations, I was able to be self-reflective. However, I still had to be careful. Anecdotes that began with “When I was in Prague,” “Once, in Paris,” or “When I was living in England,” would instantly be deemed as pretentious, and even I couldn’t pretend otherwise.

Instead, I learned how to internalize my stories. I learned that people didn’t want to hear how their judgments on me were inaccurate. There was no point explaining that I worked full-time jobs during my summers in these new places. The struggles of moving to a new country alone were dismissed, because after all, wasn’t I was seeing the world? The very real experiences of culture-shock were never heard, because there was the feeling that no one wanted to listen in the first place.

Even now, as I write this, I hear the criticisms I already know I’m going to get. She’s complaining about such a first-world problem. Oh, because moving to England must have been SO hard as a born-Canadian. At least she got to travel.

The worst part about realizing these thoughts that trickle through the minds of those around me, is realizing that I echo them. By sharing my stories, I fear I make people uncomfortable because they haven’t experienced the same things that I have. I am wary of sounding pretentious.

Recently, I began to realize that in being quieter, I forgot the importance of being able to acknowledge my growth. I began to notice the tendencies in myself and my peers to belittle ourselves, because we are too scared of making people uncomfortable with our accomplishments. We are afraid to be proud of ourselves, because there is narcissism attached to sharing our successes and experiences.

We live in a society that wants to know that we are doing well, but not too well. The grass is consistently greener with envy on the other side, for fear that our peers are going more places, doing more incredible things, and experiencing the world in a way that we might be failing to.

I want to challenge that. I am tired of being quiet. There is of course, a balance between humility and expression. I have realized, however, that the phrase ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ is there to remind us of the fact that we should appreciate what we do have.

There are always going to be people who are envious of our successes — whether they come in the form of travel, a new job, or in finding happiness. I don’t know how to propose we change this dialogue. I don’t have many answers.

What I do know, is this: the grass is flourishing on my side, and I’m no longer scared to share that.

Jenny Jay