World Travel or Finding Passion Won’t Escape Who You Are

Living in a foreign culture for one year, what struck me most was how many things were the same as at home. Not just cultural similarities, although between France and Canada there are many, but similarities in my life.

I remember one night in Paris, the girl I had been seeing for a few weeks decided to break it off. Despite us conversing in a language I hadn’t spoke just a few months prior, the conversation was nearly the same as one I remembered having three years prior, with a different girl, nearly a world away.

The good parts were mirrored too. I had a best friend and a great circle of friends in Canada. In France, the same great friendships evolved, even though the two groups of people had nothing in common.

It took time to realize the reason for the eerie similarities, both happy and disappointing, between my lives: the commonality was me.

Changing the Backdrop Won’t Change the Story

The two cult-like obsessions of modern self-improvement seem to be:

  1. Quitting your job
  2. Travelling around the world

In many ways, I admire these pursuits. I haven’t had a job in four years and I’ve lived abroad, so they are pursuits I’ve lived.

But I suspect part of the appeal of these two aspirations is that they both represent an escape. If you quit your job, you get to escape the tyranny of a boss, work and financial obligations. If you travel the world, you get to escape your life, starting fresh where nobody knows your name.

The problem is that the escape is a lie. Yes, you can successfully quit your job and follow your passion. You could even pack everything away and start again in a new continent. But you would still be you. You can escape to a new destination, job or relationship, but you can’t escape who you are.

The Temptation of Escape

Changing yourself is hard. It’s probably the hardest thing to change. Not only is personal change a lot of work, but it’s ego-deflating as well. It’s easy to blame a job, city or person. It’s much harder to see yourself as the cause.

The discomfort of personal change makes escape tempting. After all, if you pick a difficult aspiration, you can pin your hopes upon it as being your salvation. Just getting that better career, better place, or better relationship will lead to a better life.

Cal Newport shares a great story of one man’s own tortuous quest to find career fulfillment, and his agony in believing it was always just around the corner:

“For years, Thomas had imagined living at a monastery to be the ‘zenith’ of his passions — in his fantasies, it held the magical qualities that all his previous jobs lacked. But once he arrived at the Zen Mountain Monastery, he realized that although his surroundings had changed, he was ‘exactly the same person.’”

Don’t get me wrong, I think living in different cultures and loving your work are great. The fallacy is assuming that changing the backdrop of your life will fundamentally change you as a person. In some cases they can be a catalyst, but they aren’t an escape from who you are.

Bending Hope Inwards

People want to be tempted by escape. They want to believe that if they buy one more product, quit their job, live in a different country, embrace minimalism or maximalism, that they will be fulfilled.

They want to be tempted because the alternative feels bleak. After all, if you can’t pin your hopes on something, won’t they just tumble to the ground?

I see the solution as bending hope inwards. Instead of changing the backdrop, work on changing the pervasive commonality of your life: you.

Admittedly this is a lot harder than pinning hopes on an external goal. For one, personal change has few obvious fixes. Quitting your job is straightforward. Loving your job has no instructions.

Second, personal change requires looking hard at yourself. It requires embracing the paradox of being ruthlessly objective with your own insecurities while being confident enough to move forward. How do you spend hours examining your faults and leave feeling completely self-assured? Is it even possible?

Perhaps more than anything, personal change has a lot of false starts. Reading through my old journal entries, I see hundreds of failures. Each one seemed to be a grand solution to some problem in my life, and the majority ended back exactly on square one. Jumping on a plane feels like progress, especially when your personal efforts fly in circles.

It Begins With You

Whenever I get the feeling that a different career, degree, city or group of friends would change my life, I remind myself that it all begins here. Even if outside changes are good, they won’t escape who I am, and ultimately if I want to change the big problems it has to start right here.

The advantage of this approach is that, when you begin with you, changing the backdrop can actually help. It can catalyze your internal commitment and make it easier to change. But if you aren’t beginning here, with you, then escapes generally don’t lead anywhere.

Beginning with you also makes it easier to accept the things you can’t change. When you still fantasize about escaping, it’s easy to resent the things that change slowly, instead of adapting with them. The weather becomes less terrible, the work less toiling and the challenges more bearable when you start with yourself.

Best of all, when it starts with you, it can begin right now.

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  • ah

    one ‘s own internal is often the cause of many problems.
    sometimes, I found some recurring problems caused by flaw character & inaccurate belief, which is not that easy to change though.

  • David Smith

    Right on, Scott. Of course, if you change your environment enough times, eventually your environment will change you. Learning new jobs and cultures leads to more growth than staying in the same place. But, as you say, the fastest solution is working on yourself directly.

  • Eugene

    The great thing about working on yourself is that it’s the only aspect of life we can really control.

  • Darryl

    Great article. I am currently experiencing this myself. I am currently in Europe and have successfully run away from my “life” in Saskatchewan. I have been in Europe for 3 years off and on. This hits home as I keep running into the same issues. I gave the standard excuses and blamed everything else until I took personal responsibility. Now the question begs, how do we begin to implement these changes? No amount of effort is going to change anything until I am aware of the skills needed to do this. Anyone else facing this?

  • Joyce

    I follow your blog quite regularly, but don’t comment very often. You seem to be – not against, exactly – but not as big a supporter of world travel that many bloggers raise it up to be. Almost cynical against travel, but maybe you’re just being provocative. I agree and disagree with you. Yes, travel on its own doesn’t transform you. But when you are surrounded by the same old people and views etc. changing your environment can be the catalyst that breaks you out of a rut and wake you up to see what other opportunities are available in the world (if one is willing to see it – i.e. backpackers that only set out to party every night or those seeking to relax at luxury resorts prob aren’t). I can’t recommend travel highly enough to everyone to travel to widen their perspective.

  • Gregg

    Your post resonates with me quite a bit. Ever since I’ve started turning inwards for happiness, the concepts of travelling somewhere to relax/escape have become somewhat unappealing. My vacations tend to be meditation retreats or learning experiences/adventures that I couldn’t get sitting by myself at home. But “getting away from it all” has dropped off my lists of reasons to travel.

    Of course, the whole resort/cruise thing never resonated with me, so the change wasn’t that dramatic for me. :)

  • Scott Young


    I love living in different places and meeting people from different cultures. Of course, I’m not a travel blogger, so there will obviously be people who love it more than I do, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    My objection isn’t with travel itself. It’s with the misguided belief that travel will change who you are if you aren’t already prepared to work on yourself.

    My guess is that most the travel enthusiasts who actually travel a lot, recognize this. Benny Lewis, a perpetual traveller, made his biggest changes not by changing destinations but by changing his attitude within one. He talks about how he turned around his language abilities by changing his attitude while he was already in Spain.


    Of course, there is a feedback loop between environment and self. We create many aspects of our environment due to our personality and habits, and simultaneously the environment changes our habits and personality slowly.


  • Anonymous

    But the environment can change people. Living in a battlefield or growing up in a repressive community that promotes ignorance will affect the individual. Sometimes a job is simply horrible and the climate can be dangerous.

    I think that what you are talking about here is expectations, in that case I agree with you. The world will always seem wrong when you have high expectations, and by decreasing them the acceptance and happiness go up.

    Moving to a different country or meeting a certain person CAN change who you are, given the right conditions.

  • A.H.A.

    Hehe, this sounds like one of those old school Brian Tracy audio programs which basically tell you to stop whining and get started on the hard work ahead :)

  • James

    Congratulations Scott, I think this is one of the finest posts you’ve ever written.

  • Elisa

    This is the first thing I’ve read on your site, it is now added to my Reader.

    I find the whole travel the world or you are not whole/worthy/etc so entirely frustrating. There are SOME that figure out more about themselves, grow as people, and kick even more ass because of it. Then there are some that are very obviously running away from some hard truths they don’t want to face.

    It’s easy to live a happy life when you know yourself. Or when you don’t want to. But admitting that you don’t and trying to do something about it? That is a reality most people can’t stand.

    Regardless of where you are when you do it.

  • Scott Young


    I carefully made that point at the end.

    My issue isn’t that environments have no impact on people, or that all jobs/places/relationships are equal. Obviously they are not.

    The key issue, for me, is that you begin with yourself. That way, changes in setting can be a catalyst for change or development. If you start with the external setting (particularly if it is something that won’t change soon) then it becomes an escape from doing the hard work on yourself.


  • Tony Hernandez

    Wonderful, wonderful, post. All your dissenters do not get the point. Sure, you can have a life changing experience by meeting different people, trying new things, and pushing yourself to try new things. But you can also do that at home. Travel can be a lazy man’s let’s-shake-my-life-up escape.

    This reminded me of another thing. I cannot tell you how many Americans move from city to city trying to find happiness. “I lived in New York for two years, then got tired of the hustle and bustle. Tried Boston. More of the same. Now moving to Austin, maybe that’ll be better…” No! The problem isn’t a city planner or how a downtown scene is. It’s you!

    Right now I have a buddy who’s pretty depressed and has all these people on his ear that he needs to move to Texas or California. The only problem is, he’s taking him with him. It’ll change nothing and may in-fact, reinforce what’s wrong.

    Also. Why got to exotic destination X to become a better person? Why not get to X as the best possible you already? Wouldn’t that make your travels even better? And consequently, make you grow even more as a person.

    I have a lot to fix with me. But at least I know the root of the problem and I’m on a path to repair it.

    Again. Great post. Here’s to the best me being made by me. Here’s to not having the environment change me, but being dynamically myself to change the environment around me.

  • Dormere

    Sometimes your work/environment can do harm to you, stuck in a job you hate and people that doesn’t lead to the same places you want to go with.. so you can’t really change yourself without changing those.. it’s only human to be totally influenced by those huge factors.

  • Pertunda


    I really really like this post. I’m graduating this Spring and am having a difficult time figuring out what I want to do. I realized that I have gone through the pattern of quitting jobs, relationships, people, and majors because I think it will change my life for the better. The reality is that the effect of changing my environment lasts for maybe a few weeks, then I find myself in the same situation or patterned behavior that I was in before. I agree with Darryl, do you have any suggestions on how to work on ourselves? Therapy has definitely helped me in the past, and I’ve read a few books that have helped me become aware of who I actually am.. But what do you suggest?

  • Scott Young


    It’s hard and it’s part introspective journey and taking action. I spend a great deal of time trying to isolate the beliefs, habits and behaviors I have that create my life, good or bad. Then it’s about patiently trying to shift those internal realities until they reflect the external reality.

    It’s not easy and it’s not straightforward. But it can only happen if you acknowledge the process.

  • David

    Fantastic post. Reminds me of Emersons essay “self-reliance”

  • fairykarma

    I agree with your sentiments on the issue. My disillusionment came to me when I found myself visiting websites by economic collapse “predictors” and a few men’s rights groups. The majority opinion among these fellows was that life in North America was becoming increasingly unbearable. I always find it odd when someone espouses moving to Latin America just because the women are nicer. Or so they say. What does that say about a person when they’re moving to a whole new country just because the women are nicer. I don’t even know what “nicer” means.

    However, it’s not because of their premises that I stopped going to such websites. It’s because they kept recycling the same material, that other places are better. I always felt like prodding these individuals about their private lives, their jobs, their habits. Because if you work a boring job, come home to soap operas, and TV dinners; and you go on to complain, how is Brazil going to change that? Day 1 through Day 30 might be interesting but what about Day 1000 when everything is mundane again?

    I’ve lived in the same town all my life. I’ve traveled abroad a few times and I’ve found it a big hassle. If I never travel again, I would not regret it. I remember T. Harv Eker saying in one of his tapes, that a person chooses what makes them happy. The nomad lifestyle is not for everyone. Some people, like myself, prefer to have a singular base and expand their influence from there.

    But then again, there are individuals who “escape” from the third world to North America and achieve much more here. But perhaps they would’ve been relatively successful in their former countries, it just would’ve taken them a bit longer to achieve their desired results.

    All joking aside, are you sure a Ferrari won’t solve at least 50% of everyone’s problems?

  • Gilmar


    you are correct.
    I’m brazilian, the “nicer” women concept is a lie.
    Because of our damn “carnaval”(I hate carnaval), people in other countries think that all women here walk naked every time. And this is not true.
    Like every country in the world, here exist nice women, hot women, romantic women or every type of women a man is looking for. And here soap operas are the most watched TV programs, like you said, here most people hate their jobs, come home, have dinner, watch soap operas and go to sleep. Everyday the same routine.

    Also, I’m the type of person who prefer to have a “singular base”. I live in the same town since I was born too. I’m not the “nomad-style” person.


    nice post, escaping is a temptation we have.
    One of my dreams was save money and travel to America, Canada, Europe, Japan and other countries. Thinking that just getting out of here will make me happier, but I realized that this is lie.
    I’m now on a crusade to become a better man. It’s hard to change, when you realize the wrong things you are doing, it hurts. The truth hurts a lot. Studying, learning new things, living by my ideals, only in this way I can become happy with myself, and becoming happy with myself, i can make others happy.

    Keep the nice posts, you can be sure that you are helping many people.
    Sorry if I writen some words wrong, i didn’t finish my english course yet, lol.

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  • Heather

    I LOVE what you have written!!!!!!!!!! This is so true!!!!!!!!!!! I’ve ALWAYS thought this, and no one else has EVER agreed!!!!!!!!!! I am one of those people who can live in the mundane and always see something special in it!!!!!! But others can’t!!!!!!!!

  • Heather

    Hi Pertunda,

    It’s probably too late and you’ll never read this. However, this may help others. I would find out – what are the same situations/patterned behaviours you get into? Find out – is it a result of the people you seem to attract? Is it a result of the situations you tend to attract? Is it you?

    I used to attract toxic people into my life (I didn’t even realise some of them WERE toxic at the time), and realise now, 60% of the time it’s them, they are just nasty people. The rest of the time, it had to do with me not being assertive enough or explaining myself properly and thoroughly. So find out! Think deeply about why you get into these situations, etc, and how to get out of them. Find other wise people and truly listen to them. Not a smartass. A wise person.

    You sound quite young, so I’d say maybe quite a lot of it has to do with not realising who you actually are, because you’re so young. I’d advise you to try everything and anything. Give them all a go. In this way, you find out what you actually enjoy and love and work from there. If there’s anything that you DO love, but think is silly, examine why. Loving things is never silly. You may not be able to make money from it, but it’s something to be really valued. Find out if there’s a slant on it that you’ll love that you can do as a career. If you love writing, you can be a copywriter/blogger in your spare time, etc.

    And think about it – what IS your idea of a “better life”? Work from there. Is it realistic? Even fun? Most people’s ideas of a “better life” are simply what has been drummed into them in the media – not doing anything in the sun. Boring! A “better life” for many sensible people is one that allows them to contribute to society, to have healthy relationships with loved ones, and to have enough money to save for the future. Examine your idea of the “better life”. And understand what it means to you, and if it’s even a good idea, your “better life”.