Recently an acquaintance connected self-esteem & travel in a way that startled me out of any words. “You seem to get a lot of self-esteem out of all your traveling.” I guess my silence and blank stare meant I’d been caught like a hare in this acute analysis, so the acquaintance followed up with this clincher. “Well, I certainly don’t have the money to travel like you do.” A new layer of assumptions, and I still didn’t have any words. Maybe I appeared to be hopeless, because I soon heard the voice opining to someone else on the most successful way to harvest spring greens.
What I didn’t say was this:
Self-esteem comes from successfully doing a hard thing.
Nothing else produces self-esteem.
Praise and criticism
I can’t get self-esteem from the praise of a child, a spouse, a friend, or a critic. In the first place, I have to believe the praise before it has any effect on me at all. Same thing with criticism. I have to believe it in order for it to have any effect on me either for good or for ill. Believing the words might make me feel temporarily happy or sad. But neither praise nor criticism has anything to do with what I believe about myself. If I haven’t actually done anything, my self-esteem isn’t involved.
Conversely, if I try and fail, try and fail, try and fail, there’s a chance my self-esteem could go into shock. (There’s also a good chance I’d come up with a success after trying that much! Or I’d learn to calculate the nature of success in another way.)
I kept working with my friend’s idea that self-esteem can be enhanced by travel, trying to see things her way. If your self-esteem intersects with travel at all, it means you’ve overcome something very difficult about travel.
What is the difficulty?
Suppose you have a physical problem that makes walking miserable. Then traveling to a state park and taking a three-mile hike would be a difficult thing. If you succeed in doing it, your self-esteem would probably be enhanced.
Or, what if you wanted to take a couple of your grown children or grandchildren on a trip. Maybe your worry is that you won’t be able to physically keep up with the younger people. If you exercise diligently for six months and discover during the trip that you’re able to maintain the pace, then you’d probably experience enhanced self-esteem.
Or, suppose you desperately want to see a foreign country but have a fear of flying. If you succeed in the complicated task of figuring out a land-and-sea-route, and then take the trip to prove your plans were good, then yes, your self-esteem would likely be enhanced.
The underlying assumptions
To go back to the comments of that acquaintance of mine, some of the underlying assumptions of the two statements bear examining. Travel takes a lot of money. Luxuries make a person happy. Hence, lavishing a luxury on yourself improves your self-esteem. Lots of errors in reasoning, there. (I could begin with the fact that lots of ways to travel aren’t all that expensive, but it seems fairly self-evident.)
I wish I had directly addressed the point instead of standing there blank and silent. It would have helped if I had smiled and said, “If financing a trip is the difficult part of travel for you, and if you were to succeed in gathering the funds, then definitely your self-esteem would be enhanced by travel. If something else is the difficult part of travel for you, having the money won’t make much difference in how you feel about yourself.”
Travel = Beauty + Excitement
For me, travel combines beauty and excitement. Seeing beauty of all kinds throughout the world is a pleasure, a joy. It has nothing to do with self-esteem because I didn’t create the beauty. It simply exists. Whether one can see it is the question.
Excitement on the other hand, comes with the fear of failure. If I succeed in whatever challenges the trip brings and overcome my fears, then I grant the argument this much–my self-esteem might be reinforced a little.