Have you ever run into someone right after a vacation who didn’t realize you had ever left?
This happened to me the other day. I ran into a colleague who I hadn’t seen in over a month. We dived into the standard Midwestern: “Hey, how are ya? How ya been?” but instead of responding with the regular, “Good, good,” I replied that I was jet-lagged.
Oh yeah? Did you go on a trip?
Yep. Just got back from Italy.
For two-and-a-half weeks, my wife and I were 5,000+ miles away, traveling from Rome to Florence to Cinque Terre. And, for as far away from Chicago as I felt that we were, I realized—at least to this co-worker—my absence was no different than had I been in one of the other office buildings. They were Here. I was There.
After we walked our separate ways, I had the same dazed look on my face as a college freshman who just heard the universe is still expanding. I thought to myself, “There are really only two places in the world: Here or There.”
The reality is we spend most of our time Here, but we love There. Just listen to the way people say Here. It’s always aggressive and desperate. I’m dyin’ here! Get me outta here! There’s an exhaustion with Here. Oh, here we go again. Here, just listen to me.
How about the world’s most famous and effective pickup line: Hey, let’s get out of here. Why does it work? Because everyone wants to get out of a Here. Or listen to the lady down the street pleading to her dog: “Here, boy, here. Here!” We’re begging because even a dog doesn’t want to come to a Here.
Compare it to There. “Hey, whatcha guys doing over there?” “What’s going on over there?” “Look, over there!” There’s hope. There’s mystery. There’s even comfort. There, there, everything’s gonna be alright.
A There is inspiring. How did we rally millions of Americans to fight in a giant war? Start the music: “Over THERE! Over THERE!” People instinctively started marching.
When somebody uses the cliché, “It’s neither here nor there,” I couldn’t disagree more. It’s ONLY Here or There. That’s it! There are no other options. The wisest person in the world is the operator who answers the phone, and when you ask, “Is Robert in today?” they reply, “Nope. He’s not Here.” They don’t have to say where he is. Don’t have to distinguish if he’s on a trip, if he’s sick, or if he’s out playing golf. He’s just. Not. Here.
But we can’t get enough of There. So, we travel. We go all around the world. Then we come back Here and sit at a table with a group of friends and talk about our favorite trips. We were in Italy. Oh my gosh, I wanna go to Italy so bad. We were in Japan. Oh, I’d love to see Japan. We did two weeks in Paris. Oh, Paris, that’s on our bucket list for sure.
I would argue there is no difference between these destinations to someone who is Here. It’s just a different There. Eat new food. See new things. Meet new people. But, at its core, the trip is fun because you’ve escaped a Here. You could get the same thrill by taking a sick day. Or going to an appointment. Like, have you ever taken a random Wednesday off of work? You’re the happiest person in the world. And all you did was go to the dentist! But you broke the routine. Switched things up from a Here to a There. And it didn’t cost thousands of dollars.
There is also this assumption that people over There have it better than us. Could you imagine living over There? But, to them, it’s a Here. Nobody over there is saying, “What do you wanna do tonight?” “Oh, I dunno, I figured I’d go stare at the Colosseum for a couple of hours, just really take it in.”
No, they probably sit down on a couch and watch Netflix. Or pull out their phones. Or say, “Man, there’s nothing to do around Here.”
Because that’s what you do when it’s a Here. On our trip, I saw plenty of Italians wearing New York Yankees hats or Los Angeles Lakers t-shirts. One guy was rocking an old Chicago Bulls jersey. To them, we are their elusive There. They fantasize about going to an exotic place in the United States. They sit down, look at a map, and say, “Ah, if only I could go and visit the Midwest. I just wanna see Illinois.”
No matter where you are in the world, every location has its regular mundane moments of Here.
So yes, there’s amazing homemade pizza in Italy, but there’s also a guy eating a thing of pizza-flavored Pringles.
Yes, the sites are incredible, but there’s also a girl sitting behind the counter looking at Pokémon Go.
And yes, it was the most relaxing few weeks of me and Ashley’s life, but in one of our most serene moments of There, we saw a family of four sitting at a table next to us going through a universal Here moment.
The teenage daughter had her arms crossed in front of her chest. The mom took away her phone. The teenager yelled and started to cry. The dad said something in Italian that I couldn’t understand, but was pretty sure it translated to, “Hey, don’t talk to your mother that way.” The younger sister chimed in, antagonizing the older sister the same way a younger sibling would in Chicago, in Paris, in Tokyo, and yes, in Italy too.
To us, we were in paradise. To them, it was anything but.
There is no guarantee you can always escape from a Here; even on vacation. Even thousands of miles away from home. Here or There are as much physical places as they are a mindset.
It all starts before the trip with any of your friends who have been to the same There. The first thing they do: make a list. Oh, you’ve gotta go here, and here, and here. There is so much pressure to see the same sites, do what they did, you run the risk of duplicating their entire trip. This is why so many people who visit New York City come back with the same stories about seeing the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Same thing in Rome with the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and The Pantheon. But, if you don’t see those things, there’s too much guilt. You went all the way over THERE and didn’t see/do/experience this??
So, you compile your lists from friends and family. Lists from Tripadvisor. Lists from Rick Steves. Here. Here. Here. You pack your suitcases. You’re ready to go. You’re heading out of the office when someone asks, not even asks, but confirms you’ll be posting your stories on Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Not after your trip is finished, but during. You must document your There in real time.
You get on the plane. Land. Hop in the taxi. After the jetlag wears off, there’s this new, unfamiliar feeling that starts to take over your body. All of the stress, all of the deadlines, all of the day-to-day grind is gone. You have no alarm clocks. No agenda. No responsibilities. The feeling of a There has now settled deep into your bones. Wait, is this... pure joy? Is this what it feels like to be... relaxed?
But Here is never far away. It whispers through your phone. Pssst, over here. Yeah, come here for a second. Check your emails. Here, check your texts. Give Instagram a few scrolls, will ya? It won’t hurt.
In Italy, I tried to keep the Here out of my There, and I’m happy to say I only lost a couple of times. For most of the trip, I was off the grid. Living in the moment. Like the time we were walking around St. Mark’s Square in Venice. I had a fresh calzone in hand and was staring off in the distance at the bell tower when out of nowhere a massive seagull—who could’ve won any arm-wrestling contest—swooped in, plucked the calzone right out of my hand. He landed ten feet away and, in seconds, twenty other seagulls joined him, completely devouring my lunch. Not a crumb left behind. Ashley burst into laughter. I was still in shellshock; like a little kid losing an ice cream cone. “Hey, that was mine.” A year later, 10 years later, when we’re telling friends about our time over There, the Venice story isn’t complete without the great calzone heist of St. Mark’s Square.
Or the first night we were in Florence walking down Via dei Calzaiuoli, a street name you don’t really find around Here. Ashley and I were walking hand in hand passing by all of these cool little shops. And everything smells incredible in Florence. Back home, I don’t even have a sense of smell. Just a Midwestern stuffy nose. But over There, I’ve got the nose of a sommelier or like the co-worker who’s always first to notice a subtle fart.
We looked to our right and there was the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Somehow this massive, beautiful, almost 600-year-old church sneaks up on you. Immediately puts you at a loss for words. I had an English professor who used to say, “When you become a writer, you officially give up the right to use the expression, ‘Words can’t describe this,’” but when you’re looking up at the front of the cathedral or, even more so, the Duomo behind it, I don’t know what else there is to say. Maybe this is the feeling we should aim for; to be so consumed by There, that there aren’t any words for it.
And of course, a few moments later, I reached for the iPhone. Started taking photos and videos and selfies like everyone else in front of the old Cathedral. But for that brief moment, craning my neck, looking up at those two masterpieces, I was completely There.
Did I need to go 5,000 miles away to have this type of moment? I joked that it’s no different than taking a random Wednesday off of work, but that’s not true at all. It was a hundred times better. And the sites were part of it. The food helped. The wine helped too.
But maybe, just as much of a factor as all of the things above was the decision to be fully There. Accepting that Here could wait.
And the more I thought about it, the more I continue to think about it, the more I’m convinced that if there are only two places in the world—Here or There—we should go ahead and experience the one where we’re at.
Work Life Balance
This is the opening chapter of the new book "Here or There." Stay tuned for more chapters or email firstname.lastname@example.org to order the full book.