It all seems the same

by Steve Brock on February 14, 2014

I have this friend whose taste in music pretty much coincides with the popularity of bell bottoms and the culturally appropriate usage of the word, “Groovy.”

With the exception of maybe a few later Neil Young and Grateful Dead albums, his perception is that nothing good in music has been created post Watergate.

The funny thing is, when I play some more recent albums for him, he doesn’t say, “I don’t like that.” Instead, he condemns the current music with a casual, “It all seems the same.” He detects – or claims to – no discernible difference between The Black Keys, Mumford and Sons, Switchfoot and Vampire Weekend. I guess they all have male singers and guitars, ergo they all sound the same.


I find it much easier to be baffled by my friend’s rather limited taste in music than to examine areas of my own life, but alas, I too have plenty of closed doors when it comes to the unfamiliar. I once read an art history book which captured it best. The author commented on how most people, when confronted with contemporary art reply, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” The author noted that a more accurate statement would be, “I don’t know art, but I like what I know.”

We’re all that way to varying. We like the familiar. How much we’re willing to embrace something new has to do with our sense of openness, or, as psychologists call it, our “openness to experience.” As Wikipedia defines it, openness to experience “involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity.” To me, it’s really about how willing you are to try something new.

Some people are always open. Others, rarely so. The majority of us are somewhere in the middle. When it comes to popular music, my friend is about as open as an NSA report.

OpennessSo what about you? How open are you to listening to new music? Trying new food? Visiting new places? Meeting people who may be very different from you?

Why it matters is this: Without being open to the new, you may never discover what God put you on this planet not just to accomplish, but to enjoy. That may sound like a grandiose statement, but I think it’s true. I think a lot of people  go through life and miss their true lives by not being willing to stretch beyond the familiar.

What’s the number one regret people in their later years of life have? That they didn’t take more risks. They didn’t try new things.

Don’t wait until you’re too old to try something new. Practice openness. Do something different this week, whether it is taking an alternative route to work or school, trying a new dish, listening to a new music station or talking to a stranger. Just try it. Be open.

Because when you do, you may find something very curious about your life.

It doesn’t seem the same.

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Driving in Paris

by Steve Brock on July 30, 2013

View from the top of the Arc de TriompheDon’t drive in Paris.

That’s the advice we had from every guidebook, travel site and traveler’s forum we read before heading to the City of Lights this summer. Whatever you do, they say, don’t drive in Paris, France. Why?

  •  The traffic is horrible (true, but so is it where I live and grew up).
  •  There are scooters and motorcycles cutting in and out all over the place (true, but patience and a car with good visibility help overcome that).
  • Paris is a warren of one-way streets built for horses, not cars (true, in certain areas like the Latin Quarter but the main streets are quite wide and modern).
  • You’ll never find parking (pretty true, but for us, we found a garage, parked our car there for the entire three days we were in Paris and used the metro or our feet to get around town).
  • The drivers are incredibly aggressive (true, but they are consistent and I’ll take on a good, aggressive driver any day over a wishy-washy one who speeds up and slows down for no apparent reason).

So let me amend the advice of others to say this:

Don’t drive in Paris…alone.

I was with my family and my 18-year-old son, Sumner, served as navigator. Armed with directions and most of all, my smart phone with Google maps, he guided me into and out of Paris like a charm. We even made it around the Arc de Triumph.

If you’ve not been to Paris, you may not realize what a triumph that feat was. One guidebook even suggested visiting the Arc de Triomphe, (Napoleon’s enormous victory arch to himself) surrounded by Place Charles de Gaulle (a traffic circle of equally dramatic proportions) just to watch the fights between drivers and the horrendous traffic jams during rush hour (the photo above was taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe at midday during “light” traffic).

For us, however, it was almost surreal. When it was time to leave Paris, we departed from our apartment near the Eiffel Tower, fetched our garaged car and prayed for safety. We crossed the River Seine and, because it was mid-morning, encountered relatively light traffic as we plodded up the famed Champs Elysees (the street shown in the photo). And then, almost before we were expecting it, we were in…and through…the circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

It was, as my wife noted, like Moses parting the Red Sea. We entered one end of the circle in a miraculous break in traffic. As we did a half orbit of the Arc de Triomphe, the cars to our right were held back from entering by a nicely timed red light. Thus, we scooted in one end and out the other without a loss of speed like a leaf floating on a slippery current.

Could I have done all that on my own? Maybe, but with greater stress. Having Sumner’s excellent navigation assistance and God’s grace to get us through it all made all the difference. Plus, having my whole family with me turned it from a white-knuckle act of endurance into a shared experience and story.

You’ve probably already figured out the life metaphor implicit here. But it was a great tangible reminder to me of how we’re better off together than when we try and do something alone. The results – and the experience itself – improve when we involve others, rely on them and make them part of the adventure.

So if you’re ever in Paris with a car, it’s OK to drive there if you have to.

Just don’t do it alone.

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Conflict, story and trips that matter

by Steve Brock on March 28, 2013

As we saw last time, one of the five P’s of good storytelling is Problem or conflict. No conflict, no tension. No tension, no interest.

Travel and adventureEver tell of an experience on a trip that was fascinating to you, but you can see your audience looking at their watches long before you’re done even describing the ride from your house to the airport? For many of us, our trip stories don’t translate well because the conflict or problem isn’t clear…or isn’t there.

The “challenge” may be as benign as finding something interesting to see in a new city or discovering a decent restaurant there. That may have been a real quest for you at the time, but the story usually comes out something like, “We were hungry so we looked for this place some other travelers had told us about. We couldn’t find the street initially (oooh, real suspense!), but eventually we did and it was the most amazing meal of our trip.” How very nice.

Another reason our stories don’t work for others isn’t just because we don’t translate the challenge or conflict into a narrative they can appreciate. It’s because there is no challenge or conflict. Most of us, myself included, go to great lengths to ensure a hassle-free trip. We count it a success when we make all our connections, when no one gets sick, when nothing is stolen or lost, when the water is drinkable and the roads passable, when the wifi works well and our bargaining at the market works even better and when the whole journey goes as planned. Woo hoo for us!

But pretty boring for anyone hearing our tale.

I like the smooth trip and believe there will always be a place for those kinds of journeys. They just don’t make for great stories. I recall an interview with travel writer Paul Theroux who is famous for traveling light and alone to difficult places. Asked if he ever travels with his wife, he replied that he does and that they had been on a safari together not long before the interview. Theroux went on to explain that it was a wonderful trip… but there was simply nothing to write about.

Where there is no conflict, there is likely, no story.

Every time I find myself gravitating toward the easy trip, I do one of two things. Usually, I heed its Siren’s call and rationalize that this time, I deserve a break. A nice, comfortable trip will do just fine. Vacation is hard-earned, so why add more stress, right?

But then, I remember.

I think about the stories – the good ones – and the trips they represent. The ones that mattered, to others and to me. The ones where a slight shift in outcomes would have meant I wouldn’t be here to write this. The ones that scared the you-know- what out of me at the time but proved transformative. The ones that cost me something…and in turn gave me more than I can ever describe.

Sometimes the only thing that shakes me out of my need for the comfortable trip is to recall the power of the uncomfortable ones. And when I do, conflict, challenges and adventure aren’t things I seek to avoid. They become part of my destination.

And maybe yours as well.

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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Lesson 1

by Steve Brock October 2, 2012

In the first of five life lessons from mountain biking we learn that sometimes, going faster – and taking risks – can be the safest approach to biking, travel…or life.

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“…notstop looking”

by Steve Brock August 28, 2012

The movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” provides some amazing insights on how to travel; both through the world and through our pain.

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Gratitude and the slippery slope – Part 2

by Steve Brock June 6, 2012

Big surprise: I didn’t die on the icy trail to Annette Lake. But I did remember, then forget, then remember again the reason why I came there.

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by Steve Brock February 21, 2012

What can an animal that exhibits traits of a cat, a cow, a beaver and rarely, a dog teach us about meaningful travel? More than you might think.

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