A few months back, I was told by a few people to take a holiday. Without any real plan, I booked flights to San Francisco and LA. Having never traveled to the US before, I wasn’t sure what to expect or how the country would make me feel at the end of my trip.
When I arrived in downtown San Francisco, the city felt strangely like Melbourne where I’m from. On the first day, I hired a bike and rode across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was only once I got near the coastline that the city felt very different.
The Golden Gate Bridge is work of art and no words can describe it. It’s simply beautiful and a marvel of modern day engineering. Getting to go over the bridge is an experience in itself. All of a sudden, all your worries and problems seem so far away, and all that matters is the current moment.
When I arrived on the other side of the bridge, I took a ferry back past Alcatraz which was a strange and eerie contrast. Everyone asked me why I never bothered to visit the island; the reason was that I don’t believe in celebrating criminal activity or spending time in dark places like a prison.
Our world is shaped by the things we choose to surround ourself with, and prison shouldn’t be one of those things. The more I explored San Fran, the greater my love for Australia became. It’s easy to think that the grass is always greener, but it’s not. As it turns out, I already live in one of the greatest cities in the world.
Below are the 5 things that changed my perspective after visiting the US:
1. Whenever there is hype beware (Silicon Valley)
For the last few years, everyone has told me how magical Silicon Valley is. I decided on this trip to find out for myself. When I arrived in Silicon Valley, it looked like any other friendly neighborhood. I thought I must have been not quite where the action was.
After hopping in an Uber, I drove through the streets into the so-called hotspots. What I saw was normal houses, next to traditional business parks that happened to have the world’s most famous tech logos stuck to the side of the building.
I gazed in wondering what magic was occurring inside and what the secret cool aid was that they were all drinking. Thankfully, I got my chance to get behind the closed doors and the private security that surround these buildings like a prison.
Don’t get me wrong; Silicon Valley creates some amazing things in our world, but these same ideas, products, and services can be created anywhere across the globe. The awesomeness that is created is not just possible in Silicon Valley; it’s possible anywhere. Silicon Valley just has a high concentration of very cool companies in one place.
2. San Fran business culture is phenomenal
There was definitely something in the water as I visited each of the famous San Fran companies such as Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. If I had to link this good feeling to anything, I would say it’s probably that the employees feel they’re changing the world.
What they’re working on is the stuff of dreams, and they know it. It’s not about being better than each other but it’s about working together to do seriously cool stuff. There is no real sense of ownership, and you’re free to go off and try out an idea.
“Failure is celebrated, and the only must is innovation”
If your business is not growing, it’s dying in San Fran. Once high-growth products like Google Adwords are begin replaced, and nobody is negative about that fact.
Declining performance in certain products is expected, and as long as you’re building the next big thing, then it’s fine. San Fran isn’t about the location itself; it’s about the people who live and work there. The attitude of “anything is possible” is infectious.
The perceived downside to this attitude is that San Fran is full of elitist snobs that think they’re better than everyone else. I for one didn’t get a whiff of this vibe and think that this idea is more of a scarcity / jealousy mindset than anything else.
3. Beauty is all around us
One of my friends in San Fran commented that I was always making observations about the simplest things that he never notices. The way the traffic lights change, the way the trams look – everything was beautiful to me.
As soon as I returned home, the beauty of these same basic things was all of a sudden ignored again. I learned that if you see the beauty not just when you are in a new country, but when you are home, your perspective begins to change.
You find the good in life’s small pleasures, and your mind stops racing ahead for the next bit of technological dopamine. It still bothers me how much I look at my phone hoping for the little red notification to appear.
4. Homelessness is psychological
I was told to expect lots of homelessness, but the size of the problem was bigger than I imagined. I’ve seen homelessness before and got used to it. In San Fran, it wasn’t just that there were people who didn’t have a home; they were also mentally ill and shouted at people for no reason.
The problem is so big that it’s hard to ignore. Everywhere you go, you can’t avoid the issue. I found this to be a good thing because it taught me that problems shouldn’t be ignored, they should be solved. Everything I brought in San Fran had an extra tax. Initially, I had no idea why the advertised price always varied from what you paid until I asked (stupid me).
The extra tax was supposed to help the homeless people. I couldn’t see any sign of them being helped. It felt more like they were being ignored in the hope that they would take their problems elsewhere.
The lesson I learnt was that the homeless don’t need our money; they need psychological assistance if we really want to make a difference.
5. Being out of our comfort zone is a must
San Fran taught me that when I’m out of my comfort zone, I learn the most. It’s a nice feeling to have no idea where you’re going and to get lost once in a while. It’s funny too when you think that your destination is not far away until you discover how hilly San Fran can be in some parts.
Like with any downside, the upside was I got some much-needed exercise. I’m like a kid in a new city because I love to map things out in my mind and memorise where everything is. Within a few days, people were asking me for directions because they thought I was a local.
“Our comfort zone is where we are safe in the womb of life. Our real self is everything beyond that” – James Altucher
Strangely enough, I was able to tell them where to go. Pushing beyond our comfort zone allows us to see the world in a different way and interact with new kinds of people. I met many interesting characters during my travels that shared ideas with me that will forever change me.
The rush of excitement I got when I learned where the world was heading through technology is something that is hard to forget. Seeing people’s passion for changing the world one step at a time is the type of experience I was hoping to have from the start. Anything is possible as long as we collaborate and believe in humankind.