Walking back from class through the narrow Krakow streets, I pondered what I would do for the weekend. With nothing immediately planned and travel on my mind, I decided to visit the main train station near my home and buy the cheapest non-Polish bus ticket that was available. Lviv, Ukraine for $13? Done.
After a couple hours and packing, I returned to the bus station. Surrounded by half-drunken Poles and Ukrainians, I boarded the bus and prepared for what most surely would be the most bizarre and gratifying validation that spontaneity will give you the best memories of your life.
The way I could tell I was in Ukraine was by the roads. As soon as we left the European Union, all bets were off on the pavement. After I bounced up and down for about an hour, I finally reached the bus station. It was dingy, there were stray dogs, it was nowhere near the main city of Lviv, I didn’t speak Ukrainian or Russian, and nobody spoke English. I tried to buy a ticket back for the end of the weekend, but I had no luck without grivnas. A friendly looking Ukrainian spotted my trouble, asked if I needed help, and I explained the situation. He exchanged the money and we chatted a bit. As he spoke English with me, we walked to the bus I had just exited where a colleague of his was pulling out smuggled car parts from the bottom of the bus. Inquisitive as always, I asked what was going on and got the full story – smuggle car parts out of the European Union, send alcohol and cigarettes in. The trip had started well.
In the afternoon, I met up with him again and we got on a bus. It was cramped and smelly, but we still managed to converse. After an hour bus ride through some shady areas of Lviv, we arrived at a block of flats. Wondering whether this might be my last day on Earth, I cautiously followed into his home.
Shady Deals and Soccer Hooligans
Luckily, his home was filled with a gracious father, younger brother, and a never ending supply of food and drink offers. We took the bus another hour back downtown in order to “meet a friend”. Now, meeting new people has never bothered me, but given the already ominous smuggling going on, I was a bit hesitant when a black tinted vehicle pulled up in front of us.
We both got in the backseat and I stayed quiet. My new found friend spoke Ukrainian to the driver, handed him a brown bag, and got something in return. They spoke a few minutes longer, the driver asked if I liked McDonalds, and then we got out of the car.
As my mind shifted back and forth from fear to excitement a yelling mob appeared in the streets and overtook us as we exited the car. With little experience with crazed Eastern European soccer hooligans, I was baffled until my friend explained what was going on. I captured a brief video for your enjoyment:
For the next few hours, things relaxed a bit. We avoided all shady deals and other similar ridiculousness as we visited some of the attractions of Lviv at night. It was a good time to be sure, but it wasn’t long before I was yet again faced with a thrilling story.
Corruption? That’s the Norm
Sitting down for dinner was another treat for my sheltered American mind. After a few beers, we started talking about the smuggling he was doing with the busses. Friends started arriving and discussing corruption in their country. The consensus was: corruption is the norm. It wasn’t until I realized that two members of our dinner party were local politicians, did I realize how amazing the conversation was. I learned this tidbit when one of them pointed to an opposition party politician who was at the same restaurant enjoying a beer outside. Needless to say, the first day and the trip as a whole ended very well.
Routine and Your Comfort Zone
Everybody loves routine to some extent because it fosters a sense of safety and comfort. It’s natural for humans to want to maintain within a certain comfort zone. In many cases it is even good to have a routine. If you want to maintain a good sleep schedule you might decide to sleep at the same time very night. Some people wake up at the same time in order to get to work early and be productive. Others make sure to eat the same healthy foods every day. Routine is not, in itself, a bad thing.
But when it prevents you from exploring and growing, it is extremely detrimental. Most people do not maintain a balance of routine and spontaneity and this results in little growth, less fulfillment, and ultimately less happiness.
From an evolutionary perspective, you’re fighting a losing battle. Your brain loves routine. Your brain craves it. Routine signifies safety and that is ultimately what your brain is programmed to search for. So long as you can produce a couple of children and pass along your DNA, your brain is happy. Your aspirations to explore, grow as a person, succeed, or be happy are meaningless to thousands of years of evolution. Nonetheless, if you maintain the willpower to break out of your comfort zone a little bit each day, you will condition your brain to realize there is nothing to fear. Then, you can meet smugglers, corrupt politicians, and have the time of your life.