The hardest parts are often unknown
It actually took me a little while to warm up to Anthony Bourdain.
His No B.S. approach rubbed me the wrong way on some of the first few episodes of No Reservations I saw. That impression would change quite a bit over time, though. It’s impossible to have the same set of interests as I do without developing a sense of respect for Bourdain.
My long-time default answer, whenever somebody asks me what my dream job is, is to say that I’d want either a travel show on the Food Network or a food show on the Travel Channel. Even after I’ve essentially landed at my ideal job, I still give that answer. Blending the worlds of food and travel and storytelling is my idea of a great time, and it’s impossible to do that without understanding that nobody has done it quite as definitively as Anthony Bourdain. His career really took off as a writer, and that’s something that adds an extra layer of connection for me. He simply pursued what he loved and excelled at, and continued to let that take him from one remarkable project to the next.
The thing that I came to ultimately appreciate the most about Bourdain was that he told stories that weren’t meant to exoticize the places he visited. He came to humanize them. By showing how much we share in the ways we gather and exchange bits of life over food, he helped paint a picture of a world where we have more in common than we assume. That was the story he told. He went to parts unknown and made them less scary.
Hearing the way Salvadorians, Malaysians, Filipinos, Mexicans, and so on, rave about Anthony Bourdain’s visit to their homelands makes me happy. He presented places that are often looked at as threatening and portrayed them in a positive way that made the locals proud. If he was just a guy who got to travel everywhere and eat great food, he’d be pretty easy to dislike. He used his platform to help us connect with others, however, and that’s what made him such a champ.
When I learned that he took his own life on Friday morning, it was quite the loss.
Talking to a number of different people about Anthony Bourdain over the weekend was full of guesses and hypotheses about what could’ve led somebody who seemed to be the actual most interesting man in the world to want to end it all.
Didn’t he have as good of a life as you could want? I heard somebody speculate. Was he just so overburdened and stressed with having to keep up with all his projects? Did he feel like there was nothing left for him to do?
In the end, I don’t think it does us much good to speculate. What happened is simply sad. He was fighting something much darker than any of us realized from on screen. Bourdain himself once eerily stated “I have the best job in the world. If I’m unhappy, it’s a failure of the imagination."
But, I do think you can have the best job in the world and be unhappy. You can be in the best relationship on Earth and still be lonely. You can change the world and still feel unfulfilled.
I know this from experience. When I look at my life right now, I have everything that a version of myself four years ago would have dreamed of. I get to work full time in a field that I love, practicing storytelling to help people all around the world. I get more opportunities to travel than I would’ve thought. I’m happily married and learning new things.
At the same time, some stretches of the past couple months have been surprisingly lonely. There were moments where I wondered if the most exciting seasons of my life were behind me.
Deep down, I know those things probably aren’t as true or daunting as they can feel at 1 AM. But feelings are tricky.
You can have what seems like the best life, and still struggle to find happiness and peace.
Emotions don’t flow as logically as we’d like to think they do. Sometimes you go through hell but find a level of resilience that makes no sense. Other times, you may find it impossible to feel happy despite having everything go right.
We have a lot of false beliefs about how happiness is supposed to work. Like it’s an equation. Check all the right boxes and you’ll be happy. Or that if you have everything going right for you, then you’re supposed to feel happy.
We also have a lot of false beliefs about how sadness works too. Like it’s off limits. Like it’s an indicator of failure.
The truth is, happiness and sadness and anxiety and peace are all much more complicated than that. They all have a purpose. They have spiritual components, chemical components, and circumstantial components.
All of us are going to struggle with these things at some point. 1 in 5 of us will struggle in a more severe, formalized way, but we’ll all struggle.
"The reality is that we probably have a lot in common with what our friends and colleagues and neighbors are dealing with. So I’m not saying everyone should share all their deepest secrets — not everything should be public and it’s every person’s choice. But creating a better environment for talking about mental health … that’s where we need to get to."
Where is there to actually go from here?
Unfortunately, in situations like these, there really isn’t much to be said or done that will make things better. The most redemptive thing that can come about is to remember some important truths that help us live better lives for each other.
We need to remember that no matter how happy, successful, or fulfilled a person might seem, they can be struggling with something so dark we’d never understand.
We need to remember that all of us will struggle at some point. The more open we are to sharing each others burdens, the safer the world becomes.
We need to remember that even in a great life, each day gives us the choice of whether we’ll listen to doubts and lies, or lean into hope.
“That’s enlightenment enough - to know there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”