Jean Béliveau decided that his 45th birthday would be a very memorable one. He went for a LONG walk around the world, only to return back home 11 years later. After his business closed, he went through a mid life crisis. Jean felt he needed to escape from himself. Leaving his wife and family behind, he bought a buggy, made an itinerary on a world map and walked 75,000 km around the world through 64 countries.
In this interview, I had the honor of talking to Jean about his journey, his challenges and life lessons.
Meet Jean Béliveau.
Listen to the interview of the 11-year walk around the world:
And here’s the text version:
Antonia: Jean, last year you came back home to Montreal after having accomplished an amazing and challenging mission: 11-year walk around the world. What made you decide to do this?
Jean Béliveau: There were two factors that triggered my decision. You remember we had an ice storm in the province of Quebec in 1998? It was the beginning of a tragedy in my life. First, because of the damages from the storm and losing power for weeks, we closed the business. Second, I went through a mid-life crisis.
Everything fell apart, my business and mostly my mental health. It resulted in my depression.
So, I began training to improve my health. Both mental and physical health.
Antonia: Jean, your business, how long did you have it before it closed?
Jean Béliveau: About ten years. The biggest tragedy in that business was not really the ice storm. Yes, it had an impact, but really, it was myself. I met with an agent to discuss applying for a Federal and Provincial Grant Program to keep the business. After a while, my bank manager said, “Jean, I’m looking at you, you seem very tired and I’m not sure that you will be able to manage a business. What do you think if we keep it closed?” I said, “Oh yeah, thank you, Michel.”
It was a sort of a freedom for me. Soon afterward, my wife got a job in Montreal so, we moved there. I started running every day and worked for other companies, but still, I was not happy. One day, on one of my runs, I went over the Jacques-Cartier Bridge in Montreal.
Looking out at the city, I started reflecting about how I was throwing my life away.
Maybe I had a good shot of adrenaline, I don’t know, but, I had a thought, “Maybe I could go far away like this. Why not Mexico? Maybe the rest of the world?” So I made an itinerary on a world map, crossing the five big continents and thought, “I could do it.”
I felt a force, a strength inside of me. I decided, “I will go.”
I announced it to Luce, my wife, just three weeks and half before leaving. It had been a secret kept inside of me for eight months.
It was during breakfast and she was looking at me seriously and dramatically.
Luce: “How are you going to do this?”
Jean: “I will push a buggy and ask for hospitality.”
Luce: “Will you come home some times?”
Jean: “No, but you can come and meet me.” (So she came every year about 3 weeks per year, sort of a honeymoon)
Luce: “Is it finished between us?”
Jean: “No, no, I love you, but…”
That moment was very special because I thought she would say, “You go your way, I’ll go mine.” So I took a big risk. But, she took a big risk in saying that we would try.
She suggested that I do this for peace of the children.
So, my goal was to walk around the world to promote “Peace and non-violence for the profit of the children of the world.”
Antonia: During those eight months of secrecy, were you preparing for the journey?
Jean Béliveau: Yeah but, it was more physically because I followed a physical training. I did not really prepare much for the travel. I read about the countries. Didn’t really know about the visas. I went to see other organizations about doing environmental work, but they all said no.
Although all my requests had been refused, I decided I would go anyway. I was not nearly prepared for the walk, as much as I was decided to do it.
I bought a tent and a small buggy just a few days before starting my journey. I didn’t even try pitching my tent or checking the other stuff. I took knives and forks from the kitchen, filled up the buggy with my sleeping bag, tent and other basic stuff. Nothing else.
Antonia: That’s amazing Jean. You were just decided to do it regardless of not being fully prepared because you didn’t know what to expect along the way, right?
Jean Béliveau: Absolutely. It was dramatic for me, I had to go, see who I was and where I was in my life. I had to escape something in my life. Maybe escape the bad guy that I was. The values of life.
We are in a sort of world where we focus on values that we don’t really need.
Like materialistic values, we need to have more than the others have. Competing with each other over the things we own. We forget about love and sharing, something that we cannot touch. That’s why I was lost inside of me. It was in Chile, when I was going to the passeo Cristo Redentor that I met a guy who told me, “Jean you escaped your life, you escaped yourself”.
“Oh yeah, you’re right. But, it was in order to find myself on the way.”
Antonia: At some point, you wanted to give up and go back home. What kept you going?
Jean Béliveau: Ah wow, that’s a good question. What kept me going? I was a failure in my previous life. I had to go back with something in my hands.
It’s natural, sometimes, even with a strong objective we want to break, we are tired and ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?”
I was in Ethiopia, in the middle of Africa, a culture not easy to adapt to. Even if they are poor, they are very proud. If they don’t like you, they push you away. It was a hard time for me. So I wanted to quit. I wrote an email to my wife,
“I want to go back home. I can’t handle these strong culture shocks anymore.”
When I arrived at my next destination, I went to an internet café and read my wife’s answer:
“First we love you and second you are welcome to come back but if you come back it’s like you accomplished nothing. Please, we encourage you to stay.”
It just popped up on the screen. I should keep going! And after it got better.
So it’s natural that we have some hard times, but step by step, people are there for you
and I don’t know… a big hand is pushing you for a common desire, for peace.
Antonia: Did you ever feel afraid or alone? How did you overcome your fear?
Jean Béliveau: There is something inside a human being. It is an incredible machine. When you come face to face with danger, like bandit zone or like in Central America or El Salvador where many places were high risks (people warned me and I saw many things that scared me),
you slowly enter the environment and you develop an instinct inside of you to deal with these situations.
Sometimes I would wonder why I had that reaction, that instinct, “It’s not me.” It happens automatically inside of you, a sort of sixth sense. And slowly you become adapted with your environment. That’s the thing I guess.
Antonia: Do you feel you let yourself accept fear?
Jean Béliveau: Yeah,
I was offensive when I first faced some situations, but I learned to deal with them and not let them control me, even when I encountered bandits. In the end, they helped me.
They took me to dark places and I kept wondering, “Where are they guiding me?” At some point, I didn’t feel resentment. I explained, in a friendly tone that I was walking around the world for peace of the children. The guy stopped, and said:
“Look, you should go the other way. I am sorry, it’s not my fault, I was brought up like this.” He gave me a few dollars in local currency and said, “It’s good what you are doing. I had a very bad childhood.” He showed me his scars, that he probably got from bullets.
I met a lot of people that want peace, even the ones we consider bad guys. So peace, the conflicts are just the vision of different ways of peace, different visions of peace. We all want peace but we make conflicts between each other.
Antonia: That’s really interesting. These bandits captured you and you influenced them in having a change of heart and instead helped you.
Jean Béliveau: I think I was lucky. We say we make our luck, maybe. There are many things that could happen along the way. The most dangerous things, we never think about. I have put my life in danger crossing through some places with my buggy.
Then we can talk about health, the food and water in many countries. We can end up facing a health issue. I think my immune system became adapted to bacterial environment through the walk.
Slowly, like I said about instincts, your body adapts to the local situations.
It’s a walk, you moderately expose your body to each environment change. Slowly, you adapt to the changes. I never drank treated water. In Africa and India, I always drank the local water from the sealed wells. But never from open wells. The food is good everywhere. People always prepare good food.
I figured, they are human beings, I am a human being. Their food will be my food as well.
I tried all sorts of things, snakes in China, dogs in Korea. In South America the ChiCha. It’s saliva.
Antonia: What is the most valuable lesson you learned?
Jean Béliveau: Try to simplify life. Try to see the world with eyes of love.
I remember in Georgia (in the Caucasus region of Eurasia), they would raise their glass of wine during a meal and make a toast to the children, the family, the grand-mother, friends, the country and even to the enemy and the enemy’s family. For them, if their enemy is happy, it’s good. You see they have good thoughts for the enemies. By doing this, you open your mind more and will slowly approach the people you are in conflict with. You deliver yourself from a wall. You brake the wall inside of you to open your mind. The simple things, this is what I learned a lot.
People that were so rich, had nothing. They were rich with values. The ones with materialistic values were in sort of a pitiful condition, poor them.
Antonia: So you’re saying how much more rich we can be with less material things that we have?
Jean Béliveau: Absolutely, we have one life.
Antonia: You started your journey to escape that world and this is what you found.
Jean Béliveau: Yeah, now I’m back in that world. But, I will never forget those 1,600 families that I stayed with and the love I received. The heart of their home. The grand-fathers, mothers, children, all the families who received this stranger (me) with beautiful, warm smiles. I will never forget those moments. It is a promise that I made in my heart for ever.
Antonia: Jean, I’m curious, when you came back to Montreal, did you have another cultural shock?
Jean Béliveau: Oh yeah! It was my strongest cultural shock of a change of lifestyle. The first three weeks after I came back I got little depressed. I had stayed with doctors in South Africa who had prepared for me this, “When you go back don’t be surprised if you have little downs, emotional downs.” So yeah, it happened. During that time I was sad, staying in bed, crying. I told myself:
“Let it go, it will go by itself, don’t panic, you are sad, it’s okay.”
In the end, it went away. As well as the adaptation with Luce. Imagine, she was alone for eleven years in a small environment and I was in a huge environment, the world. We had to slowly adapt to each other because we both loved our own life. She loved her stable life at home and I loved traveling.
We tried to influence each other with our own pattern, but it created conflict and we tried to reach a balance to neutralize the conflicts.
It’s another beautiful challenge we had to face and overcame after a year back home. We take the fruit from the tree now.
Antonia: What advice, would you give anyone who would like to make a change in their life, but deep down is afraid to take that first step and keep going?
Jean Béliveau: It’s a huge question. Cultivate the dream, always follow your heart. For me, it was a little flower that I was keeping, or cherishing.
Cherish the dream very strongly and take the first step.
We think that our first step will lead us into an empty space, into a black hole, we are going to I don’t know where, it’s dark or deep…
Antonia: Like a tunnel?
Jean Béliveau: Yeah, but there’s no nothing,
it’s not possible that there’s nothing. So take the step. You will step on solid soil, not empty space. We can change, we have the right to change our life.
It’s needed, I don’t know if it’s courage or cowardice. Sometimes you do something because you are either a coward or courageous, you don’t know because it’s like these two things joined each other. When I started walking,
I felt like a coward because I was leaving my family behind. People in America said “You are very courageous.” So these two things can sometimes join each other at the summit.
Take your step, there is no empty space. I hope you understand my English.
Antonia: Yeah, just take the first step and stop thinking too much about what’s going to happen. We can never know and obviously we’re going to face little challenges along the way but getting through them is what will make us realize, like you said, that little flower we have inside.
Jean Béliveau: Yeah, absolutely go with the emotion not with the reason. If we think, think, think about something that can happen on the way, or about this or that… You never move forward because all the answers will be negative.
If you go with the emotion, the answer will be inside of you on your way, no more. It will be good for you no matter what.
Antonia: Thank you so much Jean, for sharing your beautiful story and message with everyone today.
Jean Béliveau: Thank you very much. It was nice talking to you.
Jean has written a book about his 11-year walk around the world which will be published in February 2013.
Jean hopes that he will motivate people to exceed their own limits and contribute to society. Share your comments and thoughts below. Was this a courageous or cowardly act?
Listen to the interview of the 11-year walk around the world on SoundCloud.
All photos provided by Jean Beliveau Le Marcheur