I left home with the intention to travel the world for eight to twelve months (or longer). In one decisive moment in Paris, I decided to end it at the six month point and come home.
Why did I leave in the first place?
I went to work immediately after graduation selling investment property, and it took me a while to learn that I was unhappy. I had a need to prove myself. I compared myself to friends from school who also graduated with business degrees, and had landed jobs at corporate headquarters, investment banks, and startups.
The comparison made me insecure, but I also felt that since I had rejected the conventional path I was taking a calculated risk and would soon reap the rewards.
As the months went on I worked harder, made connections, and even got a cool title. All this added to my insecurity. I felt like a fraud.
Because I was.
The more I dug into this path the more I lost sense of who I was. I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do and neglecting myself in the process. Who was I trying to prove anything to in the first place?
As the anxiety built, I lost the ability to function. One morning I showed up to work and sat down at my desk. I stared at my computer for an hour, stood up, and went home. Then I calmly walked into my room and laid face-down on the carpet for hours. When my roommate came home from work I walked out of my room to greet him and began taking off my tie. As if I had just got back.
"How was work?"
"Good, and you?"
Actually that story was a lie. It happened more than once.
During one of these sessions with the carpet I realized that I needed to make a change. I made the decision to be honest with myself, and started answering questions that I had been ignoring. Questions like "am I happy?"
I realized that there's only one person that we are guaranteed to be stuck with for the rest of our lives. Yet we spend most of our time and effort trying to please everybody except this person. I decided from that moment on to take care of myself. To listen to my own needs and desires, and avoid things that did not satisfy or fulfill me.
Happiness is a choice. It's also a skill that requires patience, persistence, and deliberate practice to master. Being honest with myself was the first step in developing that skill.
Shortly after this decision I handed over my deals to partners. I resigned from the board of directors that I was on after completing my duties. I met with the CEO and told him my heart wasn't in the business.
I asked myself what I really wanted to do.
Explore the world was on the list.
I got a part-time job serving tables so I could be closer to a friend. Actually I got two serving jobs. For one of them I got to wear tights. I took more time to see my friends. I got to know my nephews. I started to invest in myself, and take responsibility for my own edification. I read over 50 books. I prepared for the trip that I just completed.
And I felt happy. And free.
The feeling hasn't faded.
I left home with a one-way ticket, an open time frame, and a few loosely defined goals:
- Develop Self-Reliance
To survive I needed to not die, and not give up. Both of these components were legitimate goals. Not dying would serve the purpose of mitigating fear of the unknown, and not giving up would improve my confidence, force skill adoption, and produce opportunities.
Developing self-reliance was an important goal of my trip. A major reason for my unhappiness leading up to this decision stemmed from the feeling that I lacked control over my own life. I felt dependent on external forces. I saw travel as a way to remove safety nets and generate situations that would force me to grow. For example, I knew that I would be forced to interact with new people either through boredom or necessity, and that would improve my social initiative.
Of course, I had no idea what to expect. I had no plans. My biggest fear was that I wouldn't have the courage to continue. That I would give up and come home defeated.
Then something incredible happened. I didn't just survive.
On my first day I was so terrified I thought I might give up before the week was over. Despite my dismay, this was precisely why I left in the first place. To put myself in difficult situations. Situations that would force me to grow.
Not a week went by for the next six months in which I didn't grow in a significant way. I learned how to tell better stories. I overcame my anxiety of meeting new people. I made lifelong friends. I did things I never would have thought possible. I learned how to skin a rabbit (for the most part) and milk lambs. I learned how to drive a motorcycle. I climbed a mountain and crossed a desert. I taught English in Bangkok. I got to travel for a week with my brother.
I learned to embrace fear and turn it into fuel.
Before I left, I wrote about fear. But I didn't have an intuitive understanding of what I've come to realize through experience: the things we fear never come true. Even when the details of our fears are realized, their true nature is always different than we expected.
I had many fears during my trip. I was terrified my first day. I couldn't speak to anyone. I was scared in Amsterdam when I thought I was about to get mugged (and why I took Jiu-Jitsu lessons in Morocco). I was scared in Verona that I wouldn't find a place to sleep. I was anxious at the prospect of hitchhiking from Prague to Vienna (took three days). My first week in Morocco I was petrified.
Andre Agassi had a fear of losing his hair. He covered it up for years with a headpiece. The more successful he became, the more media attention he got, and the more stress his hair caused him. What if he was found out? Before one important match his hairpiece was giving him problems. He was worried it might fall off during the match. He's five minutes before going on the courts to play on national television and he's stressed about his hair.
One day his girlfriend suggested he embrace the hair loss and cut it all off. But he's too afraid. His fans love his hair. His sponsors love his hair. What if he needs his hair to be a great tennis player? What will the press say?
Finally, he does it. He gets all his friends together and throws a party. It takes eleven minutes to shave it all off. As the hair falls away in clumps to the ground it feels like parts of himself are falling off.
Then it's all done. He looks in the mirror.
And he smiles.
Eleven Minutes. You spend years worrying about something that will last eleven minutes. The anxiety affects your game. But in just an instant it's all over. And you'll wonder what it was you were so worried about in the first place.
"Hair has been the crux of my public image, and my self image, and it's been a sham. Now the sham is lying on Brooke's floor in tiny haystacks. I feel well rid of it. I feel true. I feel free." - Andre Agassi
Just look at that BEAUTIFUL hair. ... Oh wait.
This trip has put me in that barber's chair countless times, and each time I have smiled in the mirror and wondered what it was I was so afraid of in the first place.
I arrived in Paris with $0 in my pocket. It was 10pm and I wasn't afraid. Six months earlier I was too scared to say hi to a stranger. And now I found myself in a foreign city in the middle of the night without any connections or money. Confident that there would be a solution. And there was. Five days later I decided it was time to go home.
Back home, things are changing. My grandparents moved into a new home. My nephew is turning six. I can justify missing out on things like this if I'm growing, but I've realized that I have quickly approached diminishing returns.
If I'm not growing, I lose interest real fast.
I will travel again, and I hope I do soon. Real soon. But I will never do this trip again. The goals will be different. For now, it's time to head back and apply what I've learned.
One More Thought
Before my trip, someone expressed concern that I might fall behind in life. I was afraid of this too. But I've learned that life isn't a linear timeline with "checkpoints." There is no such thing as "falling behind." There is no finish line, no scorecard, and no competition. The only thing that exists is the moment, and how you define the moment is how you define your entire life.
If you don't know how to define the moment, you can start by asking a simple question:
"Am I happy?"
If the answer is no, change it. The carpet session isn't necessary.