I write this both as a cautionary tale to my two teenaged kids and as a life-raft to anyone stuck going down the wrong path…
We spend the years of our childhood dreaming of what we will do with our lives when we “grow up”. Then, one day, you’ll turn around and have a car payment, a mortgage and a couple of kids. Suddenly, you’ll feel like a slave to a paycheck from a day-job that has nothing to do with the dreams you had as a kid.
If you’re not protective of them, your dreams slowly begin to take a backseat to responsibilities. Your aspirations are soon limited to satisfying your obligations. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up sacrificing the prime of your life saving up for a retirement that you will be too old or unhealthy to enjoy.
Fresh out of school, away from the watchful eye of your parents (and legally allowed to make financial decisions for yourself for the first time), it will be difficult to resist the temptation of fast, easy money from predatory lenders with credit cards and car loans. Beware as they will likely ensnare you in an endless cycle of debt…And let’s also hope you arrive at adulthood without a mass of school loans to boot.
Alas, you can make, lose and make back all the money you want in the world if you set your mind to it. You cannot, however, make back your time (no matter how hard you try).
Before you join the adult world of responsibility and routine, consider the endless possibilities for adventure that await you if you’re willing to take some risks…
When will you ever get the chance to back-pack across Europe, explore the mysteries of Asia or traverse the African sub-continent like my friend Heather Ditmars?
When will you be able to take part in a humanitarian mission, go on sabbatical or join the peace corps?
When will you be able to work as a waiter in a café in Paris, a Digital Nomad in Thailand (like my friend Hannah Dixon) or intern in Buenos Aires?
There will be plenty of time to go to college, start a family, make money and buy stuff. But once you get started doing any or all of those things, your ability to go on walkabout may be all but gone for a few decades. And if your plans are to get out and see the world after the kids are grown and gone, you are betting on a future that may never come.
Now is the time for you to go out and be foolish- make mistakes- do epic shit that you can brag about to people who will never believe you did it. You are able to follow pursuits that earn little or no money but afford you experiences that will never be able to have when you have a 9-to-5 and bills to pay. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that this adventure is what you truly wanted all along and the 9-to-5, white picket fence is not for you.
There will be people in your life who will try to talk sense into you and tell you to focus on your career and financial stability and blah blah blah. I’d estimate that those are the folks that never acted on their impulses when they were young and can’t stand to see you having any fun.
I’m here to tell you that I didn’t listen to those old trids and I turned out alright. I should point out that my path was a bit more extreme than I would recommend for most folks. But if you are willing to live on a shoestring for a few years, the reward is an experience that will stay with you forever.
My time spent on the road (read the full blog post here) afforded me an opportunity to meet people from all walks of life.
It taught me humility by forcing me to ask for help.
It taught me ingenuity by forcing me to improvise solutions.
It taught me negotiation by having to bargain for rides, food or a place to stay.
It taught me accountability by forcing me to find my own food and shelter every night.
It taught me patience when my ingenuity and negotiation skills failed me.
It taught me compassion by putting me in contact with people less fortunate than me.
It taught me gratitude for a warm, dry bed, a home cooked meal and for every kindness bestowed on me.
More than anything, it taught me to appreciate freedom; Freedom of thought, freedom of movement, freedom of expression. To this day, my decisions (big and small) are informed by that time I spent finding out who I was on the road.
Let this be an invitation to young folks (lets say those between the ages of 15 and 22) If you feel you are being pushed down the ‘sensible path’ but fear that it may not really be what you want in life, consider taking a gap year. Take a year abroad in the peace corps or go on a mission and see how you feel at that time. If nothing else, you have an awesome story to add to your resume or college admissions form. And more over, you’ll be a more interesting person.
And to my friends who are a bit older: It’s not too late. If you are reading this, then adventure awaits you still. No matter if you have kids or debts (or whatever other excuse you can come up with), you are limited by your own imagination and determination. More than likely, it is fear that limits you. Read this to learn how its never too late to start over.
Come to think of it, it’s fear that limits all of us…what are you afraid of?