*Post originally written 3/18/2014*
Like most people in modern NY society, I had an online dating profile. When I first set up the account, I took great pains to ensure my profile was filled out completely and spent hours answering a myriad of personality questions. Over the course of the next year, the account fell into disuse and slowly faded into obscurity before I finally pulled the plug on it. While the experience was generally uneventful, I remember a particular personality question which I had an unusually difficult time in answering:
Would you prefer good things happened or interesting things?
It was a seemingly simple enough question, yet I spent more than 15 minutes trying to decide what my answer would be. In retrospect, I realize now that the question highlights my underlying motivation to travel.
First and foremost, to understand why I’m leaving my life to travel you have to understand something about my personality – I hate doing things half-assed. I’m a firm believer that anything worth doing is worth doing right and I try to live by the somewhat cliché motto of “work hard, play hard.” This was especially prevalent in college. If I wasn’t working on a class, I was out making the most of life; either way, I spent very little of my time lounging.
This trait, consequently, makes drinking with friends particularly dangerous for me.
As a student, my goal in life was that of any young business student. I had big plans to get in Investment Banking job, move to Manhattan, attend Harvard Business School for my MBA, conquer corporate America, and become a powerful captain of industry. I made sure to learn everything I could because I felt college was a way to make myself a better person and what I learned in class would be applicable to the working world. I kept so busy during school that I never once thought, “What do I really want to do?”
Time was money for me... and I had neither.
My perspective changed abruptly during the fall of my junior year when I studied abroad in Milan, Italy. It was the first time I ever left the US and I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but I knew it was something I had to do. My semester abroad was an amazing experience which fundamentally changed my view of the world and my goals in life. The person that got on that plane back in August of 2009 was not the same one that returned.
I realized a number of things while on the trip, chief among them, the fact that college was nothing more than a stamp of approval for prospective companies. My degree only served to indicate that I was employable and not a complete idiot. Further, I realized that much of what I had learned would be of little use to me once joined the workforce and would instead become fun facts that had no bearing on whether I succeeded or failed. It was a disheartening realization, but at least I could see through the illusion.
When I returned, I no longer had a direction in life and I began coasting through school (to this day, I have no idea what my grades were the last three semesters of college). The lack of direction didn't sit well with me, and while I had plenty of friends and alcohol to keep me distracted, I knew something was wrong.
Through a miraculous series of events, I managed to land a job in Manhattan after college. Bewildered, I thought life was on the up and up... until I started actually working. While I loved NYC, I can’t say the same about working the long, stressful consulting hours. Initially I thought it was simply a reaction to entering the preverbal “working world,” and that I was just whining because I didn’t want to work the long hours.
But even after a year working things had not changed.
I still was madly in love with the city, but I had lost interest in work and the ridged routine of life was getting to me. Although I was able to live in NYC, I realized that I spent at least 71% of each week confined to an office cubicle just waiting for the weekend. I had eliminated all risk in my life - all of it. I had no doubt that I could pay my rent, eat out on the weekends, take random trips, pay off student loans, etc. Even if my project ended at work, I would get to spend a few days on the “bench” where I was effectively paid to sit on couch while I found a new project.
And so my problem was?
I was completely bored out of my mind. By eliminating all of the risk in my life there was no variation and no excitement. The perpetual hamster wheel of “the real world” was eating away at my sanity and I found myself still coasting without a purpose in life or idea of where I wanted to go. I came to the conclusion that staying in my current situation was not going to solve anything, so I had to make a change. There is quote by Steve Jobs which summarizes the feeling quite well:
"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.' It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."
Every morning for the past two and half years I asked myself a very similar question, and the answer has always been a resounding “no.” So in October 2012, I opened a savings account and began stashing away part of my paychecks. I had resolved to make a change in my life…
...and that relentless urge to travel that I picked up years ago in Milan was still there.
I realize now that simply having good things happen to me is not sufficient to live a fulfilling and happy in life. It’s the variation that makes life so exciting. If only good things happen to you - they cease to be good. Instead, I have come to appreciate the “bad” things in life because without them I have no concept of what a "good" thing is.
So, if I had to chose, I’ll take the interesting route. I want a story, I want an adventure, and I’m willing to endure the terrible days that will inevitably befall me during my travels, because I know that it is the only way that I can fully appreciate the feeling of being on top of the world.
So whether it’s good or bad I don’t care... just make it interesting.