Living vs. Existing: Find What Makes You Come Alive
“You’re so lucky!”
“Aren’t you scared?”
“I wish I could do that!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told these things over the last few months.
In exactly seven days my wife, Brittany, and I will be taking off on a year-long trip around the world. As we approach departure, I’m feeling many things; excited, anxious, relieved, but most of all I feel a sense of accomplishment. We haven’t even left yet, but we’ve already achieved a major life goal that we set together: to save enough money to quit our jobs and travel the world. It wasn’t a spontaneous decision to up and leave our house, family, and friends for a year on the road. This has been a long time coming; six years, in fact. And it hasn’t been an easy goal to accomplish.
You’re so lucky!
The truth is we’ve worked very hard to make this happen. As a fourth grade teacher and a non-profit coordinator, we weren’t exactly rolling around in money. Saving became a top priority, which meant sacrificing some of the things we like to do. Going out to eat, hitting the local dive bar with friends, and buying new clothes were all scaled way back. Side hustles took their place. I made extra money driving for Uber on the weekends and Britt used her skills to take hand lettering commissions and teach workshops. This isn’t to say we lived like paupers for six years. We were still able to buy and renovate our first home, finish two Masters degrees, and take a few international trips. It’s all about making a strategic plan and sticking to it.
But being disciplined is only half of what it takes to accomplish a goal. You also need to be smart. After finalizing our list of must-see countries, we (okay, mostly Britt) spent countless hours researching costs of accommodation, transportation, and food to come up with an approximate cost per day. This allowed us to set realistic savings goals for each country, which we then created buckets, or sub-saving accounts for. We set up auto-debits for when we received our paychecks every other week, so that by the time the trip arrived every bucket would be full. We also took advantage of several credit card sign up bonuses and have been able to accumulate nearly a quarter million points and miles for different airline programs. What’s the cost of airfare for a round-the-world trip? Free, if you’re smart about it.
Making sacrifices to turn our dream into a reality has not been easy, but the most difficult part has been resisting conformity and taking an alternative route. Early on we recognized that the American Dream isn’t necessarily our dream. You’re supposed to get a job, get married, buy a house with a yard, have 2.5 kids, and one day in your late 60’s maybe you can take that trip you’ve always wanted. Work your whole life in the hopes of a grand payout in the form of time and money: ahhh, retirement. There’s nothing wrong with this model, but for Britt and I, it never made sense. What are people really working for their whole lives? It’s not the time and money. It’s the freedom that comes with those things. The dirty secret is that you don’t have to wait until you’re old. By setting goals and being strategic, you can create time and money, and experience that freedom at various points throughout life. And what’s more freeing than travel? There is no better way to gain perspective; no better way to learn about the world and yourself. Think of these travel breaks as mini-retirements, the impact of which will shape you and stay with you throughout life.
So, what responsible adults quit their jobs to travel the world? We do. And being lucky has had nothing to do with it.
Aren’t you scared?
Of all the feelings that I’ve been experiencing in this final lead up to the trip, fright isn’t one of them. I’ve been somewhat inoculated in this respect. You see, this ain’t my first rodeo. When I was 26, I won 5 grand playing poker, quit my job, and moved to Thailand. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared then. I distinctly remember wondering if I was making a huge mistake. Conversely, it ended up being one of the most impactful experiences of my life. What was supposed to be six months turned into two and a half incredible years. I balanced work with travel. I had wild adventures, made lifelong friends, and met my (now) wife. If to be happy is to be free, then I was truly free. Maybe for the first time ever.
It’s natural to feel scared at pivotal life-changing moments like this. What happens if this? What happens if that? Fill in the blank. What it all boils down to is one simple fear: a fear of the unknown. But if you embrace that fear and trust yourself, it might be the most empowering and rewarding decision you ever make. The only way to find out is to let go and take the leap.
One exercise I find helpful for managing the fear that accompanies major decisions comes from author, podcaster and blogger Tim Ferriss. It’s a 3-step process called:
Fear Setting is a way to lay out all of the possible negative consequences so you can work through and mitigate any fears that you have, ultimately making it easier to take action.
Step 1. Ask yourself three questions:
1. What's the Asbolute worst thing that could happen?
2. How can I prevent that from happening?
3. If it does happen, how can I fix it?
Step 2. List all the possible benefits of being successful (the positives).
Step 3. Make a list of all the possible costs of not taking action. What will you be giving up or missing out on if you let fear control you?
This exercise has helped me feel confident that any worries I might have about leaving my current life or resettling in the future are far less scary than the cost of not going on this adventure.
To manage worry, it is also helpful to reframe your thinking. One hurdle we had to deal with was renting the house we just bought and renovated over the past year. We could be spending our time lamenting over what happens if something breaks, a bill doesn’t get paid, or if the strangers renting will burn it to the ground. Instead, we choose to focus on the fact that we’ve found lovely people to take care of our house for us while we’re gone. And they’re paying off a year of our mortgage for us too. How nice of them!
I wish I could do that!
You can. And you should. When is the last time you felt free? Taking a travel break gives you the opportunity to escape the monotonous everyday routine that has become what you call living. Monday through Friday, you roll through the motions, waiting for a weekend that’s over too fast, and before you know it, years have gone by. But that’s not living; it’s existing. Living is embracing what your passionate about and being excited for each and every day. For me, this is travel. For you, it might be doing art or starting a new business. Civil rights leader and philosopher, Howard Thurman, said it best.
“Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Don’t be jealous of others living their dreams. Live yours. Transition that fixed mindset to a growth mindset and TAKE ACTION. It may be uncomfortable. It may take planning, sacrifice, and commitment. But when it comes down to it, it’s binary. 1 or 0. Black or white. All or nothing. Are you going to do it or not? Once you’ve made up you’re mind, you’re halfway there. We’ve heard it so many times that it doesn’t really resonate anymore, but Nike probably has the greatest slogan of all time: Just do it.