When Meredith and I started our journey of a slow travel lifestyle and creative mobile existence in early 2015, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing. Who am I kidding, we still have no idea what we are doing!
I think our ignorance was a blessing in disguise. Ignorance and inexperience allows you to make your own mistakes. Through failure alone you learn, and eventually become proficient enough to achieve the goals you define for yourself.
If we actually knew ahead of time some of the situations we would find ourselves, we may have overanalyzed our decision and would still be stuck in a two bedroom box in the sky with all the trappings of success. I would still be waking up every weekday to show up at a job I didn’t enjoy, dreaming about a warm beach reprieve in 6 months time, and generally living a life that others expected of me.
The Courage to Live a Life True to Yourself
Four articles permanently lived on my 5 x 6, gray colored cubicle wall at work.
One in particular touched a nerve and made me think about how I wanted to live each day of my life. I read it whenever I needed inspiration. Over the years, I re-read parts or all of the article in order to glean additional insight. Great articles and books have that influence. An initial speed read captures the essence of the author’s message, while a second or third reading provides further wisdom.
The exact wording doesn’t matter, I have read the passage so many times that a paraphrase will suffice:
A palliative care nurse of 20 years experience wanted to write a book (The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing). She asked her patients, many of whom lay on their death bed, what regrets they had in life.
At first I was a little offended at the idea that someone was writing a book and making money off the backs of dying elderly people – a bit too capitalist. The more I mulled over why the nurse asked that simple question to those dying individuals, the more I saw how it made total sense.
Elderly people who are approaching the end of a full life want to give back the final element that they can’t take with them to their grave: knowledge and wisdom. They want to teach their children, grandchildren, and anyone thoughtful enough to both listen and take to heart their words.
I see now that the nurse did these individuals a great service.
She noticed that five primary answers emerged time and time again. One of the most common regrets involved unfulfilled dreams and goals in life. I have mulled it over in my own mind many times,
“Have the courage to live a life true to yourself, not the one others expect of you.”
I have been as guilty as the next person in not living a life true to myself and living how others expect me to live.
For example, as a youth I excelled in artistic endeavors like drawing and painting. I denied that I had talent, or would not show anyone my artwork in fear that they would think the art was no good. Because of my distraction (also at a young age) with a pursuit of money by way of the stock market, I denied myself a career as an artist. An award as the top art student in high school did nothing to compel me to change my career path.
Artists don’t make money was the chant.
There is a reason everyone knows the metaphor starving artist.
A doctor, dentist, engineer, or financial advisor was the true path to success in life. Pursue the one true goal in life: get money. Obtain money and you will be happy, respected, and stress free. Then, once you are rich, you can figure out what to do with the rest of your life.
What an utterly backwards way of thinking. When you do things for the wrong reasons, eventually it shows.
Too many of the choices I have made in life have been motivated by the wrong things. I suspect most people are guilty of this dying sin of regret. You do things in life because you need money, or worse, want more money.
No job? Take the first one that comes along, even if you have no passion or interest in the field. Making lots of money, great! Let’s make more – even if we despise our role in making said income.
Figure out The Game
Not just an ancient Greek aphorism. Understanding oneself enables thyself to have an understanding of others as a result. With such knowledge, I believe you can accomplish much.
Some people have a true calling towards a particular faith and end up pursuing a life as a nun, priest, or other religious figure. Others feel passionately about raising chickens, growing mushrooms, or catching king crab … we all need food in order to survive, after all.
And then there are those who revel in travel – seeking to understand people and their context in history, and trying to make a lasting impact on the world. I am one of those latter individuals. I am afflicted with a travel bug (which I suspect will not be cured in this lifetime), enjoy looking at the world in order to understand others, and truly want to make a profound difference.
I think back to a documentary I first watched in 2008, and recall another nugget of information that has stuck with me:
[pullquote align=”normal”]”I spent the first 30 years of my life trying to become something. I wanted to become good at things: I wanted to become good at tennis and school and grades. And everything I kinda viewed in that perspective. I’m not okay the way I am, but if I got good at things … I realized that I had the game wrong, because the game was to find out what I already was.” [/pullquote]
– Dr. Richard Alpert/Ram Dass
“I spent the first 30 years of my life trying to become something. I wanted to become good at things: I wanted to become good at tennis and school and grades. And everything I kinda viewed in that perspective. I’m not okay the way I am, but if I got good at things … I realized that I had the game wrong, because the game was to find out what I already was.”
I still get anxious thinking about that statement.
What could I have done for myself, my family, my friends, and this world if I didn’t spend the first 30 years of my life trying to become good at things?
Where would I be today in my own life journey?
Why didn’t some one take me aside earlier in life to tell me what the game was all about?
Not just tell me, but violently shake me and yell at the top of their lungs, telling me to listen because this is really all that matters.
My body is numb and my heart rages for what I have lost – time. And that is where regret creeps in.
Make Time for Nonconformity
Time is the great equalizer. We all have the same amount of time each day. Unlike land, which apparently they are now making more of, no one has the power to create more than 24 hours in one day. Take action today, don’t squander time thinking you can start tomorrow.
Some people never start, thinking it is too late. Others deny themselves their true calling in life, and only scratch the surface of their potential. While a precious few act early in life because they figure out what they already are.
I believe these are the world’s outstanding artists, scientists, engineers, medical staff, politicians (yes, there still are a few of those left), and others who excel in their chosen craft. They are the ones who create and deliver true value to the world. In return they may receive money, fame, or better yet, a life fulfilled.
You have to believe in empowerment. You have to know with every fibre of your being that you have the courage to live a life true to yourself. How?
This isn’t the part where I tell you to be a rebel and break a certain law, or change your style of dress to buck the trend, or even quit your job without a backup plan.
Live as you desire, in harmony with all other beings. We are all in this human experience together. Each human being must exist with all 7 billion others, and recognize that what is inside you is what is inside others. Hope, happiness, sorrow and fear, in equal measure inside all of us.
My experience is that conformity breeds a dull, boring life full of expectations and regret. You are expected to do many things in life:
- go to school
- play sports that your parents or older siblings played
- get a job and work 40 hours a week
- take a short 2-week vacations every year
- get married
- buy a car/house
- save money for retirement
- accrue certain debts
- have a Facebook profile
- eat meat
… and any number of other expectations throughout life.
Life Questions Begin to Form
Why do I work? How should I live? Whom can I love?
All dictated by (western) society and expectations passed from generation to generation. Do you ever stop to ask why or ask, ‘Is this the correct way that I should be [insert particular thing] in my life?’
If you don’t disagree with any of the roles you are expected to fulfill throughout life, or if you have never really taken the time to think about them, by all means live a life you deem happy.
On the other hand, if you suspect that conformity in all things is not the path you desire, I would simply say: Don’t conform to expectations of how you should live your life. Figure out your nonconformity and go after it. Pursue the passions and hobbies you had as a youth, for they tend to be the purest form of our self.
Only you can decide how the chapters of your life should be written.
I eventually figured out one of my nonconformity mechanisms. Now I travel alongside my beautiful wife, with little money, toting a laptop to create value (work), and holding a mind full of possibilities.
Everyday is an adventure on the Nomad Newlywed’s slow travel journey.
Halfway through my fourth decade on this planet, I feel closer to knowing my true self more than ever. I feel confident in my abilities and the decisions that I make. Most importantly, I am at peace to live a path that I believe is right for me, not the path others expect of me.
What would your biggest regret be if this was your last day to live?
The Courage to Travel
Do you need courage to travel? Absolutely.
In any facet of life you need courage to do what others are either unable or unwilling to do.
The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity.– Rollo May
I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to certain things, right Meredith? Like being sick with Man Flu. Such a serious condition that is severely under-diagnosed.
One thing I don’t lack is the courage to travel. I enjoy the roller coaster ride – the thrills and chills, highs and lows that accompany a personal travel journey into unknown parts.
One of the best times I have had in my life was in 2003 as a solo backpacker throughout Thailand for a month. I didn’t know a soul, understood exactly two important words of the Thai language (please and thank you), hated the gigantic mosquitoes that came out every night at dusk, and loved every single moment.
Slow travel with a life partner beside me is no different. I love every moment.
The only real difference now is that there is no return flight booked. Slow travel can take you anywhere on earth. It has no finite finish line; you stop traveling when you reach a personal state of
Editors Note 2015: I wrote the bulk of this article, but had not completed a final edit to publish it. In light of recent events in France, I looked at the article again through a different lens. I feel it captures an even more poignant message than when I first wrote it — life is precious and can be taken away in a moments notice. However, that doesn’t mean we should all hibernate in safety, never to venture outside or travel again.
The courage to travel has taken on a changed meaning for me, encapsulating not just the fun nature of exploration to unknown travel destinations, but also the somber reminder that travel has associated risks. Know those risks, how to mitigate them as best you can, and then proceed with your travel plans.
Become True to Yourself
Do you sit chained to an office cubicle for 8 hours a day, percolating a desire to break free?
I’ve been there.
Watching the seconds on the clock slowly tick by, wondering why time can’t just magically speed up for lunch or the end of the work day. Wishing the obnoxious, loud coworker a few cubicles over would somehow disappear to another location in the building. Staring blankly at a manufactured metal wall frame and panel trying to decipher its secret messages.
I consciously chose to change my mindset and redirect my life path.
Every human being can be empowered to live a life true to themselves. Everyone has the ability to access a deep reservoir of courage inside.