A year and a half ago I flew to Thailand for two weeks and embarked on a great adventure. I landed in Bangkok with no plans, no reservations, and ended up hopping all over the country, meeting a handful of amazing people from all over the world, and popping a lot of cherries I always wanted to, but never knew I wanted to – cliff jumping in the "Grand Canyon" of Thailand, winning a Muay Thai fight in an island reggae bar, riding a motorcycle through 100 km of super sketchy mountain jungle roads in the rain, and working as a bartender in a tiny beach bar (ok, so I always knew I wanted to do that one). I did so much in so little time that when I was getting ready to fly back to the states one thought took up residence in the back of my mind and would not leave:
"If I could do all of that in just two weeks… what could happen if I didn't have to come back?"
Back then I was still stuck in the mindset that I needed my job to make money to pay my debts to save enough to make sure I was "prepared" for such a life-altering decision.
Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for my banks, that mindset gradually unraveled over the course of last year.
At the end of August 2016 I made a commitment to myself and the world that I would leave by September of the following year, and that I would spend the 12 months in between preparing myself physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially to leave the country and traverse the planet with nothing but a backpack.
What did this preparation look like?
I'm an engineer by nature, so of course I made a list!
1. Earn $500,000
2. Pay off all debt
3. Attend Burning Man
4. Ayahuasca in the Amazon
5. Meditate for at least 90 consecutive days
6. Restore basic human mobility and flexibility
7. Pull 500, squat 400, bench 300
8. Couch-surf all 12 months
9. Downsize everything to one suitcase
Looking back, there was good reason to cross off all ten items before embarking on such an adventure.
First, there's the financial aspect. Earning half a million dollars would have allowed me to pay off all my student loans, auto loans, credit cards, and taxes while giving me a solid cushion of around $50k to get lost in the world for a few years without worrying about money. My credit score would be secure and I wouldn't have to stress about dolla, dolla bills, y'all as long as I stayed in hostels, lived on a minimalist diet, and focused on making connections & building relationships.
Second, there's the mental aspect. Attending Burning Man would have given me the opportunity to live "outside" of civilization (while still a part of it), on the fringe of modern society, and surviving on the basics in a twisted reality… also, I've just always wanted to go so it was a great excuse – sue me.
Third, while ayahuasca and meditation are typically associated with the mental side of our conscious existence, for me I put them on the list for a combination of the mental and emotional benefits, but with a bias toward the emotional. I was living with considerable pain and anger last year, both of which were consuming me, fueling my momentum forward, and acting as the compass for many of the decisions I was making. I wanted to do ayahuasca and develop a meditation habit to both calm my mind and heal my heart – I didn't think it would be a good situation for me to have the type of emotional and mental breakdowns I was having back then in the middle of a jungle somewhere with no support network nearby.
Fourth, there was the physical preparation. Regaining my physical and mental strength, mobility, and flexibility would have put me in a better position to face sickness and injury, and since I also foresaw myself eating minimally and not having access to a gym, it was a no-brainer that I'd rather leave stronger than weaker.
Finally, in terms of actual readiness, I wanted to be accustomed to a minimalist lifestyle, and for me that meant little privacy, sleeping on couches, and being as mobile as possible, aka getting rid of everything except that which I would need on a daily or weekly basis for several years.
I made that commitment at the very end of August last year, yet it is April and I am now writing this from the beautiful city of Mérida, on the Yucatán Peninsula of México.
So did I knock out that entire list in only 8 months?
Eh. Not quite.
Back in November, on an absolutely gorgeous Sunday afternoon in San Diego I had an epiphany while I was reporting to work. I cannot stress enough how beautiful this day was. Imagine the perfect 70 degree weather, without a cloud in the sky, and the gentlest breeze that hits you just right so as to cool you down ever so slightly when you're in the sun while simultaneously smelling faintly of the ocean. The kind of day when you feel guilty for being away from the water and sand, or at the very least a park, some grass, and badass trees.
At the time I had three cars in my possession: a 2016 Honda Fit that I used primarily for Uber/Lyft, a 2015 Mazda6 that I used primarily to rent out on Turo, and a 2004 Mazda RX-8 that was falling apart but I adored so I never got rid of it.
On this particular Sunday morning I was driving a Lyft passenger downtown when the front left tire blew out (like BOOM!) while I was going down the interstate at 80 mph, destroying the tire and bending the wheel, resulting in having to tow the car to a dealership to replace the tire, and then driving the car to my friend's shop so he could repair the wheel.
Then, my customer renting the Mazda6 texts me letting me know there's a huge crack in the front windshield (which grew exponentially from a tiny crack that I was procrastinating on fixing).
THEN, after I got home from dropping the Honda Fit off to have the wheel repaired, I hopped in the RX-8 to drive to work and the check engine light came on, and in a 13 year old sports car on its second engine that was literally the last thing I wanted to see that day.
At this point I'm fed up with owning all these damn cars, and would be relieved if they all just exploded.
Then I arrive at work (which happened to be at a mall that day) and the entire parking lot was full, and if you know me well enough, you know there are only two things in this universe that irk me to my core – traffic, because there's absolutely no reason for it, and a full parking lot, because there's absolutely no reason for it (I don't care who you are, you get a parking lot that holds enough cars at max capacity, or you just don't have a parking lot).
Finally, once I park and I walk into the mall to find hundreds of people choosing to be at a mall on such an amazingly epic SoCal day the last straw falls gently onto the camel's back.
I look around and see all these people going in and out of stores I could give two shits about (except for the Amazon, Lego, and Tesla stores #obvi), choosing to spend time and money on crap THEY won't give two shits about in a few days, weeks, or months, making a conscious decision to spend one half of their precious weekend IN A MALL, and I think to myself:
"I'm done. I want nothing to do with any of this anymore. The fact this mall exists is now an eyesore in the universe within my mind. I have no desire to connect with anyone here, and all I really want to do is slap the SHIT out of everyone, especially the parents with their kids, and ask them why any of this matters to them and how this is more important or valuable than being in the water, or at the beach, or a park, or the mountains, or even the DESERT!"
I go down this tunnel in my mind, questioning why I'm still here – not existentially, but figuratively, as in why am I still pretending I want to be a part of a society where people give up their dreams in exchange for a comfortable life that goes by in the blink of an eye, a society where the deepest conversation most people have is about their coworkers, television, and that one awesome thing they did a long time ago, a society where people laugh at questions like "But what do you really want to do?" as if they genuinely believe humans were forged through millions of years of evolution to get desk jobs and trade their time for a paycheck and a 401(k) so that MAYBE one day they can live long enough to be the richest people in the retirement home.
And after coming out that tunnel I thought about the list I made. I thought about what actually mattered on that list. I drilled down to figure out why I hadn't left yet…
And then the light bulb exploded…
…and written in glowing bright white filament was:
My god damn credit score.
This whole time, all through my twenties in fact, whenever I daydreamed about traveling the world everything always came back to, "Yeah, but if I just leave and stop paying my student loans and auto loans and credit cards… my credit score is gonna be fucked!"
This single, arbitrary three digit number is stopping me from doing something I've always dreamed of doing?
I'm putting off a DREAM because I HOPE to one day pay off my debt?
And that was it.
I found the problem, I realized how insignificant it is in the grand scheme of doing what I want to do, and I laughed in its face.
When my regional manager arrived I told him I was quitting and leaving by February. I figured that would give me enough time to take care of the customers I had and sell everything I needed to get rid of. (Fortunately for me, the company went through a merger the following week and decided to do a massive layoff which I was a part of so I had plenty of time to get ready.)
Over the following months my departure from the country was delayed for a variety of reasons, but the benefit of not working for anyone (or working in general) is doing shit when you feel like it.
So here I am, typing away in the room of a cozy little hostel in central Mérida, a couple blocks away from some of the best tacos I've had, with nothing but a backpack and a day bag, pursuing the first dream of many against the wishes of every major financial institution society demands we respect.
Oh, yeah, the money… what about all that debt I talked about? My three cars and a motorcycle? And all my shit? I'm done writing for the day so stay tuned as I'll be covering the financials of pursuing a dream later this week.
When was the last time you decided to change your life? What was holding you back? What finally led you to take action? Comment below and tell me about it!
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