Ahhh… Life’s journey. It consists of moments planned and scheduled, instances of spontaneity and spur of the moment, and everything else in between.
I was emailing back and forth a few weeks ago with one of my great friends Jeremy whom I met a few years back while studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina (?Q Tal Boludo?). That’s him in the picture there. (That’s salt, not snow by the way!)
First, he sent me an EXCELLENT article I’d highly recommend you check out: What Are You Going to do with That? by William Deresiewicz. It’s an essay adapted from a talk delivered to a freshman class at Stanford University in May. As it did myself and Jeremy, its the kind of article that can “hit you square in the stomach and force you to rethink some of the things you’ve forgotten you valued.”
As we discussed the article, Jeremy sent me back a response about his own personal journey since he graduated college over a year ago. Below is his response.
I decided to share it with you guys because I think a lot of us can fall into the boat of being “lulled to sleep by our daily routines” and to forget what it is that we had once been so certain we wanted but somehow it’s been placed on the backburner.
And so, without further adieu, here’s a story worth reading:
October 18th, 5:19 PM – Houston, TX
A friend passed on the article to me, and it was something that I really needed to read at the time. It hit me square in the stomach and forced me to rethink some things that I had forgotten I valued. I figured you would likely be in a similar transition 🙂
(Edit: Fuck, this got really long, but it’s pretty much a compilation of my mental state at the moment.)
This paragraph really hit me:
“And most of all, don’t play it safe. Resist the seductions of the cowardly values our society has come to prize so highly: comfort, convenience, security, predictability, control. These, too, are nets. Above all, resist the fear of failure. Yes, you will make mistakes. But they will be your mistakes, not someone else’s. And you will survive them, and you will know yourself better for having made them, and you will be a fuller and a stronger person”.
I don’t know what dreams your friends had, but I can sympathize. I’ve been working now for a year and a half, and it’s so easy to become complacent. You carve out your own niche, the comfortable apartment, the cafe you like so much. You know who to call and where to go. The routine and comfort overtake you and lull you to sleep.
When I graduated, I had a plan. Work for a while and save money, but only for a year, and then go somewhere. I think it might have been more detailed at the time, but that’s all I can remember now. The thing was, in the ensuing months I’d long since forgotten *why* I wanted to do that. Working left me drained and not wanting… anything really. Staying didn’t sound good, neither did leaving. The world seemed smaller and more monotonous by the day.
But I still had my plan, such as it was, even if I no longer understood it. I dutifully saved, and then told my boss I was leaving in September. We negotiated 10 weeks leave instead of the usual two because no one else there understands the work that I’ve been doing, and we were in the middle of a grant for the Department of Homeland Security. So I’ve kept working, with nothing much really changing except knowing that I’ve taken the first step towards this trip, though I didn’t know where or for how long or why.
I came across a program called WorldTeach that would let you volunteer to teach English, in this case in Cartagena, Colombia. I got excited and went through the application, writing the essays, getting references, and doing an interview. In the end I decided that it wasn’t what I was interested in doing. It had attracted me with it’s certainty. I would *know* where I was going, and be able to give people an answer when they asked me what I was going to do and why. But some trouble with getting references from professors and getting my interviewer to submit her report to the admissions people made me realize, I’m sick of applying for shit. The program offered me nothing I couldn’t do myself cheaper if I wanted and, furthermore, locked me into a set obligation. I didn’t even know if I wanted to teach English. I was just looking for an answer, more of the certainty that had come to permeate my everyday life.
So I withdrew my application, and accepted that I likely wouldn’t know what I want to do until I got a change of scenery to clear my head. This is part of why I’m headed back to Paris, my hometown. Part of it is that I have some relatives in pretty bad health and should spend some time with them, but mostly it’s that there is no place I dislike being more. Nothing clears my head like a few weeks stuck at home.
And I’m starting to snap out of the trance that I felt like I was in. Reading that article cemented it, but it had started a few days before. I sat and wrote down all of the possible ideas that I had, and started listing the pros and cons of each, from bicycling across China to starting my own software business to just picking a spot on a map and going there. No matter how I looked at it though, I kept coming back to hitchhiking around South America.
There are a couple of images in my head that I can’t shake. One is standing in the middle of the Atacama desert, with nothing but sand in every direction with an empty road next to me and mountains in the distance. Another is spending the last of my chilean currency on soda and pisco and sleeping on the beach in Arica, Chile, looking up at the Southern Cross constellation pointing back the way I had come. The last is coming down the escalator at the airport to see my mother waiting there. Relieved as she was to see me, the first words out of her mouth were, “You look like a bum.” And it was true, my jeans were ripped and covered with dust and ash and the sweat of thousands of miles. Afterwards she took me to Wal-Mart (welcome back to the states, right?) and blew my mind. Giant bright lights, garish colors, and the prices! A huge shock after the open air Peruvian market I was in a few days before, where kind old women were yelling at me to buy the fruit that their family had picked and would I please buy some ceviche as well?
What strikes me about those memories is how I felt. The confidence that I had. The world seemed vast and untamed and exciting, ready for exploration. I wasn’t scared waiting in the middle of the desert, even when there were no cars in sight, and I was running out of water. I knew someone would be along, and I would be off again. Now the world seems tiny and dangerous. I get nervous when someone is waiting behind me as I open the gate to my apartment. Are they going to follow me into my room and rob me? I’m a thousand times more likely to be run over by some soccer mom in an SUV talking on a cell phone. It’s ridiculous, and I feel helpless.
I want that feeling and perspective back. I want to speak spanish again without tripping all over myself. In short, I want to go back to Argentina and pick up where I left off, and I’m starting to get excited again. I’m starting to appreciate the situation that I’ve left myself in. Soon I will have no obligations, nothing tying me down, and enough savings to not have to worry for a good long while. Apparently the old Jeremy who set me on this course so long ago knew what he was doing.
So for now the plan is to finish out my last two weeks at work (though a side effect of this newfound clarity is that I cannot begin to focus at work, so it goes) and spend the holidays at home and plan the beginnings of my trip. After the new year I hope to head back to Buenos Aires (maybe Rosario or Córdoba) and take a few weeks of spanish classes before heading to Ushuaia and letting the world show me where it wants me to go. Of course, the plan is subject to revision at any moment, but this seems good for now 🙂
Eventually I think I will go on to China and spend a good long while studying Mandarin, and maybe I’ll bike across the country, but for now I need to rediscover what I’ve lost stuck here in Texas.
So… anyway. I’m really interested in how your transitioning back to Western civilization, and what you think you’re going to be doing. Also if you have any reflections or life advice to share, I would appreciate it 🙂
Jeremy, sos una inspiración.
And so, with his words, may all of us be on a path towards discovering whatever it is we may have lost along the way. And the great thing about it is, there’s always something new to discover or hidden to rediscover as we move along.
What’s your story? Is there anything from your past you keep coming back to that’s still calling your name? How freaking Badass is Jeremy?!