Opting Out.

You know the feeling. Your muscle tense, heart-rate quickens, and you’re fueled with an intense feeling of overwhelming joy. That feeling of excitement, of knowing that the path you’re about to embark on is exactly what you’re “supposed” to be doing. I don’t really believe in a cosmic force (or any intervening force for that matter). But I do believe our subconscious reveals what we truly want, and guides little decisions that ultimately shape our lives: some people are just better at listening than others. I get that way about travel. And no, not just because it’s “fun.” But because the process of uprooting and integrating myself into a complete unknown is the ultimate thrill. Every time I leave, I learn. And I’ve become addicted to the lessons I’ve learned on the road. I truly believe I’ve learned more about the world and myself in the past few years than I ever did in the 22 years prior, college included. As I travel, the world becomes smaller, those strange foreign lands aren’t so foreign anymore; people of Tanzania aren’t really all that different from Peruvians, or even, Americans.  I am constantly touched by the giving nature of so many, particularly those who have little to give, and I’m compelled to find away to pay back this world that has taught, and given me so much. Travel fills me with an all-encompassing joy that little else can rival. 

I have learned in my brief years on this planet that I ought to trust myself, follow my instincts. I certainly haven’t always listened, and on occasion running straight towards something that every part of me is screaming to avoid has proved to be the best decisions I’ve ever made. When I first went to East Africa, on many occasions I wanted to back out. But that would have been a terrible choice. But when it comes to most things, I can trust that whatever decision I make, if it feels right-everything will be OK.

Exploration is clearly, a deep rooted part of my being. I’ve explored many options for my eventual “future-self”, and most of the time I love it, but there’s something missing. Something doesn’t feel right. I’ve struggled to pinpoint why exactly. Perhaps it’s that I want to feel that elusive excitement I associate with travel with my eventual career. Or perhaps, it’s something else. That something else, just might be my ever-present fear of commitment. But can you blame me? It feels in the US that once you make a career choice you enter this ever-pressured work force focused on achievement and progression, with little break or opportunity to compromise. If you don’t advance at the expected rate, get to certain landmarks, there’s something wrong with you.

I’m sitting watching the sunset on the beach of Zanzibar, off the coast of East Africa. My Ad Hoc group of new friends include Norwegians, Germans, Italians, and Canadians. I am, as usual the only American. One of the germans turns to me, “you’re awful far away, I thought most American’s wouldn’t dare venture further than Mexico.” This isn’t the first time this has been brought up. I have so far, gotten used to the usual onslaught of perplexed travelers asking me why America does such “ridiculous things.” I tell them, usually, I don’t get it either. But I hadn’t really asked the question, “where are all the other American’s?” And really, where are they? I couldn’t believe we were all such timid people we couldn’t venture beyond our own shores. Turns out in most first world countries the the norm for vacation time is 4 weeks. Finland, Brazil, and France offer six. And this is mandated, it is paid vacation. The US on the other hand, isn’t obligated under any law to offer such perks. No wonder we don’t travel, we don’t have time! And seems we don’t want it anyway. Hard work, sacrifice. It’s the American Work Ethic.  People actually boast they’ve worked so hard, they haven’t taken a vacation in years (why is this something to brag about?). We believe in keeping your head-down working hard, and earning as much money as possible. Provide. Vacation is too indulgent, irresponsible. Extended travel? You can’t be serious.

So, I’m a bit hesitant to commit to this. I can’t shake the notion that we aren’t promised a future beyond now (even if statistically speaking, we are to some extent). I don’t want to spend years in the overly competitive “grind” just to regret, or have missed decades for the eventual promise of retirement and finally enjoying life. Of course, you can love your job, but my career isn’t who I am, and to be honest I’m scared of loosing myself. Really scared. Work is necessary, and I’ll always be able to prioritize, but it feels a bit like the decks are stacked against me by living in this country. I feel like, opting out. Out of expectations our culture deems necessary on appropriate time lines. And day by day I get better at not caring what others think of my lifestyle choices. But, sometimes it’s hard. Like when people ask me what exactly it is I do or what my career aspirations are. If I were being honest, I would say, “I don’t know exactly, but here are the basics…” Which of course often warrants sympathetic smiles as if I’m some lost, searching, sad soul. And maybe I am, but I’m actually quite happy in my search. I know I need to accept that by choosing anything that isn’t normal I’ll find some level of confusion or resistance, and that I needn’t impress anyone. That maturity will come, I’m sure.

For now though, I’m just thankful to have the people in my life that I do, who are forever endlessly supportive. Certainly, a rare gift.

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