I’m not the type of person who can separate life, travel and work. I’ve tried hard to fit in with the rest of the US and settle down. No one tells you specifically that you need to separate them but somehow there’s a constant pressure from society, friends, and family to do so. Work is what you do to sustain your life and fund your temporary escape by traveling. Your not supposed to enjoy work, although everyone agrees there are a few rare individuals that do. But they also agree that you are not destined to be one of them. If you try to make a life out of travel, you are seen as escaping your “real” life and not working hard enough.
I meet people everyday who work with me in the development world who say: “Someday I’ll have to go back to the real world and settle down.” Or travelers on their year-long break who will go back to “real” life when they return home.
I used to think this way as well, as if the life I built was somehow temporary, and inferior to the life that those in the “real” world live. You know, the world with a steady job, wife and kids, close to family and friends, a house (with mortgage of course), and lots of things to fill the house with and provide further inspiration for more work. That’s a great life for some people, with a lot of rewards, but its not the only type of “real” life.
It took me a long time of trying to find myself to finally break free of society’s notions of what life is supposed to be like. One thing that helped was my travels. I lived in Japan for five years while I tried to decided what I wanted to do with my life. I traveled constantly in the country and abroad. Then I went to graduate school where half the students where internationals. This exposure to other cultures and ways of life helped me to realize there is no one way to live and that it’s OK to break with convention. Of course lots of fear is released when you break with convention and it’s not just your own. Family, friends, colleagues all start to infect you with their fear. Fear of what might happen to you, fear of living life in an untested way, fear of what it means for them if you succeed. I used to let this fear affect me while I searched for my path in life. I would constantly tell myself that I once I figured out what I wanted to be in life I would settle down back home. As if home was the only place I could live my “real” life.
On one of my trips, while hiking the 900 mile Shikoku Pilgrimage in Japan, I came to a realization that I was already living my life the way I wanted; a life of freedom, choice and responsibility. Freedom to do what I loved, the ability to chose to move on from something when I was no longer happy with it, and the ability to make a difference in the world. The exact nature of my job, life etc didn’t matter as long as it followed these three ideals. It was something that I was unconsciously doing since I left the US at age 21 and started trying to find myself. It turns out I was already myself, I just needed to release what I thought society and everyone else wanted me to be. It also turns out that everyone in my life is very happy for me and my choices. The pull to settle was more my own making than a deliberate US conspiracy.
Todd’s Wanderings has never just been a travel site, or a political site, or a collection of cool (well I think so) stories. Instead it’s a reflection of my life and how I choose to live it. As such I’ve decided to add a new section to it called Lifestyle Strategies. This will be my section where I describe strategies on how I have developed my current life abroad where my work enables my travel and my writing and all aspects form a cohesive part of my life. Basically its about loving what you do and doing what you love.
At first I thought about calling this section Unconventional Life Strategies, but that would have played right back to the idea that one way is better or more accepted than the other. Instead I want to offer a counter perspective to life, one where you are not so much attached to a place as you are to a set of principles.
I know that this will not be for everyone, and that’s fine. But for those of you who are interested in a nomadic existence, unhooking yourself from the demands of society or even just ways to gain more freedom I hope you will enjoy the support and knowledge that it’s possible. I will also try to introduce you to other people who have taken similar leaps in life, from professional development workers-with and without blogs , to writers, to artists to whoever happens to cross my path. This is not meant to belittle those who decide to stay in one place, or love the simple pleasure of being with their families. I’m often jealous of what you have, I’ve just realized that it’s not me at this point in my life, or at least it’s me but without the hometown safety net.
What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on unhooking from societies tenacious fingers? What would you like to read in this new section?