When I was 23, my life had become a burden. I didn’t like my job. I didn’t like anything in my life. The only thing I liked was escaping. Movies, sports, video games. Anything to forget what life was like.
I had graduated university two years earlier. I had a business degree, and I had spent the last two years of my life working as a glorified book-keeper. I couldn’t believe that this was all there was to life. Driving to work, driving home, watching TV, going out on the weekend and dreading Monday morning. Was this what life was going to be like for the next 40 years?
It seemed pointless. I didn’t want to do it. Something had to be different.
I was lucky. I didn’t have student debt. I had saved money. I wasn’t tied to anything. So I left. I went traveling. Spent six months moving and thinking and I decided that there could be something more, that there were ways for me to start living a life that excited me. There were ways that I could support myself as I made that happen.
I was lucky. I hit rock bottom and decided I couldn’t take this conventional unfulfilling life, and I was free enough that I could do something else. What if I had $50,000 in debt? If I was paying $4,000 a year in interest payments, would I have been able to quit?
I would have been too scared. I would have looked for a new job; I would have tried to make more money. I might have even succeeded in paying off my debt. But I never would have started living a self-directed life. I would have been just going through the motions.
College seems like the safe route. People tell you it opens up options. But four years and $50,000 of student debt is a pretty persuasive sunk cost. It will force you to focus on money when you graduate. It will help you get stuck. Is there anything safe about something that pushes you towards a life you don’t want to be living?
I don’t know when this book found you. If you are applying to college, in the middle of it, or already graduated. It matters on some level, but it also doesn’t matter. There are just a couple lessons to understand.
- You need time and real experience to figure out what you want to do with your life. College classes don’t help.
- Education and the Education System are different things.
Traveling gave me time and space to consider what I didn’t like about my life at home. I had enough free time that I eventually started to notice the things I liked doing. Meeting so many people, and seeing new ways of life gave me the experience to see that getting a corporate job in a big city was not the only way.
Traveling gave me time to reconnect with the joy of learning. Years of public school and college make you associate learning with work. Travel gives you time to become bored. You eventually learn that the best way to feel happy and entertained is to learn something new. Developing a skill gives a deeper and more fulfilling sense of satisfaction than the momentary pleasures of drinking with your friends, watching sports, or movies, or whatever other forms of escape you choose.
I don’t know when this book found you, but if you are considering going to college I just want to ask you why?
What is it you are truly after and is college truly the best way to achieve that?
If the answer is yes, great.
It probably isn’t though.
Most of us still don’t know what we are after. I only kind of do now. At 17 I had no idea what I wanted out of life. I didn’t have a reason for going to college. It was the thing that successful high school students did, so that is what I did.
Here is the secret, though, no one figures out what they want to do with their lives in college. Colleges are disconnected from reality. Instead of seeing the almost infinite possibilities for your career that exist, you pick from a list of majors. Chemistry, Math, Business, Art, English. A handful of options, each with their own building, but all equally disconnected from reality.
Enjoying an economics course doesn’t mean you will like working as an economist. As a student, you don’t even know what each subject would entail as a profession. Finding a career you like is the same process as finding food that you like.
Think about how you found your favorite foods? You didn’t attend a lecture on Japanese cuisine to find out if you liked sushi. You decided you liked sushi because you tried sushi. Probably more than once. The same applies to finding out what you want to do with your time.
Figuring out what you want to do with your life is going to take a long time. You probably won’t be sure at any one point, and it will certainly change over time. Just like the food you want to eat changes from day to day, and week to week. Foods that you didn’t like as a child may now be your favorite food. You went out and experienced them.
Travel and university aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s not a decision to travel now and never go to college. Maybe you will figure out that college is what you want to be doing with your time. But maybe you won’t. Taking the time to gather some amazing experiences, to become more responsible, and to learn what you like doing is pretty risk-free. The option of spending four years of your time and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a university credential that you don’t even want seems like quite the risk.
Quite the risk that everyone seems to take. The safe option that actually is risky. Millions of kids stuck with mountains of debt and with useless degrees. No closer to finding fulfillment. No better off in their ability to survive.
Travel isn’t a way to escape from reality. It is not a choice between learning valuable skills and building a career or having a fun time visiting new places. Travel is a tool that you can use to improve your life if you choose to use it that way. Spending one year taking an adventure around the globe is going to teach you a lot about personal responsibility, and a lot about the things you enjoy doing with your time. But the value of travel depends on how you implement it into your life once you finish traveling.
The first time I traveled I viewed it as a valuable learning experience, but as a break from real life. The lesson I learned years later is that travel is not a break from life. Not a temporarily escape from drudgery, but a window into what a self-directed life can feel like. An opportunity to understand what being alive and engaged feels like and a landmark to move your day to day life towards.
Travel isn’t the end goal. A more enjoyable life is the end goal. That is why travel is not for everyone. If you know what you want to accomplish in life, then get started. If you want to be a tech entrepreneur, find a way to intern at a startup. If you don’t though, and you feel the weight of expectations pulling you towards college, remember that there is a different way. But it’s not easy.
It takes courage to follow an unconventional path. Courage most people don’t have. Courage to say, I don’t know what I want to do, so I’m going to take some time to try some stuff out. It can make you afraid to go off on your own to new countries, continents, and places your family and friends think are scary. It made me afraid, but I wish I had done it sooner.