For me, dreams used to be those things that you say you will do when you are older, when you have more time, when you have more money, or when you have a better opportunity. But you never make plans to set them into motion.
Recently, I have been living two of my major life goals, which I had originally envisioned for some faraway future.
The two biggest occasions that pushed me to pursue my dreams have both looked very similar – they included a shocking and upsetting event (alcohol optional), outside perspectives, and true consideration of a change for the present, instead of in the unforeseeable future.
My first big decision was to give up my apartment in New York City to work remotely while traveling through South America; I had always wanted live in a Spanish speaking country to improve my Spanish and experience other parts of the world. My second big decision came after the startup I worked for failed to raise enough funding and laid me off while I was working remotely for them in South America. At that point, I took the leap to do something I had always wanted to do – backpack through a foreign continent without a job tying me down. Looking back, both of these choices seem like perfectly logical, even obvious next moves. My company already had remote workers; why not work remotely as well? I was already in South America; why not continue travelling? However, each decision was wrought with perhaps too much contemplation, doubt, and stress before I finally pulled the trigger.
Shocking and Upsetting Events
In order for me to think about breaking my routine, I needed an outside force – a catalyst. Life was too comfortable and easy living in NYC with my family nearby, my office of amazing people, my friends hanging out every week, and my weekly gym and rock climbing routines. Likewise, it was too easy to continue doing work I was not passionate about when it allowed me to travel the world.
The first catalyst was election day. What started out as a jovial party of friends hanging out and drinking ended with an ambiance of despair and more drinking. In the late hours of the night, while quite inebriated, our group joked about leaving the country. Since I had wanted to live in a Spanish-speaking country from the first days I learned Spanish, I looked up plane tickets to Barcelona around Inauguration Day. “Guys, one way tickets are only $200 to Barcelona in January!” I exclaimed and posted on Facebook as a joke, “Barcelona, see you in January!” I had no intention of following through with it. I was more focused on what felt at the time like a traumatic event that hit the city. That night, a friend had sobbed loudly in the bathroom and, at work the next day, my friend hugged me tightly and cried in my arms. No one seemed to have had the energy to work. A solemn air had permeated the city.
Likewise, the second big event followed a similarly upsetting pattern. One day, I was discussing plans at work for a project due to launch a few months from then. The next day, I woke up in a small Airbnb room in Santiago, Chile to an untitled meeting invitation from the Chief Operating Officer. It turned out that the company failed to raise the funds it needed that round. They had to make some tough decisions. It was the day of mass layoffs. And it was a complete shock to everyone. We had went from discussing longer term plans one day to a third of the company left jobless the next day. I walked away from that meeting with the COO in a daze. As I sat there for hours, alone in a small room in someone else’s apartment, in a country far away from friends and family, with two more months remaining in South America, waiting for the email with the logistics for my termination, I couldn’t fight off the feelings of loneliness and despair.
While tears had drawn rivlets into my pillows following both of these events, I was fortunate to have experienced outside perspectives from people removed from the situation following each of the “disasters”. The day after the election, my coworker and friend working remotely from Europe messaged me that he would be in Spain in January. He had seen the joke Facebook post. I already had a meeting scheduled with him that day for work, so for part of that meeting, we talked about my joke post and the election. This conversation with someone so removed from the event was exactly what I needed. He wasn’t deeply invested in the election one way or another, unlike the Americans that surrounded me. Just seeing his nonchalance about the whole thing and hearing about the government in Croatia made me zoom out in perspective and see that it was not the end of the world. Things could definitely be worse.
I received a similar perspective blast when I was in Chile the evening after I got the news. I was grabbing drinks with a new friend at her hostel. There, many people were post-jobs and living off their savings while backpacking through South America. In general, the travelers I have met come from all over the world and each voluntarily chose to explore faraway lands without job security. For example, a young German woman in her early twenties hitchhiked her way through South America until she ran out of money. A British man in his mid-twenties drove around Argentina and Chile for half a year and planned to continue backpacking until the money ran dry. Then, it was off to Australia to find a job. A French engineer also in his twenties had been travelling in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay for 6 months, splitting his time between traveling and working – in a hostel in Uruguay and a vineyard in Argentina. An American woman at the start of her retirement moved to Santiago, Chile to teach English there without knowing any Spanish. All these people were having the times of their lives on a tight budget, probably more so than most Americans do in their lifetimes.
Consideration of the Dream for the Present
After the perspective doses, the final step of the treatment was to truly consider the dream for that moment, not some undetermined time in the future. This step started as general curiosity about what it would take to make the leap. In neither case did I think I would actually follow through. In fact, I did not even start considering the ideas until someone else suggested them to me. Post election, it was my coworker who told me to go to Barcelona, not because of Trump, but because I had always wanted to. With the idea implanted, I started evaluating my barriers for the fun of it. Some of these were that I was subletting an apartment in NYC until the end of June, I did not know anyone in Spanish-speaking countries, I would have more difficulty working outside of the office, and that I had a life in NYC. While taken together, these obstacles were daunting, coming up with solutions for each one individually made them all the more manageable. The mountains that stood between me and my destination were in reality molehills that I could step over with a bit of effort.
In Santiago, Chile, those mountains for me were the fact that I had a bulky suitcase with all of my day-to-day life possessions, no income to fund my travels, and the feeling that I should resolve my unemployment status by immediately jumping into the job search. These barriers melted away in my mind during a local hike, where a met and befriended a woman living in Santiago. After talking to her about my situation, she suggested that I leave the suitcase with someone in Santiago and continue backpacking for the rest of my trip. She even offered to store these excessive possessions for me. Ecstatic, I continued the hike over the dry, cactus-filled landscape, contemplating my career. I had recently read this inspirational list about when people made their big breaks and the J.K. Rowling piece immediately came to mind: “At age 28, J.K. Rowling was a suicidal single parent living on welfare.” At age 25, I have a lifetime of career ahead of me; I can afford to take 2+ months off to travel and reflect.
My two major travel decisions both arose from the ashes of upsetting events, and, fueled by the power of perspective, took flight after sincere evaluation of them for the present, instead of the undetermined future. While these three things served me well this time, I hope that for future endeavors, my own desire, and not these three steps, will be enough to propel me forward. For now, though, I am grateful to have the freedom that I do to pursue my upcoming travels. Chile, Bolivia and Peru, here I come!