As I take a few months off to explore the Philippines and Taiwan, I can’t help but feel that travel (particularly long-term vagabonding-style travel) is an escape, and sometimes only that.
It’s what so many of us use to put off (or escape) reality to some day over the rainbow. We put it on the back burner. “Ehh I’ll deal with it later,” we tell ourselves. For the young that don’t have limits to our travel (beyond just money), it’s a little different. Technically we can keep traveling and not stop traveling.
As I meet people, travel and live my own life, I wonder how much of what we do is an attempt to avoid the real world. We avoid making the tough calls. We avoid the most important decisions until the last moment. We put off adulthood and the responsibility that “real” decision making entails.
So I’ve been thinking – have I been avoiding reality and attempting to buy myself time?
Signs that you’re avoiding your reality
You’ve been teaching English abroad. For three years…
You moved backed in with your parents. Two years ago. And only have been working a part time job.
You went back to grad school or got your MBA even though you’re not quite sure what you want to do.
Your circumstances, jobs, or location have changed but you are still on the same page of your story.
Face it, you’re avoiding reality.
If you’re teaching English I bet you figure “Why the hell would I get a corporate job just to pay for an expensive apartment back home, when I am living like a king here < insert random place in Asia > ?”
If you moved back in with your parents and have been chilling and partying with friends, taking it easy and sleeping in, I bet you figure “what’s the point of moving out and getting a ‘real job’ and making life so much more difficult when I can just chill and not pay rent like I am now?”
If you went back to grad school or got your MBA I bet you figured “Why not? I can get some sweet credentials, makes some sweet connections, and get a higher paying job. Plus my current job(s) blow, and I’m not quite sure what to do. I might as well go get another degree while I figure it out.” (Bet you forgot about the 100k debt…)
We try to justify all these actions but rarely do we sit down and think about how beneficial they’d be 3, 5, or 10 years down the line. We also rarely think about what we really want.
Will you really be teaching English for 5 or 10 years?
Do you plan on living with your parents and working at the video store till you’re 30?
Do you honestly think that paying 50 or 100k for grad school will magically clarify what you’ve always wanted to do?
For most of you I’d bet your answer is no. In other words, you’re stalling.
But here’s my question: are these really that bad?
The four types of people and their realities
As far as avoiding or responding to reality goes, I see four people on a yearly basis (meaning when I’m at home, and when I travel).
#1 Rockstars – people who ditch reality for good.
You know, the crazy uncle that lives in an RV and always has girlfriends and is always moving? Yep.
Got a friend who is kind of vagabonding and bumming all over the world, working odd jobs to pay his way around? Yep.
This group of people that “ditch” reality always seem to have a hard time coping or paying the bills and for whatever reason often fall into the stereotypically “irresponsible” category.
I know a “rocker” who probably will never settle down, will never truly feel like she’s found her place, who is okay with having just enough money to get by, and is totally fine with being a transient for most of her life.
#2 Emerging adults – people who put off reality short-term.
These are the people who end up moving or living abroad, backpacking, teaching English, doing teach for America, Peace Corps, etc.
Most of us go in search of adventure and change, but don’t really have intentions of actually doing that forever (even though we talk like we do). We want a year or a few years of adventure before we head back to figure out what’s next regarding “reality.”
Most of us want semi “normal” lives after – marriage, kids, a job after our hiatus.
#3 The realist (corporate type) – people who jump right into reality and stay.
We’ve all got friends who went right to their first job post-college and are still there.
I’ve got multiple friends working banking jobs in NYC making great money working 70 hours a week. 99% of those people will never escape that reality for most of their life. They often talk of escape but are too afraid of leaving what they have behind.
They drool when they hear about my constant “vacations” and trips abroad and can’t wait to escape. Most won’t.
#4 The discontent – people who have thought about, and figured out, their reality.
One example is a couple I know. The husband is Fijian, the wife is German. They mixed their realities by creating a resort on an island in Fiji where they now live. None of them have 9 to 5’s or limited vacation time. They can do what they want.
I ended up meeting them because I did marine biology research at their resort in Fiji for 6 weeks — Lawaki beach house.
Another example is a friend I have who has his own business. His employees do the work while he makes sure the system runs smoothly (remember: run the system, don’t be a cog in it). He spends 9 months of the year traveling, and most of his other time is spent doing whatever he wants (usually traveling more for charities).
Are you putting off “life” because the life you’re gonna go back to sucks big time?
Are you putting off reality? In other words, are you fleeing your circumstances for the time being, even though you know you’re going to have to come back to them? Is what you’re doing going to bite you in the ass in a few years?
Do you want a family and kids… but you’re still on your third year of teaching English?
Do you constantly dream of world travel but can’t imagine leaving your salary and pad in NYC?
There’s obviously a discrepancy going on here…
Don’t get me wrong I’m all for “fuck it” travels that take you to all kinds of places because you’re ordinary life exhausts you. Do it. Take them. But if you’re 22 and doing “fuck it” trips, and then 25 and 30 and 35 and still doing them, you obviously haven’t figured out what’s going on underneath it all.
You need to think about how you can have the best of both worlds.
The “real world” doesn’t have to scare you shitless
Going and living abroad, or teaching English, or backpacking and traveling, or vagabonding or bumming around won’t change shit once you get home.
The world is going to be as you left it. If how you left it was chaotic, messy, confusing, and unfriendly, that’s how you’ll find it.
If you left the world and it was scary and intimidating and impersonal, that’s how you’re going to find it once you go back.
The real world is supposed to be hard. College is easy. I don’t care if you got a 4.0 and were an honor’s student and won a dozen awards and accolades all while being on a sport’s team. The real world is still harder.
If it’s easier, you’re probably being way too complacent.
So go off and ditch reality for as long as you want, but remember:
… reality will find you, and it will be twice the bitch it was last time you left it. At some point you have to confront your reality and seek to improve it or resign.
So take the “fuck it” trips, go off and vagabond and teach English or do the peace corps or live abroad. But remember that it is no substitute for thinking through why you do what you do. And those things won’t magically help you figure out what you want to do unless you sit down and think about what you want to do.
And remember that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.
If being a vagabond and transient (by will) is what you want to do your whole life, know that you are consciously probably trading off the option of having and raising healthy, functional kids.
If you want to go off and be a rockstar, plopping around a new country every 2 years for the next 40 years, know that it in all likelihood it means you’re going to have to sacrifice your relationships for it and may never have a long-term relationship.
If you’re comfortably in your post-college job, with your apartment, plenty of money, but a feeling that life sucks and is pretty mediocre and meaningless - know that going home and wasting your time by watching TV or playing video games is just putting off your life.
You’re just postponing everything. Spinning your wheels. Killing time. You won’t just magically figure shit out playing Call of Duty or watching Scrubs.
There’s no such thing as “buying time”
This always struck me as ironic. In English, when we try to get extra time we say we’re “buying time.”
The problem is that each person’s time is finite, so by definition all you can do is spend time. Buying time is actually killing time.
Hopefully then we want to ask ourselves how we’re investing our time — because you can either waste it (where what you do won’t return anything to you), or you can invest it for a potential return.
You can travel and still be killing time.
You can have a job and an apartment and still be wasting your life.
You can teach English or join the peace corps and return home years later and truthfully be the same person in the same shitty circumstances if you never confronted them.
So if you’re a recent (or not so recent) college grad, ask yourself: are you killing your time or investing it? Are you dodging reality hoping it’ll magically be all unicorns and rainbows when you get back home?
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