“The greatest mistake you can make in life is continually fearing that you’ll make one.”– Elbert Hubbard
I quickly discovered that preparing for a year of travel entailed much more than just packing a bag and leaving. I had 2 months to purge my life in Vancouver as soon as my employer approved my leave of absence. The task seemed simple enough: pack a bag, buy travel insurance, update my vaccinations, book a few flights and hotels, and sell my car.
But the biggest task was to clean and rid the contents of my residence. How hard could this be? I was only dealing with a small, 500 square foot basement suite. I have borderline hoarder tendencies, so emptying my home became a monumental task. A vicious circle ensued: the more I procrastinated, the more the anticipatory anxiety grew, leaving me paralyzed to even start.
Shedding my life of its physical contents left me with revelations about myself that I didn’t realize existed or that I’ve avoided facing. Here’s what I learned about myself:
1) I want the things I own to define who I am.
As I sifted through my muddle of personal affects in my living room, I had to finally admit to myself that I had amassed things in my home to define who I was. To craft an image of what I wanted people to see.
In the convoluted world that we’ve created for ourselves today, there seems to be a movement towards self-improvement, life purpose and personal happiness. Perhaps people have always strived for this, but people’s efforts to attain these things seems more conspicuous today than when I was in grade school. I too wanted to look like one of these people that was fast tracking my life towards happiness and enlightenment.
To portray this image, I owned stacks of self-help books, anchored by roughly 30 volumes of the “Chicken Soup For The Soul” series. I found copies of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul and for the Parent’s Soul even though I’m not a teenager and have never been a parent. Also, like any respectable self-help library, mine also included classics like “Co-dependant No More”, “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway” and “Men Are From Mars And Women Are From Venus”. I’ve never read more than 3 pages in any of these books. In most cases none.
To show that I was a spiritual giant with enlightenment in my crosshairs, my living room included props such as a 2 piece yin yang coffee table that I purchased off of Craigslist for $25.
To some degree, I was a fraud of a human being.
Ironically, no one would ever get to see the self-help motif of my living quarters, since I rarely had guests for a visit. My hoarding tendencies resulted in a living room that looked like the bedroom of a junkyard dog.
Moreover, my bouts of insomnia over the years made me easy prey to late night infomercials. During this household cleanse, I also unearthed the “Six Second Abs” apparatus along with an unopened “Pennies On The Dollar Real Estate” program. Obviously, during one late night, I felt the need to quickly get in shape and retire before month’s end.
This physical purge of my life left me feeling (for the lack of a better word) awkward. For a brief moment, I felt like I was missing an appendage like an arm or a leg. I felt anxiety in the middle of my chest. The contents of my home stuck to me like cheap Velcro for years. Their purpose for me had now run long passed its course.
Clichéd, but don’t let material things define who you are. Don’t be mistaken, I love “things” as much as the next person. For example, I love my travel gear and gadgets. But I fell into the trap of wanting the outside world to define who I am on the inside. As far as what people think: most people don’t really care anyway. They’re too busy worrying about the details of their own life to really care about yours.
2) I seek certainty for the future and my life.
I felt dread as I turned my attention to the tower of file and Bankers Boxes that sat in the corner of my living room. These boxes and its contents had been accumulating for years. I was about to find out how long exactly. The first box held a bank statement dated from 2000. Yes, 14 years of accumulated bank, credit card and financial statements, utility invoices, warranties, tax returns, and original purchase receipts.
As I rifled through the first file box, I couldn’t even remember why I kept this plethora of paper documents. But as I hit my fourth box, I remembered.
The notion was that, if any of these companies or organizations made a mistake and wanted more money from me for a mistake from 10 years prior or possibly 10 years into the future, I’d be prepared. I’d have proof. I wanted an iron clad defense “just in case”. My train of thought sounds a bit insane as I reread this last passage.
I wanted a life with certainty.
I’m not a math maven, but I’ve always wanted to run my life like a mathematical equation. Equations are great: simple and exact. For example A+B=C. If I know any 2 of the 3 variables, I can determine the value of the unknown third variable.
I wanted life to be as simple as this equation. Just plug in some data and know the answer with certainty. However, life just doesn’t work like that.
My past travels and its gaffs have proven this. From delayed flights and reservation errors to tourist scams, life has proven to be anything but certain and predictable. Some of my most poignant periods of personal growth arose out of these types of unforeseen events.
The purging of these of old documents was my first step towards living in the present and walking in a world unknown, unfamiliar and unpredictable to me.
There is no certainty to life. Life can’t be predicted and trying to do so will steal from you precious moments of living today.
3) I live my life in fear.
My need to keep extensive amounts of outdated documents, is an example how many of my life’s decisions had been based in fear. In this case, fear of “possible” monetary loss.
Fictitious or real, I realized that fear had run my life.
Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of falling in love. Fear of falling out of love (if I ever fell in love). Fear of rejection. Fear of dying. Fear of making mistakes. My life was rife with fear and I wanted to be free of the stranglehold that it had on me.
The comfortable clutter of my life, gave me all the excuses I needed to not face my fears and to not participate in life. I would never try anything new, because I was always in the process of “cleaning” my home or taking care of “things” in my life. I was the guy that was always “tired” and “busy”, because being tired and busy meant that I was productive. In reality, my productivity consisted of surfing the internet, watching TV and piddling. I’m an expert piddler.
I have a close friend that de-clutters his work and personal environments on an on-going basis throughout the year. He’s always encouraged me to do the same, believing that nothing good can enter my life until I’ve expunged the dead weight out of my life – literally and figuratively.
Like all people, I’ve had my own trial and tribulations to face, and personal demons to slay. My life was Okay. For a long time, this was acceptable to me because, my life wasn’t disastrous or painful like it once was. But there came a time when Okay just wasn’t good enough anymore. I wanted more. I wanted to feel alive.
It was once said to me, that fear should be classified with stealing. It took years for me to understand that. Inconspicuously, the theft included experiences, possibilities and ultimately happiness as fear left the engine of my motivation and passions stalled in neutral.
The uprooting of home and de-cluttering of my inane possessions felt like a watershed moment for me. Only time will tell how much so.
Face your fears. A leap of faith. Trial by fire. All that is required is some form of action. Without action, the lies that fear tells you, becomes seemingly believable and will continue to steal from your life.
4) Some of my life’s comforts became Golden Hand Cuffs.
Golden Handcuffs are financial incentives and benefits that are offered to key employees in a company with the objective of retaining them instead of having them move from company to company. Golden Handcuffs can come in the form of stock options, bonuses and other benefits.
My home was my pair of Golden Handcuffs. For the past 14 years, I had been paying absurdly low rent in one of Vancouver City’s more desirable neighborhoods, without a single rent hike by my landlady during my tenancy. Even government subsidized housing in the poorest neighborhoods of the city couldn’t compare to my rent. I was a very good tenant that didn’t cause problems and I reckon my landlady wanted to retain me for this reason. My rock bottom rent was both a blessing and a curse at the same time.
My cheap rent was a blessing in that it allowed me to quickly free myself of personal debt. It also allowed me the financial means to travel more in recent years.
Conversely, my bargain living suite shackled me to a life that erred on the side of safety and conservatism. At least in my mind it did. I have the personality and mindset where ideas and thoughts are generally set in stone. I cling onto old ideas like a man in a sinking ship. My cheap rent was the glue that sealed the ship’s escape hatch.
I felt trapped. Despite being comforted with some degree of financial security in both employment and residence, I was not happy. There are people who are free spirits and have the ability and resilience to adapt and change on the fly. I envied them. However, I wasn’t one of them.
In my case, comfort coupled with fear made for a sandbox of quicksand that I played in daily.
Thoughts of subletting my suite had crossed my mind in the hopes of returning to it when I came home from this year abroad. I knew for me personally, if I was to change my current mindset and station in life, my actions would have to be jarring and seismic.
I knew I had to give up my home completely if I was to embark on this new journey.
For me personally, I had to shed some of the comforts of my life that kept me from trying new things.
This may not be an option for everyone, but I do encourage you to re-examine those things that keep you comfortable and complacent. One doesn’t have to uproot their whole life to exact change. At least be open to the idea of something new in your life.
5) There’s more love in my life than I think.
Three months have passed since my last blog post. At the time, I assumed that I could write a post perhaps weekly or at worst bi-weekly. But to sit down and gather my thoughts into anything coherent is not easy as it sounds.
In all fairness, the past 3 months have been a bit of an anomaly with the Christmas holiday season and the dismantling of my Vancouver life to prepare for this year abroad. The one thing that caught me off guard was how many people wanted to visit with me before I left. Friends wanting to catch up and wish me well before I departed.
Perhaps it’s the “glass is half empty” perspective that I developed during my formative teenage years watching John Cusack movies of him usually portraying an angst filled teenager who often stood in the rain with a broken heart. As a result, I never fully embraced the notion that people cared.
I was taken aback by the emotional roller coaster that came with saying goodbye to my friends … friends that really cared. The people in my life loved me for more than I cared to give them credit for and they’ve all had a significant impact on my life in various ways.
I’ve always considered myself a bit of a loner and generally lacked any appreciable gratitude for the positives in my life. On the eve of my departure, the one thing that I was grateful for were the friends and family in my life.
Simple one here: Be grateful for the positives in your life. Honestly, I’m generally not a positive person. However, I’ve found embracing some sort of gratitude can be healing for the soul.
As I embark on my year of travel, I’m filled with paradoxes. I feel happy, yet sad. I feel excited, yet scared. Oddly, a small part of me feels like a man on death row during his final days. Conversely, a bigger part of me feels like a wrongly convicted criminal that’s finally getting his freedom after spending 20 years in prison. Perhaps a bit dramatic, but you get the point.
In the end, I have no idea what the future holds for me. I guess that’s the point.
And for that, I’m truly excited.
“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell
Have you ever embarked on an extended period of travel? If so, what was your experience like?
Feel free to also comment or add to my post.