I’m 27 years old, and I’m on the verge of getting my first real job.
Not my first job, I’ve had lots of those, but my first job job. You know what I mean, the kind of job where they talk about your salary in terms of years instead of hours. The kind of job where I might actually be able to save money AND simultaneously eat more than ramen on a daily basis.
You might think this is an instant jump-for-joy moment given our economy, but it presents a serious problem for me;
After living in France for a year I moved back to the States to try and carve out a living for myself through web design. Through a series of events that could generously be described as comedic, I wound up freelancing just in time for the recession to hit. What followed was a really tough two years, and I started to wonder if this was all my life was destined to be: endlessly chasing clients to make ends meet and hoping that no one screwed me royally enough to really do me in.
During this period I read somewhere that Warren Buffett was urging our generation to travel while we were young, to see the world and grow and worry about careers later. As I recall, he said that if we saw the world, enriched ourselves by understanding some of its depth and diversity, and then returned to the workforce afterward, we’d be doing everyone a favor. Besides, why would you spend your extended life expectancy on more time in an office?
I can’t find that quote now, so I’m guessing it was misattributed, but never has a misattributed quote moved me to make such drastic changes in my life.
I decided that enough was enough, I wasn’t wasting my youth on the life I was leading. Then the opportunity to join a medical humanitarian organization presented itself from the blue. I jumped at the chance, lived on a hospital ship, and watched as lives were changed dramatically along the western coast of Africa. I lived with people from over 30 nations and traveled to 11 different countries in the first year alone.
As I moved from country to country, continent to continent, the one thing that managed to nag at me somehow was security. Finding a calm when the tumult of the tempest had passed. I was enjoying the ridiculousness of my life, but I knew that it couldn’t last.
What was I going to do when the adventure was over? What would I do for money, when money was so hard to come by back home? Of course this brought in the ill-fated relational questions, like what woman would ever want a guy whose earning potential was practically non-existent? The word “Stability” kept getting thrown around whenever my shortcomings were inadvertently listed in otherwise civil conversation.
Writing from Paris, where I’ve taught English and have been writing for the last year now, these questions still plague me. But what scares me more in the moment is that I might have actually found an answer.
If I get a job, if I take a salary, if I move back to the States, will that be what I truly want? Or was I tricked into believing the grass was significantly greener on the other side of the Atlantic?
I do think that this will be a good change for me, a needed one as I grow and try to conquer new “adult” territory. The trick will be to continue to see it as an adventure, and not to become sedentary in the calm.
And here comes my long-awaited point: life is an adventure, but if we draw ourselves out of the thrill of it we risk losing our very souls.
That’s dramatic language for a generation that isn’t even sure we have souls to lose, but as humans we live for the danger of the unknown. Be it big or small, the ever-shifting shape of things to come is something that keeps us sharp, and from becoming bored, whether or not we’re willing to face it.
But as the sage* once put it, “You will never discover new lands until you are ready to lose sight of the shore.”
We’re growing conditioned to this boredom, with Angry Birds and Twitter and other feather-themed electronic pastimes. There’s little space left to dream, and our imaginations die bloody deaths the more zombies’ heads we see explode. There’s a dull ache inside each of us as we accumulate more stuff and wonder, “Is this it? Is this all there is?”
There is a dear need in each of us to strike out and try something new, give of ourselves to those less fortunate, and build a world that was better than we found it. Our sedentary lives risk little, save that very nature which dies slowly within each of us as we refuse to move from couch or chair. Life can be easy. You can be secure. But what kind of life is comprised of wasted time?
As I pack up and move, one more time, I need to remind myself to keep the adventure alive. That security is an illusion, but the journey is not. Whether it’s travel, founding a business, or starting new relationships, I can’t stop now. I can’t ever stop, or I risk too much.
To close by misattributing another quote**: as Mark Twain once put it, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
By Jay Swanson
*Variations are attributed from Andre Gide and Christopher Columbus to “Anonymous”
**Actual source believed to be H. Jackson Brown, Jr.