Why I Kissed My Promising Career Goodbye to Travel the World (And Don’t Regret It)

Ever had a ‘Meh Morning’?

I used to have them all the time.

You know, when your alarm goes off and it’s time to get up — but you just can’t.

Not because you’re too tired, but because your motivation tank is completely dry. You’ve lost the excitement that used to lift you out of bed every morning. That drive to go out and seize the day.

So, you just lie there staring at the ceiling, wondering what happened to your life.

Why does everything feel so… ‘blah’?

Meh Mornings tend to pinpoint exactly what needs to change in our lives.

And, more often than not, it comes down to a career that doesn’t inspire us, a dead-end job we feel trapped in, or a case of All-Work-No-Play Syndrome we’ve been infected with.

The problem is, after realizing why we’re in a funk, we rarely take action.

Why?

Well, because change is scary. It’s complicated. And it’s easier said than done. To make a change, there’s lots of variables to consider. Lots of pieces to the puzzle. There’s risk involved.

And you can’t just go around making changes willy-nilly. You need to be responsible. (Can you hear your mother’s voice in your head yet?)

To be responsible, we’re taught to follow what I call the “How to Have a Happy Successful Life” blueprint.

You know the blueprint, right? Everybody does.

Study hard, get into a top university, choose a high-paying career path, maybe tack on a post-grad to beef up your qualifications. Land a promising job with a great company, spend years hustling your way up the ladder, make a ton of money, and…be happy.

Sounds like a pretty solid step-by-step plan. What could go wrong?

Maybe you’ve followed it to a T. Done everything you’re supposed to. Spent years ticking things off the list.

But you’ve noticed something doesn’t feel quite right.

It’d be sinful to doubt the blueprint though, so you bury those feelings and work even harder.

You can’t stop now, can you? You can’t just leave it all behind and take a new path. That’d be ridiculous. A huge waste of effort.

But that feeling keeps coming back. Something’s not right.

No. You’re in too deep. You made a decision, and there’s no turning back. The only option is to keep moving forward. To keep following the plan. To keep being “responsible”.

But is that really true?

I sure thought it was. In fact, I’d bought into the whole lie hook, line, and sinker.

I’d practically killed myself hustling to win a seat in my competitive post-graduate program.

To get there, I’d neglected my happiness, my health, and worst of all, my loved ones.

I was so dead-set on achieving the “successful” life that I dismissed all alternatives as foolish.

I’d literally look around at other people who weren’t working as hard as me, and I’d judge them.

Wow, what a shame. Look at them wasting their lives. Throwing away their potential. When will they get it together?

via GIPHY

I thought I had it all figured out. But boy was I wrong.

Luckily for me, Life stepped in and gave me a gracious smack to the face, knocking me off my high horse.

What happened?

Well, the summer before starting my program, a friend invited me on a one-month backpacking trip through Thailand. About to sign the next decade of my life away in the name of career advancement, I decided one last, quick adventure would be just what I needed.

Little did I know, my life was about to change forever.

During that short month, I realized the blueprint we’re force-fed our entire lives is not the only blueprint. It’s not the only way to be successful in life. And it’s definitely not the only way to be happy (it’s actually a horrible way, but that’s a rant for another day).

During that trip, the blinders were ripped off my head and my eyes were forced open. Everything I had known was turned upside down.

Learning what I’d learned, there was no way I could continue with the blueprint.

If I did, I’d regret it forever.

So, I took all the hard work and sacrifices I’d made, crumpled them up, and chucked them in the fire.

I left the US, and I never returned.

Crazy, right?

I thought so too…until Life hit me with these 5 belief-shattering realizations…

1. I realized our days are numbered

We love to worry. Especially about things that never happen.

In fact, worry is one of the biggest things holding us back in life. We use it as an excuse to not take action. To stay put where we are. Comfortable in our safe little boxes.

What if I get hurt? What if I lose money? What if I fail?

*Sigh*

If you really want to worry, worry about this:

What if I miss out on living life to the fullest – the life I’m meant to live – because I was too scared to take risks — because I couldn’t bear not having complete control and predictability in my life?

Or even worse:

What if my plan to put off my dreams until “someday” backfires? What if my health doesn’t last as long as expected, and I waste my precious time on this earth grinding away, making sacrifices for a “someday” that never comes?

We all think we’re going to live a long, healthy life and have plenty of time for our plans. But the truth is, there are no guarantees.

Today could be your last day.

Kind of a morbid thought, I know. But it’s true.

It’s a truth that’s often too abstract to fully understand unless something horrible happens. It usually takes a painful experience for the lesson to “click” so we can apply it to our lives.

For me, it was when my healthy, active, 45-year-old dad’s heart suddenly stopped beating due to a congenital defect. Nobody expected that.

But it taught me to never to put my dreams on hold until “someday”.

Life is fragile. Our days are numbered. The time to follow your dreams is now.

2. I realized it was now or never

Before Thailand, I’d barely even left my hometown.

Once I left, I suddenly realized the world is HUGE.

How could I decide to spend the next several years (or my entire life) in one city when I didn’t even know what else was out there. I hadn’t seen anything. There’s no way I could settle down without at least exploring my options.

But, if I continued following the blueprint, the next opportunity I’d have to go out and explore the world would be in 5 years. Minimum. And that’s if I was lucky.

In other words, I’d spend all of my 20’s — the years when I’d have the most energy, best health, and least responsibilities — cooped up studying, working, and making a name for myself.

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Seems a little silly to me.

And after that, assuming I hadn’t loaded up my life with new responsibilities (marriage, kids, house, etc), I might be able to take a short break to do some traveling.

Wouldn’t want to be gone for too long though. Wouldn’t want to risk “falling behind” (which is ridiculous, as you’ll soon find out).

You see the problem here?

Things tend to snowball. The longer you wait, the more complicated it is to break free.

And, as cliche as it may sound, you’re only young once.

I want to spend those years doing something I love. I’d rather explore the world and take risks in my 20’s than hope to do it “someday” when I’m rich, old, and worn out.

Will my decision come back to bite me someday?

Maybe.

But I honestly don’t think so. For every door I’ve closed, several more have opened.

It’s crazy how life works out when you let go of control.

3. I realized there is no such thing as “falling behind”

One of the biggest fears I had when deciding whether to ditch the blueprint was the fear of “falling behind”.

We’ve been taught there’s a certain schedule or “life-clock” we need to live by. A script we need to follow in order to “stay on track”. It tells us when we should be studying, entering the workforce, earning promotions, getting married, buying a house, having kids….

You get the picture.

It’s not necessarily a bad script. But it’s definitely not the only script.

And you shouldn’t feel like a failure if you don’t live by the blueprint’s watch. Being “different” doesn’t mean being “wrong”.

So, if you want to take a year off to travel and see all the opportunities the world has to offer, then take the year off. See what unexpected places life takes you.

Will your friends and coworkers be a year ahead of you when you get back?

Maybe. Depends how you define “ahead”, I suppose.

And if they are, who cares?

Think about the big picture.

It might seem like life is passing you by while you’re off living your adventure. But in 5, 10, 20 years…will you feel the difference?

Doubt it.

But chances are, what you gain from taking the road less traveled will be infinitely more valuable than the time you “lost”.

Playing with Kuna indian kids on San Blas Islands
Goofing off with some kids from the Kuna Indian tribe of the San Blas Islands

4. I realized there is no one true definition of a successful life

Not only does the blueprint trick us into believing there’s only one life-clock to follow, but it also tells us there’s only one definition of a successful life.

The more money, things, and fame we have, the more successful we are.

If you’re thinking, “Yeah, sounds like success to me,” you’ve been deceived.

It’s a load of crap.

It’s a definition made up by society that boxes us in and keeps us in line, chasing hopelessly after happiness.

It’s ridiculous to let other people define what a “good life” means for you. You need to define that for yourself.

And to do that, you need to peek outside that box society has you in. Take off the blinders. Do some exploring. Because the “appropriate” life-paths you’re taught growing up aren’t the only ones.

And it’s not until you step outside your comfort zone that you’ll see how many opportunities you actually have. That you’re not limited to what’s in your city, your state, or even your country. That there are people living out incredible stories all over the world.

Living outside-the-box lifestyles you’d never imagine — until you go out and see them for yourself.

For example, in Thailand I met:

  • An American accountant who left his comfortable, yet unfulfilling life behind to open a beachside motorcycle rental shop on the beautiful island of Koh Tao.
  • A Canadian who ditched her prestigious life in academia to start a scuba diving school and yoga studio on the same island. (Read her full inspirational story here).
  • And my favorite — a French gym teacher who was bored with life and decided to step out of his comfort zone to see what happened. He bought a ticket to Australia with no plan and ended up landing an unbelievable job working one-hour per day as the personal trainer for a luxurious yacht owner (while sailing to different tropical islands for free).

I crossed paths with these inspiring people after just two weeks in Thailand. Over the next year of traveling, I met hundreds more.

And what did they all have in common?

They all had ditched the blueprint to find their own definition of the “good life”. They all had less money, less prestige, and fewer possessions than in their old lives. And yet, somehow, they were all more happy.

Their excitement for life, that excitement that gets you out of the bed every morning…

It was contagious.

5. I realized only I can decide what’s right for me

Nobody else.

Here’s the thing.

When you’re thinking about making a big change and doing something outside the norm, you’re almost guaranteed to have push-back from family and friends.

If you’re like me, a few will support you, but most won’t get it. You’ll likely hear things like:

  • You need to act like a grown-up
  • You’re wasting your God-given potential
  • You’re running away from responsibility
  • You’re bored with life? That’s normal. It’s just part of being an adult

Listen with an open mind, but take advice with a grain of salt. Here’s why:

First, everyone’s different. Some people might be perfectly content living a blueprint life. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But they definitely aren’t going to understand someone who longs for something more. And their advice will be based on their definition of a good life. This isn’t helpful to you. Be careful.

Second, it’s possible that deep down, they do share the same longings as you but never had the courage to act on them.

It’s human nature to adjust your beliefs to align with your actions. So, if they followed the blueprint, their advice will be to do the same. Admitting otherwise would create internal conflict and feelings of regret.

Lastly (and most importantly), they aren’t the ones who will live with the consequences of your decision. They aren’t the ones who will have to live with regret, wondering “what if” for the rest of their lives.

You are.

They might think they have your best interests at heart. After all, they just want you to be safe and secure. And for some, the safest and securest route is the way to go. But for others (like you, if you’ve read this far), it’s a cage.

Just remember. You are responsible for you. Your choices determine where your life ends up. So don’t let others make them for you.

And that brings us back to my story.

I let all these thoughts bounce around in my head for a while, but eventually my time ran out. I needed to make a decision.

So, I chose adventure.

Kissing goodbye my promising career and everything I’d worked for.

And never looking back.

Dirt biking around Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
Dirt biking around Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Was it easy? No way!

Interestingly, the hardest part wasn’t actually the change itself, but the decision to change. It was a decision that would drastically change the trajectory of my life.

But that’s exactly what I needed.

I remember the day clearly. It was a scorching afternoon in Nicaragua, and I was in my hostel lounging in a colorful, semi-comfortable hammock.

Armed with an old, cracked iPhone and horrible wifi, I frantically tried to create a new life plan. Crazily writing out jillions of different pros and cons lists, trying to think up every possible consequence each decision might bring.

But the fact is, it’s impossible to plan it all out. There’ll always be some element of unknown.

That’s the scary part. Letting go of control. Taking a leap of faith. Being forced to trust God will take care of you and lead you where you need to go.

So, as groups of carefree travelers passed by to go sightseeing, I sat there in my sweat-soaked hammock and carefully typed out an email to my graduate school advisors. An email stating my life had changed course, and I’d decided to withdraw from the program.

I remember staring down at the draft on my phone. Reading it over and over. Too scared to push send.

Finally, I took a sip of my cerveza and counted down from 10. I remember my hands shaking, anxiety skyrocketing as I approached zero.

3, 2, 1…

And I did it. I hit send. There was no turning back.

And all that crushing anxiety I’d felt?

It disappeared.

In fact, a wave of relief rushed over me. No more changing my mind. No more indecisive going back and forth. No more not knowing what I should do.

I’d chosen my path.

Now, almost three years have passed since that oh-so-stressful day. I’ve since “settled down” in Colombia, learned how to make a living from my computer, and best of all, haven’t had a Meh Morning in years.

And you know what?

I don’t regret my decision for a second.

I actually don’t even like imagining what my life would be like if I wouldn’t have taken that leap of faith. If I wouldn’t have had the courage to let go of control. To step into the unknown. To say, “Screw you, Blueprint. I’m taking the road less traveled.”

So, what about you? If you’ve made it this far, you may be realizing the blueprint isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. At least not for you.

If so, you need to hear this:

You’re not crazy, you’re not irresponsible, and you’re definitely not alone.

There are millions of us Anti-Blueprinters around the world living out our dreams.

And you can too.

All it takes is a little leap of faith.

What’s stopping you?

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