in between islands TRANS+FORM

Breaking Free is not Running Away

There are as many life paths as there are people.

The naysers and the skeptics will have their say. “That’s crazy. You can’t do that.”

When I face this massive body of criticism rushing straight at me, I take a huge sidestep.

In the martial art of aikido, the manner of self-defense is not to face the opposite force head on; that usually hurts. A lot.

Instead, the best defensive move in aikido when being rushed at by a huge, aggressive opponent is to step aside at the precise moment just before the force hits you, and let the opponent’s force topple them without ever touching a hair on their head. You become a mass of air, shifting direction at the right time. Whoosh.

Facing criticism for leaving a well-trodden, default existence can be full of challenges. The most difficult of these are not the things you have to learn how to do, like summon equanimity in the face of the hurdles you must face in your new life. That drawing upon your best self to deal with a to-do list, is something you have control over.

The most difficult thing you face when you make a choice to use your time in a way that the rest of the world does not approve of, is the criticism and intolerance of your personal choices.

That sidestep needs to be fluid. Blam.

My office on Siquijor Island.

One of the long-term travelers I admire is Matt of Nomadic Matt. Matt also faced criticism for his decision to leave the conventional pattern of college-job-stay until retirement-get married and have 2.5 kids-and-a-dog type of life. Matt left this cookie-cutter existence to travel the world and help people escape on a budget. He is successful; he has achieved his quest.

Early on in his transformation, Matt faced a lot of criticism, even from family members. And he replied to these forces,

We nomads must have awful, miserable lives, or are weird, or have had something traumatic happen to us that we are trying to escape. People assume that we are simply running away from our problems, running away from “the real world.”

Nomadic Matt

Notice that the response he got about his personal choices is based on a lot of assumptions that Matt did not share.

When you decide to search for something else other than being tied to a desk until you retire and die, it may look to a lot of people like you are absconding responsibility, throwing away opportunity, and essentially ruining your life.

It depends of course, what lens you’re using to look at something. The lens we look through are assumptions we have about everything. If people aren’t mindful of these assumptions and examine them for how they think, the assumptions might produce judgmental thinking. The assumptions might begin to color how we think of others, sometimes even how we think of ourselves.

Using the lens of conventional patterns, those categories and classifications that people have been conditioned to think as How People Should Live, then the unconventional is easily misunderstood and dismissed as balderdash, rubbish, foolhardy.

It is easy to make fun or scorn what is unfamiliar.

Light Chaser

There are as many life paths as there are people.

The view from the corner office, sunset.

One of the dearest people in my life had open-heart surgery at 40 and that was a catalyst for change. He is retired from a high-pressure job that cost him sleep and injured his heart. He lives in the tropics now, and enjoys every moment that his second chance at truly living gives him, every day. When he makes me a cappuccino with soy milk at his home beside the sea, he does it with a practiced economy of motion, easily but with a lot of love. It is, I notice, love of being alive.

We have a short runway to happiness and fullness of life. We need to find that wind that will lift our wings upward, and ride it.

If we don’t – when will we live?

We don’t all have the luxury that Nomadic Matt had, to realize the freedom that he craved so early in his life, before the world captured him, chained him onto its assumptions and a 9-5 existence and made a salaried man of him forever. He was determined enough to fight the tide of criticism and break free.

And that’s the major difference between the conventional ways of how to use time and unconventional ways to use time. It’s the way we think about the different ways we use time that is the main conflict between the naysayers and the ones who venture on different pathways to fulfillment.

Most of the visible reasons people travel long term, on their own terms, are the external benefits of travel. Seeing cultures first hand coming alive in front of you. Living, even for a while, in beautiful places. Sampling ways of being that are vastly different from the ones you grew up being. Learning norms that allow some flexibility in your thinking about people who seem different from you, and realizing that we share a common humanity.

Some of the most important lessons that we might learn away from the conventional life might be internal, invisible to the rest of the world. Finding our zone of strength. Understanding dispositions that bring us to find delight in the world, like the sense of wonder and awe. We might learn to value pausing – of nurturing what Stephen Covey calls ‘the arena of consciousness’ – to allow deep thought.

Knowing yourself and finding your Why

Years ago, I read Derek Sivers’ book Anything You Want. Sivers writes about self-knowledge of what drives people to do something they’ve never done before.

It’s self-knowledge that’s important for a person considering why they make the choices they do.

Some people are driven by money. Making money and the potential of making money drives them.

Some people find their drive in fame or acclaim. They would do anything to be famous.

Others seek freedom.

The three drivers for passionate work can play against each other.

Sivers talks about some people who would use huge amounts of money to gain acclaim. They don’t have a lot of money or freedom, but they are in the tabloids a lot. They also don’t enjoy a lot of freedom because people are always hounding them.

He also talks about people driven by money. They might be consumed by making lots of money and don’t have a lot of time. They also don’t have a lot of freedom because freedom means using time for pursuits other than slaving for the next million.

And then there are the ones who work for freedom. They may not have lots of money, and they may not be known or famous. They have the freedom they need.

What Sivers really drives home in his book is for people to know what it is they need. Personal drive, as Dan Pink found out, is largely influenced by autonomy. A personal investment in what we do is fueled by our own reason for doing it.

From this vantage point, it is not really an argument why long term traveling is good or bad. If you’re looking at it from the fact that it takes time away from a pursuit of money, the traveler might reply, I have enough money and don’t need to slave away to become a billionaire.

If you argue that long-term travel takes effort away from awards, acclaims and admiration from others, the traveler might answer, I would rather wear shorts and flip flops than that constricting tuxedo or evening gown, no thanks.

Perhaps if you begin to speak about freedom, the freedom to learn from the whole world, you might actually have a chance for an audience with some of us.

Let’s face it – no one sets out to travel the world to become rich or famous. I have yet to meet a traveler who set out on their travels intending to make loads of money or acclaim. Most of the time, long-term travelers cite a human endeavor that set them on their paths to experience the world and learn from it face to face.

Sometimes, the path hides underneath and we have to create it. Siem Reap, Cambodia at sunrise.

Matt Kepnes certainly did not dream he would become well-off and famous as he started to develop skills in perfecting travel on 50 dollars a day. It was the process of learning to travel on a budget that fascinated him. It was helping others find their ways of hacking travel, that drove Matt to keep going.

What if you could prevent a sudden death of dreams by breaking free from the stressful, possibly toxic politics of your job, and gain a lifetime of freedom and wellness?

Would you do it?

Like every other occupation in the world that gives us meaning and purpose, choosing to be free to pursue healthier ways of being is a human endeavor.

Light Chaser

Breaking free from the drivers that might alienate and discourage us because they are not what makes our spirit sing— breaking free for a different path is a human endeavor that is as important as making loads of money and chasing after awards. In the end, the outcomes of our efforts are mere things. Money and mentions on magazines and the Social Page are not who we are.

What if we could be free to find who we want to become?

And, what might it feel in the world if each person allowed another to find that purpose, without judgment or criticism?

People who travel toward freedom are not running away. They are breaking free from the bondage to a source of motivation that never really appealed to them.

They are breaking free to find their better self.

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