Nineteen Days Left of Life as I Know It

Winnipeg

Today is the first of the nineteen days I have left, before the life I know is over.

I know it sounds a bit dramatic to identify this upcoming lengthy trip as a new life, but the way I see it the life I’m leaving here is not going to exist when I get back.

If you think about what defines a person’s experience in life, you’ll find it consists mostly of variables. Take the same person, but give them a different job, different routines, different social network and different outlook, and you end up with a different life. The personality at the center of it might stay more or less the same, but it too is evolving. Under different circumstances, certain parts of it will become more active, and other parts more dormant.

For example, if I’m going to be wandering foreign countries alone, my social skillset will need to be more active, and will gradually form a more prominent part of my personality. It’s adaptation, it just happens. The more unfamiliar the environment, the more one naturally adapts.

Just the same, if I find a different line of work, my math and engineering muscles will atrophy and weaken. Woe is me. 

I’m 28 and I live with my mom!

I moved out of my apartment yesterday and will spend the remainder of my time in Winnipeg living at my mom’s. Already I am experiencing lifestyle changes. When I woke up this morning to do my usual slow shuffle to the bathroom, I became acutely aware that there was another person in the building. Suddenly I was more conscious of the amount of noise I was making, and whether I left the door open while I did my business.

It occurred to me that it will be a long time before I’m living somewhere that is solely my own space again. Accommodations in all three legs of my journey — BC, Thailand and New Zealand — will be shared in some way. Either I’ll be sleeping amongst other twentysomethings in a hostel, or surfing some almost-stranger’s couch. The freedom I’ve enjoyed as a bachelor insistent on living alone is now gone, for a long time. I had been so used to it. Gone!

Yesterday’s morning-routine adjustment is just a small taste of the lifestyle changes I’m bound to encounter over the next twelve months.

Some can be foreseen. For example, my diet can’t possibly stay the same; subsisting on tomato and avocado sandwiches won’t be terribly practical if I’m living out of a 40L backpack. After I leave Thailand, I won’t be able to afford restaurant meals. Will it be thrice-daily peanut butter sandwiches? My glorious pillowtop queen bed is just too bulky to fit in my backpack, so who knows what sleeping surfaces lie in my future.

But most changes will probably hit me over the head right in the moment they happen. I can try to picture how the day-to-day details of life will change, but any visions I have of places I haven’t been to can only consist of what is already in my head: scenes from movies, travel stories from friends, assumptions and beliefs. When I assemble all those mismatched bits to form a picture the next year of my life, the best I can achieve is speculative fiction.

If I were to stay with my job and regular routines, the next day’s unfoldings would be pretty easy to predict for the most part. But with these upcoming drastic changes to my surroundings, no matter what I do, life from here on in is a mystery.

Good.

This is Not Temporary

Of course I do plan to come back, so it might seem that this lifestyle change is temporary. Certainly the change of scenery is, but I will not be able (or willing) to resume quite the same life I left off. Too many things will have changed. Circles of friends have a way of mutating a bit over time, with some people moving away, having babies, breaking up, drifting apart. My evolving interests and values are urging me not to remain in Winnipeg, and not to work in the engineering industry.

The last two years (and especially the last six months) have given me dramatic shifts in perspective that don’t allow me to stay comfortable in my current routines. I’ve become overtaken with the compulsion to spend my time in different ways than I have most of my life.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the very consistent life I’ve been living for the last six years or so is disappearing in a hurry, and it isn’t coming back. Its days are numbered. Nineteen, to be exact.

Without the Routines, What is Left of You?

As with most cliches, the adage of traveling to ‘find yourself’ does make sense. I figure when you change your surroundings and your routines, familiar patterns drop away, and whatever is left over — the common threads that run through your life wherever you go — is you.

For example, after having spent a few months not drawing up engineering plans in an office for forty hours a week, I suspect I might find that I am not an engineering tech after all. It’s just something I did with my time, for a while. I’m excited to see what is left after I shed the regular roles I’ve fallen into. Yet when people ask, “engineering tech” what I tell them I am.

However, I may find I am still curious, still compelled to write, still in awe of civilization and nature. If those things survive the change, and I suspect they will, I can safely call them “me.”

I have heard of many instances of people who exit a particular role in their life, and struggle to comprehend who they are without it. The classic case is that of a mother whose kids grow up and move away, and they don’t know what to do with themselves.

I am learning that a crucial part of good health is to challenge the roles we find ourselves in, lest we become lost in them. We could all use a good shakeup now and then. The global economic woes are triggering existential crises of this sort in a lot of people, judging by the accounts we’ve been hearing. Twenty-five years as a staunch disciple for the same company, and suddenly they’re told that’s not who they are anymore. Financial concerns aside, that would be quite a shock to the system.

Emerson recognized this discouraging phenomenon over a hundred years ago:

“If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life.”

Best not to get attached, I suppose.

A precious few though, have used the recession as an opportunity for reinventing themselves, finally pursuing a livelihood that feels like them. And all it took was a drastic change in circumstance, and not a particularly welcome one. New, unfamiliar surroundings, for better or worse, and the willingness to adapt, can rescue a life from doldrums. Evolution at work.

Simmer and Stir Occasionally

Before I started blogging, “stagnant” was probably the best word to describe my life. I did the same things every day, acted on the same impulses, and the days flipped by without a lot of variation. The draw of comfort was the culprit. I set up my life to present the least resistance possible. So it never got too bad, and predictably, it never got too good.

But it’s friction that creates new forms. There is no adaptation, and therefore no progress, without resistance. Sandpaper creates a smooth and beautiful surface by making it difficult for the wood to pass by it. The sharp grit gouges, cuts and grinds, and paradoxically, it leaves a silken surface that is the opposite of rough and difficult.

For a career introvert like myself, negotiating my way through a different country is not always going to make for the most comfortable experiences.

In particular, job searching has always been a painful and intimidating experiences for me in my home country, and somehow I’m going to undertake it with no fixed address and two changes of clothes, and with my weirdo Canadian accent.

I’m virtually addicted to having my own established personal space, and I’ll be bunking with a grab bag of strangers every night, and sleeping on strange couches.

My lifeline will be a nylon backpack that someone else could pick up and run off with if I’m careless for a moment.

Overall, I’m super excited of course, but I know I’ll get some scrapes and gouges along the way. I am thrilled to find out though — after all that friction — what form I take when it’s over.

R

Photo by Loozrboy



Jess September 28, 2009 at 1:09 am

David, I’m so excited for you!

You are going to have the most amazing time! I lived in Vietnam for the first half of last year (I’m from Sydney) and I *loved* it. There’s something about being in a totally different place with totally different people that makes you really feel alive. Like you’re making a choice every single minute of every day. It’s exciting and exhilarating and you feel like you’re really LIVING your life.

It also makes it really easy to do what you want to do and be who you want to be. It’s very liberating to know that no one knows you and no one has a preconceived notion of who you are. Want to be the life of the party? Or adventurous? Or thoughtful? Whatever – for all these people know, you ARE the biggest party animal / most adventurous / most thoughtful person to ever grace the earth. Have FUN with that!

I can’t wait to hear about all of your adventures. I know it will be life changing for you :)

Jess

David September 28, 2009 at 7:55 am

There’s something about being in a totally different place with totally different people that makes you really feel alive. Like you’re making a choice every single minute of every day.

I like the way you phrased that: “Like you’re making a choice every single minute of the day,” and that’s what I’m shooting for.

With old routines, it’s so easy just to go through the day doing your regular thing without really thinking or deciding.

You should have seen me trying to make breakfast this morning at my mom’s house. I really had to think about everything because there were different foods and everything was in a different place. I spent a lot of time just scratching my head.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) September 28, 2009 at 6:29 am

hmmm~ what does one say when meeting oneself in travels…?

sway

David September 28, 2009 at 7:55 am

I’ll need to work on my flexibility, for sure :)

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) September 28, 2009 at 6:28 pm

It’s all in the tune one chooses…

I was sooo! happy when I met myself, took me a few seconds to realise it was me…, now me, myself and I are much calmer about it :-)

Jay Schryer September 28, 2009 at 7:15 am

This is so awesome, David! I’m excited for you, and I can’t wait to read about your adventures around the world. Sure, there will be some scrapes along the way (as you pointed out), but this will truly be an adventure of a lifetime, and you’ll never regret it.

Happy journeys, my friend.

David September 28, 2009 at 7:56 am

It’s already invading my dreams. I’m on the home stretch.

Lisis September 28, 2009 at 7:50 am

Hey, d. You know I totally “get” this sense of standing at the edge of a cliff, about to jump off, hoping you remembered to pack your base-jumping chute (a bit dramatic, but, you know what I mean).

I feel certain that you will do great with your adventure, and that you will never go back to the life you know now. And that’s a great thing… I can’t wait to witness the transformation in real-ish time.

T minus 19… eeeek!!! :)

David September 28, 2009 at 7:59 am

Yeeeeaaahh!

Beth L. Gainer September 28, 2009 at 8:38 am

I think you hit the nail on the head by your discussion of being stagnant. That’s one of my fears; I never want to be stagnant. I think even if a person has the same job for 30 years, he or she may not be stagnant if he or she has hobbies, for example, to expand him or herself.

Change is hard. It’s so much easier to be complacent and satisfied with a life we deem as safe. But where’s the passion in that?

I’m glad you are going for it!! And who knows where this trip will lead you?
.-= Beth L. Gainer´s last blog ..Just For the Records =-.

David September 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Hi Beth. I’ve tried to eliminate the stagnancy (is that a word?) by varying what I do after work, and I guess I’ve kind of done that with blogging, but forty hours a week in an office is just too pervasive of a routine to keep things ‘fresh.’ I would like to stay away from arrangements like that in the future :)

Srinivas Rao September 28, 2009 at 9:55 am

David,

Sounds like you have an exciting journey planned. I’m looking forward to reading all about it. I only have one piece of advice based on your destinations, Learn to surf :). Believe it me it will do wonders for your life and for coming up with ideas for blog posts.

David September 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm

I am so interested in surfing. How long does it take to get the hang of getting up on the board, for most people?

Srinivas Rao September 28, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Hey David,

You can learn pretty fast by doing two things. Get your hands on a copy of Paul Scheele’s peak performance visualization. That made me improve overnight. The other is just practice. So spend 3 days in a row doing it, and you”ll be standing up. Some people get it on their first try.
.-= Srinivas Rao´s last blog ..50 random facts about my life =-.

David September 28, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Awesome Srinivas, thanks.

Erin September 28, 2009 at 10:20 am

I know this will be the adventure of a lifetime. What you say is true about people thinking what they do for a living is who they are. I believe we much cross the barriers of occupation, race, social, religious and economic to fully be part of the family of man, and to be able to love to the fullest.

You may find the occupation you were born to do, truth is you may already know and you will be free to pursue it fully now. No doubt this trip will give you much to write about. We are all cheering for you.

David September 28, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Hi Erin. Yes, if nothing else, I’ll have a lot to write about. Even if everything goes wrong!

Twan September 28, 2009 at 1:39 pm

New reader, looking forward to this adventure!
.-= Twan´s last blog ..Aaron Karo – NYC – November 21st 2009 =-.

David September 28, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Hi Twan, welcome to Raptitude.

Lindsay September 28, 2009 at 8:50 pm

David,

I am fully confident that you will have a smashing time. I am looking forward to your ruminations on life, living, loving, and leaving this spinning rock better than you found it.

Be safe, mister.

-Lindsay

David September 28, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Nicely put. Thanks Lindsay.

Michael September 29, 2009 at 12:56 am

Yes! Start!

Hope you will never be the same again!
.-= Michael´s last blog ..Blood Diamonds =-.

David September 29, 2009 at 11:58 am

Thanks Michael, that’s the plan :)

Brenda September 29, 2009 at 11:43 am

“It’s friction that creates new forms.” Great line! (+ typo)

Re surfing, my son got up the first time he tried. Now he’d rather surf than skydive. This kid spent his nineteenth year traveling in six different countries. At 22 (last week) he’s one of the most interesting and successful fellows I know. Writing got him there, but he writes in a programming language I can’t understand. So I’m adopting you as the son I can understand, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on you. (Read my quote re security.)
.-= Brenda´s last blog ..On Security =-.

David September 29, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Thanks for the typo alert, Brenda. I am blind to my own sometimes.

I love that quote on security. Humans largely suffer from an addiction to security, which is tragic because it’s something that can never really be attained. Security is just a feeling, and it never sticks around.

Proud to be your honorary son. I’ll try not to disappoint.

Patty - Why Not Start Now? September 29, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Hi David – Just discovered your blog. You’re embodying one of my favorite quotes: “Creative adult life requires the birth of many new dreams.” (Frederic Hudson). By letting go of what is you open the door to a continually self-renewing life. I hope you inspire others to do the same! Thanks.
.-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..My Wild Self and the Late Summer Garden =-.

David September 30, 2009 at 7:49 am

Hi Patty, welcome. That’s where I feel I’m at: creating adult life. I figure it’s about time.

brigid September 30, 2009 at 5:14 am

You will LOVE this time
your bed, your food, your solitude all the things you thought were SO important will fade into nothingness.
The joy and variety of your life will enhance and enrichen ( is that a word) yours and everyone elses (or that?) lives.
The leap of faith is the most wonderful and hardest thing to do, yet we never regret it and can’t even imagine were we would be if we didn’t leap.
I’m so excited for you and look forward to reading this post in 1 or 2 years time. I wonder who you will be by then?

David September 30, 2009 at 7:51 am

your bed, your food, your solitude all the things you thought were SO important will fade into nothingness

That’s a great perspective, you’re probably right. Thanks Brigid.

Kaushik September 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm

David,

What a wonderful opportunity you have created for yourself to learn to let go of fear! Leap before looking. I wish I had done a lot earlier than I did, but then, life knows exactly when we’re ready.

k
.-= Kaushik´s last blog ..Floating… =-.

David October 5, 2009 at 3:01 pm

I think you’re right. The idea came into my life exactly at the right time.

Nea | Self Improvement Saga October 5, 2009 at 2:36 pm

I think I felt your every emotion as I was reading this. The contrast between excitement and anxiety. Whew! I’m certain that you are going to have a blast, so just try to relax and stay positive. I’ll be patiently awaiting the 4-1-1 on your experiences.
.-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..6 Ways to Escape Your Regrets =-.

David October 5, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Hi Nea. It is strange not knowing any of the details of my lifestyle-to-be, but I know I’ll have an awesome time. I’ll be publishing my experiences on my second blog, due for launch next week. I’ll keep you posted.

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