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In the next couple of posts, we’ll wrap up our African Adventure. But it’s been a year since we first took off for our round the world trip, so I wanted to offer up a few words on leaving…
A year ago, we got on a plane at JFK airport in New York and woke up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Nellu and I barely talked the whole flight. We were both still carrying the stress of the last week (and months really) — moving out of our apartment on Thursday, quitting our jobs on Friday and packing up everything so we could be on that Sunday night flight. Monday morning in Brazil, on a bad night’s sleep, we tried to follow the detailed directions to get from the airport to our host’s downtown apartment, communicating in broken English sprinkled with “obrigado,” the Portuguese word for thank you. This would be our new reality.
Now we’ve been gone for what seems like such a long time, our friends have started to ask if we’re ever coming home. We are, probably in June. But with a month at home last July and the extra month we needed here at the end to see family, friends, and a little bit more of Europe, we’ll have 14 months of distance from our old lives by the time we get back.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from all this time on the road: the importance of stepping outside the institutions we live in – or more simply – the importance of leaving. It’s so easy to think that our world is the whole world. We give undue attention to minor bumps (it’s the end of the world). We miss opportunities because we’re so singularly focused (or perhaps so generally distracted) that we’ve got our blindsiders on. We fail to question all the little assumptions we make every day about the way we live because when everything works as well as it does in our modern society (and so cheaply), we have no reason to think differently.
I’m still dumbfounded that the only time we’ve used a clothes dryer in the last year was during our month at home. I also can’t tell you the number of times we’ve bought milk in bags or paid more than $5 for a gallon of gas.
We don’t have jobs when we get home. We’ll be summering in Connecticut (my favorite euphemism for living with my parents) until we get our acts together. I am not exactly sure what we’ll do but I’m hoping to find a middle ground between this life and our old one.
I meant to post this before we left but didn’t get the chance to get our blog up. So in honor of our first month on the road I bring you: Hostage Survival Tips or Just Getting Through the Work Week. (Note: Please don’t take this the wrong way. This is not meant to make fun of hostage situations in any way shape or form. It’s meant to be a lighthearted commentary on how many of us cope with our jobs.)
In preparation for our trip, a friend of mine shared a list of “Hostage Survival Tips” that she received as a part of the Hostile Environments and Emergency First Aid Training course. (Journalists planning to go to hostile areas of the world are often required to take this course.)
I was immediately struck by how many of the tips could actually be applied to surviving a job in corporate America – just substitute captors for management.
Here are some highlights:
Follow the Rules Given by the Captors (Management): Unless you have clear reasons for not doing so….it is wise to consent to the demands made by your captors (management). Many observers believe that overt resistance is counterproductive…
Say as Little as Possible if Questioned: It is always wise to give short answers to questions. Also avoid making suggestions.
Win Your Captors’ (Management’s) Respect: Be stoic…Live you values rather than discuss them. Avoid open displays of cowardice and fear.
Set Goals: Be determined to survive until a certain date…Plan on a long captivity as this helps stave off disappointment and depression.
Maintain and Control Your Environment: This strategy reduces stress by enhancing self-esteem and reducing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Attempt to Understand Your Captors (Management): Be sensitive to, and learn about the cultural norms of your captors (management).
Look For, or Inject Humor into Your Situation: …once the captivity has settled into a predictable routine, humor can be a very strong antidote to hopelessness…but be careful and use common sense.
Actively Use Stress Management Techniques: …positive self-talk, developing a daily routine, accepting negative emotions…
Hope you enjoyed these as much as I did.
One Month In
We’ve been away on our career break, gap year, whatever you want to call it for officially a month now. We find ourselves in Buenos Aires, Argentina – our fourth location and second country. We’ve met and left several friends, taken thousands of pictures (think I’m kidding? check out Nellu’s Flickr page), and have visited many gardens, cemeteries, museums and other things you would never go visit in your own city but seem perfectly normal to check out in someone else’s. You could even say that we’ve taken time to smell the roses…
(Ok, I know it’s a cheesy pose but we were there. The roses were beautiful. It was such a good fit.)
We’ve been on the road for longer than I’ve ever been including vacations, extended work trips, even my first walkabout in Europe after college. Already, the world is already a different place. I find it hard to even imagine what we might do when we get back. Will we fit easily back into our old lives, our old careers? Right now, I am not so sure.
In our first post, I joked that one of the steps for taking a leap like this was to tell everyone you were doing it so you couldn’t back out. What I didn’t get into was how utterly terrified I was in the weeks before we left. Or how continuously it seemed that Nellu and I were fighting. At one point, the stress got so bad that I ended up at the doctor and in a MRI machine. I had the kind of migrane that made my vision go blurry for about 15 minutes and when I closed my eyes I only saw blinking orbs that reminded me of Nellu’s New Year’s mask.
When my long-time doctor asked had I been under any new stress. I exploded into tears and sobbed back to him, “We’re quitting our jobs to travel for a year.”
He replied, “Well, that doesn’t sound so stressful.”
I imagine it was like the moment before a skydiver jumps out a plane for the first time or rather how I would be if I went skydiving it. Before boarding the plane, I would brag to everyone I knew about how I was going to take the leap. Then, the moment before I jumped when I see the earth way down below below, I would think, “WTF am I doing!?” Only after landing safely on the ground would I fully appreciate the experience (and want to do it again.)
It’s a Lifestyle, Not a Vacation
The hardest thing for me to adjust to is the idea that this – our chosen lifestyle over the next year – is not a vacation. If we’re going to live off our savings for the next year, we can’t eat out all the time. We can’t go out drinking every night because we want to hang out with our cool new friends (or we want to meet some cool new friends). I get a little lonely sometimes – not that Nellu is not an endlessly-entertaining partner in crime. But because we’ve been blessed to have such great family and friends at home that I miss dearly. (Who wants to meet us in Columbia? :)
We’re still trying to figure out a balance between exploring and experiencing the beautiful places we’ve chosen to visit with the work of documenting, reflecting and learning new techniques. I think many of the people at the places we’ve stayed must believe we’re crazy when we both pull out our laptops to work for a few hours before taking off for the day.
But our new jobs certainly are a lot more flexible than our old. We get to sleep in when we want. We count sight-seeing and other fun activities as research. We get to drink beer while working into the evening. And sometimes we even count drinking beer as research.
For the most part our only concerns are what are we going to do today, how are we going to get there and what are we going to eat.
Already we’ve met so many people who have taken this kind of leap – whether its traveling or starting a new business – and the experience has changed them for the better. I am hoping that this trip will do the same for us, whether its to find a little more peace at back in our old careers or find new inspiration to pursue another. I guess the only thing for me to do right now is – as a wise man told me – trust the process.