“Those who know where the treasure lies, joyfully abandon everything else to secure it.” – D.A. Carson
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I had gone through the motions that most others my age went through – high school, college, job. That was it, that was the plan and that was the direction I was heading towards. Until it wasn’t.
I studied elementary education and had every intention of being a teacher. The dream of having my own classroom and working in inner-city schools was really attractive to me. Really! So, I was on my way towards that, until I wasn’t.
Instead, I joined the Peace Corps. Different paths post-college led me there and it was something that had always interested me. This wild, exotic fantasy of living completely alone whilst “saving the world” definitely had its allure to a young 20-something. So I did it, and it rocked my world. Did I save the world? Absolutely not, but that experience, that village, it definitely saved me.
It was all “planned” out, hours spent researching the best programs in the US to get my Masters of Education, grandiose ideas of living in a new state and beginning to settle into a normal life. After the Peace Corps, I would assume my role as loyal citizen to the US. I would teach, I would take out a mortgage and I would be happy. Until I didn’t.
About 18 months into my Peace Corps service, after riding this emotional roller coaster of emotions, I finally came to terms with the fact that I was living abroad and that I kind of liked it. I also came to the realization that all these fancy-schmancy schools offering the best degrees were not cheap. What to do?
Commence the research, this time, the google search term, “ways to make money fast in Asia.” And there it was, teach English! Of course, EVERYONE was doing that and it seemed that the money was really there. I felt that I had an upper-hand because my degree was in education, and I wasn’t straying at all from what I set out to do 5 years ago. Instead of teaching in the US, I would just be teaching abroad now. Teach for a year, save up a stack of cash, go home and study. Done. Until it wasn’t.
I ended up teaching in Taiwan and falling in love with the country. Taiwan is a fascinating little country, rarely visited by tourists. People are genuinely nice there, public transportation is incredible, it’s a prime spot for vegetarians and the health-care is fantastic. It was the perfect place to live. Until it wasn’t.
The problem with Taiwan was the work-culture. They have a 6-day workweek over there (which is actually pretty standard for Asia) but the days are long, and so are the mornings and nights. I found myself in a 60+ hour workweek, between work and commuting, I was spending a lot of time away from home, thus sacrificing a lot of personal time for growth and happiness. As the money stacked up, I became more and more tired, finding ways to squeeze in naps during the day whenever possible. Surely this wasn’t sustainable, and it wasn’t.
I left Taiwan earlier than expected. I had my stack of cash saved, but instead of putting that stack towards my student loan I traveled the world (uh, Asia…I traveled Asia). Over two years of constant work, the last thing I wanted to do was lose it instantly. Instead, I followed my heart and haven’t looked back since. And I didn’t.
I have absolutely no regrets, (even when the student loan folks are calling incessantly) for taking the time to travel instead of forking over the cash to be debt free. There’s so much freedom in traveling and living the life that I’m living, that I have no worries about what will happen.
Instead, I’m living in the present taking it one day at a time. What traveling has taught me, and is still teaching me, is to trust and let go. I know that there have been times that I have been on the verge of bankruptcy, but the universe has always provided. Yes, I’m still living off of that stack that I piled up over a year ago, and trust me it’s not much anymore, but I’m trusting in myself that I will always be taken care of.
There’s always work to do and money to be made. Will I be able to pile it up money as easily as I did in Taiwan, absolutely not, but simplicity is also something I’ve learned along the way. I don’t NEED all this money. Yes, it’s reassuring to have, but when food and accommodation are provided for, what else do you need?
I know this must sound crazy. I have no savings whatsoever and I’m heading into my 30s this year. Yes, I’ve thought about that and I trust that I’ll eventually “get my shit together” and have a constant flow of money. I won’t be young forever, but right now I am.
It baffles me to hear so many people “saving” so that they can travel. Why not just travel now? Why not do what you want to now when you know you can. The present is what we have. We’re constantly saving for our “future” but there’s no guarantee that the future will be there. Is that a pessimistic way of looking at things? I don’t think so, I think it’s hopeful and inspiring.
Now, that’s not to say it’s been rainbows and unicorns the whole way. It’s taken quite the journey to get to where I am. Looking around at my friends who have stable jobs, marriages and children and then comparing it to what I have, a depleting bank account and the same clothes I’ve been wearing since college. But that’s just thing, I can’t compare. Everyone is on their own journey. What works for me may not work for others. Maybe others do not want to live this life of uncertainty, and instead, feel completely comfortable with where they are, and that’s totally fine.
But for me, this is working. Yes, it’s scary and I’ve had my fair share of breakdowns, and still do. I often stop and wonder, “what the hell are you doing?!” But then I bring myself back to my breath and the present moment. Being reassured by the notion that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. The places that this beautiful, strange world has taken me to is something that I never planned for. I ride the waves in life and find myself washed ashore in these incredible places. Each one teaching me something new. And I keep going.
I don’t know where I’m going next and I don’t know what it is I’m looking for. But does it matter? Whatever it is I’m subconsciously looking for will eventually find me, and when it does I’ll know. For now, I’m going to continue to wear my old clothes and have those minor freak outs over my dwindling account. But at the same time, I’m going to embrace life and live in the moment because that’s the one thing I know will always be there. How do you live fully and presently?