I left the country for a while in 2019 and set off to do….something. The end goal wasn’t very clear but I needed a change of pace/scenery/mentality in order to take the next step in my life and thought that traveling to a bunch of different countries would help me figure things out. My hope was to leave everything behind and leap into the unknown, emerging with confidence and a new direction in life. I’d been miserable in the 9-5 grind for 10 years, it was time to reset.
I left Hawaii in order to figure myself out at 33. Most people do it a decade earlier, but I’m a late bloomer (clearly). Before I left, I felt like Peter Gibbons in Office Space. I was underpaid, overworked, uninspired, and trying to fill up that lingering emptiness with things, activities, or mind-altering substances. My only motivation every day was the thought that things would eventually get better.
Somewhere in 2017, I started this website and found happiness writing for the 30-50 people who were willing to read my stuff. After a year, I started running low on content in Hawaii. Plus working 8-5 every day doesn’t leave a lot of time to pursue my passion. I needed time and inspiration.
My solution? Blow everything up and start fresh. It’s the only way I can wrap my mind around change. Either everything changes or nothing does. Extreme? Yes. Effective? Also yes. I know it’s not the healthiest way to deal with issues in life, but it’s who I am.
I’d traveled before but never solo. I started asking all my friends about travel and realized I was the only one that hadn’t embarked on a trip like this. Everybody I talked to lit up the moment I asked about it, like they were a toddler on Christmas morning. I’ve never seen people this excited or inspired. Any doubt I had about my plan flew out the window. That’s what I needed, inspiration, change, something that would ignite my creative fire and keep me going.
I told everybody what I was doing, started selling all of my shit, and planned my trip. The more I planned, the more confident I got, and the happier I became. Just the idea of leaving inspired me to write the most popular article this site has ever seen. That article also led to me losing my job (that’s another story) which obviously sucked, but also gave me the incentive I needed to start my freelance writing career. When I said I “blew everything up” I wasn’t lying. My anger with my situation led to a lot of self-destructive, but, surprisingly productive behavior. Like a cleansing fire, I destroyed the life I knew in order to make room for the life I wanted.
I was gone for 4 months, visited 8 countries, and met some of the best people on Earth. It was everything people said it would be and more. I found that I could actually make a living writing and traveling at the same time. It gave me the confidence I had been missing.
When I got back, I was hoping to write a magnum opus that neatly tied together all of the threads and ideas from the travel blogs I’ve written with a central piece of advice but nothing came out right. I couldn’t see what I’d learned because I was longing too much at what I’d lost. I was depressed, I couldn’t see the forest through the trees, and in my singular focus I put too much pressure on myself and caught a horrible case of writer’s block. I finally threw away my 5,000+ word draft that was rambling self-important garbage and sat down to write with a clear head. I realized I didn’t need to have this elusive life-changing epiphany, I just needed to be honest.
And in having that realization, I discovered the most important thing I learned while abroad.
Always Trust Your Gut
It took coming back to the U.S. to realize why I left. I thought it was my career or depression or 1,000 other reasons. I never stepped back to consider that maybe I wasn’t in the right place.
It’s not that America is a terrible place, it just doesn’t fit my personality. I’m not driven by money or security or status, I’ve tried to care about those things but I just can’t. What drives me is writing things that connect with people and make them feel something.
I came back searching for money and security. I wasn’t broke or desperate, but I had this weird, nagging fear that I needed to return to the “real world” and start saving for retirement. I was anxious and scared, and that made me believe that I needed to return to my 9-5 life. This time I would be much more focused and motivated, I needed a break, that was all.
My plan was to travel back home for the holidays and then got a job in San Diego. I accomplished both of those goals and set off to start my new life. It was new and exciting, I re-bought all of the things I had previously sold and settled into my new apartment. My friends from Hawaii were here, life was good. Or so it seemed.
Once I got back into the work groove, my mental health spiraled out of control. I couldn’t place it, what the fuck was I so anxious and depressed about? I’ve been dealing with this my entire life and have never had episodes this intense.
I realized that it wasn’t my new job, or my friends, or San Diego, I love all of those things. It was what I had to sacrifice to get there: my newfound freedom. All of the writing and traveling and hustling that kept my brain sharp and my creativity flowing was gone. I was back in a system that I had sworn to never return to. Instead of celebrating my progress, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was a failure. I’d given up too soon.
I was having conflicting thoughts towards the end of my trip. My brain and my gut were arguing and my thoughts alternated between saying “get back to reality” and “just keep going”. I had discovered this alternative to a 9-5 and had been more creative in the past 4 months than I’d been in my entire life, yet there was still a burning desire to compromise and get back to what I knew. Logical, fearful brain won the debate and my gut threw up it’s arms, sighed, and fell silent.
I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way I convinced myself that being secure was more important than being happy. I was listening to advice that wasn’t meant for me and overthinking the situation like I usually do, trying to have it both ways instead of committing to something.
So the main lesson, the main thing that I realized and need to impart on everybody else is this: always trust your gut. Don’t have a backup plan. Bet on yourself every single time and never regret it. This trip made me realize what it takes to succeed: unwavering dedication and discipline. I can’t be dedicated when 8 hours of my day are spent doing everything but writing. And I can’t be disciplined when I’m exhausted, distracted, and unhappy.
I’ve been struggling my whole life trying to figure out who I am. Continually forcing myself into a mold that was never going to fit me until I took control of my life and forged a path of my own. When I got back home and started working again it felt like I gave control right back. I’ve been subconsciously hating myself for it ever since.
Is this the end of my dream? Absolutely not. It’s a detour that’s cemented what I was meant to do with my life: travel and write.
I’m grateful for coming back. I fell in love and found a partner to share my future adventures with, I’ve grown a lot as a person by building a new life for myself, and I’m stronger now mentally than I’ve ever been. I learned a lot from my initial trip and now have a clear vision for what to do next.
At first, I said “I should have never come back” but it took coming back to realize exactly what I want to do with my life. I finally found my purpose and I’ll never doubt myself again.