This is the sixth and last part of a series of posts I am writing about the lessons we learned from taking a gap year.
Joke like Irish
It is fairly easy to spot the Irish, especially the men. They are the ones who are joking and insulting their friends without mercy. Every time we saw some Irish we couldn’t help but break into a smile. There is something to be said about not taking yourself too seriously.
We found that most cultures have some attribute that we’d do well to adopt:
- Eat like the French (yes, it’s true).
- Take photos like the Japanese (yes, it’s also true).
- Roll with the punches like the Argentines (another economic collapse, bleh).
- Socialize like the Italians (time means nothing!).
- Travel like the Australians (is there anyone left in Australia?).
- Reflect like the Chinese (I suppose a culture a few thousand years old gives you some perspective).
A checklist life is weak; you can do better than that
I was the kid with maps in his room, a globe, and unquenchable thirst for the next issue of National Geographic. I made a list in high school of things I wanted to experience and places I wanted to go during my life. I felt like my list was my little secret until the movie Bucket List came out and suddenly everyone was casually mentioning that so-and-so is on their bucket list.
I was initially thrilled that a movie had spurned people into taking more control of their lives. Then … then, I started seeing websites pop up where people could publish and compare their lists. No, no, say it ain’t so! I viewed these lists as supposed to be things you want to do so deeply that to expose the list would be akin to handing the world your diary. But, in the end, to each his own. Sharing the lists really isn’t something to worry about.
The problem comes about when people are just checking off destinations and experiences because others are doing so. This is your life. I’ll say it again to drive the point home. This is your life – not mine, your neighbor’s, or your “one-upping” co-worker’s. If you are pursuing something that feels strange or different then please keep going. I promise I won’t look at you funny if you go to Paris and spend the whole time there visiting old bookshops looking for rare nautical maps.
There is never enough until you say “enough”
I had not seen many Lamborghinis in my life before this last year. I had never even seen a Bugatti Veyron. I did not know that there were men’s socks that cost £600 for one pair. It never even crossed my mind that you could actually own a boat so large that you can only dock it in certain ports. It must be a hard life.
Having meaning is the key
This was a hard lesson for me to learn because it can fly in the face of the pursuit of money, consumerism, and traditional careers on which many of us in the U.S. spend significant chunks of our lives pursuing. However, I’ve realized that it is not so simple as saying you should ignore money, spend time with family and friends, and be a good person. I feel that is naive and somewhat useless advice.
The more nuanced, and hopefully more useful, lesson I learned is that, first, we all have a choice. To start, we can choose the mindset that we will use to approach every single day. We can choose who we hang around with after work – and, to some extent, even at work. We can choose what goals we want to pursue and if we will take the daily steps necessary to achieve our goals. OK, I still haven’t rocked your world yet, I know.
Now, the really hard part is we have to spend time with ourselves being completely honest about what we want our legacy to be. Do we want our children to be caring and encouraging? That’s a pretty awesome legacy if you ask me, but you better be really working toward guiding them. Do we want to be part of a company or not-for-profit that is measurably changing the world for the better? Having worked in the for-profit world and having had heavy exposure to the NFP world I am convinced that both for-profits and NFPs can positively affect our world. Do you have another path in mind for how you can improve our world? Perfect – do it. My point is that there are many paths you can take to achieve the meaning you want.
Regardless of what you feel is your potential way(s) to impact this world for the better, I feel that you shouldn’t ignore it. To do so would be shortchanging yourself. That would be a much bigger regret than not having had more zeros tacked onto your paycheck, getting a corner office, or having a big house.
Don’t waste time; you are not here forever
When we tell people about our travels we typically get one of a handful of responses. A common one is something to the effect of wanting to finally do a bunch of traveling in retirement. I always get a little sad and concerned when I hear this.
Let’s suppose you are in your 40s. You plan to travel when you retire at 65. You are betting on:
- You and your spouse will both be alive at 65.
- You and your spouse will be healthy enough to enjoy traveling.
- Your children will have their lives together and be healthy enough to not need you to be in town.
- Your parents will healthy enough to not need you to be in town.
- Your siblings and friends will have their lives together and be healthy.
- You will have enough money saved for retirement.
I could go on but my point is that you are making a multi-factor bet when you put off things for later.
Now, I’m the kid who would have stacked up a pile of marshmallows if I had been given the delayed gratification test. I feel like the trite saying YOLO seems to be simply justification for a making regrettable decisions (or “bad choices” in teacher-speak). However, I get really upset when people tell me they want to do something later that could actually be done right now.
If you want to travel then use your vacation allowance to travel right now. If you want to learn a language then start today. If you are drowning in debt then check out one of Dave Ramsey’s books from the library and get going on eliminating it. My point is that you owe it to yourself and your family to control your destiny as best you can beginning at this very moment.
A venture capitalist friend once taught me to understand the difference between odds and stakes. He said that if you work hard at something over a long period of time then you should be more worried about your stakes even when the odds seem quite favorable. I cannot think of any stakes higher than the direction of our own lives. Odds are probably pretty good that you will be able to travel when you retire but I recommend not counting on it.
None of us knows when we may go. We cannot change the past and the future is not guaranteed. Please don’t waste your time.
Even more lessons, tips, and questions to come
I am glad that I took the time to write down the lessons I learned from our gap year. Spending time to now go through them and make posts on this site is giving me a chance to reflect deeper than I did in the moments of learning those lessons. I am looking forward to sharing a slew of tips, reflections, and resources we picked up that can help you, whether you just want to simplify and focus your life or you want to strike out on a multi-month or multi-year journey of your own.
Please comment below if you have learned any lessons from your own travels or have questions about some of the things I learned. Thanks!