Goldfish

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

“It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” – Bertrand Russell

There’s a common myth that goldfish will grow in proportion to the size of their environment, meaning that a goldfish living in a pool will grow to a much larger size than a goldfish living in a small bowl.  The truth is that goldfish grow based on their diet and quality of the environment that they live.  Despite the above myth, I find a striking correlation between the myth of goldfish filling their environments and the way people accumulate things based on the size of their environments.

When I first moved away from college and got my first apartment, I had barely anything more than clothes, a computer, a bed, and a small 13″ TV.  After working in IT for a couple years, I quickly filled that apartment with a couch, 27″ TV, Hockey Gear, Kitchen items, etc.  The apartment had quickly run out of space.  After moving into my house, I once again felt compelled to fill the additional space that I had just purchased.  So, I bought more stuff.  Over time, I filled the space with an entertainment center, fancy kitchen table and chairs, deck chairs, tools, etc.  Like a goldfish, I was “growing” in proportion to the space in my new environment.

When I started planning my trip abroad, I knew that I would need to downgrade my lifestyle quite a bit and sell off a lot of my possessions.  I’d be living out of a backpack for awhile and knew that keeping a bunch of things around and unused for a long duration of time would be ridiculous.  I was actually looking forward to this, because around the same time, I noticed there were many items that had gone unused for years in my basement.  I decided to start cleaning up that area.  For the most part, it wasn’t difficult due to the fact that much of the stuff was not in the best condition.  But there were a couple items that I noticed I had some hesitation of getting rid of.  I hadn’t played hockey in years….. yet….. I found myself wanting to keep the equipment.  Over time, I finally realized I was being irrational and finally gave up the hockey equipment.

When I decided to finally sell my motorcycle, I finally saw for the first time the difficulty in parting ways with certain items.  But why?  It finally dawned on me one day when I started analyzing the items I was having most difficulty parting with.  It was the items that I associated my identity with the most.  The motorcycle, hockey gear, kitchen supplies, books, etc.  Even though I knew I would not have a need for any of this stuff in the near future or ever again, I felt like parting with it was also parting with a part of my identity.

I’ve moved twice in the past 6 months – once after I rented out my house, and the other time, just last week.  Each time, thinking I’ve parted with enough of my stuff and that the move should be simple, I’ve once again had my eyes opened to how much stuff I’m still clinging to.  I still have too much stuff.  So, I’ll attempt to “shed” my belongings again.  Initially, I had this romanticized idea of selling everything off and starting over.  With time and multiple rounds of simplification, I can honestly say that I’ve miscalculated how difficult this would be for my personality.  However, with each step at simplifying my life and reducing the number of items that I own, I feel happier.  I don’t worry about my stuff getting stolen or burned up in a fire anymore, and I feel much more free to live and enjoy my life the way that I want..

So what will happen after I’ve rid myself of most of my stuff and live out of a backpack for awhile?  That’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately.  I hope that the answer is much like the goldfish analogy that I just used, but instead of acquiring more “things”, it will be my spirit that will grow in proportion to the size of my new environment (the world) and be filled with (hopefully) all the wisdom and perspective that only my upcoming adventures can provide.

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Momentum

It’s been two months since I started this blog and a lot has happened.  As it stands now, I’ll be leaving for South America on the 5th of November.  I’ve purchased two tickets thus far.  I stared with the ticket from Santiago, Chile to Hanga Roa, Easter Island which will actually take place 3 months into my trip.  I scheduled that for the beginning of February so that I could be there for the Tapati Festival.  However, this is done with the full knowledge that my schedule may change and my arrival in Easter Island could be pushed back.  Next, I purchased my starting ticket – a one-way flight to Ecuador in the beginning of November.  Right away, it felt good to be making some commitment towards my adventure.

And now, there’s a momentum that has formed that I’ve noticed is starting to take on a life of its own.  Despite all my insecurities and fears, I feel like I can’t stop these plans even if I wanted to.  I liken myself, somewhat, to a very manly Sandra Bullock, attempting to direct an out-of-control bus that cannot be slowed otherwise it will explode and could easily go careening off of some overpass at any moment.

This has prompted me to think a lot about how momentum gets created and then escalates and accelerates our plans.  Because I’m a huge procrastinator, plans sometimes take forever to materialize for me (or at least it seems so).  I’d love to be one of those people that can make a decision and instantly make progress towards their goal.  But instead, I tend to be one that thinks things over, second-guessing and triple-guessing myself and doubting myself along the way, until eventually, I force myself, arms flailing off the cliff into the dark, unknown abyss.

I probably don’t give myself enough credit.  I know myself, and many times I have to create a situation where I must force myself to create some momentum for the desired goal.  For example, when I was in college, I decided that I wanted to learn to ride motorcycles.  So, I took a motorcycle safety class so that I could get my motorcycle endorsement on my license.  Taking the class wasn’t the difficult part.  Instead, the difficulty came when I wanted to buy a motorcycle.  I mulled over price and style, procrastinating on the purchase, until finally I purchased a motorcycle helmet that I knew I would need to ride my motorcycle.  It’s back-asswards and weird……. yet, I had purchased something that helped me finally make the purchase that I ultimately wanted:  a 1979 Kawasaki KZ650 road bike.  It’s not for everyone, but it worked for me.  It’s the same with the airplane purchases.  While I was going back and forth on when I should buy my ticket to South America, I instead focused on one of my major goals for the trip, and that was to go to Easter Island.  And it worked – within a week after that purchase, I had purchased my ticket to Ecuador.

Of course, this trip is too big for me, and I’ve needed a lot of help and encouragement from the people around me to help make this dream a reality.  This past summer, I met a woman who turned out to be my life-coach.  Serendipitously, she had traveled extensively in South America and thought my idea was a grand plan.  While our initial meetings were centered around figuring out what my purpose and vocation in life should be, she also held me accountable for my dream to travel extensively in South America.

Additionally, I participate in many groups where I’m exposed to people from different countries and cultures.  I attend a weekly conversation group for french speakers, the 20/30s International Happy Hour Meetup, and Internations gatherings.  In everyone of these settings, I’m exposed to people from other countries and cultures, or expatriates that love to travel.  Talking to these individuals, I meet a lot of people that support my goals and offer me sound advice.  These people are my tribe and I’ve found understand me the best.  They nudge me forward when I’m feeling insecure and unsure about the path that I’ve chosen.

And lastly, I’m fortunate enough to have family and friends that support my goals.  I think most of my friends have been very supportive.  My parents were initially worried about my plans for world travel, but have since started to support me wholeheartedly.  I was on Skype with my mother the other day, and she informed me that my father had just purchased a South America map so that he could follow my adventures as I’m taking them.  How could one possibly give up their goal knowing that their parents will be following them every step of the way?

It’s imperative, I believe, to open yourself up and share your ideas and plans with the people that support you and / or have had similar experiences as the one(s) you’re trying to accomplish.  I helps to encourage you on your path and ultimately create that much needed momentum for achieving your goals.