Forget the house, travel instead

Saving-for-a-HomeAbout 14 years ago, after I had moved to Minneapolis, my friend Jo had invited me to a presentation at REI.  A young woman in her 30’s had just traveled for 6 months to India and Nepal.  I remember her telling the audience that she had just saved enough money for a down payment on a house, but instead of buying a house, something had prompted her to travel instead.  This was years before I had acquired the travel bug, and honestly I was there because my friend Jo, a fellow traveler, was looking for ways to satisfy his own wanderlust.  I hadn’t thought about it much as I plodded along, working in corporate america, and eventually saving enough money myself where I was comfortable to buy my own home.  And in 2005, I finally did buy my first home.  And now, upon reflection, I wish I would have payed more attention to the possibilities being created in my life and refrained from buying a house.

People acquire houses for many different reasons.  For starters, as young adults, we’re often told that a house is a good investment because a) we’re not throwing our money away on rent every month and b) the house can appreciate over time.  Secondly, owning a house is seen as a sign of success in our society.  It is considered a major life achievement to own a home.  And of course, as a home owner, you can eventually make the leap towards renting out your home if you have those entrepreneurial ambitions.  Property is a symbol of your ever-expanding empire, in a sense.  Let’s also not forget that it is nice to have our own space, something that you can enhance to your liking and have your own creative space.

Upon entering my 30’s, I too, took the red pill and purchased a home.  In trying to be frugal, I finally decided on one half of a small twin home.  At 1200 square feet, it was modest, but perfect for my tastes.  And while I was extremely happy living in this home for the 8 years after I purchased it, I wish that there were some things that I understood before purchasing a home.

Homes are money pits

If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Money Pit” you’ll understand my reference.  While obviously over-the-top in humor and absurdity, the movie does have a good point.  All houses require maintenance and upkeep, and it is usually not cheap to maintain a functioning house.  Even a house in good condition can easily require a couple thousand dollars a year in maintenance fees.  If you’re somewhat savvy as a handyman, you can reduce this cost, but it doesn’t completely disappear.  As a first time homeowner, there’s many things that you’ll likely not pay attention to.  My home has a sewage ejection system that pumps everything from my house out into the street and up a hill to get to a sewage mainline.  When it is functioning, then everything is great.  But when it breaks it’s anywhere’s from $700 to $2500 to repair.  The pumps usually stay in good condition for 2 to 5 years.  Go ahead and do the math and factor that into your monthly costs.  On top of those costs, you need to think about big appliances (washers, dryers, etc) breaking, plumbing problems, exterior maintenance (painting, roof, lawn care, etc).

Your mortgage can make or break the situation

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I was one of those individuals that got caught up in the purchasing boom around 2005.  Being not sure of how long I wanted to stay in the house, I went with a 3 year Adjustable Rate Mortgage, with no down payment.  Anything below 20% down is also subject to mortgage insurance.  There are ways to avoid this, but keep in mind a tax will be added to your mortgage which won’t automatically come off after the loan is paid down to 78% of its original value.  After 2008 when the value of my home fell almost $70,000 in value, I was unable to refinance due to many different factors.  Thankfully, the Adjustable Rate Mortgage (which resets every 6 months) has remained fairly steady and has not increased any.  However, I’m always a bit worried about what happens when interest rates start rising again.  I’ve ridden out the storm surprisingly well, but the issues surrounding my home are a small annoyance and fear, always in the background.

Buying and Selling homes is expensive (and not easy)

Typically, you can expect to pay between $3000 and $5000 for broker and real-estate fees when purchasing or selling a home.  You can get that cost added to your mortgage so that you may pay it off over time, but it’s still something you have to pay.  Also, keep in mind that selling a home doesn’t always go as smoothly as you may have it built up in your mind.  After you decide to sell, there are appraisal costs and inspections that you have to undergo before you can sell the home.  And if the market is soft, depending on how badly you want to rid yourself of your property, you may end up accepting a far lower cost and still owe money on it after you’ve sold it.

Renting your house is not easy, either

If you do decide to travel, you may convince yourself that you’ll just rent out your house. While definitely a viable option (it’s what I did), keep in mind that it’s not as simple as just putting and ad on craigslist or padmapper.  You’ll most likely have to acquire a rental license from the city which requires money, inspections, and in my case, a required renter’s orientation class provided by the city.  If you’re smart, you’ll also hire someone that will manage the place for you while your gone.  Remember, that while you’re hiking the trail to Macchu Piccu, you’ll sometimes have worries about your property in the back of your head.  And let us not forget that unless you sell everything you own, you’ll need to find a place to store all your stuff after moving out of your place.

All the stuff that you’ll acquire

Like goldfish expanding to the size of our environments, owning a home (bigger space) can prompt us to acquire more things.  This is partly what anchor’s us.  All of those possessions that we rarely glimpse and get stowed away somewhere far from regular use.  I spent a full year to year and a half emotionally-parting from all of my things, selling them off or giving them away so that I could travel more easily.  The process was long and cumbersome.  I’ll never go back and am much happier now having gone through that process, but it is painful nonetheless.

Houses are not that great for investment purposes

While houses are known to appreciate over time, there’s ample evidence that suggests that the value of homes increases due to inflation only, and the actual value of the home only increases a mere 0.2%.  And let’s not forget the money you’ll be investing in your home for repairs and enhancements.  Unless you have the mindset where you like to put in a lot of your own manual labor and turn the houses yourself, I think you’ll be spending far more money and having more frustration hiring professional contractors to repair / upgrade your property. If you’re not sure if you’re ready to settle down, you should instead invest your money in an interest-bearing account that conservatively generates 5%.  That’s much better than the 0.2% you’ll see over the long term.

People Change (of course), as does everything else

As much as you’re committed to your vision of settling down, and creating a life for yourself, you don’t really know how your life is going to unfold.  At 35, I realized that I wanted to travel the world.  You may not have ambitions to travel, but you may lose your job, or cease to enjoy living in the neighborhood where you live, or receive a kick-ass job opportunity out in Portland or Vancouver.  Your life is going to change in so many, unexpected ways, and when you’re young(ish), a house is going to make it that much more difficult to flow with the amazing opportunities that are on your horizon.

After my foray into home ownership, I’ve developed a fairly jaded view towards this enterprise.  However, I do not believe that one should never own property.  In fact, while I’m still a bit raw from my experience with the current property I own, I’m sure that I will buy another property in the future.  It’s just that I plan on being much smarter about it the next time around.  I will not buy a home unless I have the full 20% to put down.  I personally think it’s better to buy a home outright, if you can, as a 30 year mortgage can leave you paying 250% of your home’s value after you have made all payments and paid off the interest and insurance.  And, if I was to do a mortgage again, I’d be sure to opt for a 15 year loan, instead.  Or better yet, for someone who is single, I’d recommend buying a tiny home for $30,000, save your money and then retire early.

Now, many people reading this may think I’m advocating a nomadic lifestyle of never settling down or making any kind of commitment.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I’m only advocating taking a moment (or ten) and rethinking your desires to own a home.  While the market might look good and you might feel the pressure of getting a good deal, step back and really look at whether you’re ready for a home and whether it will really benefit your lifestyle.  I advocate that people be smarter in saving their money.  And if your dreams are in owning a home, go for it.  Otherwise, hold off and travel the world (or follow whatever other dream you may have).

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The year in review: The year of living uncomfortably

Just the other day, I realized that it’s been over a year since I left on my first extended travel experience.  It was November 2013 when I flew out of Minneapolis and started my journey in Quito, Ecuador.  From there, I experienced 4 incredible months of travel followed by 10 more months of personal exploration, re-adapting to Minneapolis, and adjusting my life to new wants and new needs.  So, below is a slight recap that looks forward with hope and excitement.

The Big Slowdown

I can’t run around anymore.  For many years, I would drive everywhere and try to fit too many things into my life with the hope that I could experience it all.  I’ve given up on that and have become very particular about what events I attend.  I’ve found that I push back more on events when I’m not feeling even 80% excited about them.  I’ve also thrown out my schedules to some extent.  I don’t try that hard to be anywhere at a specific time anymore.  I’ve also come to hate traffic, especially close to rush hours, and have chucked driving for riding the Green Line Transit into work.  Sure, it’s an hour total to get to work and another hour to get home, but I can read during that time.  I’ve found I’m much less stressed and in a better mood on those days.  Now, if only the Afro Deli wasn’t on my way back to my apartment…..

Frugality

It is partially a product of my uncertainty of where my future endeavors may lie, but I’m extremely conservative and deliberate in anything new that I acquire now.  I continue to sleep on a small $70 IKEA mattress in my apartment.  I have my table and chairs from before I left, but no couch.  I’m not entirely happy with the return to apartment-living, but being that I’m uncertain about where I’ll be in the near future, it’s acceptable for the time being.  I also go out for drinks or dinner less than before and when I do, I often stay in my neighborhood where I can easily walk to my destination.

Travel

There’s no turning back.  Since I’ve made this commitment towards traveling, I’m experiencing an even stronger pull to get out there again and see the world.  I’m prompted to head back to South America to see the countries that I missed such as Columbia, Bolivia, and Brazil.  However, I also have a strong pull towards heading east and visiting Iceland, Greenland, Europe, etc.  I’m currently targeting summer or fall of 2015.  And yet…..

Growth

…. there’s a major nagging sensation that I need to figure out my own personal happiness and growth in this world.  I love travel and respect all the people I’ve read that have made traveling a permanent lifestyle choice.  However, I’m feeling the need to contribute more and to get involved more in the causes that matter to me the most.  And while I recognize that the two options (traveling vs. work / professional growth) are not necessarily mutually exclusive, I’ve found that I need to put focus towards that aspect of my life.  It’s very foggy at this point.  I may have to figure out a way to include more growth experiences or entrepreneurial activities within my travels or potentially spend an extended period of time somewhere working to create something of value.  I realize now that expecting to fall into something through wandering the world is unrealistic for me.  I need to start trying some things out and seeing what sticks.  I’ve recently signed up for some cooking classes to expand my knowledge in something that I love.  I’m also continuing to look for volunteer opportunities with organizations I care about to provide me with experience in different areas of service.  I’m starting to recognize my desire to create my own work rather than contribute to someone else’s.

Letting Go

If there’s one concept that I’m trying to embrace fully, it is that I need to let go of bad feelings, judgments, assumptions, jealousy, insecurity for myself or towards other people.  I want to move forward with more acceptance and less stress in my life.  I’m also much better at embracing the uncomfortable experiences and uncertain times that present themselves.  It truly has been a year of discomfort on many levels, but I think I’ve adjusted quite well to the life that is awaiting me.

Resolutions

Yeah, we all make them and often times break them, but t’is the season, and I’ve always been one to set some goals for the future (even if they’re really small so that I’m sure to achieve them).  I want to write more.  I want to create more and put it out there for other people to experience.  This can include cooking, music, writing, software.  If I can be less timid in my approach to life, I think I may open up some new and incredible doors for myself this coming year.  I also want to work more towards my own personal calmness and tranquility.  I’ve always thought passion is a wonderful thing to have, but I want, for myself, to be more calm when challenges present themselves.  And maybe even a bit more excited to take those challenges on.

It’s a new year (in 7 days) and the sky is the limit.

Travel and the eureka moment

Over the last two weeks, my friend Lisa, also a fellow traveler, sent me a couple of links to articles about returning home after a long trip and the adjustment that one usually undergoes.  I was especially struck by this article where the author expresses dismay at not having experienced a “Eureka” moment where he suddenly feels like his life makes sense, or that he knows what his calling is.  Before I left on my trip, I too had hoped that the answers would come to me and that I would find something that might propel me forward in life.  And while I experienced some moments where I stumbled upon some nuggets of understanding, I unfortunately didn’t experience any kind of “Eureka” moment.

After being back and having time to process my time away, I’ve come to see that the expectation or hope that you’ll have some profound experience that will elicit the answers to your questions is unrealistic.  It’s also unfortunate that one would make long term travel plans with that expectation in mind.  Don’t get me wrong – I do believe that people can experience a moment of clarity while traveling that answers what they should pursue as a vocation in life, but I don’t think someone should expect that same outcome.

For me, traveling is no longer about finding THE answer.  Instead, it is an exercise in learning to let go.  To travel for any length of time, you’re required to let go of many things including your home, comfort, belongings, friends and family (for a time), security, etc.  And any notions of who you think you are will likely drift away as you undertake new adventures, meet new people and enjoy new experiences with the people and places that surround you.  You’ll likely let go of old grudges and regrets.  You’ll forgive yourself and the world around you for any misdeeds and misunderstandings.

And through letting go, you’ll free yourself from all the baggage that you had before and open yourself up to the possibilities of this world.  And through your new-found lightness, you’ll shed some of your fears and push yourself to try things that originally frightened you and held you back from living in the moment.  You will develop greater confidence in yourself and better understand how far and fast you can push yourself.  In the end, a clarity will settle upon you and notions will develop within you of what is possible.

And this is where I think the magic starts to happen.  You learn to embrace uncertainty and discomfort, for those are the things that help to propel us forward or to make big changes in our lives.  But it’s not a change that happens overnight, and it’s definitely not a “Eureka” moment.  Nor is it a destination where you finally know all that will make you happy or land you your dream job.  Instead is the realization that you’re living your best life now and that instead of having all the answers to life, the universe, and everything, you’ve learned to enjoy the positive moments in your life to their absolute fullest.  You’ll no longer try to rush those moments or keep yourself on a schedule, but instead you’ll start operating from your heart and making decisions based on what you feel you want.

It’s a commonly held belief that when traveling to the Galapagos Islands, that Charles Darwin was so influenced by the wildlife that he encountered there that he ultimately had a “Eureka” moment where he then developed his theories on evolution.  However, upon further research, it has been proven false and has been shown that he had actually been working on his theories for a substantial amount of time prior to his time in the Galapagos..

So being that answers typically materialize over a lengthy period of time, I’ve come to the realization that it’s more about appreciating and enjoying our lives to their fullest in-between the times where life may elicit those answers.  So, if you haven’t had a “Eureka” moment in your life, fear not – you’re living it right now.  The act of challenging yourself, having some adventures, and stepping out of your comfort zone will ultimately provide the answers that you seek and contribute to the life that you want.

 

Creative Space

StatueIn the 3 months since my last post, I’ve basically struggled with finding a comfortable place to do the creative things that I love (cooking, writing, playing guitar, etc).  Hence the hiatus from contributing ideas to my blog.  Yet the need to create persists, and I’ve come to realize that this is something that I need to make time for.  Recently, I came across the article on Chris Guillebeau’s Art of Non-Conformity site aptly titled Why You should Write and realized how fulfilling it is for me to get my ideas out there.

In May of this year, I joined a co-collaborative, co-networking group called CoCo.  I basically took a risk and joined with the hope that I’d network with new people in different industries and would soon be well on my way towards establishing my own career identity.  I’ve scrambled to fill the gaps in how I effectively network and am still hoping to see the fruits of my labors.  Networking is a full-time endeavor, one which I have a lot more respect for.

Along with the challenges of networking, I’ve come to realize the importance of creative space.  When I was younger, I used to think that musicians paying rent on a place that they could store their instruments and practice, a jam-space if you will, was quite foolish and unnecessary.  But now I get it.  The space to create is an extremely important component of the creative individual.  A place where musicians can leave their gear as well as define the type of work that is created is very important to the overall mental health in moving their artwork forward.

A couple years ago, a friend of mine who’s director of a small IT company embarked on what I consider a really amazing project.  He decided to build a tiny house.  Initially, he found a warehouse 30 minutes south of St. Paul, Minnesota to begin the construction of his house.  For about a year and a half, development went well, before construction got to a point where the house could weather the elements on it’s own.  Soon after, he terminated his lease with the garage and moved the tiny house into his backyard.  Financially it was a very wise decision.  At the same rate, after the move, new construction on his house almost completely ceased and he found difficulty in working on it.  Priorities had obviously shifted, but he readily admits to me that without the garage he used to work in, he finds that he’s not as excited to work on his project anymore.

After moving into my current apartment a couple of months ago, I’ve struggled to work on anything creatively.  I don’t own much at this time, and am reluctant to go out and purchase anything new due to my uncertainty of what I want out of life next.  Do I want to get a new home, or do I want to leave next year on another grand adventure?  Unfortunately, the complacency and inability to commit to any direction has forestalled any progress in making my apartment into any kind of creative space to work on my ideas.  It wasn’t until recently when I finally moved my table out of my friends storage unit that I felt like I had some kind of work-bench again.

Recently, I heard about a friend that moved into an apartment complex that was designed to cater only to artists.  They have an intense and thorough interview process where you have to prove that you’re the type of person that would benefit from living there.  With the emergence of co-working spaces, living spaces catered towards artistry, or places where one can go create, learn, and collaborate, like The Hack Factory in Minneapolis, it makes me wonder if we’ll see more and more creative spaces pop-up in an effort to provide needed work areas for people looking to be creative and explore.

My eyes have been opened to the importance of creative spaces.  People cannot confine themselves to any 4 walls and expect to be creative.  In many companies, there’s an expectation that one can be seated in a cubicle and expected to produce stellar work.  However, that’s not the case.  I’ve found that by exposing myself to other creative individuals, at least once a week, at least helps me to keep my creative juices flowing.  Creative output is a difficult thing to measure and often takes a period of time to manifest, but I do believe that the environment that we place ourselves directly impacts our ability to be creative.

Of Native Masks and Khaki Pants

Native MaskMy muse is getting the better of me tonight.  It’s Friday and I feel tired and ready to sleep.  Yet, when I attempted sleep, a curious memory crept into my head.  A memory that I feel compelled to write about.

It starts with an exercise that my life coach, Gracie had given me the year before.  We were discussing my fear of leaving Minneapolis for an extended trip, and the opposing arguments that were battling for control over that decision.  Her instructions were to first assign an object that represented each of these opposing arguments.  For the first argument, I chose a native mask, similar to the one that my friend Jo had bought for me when he traveled to Bali.  The native mask represented the side of me that wanted an adventure.  It was the voice of risk and adventure.  For the opposing argument, I chose a pair of Khaki pants.  These pants represented my comfortable life where I was gainfully employed and living a stable life.  It was the voice of reason.  Or at least I thought.

Next in the exercise was to visualize a confrontation between the two objects.  Each object has the opportunity to present their truth and convince me why I should listen and side with their reasoning.  The pair of Khaki pants obviously cited the risks of giving up my stable life and regular income.  Compounded with leaving my friends behind and adopting a life that resembles something akin to homelessness, really put some fear in me.  The native mask counteracted these assumptions by reminding me that 1) I could re-acquire all of my belongings when I was ready, 2) It was unlikely that I’d stay homeless and due to my intelligent nature would likely find a job when I returned, and 3) that I had proven to myself time and time again that with traveling, there’s really nothing to worry about.

Lastly in the exercise, the two objects were to “size each other up” and consider establishing some type of common ground between their philosophies.  In the end, we agreed that while both sides looked a little weird and odd to each other but they could both live harmoniously and be non-judgmental towards each other.  And of course, the native mask won out and I skipped town for four months on my grand adventure.

Flash forward 4 months after I return.  I’ve finally landed some work with a small company that I think will offer me some flexibility with my time.  I’m making less than I was before, but I’m also much more relaxed with the people that I’m working with.  Up to accepting this opportunity, I really struggled with interviewing for work. None of the opportunities felt like they were that perfect or interesting to me.  In fact the current opportunity I’ve taken is not perfect either.  I know I shouldn’t expect so much.  But it’s Friday night and I’m lying in bed thinking about the native mask and the khaki pants and realize that the khaki pants don’t even resemble khaki pants anymore.  I’m not even sure they exist.  If they do exist, they’re probably brightly colored with Polynesian hieroglyphs painted all over them.  It’s an indicator.  I don’t feel comfortable dressing up in a business suit that doesn’t represent who I am as a person.  And then trying to create the best impression knowing that I must be careful in how I represent myself.  Talking about taking off for 4 months will only be met with curious looks, glazed over eyes, and worry by the corporate establishment.  It could very well look like someone in khaki pants looking down at me dressed in a native mask and a loin cloth.

It’s interesting when you finally realize that no company is ever going to give you the life that you want.  You need to create that for yourself.  In the interim, I’m trying to surround myself with other people that have scaled back their life and exited the corporate world to work for themselves.  I have projects and passions that I hope to dedicate more time to.  And of course, there’s travel.

There will be other adventures.  With each step on my journey, I hope to do things better and to open myself up more to what this life has in store for me.  It’s an odd feeling returning home.  When you initially return home, nothing feels different.  Everyone and everything around you feels the same.  In fact, you’re so happy to be home, that even you feel very much the same.  And then it hits you, 4 months after you’ve returned home, you realize that nothing is the same.  Like those khaki pants, you’re now unrecognizable.  Your personality and feelings are now brightly colored and painted with the hieroglyphs of the experiences that you’ve experienced along the way.

Coffee, Tea, or Beer?

In the month that I’ve joined CoCo, the Collaborative and Co-Networking space in downtown Minneapolis, I’ve come to realize that I know next to nothing about networking and selling myself for the kinds of opportunities that I’m interested in.  When I started my career, I would send out resumes for full-time opportunities with a cover letter detailing why I thought I was a match for the company, hoping that I said the correct things to get noticed.  Later, after I became a contractor, I’d rely on recruiters for both contracts and later full-time roles.  After 17 years, I’ve found myself disillusioned at the effort I feel I need to make to “fit-in” and be accepted.  My pool of effective recruiters continues to implode on itself as I discover less that provide me with any kind of relevant feedback.  And as my intent has changed from finding a job to finding something I enjoy doing, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I can network properly, I’m more likely to find success in that.

Kelly is a freelance developer for the Agriculture industry that Matt, a fellow confidant working at CoCo, has connected me to.  Kelly’s about my age and has been working in IT for a little longer than I have.  He has found himself in roles, mainly as a Software Developer and at times as Project Manager.  Kelly has been successfully freelancing for over a year now.  After stopping by his solo desk near the back, we both grab our cup of tea and head off to the lounge area to chat.  I’m looking forward to picking Kelly’s brain about how I can better market myself as a freelancer, or contractor for that matter.

We spend the next hour talking about everything ranging from our own personal work histories to networking oneself and finally finishing on a more philosophical note of where Technology is going and where we may find ourselves functioning in that technology space in the next 10 years.

Kelly confirms some of the information that I’ve been given by other individuals.  I need to be more assertive about what I want, and start working with my network more effectively.  To my surprise, he’s found LinkedIn to be much more helpful than I have, although I don’t find myself networking as much as he has on there.  He reaffirms for me that creating a set of business cards that market my skills as an individual will probably be beneficial.  I’m also under the perspective that scrambling to create a portfolio website at this time will not help me much.  Kelly also talked to me about why recruiters post consistently with links to articles on LinkedIn all the time.  While not extremely relevant all the time, the effect it creates is to keep that person “at the top” of the list.  He didn’t suggest that I employ the same mechanism, but that posting on my linked in on a semi-regular basis could help me stay relevant and generate more interest in my skills and needs.

What I found even more helpful is when we talked about when Kelly was just starting to go freelance.  At one point, he says, he rented out a small, shared office space in downtown Minneapolis hoping to be among a more entrepreneurial crowd that he could network with.  Instead, he found himself among divorce lawyers and insurance salesman.  The only positive thing from that experience, he states, is that he could call the aide at the front desk and have copies of documents made.  It’s lonely striking out on your own, and we both agreed that you need people to interact with.  We also agreed that some of the best networking that we’ve encountered came out of the beer networking events hosted by CoCo every week.  I’ve come to realize that I really enjoy the socialization and networking that comes from either having a coffee, tea, or beer with someone.

Of course, the best part of our networking came when Kelly validated everything that I’ve gone through thus far.  Having experienced all the same uneasiness in marketing himself and having so many questions surrounding how to do it correctly, he reassured me that everyone striking out on their own experiences the same fear.  I’ve come to realize the most important thing derived from networking – not feeling alone and stupid.  In the end, Kelly recommended two books for me.

Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port

It’s a good thing that I’m a sponge for books, because I WILL read these books and hopefully be the better for it as far as networking goes.  I’ve also come to realize that networking for me is becoming so much more than finding my next opportunity, but for getting ideas.  With each person I talk to, I get more ideas to play with, or books to read, or a better perspective about things I’ve originally thought were useless or didn’t apply to me.  And while it seems, for the moment, that all I’m following is a trail of breadcrumbs, I am moving in some direction.  I feel positive about that.

Homework

Dreams Banner

Weeks before my friend Lynn left to travel for 6 1/2 weeks, she posed the following question for me as “homework”: “What would you do if you had no fear and money was no object?”  When she first said those words to me, I immediately thought of that Tragedy and Hope video of Alan Watts where he questions “What makes you tick?…”  Five weeks later, having brushed this assignment aside, I believe it’s time to finish this assignment.  Partly because I love dreaming and scheming, but mainly because my posts as of late have been somewhat dark and serious.  And I need to focus on more positive things.

I think for many people, questions like this may be interpreted as having infinite amounts of money.  But, money being no object isn’t about having all the money in the world, it’s about having your basic necessities taken care of.  And after you make that realization, you understand what the question is really about.  It’s really about overcoming fear.  Since many of our hangups are about having insufficient funds to support ourselves, we tend to eliminate dreams before we examine them fully for feasibility.  But once we eliminate that particular fear, we can fully concentrate on dreaming big.  We can fully consider the dreams that cause us the most fear.  And as I’ve always said – “It’s the opportunities that scare you the most that you should pursue.”

So, “what would I do if you had no fear and money was no object?”  Here’s an incomplete list of things that currently come to mind.

  • I would do another prolonged trip.  In fact, I already have ideas swirling in my head.  I’m certain that I’m going to go travel again and for a longer amount of time.  I spent only 4 months traveling on this last trip, mainly, to test the waters.  I didn’t know if I’d be able to adapt to being away from home for so long, but I’ve come to realize that long-term travel is really enjoyable and fits me quite nicely.
  • I would have many more adventures which include, but are not limited to, the following:  I would go skydiving, learn to fly a plane, go into the depths of Africa on an safari, spend 4 months diving with Wicked Diving out in Southeast Asia, do some Wwoofing on farms throughout the world while practicing my language skills, dive the Great Barrier Reef, take sailing lessons and sail around the Caribbean, learn to play the violin, spend time in the rainforest, take cooking lessons from great chefs around the world, learn Arabic, and do humanitarian work in Africa or Haiti.
  • I would be an entrepreneur, focusing on my gifts and ability to create my own art to serve the world somehow.  To create something without focusing on the income is the most pure form of creation that I can imagine.
  • To have a small vineyard and create wine.  I’m a bit of a romantic.
  • To organize a charity running event.  I’m not interested in races or winners.  I’m only interested in gathering people that enjoy running and would like to donate their time and money towards a good cause while networking with other active runners.
  • It’s been a dream of mine for sometime to run a Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast.  I don’t see this as something that I’ll want to pursue until my wanderlust has waned a bit.  I see this as more of an early-retirement venture.
  • I would be an influence in a child’s life.  This may take the form of being an active participant in a Big Brothers, Big Sister program, possibly an educational opportunity, or potentially even adopting a child.
  • To be a mentor and/or coach other people towards following their dreams, or in the very least to construct a life based on fulfillment, rather than monetary wealth.

So there you have it – my bucket list, not in it’s entirety, of course, but some of the things I dream about on a regular basis.  What would you do if you had no fear and money was not an object?

What now?

question-markTo say that things have been challenging as of late is an understatement.  I’ve spent the last couple of months slowly easing back into my previous life while at the same time having trepidation of what that life is going to hold for me.  I’ve used IT Recruiters in the past to help me find work, but using them recently has left me feeling incredibly underwhelmed.  I’m already tired of them telling me what I need to say and asking me to “tweak” my resume because they don’t think it will produce an interview.  This is despite the fact that I’ve never had issues with my resume generating interest in the past.

Going to interviews only produces a sinking feeling in my stomach as I walk into the building and feel like an animal being corralled into its future pen.  Even with work environments that are located in trendy downtown buildings, I can still tell within 5 minutes of being there whether I will have anything in common with the people that I work with.  I feel like such an outsider most of the time, knowing that my interests and stories from abroad only produce blank stares and questioning looks.  “You mean, you don’t go home to work on a project or watch TV?”.  How could I possibly convey to these people that I enjoy living my life creatively and trying to experience as many things that this life has to offer and *that* in no way affects my ability to be engaged and successful at work.  Nor does it cloud my ability to produce quality work.  And then when the rejection comes, it tears through me, reminding me that I don’t fit in.  Some days, I wake up with renewed energy and defiance resolving to use that energy to move forward and forge my own path.  And other days, well, I just wake up tired.

So I’ve been a bit melancholy lately while struggling to get moving.  In.  Any.  Direction.  I’ve started to look at volunteer opportunities. A friend from Swing Dancing put me in contact with the Latino Economic Development Center.  It would give me a chance help people in the Spanish community learn English or computers while allowing me work on my already poor Spanish.

Coco door smallAnd then, out of the blue the other day, another thought struck me.  Maybe I should check out CoCo.  CoCo is a Co-working and collaborative space for independent workers.  You must be a member to use the space.  At first glance, it may remind someone of going to a trendy coffee shop sans the cute barista working behind the counter.  But CoCo provides many networking opportunities for individuals seeking to connect with people in other industries.  The first day I arrived for my tour, I met a young woman striking out on her own.  We provided each other encouragement, understanding exactly where the other person was at in their career.  Returning the next week, I talked in length with the Community Manager about whether it would be worth my time to become a member.  I was almost holding back tears as she validated almost everything I was feeling at the time.  It’s moments like that when you feel like you might be onto something special.  Maybe you’ve found your tribe.  The feeling that you’re not alone and struggle is a common trait among us all.  My first Networking Happy Hour went well, where I was introduced to Matt, a member that has created hist own start-up, and Paul, an independent recruiter.  Matt was a fellow traveler like myself.  Talking with both men at length, I had the feeling that both gentlemen understood my frustrations and challenges.  It’s too soon to tell if CoCo will be part of my growth or not.  But I have hope.

My days are up and down a lot as of late.  Some nights I can’t sleep.  There have been a couple mornings I’ll wake up around 4am, unable to get back to sleep.  I’ll go for a 5 mile run, just to calm myself down.  But then there’s also that feeling of never going back.  That in all my adventures and risks, a seed has been planted.  And while that seed has barely grown into a one-inch stalk with two leaves, there is indeed growth, however small it may be at this point.

I know that I need to keep trying things and putting myself out there.  The rejection is difficult sometimes, but I know I’ll find something….. or hopefully create something of my own.

Adjustments

Before I left on a trip, I had been told that coming back would be an adjustment.  I had heard stories of travelers coming home only to break down and cry while staring at numerous options for one item in the grocery store, seized by an inability to make a decision between all the available choices.

Yet, I’ve had friends come back from long adventures only to restart up their old jobs and move forward with their lives like nothing is different.  At least I’ve made that assumption.  When I returned from my trip, I admit that I felt fine for the most part.  The first time I went to the grocery store, I didn’t have any issues selecting food.  Obviously, I’ve had a much more laid back lifestyle since I’ve returned.  I’ve taken my time looking for a job that will better suit me and hopefully provide me with the ability to lead my life in a more leisurely way.  I’ve been going to the gym and for the most part, I feel like I’m in good health.  So it has led me to believe that I’ve adjusted fine.

That was until this week.  I’ve finally started to notice that I’m having difficulty dealing with some things.  For example, the first month, I didn’t have a car.  Before that, I hadn’t been driving for 4 months.  I’ve since bought an old ’99 Toyota Corolla from a friend of mine and started to drive.  Now, after 5 months of no driving combined with a more leisurely approach to life, I’ve noticed that I drive like my grandmother.  The interstate speed limit around Minneapolis is 60 mph with a minimum limit of 40 mph.  Before my trip, I would typically drive between 65 and 70 mph.  Now, my speed is usually around 45, and sometimes drops below 40.  People on the highway scare the crap out me when they drive up my ass.  Most speed around me, and I’ve caught a couple glances from people like “Who let grandpa have a license to drive.”.  Of course it’s then followed by a shocked expression when they see me driving.

I’m somewhat nervous and anxious lately.  While spending time looking for work has it’s benefits, the thought of going back to a corporate, structured work environment has me feeling a bit dreadful.  The big smile I had plastered to my face after arriving home has been replaced with the numb expression I think I had most of the time before I left on my trip.  I feel tired and overstimulated, even more than before.  I’m not quite sure where to go from here or what to do with my life.  In an effort to give my life some momentum, I’ve started looking into volunteer opportunities.  For the most part, those interviews have left me feeling somewhat excited.

I thought after 2 months back home, that I’d be settled and comfortable, but I’m the opposite.  I left hoping to clear my head, and have found that after my return, my head is full of new options.  Some are exciting and others leave me fearful for my future.  There’s a new found pressure that I sense coming from myself.  A pressure that this time around, I need to do things better, and with more intention to what I really care about in life.  Yet, I know better now that I need to loosen that grip on life as well.

I worry about transitioning the theme of my blog from one that has mostly been exclusively about travel to my original purpose: my adventures and journey on my way to finding myself.  I want to write about the things that are important to me, and the other adventures that I have (not related to travel) that I hope will open up new doors for me.  My blog has lately taken a more serious tone, one that I hope to lighten over the next couple of weeks.

It’s the growing pains of growth, I guess.  Exciting and Scary.  I’m not settled nor am I content, yet.  I fear that I may never be.

Simple

Settling back into my life in Minneapolis has been time spent reflecting, adjusting, and pondering what I want my life to look like moving forward.  I’ve spent the last 4 years making adjustments to my life, scaling back the number of hobbies and interests that I attempt to fit into my life, or ridding myself of all the things that weigh me down.  I’ve done this not really knowing where it’s leading me except for the ability to pack up and travel someplace with more ease and security.

You see, I’ve often spent my life thinking in terms of destinations.  I’ll convince myself that once I arrive at someplace, I can finally think of my life as successful or that I’m well on my way to achieving happiness and contentment.  I’ll often think about that next skill or success that will open up a door to greater success and happiness, while only whittling away more free time from just being or enjoying the time that I have.

I rented a car for the first week that I arrived home, thinking that I would find an old clunker to drive around within the first week.  I had intended to adopt all of the interests that I filled my time with before leaving on my grand adventure.  But a peculiar thing happened during that time.  I came to realize very quickly that I didn’t really miss having to pay for all the things necessary to operate a vehicle such as gas, title, insurance, etc.  I also didn’t miss having to fight for my safety against all the other idiots on the road.  After a week, I gave up my rental car with no other options than to ride the metro system.  My roommate also gave me a Go-To card for the metro so that I could get around.  We posited that if I could just get through the next couple of weeks until the snow melted and it became easier to be outside, that I might get used to the metro system.  Coupled with buying a bicycle, I might even be able to adopt a new healthy lifestyle where I might not even need a vehicle in my life.

It’s been a noble quest.  After almost 5 weeks of using the metro system, I’m finding that I have become more tolerant of the metro system and am finding it to be a viable source of transportation around the cities.  Obviously, anyplace that I want to go now requires more planning and effort.  But that is surprisingly okay.  I’m now forced to make a decision as to how much I really want to go somewhere.  I’ve now removed many situations where I go someplace only to be disappointed that I spent the effort and time to go.  And with limited space in which to carry things, I now shop for food in much smaller quantities.  I am finding that not only am I using less space to store food, but this constraint is also helping me alleviate the problem of food getting forgotten and spoiling.  Using the metro also requires me to walk a lot more than I normally would.  I’ve spent more time enjoying the scenery around me, and getting exercise without having to make an effort to get to the gym.  I’m starting to consider getting rid of my gym membership as well.  My world has become smaller in terms of where I go and what I do.

However, Minneapolis is no Chicago.  We lack an extensive subway / lightrail system that other large cities offer.  I don’t always feel safe riding some of the buses late at night, or even the lightrail for that matter, when the stop is right outside some bars.  I can pass the time easily during the day reading a book or my nook between destinations.  That is as long as the other patrons are relatively quiet and not screaming into their phones, or trying to pick a fight with someone, or arguing about sports or which is better, Kentucky Fried Chicken or Popeyes.  “I’m talkin’ bout the colonel!!  The colonel, man!  He’s responsible for all those hot sauces.”  It’s distracting to say the least.  And unfortunately, when I consider my own tolerance to the white noise of life, I find that I’m starting to lean towards buying a car for myself.

I mentioned in the last post, arriving at my friends storage shed only to discover that after living out of a bag for the last 4 months, that I could easily dispose of many of the things I had stored while away.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks organizing and determining which things I’m going to rid myself of.  Being back and anticipating making some roots for at least the next 6 months to a year has caused me to fight my impulses for lightening my load a bit.  I try and convince myself that I will now need many of the items in storage.  But I know in my heart, I probably won’t.  I can probably get rid of my snowboard.  When I only snowboard once or twice a year, it doesn’t really make much sense to keep a snowboard around; especially when I can rent that equipment at a resort.  I’m finding that I don’t need near as many of the kitchen supplies that I think I do to make a good meal.  And I definitely don’t need all of the clothes that I’ve acquired over the last decade.

All of this has been an exercise in quantifying how much I need to be happy.  We make excuses for why we cannot have the type of life that others have.  Or, we make comparisons and assumptions about the quality of life that other people have without having the perspective of actually experiencing life in another way.  Rarely will we put ourselves in those situations by choice, but once placed into those situations either inadvertently or by circumstance, we readily adjust and find that what we had before wasn’t all that great and that how we live our life now is quite simply, better.  And that is the crux of my education.  I’m finding that rather than happiness being found by arriving at a destination, it is instead being found by simplifying my life so that I might spend more time enjoying the simple things in life.