Thinking Big

It’s the middle of the afternoon, and from my office window I watch the shadows chase the traffic down the highway, threatening to overtake it around the turns but never managing much more than a few feet of headway, immediately lost at the next turn. The shadows stay locked tight in a race which, over the course of the afternoon, will see them grow larger and larger. They will never get any faster, and they will never escape. They are doomed to obliteration at dusk: an ominous thought that hits a little too close to home here in this office, surrounded by work that I am, by virtue of being paid, obligated to do. Here, I am but a shadow to the greater shapes of my employer. I may grow here as my life goes by, but as long as I try to live the life I have built in the last 32 years, I, like a shadow, will never escape that which forms me:work. I need my job to live this life. Right now I owe everything, the food I eat, the roof over my head, my health,and my happiness, to my job. And I hate that.

Only the analogy breaks down, because unlike shadows, I have a choice. I am not tied to the outline that currently dictates my form. I do not exist because of my job, I am merely shaped by it. I can choose to step out of the shade of this thing and stand on my own in the sunlight. This is what I intend to do, but it takes time, planning, and most importantly, audacity. One has to think big to make big changes. Thinking big involves guts, and it involves questioning fundamentals that most take to be unassailable. The changes my wife and I are on the verge of making involve altering how we earn our money, and how we spend it. We are rethinking 9 to 5 and vacation days, we are rethinking the acquisition of stuff, we are rethinking wealth in general. We are rethinking the entire road map of our lives. We are going to break free of the tyranny of expectation and throw the “American Dream” out the window or, possibly literally, die trying.

There is a fundamental belief underlying all of this revolutionary talk: that life is worth experiencing in full. Most people would agree that life is worth experiencing, but immediately proceed to place boundaries around that life. These boundaries can be formed by culture, or religion, or lack of imagination, or personal fears and prejudices. Whatever causes a person to draw these lines, by doing so they effectively partition off experiences and even entire ways of living, keeping them from a fuller existence. And that works great for many people. Many people lead an existence that is plenty full for them, and that’s fine. But this existence isn’t working for me. I’m too curious, and I am too restless. However romantic and interesting these characteristics sound, it is difficult to act on them because society is not set up to encourage or even accommodate people who seek to live “differently”. Without a social crutch, it takes strength and confidence, a sense of purpose, and a willingness to think big.

So, as I announced here, my wife and I are moving in the middle future. Well, we aren’t just moving. We are rethinking the construction of our lives. We will be selling the vast majority of our stuff. Stuff, we feel, is a fetter to us, it keeps us tied down. To maximize our mobility, we intend to carry only 30 liter backpacks for at least a year while we explore. We will be working for ourselves, doing whatever we can to make money here and there: no work will be off the table, and being temporary, no work will be suffocating. Work will be for money, not for life, not for lifestyle. Besides, we expect our expenses (and our desires) to be much more modest than they are in American culture. We want to live life for our sake, not anyone else’s. We are tired of compromising, tired of being told “that’s life”. This is not life: life is bigger than any of this, and we are thinking big.

We have a lot of work to do before we embark, some of it obvious like research and visa applications, some of it not so obvious, like mental adjustments and management of expectations. I am learning to acclimate with the idea that will not be able to plan our future, that I cannot just draw a line on a map and say “this is where we are and this is where are going and this is where we will end up,” but I am learning too that nobody can do that. The idea that life is predictable and manageable is a false illusion given to us by our culture. In reality, the only difference between my vagabond two-person family and a nice, “normal” unit of four is that my family is recognizing and embracing the unknown, not fighting to keep it at bay. What will the results be? Well, I have no idea. This grand experiment, for all its lofty rhetoric, may fail in the first few months, but that is a risk we are willing, no, compelled to take. We must have the audacity to think big, to try to make big changes, to even fail big, and to, one day, hopefully, succeed big. I can’t wait.