“I’m going to quit my job when we get back,” I said, turning to my friend Scott.
“Really? I doubt that.”
“No really, I am. I’m going to quit and travel the world,” I said, turning my face back into the warm Thailand sun.
It was 2004, and we were in Ko Samui. We had just visited Chiang Mai where I had met the five travelers who so inspired me to travel the world. Their world of no 401ks, vacations, and bosses seemed too good to be true and I wanted to be a part of it. I was determined to be a part of it. I even started to prepare for it while in Thailand before I had any real idea of what I was going to do.
While on Ko Samui, I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Southeast Asia. I didn’t even know if I’d go there on my trip. I didn’t know when my trip would be or for how long or what I wanted to see. But buying that guide made the whole thing seem more real. It was my commitment to travel. I had the guide; there was no turning back now. The guide symbolized my trip and, for me, it represented what I had to do to make the mental leap.
I read every page of the book on the flight home. I highlighted destinations, planned routes, and worked out my trip in my head. I knew everything about Asia by the time I touched down in Boston.
However, once back home, I came to the realization that I had no idea how to make this happen. Would I finish my MBA? How much money would I need? When could I go? Where would I go? What would people say? How do I get a RTW ticket? What credit card should I use? Are hostels safe?
The list of questions seemed endless, and, in the days before travel blogs, Twitter, and iPhone apps, the challenge of planning a trip was a lot more daunting than it is today. Outside a few websites, there just wasn’t as much information on the Internet back then. It took a lot longer to find and was usually a bit dated.
But the real challenge would be telling people I was leaving and letting them know I meant it. I don’t remember the exact conversation I had with my parents. They always counter my impulsive decisions (of which there are many) with some nervous, “the world is a dangerous place and we worry” parental response. Over the years I sort of tuned them out. I have my father’s stubborn streak, and, once I make a decision, I make it. For a while I don’t think they even believed me, and, until the day I left, they tried to talk me out of it.
But what I do remember is going into my boss’ office. It was a few weeks after I had come back from Thailand, and I was getting more and more sure that I was going to do this trip. I knew I had to do this trip. I went into his office and told him we needed to talk. Shutting the door, I sat down across from his desk and told him.
I was quitting. After meeting those travelers, I knew I had to travel around the world before I started my career.
He sat back and grumbled. “You have only been in this position 8 months. It is hard to find a new person right away. It really puts me in a bind.”
He stared at me intimidatingly.
“I know and I’m not quitting right away,” I replied. “I’m going to quit 6 months from now, finish my MBA, and then go.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I said, as confident as I had ever said it before.
In a way, it was more than my job I quit that day. I quit my life. I quit the American Dream. My life was heading down a road that I realized I wasn’t ready for. Marriage, houses, kids, 401ks, play dates, college funds – everything you think about when you think about the American Dream. While there is nothing wrong with that, it wasn’t what I really wanted. It took a trip to Thailand to make me realize I was unhappy. At 22, I was working 50-60 hours per week, investing in retirement funds, and planning out my next 40 years. I never loved it, but that was just what people did, right?
My trip to Thailand showed me that there was more to life than the corporate grind. While that lifestyle is good for lots of people, it wasn’t good for me.
The day I left the office was the day I quit a life I never really liked. I was living to work, not working to live. And, when I hopped on the road at 25, I wasn’t ready for that type of life. I’d come back to the “real world” when my trip was over.
Though, as time went on, I realized I could never go back. The divide between that world and mine was too great.
Sometimes decisions we make ripple forward in our lives like giant tsunamis. I thought the day I quit I was just quitting a job. It turned out I was quitting a lifestyle. I quit the American Dream and, in doing so, I found my own and have never looked back.
And they say quitting is for losers.