“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 401(k)s, 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 next 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 Southeast 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 an 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’s 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 eight 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 six 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 had been heading down a road that I realized I wasn’t ready for: marriage, houses, kids, 401(k)s, play dates, college funds — everything you think about when you think about the American Dream. 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?
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. It showed me that there was more to life than the corporate grind. While that lifestyle is good for lots of people, it wasn’t for me.
The day I left the office was the day I quit a life I had never really liked. I was living to work, not working to live. So when I hopped on the road at 25, I knew 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.
Photo credit: 1