One of the first things you’re asked when you’re a kid is: “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“A boulder,” I’d say confidently.
There were other answers too – a vet, a teacher, a dentist, a writer – but I vividly remember at one point my biggest dream was to grow up to be a big rock.
I’ve just about accepted that I’m not going to be a boulder, and recently I’ve also accepted that I haven’t found anything (yet) that I’d like to do for the rest of my life. Right now, all I want to do is go snowboarding and have some great adventures around the world.
When I tell a lot of people this, they don’t always get it. They start asking me about my job, when I want to settle down, and what will I do when I’m back in the UK? “You’ll be years behind in your career!” they say, genuinely horrified.
And I’m sure if I told my younger self that when I turned 24 I would be living on a mountain in Canada and not enormously rich and successful, I would have been horrified myself.
But in the last few years, I’ve realised that we live in (or at least I grew up in) a really strange society. Our culture dictates a series of events we have to take part in: go to school, university, get a job, get married, have children, get promoted, retire, die. You should try to accomplish those things in that order or you will live alone, poor, unhappy, and unsuccessful.
I definitely felt enormous pressures growing up to follow that pattern. I went to university without even really thinking about it, because that’s what I thought I had to do to get a job that I would love. I thought I needed to make a lot of money to be happy.
Then, mostly through travelling, I realised that I was trapped in that cycle. I kept meeting people who hadn’t followed that usual pattern. And instead of being sad and alone and socially ostracised… they were happy. They were the happiest people I’ve ever met. And you know why? Because they were living their dreams.
Let me explain some more. As part of my degree, I spent a year working in an office for a management consultancy in the UK. It was a strange time in my life. One thing that struck me was how much people looked forward to their weekends and holidays. They worked so hard all year, tapping away at a computer, for a few paychecks and that coveted 22 days of holiday. They would plan and book time off months in advance – and that would be all they talked about. People would count down the days until the weekend (“Thank God it’s Friday!”).
I realised that most people spent 5 out of 7 days of their week waiting. 5/7ths of their life spent waiting for something better to happen, something that they would enjoy more than their day-to-day life. I wanted to enjoy my life 7/7 days.
And I just want to say, of course there were some people who genuinely loved their job in the rainy town I lived in, and never wanted to leave, and that’s fine too. I’m talking about the people who dreamed of travelling or doing another job or living somewhere else, and just kept telling themselves that one day it would be the right time, but they couldn’t leave just yet.
But these people I met while travelling, they loved every day of their life. They loved skiing, so they moved to the mountains to ski every day. They loved horse riding, so they got a job in a stable and worked for a roof over their head. They loved the outdoors, so they bought a van and camped and sold their artwork all over the world.
I get why it’s important to think about the future in some cases – like what you’re having for dinner, or whether you can pay rent, and I can see how a retirement plan is a useful thing to have. But personally, I don’t want to wait until I’m 65 to use my money to do what I want. You can’t really snowboard when you’re old. Or hike, or bike, or do a lot of things I love doing now.
I realise that I’m coming from a place of privilege here. I’m truly thankful for my upbringing and the experiences that I’ve had. A lot of people tell me how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing, and I do feel lucky – but I don’t want anyone to think that my life just landed in my lap. I had to make the decision to move first to New Zealand, and then Canada. I had to find a job and somewhere to live (not always successfully), and figure out phone plans and bank accounts and meeting people. It didn’t just happen. Now I live in the places where those people from that office spend their 22 days of holiday.
And okay, I completely accept that I’m on one end of the spectrum, and some people genuinely like having stability and a job and a family and a house etc., and that’s perfectly fine. I understand that it’s nice to feel secure, provided (and this is the important part) that you’re seeking this stability for the right reasons.
If it’s because you’re scared that you’re going to end up alone, or you feel like you should have a career even though you’re not passionate about it, or you’re worried about having enough money in your pension plan, then the only advice I can give is really think about where you are in life.
A question I sometimes ask myself is “if I learned that I was going to die one year from today, what would I do in with my remaining time?”
Okay, it’s pretty morbid, but I think it’s worth some consideration. In my opinion, if my answer is drastically different to how I’m spending my time today, then I’m doing something wrong.
Who knows where I’ll be in ten years time? Who knows what job I’ll be doing in which part of the world? I hope I’m still as happy as I am today, and that’s all I can ask. (But my fingers are still crossed on whole boulder thing.)