There has been a backlash in recent years against the traditional path western society tries to impose on people. Leaving school, getting a job, getting married, having kids and then paying bills until you die is now not enough. Many are now questioning those conventional paradigms. The big problem is, what path do people follow without that traditional direction? Can taking a gap year or travelling around the world indefinitely provide an answer?
How many people know what they want to do with their lives at a young age? How many know in their 30s? How many change their minds?
Many people struggle with the choice of what university course to choose, unsure if the one they are on is the right one for them. Others still start a career and realise it really isn’t for them, but are afraid of changing it because of a fear of the future. There are even those who start to resent their career and are desperately in need for a career break or a change, but won’t because of the hard work and effort they have invested in how far they have gotten already.
I’m telling you from experience none of it matters. You can change direction as often as you like.
Life has a way of throwing you through a loop sometimes. It can throw a number of roadblocks in your way that can leave you directionless and wondering what to do with yourself, which road to take or which direction to go in. Travel has all the answers you will ever need and more.
I have been travelling the world now for fifteen years. That’s a hell of a long time. As a result of that I know who I am and where I want to be in life. I am confident in myself, my paradigms, my beliefs and my role in life, I am comfortable in my own skin and have a set of priorities and direction that I am happy with. Those are all things that travel has given me over the years.
But it wasn’t always like that.
The first time I went to University I wasn’t really sure what the hell I wanted to do with my life. If they are honest with themselves I don’t think a lot of people actually do. I studied my first degree out of pure interest at the time and found out too late that any career that I could use it in held no real interest to me. A stint with the military after graduation was amazing and I wouldn’t change that for the world, but I found that as I grew both in age and in character that it was time for a change. So I went back to university to study my nursing degree, which I received, and then specialised in emergency nursing and later travel medicine.
I’m telling you this succinct snapshot of my life not to bore you with because I see so many people now leave school or college and get so stressed over what to do next, so scared of making the wrong choices and worrying what to do. So many people get so anxious over a lack of direction in their lives, a lack of identity through their job or role or an overriding belief that they have to follow one strict path, and if something happens that makes them deviate from that it can be devastating.
I’m telling you all of this to say don’t worry. It will all turn out okay.
If you want to go to college or university, do it. If you want to start a career, do that. If you want to drop it all and travel the world, you can! And if you want to change your mind and do something else, you can do that too!
Whatever choices you make now they are not set in stone. You can change the course of your life’s ship any time you choose. And if you make the wrong choice? So what? Have a do over and travel for a while. Reevaluate a few things and take a different path.
That freedom is liberating.
Once you realise that it is okay to make a wrong choice in life and change your mind, once you see that it’s okay to reeavaluate your life choices as you grow older and change, it frees you up to take risks. Do things that you never thought you would do, or even things you thought were impossible.
Having the mindset that you can always change your course in life means that taking a chance on that risky path isn’t as final as you may think it is. It removes the prospect of ‘permanent consequences’ for making a decision on what to do with your life.
And what can be more liberating, more risky to traditional norms than taking a year or more out to follow your dreams of travel?
You see, throughout all these major life changes I have had travel. World travel. Apart from a few short ventures during college, I started really travelling during the summers of my first degree and took my first epic trip pretty much straight afterward. I have taken countless gap and snap years since then and even now I quit work for a ‘mini retirement’ at least once a year to travel for 6 or 7 months. Through all these life changes, through all these very different career paths and life in academia, I had travel. Travel was my one true constant.
I didn’t know it at the time of course but those experiences I gained whilst travelling shaped me in ways I never realised until much later. It has taught me that life isn’t linear. You don’t have to leave school, get your qualifications, get your career and then spend your life paying bills until you die. Life isn’t one straight line. It is a winding labyrinthine road with a million deviations, branches, paths and dirt trails that you can explore and go back to at your leisure.
Taking time out to travel will not harm your career chances or ruin your chances of academic success. Far from it.
People change as they grow. The person you are in your twenties is very different from that eager eyed 18 year old with all the possibilities in the world opening out in front of them. When you hit your thirties you are a different person again. The life choices you made when you were 18 – as right for you as they may have been at the time – may be completely wrong for who you have become now. When you hit your thirties and you have travelled for a decade already, your outlook on life is even more different! Once you have seen the world from all those different places and perspectives, you can never quite fit back into the narrow paradigms that society tries to force onto you.
So why do we think that sticking to one path in life is the right thing to do? It makes no sense!
World travel has helped shaped who I am. The people I have met, the cultures I have encountered, have all helped open my mind and shape my paradigms and my belief systems far beyond what they ever could have been when I was younger. The experiences I have had have taught me skills that I could never learn in a classroom and given me an unshakable confidence and belief in myself and my own abilities. I have found that I was good at things I never knew I could be and become great at things I had a passing interest in. Travel itself has become part of my innate character.
All of these things led me from being a student to a soldier, a traveller to a nurse and right at this moment a writer and author.
I have defined myself by these roles throughout various periods of my life, and they have helped shape who I am, who I have become. In much the same way I now define myself as a traveller too and that too has helped make me who I am.
Travel teaches you things. It constantly helps you to refine a set of soft skills like self confidence and communication, logistical skills that will help you deal with the minutia of life. You will learn valuable practical skills, and even more importantly it teaches you about yourself. You learn you are interested in things that you may never have thought of before and that ideas or career paths that you thought were important to you actually aren’t, because as much as travel teaches you who you are, it also teaches you who you aren’t.
Travel has a way of stripping everything away from you and laying your bare soul out for you to take a good long look at. It isn’t always comfortable, it isn’t always easy, but its effects are often extensive and profound.
As I am in the transition process to my third career as a writer there is perhaps no better example than myself to show you all that life doesn’t have to have direction. Or if you do have direction for a short while, there is nothing wrong with changing course any damn time you like.
You may have been dead set on the path you are on for a long time, and maybe even put a lot of effort into getting on it, but if it isn’t right for you why continue down it?
You may be stuck at a crossroads in life at the moment, you may be figuring out that a dream career isn’t for you or stressing about which college or university course to take. Well don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Many people go through the same thing, but it really doesn’t matter. If things don’t work out, you can always change course. If things are getting too much, take a break to travel.
And even if you discover that the road you have chosen to be on is the right one for you, there’s nothing wrong with taking time out to follow other passions like world travel too!
Because travel really does show you who you are and where you really want to be in life. Travel really does give you direction. Until then, the best way to choose which way to go in life is simply to buy a plane ticket, find the second star to your right, and then head straight on until morning.
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