A few weeks ago I came across this post about life lessons on my Facebook feed. It was written by a friend of mine and he was nice enough to let me post his work on The Book Wheel. All work and photos Eric’s.
It’s a difficult experience when you don’t enjoy what you do professionally. That’s the scenario I found myself stuck in while living in New York City before February 2012. Working in finance was beneficial for many reasons, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t feel I was helping anybody except myself. During a recession, I was lucky to have a good job, people kept telling me. But it wasn’t enough. So I quit. Two years ago, I left New York and landed in Cartagena, Colombia, the start of a yearlong around-the-world journey. I visited 21 countries in Europe, Asia and South America, where I spent the majority of my time. While I was living in Buenos Aires, I enrolled in Spanish school, took tango lessons, and performed volunteer work with poor children. I climbed mountains and volcanoes in Chile, danced with a Peruvian Congresswoman, joined locals protesting a coup in Paraguay, visited the Louvre in Paris, discovered the joys of gluhwein in Germany, and made countless new friends. My trip was a life-changing experience. I learned a lot about myself, and plenty about the world. Life-lessons were abundant. Like, carry toilet paper with you at all times. When I was coming up on the two-year anniversary of my departure from the United States, I started making a list of the most important things I had learned the previous two years, and have decided to share them. Some of these may be obvious to you, but they weren’t necessarily obvious to me at the time. Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you get something out of my experience.
1. Put yourself into uncomfortable situations. A life too familiar can be a life too boring. If you have no fear of new situations, you’ll learn to take on greater tasks/goals/experiences with enthusiasm and not dread. Life changes are good.
2. Dance! It’s fun, even if you suck at it, like me. Music is there to make you move.
3. Don’t make career choices based strictly on money. It’s a recipe for future unhappiness. Do what interests you. Even if you’re poorer, you’re enjoying the work day-to-day. On this subject, do something, even if it’s volunteer work in your spare time, that helps other people. The people you help are truly appreciative.
4. Talk to strangers. You never know what you might learn from somebody who is different than you. Or what kind of friendships you will make. People in this world are so friendly!
5. Travel when you’re young. You may not be able to move very well when you’re 67. In fact, you might not be alive when you’re 67. If you are alive, then travel! I was able to hike Villarrica Volcano, Machu Picchu and Torres del Paine when I was young, which I would have difficulty doing when I’m 67.
6. You don’t need much ‘stuff’. It’s easier to get by on not having too much, only on what you need. More stuff makes it difficult to be mobile, costs more money, and makes life too complicated. “Honey, did you fix the end table in the sitting room we never use?” See where I’m going with this? Be thankful for what you DO have.
7. Start your kids learning foreign languages young. As in, kindergarten or beforehand. I was able to learn Spanish at a decent level by the time I left South America, but Europeans were nearly fluent with the same level of practice. Why? Their brains are wired when they’re young to learn foreign languages. I didn’t start taking Spanish until I was 13. Our brains are partially developed by then and learning new tasks takes more practice. Americans didn’t have a reason to know a foreign language when we were young, but times they are a changin’. Knowing a foreign language is a business asset. Europeans from the continent learn English and one other EU language. It’s mandatory. I know a girl from Beijing who teaches Mandarin and she said Americans were the most difficult to teach and the worst learners. I just laughed, I understood what she meant. So start teaching your kids now! You’ll be doing them a service later in their lives.
8. Keep your options open and roll with the punches, otherwise you might miss out on something special. Major example: I had been planning to move to Chicago, but just beforehand I decided to move to Denver for a better opportunity. It’s been a terrific decision. Minor example: I was stuck in La Paz, Bolivia for an extra week because of national protests, the border was closed. Nobody in or out. I had been planning on heading down to Argentina, but instead I high-tailed it west to Arica, Chile, taking the most amazing bus trip at night through the mountains of Lauca National Park. I’ve never seen stars so bright. One of the most memorable journeys of my life. Point is, I wouldn’t have had that experience if I had stuck to my original plan. It’s okay to deviate if the opportunity presents itself. You may be rewarded.
10. Don’t watch television news. That stuff is there to sell advertisements and make you frightened. Don’t be frightened. The world is a lot safer than you might think.
11. Tell people how you’re feeling. You may not get another chance. They could end up on the other side of the world, or even dead (both of which have happened to me the last two years). You will regret not being fully open with them and it can be painful.
12. Stop and smell the roses. Stare at that statue of William Seward in Madison Square Park for half an hour. Go on. Do it. While you’re walking, look up at the architecture of that building, or the leaves on that tree, instead of down at your iPhone. Get outside your head for a bit. The world is a beautiful place.