In September 2012 I had what most would consider a very comfortable life – a stable government job, a condo in Toronto I had purchased a few years prior, an active social life, great salary, and a very defined path for the future of my life. I had no debt, wasn’t bored with life, had virtually no stress, and was overall a very happy person. Six months later I decided to give it all up.
There is a relatively simple formula to life for young adults in the western world – go to college or university, get a job, buy a house, get married, have kids. This isn’t necessarily a bad plan – virtually everyone I knew had followed or was following this path and were living comfortable lives as well. Everyone was working 8 or so hours a day, moving slowly forward in their careers, settling down in relationships – these were just the things that we were supposed to do.
Looking back, the reality is I had been following this pattern simply because everyone else was. I never saw the value for myself in a university education, but I went because everyone else was going. I didn’t need a new car or a nicer sofa for my apartment but I had nothing else to do with my money and everyone else seemed to be spending theirs on similar things. Like being in a cult, I was just living my life the same way as everyone else because it seemed like the right thing to do – this is what society had programmed us to want – and I quite frankly didn’t realize that there was any alternative to it. Everyone around me seemed to be giving up the ambitious hopes and dreams they had in their 20’s and settling down in to the routine of every day life.
Looking back, the reality is I had been following this pattern simply because everyone else was.
Earlier that same year in 2012 I had been taking Spanish classes. I was born in a bilingual city and realized at a young age that I enjoyed language learning. The classes however were only for about 3 hours a week so I decided to really progress in the language I had to immerse myself. I also had a small online services business I had started a few years prior. It was growing slowly but steadily and I thought it might be useful to take some time off my job to work on it. These two factors being the motivation – I decided to take a leave-of-absence from my job for several months and move to South America – more specifically, Colombia.
While I had traveled a fair amount in my life up until that point, I had never lived outside of Canada. As the date of the trip grew closer I started having second-thoughts about my decision. I didn’t know a single person there, barely spoke the local language, and my western brainwashing had convinced me that I was leaving the comfort and safety of Canada and flying in to an unsafe and potentially dangerous location. Had the entire trip been refundable, I may have even canceled it altogether and returned to the same bubble I had been living in for the previous 5 years. My life was already completely fine – why in the world would I leave it for something that could only possibly be worse?
To say my fears were unfounded would be one of the biggest understatements of my life. Arriving in Medellin, Colombia, I had the good fortune of stumbling upon a group of expats that were my own age, and also from English-speaking countries – but our similarities more or less ended there. These were people that in most cases had never worked a normal job in their lives. People who fluently spoke multiple languages, and who were running massively successful online businesses. People who had the freedom to live wherever they chose, had good friends all over the world, and spent their evenings planning new business ventures as opposed to getting ready to go to bed and wake up the next morning for work over and over again. People who had more stories from the previous 6 months of their lives than most people had in the last 6 years. If my life had been comfortable, then theirs was just incredible.
To say my fears were unfounded would be one of the biggest understatements of my life.
People in the western world are largely driven by money – it’s the perpetual carrot at the end of the stick. You’re rewarded for your hard work, or for having a ‘better’ education with a higher salary. Truthfully everyone I knew – myself included – had a nearly identical life regardless of what career they had. Work during the week, a bit of fun on the weekends, 2-3 weeks of vacation a year – this was considered a good life. Person A may have been making 30% more than Person B, but at the end of the day all that got Person A was a 30% more expensive house, a 30% more expensive car, and an otherwise identical life. Yet everyone I knew back home would still eschew the value of hard work and climbing up that corporate ladder – showing up early to the office and leaving late – this was supposedly the key to success.
These people I had met were different though. It wasn’t money that drove them, but rather the ability to live a life of complete freedom. To be able to do whatever they want, whenever they wanted. They had broken free of the pattern of every day life that everyone else was stuck in, and were living a life I didn’t realize was even possible.
I spent the next few months living this fantasy life – not waking up for work in the morning, immersing myself in a new language and culture, discussing life stories with different people – and all of this in an entirely foreign world. The friends I made during my time there – who are still very good friends of mine to this day – helped me grow my small side business to levels I had no idea were so easily achievable. All of this in just a few months.
Returning home from that fantasy life – brief as it was – was incredibly difficult. At times I felt like I was walking around in a daze. I went from the constant stimulation of a completely foreign environment to the complete opposite – dull and repetitive routine. Wake up, go to work, go home, go the gym, go out on the weekends for a few drinks, lather rinse and repeat. Everything that seemed ‘comfortable’ before, now seemed completely monotonous compared to the life I had been living the previous few months.
It wasn’t my intention to change my life so drastically upon returning home, but eventually I realized I couldn’t possibly go back to living a normal life. Over the course of the next several weeks I essentially undid everything I had worked up until that point in life to accomplish – all of those things I thought people were supposed to have. I quit my job, sold my car, threw out half of what I owned, and moved out of my condo – the home I had been living in for the previous 5 years. I then booked a ticket right back to Medellin.
Fast forward to the present – in the past few years since leaving my old life behind I’ve turned a small startup into a major national corporation with over 10,000 clients. I’ve lived in over 6 countries and visited countless more. I now speak Spanish fluently and have moved on to other languages, and I’ve made new friends all over the world who a few years ago I wouldn’t have even been able to communicate with. I’ve visited places and gained new perspectives on life I never realized existed.
Through help from my widely expanded social circle I’ve managed to grow my business and outsource most of my day-to-day work to the point where I work about an hour a day, and spend the rest of my life traveling the world. I’ve removed any semblance of routine and monotony from my life and replaced it with never-ending excitement.
But more importantly than anything else – I’ve removed myself from that pattern I had been stuck in. I’ve gone from knowing the rough course of my life over the next 5 years to having not even the slightest idea where I’ll be 1 month from now. My life went from being comfortable to complete fantasy. All of this because I took a small step outside of my comfort zone 3 years ago.
Over the years we’ve all read inspirational stories of people who were down to their last dollar and managed to turn their lives around. Stories of people who were working 12 hours a day and hated their jobs and craftily planned their exits. Stories of people who were bored and uninspired with the lives they were living and managed to make an escape from their monotonous routines and move on to something more exciting. This is not one of those stories.
People who have issues in their lives – who dislike their jobs, who find the city they live in dull, who are just generally unsatisfied in life – those people have it easy. They already have a very good reason to go out and make a change. But for everyone who feels completely fine where they are, they may never realize what else they can have until they take a few steps out of their own comfortable lives. As it turns out in my case, I ended up giving up a good life for a better one.