It used to be that if you wanted a fulfilling life, you’d quit your job and travel the world.
Like the free hippies of the sixties, that was the overarching narrative that led the conversation around finding life’s meaning in my twenties, some ten plus years ago.
Droves of people in their twenties quit their jobs, and became bloggers or digital nomads. This unconventional shift from stability felt rebellious, empowering, free.
YOLO was the catchphrase. You Only Live Once.
I didn’t do the job quitting – my Asian upbringing didn’t allow it – but I took my every excess of my take home pay and every single leave day, and traveled fifteen countries in three years.
The investment was worth a six figure sum, totalling upwards of RM100k.
I was in my early twenties, lost, miserable and admittedly, a little depressed and suicidal.
Travel’s promise was meaning. For me, I hoped for everlasting happiness.
I needed a way out of my dungeon.
Travel is fun the first few times you pack your bags and do something crazy, see something new, or meet new people.
Then it becomes exhausting.
Itinerary planning, leave planning, packing, unpacking, packing, unpacking, acclimatising, de-acclimatising, and acclimatising again.
Two years in, I got the sense that I was on the wrong train.
For the rich, travel is just like sipping a Starbucks Latte on a weekday for the middle class. A nice touch that may hurt your pocket a little, but won’t bankrupt you.
But for the middle class, perpetual travel erodes any potential savings and leave little room for picking up new skills. By the time I turned twenty-six, I had nothing to show for the six-figures I’d made since I graduated, and hadn’t mastered any new skills.
I had met a fifty-something year old perpetual traveller on one of my trips. He would do odd jobs, save up and take off to a new country every few months. With nothing to his name, he seemed happy to make it his life mission to visit every country in the world.
He was an expert traveller, but nothing else.
While I was happy for him, I didn’t see myself in him.
The idea of becoming an expert traveller didn’t excite, or fulfil me.
I got off the train.
So long as you carry the sources of your troubles about with you, those troubles will continue to harass and plague you wherever you wander on land or on sea. Does it surprise you that running away doesn’t do you any good? The things you’re running away from are with you all the time. – Seneca
Travel wasn’t the problem. I was.
I used travel to escape what I hated most: myself.
I realised that the most urgent thing I needed to do was master the skill of loving myself. Or I would lose everything.
Even my own life.
I didn’t know it then, but in finding the ways to love myself, I had planted the roots of a framework of living that would shape the next five years of my life.
That framework is what I would now call, gentle living.