“Not bound to swear allegiance to any master, wherever the wind takes me I travel as a visitor.
Drop the question what tomorrow may bring, and count as profit every day that Fate allows you.”
Horace (65-8 BC) Roman poet.
Many travel blogs start with the first minute, hour, day, week away. With first impressions and second takes. With the sights, sounds and scents of new experiences and the rush of new ideas. But I figure before I get going and start eulogising about the (hoped for) delights of travel, I should write a T-1 entry which explains how I made what people tell me is an…unusual…decision to have some time out from working. I’ll also include a few thoughts – so far as I have any – on what I’m hoping for from the trip. That should catch everyone up. Those of you for whom I’ve already bored with my story so far, skip ahead…
Up until now, I’ve had a 10+year career working in Consultancy, as a Chartered Occupational Psychologist. I mention the Psychologist bit because it involved a Masters and three years of supervised professional practice, so wasn’t accidental. I’ve worked hard, and enjoyed a measure of success, working in roles which have included consulting around Talent, HR and assessment; managing wonderful teams, and contributing to the running of a business. I’ve worked with some really bright and talented people, who’ve taught me many skills, technical and behavioural, intellectual and emotional. At the same time, since a car accident 8 years ago, I’ve managed a challenging chronic pain condition and for the last year, have also been dealing with a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease.
I’ve balanced these parts of myself uneasily, believing that work was the main focus in my life and that persistence, determination, and sheer cussedness would get me through anything. But recently, when new opportunities arose which should have been the next logical step on my chosen career path, rather than feeling excited and energised, I felt…tired. And I knew it was time to step back and reconsider.
This was a pretty jolting moment. What had happened to my life, previously full and hectic in all ways, to feel it had narrowed to just two things, work and pain? I questioned everything I had achieved – was everything I had worked for worthless? What had I traded by focusing on my career? Did my moment of angst mean I didn’t want to do my job anymore? Or did I just need a break? Or was it time to change jobs, companies, careers even?
And how could I be sure what the right way forward was?!
So, yeah, drama queen.
After some consideration I decided rather than rush from one thing to another, jumping from frying pan to fire, it was actually time step back and gain some much needed perspective. I knew I enjoyed many aspects of my current role, and likewise, loved my flat, my friends and family, and many things about England’s green and pleasant land. But I also knew I wasn’t really sure what I wanted the next adventure to be, and didn’t want to be rushed into the decision. That meant letting go of certain things, like job and financial security, status, and certainty, and trading them for what were for me much more anxiety-provoking concepts – freedom, space and time to think.
And perspective. In fact, that word’s become pretty important to me in all its different meanings – this blog was almost named for it. Instead, I’ve chosen as a title the most well known part of the quote above, which a wise friend recently sent me, and which so perfectly captures some of the most important elements of what I’m hoping to focus on in my trip.
Wherever the wind takes me
Wherever the wind takes me captures something which for me is a pretty unnatural state, that is, spontaneity, chance, unplanned-ness, whatever you want to call it. In my life, personal and professional, I’m a planner. I love lists. All kinds of lists. And coloured stationary. In fact, multi-faceted lists made with complementary coloured pens, on beautiful stationery, pretty much sum up a good time for me in many ways (yeah ok, the existence of this travel blog means I already know I need to get out more…). And I use them for work, and in my personal life. Normally, when considering a trip such as this, I would have some kind of excel spreadsheet set up by now, it would have its own hanging file in the filing cabinet, and I would definitely have got some new pens to help me ensure the plans were all getting captured in the most appropriate manner.
Instead, I’m planning not to plan. I have a ticket with an unconfirmed return date, a place to stay for the first few weeks, a kind and generous-spirited friend who’s meeting me at the airport and helping me get the hang of things, and then an empty page.
(I have to confess at this point that instead of saving money by not buying new pens, I actually bought a delectable, desirable, delicious Mac Air, so that money-saving on the pens didn’t quite work out…)
This lack of a plan has certainly been a challenge to get across to people. I think an easy and natural question, when they hear I’m heading off to Thailand, for people to ask is: “what are you planning to do when you get out there?”. And when the answer is “I don’t know” it leaves people a bit flummoxed. Already feeling a bit uneasy by someone they saw as consistent, reliable and career-focused upping sticks and heading off into the unknown, to have that followed by no future plans at all for this next stage has challenge their perceptions of me and also, perhaps, of themselves. I’ve had a lot of people saying they’d love to do something like this, and of course, I am incredibly lucky to have the financial resources and personal situation which means I can do this without too of an impact on anyone apart from me.
So wherever the wind takes me sums up a core part of my philosophy for the next few months – to be open to new possibilities, thinking, people, activities, culture, and anything else in this potentially once in a lifetime opportunity.
Not bound to swear allegiance to any master
Equally hard for me given the person I am, is the idea of Not bound to swear allegiance to any master.
This part of the quote appeals to me right now due to the desire for a very selfish focus in the coming months, that of an abstention from responsibilities and commitments. Currently, my life is full of the tasks I tell myself I must complete, from day-to-day admin to ensuring I see friends and family regularly, until I have realised that in this tangle of responsibilities I have boxed myself into my own little prison, through no one’s fault but my own. Unable to disentangle the delights from the dolour I feel trapped.
I travel as a visitor
In addition, I have somewhat of an attachment to material things. I love my home, and although hard experience has taught me that hoarding isn’t the answer, I have to fight an urge to hang on – to people as well as objects – every day. For example, I’ve travelled a lot with work, and enjoyed unpacking in each and every hotel room, with small touches such as lighting a scented candle to help make it my own.
My ambition for this trip is to travel light, and lightly, inspired by the Buddhist ideal of non-attachment. Being a visitor wherever I go isn’t about not taking part fully in everything that the trip brings me, it’s about not taking my own preconceived ideas of responsibility and commitment with me. So even with this blog, which after appeal to my logical side has felt like a good way of sharing thoughts and experiences from the trip with friends, family and anyone interested, I’m determined not to make it into another restraint, so have no plan for when or what to write about.
And that brings us up to date, with me less than a week from my plane taking off.
Despite having left work a couple of weeks ago, the responsibilities and commitments of my own making haven’t yet come to a halt, they just err on the social and health side, which to be fair is new in itself – I can’t remember a time without the BlackBerry as an integral part of my life. But I figure I’m squishing several months worth into a few weeks, and in not too many days I’ll be launching my very own experiment to live without this framework. A framework which in many ways provided me with an identity, so part of the experiment will be to see how my own identity evolves, without the strictures and structures we usually live by.
And with that, I’ve already moved past what started this all, which is, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up’ (I’m 34 – with pensions the way they are, I figure I have at least the same again till I retire), to ‘Who do I want to be when I grow up’.
I’ll let you know….