Buenos Aires, Fall 2005. It was unbridled, raw passion for life. We huddled over restaurant tables until ridiculous hours. We walked the streets talking excitedly about our plans in life. We felt like we were forging the future with every word. With each picture that we would paint of the future, my two Buenos Aires flat mates and I believed with every fiber of our 20-something beings that it would come true. For every mental creation of the future, we fully expected a physical creation to come sooner rather than later.
Excitement was not the word. It was a near-religious obsession with how we willed our lives to look.
From Dreams into Action
When left Buenos Aires we each took next steps toward our plans as deliberately as possible. To start on their paths, my friends started medical school. My professional plan was very different.
It had three parts:
1) Escape the fate of most international students after they finish studying in the US: being legally forced to leave the country.
2) Get some excellent nonprofit work experience in the United States that would set me up to work in what I would later call “savvy, global do-gooding” (humanitarian projects, diplomatic work, personal volunteering, etc) in the future.
3) Go back to international living and dedicate the rest of my life to international do-gooding when objectives one and two were complete.
On paper, things went more or less to plan:
1) I pitched a string of not-for-profit hospitals in California to let me join a leadership training program. I got in, they filed work visa papers for me and I moved to Los Angeles to get started.
2) The training program led to my first career and I spent 6 years in business development and fundraising for two not-for-profit Californian hospitals. I specialized in the fundraising portion because I figured any international do-gooding venture would need someone that could raise money for a cause.
3) Fall of 2012 – Jammie and I decided it was time to lift anchor. So we quit our jobs to travel the world and do service projects.
On the brink of disaster
The above steps look tidy enough but at many bumps in the road it was tempting to lose the plot and give in to a more conventional path. These were the biggest roadblocks:
As much as I always knew that freedom was one resignation letter away, it was unbelievably hard to take that step. Something about work was cult-like, you knew that you needed to get out but it was so hard to leave. I kept tabs on other young professionals in my workplace and observed the range of reactions to the work environment. A few were happy. A few were very unhappy. Most seemed to just accept that their work life was a necessary evil that had to be endured. They showed up to work, said “yes” to the boss and dreamed of the weekend and a raise. Very few actually escaped though. It was just too scary to pursue any actual dreams. The longer I stayed, the longer I felt that this kind of paralysis could be my fate.
Before I met Jammie I was in a serious dilemma. As much as I had made my mind up long ago that I would not seriously date anyone that did not share my eagerness for the international life, this was easier said than put into practice. Most of the girls I met just were not on the same page. They didn’t even want to leave LA. No way were they leaving California or the US. This made dating a challenge. How was I supposed to find someone that was comfortable with an international life? Was I being too picky?
The happiest discovery of my life was Jammie who not only shared my views but married me and kept me accountable to them! (and that is the subject of an entirely different post:))
Nobody enjoys looking crazy. I was not looking forward to explaining my job-quitting rationale to everyone from family to executives at work. I dreaded it. How was it going to look? How would I explain myself? How would people react? What if the people I respected found my whole plan ridiculous?
The whole survival thing
On a more fundamental level, how were we supposed to eat if I left my stable income? Was a life of international do-gooding going to work out financially? I was getting used to a healthy paycheck every two weeks. I liked being able to afford to buy nice things and enjoy my weekends. What would happen if I renounced my paycheck?
When I was in college I was repulsed by the idea of having to keep up with the Joneses. “Who cares! How superficial!” That righteous indignation lasted until my buddy bought an Audi. Suddenly my KIA Spectra wasn’t quite cutting it!
What about a house? In the post 2008 recession a lot of my friends took advantage of low housing prices and bought a house. Jammie and I studiously avoided buying. The last thing we needed was yet another anchor weighing us down. To save money we rented a one bedroom apartment instead. I remember going to a buddy’s housewarming. He had six bedrooms on the nicest street in town. Ouch.
How much was enough? – Through much weeping and gnashing of teeth, Jammie and I stuck to the plan, feeling more than a little foolish from time to time.
Ultimately the toughest question was, when do we actually do this? How much is enough? After an extended period of aggressive saving we had enough to cover basic travel and living expenses for long enough to find our financial footing abroad. I was learning a lot of skills in the not-for-profit fundraising world that would translate well to the world of international service projects and humanitarian work. I had done what I wanted to do as far as working in the US was concerned but when would it be time to move to the next step? When was the hour of liberation?
I had been prepared to spend five years after college getting the right work experience. Those five years were hugely beneficial. I was fortunate to have some excellent mentors at work as well as in the community that helped me grow. I was very grateful.
But by the first half of the sixth year I was keenly aware of the fact that I was compromising “the plan”. I was starting to feel queasy. Those closest to me that knew my larger goals in life started to warn me: “Get out now or you may never do it. You’ll give up on the international life and settle for middle class suburban Californian existence for the rest of your life.”
One mentor sat me down and told me that he too, had harbored bold ambitions for what to do with life but had thrown them all away at my age by chasing practicalities of conventional work and mortgage payments. “If you do the same, Bjorn, you will know that you sold out and that is a very sad place to be.”
I could only drown out my own thoughts and the advice of my inner circle for so long. It was time.
Taking the leap
I’ve talked about the sequence of events that led to lift off with our 2013 trip around the world. What I haven’t done is talk about the reasoning behind choosing Buenos Aires as one of our three-month city destinations.
I am absolutely convinced that you have to revisit the places that were most inspiring to you life. Pilgrimages to the places that most shaped your faith, vision and drive in life are SUPER important. So Buenos Aires had to be on the list of destinations in 2013. It was time to rediscover the Buenos Aires version of me. Buenos Aires was the place I had last seen my vision for life in HD. The experiences I had in this city in 2005 had helped power me through the darkest parts of post-college existence. It was time to regain the raw passion for life that I had felt as a college kid. It was time to come back.
Last month, seven years after our original Buenos Aires experiment, my buddies and I paid homage to the old dreams. We all came back to the city that had started us on this path. And this time we also brought our wives and our friends to come celebrate and relive good times together. We had an amazing time remembering the early days that inspired us on our individual life plots. And we took some time to center ourselves for what lay ahead.
Over to you, what are your dreams in life? How far will you go to stay true to them? If you need an accountability partner, I’m in:). Leave a comment and share your thoughts about living life intentionally and uncompromisingly.