Wednesday, October 30, 2013

So, what’s your endgame?

Whenever my family and I talk about my “future,” (which is seemingly a lot), my Mom loves to tell me a story from my youth. When I was young, she took me to get a haircut at a local salon. With this being pre-chubby and awkward stage, I was still cute, leading to much swooning from the stylist whose chair I was placed in. The punch line comes when said stylist decided to ask me what I wanted to be in the future. According to my Mom, without a second thought, I responded, “I don’t think I’ll take a job”. The stylist laughed, and I’m pretty sure my Mom’s head dropped in her hands, wondering how she raised such a monster. Fast forward a life time, and as I sit in a café in Darjeeling, sipping tea and enjoying the view of the Himalayas, I once again am between jobs. With free time on my hands, insightful conversation in abundance, and world class tea running through my veins, the answer to what is the “end game,” to my travel appears to still be opaque.

A year and a half ago, I was working a non-profit job, 5 days a week, with benefits, and paid-time off. Following the decision to follow my heart abroad, I quit, and up until August, I was subsisting off of the pay from a free lance writing job matched with the low cost of living in Southeast Asia. Now, with a clean slate in front of my face (aka unemployment), I’m currently administering fatal blows to my savings account. Though incredibly fun and rewarding, this lifestyle is not sustainable in the long run.  As much as I embody the ways of a tumbleweed, the truth is, I’ve found when my mind wanders, it often drifts to thoughts of the next step. This, of course, fortifies the question of what is the “end game?”

To those outside of the freewheeling travel community, end game conversations can look like this: College, career, family, mortgage, 2 weeks off each year, death. As appealing as that sounds, what travel has revealed to me, like the Himalayas I’m currently gawking at as the fog lifts off the valley, is that there is only one true end game, and that is the inevitable departure from this earth. For those of us oscillating between adolescents and adulthood, the luxury of an end game isn’t available. We don’t have the job security of the generations of our parents. In fact, we seemingly don’t have jobs period. Our lives don’t have end games. What we have in front of us is stages. Each new job, degree, relationship, closed door, triumph, and failure is a new chapter in the epic tale unfolding that is your life story. Yes some of us may have promising careers at the moment, with a seemingly endless ladder to ascend, but how many of us have also seen our friends in those positions laid off? How many of us have worked for free in internships for far too long, only to still not get that break into the career we’ve poured our blood, sweat, tears, and finances into? I can’t speak for everyone, but I think the answer is quite overwhelming.

I’m not knocking those who have taken the more traditional path by any means (in fact, often I’m awe of them!). What I am saying is that for the rest of us, realizing life is made up of multiple stages, instead of an end game, eases much stress bestowed by unreasonable societal ideals. I’ll admit that this tumbleweed lifestyle is one phase, one chapter, in the erratic and unpredictable path that defines my existence. I know it won’t last forever, but does that make it any less important than other chapters? Is catering my intentions to be able to gain money to hop on a plane and gain perspective really a bad thing? Am I actually straying from the “path,” to that elusive end game, instead of growing towards something real? I don’t think so.  My path having not dropped me hard enough that I can’t get up also seems to fortify this belief.

I’ll admit the map of my life’s journey is still a piece of esoteric art, but I can tell you that I’m happy and content in my current stages. While I may not want to be a vagabond for life, I do know that there are far too many places and too many faces belonging to strangers I want to familiarize myself with before “settling down.” And you know what, that is OK. For those of us in, above, and below the “millennial,” generation, we are not in a head-to-head, single elimination match with existence. We are in a never ending game of Monopoly, or maybe Risk. We have plans of attacks, glimpses of triumphs, and moments of clarity where the supposed end game is on the horizon. For each of these stages, there is a reciprocal downfall, failure, and stroll along a grim path with no fixed star or guiding light to balance the scales. These are phases and chapters, and while the uncertainty may not be easy, it is a blessing in disguise.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know with each loss comes a brand new opening in life to fill with something new and exciting. If you find the notion of staying in one place daunting, looking at life in chapters and stages allows you to view existence in a much more inviting manor. And to the stylist I made giggle so many years ago, I may not have a distinct answer to your question, but I can tell you I’m gonna be just fine. 

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