Happen to Life

I was talking to a friend the other day about future plans, and something she said made me pause and think:

“I trust that whatever happens is the right thing.”

She’s not the first person I’ve heard say something like this. In fact, I’m sure I’ve said it myself. I understand that having this viewpoint about past events is extremely useful. It allows you to cope with things that don’t go as planned. To believe that the world knows best in this kind of circumstance allows you to accept your previously perceived misfortune as a helping hand from the universe. It’s saying,

“no, you were wrong about your plans. You were wrong about what you thought was best, this change in direction is the better path to take”.

I get that. And I use that belief myself, all the time.

But when you relinquish all control of your life by believing that everything will happen as it should, and not taking deliberate action towards the things that matter to you, I think this is dangerous.

I believe that you should be deliberate in everything you do. Everything should be an active choice. Who you spend time with, what work you do, how you spend each hour. Make it all deliberate. Make sure it serves your purpose. It’s taking deliberate action that has got me where I am today. A place that is far removed from where I would have been by default, or maybe should have ended up. I can see this default destination in the people I grew up with. People that let life take them down the path of least resistance. I can see where I would have been if I hadn’t taken action, if I hadn’t made hard choices that most people aren’t willing to make.

I know where I’d rather be:

 Here, on an Edumadic program, “working”.

Here, on an Edumadic program, “working”.

To believe that people just got lucky and fell upon the good life, is not going to serve you. It’s going to make you think you can’t change your circumstances, that you simply weren’t born at the right place, at the right time to live a fulfilling life, or achieve something great, or change the world, or whatever it is that you dream of.

And actually, you know what? Maybe you’re right!

Maybe some people did get dealt an amazing hand, and it was easy for them. And you see their posts on instagram, and they make you angry and sad that you weren’t dealt that hand. But right or not, having that belief is going to do you no good at all.

(Apologies for the boring example) In the early 2000’s, most people thought that Tiger Woods was the most talented Golfer in the world, maybe some still do. Talent falls into this category of chance, good fortune, luck. Talent is something that is given to you, that you don’t have to earn.

Tiger Woods was not the most talented Golfer in the world. Tiger Woods absolutely was the hardest working Golfer in the world. There are many stories of people that had seen Tiger at the golf course when he was not even a teenager, practicing the same drills from dawn until dusk, completely alone. Just him and his sport. 12, 14, 16 hours a day, doing one drill! I’m willing to bet that most people would be masters of their craft if they spent 16 hours a day for their entire life, practicing that craft. When you consider how much time that man has spent striving to be the best, it really is no surprise that he’s achieved what he has. But to say the reason he was the best is because of his talent, and not the devotion of his entire childhood (and adulthood) to mastering the sport, is completely wrong and honestly, an insult.

And yes, maybe he does have a talent for golf, maybe more so than most people. The truth is you can never know, so it’s for you to decide. Was he given greatness, or did he earn it? Which belief serves you best?

I’m sure most at the pinnacle of their field roll their eyes when people tell them how talented and lucky they are. They know, more than anyone else, that their success and achievements didn’t just happen. They know all the deliberate choices and actions they had to take to be where they are now.

And they know that letting life happen to you is going to lead you to a life of mediocrity. A life that looks exactly like everyone else’s.

Things don’t just happen for people. You’re not going to win the lottery. You’re not going to be a Kardashian. You’re not going to get a $1 million dollar investment for your “amazing” business idea.

Stop believing the world is going to give you things. Go out and get them!

Take the risks, make the sacrifices, make difficult decisions. Do things you don’t want to.

Happen to life, don’t let it just happen to you.

Lessons from the Inaugural Edumadic Program

Our January 2017 program was the first of it’s kind ever to run. As such, there were a lot of unknowns for us and the brave new Edumads that joined us.

We were confident that we could organise a 12 week trip for a group of young and fun 20 somethings. That would always be simple for a team that had travelled extensively in the locations on our itinerary.

But what we didn’t know was how best to combine those adventurous experiences with a great environment in which to study. This was the part that nobody had done before, the part that we were pioneering, and definitely the part we learnt most about. Here’s some of the most valuable lessons we learnt:

Education must be the priority

We had an Edumad leave after our first destination, simply because she realised that travel and exploration was her main objective, and education was secondary. The way in which we travel means that if you want to maximise the amount of places you see, then you’ll be left frustrated. Having said that, we do pick locations that have plenty to keep you busy over the 4 weeks we spend there, and you’ll definitely have plenty of opportunity to explore them. But if you want to explore further afield, you’re better off not being tied down to one accommodation for a month.

Stability and routine is vital to productivity

We had brief periods throughout the trip where we were travelling more like Backpackers than Edumads. We were moving between locations and staying in hostels rather than our own private rooms. In these periods our studies essentially came to a standstill. I was aware of this from my own attempt to study whilst travelling, but it was good to know that it wasn’t just my self discipline that was to blame!

Coworking spaces aren’t essential for Edumads

Our approach to study spaces has been experimental on this first trip. The initial plan was to use coworking spaces to study from. They have everything we need, fast internet, desk space and are geared towards quiet productivity. However, they’re also very expensive, and we were unsure how necessary they were for Edumads.

Although fast and reliable internet is important, it isn’t quite as important to us as it is to our Digital Nomad cousins, who depend upon it for their livelihood, so the lightening fast speeds, 24 hour access and back up generators that many co-working spaces boast are a bit of an overkill for our needs. Another reason why coworking spaces come at a premium is the community that they bring together. We had our own community ready made, and didn’t quite fit into the one you find in co-working spaces.

In India and Bali, we didn’t have access to a coworking space so instead used local sim cards, and restaurants and cafes to build our own makeshift ones. These were more than adequate for our needs, and saved us a lot of money.

We’ll speak more about this in the future, and continue to experiment with the perfect solution for us. What we’ve learnt is that we can be flexible with this aspect of our programs, meaning we can take trips to more interesting places, and save significant money, by not using co-working spaces.

In the end, what really matters is the people

As those of you that have travelled extensively in the past I’m sure will agree, as important as the places you travel to, if not more so, are the people you travel with. This aspect of a trip can turn it from an interesting experience into a life changing one that fundamentally alters who you are and the path of your life. I don’t think places can really have that kind of affect on you, but people can. It was a true pleasure to spend 12 weeks with the brave souls who were crazy enough to join us on this journey. Thankyou for being so amazing, and most importantly paving the way for an Edumadic revolution!

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Life, post-Edumadic

So this is the would-be wrap-up of my Southeast Asia travels, something that accurately sums up this epic adventure with sentimental wit and assures you that I’ve reacclimated to American life in a (short-lived) Trump era with a stable job and health insurance back under my belt. But that’s not the outcome of the last few months, and looking back I suppose it was never meant to be the outcome.

I realized pretty quickly into this trip that “going back” to life as I knew it wasn’t an option; every person, place, and adventure that I encountered was rapidly changing how I viewed the world, myself, and how I wanted to live my life as a tiny speck on this magnificent planet. It wasn’t as simple as booking a return flight to JFK and resuming Sunday brunch in the East Village with all of my favorite people — though right about now I would KILL for Yuca Bar huevos rancheros, a bacon-infused bourbon bloody mary at The Wren, a bagel from literally ANYWHERE (jk Bagel Pub or Thompson Square Bagels, nowhere else), followed by a long evening at Royale on Avenue B.
 
As I recently wrote in a testimonial for Edumadic, I went into this experience with a best case scenario — connect with a few people and do as many things as possible so that I would have amazing memories to look back on. I kept my expectations in check because I tend to be a ‘glass half empty’ type of person, and so it was the most pleasant surprise when my best case scenario was shattered and I formed bonds with every single person. No matter the age difference we were all searching for something similar, something that united us as pioneers, as digital nomads, as worldly scholars, and as lifelong friends. Zach Clenaghan had it right all along — none of our personal details really mattered if we were all objectively in the same mindset, and I couldn’t have orchestrated a better group myself; we were all equally crazy enough to take on this unprecedented adventure together.

When I left JFK on a long 24+ hour journey to India, I was in tears as I read letters from my friends offering their encouragement and telling me how much I inspired and amazed them by taking off to follow a distant dream. I ended Edumadic leaving Bali also in tears, because I didn’t know when, if ever, I would be in the same place with all of these brilliant, talented, ambitious, and weirdly hilarious people again in this life. I’ve kept this quote I found from Anthony Bourdain in my mind since then -

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

And I hope I have left something good behind in the hearts and minds of everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and traveling with.
 
The journey for me doesn’t end here; I took the return flight back to the states as planned, to meet up with friends in Los Angeles to spend a few days in the desert at the Coachella music festival. But instead of roadtripping back to the east coast, I took the next flight out to the Philippines to meet up with two people from Edumadic who also wanted to keep exploring. There are far too many islands, too many diving opportunities, and too many cultures to experience in this short life, and I’ll keep chasing them as long as I can! I appreciate all of your continued support and enthusiasm more than you’ll ever know, and if I inspire just one person to explore the world outside their comfort zone, I’ll consider this journey a success. xx

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Is the Edumadic life for you?

Do you see yourself in any of the below? Maybe you’re all three! If you do, an Edumadic program might be a a great fit for you.

THE TORTOISE (WHO WANTS TO BE A HARE)

You’ve got a job that pays the bills, but you’re not passionate about it. You work 9 till 6, most of which is spent watching the clock waiting for the time when its culturally acceptable to pack up and head home. When that time comes, you hop on the train home, sandwiched between the train doors and a man who’s just been to the gym and didn’t bother to shower……

After an hours commute home, you cook yourself dinner, and catch up with your house mates. By this time it’s 9, which is when you can start studying what you’re really passionate about. Maybe it’s web development, knitting, interior design, freelance social media management, anything.

The problem is you’re exhausted. You’ve spent 11 hours living for someone else’s dream so you can live two hours of your own. You tell yourself that if you keep chipping away at your passion, one day you’ll have learnt enough to transition into a career that’ll make you excited to wake up in the morning.

Unfortunately progress is slow, some nights you’re just too exhausted to do anything, others you’ve got an event to attend, or a hot date. Before you know it, a week has past since you did anything productive. This is too hard. Maybe your job isn’t so bad after all. Maybe you’ll just join the 80% of people who don’t like their jobs, for the rest of your life. No one will blame you for that. No one.... except yourself.

You wish there was a way to fast track your learning without forking out the price of a car for a Masters’ degree to do it.

THE WANTREPENEUR

You’re a disciple of Tim Ferriss. You’ve read all his books and listen to every podcast. You follow Gary Vaynerchuk religiously, but he’s sick of you. Leave him alone. You think James Altucher is brilliant. You find his outlook on society and the future both familiar and scary.

You want more than anything to be the master of your own destiny. To do exactly what you want every day. Bob Dylan’s quote is your definition of success.

“A man is a success in life if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants” — Bob Dylan

You thought that playing by the rules was the key to that success. You achieved the best grades throughout your education. You worked hard and did as you were told because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You went into Investment Banking, Asset Management, or Management Consulting and you earn more than all of your friends from school and university. You’re great at your job and you’ve had a couple of promotions, but with these comes longer hours.

You’ve got an idea for a business and you’ve been trying to work on it in your spare time. Problem is in your industry spare time is a luxury that is in short supply. You’re usually working twelve hours a day and often have to go into the office on weekends.

So you sacrifice your social life to try and work on the idea. Gary told you to work in your evenings through to the small hours to make your dream a reality. You try it but you get depressed because you haven’t seen your friends for three weeks and now you can’t work effectively at your job or on your idea because you’re exhausted from having 4 hours sleep every night.

You don’t like Gary’s advice. This is not going to work. You keep making mistakes at the office because you’re so tired and your mind is elsewhere. You’re burning out. You need a break, some vitamin D and perhaps, if you’re feeling brave, you need to burn some boats to make your business idea a reality.

GAP YEAR (POST-UNI)

University is over! You’ve spent the last 3 months in utter disbelief and pure fear that supposedly your future success and happiness depends on your performance in this final set of exams.

But you made it, and now you don’t know what to do with yourself. You’re told to start applying for jobs but which ones? You chose a Sociology degree because it sounded interesting when you were sixteen and the entry requirements were lowest at your chosen university. After 4 years of study, as interesting as it was, you don’t think that a career as a sociologist is for you. You need to buy yourself some time to think about what it is that you really want to do for the rest of your life. You figure that taking the first job available is dangerous. First it’s just a job to earn some money for the weekends, next thing you know five years have flown by and you’re still there.

So what will you do? A lot of your friends are talking about travelling, they’ve all accumulated a little nest egg and they’re going to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia for three months. You’ve looked at some travel vloggers on YouTube and it looks like they’ll have more fun than you’ve ever had in your life, all packed into 3 months. You’ve also seen friends leave and return from such trips. The travel vlogs are right, they did have an amazing time. But are they any closer to knowing what they want to do with their lives? No they’re not. All they seem to have done is postpone the decision. They’ll take the first job available, because now they’ve run out of money. They said they’ll just earn enough money to go travelling again, next thing they know five years have flown by and they’re still there.

But travel does sound appealing, you just wish it could be more constructive to your future, rather than being that time when you spent three months getting drunk and kissing strangers on exotic beaches.

Reframing Risk

“Realise that sleeping on a futon when you’re 30 is not the worst thing. You know what’s worse, sleeping in a king bed next to a wife you’re not really in love with but for some reason you married, and you got a couple kids, and you got a job you hate. You’ll be laying there fantasising about sleeping on a futon. There’s no risk when you go after a dream. There’s a tremendous amount of risk to playing it safe.” — Bill Burr

I had a final round interview with one of our applicants the other day. Let’s call him Luke. One of the questions Luke asked was how did I build up the courage to quit my job and pursue self-education and world travel. I didn’t really have much of an answer for him at the time. I just did it. For me it didn’t feel like a courageous thing to do. It was necessary. I looked at where I wanted to be, and the path I was on wasn’t moving me toward that place anymore, so I changed direction. Simple.

Luke was really fighting with a decision that I took with ease. He had a job that paid the bills, and he was trying to pursue his passion in the evenings and weekends without much luck, as is so often the story with our applicants.

He clearly thought attending one of our programs was risky. What if his job wouldn’t take him back when he returned ? What if travelling proved too challenging? What if Edumadic didn’t deliver on their promises? What if it was all a big scam?

Luke’s fear of what might go wrong ultimately outweighed his perception of what could go right. I was hesitant of going into the business of telling people to quit their jobs, so I recommended he read “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers and moved on.

But I think this is a serious issue in our society. People are petrified by fear. They’re overwhelmed with what could go wrong instead of being excited about what could go right.

It’s not their fault. This is actually a biological impulse ingrained in our DNA from the days when being blasé about danger would get you eaten by a Lion or massacred by the neighbouring tribe. 10,000 years ago “playing it safe” (aka minimising risk) was vital to survival. But that’s not the world we live in anymore.

I would argue that the real risk people face nowadays is not living a happy, fulfilling, and successful life, however you define that. The real risk is being on your deathbed having the most common regret of all:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

My greatest fear is waking up at 40, asking myself where the last twenty years went, and not having an answer. What did I achieve? Where did I go? How did I impact the world? Not having satisfactory answers to those questions scares the shit out of me.

One of the fundamental goals that drives me in absolutely everything I do is that I want to be an interesting old man. I want to be sat in an armchair surrounded by a loving family who are fixated on my every word as I recount stories about the life I’ve lived. If the things I’m doing today don’t move me towards that goal I stop doing them. Anything that doesn’t move me towards that goal in some way is risky for me.

So when I have to choose between a steady career that I’m not passionate about, that I’ve stopped growing in, or travelling the world whilst learning something that firstly is interesting, and secondly will move me towards my goals and further from my fears, it’s not really a decision at all.

In my eyes, the risky thing to do was to not do anything. To stay where I was. To collect that juicy pay check every month and tick off the years on autopilot until I wake up at 40 in a king bed next to a wife I don’t really love, with a couple of kids I never see, and a job I hate. It’s too late then, I can’t get back those years, they’re gone forever. And now I’ve got responsibilities, a family to support, a mortgage to pay.

If you’re like Luke, I’d encourage you to start reframing how you think about risk if you want to achieve something extraordinary. A good place to start is Susan Jeffers’ book, but ultimately it’s up to you to change your mindset, nobody else can do it for you.