A VISION FOR YOUR LIFE
By Roland Watson
In the last article, I covered the idea of achieving change through personal development, including how in the process you will have to overcome your fear of the unknown. This still leaves the question: change into what? Where do you get the inspiration to decide what you really want to do in life, and which will make you most happy? After all, it takes years to find out what the opportunities are, and by then you could easily be stuck.
Don't get stuck
It is absolutely essential that you preserve your independence when you are young, to give yourself time to gain the education and experience that you need to make these crucial decisions. You must do everything in your power to prevent the accumulation of restrictions on your liberty. Don't take on debt. Don't become addicted to drugs, including alcohol. Don't get in trouble with the law. And don't have an unwanted pregnancy.
Here is a quote from the book, Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.
"That the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere; that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge."
I think what Huxley is driving at here is that our existence, the presence of the universe and us in it, is astonishing. It's a marvel. Life is a wondrous gift, and one purpose that you should definitely consider having is simply to understand, to experience, and to enjoy, as much of it as possible.
Understanding requires education, so you should advance your education, and, you should continue doing this for your entire life. You should never stop learning. Also, you should seek out wide experience. Go to as many places, and do as many things, as you can. Indeed, I cannot overemphasize the importance of travel, especially when you are young. As Mark Twain pointed out: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness."
Travel to escape form
It is no coincidence that I keep talking about travel, and not only because I have done a lot of it myself. Travel, particularly foreign travel, has many benefits. Much of the behavioral form that we have been talking about is culture-specific. Therefore, when you leave your culture behind, you leave it behind as well. If you are ever able to organize a long stay away from your home country, for pleasure or for work, this will do wonders for your objectivity.
Of course, the nations that you visit will have their own form, but this will be directed at the residents. As a visitor, you will be of no consequence in this process whatsoever.
It is very enlightening to see form being imposed in other societies. This in turn should give a further boost to your understanding of your own conditioning.
More generally, while anyone who has suffered a severe trauma clearly understands the impact of form, you can't really grasp it as a social phenomenon unless you have wide exposure to it. The only way to get this is to have a wide life, in other words, with extensive travel and numerous personal reinventions.
Explore life's options
Another major benefit of travel is that it allows you to see for yourself what the options in life really are. Indeed, if you travel widely, you will be exposed to the entire range of human experience. This will make you much better prepared to decide on a course for your life, on which options are best for you.
If you travel extensively, you can even consider yourself to be a world traveler, which will allow you to experience the greatest benefit that travel offers, and which is in fact the ultimate goal of many, many people.
As a world traveler, you will know the joy of complete freedom. This is because when you are on the road, with the end of your journey in the far distant future, you really can go anywhere and do anything.
You have total flexibility: to do what you want, to stay somewhere a long time or leave after an hour, to change your plans at a moment's notice, again and again. You answer to no one but yourself.
Freedom of thought
And, it is not only action. You also have complete freedom of thought. You do not need to think about your job all the time. More importantly, you are divorced from the influences - including your job - that shape your attitudes and opinions. For once in your life, you can be a freethinker.
In summary, world travel is about personal growth. By putting yourself in new situations, you force yourself to learn and grow. However, after you have visited ten or twenty countries, new ones are not so intimidating. After dealing with all types of people in all types of circumstances, your confidence increases. You ultimately reach the stage where there is little with which you cannot deal.
At this point, something beautiful happens. With your confidence and ability, since you no longer have so much to worry about, you are free to enjoy, completely and with no inhibitions or guilt, your experiences and life. You are now mature. Your personal identity is well defined. You are not confused about how to live your life. Even more, your relationships work better. Congratulations, you tested yourself, and have reaped the hard won results. Enjoy.
How is it possible?
Of course, you might argue, how can you travel, especially when you are young? For one thing, it is expensive. To this I can only say, it doesn't have to be. You can get a job and save some money, by cutting out non-essential expenses. All it takes is discipline. Then, off you go.
It is possible to do wide ranging travel extremely inexpensively. For example, when I was young and exploring the U.S., I always took a tent and sleeping bag. And, I didn't just sleep in parks, where you have to pay. I often slept rough, in a forest or a field, even just off the road.
I also took public transportation - buses, and hitchhiked a lot. I even hopped a couple of freight trains. One summer I basically lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I think I spent $250 in three months.
You can also pick up simple jobs along the way. That's how I ended up working in so many restaurants, and as a laborer. Some formal jobs, including being a chef, a nurse, and a teacher, also lend themselves to a travel lifestyle. Everywhere you go, people need education, health care, and to eat.
Indeed, you can do this in other countries as well. I'll admit that Europe is expensive - there you have to stay in hostels, or make friends and stay with them, but anywhere else is definitely straightforward.
The reason for this is that most places around the world are still traditional, to this day. Modern industrial development is only just beginning to intrude on their societies. What this means is that these places have travel support systems for the locals, which are consistent with the local level of wealth. There are often inexpensive hotels and dormitories.
Also, in really out of the way places, where there aren't any hotels or even guesthouses, the locals will probably be so surprised to see you that they will offer you a place to stay. This is what travel is all about, anyway: exploring new places and meeting people and making friends. I can also add, you should of course not abuse your new friendships.
Have some handy gifts, especially for children, and also photos of yourself from your home. Offer to pay for food, and really be a friend. Stay in touch after you leave, and when you are able, invite your new friends to visit you.
The problem of the comfort zone
There is another issue as well, an issue that is related to the fear of the unknown, which is the problem of the comfort zone. Life is regularly so structured that it is difficult to find an opportunity to break out.
If you are young, you should push, even plea, for every opportunity to travel that you can get. Even small trips are beneficial. Encourage your family to take vacations, and try to accompany your parents if they travel for work. Also, go on student trips - join clubs just for the travel opportunities.
Next, apply to study abroad, for at least a semester. And, have pen pals. Just because everyone uses email now, doesn't mean you can't still do this. Even more, try to find some period in your life to do a major road trip, at home or, ideally, abroad.
If you are young, the best time to do this is before you start a career. This is common in some parts of the world, where it is known as a "gap year." Who knows, such a trip might change your outlook so much that you decide you want a different career.
If you are older, if you control your expenses - if you don't spend money trying to keep up with your neighbors, or to offset any sources of unhappiness that you have - you should find that you can save a lot. Then, it really isn't that hard to take a break. Consider it a sabbatical.
The world is loosening up. You may find that you can take a couple of months, even a year, and your employer will be happy to have you back. If not, many employers prize individuality and courage. These are of course the best employers. You'll be fine.
I can't give you any specific advice in this article on what the vision - the purpose for your life - should be. If you want to marry your childhood sweetheart and stay in your home town, or on the family farm, that's great.
But, if your plans aren't that clear, I would encourage you strongly to find a way - any way - to get out into the world. That way you can clearly see how amazingly broad the opportunities that we all have in life really are. Not only may you find that there is something different that you want to do, than what you had planned, or have been doing, you could find that there is actually a different person that you would like to be. Knowing that this option exists is the first step to becoming that person.
In the next and final article in the series, I will explore some of the goals that you might want to have for your life.