Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Day I Dropped Out

January 17, 2011 was the day I decided to quit my job.  More importantly, it was the day I decided that I would stop living my life indebted to obligations and fear and begin living it how I truly wanted.  Countless decisions led up to this day and this decision, but to pinpoint the exact day I made the decision, that was it. Martin Luther King day, in fact. I visited my college town with my girlfriend (at the time) over the long weekend. Any extra days off during that time usually meant a trip out of town to escape my job and unhappiness with life in Jacksonville. That weekend was no different and was spent in the usual escapist fashion: eating, drinking, and being (generally) merry with old friends. On Monday, we were supposed to leave by the early afternoon in order to make the five hour drive back into Jax at a reasonable hour, given we had work the following morning. As usual, I was in no rush to return and found ways to put off the departure. One such activity was to pop into the now-defunct Boarders bookstore and nonchalantly browse around, not so much looking to buy anything except a little more time away from "reality".

As I rummaged through the sale bin, I began leafing through the voluminous "The Book of Basketball" by Bill Simmons. The selection reflected my apathy towards my life circumstances; picking up a book about nothing of deep significance, just another thing to escape into and away from my impending obligations. To be fair, Simmons is my favorite sportswriter, and the book, from what I have read, and heard, is the definitive book on everything basketball. Nonetheless, after reading an excerpt detailing the ten most important basketball players of all-time, I put the book down and sauntered to the opposite side. My eyes drifted across the typical mass-consumed books with the bolded names of King, Voigt, Grisham.  My attention was seized by a book with the title VAGABONDING. I'd only heard the word referenced as a child, a faint memory at that. I overheard it as adults talked about a bum who had taken up residence in a woods just down the street.  The word still carried a negative connotation to that day. But my interest was piqued, so I reached for the book. As I did so, my girlfriend thrust a copy into my face, asking excitedly: "Have you seen this yet?!"  I snatched the book off the shelves, uncertain why I should be so excited. I took a look at the subtitle: "Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel".  I immediately dove in.

"...For some reason, we see long-term travel to faraway lands as a recurring dream or an exotic temptation, but not something that applies to the here and now. Instead — out of our insane duty to fear, fashion, and monthly payments on things we don't really need — we quarantine our travels to short, frenzied bursts. In this way, as we throw our wealth at an abstract notion called "lifestyle," travel becomes just another accessory — a smooth-edged, encapsulated experience that we purchase the same way we buy clothing and furniture. 
This deliberate way of walking through the world has always been intrinsic to the time-honored, quietly available travel tradition known as "vagabonding."

Vagabonding involves taking an extended time-out from your normal life — six weeks, four months, two years — to travel the world on your own terms.

But beyond travel, vagabonding is an outlook on life. Vagabonding is about using the prosperity and possibility of the information age to increase your personal options instead of your personal possessions. Vagabonding is about looking for adventure in normal life, and normal life within adventure. Vagabonding is an attitude — a friendly interest in people, places, and things that makes a person an explorer in the truest, most vivid sense of the word.

Vagabonding is not a lifestyle, nor is it a trend. It's just an uncommon way of looking at life — a value adjustment from which action naturally follows. And, as much as anything, vagabonding is about time — our only real commodity — and how we choose to use it.
This is a book about living that choice. "
My heart rate increased, my breath fell into quick bursts. My ennui and its accompanying lethargy relinquished its grip on me. A rush of thoughts mingled in a frenzy of inner dialogue.

"Yes! Yes! He's got it. This is how I feel. This is me! You have been evolving your entire life, building up for this moment. This serendipitous find is almost too perfect; this seems to be too close to that ridiculous thing people call 'fate'. Fuck it. Who cares what it is or how this happened?  It is here. It is now.  The time is now."

My logically-governed mind would typically take over to rationally evaluate the situation and give me a cool, even-keeled take on things, normally.  But, this time it could not temper the momentum.

"Yeah, it's true. All of your decisions and previous actions have led you to this exact moment. Whether or not there is anything mystically involved is probably not true, but is beside the point. You're here. Everything, just as before, hinges on your decisions now and the future consequences of them.  Your only question is what will you do with now?  How will you act now? What will you make of this moment?"

At that moment, the only action I knew was movement. I briskly glided toward the checkout counter, calling behind me.

"Let's go. Let's head back to Jax now. Do you mind driving?"

I had some reading to do. I devoured the book.  I highlighted, underlined, circled, wrote in the margins. I read passages aloud. In the midst of this awakening, for that's really the most accurate way to describe it, I made the decision and said it aloud.  "I'm quitting after the year is over and I am traveling. I'm doing this. This is me."

I spent the remainder of the drive in hushed excitement, plotting and planning my real escape from the real world, not just some temporary weekend dream. I began complete and radical change in my lifestyle. I began formulating a way to live life in accordance with my ideals and beliefs. I had had enough of compromising in order to live someone else's life. I chose to drop out of the Rat Race. I stopped my pursuit of the American Dream.  I chose instead to embark on constructing a life made up of my dreams: to live to read, write, think, and travel. I have not relented or looked back since.

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