The Day I Quit the Real World

“I wish I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow.”

At twenty five, I worked a job I didn’t love, waited anxiously for the weekends and holidays, and felt trapped by what seemed to be unending obligations.

“Welcome to the Real World, Jameson.”

Throughout my adolescence and into college, I denied I would ever live in that world. I believed in “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life”.  I thought the “Real World” was a creation of unhappy adults. How the hell did I become one of them?

I have long known what I love to do:  I love to read, write, think, travel, question and learn. During the search for my first career job, I evaluated potential job opportunities by social prestige, social change, pay, challenge, and lastly, fit.  I looked for a job that made sense, and cents. Do something I could get excited about, make a difference, and make some money.  It seemed like the next best thing. Without realizing it, I had given up on the idea that I could do what I love for a living. After I began my full-time career, these passions were quickly bumped to the periphery of my life. I settled into a rigorous work schedule and just “dealt” with it. I became spiritually alienated from my life. I worked hard and long, maintained strong logical reasons for my work, but into the deeper realms of my being I felt disconnected.

I found ways to rationalize my “unhappiness”. I reminded myself I was only twenty-two with much growing up to do, so any job would be a new challenge to provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.  My job certainly provided those challenges and opportunities. But it also provided endless stress and consumed my life . I used downward social comparison. That defense mechanism of looking at the lives of others whom you believe are worse off than yourself in some way as a manner of feeling better about yourself. However, reminding myself that “at least you’re not dying of starvation or in a shitty marriage with kids” has its limitations on how much it can uplift you, let alone help you improve your life. I unwittingly threw myself into a savior complex. But working fourteen hour days because “these kids need me to do that” was ignorant on a number of levels, as well as self-aggrandizing. And it still did not change my spiritual health.

After three years of personal and professional ups and downs, I was that dissatisfied adult I vowed never to become.

That all changed at the beginning of 2011, my third year as a teacher .

The weekend of January 17 was the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.  I spent the extra time off that weekend in an ordinary way. I traveled out of Jacksonville to “get away from it all” and have some fun.  My girlfriend and I visited friends in my college town.  As usual, we partied. We ate well, drank heavily, and goofed off.  These visits were good times and allowed me to escape for a little while, but never made my reality any better. Inevitably, I had to go back to Jacksonville to the routine of long hours, relentless stress, and a lengthy to do list.

The 17th was our day to return back to Jacksonville. We should have left by the early afternoon in order to arrive home at a reasonable hour.  It was my intention to be “responsible” given the obligation work posed the following day.  But, as usual, I found ways to put off the departure. One distraction was getting ice cream and popping into a bookstore to browse.  We weren’t looking to buy anything except a little more time away from reality.  I had no idea this procrastination would provide the spark necessary to ignite a serious pile of fodder I had unassumingly piled up.

As I rummaged through a sale bin, I began leafing through the voluminous “The Book of Basketball” by Bill Simmons. Given my love of basketball and interest in the writer, it made sense to pick it up, but held no deep significance for me. The selection reflected my mood about my life, in general. After reading an excerpt detailing the ten most important basketball players of all-time, I put the book down and walked aimlessly with my hands in my pocket to the opposite side. My eyes drifted across the mass-consumed books with the emboldened names of King, Voigt, Grisham, and others. The rows of books blended into single, contiguous book continent, with the boundaries only apparent because of the changing spine colors, and their titles appearing before me like unknown countries.  As I continued to scan the horizon, my eyes caught something that held my attention.  I tilted my head forty-five degrees to read the vertical spine and be sure I had read correctly.

VAGABONDING.

I’d only heard the word referenced as a child, a faint memory at that. A term I overheard as adults talked about a bum who had taken up residence in a woods just down the street. I had a vague idea of what it meant. I reached for the book. As I did so, my girlfriend thrust a copy of it towards me from the right, asking excitedly: “Have you seen this yet?!”

“Yeah, I literally just saw the title! What’s up?!” I responded while I ripped the book off the shelf, unsure of why I should be so excited.

“Just look!  You will see!”

I held the slender blue and black paperback in front of me.  A picture showed the back of a man trekking across the desert alone.  The subtitle read: “Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”.  I immediately opened up and began reading.

…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.

“Yes!” I exclaimed.  I immediately shrunk my shoulders and looked around to offer up a face that said “Oops. Sorry.”  I resumed.

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.

“This is amazing. I think this book was written for me. Like, Rolf Potts and I would probably be best friends.” I stuck my tongue out at her. She returned fire, as usual.

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.

“Wow.” I looked at my girlfriend and saw a knowing smirk on her face.  “Let’s go. Let’s head back to Jax now. Do you mind driving?”

My heart rate increased, my breath shortened into quick bursts. I felt my ennui and its accompanying lethargy relinquish its hold on me. Rushing in to take their place was a sense of heightened awareness, with thoughts and feelings mingling in a frenzy of inner dialogue.

“He’s right! Yes, this sounds like 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’.” I thought to myself.

Usually, my logic would take over to rationally evaluate a situation and give me a cool, even-keeled take on things.  But I now found this ordinary day, and all of my usual thoughts and actions being supplanted by an energy. A driving, burning, thrilling energy.  Suddenly, the only thing I knew was movement. I glided toward the checkout counter.

“Dude, I am so stoked.  I have a feeling this book is going to be amazingly profound. And not like in a whoa damn, you’re saying something I’ve never thought of, but in a whoa man, you’re speaking my language kind of way. I can’t wait!” I said to my girlfriend who now returned my excitement with a look of mild concern.

“I knew it. That’s so weird. I knew you would love this book.  And you’ve read, like what, 10 pages? Yeah, I’ll drive so you can read.”

I devoured the book. Highlighting, underlining, circling, and writing in the margins. I read passages aloud. In the midst of this awakening, I pointedly stated: “I’m quitting after the year is over.  I am going travel the world. I am going to leave this all behind. I am going to live the way I want to, whatever that is. I’m doing this. This is me.”

My girlfriend kept her eyes fixed to the road with that same smirk on her face.  I spent the remainder of the drive back in hushed excitement, plotting and planning my departure from the real world and not just some temporary weekend escape, but as the beginning of my dreams becoming my reality.

January 17, 2011 was the day I decided I to quit my job.  Instead of continuing to work as a third grade teacher, I would read, write, and travel.  I wouldn’t actually quit my job on that day, but instead decided I would finish the school year and not return.  I would tender my resignation, leaving behind that job and a lifestyle to begin a new way of life.  Certainly, countless thoughts and experiences had been leading up to that point, to that decision.  At the time it still felt like I had so much to lose in making such a decision. However, I was emboldened by a voice within that had been telling me I had no idea of what there was to gain and there was only one way to find out. Just go.

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