Well, I’ve done it again. I quit a perfectly good job with fantastic career opportunities.
Last time it was to hike the Appalachian Trail.
To hit the road and live in my van.
This news may (or may not) come as a surprise to you. When I approached my manager (who also happens to be a best friend and drinking buddy) and said “I plan to leave town in three weeks” he replied, “Hmm, well, we always wondered when you were going to take off. It wasn’t a matter of if Chris was going to leave, it was when.” Many have called me a free spirit, adventurer, and even “Flight Risk Chris”, and I really can’t argue with them.
The days leading up to quitting my job were quite stressful. At Born To Run I was presented with an opportunity that would take me on the road full time, but only if I was ready to quit my day job. Over the next few weeks I endured a pretty devastating breakup with my ex-girlfriend, spent hours sitting alone thinking about what I really want in life, and invested lots of time consulting with close friends over cold beers. In the end, I knew what I had to do. I put in my two week notice.
You might be thinking, “Wow Chris, you are such an inspiration, doing something crazy like this with so much confidence!” Well, let me fill you in on a little secret…I’m scared shitless! (Sorry mom, I couldn’t think of any better word to describe the current state of affairs in my head.)
If I’m so scared, then why take the leap?
Because I’m also very calm. When I have the nervous butterflies in my stomach but my head is peaceful, centered, and confident, then I know I’m doing the right thing.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.
– Mark Twain
The day that I announced my departure from work my manager (aka, drinking buddy) took me out for beer. We sat on bar stools and discussed the last few years. I had quit a good job, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, got divorced, got dumped, took seasonal jobs, and landed at HG Data because of his recommendation. In that time, he had grown a previous startup, helped sell it, and then reinvested into the current company, taking it from just 8 founders to more than 50 employees.
He asked “Do you think success is based on good luck or hard work?” We discussed the merits of both and by the second pint I had my answer. “I think my own personal success is based on building good karma in my life. Always doing more than asked, donating my time and talent to good causes, acknowledging the abundance in the world around me, and putting others first.” We agreed that yes, it had taken hard work and risk to get to where we were today, but I think I’ve been in the right place at the right time to accept luck because I’ve continually built good karma around me.
Later that night I picked up a six pack of PBR and parked my van on Stearns Wharf. I sat looking out over the moonlit ocean and the American Riviera listening to the seals playing the water and the slow splash of the waves on the pier. I began questioning my decision, “What in the hell am I doing? This place is paradise!” Santa Barbara has been my home for 9 years and by all accounts, I live a pretty sweet life in Southern California. I don’t pay rent, I work in a fast growing tech startup, I run for an hour at the beach every day…what else could I want?
The open road.
I want the freedom of the open road. The ability to go anywhere, at any time. I want to see new places, meet new people, and step outside of my comfort zone. One thing I learned by quitting my first job to hike the Appalachian Trail is that I am more afraid of complacency and comfort than failure. Comfort will keep me stagnant for the rest of my limited life. If I try something new I might fail, but after failure I will pivot and try it different, and probably succeed. I can always come back to my current comfort zone if nothing works, but when I take my last breath, I want to regret the things I tried to do rather than the things I wish I’d tried to do.
In the final week of my employment I received my last paycheck. Wow…that was A LOT of money, especially for a guy who lives in his van, pays no rent, and lives pretty frugally. Think about all the adventures I can take with that cash… But, as I sat looking at the dollar amount that had just been added to my bank account, I thought about the countless hours spent indoors, in a cubical, looking at spreadsheets, and the personal passions that I traded for those greenbacks. One of my friends said it best when I was freaking out about buying my Westfalia van, “Dude, it’s only money.” He was right. It is only money.
My leap of faith is another step in my continued progression to disassociate from the rat race and the quintessential entrapment of the “American Dream”. I am ready to follow my own dreams. I am trying to detach myself from the pull of the almighty dollar and instead focus my life on the most valuable nonrenewable resource that we all have…time. You can’t put a price tag on living a passionate life, freedom, and time spent with myself, my family, and my friends.
I want to slow life down, smell the rain, feel the temperature change in the mountains, hear the faint whisper of the breeze, taste salt in the air, and see the colors of the landscape change with the passing of a day, a week, or a year. I want to sit still, breathe, and then drive on at the speed of life. I want to be cold, I want to be wet, I want to get lost. I want to be uncomfortable, because it is through trials that I dig deep and learn more about myself.
Six months ago I found this video and have watched it every day since. I created a daily calendar reminder titled “Live Free” and made sure to revisit the message regularly. It helped inspire me to put the pieces into place so that I could break away and take this chance.
So what am I seeking? What am I looking for? What am I trying to find? That question has haunted me since I quit my first job to hike the Appalachian Trail. People would say, “Go explore, find what you’re looking for, and come back home.” or ask “Did you find yourself on the Appalachian Trail?” No, but I did find adventure, a vibrant existence, friends, and daily happiness. What if I’m not looking for anything else? What if I don’t want to find anything specific? What if I’m not running away from anything? What if instead I’m running to something? To adventure, exploration, continued personal growth…I think I’m running to life, and living it in a passionate way.
What is next for Tarzan and Tantor? Well, we don’t exactly know, and that’s exactly the way we like it. First I’ll be driving to Prescott, Arizona to hang out with my family, stay with my Grandpa, and maybe even sell some baseball cards. I am replacing my regular paycheck with freelance marketing work, and I’ll be building the base of my consulting clients over the next few months on the road. Additionally, Run Free, a film about Caballo Blanco, is scheduled to be released on DVD in September and I’m working with the producers to promote and manage film premieres in cities up and down the West Coast. I also plan to spend some time with my family in Indiana, the goal being to enjoy autumn in the Midwest, but be out of there before winter. Then maybe I’ll make a few stops in Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and back to Arizona. Ideally I’ll park the van for the winter and take off with my laptop and a backpack to live and work in Asia or Latin America for a few months before returning to the United States for another summer Westfalia tour. But then again, who knows. It’s all an unknown adventure.
While I’m sure all of that sounds pretty awesome, it doesn’t negate the fact that I’m still scared shitless. But I calm my unwarranted fears by comparing the best case scenario to the worst case catastrophe.
Best case? All goes swimmingly, I make more money than I need to by working for myself, donate to important causes, and put some cash into future savings. Outside of work I’ll hone my writing skills, learn to play guitar, continue rock climbing and running, and pick up yoga. Maybe I’ll travel in a van around the United States for a few years, maybe I’ll sell it and live out of a backpack and vagabond around the world, or maybe I’ll drive to Patagonia. The opportunities are endless. Ultimately, all of the best case scenarios sound pretty awesome to me.
What is the worst thing that can happen? My attempt to live free fails and I have to come back to “the real world” and get a real job again. Is that really so bad? I mean, it’s exactly what I have right now, and life isn’t horrible, I actually kinda like it. If this is the worst thing that can happen to me, then what am I waiting for? Why not take the risk?
Besides, I’ve come to the conclusion that if all of this fails and I can’t “retire” at age 65 because I spent my younger years gallivanting around the world, I know that I can always get a job as a Walmart greeter. And I’m okay with that, because at least I’ll be the Walmart greeter with the best damn stories around!