The idea of comfort and stability are not particularly at the top of mind for millennials. For many in their twenties, settling down is usually accompanied by thoughts of a wasted youth.
I include myself in this. I’ve spent more time and energy than I’d like to admit feeding an inner fear that by settling into a life and a job in New York City, I’m holding myself back from living my youth to the fullest. I mean, this is the time that I should be taking risks and going on crazy adventures, right? How else am I supposed to grow as a human and truly experience life if I don’t drop everything and go travel the world?
In search of a possible answer I came across Hacker Paradise, a traveling community of “digital nomads” – individuals who leverage technology to be able to work remotely from anywhere in the world. I saw this as the possible answer I was looking for. So I spoke with my employer (remote working was already a conversation we’d been having for a while), applied to the program, and set off to meet these digital nomads in Taiwan for six weeks.
During my time there, I had the opportunity to connect with people who’ve been living as digital nomads from a few months to a few years. At first, it sounded to me like they were living the dream. Think about it: however long they stayed in one place, be it a week or a couple of months, was totally up to them. They were exploring the world on their own terms. They found a way to seamlessly merge their careers with their love of travel and turn it into a part of their everyday lives. They did it.
And then something interesting happened.
They looked at me and some of them told me they were jealous of my life. They missed weekly gatherings at the park, dinner parties with friends, having a favorite cafe or neighborhood bar. Every aspect of settling down and getting comfortable that I had feared and had been trying to get away from for so long seemed like the greatest thing in the world for them.
The grass is always greener on the other side. As exhilarating and exciting as it is to always be on the move and have the freedom to travel the world the way you want to, it’s also exhausting. At the end of the day, it means you need to rebuild a life over and over again. You need to find a place to live, make new friends, and adjust to a different culture.
Through the many conversations I had on my trip, I came to a realization: fulfillment and personal growth come from within. It doesn’t really matter the name of the city, the language that’s spoken, or the continent you’re on; what matters is having the attitude and disposition to make the most out of your environment. Just because you travel halfway across the world doesn’t make you more enlightened, or interesting, than the person who’s lived in the same place all their lives.
It all boils down to perspective. I think millennials tend to fall prey to the idea of what they “should” be doing. We all have our own image of what our twenties “should” look like, but the truth is there is no golden way to live out your life. Change for the sake of change is also not the best way to go about pursuing personal growth; it only provides you with short-term satisfaction. I think true, sustainable growth comes from within, not from your external environment.
I’m twenty-four and I’ve never worked on a pineapple farm in Costa Rica, or been an au pair in Germany, or partied in the Greek islands, or worked at a hostel in South Africa, or been an amateur performer on a cruise ship, or been to a full moon party in Thailand, or taught English in Japan… you get the idea.
However, I’ve sailed to almost every minor island in the Caribbean, I’ve taken a nap at Machu Picchu, I’ve driven a scooter through the mountains of Taiwan, I’ve gone snowboarding in Canada, I’ve swam in the Iguaçu Falls of Argentina, I’ve celebrated New Years in Spain, I’ve helped build a house in New Orleans, I’ve walked the red light district in Amsterdam, I’ve gotten lost in the streets of Venice, I’ve gotten caught in the rain in London, I’ve driven on the Pacific Coast Highway, I’ve hiked in Portland, I’ve made s’mores around a bonfire in Puerto Rico. I’ve watched the sunrise at Burning Man and the sunset from a favela in Rio de Janeiro. I’ve seen the city lights of Hong Kong and starry skies of the Moroccan desert. I’ve eaten croissants in Paris, pizza in Rome, cheesesteaks in Philly, lobster in Maine, and drank vodka in Russia. I’ve worked as a waitress, a segway tour guide, a tutor at a charter school, in a non-profit, in the corporate world, in the startup world. I moved to New York City without a job and made it happen.
To think I’m wasting my youth and holding myself back from living a fulfilled life is ridiculous.
The wonderful irony of this story is that I had to travel halfway across the world to Taiwan to realize that there’s nothing wrong with staying in one place. I learned to view the comfort and stability I’ve been trying to run away from as a true catalyst for personal growth. It’s the opportunity for me to lay down the foundations for the future I want to build for myself.
And after all, New York City is a pretty cool place to get comfortable in for a little while.