Okay, you finish university this summer and you’re still unsure about what to do with your life. You pick up the rulebook of our capitalist society and flick to the chapter after university.
‘Chapter Five: Post-Degree Life’ – “You must now apply for a job in a business and field that you can see yourself working in for the rest of your career, nine hours a day, five days a week, year after year.”
You read on with trepidation: “you must do this so that you can get a deposit on a house, get a brand new car, a new wardrobe, get those items advertised to you on the TV, and you must get all of this before your peers do”.
All those possessions you could have – the security; the comfort; the routine. If everyone chases these things instantly then surely you have to as well. Surely it’s the only way, right?
Well, twenty-one years into my life and in my last year of university, I can safely say that I don’t own a lot of the aforementioned stuff, but the possessions I do have are something infinitely more valuable to my life.
Yes, in the past I have thrown out car money, so I could stay in Africa one summer working as a journalist and hanging out with a bunch of rastafarians; I threw out the deposit money so I could fly to Australia/Thailand and parachute, sail, cage-dive and party my way around the coast with a bunch of strangers; I threw out the wardrobe money so I could cycle my way through European countries, see the sights, raise money for charity and sample the beers along the way.
The best thing about these possessions is that – unlike the stuff in the capitalist rulebook that I’m meant to obtain – these are things that aren’t mass-manufactured and can’t be lost with bankruptcy, divorce or some gambling addiction.
They are locked up within myself, where they can never be compromised. So you have to ask yourself: which possessions are more valuable to you as a person currently in your life? Experiences or ‘stuff’?
In case you can’t work out what side I’m leaning towards, it’s most definitely the experience side for me. We live on a crazy, convoluted, messed-up planet and only tread its vibrant soil but once; why would you want to spend it all in one routine, one job, one culture, one house, chasing all the items your neighbors have?
Why would you not take this moment in time where the right combination of technology, political stability and infrastructure has allowed us to travel to multiple far-off places for the first time?
Stories are created. Strangers become friends. Insights are gained. Experiences become possessions.
Perhaps this phenomenon can be further highlighted by looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – a model that defined the common order people chase their human needs. Although just a theory on a theory, it’s a good way to reflect some possible ideas.
As you can see, ‘security of body, of employment, of resources, of the family, of the health, of property’ are some of the basic needs near the bottom of the pyramid that can be possessed in conjunction with work, mortgages, savings and material goods. But what about the self-actualisation and esteem qualities of ‘morality, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts, respect of others, confidence, self-esteem, spontaneity’ and those near the top of the pyramid? Will you grow those from material goods? Will you develop those immediately getting stuck doing something you have no interest in for forty-five years?
It is obviously dependent on you, your own personal interests, your relationships and what you seek to get out of, contribute and achieve from working in your particular field. However it’s more than likely for a lot of people – still unsure of what career will fulfill them – that those things can currently grow from the amazing opportunity of travel where you can gain perspective, learn first-hand about the world and experience other cultures, ideas and peoples – rather than sit at at the same desk every day in a job you’re not interested just to mindlessly chase the word ‘successful’.
Just remember that the term ‘successful’, used in the context of the working world, is one constructed by a capitalist ideology – the parameters of which are measured by money and market share: things that were again constructed by other people that aren’t you.
Don’t be instantly pressured into something you don’t want to do by such a debatable, problematic and relative term.
So go and travel. Go and travel if you still don’t know what to do with your life. Especially if you haven’t been before. Ignore your tutors who want you to constantly chase ‘success’; ignore mum and dad who want to see you ‘grow up’; ignore the TV that tells you to work to buy the latest car.
Respond. Respond against a system that can hinder you. Go and catch a plane to an exotic country; go and hike through the expansive wilderness; go experience other cultures; go and party to the early morning on a beach with a bunch of strangers; go and spend your days gazing out at sea and your nights looking up at the stars.
If you don’t have the money then work for a bit, or combine the two and work while you’re away – working visas and teaching schemes are common in many countries and are a part of such experiences. Don’t worry about falling behind – you can still have all those other items and fulfill those other important needs later on in life; just take the lack of responsibility, proliferation of good health and the complete freedom and liberation that this age brings to head off with a flimsy backpack and see our bewildering world.
There’s a good chance you will discover what you want to do with your life whilst out there traveling.
And if you end up in a mundane job working for the great human necessities of family, security and home, at least you took your chance to possess enriching experiences on top of those when you had the chance. It’s possible to own more than your symmetrical neighbors across the street, whether the possessions are superficially visible or not.
Just remember that after the rulebook is read, the adverts consumed, the paycheck cashed, the garage occupied and the wardrobe full – travel, like the education you just paid for, is one of the few things you buy that makes you richer.