At the start of 2019, I didn’t entirely know where the year would lead me. Freshly terminated from a job in the soulless tech industry, I remember sitting in my home in Portland, wondering “What’s next?”
I sat at my kitchen counter and pondered where life would lead me. It was a turbulent time, and I wasn’t sure if the cards I had been dealt were a death blow, or the start of something new and beautiful.
Reflecting back on the adventures I’ve had in life, I remember words I spoke while at burning man…”for the price we paid, we could be in Bali next year…” without delay, I opened up my phone and looked at how much a flight to Bali would cost me. $347. Minutes later, my flight was booked, and I embarked on a journey without knowing where it would lead me.
I remember how it felt to sit on the plane as the wheels took off for a place I’d never been to. I was nervous, excited, and determined to make every moment count. Armed with nothing but a backpack and an iPad, something told me the adventure would be one I’d remember for the rest of my life.
While working in the tech industry, I remember feeling a void that I couldn’t explain. “Is this really it?” I often thought, while sitting in the office of a tech unicorn. It seemed that I had reached the pinnacle of what most would define to be ‘success’ – yet, I never felt fulfilled.
Is life really about saving enough money to earn the ball-and-chain of a mortgage payment, so that I could someday ‘own’ a house?
For over five years, I’ve received a weekly calendar reminder to watch a clip from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (link). Every time I watched the clip, I felt inspired to someday…someday go on an adventure like Benjamin Button; seeing the world from a ‘different point of view’ and immerse myself in experiences that went beyond the american version of ‘success’ that looks like a mortgaged white-picked fence.
I wanted the experience he had; traveling the world, seeing life as it raced by on a motorbike and injecting himself into local populations of people that were from an entirely different cultural background.
Here, I tasted something that my soul had been craving for many years; the experience of seeing life on the other side of the world and immersing myself in a culture different than my own, while taking things one day at a time.
The first time I rode a motorbike in the chaotic Bali traffic, I was terrified. As time went by, I began to feel a bit more like Benjamin; confidently cruising down roads and seeing majestic sights as I roared down the middle of jungle roads. My dream was coming true…
One highlight of the trip was having the opportunity to join a motorcycle club on one of their rides. The experience was one-in-a-lifetime. Despite only having a scooter, their leader invited me to ride at the front of their pack, where we would ride to meet hundreds of other riders.
As we rode, my breath was taken away at the experience. The bikes…they roared wildly as we rode in a procession through the crowded city streets. As we passed through highway tunnels, the sound was louder than a jet engine, as the riders revved their engines, which echoed loudly through the tunnel – loud enough to feel in the middle of your chest.
Arriving at our destination, we formed a double-wide formation. The highlight? They asked me to ride at the very front of their procession — on my scooter. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as cool as I did during that ride…
Yet, things here weren’t always an easy ride…
Candidly, I didn’t have things figured out before I left the states. The plans I had to jump-start my life of self-employment went completely flat; often, leaving me in difficult financial situations. However, even these experiences brought a lesson along with them.
Yet, I would always go back to a conversation I had with my older brother, Steve, before coming here. Prior to leaving the states, I said “Steve, I’m worried that I’ll go belly-up in Bali.”
”Aaron, so what if you go broke in Bali? You’ll be in Bali. You can figure things out.”
These words carried me through the entire trip. His confidence in me gave me strength when I didn’t have answers. There were moments here where I’d sit across the table from a local, enjoying our conversation and losing sight of the fact that they probably had more money in their bank account than I did. No, really. Yet, I found out that money comes and goes..it’s the moments that matter most.
As the trip progressed, things started to work out. Client work came when I needed it, I developed new friendships, and I discovered that I had much more to offer the world than my money; myself, and the fruits that my hands are capable of creating.
When you feel like you have nothing at all, there’s always something left to give. In my case, I discovered the joy of giving away paintings to local restaurants, children, and neighbors. The joy that came from creating – and giving away – these paintings was far greater than any paycheck I’ve received.
The biggest lesson I learned here was the value of a moment. When you reduce distractions (namely, your smartphone) from your life, you begin to see all of the little joys that are hidden in each moment. Every second is priceless; when you experience it, as well as grant your full attention to those around you.
Time; this is my everything. When I pried my eyes away from my phone, I’d often find myself lost in a conversation, fixated on the beautiful sights around me, or soaking in the natural/free beauty that nature provides.
The locals – another gift I discovered while here. Rather than eat at popular tourist restaurants (and pay higher prices…) I scouted out local restaurants that fed the locals; taxi drivers, mainly. These people earn $200-400/month. While eating, I’d enjoy conversation, laughter, and share stories with men/women from all over Indonesia. Most of the time, they were surprised to see a foreigner enjoy sambal; a local hot sauce.
These conversations were rich. I got to learn the stories about so many people who experienced life differently than I did. Often, I’d ask them “What’s your dream?” And the way they responded never ceased to amaze me.
”To be happy.” said one.
“To see America” said another.
None of these locals ever seemed miserable, despite their humble income. Rather, their laughter, smiles, and heartfelt welcoming was a reminder that life is about far more than a paycheck; it’s about being content with what you have, family, and loving God/each other.
For many years, I’ve felt the need to ‘get my shit together’ and chased my tail trying to do so. I thought that making lots of money would make me feel like a man, or worthy of the love of somebody else. I was wrong.
I’ll say it again – I was wrong.
Yes, these things are important. However, getting your proverbial shit together (difficult after your first sambal experience…) is about your character, self-worth, and the way you treat others. No amount of money can buy character, and no facade of success can mask somebody who is devoid of personality, heart, and integrity.
Additionally, I’ve learned that when you invest yourself into learning the important lessons in life, the universe tends to provide for you with abundance. As I return to the states, I find myself swamped with more work than I know what to do with – something I was devoid of for most of my time here. The irony…it slays me.
As I return to the states, I’m thankful for all of the important lessons I’ve learned, people I’ve shared life with, and the invaluable takeaway of realizing I have my shit together, am ‘more than enough’ for myself/another, and that the universe will always support, love, and provide for you – infinitely.
Please…put your phone down and see the world. It’s right in front of you <3