From Spark to Flame

Two years ago, as my wife and I drove from Rochester, NY to Ilion, NY to spend Thanksgiving with her family, a malaise washed over me that I was unable to pinpoint. I had been dealing with some things around that time, and I was feeling uneasy on a regular basis. That car ride wound up being a life changing experience for me. A conversation, an episode of The Tim Ferriss  Podcast, and a defining moment of clarity affected me in a way that was initially scary, but has since been liberating in ways I never would have expected. What I'm going to share was written roughly two years ago, right after celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. I wrote it and wasn't quite sure what to do with it at the time, and saved it for the right moment. I entitled it From Spark to Flame, and I think that title is perfectly apt. Enjoy!

Growing up, my dad owned his own carpentry business, and his company’s clients were located primarily in and around New York City. After I graduated high school, I’d make a few extra bucks here and there by getting thrown into job sites for my father, primarily working as a grunt on jobs. But around my sophomore year of college, I really started to work more regularly with my father's company. During my breaks in college, I’d be able to work for him, commuting from Long Island into the boroughs of New York, experiencing the demands of a full-time job that was physically taxing like a son of a bitch. When summer breaks rolled around, I knew I always had a job waiting for me with my father’s business. And I loved that! It paid well, afforded me good hours-at times 60-70 hours a week-I got to spend most of my week in the City, and I was working with some dudes that were crazy, weird, and goofy, but in a good way.

My older brother, Chris, had been working for my father for years, starting right after he graduated high school, and did his best to show me the ropes, keep me in line, and help me out when needed. On nights when I was at a job later than normal, and was exhausted from working long hours, I’d crash at his place, and then head out to work the following day.

One night, after a long day and night of working, Chris offered his couch for me to crash on, and I happily accepted. As we were relaxing, my brother and I started talking about life, the future, and our dreams. Let me preface this by saying that my brother and I are polar opposites in terms of our interests and likes. I love my brother, but we are complete polar opposites. Anyway, I mentioned to him that I had been really thinking a lot of traveling. I told him I had dreams of seeing America, Europe, Asia, really as much of the world as possible, but would be happy with hitchhiking my way across the country (I recently finished reading Dharma Punx and really wanted to trek the entirety of this beautiful, crazy, goddamn country). He told me I was crazy and ridiculous, that it was a fool's dream to think like that. He told me I needed to work, focus on finishing college, and then put my efforts into getting a job that my education was preparing me for.

There was the one side of me that completely disagreed with him and thought, “Fuck that, man. Forget everything and do it!” There was also the other side of me that was fraught with fear and anxiety about traveling, the cost, who I’d travel with, how I’d stay safe, and so on and so on. The fear weighed on me like a damned ten ton backpack.

I share that story because roughly ten years has passed and that desire, that flame inside of me, has never dwindled, not even for a second. In fact, the opposite has happened-the spark that flickered inside of me all of those years ago has now begun to swell into a forest fire. It’s grown and grown, never once subsiding as I thought maybe it would. And now, more than ever, those flames are licking at my skin, blinding my eyes, and exponentially growing by the day.

After college, while grappling with the fear of making my dream a reality, I did what most people do after graduating college-I got a job. I got a job that afforded me a decent salary, with decent benefits, and a decent title. I got sucked into the trap that most of us are told we’re supposed to do-do well in high school, go to college and do well, and get a good paying job.

Now, I got a job that is actually quite rewarding and I believe is quite important-I help people essentially find employment. I got into human services, and found it to be a very rewarding field. I get to go to work each day knowing that I’m making a difference in someone’s life, even if it’s a small difference. That’s always been important to me, and I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon. But the hunger for adventure, to see and experience new places and things, to eat foods and drink beers in new places, etc, can’t always be fed when you go to work day in and day out.

After graduating, getting a job, getting settled and finding success within my occupation, I’d take my week long vacation each year, sometimes having a just taking time off to explore the area around my house, other times spending a week in NYC or Maine, and other times taking trips to Canada, but those trips always left me wanting more. I never came back from those trips feeling completed satiated by my experiences. There always seemed to be a hunger that was never quite fed with the trips I had previously taken. I always felt like I wanted more time to experience the places that I had gone to, and I always dreamt of continuing onward to someplace new and exciting. Whenever I’d make my way back home, the fantasies and daydreams of continuing onward, heading west or to new continents, seemed to follow me like a black cloud hanging overhead.

Through the years, the thought of traveling long-term, whether it be road-tripping (not so much hitchhiking anymore because I now have a car), backpacking, traveling from hostel to hostel across Europe, buying a van to live in and going from place to place, purchasing a tiny house that’s mobile, or even WWOOFing, has become so enveloping, so engrossing, that it began to take hold of me in a way I didn’t think possible; the desire for long-term travel was becoming so tremendous that it started to have a negative effect on my mental health. There’d be instances where I’d feel completely at peace, happy, and content, but the moment I began to think about hitting the road for an extended period of time I’d find myself plagued by a malaise that was all too familiar. No matter how hard I’d try to shake those feelings, it became increasingly difficulty to overcome, because I always felt that I was letting myself down, failing myself by not making my dreams a reality.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my wife, Danielle, and I were driving to her parents’ house for the holiday. The drive from our house in Rochester, NY to her parents’ house in Ilion, NY is a two and a half hour drive, which always affords plenty of time for deep conversations, pondering life, and/or listening to music or podcasts. During that drive, we listened to an episode of The Tim Ferriss Show where Tim interviewed Rolf Potts, the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. Right from the beginning of the episode, I was hooked and enthralled by Ferriss’ and Potts’ discussion on travel. I was amazed by what I was hearing. The talk of traveling the world for extended periods of time, breaking down the fears of travel, traveling in cost-effective ways, made me feel exhilarated. I wanted to scream at the fucking moon with excitement and vigor. As soon as the episode was finished, I was ready to bypass my future in-laws home and drive through the night to wherever the road took us.

Slowly but surely, however, the fear and anxiety of traveling long-term began to creep its hideous head into my psyche. The familiar fear based questions that always prevented me from traveling started to fire off in my brain, questions such as, “how can you afford this, how can you make this work with your job, where are you going to go, how are you going to get there…” so on and so on until I felt overwhelmed by the anxiety I was causing myself. Just when I had allowed myself to feel excited by the thought of traveling long-term, I did everything to immediately scare myself into thinking it was impossible...until I finally said enough is enough.