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Should you spend time finding yourself? Is travel a “success killer”?

Last week I wrote about what it’s like to become a digital nomad these days and shared a few recent podcast interviews.

This week I planned to write about Web3 and some of the interesting projects I’ve come across recently, but then my little corner of the internet blew up a few days ago, thanks to this tweet:

Needless to say, I couldn’t disagree more (I finally understand what the phrase “triggered” means). I feel so strongly, that I decided to make this the topic of this week’s Never Normal newsletter instead.

My goal in writing this is not to pillory the author of the original tweet (digital nomad twitter did that already), but to unpack and examine some of the assumptions here.

The idea in this tweet is not new or unique. It’s a common viewpoint. And to be totally honest, once upon a time, I felt the same way myself.

I’ve been starting businesses (with varying degrees of success) since I was a little kid. So, I wasn’t exactly on the “corporate drudgery for 30 years and then a gold watch” plan. But I still tacitly accepted the notion of deferring life.

Back then, my plan was:

Step 1) “Make it”
Step 2) Go out and enjoy all that life has to offer

So, what changed? Why am I so opposed to this viewpoint now?

Let’s go back to the tweet and break it down (emphasis mine):

The easiest way to put yourself behind in life is going travelling for months on end in you early 20’s to “find yourself”

It’s an absolute success killer and puts you behind the majority.

Why waste the key years of your life meant for building and getting ahead?

Oof. There are some pretty heavy assumptions baked into this tweet.

The bits I bolded above all imply a certain directionality to life. As if we’re all in a race to get somewhere, and whoever gets there first wins a prize. But the only place in this world that we’re all heading to is our graves.

I know that sounds a bit bleak, but it’s the ultimate truth in life. Nothing else is guaranteed. Not even the next breath. Death and taxes as they say…

Knowing that we all have a limited amount of time on this earth and that we don’t know how much of it we have left, sounds to me like a very powerful argument in favor of treasuring the present moment.

Not trading it away for a tomorrow that’s not promised to anyone.

Even if we put aside mortality, living in the moment, and enjoying life — if we accept the unstated premise that the goal of life is to maximize productivity (not my view at all, but let’s roll with it for a moment)…

Staying close to home and grinding away at some random task is hardly guaranteed to make one successful. We still need to know what it is that we should be working on or striving towards.

The tweet disparages “finding yourself” as a “success killer”.

The phrase “finding yourself” may sound a little too cheesy or new age, but it’s hard to imagine an activity with a higher return on investment.

It reminds me of a quote from Will MacAskill, Professor of Philosophy at Lincoln College, Oxford that appeared in Tools of Titans:

Here’s my take:

If you’re 20 or 25 years old, or you find yourself at a crossroads at any age in life, then I implore you to spend some time figuring out: what you enjoy doing, what you naturally excel at, what you care most about, and how you can put it all together and contribute.

Now, you don’t necessarily need to travel in order to figure that out, but much like buying a pair of shoes, it helps to try a bunch of stuff and see what fits.

And travel is a great way to increase the number of new experiences, ideas, people, and ways of living that you’re exposed to in a short amount of time.

That’s why wealthy families used to send their sons on a Grand Tour when they came of age.

But don’t just take my word for all of this…

Ask yourself, have you ever met anyone who spent a few months or years in their youth traveling the world and later regretted it?

I haven’t.

We insist on steering our boats because we think we have a pretty good idea of where we should go, but the truth is that much of our steering is in vain-not because the boat won’t respond, and not because we can’t find our destination, but because the future is fundamentally different than it appears through the prospectiscope.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

That’s all for this week. More soon…

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I write occasional emails to share what I’m thinking, learning, and doing. It’s all related to the idea of breaking free from the “default plan” in life.

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