What a Successful Year

It's New Year's Eve today. As I'm writing this, I'm sitting in a café in Bangkok, Thailand, reflecting on the past year. What a successful year. Having lived in Shanghai, China, for three months plus having travelled 13 other countries on the Balkans and in Southeast Asia this year, lets me sum up the number of countries that I've visited to a total of 35 at this point.

"Successful??", you might ask. "How much money did you make and what new material possessions did you accumulate?" Our society suggests these two metrics to evaluate success. Many of us accept this as a scientific fact, rather than a subjective opinion. Frankly, there had been a time when I, too, believed that more digits in my bank account and the latest gadgets would make me more successful and may actually fill me with something that could be mistaken for happiness. But not anymore. Travel has helped me identify what I really want and has drastically changed my approach to life. As well as my metrics of wealth and success. I really don't need much for a meaningful life.

On the way to my own lifestyle, which does not match any conventional template out there, I had to break many societal norms. I constructed my own template that aligns with my values and beliefs, not with anyone else's. Rather than relying on default societal constructs, like punching a clock for a paycheck, I want freedom to work on meaningful projects that let me grow personally, not necessarily financially. Unlike thermodynamic laws, you can actually dismiss the circadian rhythm adhered to throughout the world. That is waking up early, going to a place, doing things, and then returning home to prepare to do it all again. So I've decided to try and freelance.

In the past year, I streamlined many aspects of my life even further. I finally jettisoned everything in my life that does not serve a purpose or simply brings me joy. All my material belongings, except for some sports and camping equipment, now fit in a suitcase plus carry-on bag. To achieve this, I let go of the vast majority of my just-in-case possessions. Everything I might need in some far-off, nonexistent, hypothetical future.

I’ve never felt freer and lighter.

And yes, I set out again to see some more of this world. Instead of working on software projects at my desk at home — in the centre of my comfort zone — I chose to do so here in Asia instead. I was moderately frightened that I had committed to too much. That I won’t enjoy it, won’t be equal to the challenge. And that’s why I did it. Staying in dorm beds for three months, I moved to a new place at least every two weeks. I must have thought about quitting and going back home a dozen times, particularly after my whole body had been littered with bed bug bites again in Malaysia. And though it was by far not always nice, it felt good to have these kinds of imponderabilities in my life again.

By many standards, I’m doing it wrong. And yet it has never felt so right.