When I was a kid, I was fascinated by stories of adventure and larger-than-life personalities.
Characters in The Neverending Story and The Alchemist were as real to me as my childhood heroes, Bruce Lee and Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger.
I used to draw pictures of myself on mountain tops, and I’d write stories about myself exploring some far-off land.
I was a discoverer, an archaeologist, and an adventurer, but only in crayon scribbles.
I grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania within a chaotic household that never ventured out past a ten-mile radius.
My love of reading, writing, and exercising helped me cope with the glass bubble of Bucks until I was old enough to break out of it.
When I finally broke free, I did what many others do: I put myself through college. My love of fitness and helping others transform their bodies led me to earn a personal training certification.
I followed the herd into adulthood and placed my childhood inspiration in a box and left it to sit on some dusty shelf for over a decade.
Living the Dream (or So I Thought)
From age fifteen to my mid-twenties, I spent most of my working life poring over spreadsheets, addressing customer complaints, or discussing Casual Friday garb, day-in and day-out.
On paper, I was living the American suburban dream:
I was residing in sunny Florida in a beautiful apartment with a gorgeous girlfriend.
I was working a full-time, well-paying job and occasionally taking paid vacation time.
On the side, I was a personal trainer who had the privilege of making a childhood passion into a part-time job. Despite the blue-eyed smiles on the outside, there were silent screams of desperation on the inside.
I never held a full-time job for more than a year, with the exception of personal training, which was part-time. I’d get a job and plan to climb the corporate ladder until I self-sabotaged, and then I’d do it again and again.
Why couldn’t I be content with the job I had when others were struggling just to find one?
It’s easy to play the therapist now. I was young and running on copious amounts of high hopes and testosterone. I wasn’t being challenged, and I had no outlet for my creativity.
Inevitably, I would think about those dreams of adventure.
I’d look around and see my environment: It wasn’t a mountain; it wasn’t some mysterious and ancient ruin.
It was an office building or a retail store.
It was, “Do as you’re told.”
It was everything I didn’t want.
It was in 2013 when the façade of my American suburban lifestyle started to irreparably crack around the edges.
The Self Chat that Changed Everything
One weekend I drove to St. Pete Beach and took a walk, away from the tourists. I found my usual spot, sat down, and asked myself, “What are you doing?”
I was miserable in my job, apathetic to my relationship, and unsatisfied with the man I was becoming.
My love of fitness and daily workouts kept me calm and maintained the peace.
But it wasn’t enough.
I needed a change, but I was in denial of what I truly wanted for my life.
I listened as the waves lapped at my feet and everything smashed into me all at once: life is too short not to chase after your dreams.
The glass floor shattered and I went tumbling down.
I returned to my apartment and sat down at my kitchen table with a notebook and a pen. I asked myself the following questions:
- What are you good at?
- What do you like to do?
- What do you want to do?
I wrote down the first three things that rushed into my mind: Writing. Fitness. Travel.
This is the moment that everything changed.
Small Steps to a Giant Leap
In January 2014, at the age of twenty-seven, I shifted my life in a radically new direction.
Realizing I couldn’t provide my girlfriend with the picket-fence-two-kids-suburban life she wanted, I ended our relationship. I turned in the keys to our apartment. I quit my jobs. And I became a professional fitness content writer.
I began my journey with stumbling steps.
I wrote a rough resume, I created a website, I made business cards, and I put myself out there as much as I could. I stayed up late and I woke up early. Eventually I snagged my first writing gig.
That’s the amount of money I was paid for my first official fitness writing job.
Technically, I got $22.50 after the middle man took his share, but you get the point: it wasn’t much for the amount of work I did.
But it didn’t matter.
The fact that I was officially a paid fitness content writer was like pouring jet fuel on a fire that was already out of control. I continued working for little money, validating the stereotype of the starving writer and building up my portfolio.
Reality Check: Fear Sets In
The first few months were hard.
I was making a third of what I’d been earning at my conventional job.
I was plagued with doubt and stressed about paying my bills. At one point, I even picked up the phone, ready to call my former boss and ask for my old job, my old life back.
But I never made the call. I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.
About three months in, my persistence paid off. I had assembled a steady list of clients, and my financial situation wasn’t terrifying anymore. Within half a year my nerves had calmed considerably, and I was fully confident that things would keep improving.
Traveling Abroad for the First Time
It was October 2014 and I felt amazing.
I was a full-time freelance writer paying bills with money that I had earned from my fitness content writing. The only thing that felt better than this was when I paid for my first trip overseas with the income I earned from writing.
Taking up a friend on a last-minute request to crash at her place in Poland, I decided to finally make the jump.
At this point, I had traveled throughout the United States, but I had never made the leap across the pond. As I clicked the BUY button for my plane ticket, a surge of adrenaline and terror rushed through my body.
When that scary and exciting moment arrived, I puffed up my chest, closed my fists, and stepped up to security to present my passport.
I backpacked from Norway to Poland to Germany during my first trip abroad, and all the while my fitness writing was supporting me.
On the way to Warsaw to board my flight back to the States, the train shook and there was a constant hum.
I felt the presence of my childhood dream box.
Each adventure within was being taken out, dusted off, and re-examined. In that moment, looking out the train window at the Polish countryside, I knew that this was everything my life was meant to be.
Dream to Reality: Deciding to Travel Full-Time
The day after I arrived home, I began an intense brainstorming and research session to make the transition to becoming a full-time traveler.
I didn’t just want to travel full-time. I wanted to immerse myself in various cultures, and I wanted my writing to take me around the world. In January 2015, I made the decision to move to South Korea.
In August 2015, I said goodbye to Florida and then traveled home to Pennsylvania to see my family before leaving for my new home.
Just as I had done less than a year before, I stared out the plane window on my way to Seoul, and I felt that familiar sense of purpose.
In my gut, I knew that I was doing the right thing. Above all, I knew nothing would ever be the same again.
Four Years Later: Would I Do It All Again?
The short answer: absolutely!
Hell, I wish I had started sooner. I would have shut out those negative opinions and the advice given to me by much “wiser” people.
Being a full-time traveler has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever accomplished.
I often think about where my life would be right now if I had I not made that crazy decision to let go of the safety line and allow myself to free-fall.
I may never have left the U.S.
I might be married with kids by now, but I’m not.
I’m exploring the world, making all of those crayon drawings come to life and living the stories about myself that I used to write as a kid.
It’s incredible what changes one short year can bring. Regardless of what you’re passionate about, it’s time to pick up and give chase.
You don’t have to follow my path of trial and error. You don’t have to quit your job.
What you must do is make the commitment to yourself and your dreams that you’ll do what you can to accomplish them. I can say from experience that once you do, nothing will ever be the same again.