What does being stuck in your 20s look like?
Sometimes it means not being able to get out of bed. Other times it means a blizzard of early-morning iPhone alarms, midnight emails, and bloodshot eyes, without time to pause; to recognize that you can't remember the last time when you were actually happy.
Regardless, it usually means feeling like a robot: programmed to go through the motions, driven by the anxiety of what would happen upon stepping out of the cage, numbed by the low-grade depression that isn't necessarily the anti-depressant kind, but is enough to leave you feeling empty and unbearably alone.
When I first met Matt, he lived in a land of robots. But he was about to embark upon a year of adventuring.
Exiting Robot Land
Matt used to be an IT consultant based out of Chicago and we met when I started working for Escape the City. He was a member of the site and about to do a big trip around Europe; as part of his trip, he started a blog tracing his journey.
"Like many people in their mid-twenties and several years out of college, I reached a point in my personal life and professional career where I found myself asking: 'Is this really the beginning of the rest of my life?'" he wrote.
"When I looked back, my life situation was the result of going through the motions of life, without truly understanding what I wanted to get out of life."
As he later described it, he reached the point where he felt like his soul was dying, but he had no idea how to figure out what he actually wanted to do. Enter Escape the City.
Well, not quite. The site was only one part of the mental 'diet' that Matt put himself on - he read books like The Four Hour Work Week, Rework, and The Lean Startup; he started following various blogs and basically forced himself to admit that there were a lot of people out there who lived differently and that he could be one of them.
"Instead of continuing to be a passive participant in my own life, I decided to be deliberate. I realized that in order to live the life I want, I must start acting out the life I want to live."
It started with rewiring how he had been programmed - preparing himself for a life of adventure, instead of a life inside a cage.
Finding New Tribes
If your reality is racing from home to work to home again, mentally wiped out before your head hits the pillow - it's very hard to find the time and energy to conceptualize what a new career or an alternative could be like.
When you have a busy job and barely have time to decompress, you need to be creative. So Matt's solution was to start a book club with some friends - through discussing new ideas, the changes he wanted to make became clearer to him. He decided that he wanted a life where there was more time for personal travel and creativity.
"If you're constantly surrounded by people who have no ambitions to leave "the city," or worse, who want to leave but have given up, then you'll forever feel crazy in your travel ambitions," he describes here. "You'll never have the support network needed to make a big move."
Once you've realized that chasing money at the expense of your dreams is a game you want to exit, you can accidentally offend those who are still happy to keep playing. In a land of robots, the adventurers are crazy - as Paul Graham says, "In an artificial world, only extremists live naturally."
The Year of the Adventurer
Quitting your job is scary. But taking a sabbatical is gentle way to decide what it is that you might want to do next. Matt took a seven-month sabbatical from consulting in order to travel around Europe and he talks about how to negotiate a sabbatical here.
A sabbatical can provide a financial and psychological safety net (in case you decide in six months' time that you actually do want your old life back) but also lets you explore who you are outside of your typical routine.
Since he now had much more time and headspace, Matt started working with a friend who was a writer. They went to Iceland. His friend penned a book about the trip, Matt marketed it and got it to be a category bestseller on Amazon, and that's how he started a boutique independent travel publishing company that produces Tales Of books.
As he explains about his journey, "I've grown to believe that reconnecting with dreams and actually going after them is the quickest way to figure out who you are and where you fit in this grand story of life."
He embraced an 'experimental' approach to following his dreams, and used that experimental approach with everything he was doing - blogging, adventuring, publishing - but through it all, went after things that excited him.
He also ended up with a blog on the Huffington Post, which certainly would not have happened had he not decided to become an adventurer.
"So this is what I learned, at least, by my experiment: When you act deliberately in a direction and toward a place you want to be, you begin to redefine your world. By no means have I arrived, but I am closer to where I intend to be. The truth of the matter is that we may never quite arrive at that destination far away in our minds; we may never reach those castles in the air. But I know one thing as fact: we'll certainly never get there if we don't take that first bold and deliberate step."
He and I now work together on The Escape School, providing Escape members with the inspiration and information they need to make their own transition.
Career change is harder than a before/after snapshot - it's a process that can take an entire year. It's that season when it's easy to make resolutions that we secretly know are never going to stick. But this could be a year where change could be made from where you already stand.
Instead of quitting your job cold turkey, consider a sabbatical. Even though it's hard to admit that we're that dispensable, yes, your firm will survive without you for six months.
Whenever I meet Escape members who want a low-risk, high-returns way of going from the land of robots to the world of adventurers, I often share Matt's approach.
Change your reality by reading about other realities. Surround yourself with like-minded people. Leap, but with a safety net. And a year from now, life could look so different.