Two reflections from my first four months off work

Almost exactly four months ago, I started my year off from work. Since then, I’ve traveled over 25,000 miles by plane, train and automobile, spent quality time with friends from all parts of my life, visited climbing gyms in 5 different cities, attempted to learn a 42-step form of tai chi from my grandfather… and this was supposed to be the ‘quiet’ part.

Tomorrow, I leave for Chile and the next phase of the journey, living in a camper in South America for the next six months. Before I head off, I wanted to capture a few reflections from these first few months, lessons that will stay with me forever.

  1. Spending time in nature is transformational. Too many of us are afraid of it. 

In June, I spent 4 days and nights camping alone on a mountainside in Sweden – no phone, no books, no camera, no watch, no distractions. Period. Just me, camping gear, and an incredible view of the surrounding lakes and mountains. To say this was out of my comfort zone is an understatement.

My closest previous experience to camping (loosely defined as spending a night outside in a tent) was the overnight queue for Wimbledon tickets in 2012. And while I’ve become far more outdoorsy in the intervening years, solo wild camping was a different ballgame altogether. 

The experience itself, part of the Way of Nature program led by the wonderful and wise John P. Milton, is one that will stay with me forever. I’m not yet ready to put it into writing, but suffice it to say it’s proven to be a catalyst in my life on many levels. 

Me, revisiting Sweden in August.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared with friends, family, and even strangers, that I spent the second week of my year off on a mountain by myself. As expected, this has been met by a spectrum of reactions from surprise to curiosity and bewilderment. Unexpectedly, it has also been met with quite a bit of fear. Fear of boredom, of predators, of sounds in the night; fear of ‘what if’, of bugs, of bad weather. Fear of nature itself. 

I can understand it because I had similar misgivings before I started venturing into wilder environments. But what could be better than waking up to the sun and feeling its rays on your back, than hearing the wind howl right before it hits you, than smelling and getting soaked by huge droplets of rain? 

We share our world with every other species, each a product of this crazy process called evolution. Somehow, many of us have lost touch with our place in the natural world, a place we see as ‘other’.

And while I’m not suggesting everyone go wild camp solo, there’s a lot that we can learn from slowing down and literally smelling the roses. Try watching a bee do its work, without wondering if it will sting you. Or noticing the leaves change color in the park you pass on your daily commute, without checking messages on your phone. There’s so much we can learn and appreciate, if we only just stop to notice.

2. Walking down memory lane can also be a lens on progress. 

About a month ago, I visited my high school outside Chicago for the first time in many years. After a fantastic catchup with one of my old teachers, I accompanied him to his next class to wrap up our conversation and to briefly greet his students. As we walked into that classroom, one of many in a school of over 4000 students, I was surprised to recognise it instantly.

The room setup was completely different and, unlike in my day, all the students had iPads, but I immediately flashed back to being a high school sophomore. This was the exact room where I took AP European History, the place where I was enthralled by the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and tales of Henry VIII’s wives. And suddenly, I gained a fresh understanding of that gut instinct I had at 22 to move abroad, and why I’ve so loved living in London.

Over the years since moving abroad, I’ve visited the U.S. many times. But this past month has felt different. Maybe it’s because I was able to just hang out, rather than rushing to and fro to see friends, attend weddings, and visit family all in one trip. Maybe it’s because many of my friends have now settled into a different phase of adulthood, with lovely homes and adorable babies. Or maybe I’m just getting older and feeling nostalgic.

Regardless, I’m leaving the USA this time with a greater appreciation than ever of how its people and its places have shaped not only who I am today, but also the choices I’ve made along the way. I’m truly grateful.

So, what’s next?

As I mentioned, I’ll be arriving in Santiago de Chile in just two days!

Claire, one of my best friends and my old flatmate from London, will arrive the same day and join for the first few months of the madness. I’ll be purchasing a pickup truck camper (quite a process I hope to cover in a separate post) and then we’re off down La Ruta de los Parques for the next few months. You can read more about the inspiration behind the journey in this post.

I’m so excited about the literal and proverbial journey ahead. I look forward to sharing it with you.

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