Life Above the Clouds
From scaling sheer cliffs to diving off the coast of Honduras, an adventurous twenty something embarks on a yearlong journey into the wide blue yonder. What he discovers is beyond what you’d find in a 9-to-5 setting
People ask me why I took this trip. And not because they are curious about why I would jet away from my regular life for a year in favor of bungee jumping and mustering cattle and volunteering with children and fighting bulls. Rather, they are curious about why I would take the risk to give up so many good things going on at home. Career moves; a lively social life; weekly meals with my family; the healthy stability.
And it’s just that: the stability. I realized at the time that stability is kind of a myth and that I didn’t need it. We’re reared within this very stiff paradigm: do your homework, find the right internship, graduate, work, meet the right guy or girl, work some more, make babies, take two weeks of vacation a year, retire, take a few cruises, die. We leave little room to really escape, to truly get lost, to get away and see what the world has to offer, to foster our identity. And I realized that the implications of breaking the stiff paradigm of my life just might turn up something positive.
At least this is what I presume my seventy-year-old self will be thinking. I can see myself nestled comfortably in my La-Z-Boy as my grandchildren draw in close and ask me questions about that trip from way back in my twenties. The aroma of a honey-glazed ham and green-bean casserole and stuffing and hash browns and mashed potatoes drifting softly into the living room from their grandma’s kitchen. Two pies — pecan, my favourite, and pumpkin, which I don’t care for — are cooling out back on the screened-in porch. And I will tell them what it feels like to stand atop a bungee-jumping platform with the mountain tips of the High Tatras in the background and dive into the air; to stare across the ring at the snarling nostrils and bloodshot eyes of a horned beast readying for the charge; to make a difference in a child’s life who has, quite literally, no possessions to her name. And they will wonder if they might take a trip of their own one day. Critics, after all, cite the gap year as playtime, an obstruction in the career climb. Wasteful, they say, asking how one will find a job when he/she returns. One of the volunteers in Honduras, Chris Hays, answered this blankly. “Even in an economic crisis, crappy jobs aren’t going anywhere. I had a crappy job when I left, and — if I want another one — there’ll be one waiting for me when I get back.
My trip, however, won’t wait.” Is this irresponsible? I say no. Yes, a career is important, but don’t we sometimes spend so much time with our lips on our boss’s cheeks that we miss out on some primetime moments of exploration? More than that, aren’t employers ravenous for innovative candidates with the ability to think critically? A classroom education is essential, but isn’t there also value in seeing the world as it really is, rather than just through a textbook or cocktail-party conversation? In this global economy, isn’t it important to actually get out there to investigate the globe? Am I not an improved citizen now that I’ve spent a little time outside? Hasn’t this year imparted teachings that maybe I couldn’t get any other way? Won’t lessons learned with the concert tickets in Guatemala or in that taxi in Managua or examining the financial intricacies of the Australian-Indonesian cattle trade apply to the business world? Won’t meeting people face-to-face in a social setting, and seeing where they come from, develop my professional relationships with them and other foreigners to whom I outsource work?
Am I now better equipped and ready to embrace uncertainty? At the very least, haven’t I improved my potential interview patter? All I know is that if I had not set off from home a little over a year ago, it would have been the next on a very short list of regrets in my life. My seventy-year-old self isn’t going to look back on my twenty-ninth year and say, “I wish I would have watched a documentary on Auschwitz instead of going there to see it for myself.”