In the western world we are encouraged to get on the career ladder and climb. The same is true with the housing ladder; keep moving up, never stop.
Soon enough it’s time to have children, to settle down and buy a “forever home” to await your grandchildren. And that’s it: life is over, you get old and die.
This can’t be the best way to live a life.
It is perhaps the easiest way to live though. It is a well-trodden path and, if you have ever gone for a walk through a forest, you’ll know that it’s much, much easier to follow the path already taken than carve out your own. But I am not one for taking easy routes simply because they are there.
I have been on the career and housing ladders and they just weren’t for me. I could never get past the 9:30 feeling. You’ve arrived at work, said your hellos, had a bit of chat, checked your emails and then it hits you: this is it, this is your life. The question to ask yourself is, if that is your life, for the rest of your life, would you be happy? If the answer is ‘yes’, then you’re doing ok. If it’s ‘no’, today might be a good time to act.
Several times now I have asked myself if I am happy to spend the rest of my life as I am. When the answer has been ‘no’ I’ve acted. This rarely leads to immediate change, other than in how I feel. Usually, the action has been to make a plan. I start by deciding where I would rather be and what I would prefer my life to look like.
Scuba instructor is my fifth career choice now. I started at eighteen training as a personal trainer, then retrained in horticulture before becoming a counsellor and mental health practitioner through to the present day here on Gili Air.
I guess the thing is that we’re all terrified that if we don’t work really hard while we can we’ll have a terrible retirement and life really should be about our final years.
Of course I don’t believe this last statement. I don’t fully believe that life should be all about now, I think plans are important, I just think that the short term (perhaps less than two years or, at the longest, five years) should be our primary focus.
So many people live for the weekends; but that means they are not living for over 70% of their weeks. That doesn’t seem a great way to live life.
Believe me if you want to travel around the world your experience will be entirely different if you do it at thirty or if you do it at sixty. I’m not saying the latter will be worse, but it won’t be the same. Ideally, I want to do both.
I decided recently that when I finally decide I’m old, whatever age that might be, I’m going to start doing things that are designed for old people. I’ll learn to play bridge and golf, perhaps start going on coach trips around the Lake District.
The idea of putting things off that are better done while young seems silly. Scuba diving and climbing mountains are not best enjoyed in your 70s.
The problem is that this goes against the usual thinking and millions of people now have carved the path for the norm. The excuses are in place and they are convincing.
‘I couldn’t take a child travelling.’
‘I must plan for my retirement.’
‘If I don’t get on the housing ladder now I never will.’
‘If I step off the career ladder I will never get back on it.’
‘I can’t leave my family.’
Reasons like this are almost enough to make me book a flight and head home now. The thing that stops me is that this is just such an amazing planet that there are enough things to see that you could fill a thousand lifetimes.
I have still to see flowing volcanic lava, walk the Great Wall of China and sell hello to the Terracotta Army. I haven’t dived with a Mola Mola (huge fish around three metres across that looks like a sun with fins), or seen the majesty of a lion in the wild.
I want to see Everest, icebergs and fireflies light a river cruise. I want to jump into waterfalls, dive with manta rays and trek mountains. And this is all in the next year or two.
The world is a truly amazing place and rarely what we expect. Did you know that octopus have two hearts? Or that the unclassified, monkey-like tarsier has eyes larger than its brain and amazing feather stars are neither plant nor animal but somewhere in-between?
I have a choice. I can learn about the world from books alone or see these amazing things for myself. For me, the latter is the only option and if I’m going to live my life to the fullest that does mean leaving what society expects of me behind or, at least, deferring it indefinitely.