Leaving places where everything is right "just because."
I just arrived in Beijing. The air is cold and crisp, the pace is fast, people are wearing suits and carrying briefcases and the general vibe here is I'm on a mission.
I hate cold weather except in small doses, and I haven't spent more than two weeks in a cold-weather place during a cold time of the year since... I don't know when, it's been a long time. A few years.
I forgot how the cold makes people move fast, crisp, not dally, not lounge about... it's refreshing. I feel like I'm in New York a little before Christmastime, which (shitty cold weather aside) is one of my favorite times in one of my favorite places in the world.
But let's about traveling (and life) mistakes. The biggest mistake I've made, by far, is leaving a place where I'm very happy or productive or I've got a good workflow. Occasionally, everything is just right somewhere... and when everything is just right, I'd recommend you milk it for all it's worth.
I can pick out a few times in particular. I was in Barcelona in November 2008, I think it was, and I was so happy and productive there. I was staying near Placa Gracia, I was waking up at 4AM every morning when it was still dark and going to have breakfast in a smoky late night bar that was open and served food - while others were getting their last round of drinks and trying to hydrate to prevent impending hang-over, I'd eat a Spanish tortilla omlette with eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers, have a strong coffee, and a read a book until my gym opened at 6AM.
I was the first person into the gym - it took me a while, but I found a really nice gym at a low price - their showers, in particular, were amazing. The whole gym was comfortable to be in, modern, new... and pretty empty at 6AM. I'd do quite a bit of relatively low intensity cardio while reading more, and then I'd hit the weights and eat again. There was free coffee, tea, and light snacks (mostly junk food) where I was staying, so I'd have a third very light meal at breakfast-time. It was fantastic - at 10AM, I'd been up for six hours, reading, thinking, doing cardio, lifting weights.
I worked in the morning, had some calls or meetings in the afternoon, and I'd met some nice people and we'd hang out in the evenings. An English guy I was working with was a huge football (soccer) fan, and I saw my first match seeing Lionel Messi play for FC Barcelona. My English mate warned me that football was lowering score than American sports, but then the match was nuts - there was something like 8 goals total, with Barcelona winning 6-2. Messi kept feeding the ball to their striker Eto'o, and the atmosphere was insane - Barcelona fans take their team seriously, and people are shouting, chanting, singing, and playing war drums at the match. An insane environment.
I met an American real estate developer who was traveling Europe with his son who had just graduated university. His son wound up meeting a really beautiful Czech girl and Dad gave him his blessing to run off and ditch pops, and we wound hanging out at the same bar in the evenings and talking about business and philosophy and all sorts of things. Learned tons from him. Actually, he's the guy I indirectly mentioned in the "Advertising Works on You" post who'd owned some El Pollo Loco restaurants.
I also got some very healthy and sometimes intense games of Nintendo Wii tennis in with various friends and colleagues.
After November, I had some things happening in London, but a lot of it fell through with the financial crash. So there I am, coming off a fantastic month in Barcelona with no particular reason to be in London, and it's cold and wet and rainy and miserable and it's just decidedly not like Spain.
Don't get me wrong, I love London, it's one of my favorite cities. I've had amazing experiences there. But I wasn't feeling it at all this time around.
What I should have done is immediately grabbed an air ticket back to Barcelona to see if I could get back into the routine and keep the magic going... but I didn't, I kind of fell into inertia and lived at a lower level than I'd like to in all ways. I'd say my quality of life, productivity, reading, learning, socializing, doing meaningful stuff levels - they were 10/10 in Barcelona, and then 4 out of 10 10 in London.
That was the tail end of my first attempt to live on the road, and I gave up Europe for a while and went back to America in January 2009.
It's interesting for me to consider what would have happened if I'd arrived in London, saw I had no business there, saw the vibe wasn't good, saw the general atmosphere was kind of not right for me at that time, and then immediately gotten back on a plane for Spain.
I mean, why not? It makes total sense in retrospect.
But people don't do that, for some reason. Especially people with my kind of temperament, where it's all about staying in action, keep moving forwards, etc, etc.
I've made similar mistakes where I'm super happy and engaged in a country, but I take a return flight to somewhere I don't have to be just because I've already got it booked. This is doubly stupid when the costs are lower wherever I'm at, so I could push my ticket back a month and actually save money in the process.
Yet, I've made this mistake again and again in my life.
I was in Taipei in January 2010 and it was fantastic. Then I went to Bangkok and wasn't feeling it... it was just too insane for me. I took an overnight train to Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand was okay, but really, I should have just headed back to Taipei. It's an amazing place.
Likewise, I was in Guilin, China - now also one of my favorite cities in the world - in summer of last year. I left back to Beijing just because that's what my itinerary was - which was stupid in retrospect. I should have stayed by Lake Shan and really just engaged with the place.
Finding somewhere you've got the right mix of work, productivity, quality of life, culture, weather, where you're at, the atmosphere of the place... it's rare these all line up. When you get it right, stay. It might take a little money or a little planning or you might have to reschedule or work to be there. But when you hit the rare 10/10 in all categories, do whatever you can to run with it as long as it lasts. It's a rare and beautiful thing.
The flipside error is not moving on fast enough when a place doesn't suit you, but that's another topic for another time. I tell you, this sounds obvious in text, but isn't obvious at all while you're living it. We're so used to drawing a plan up and then rigidly sticking to it without evaluating whether it still makes sense. I tell you, if you start looking around the world for where to live, keep this in mind -
Do not leave places where your life is at 10/10 in all categories "just because."
Sounds obvious on paper. Harder to keep this in mind during life - but much more prosperity and quality of life awaits if you can.
Just to add my 2 cents, I had the same kind of feeling that you had in BARCELONA. Our situations were not similar, but as far as Barcelona goes, I mean, what a WONDERFUL CITY! It's incredible...
During my trip to Europe, last year, we traveled from country to country my girlfriend and I. Even though it was wonderful, there were some places we were really sad to leave, so I KIND OF understand your point here.
Good post buddy, keep it up, your lifestyle is truly inspiring.
P.S.: I started tracking my time 4 days ago. Started with a small version of time tracking, in a simple note in Evernote (know that program?). It works great and has given me many insights on the way I think and what causes my procrastination at work. Very very good stuff. The more I get used to tracking, the more I accomplish: That's the way uhn-uhn uhn-uhn, I like it! Uhn-uhn uhn-uhn!
Just a quick comment: you cannot know your life is 10/10 without exploring and exploring and exploring... And that takes some failures along the way.
Surprisingly, there is a similar concept from mathematics about stopping rule for seeking a secretary (or a spouse :D): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secretary_problem, however it has a critical assumption, which doesn't hold here: "rejected applicants cannot be recalled".
You're totally right. I really hate the cold here in Sweden so I should move to another place. One day I Will. What has kept me here are the people who love me. But you have to be selfish and think of the future too. You can start a new better life somewhere else. Do it now before it is to late.
I don't know that I agree with this. You obviously had set out to plan this elaborate itinerary of world-wide travel. You must remember your original motivations for doing this.
If you had landed in London and immediately realized that you weren't feeling the vibe and then got back onto the plane, you may have regretted that in the long run. Maybe you need to give more of these places a chance? Maybe then when you feel that a place is 10/10 in every area of your life, that means you're getting complacent? I'm not sure, only you really know.
But I think you need to remember your original motivations for this world-wide adventure.
The Internal Scorecard
I think there's a tremendous amount of misconceptions regarding achievement, productivity, creativity, ambition, work, work rate, work ethic, and so on.
So I'm thinking of publishing some analysis weekly with examples of what happened in the week, successes and failures, noteworthy events, what I'm reading and listening to, and so on. If it goes well, I can give you a picture of a workweek for me, intermix tactics and techniques, and give you practical guidance about what's working well and what isn't.
I'd like to introduce a secondary project I'm working on, which is a health one. I've been living a relatively sedentary lifestyle as of late. I haven't been shoveling down ice cream and hiding in my apartment, but I have been spending much more time sitting than I used to. The weather is very cold here in Zhengzhou, so my old habit of going on periodic walks has fallen off. Also, going out to get groceries or food has been hard to summon energy for as that requires bundling up and braving the cold. This has had the positive effect of keeping me from eating out all of the time (which my wallet thanks me for), but in search of convenience I replaced that food with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Only PB&J, with a banana or apple here and there, is hardly a balanced or healthy diet. My one saving grace up to this point has been my teaching job, which keeps me up and active and supplies me with more variety in my diet at breakfast. Nonetheless, the time has come for me to make some changes to eat better and get more active. Here is my plan to become healthier over the next six weeks. I figure action is better than conversation so I actually started this little up two weeks ago. I'm currently in week 3, but I thought I'd share my plan in its entirety.
Week 1: Start cooking for myself Quite a while back I had a friend who was a body-builder. "90% of your workout takes place before you ever go to the gym," was his mantra. Your exercise and health are built on what you consume, so this first week focused on getting my diet back into shape. The primary rule for this period was no PB&J. This has helped me seek variety in my diet and break me out of my existing rut. Also at the beginning of this week I set a goal to cook for myself at least once and shoot for at least one hand made meal every week. This target was incredibly easily me, which was the point of setting the target so low. I've picked up two extremely simple recipes that have become new staples and replaced PB&J entirely. I couldn't be happier with how this side of things has been going. Multiple times over the last week and this one I have had either an egg and tomato dish, which I picked up from local cuisine, or a cauliflower lower mash pulled from the 4-hour chef. So, right out the gate I'm getting more, complete protein and veggies not to mention healthier carbs. My only issue here in week 3 is that I'm craving even more variety and so need to figure out another simple staple dish. Quite the good problem to have since I'm looking for variety in my diet ;)
Week 2: Shaking the dust off Week 2 was all based off of the Zenhabits approach to exercise. Zenhabits is all about starting small, fitness is a part of life that is helped by this more than anything. The blog's writer Leo Babauta suggests doing a simple set of an exercise at random intervals through the day. The idea is to do them whenever they pop into your head. Been sitting for a while? Do ten squats. Just get up? Do ten pushups, etc. Following suit, this week has been dedicated to seeing little opportunities to get my blood pumping and doing so. As I've found myself in a marathon session in front of my computer, I've jumped up and done ten squats or ten pushups. Just yesterday I did twenty squats and forty pushups, all scattered throughout the day in bite-sized portions. Judging by how my arms felt this morning I'm doing a little more than breaking even when weighed against all of the hours of sitting in my off-time.
Week 3-6 The blitz The first two weeks were designed to laying the ground work for the main event of this project, which is a physical blitz. This will take the form of one of those get-fit-quick video series in the vein of the Insanity program. I have always wondered if these things really work, and if my run-through this morning is any indicator, they make for quite the workout. I have always had more interest in functional fitness (such as that which builds stamina) over aesthetic fitness (that which makes you cut), but I am very curious to see how the program makes me feel by the time I reach the end. The exercises only take around half hour a day for 4 weeks, so the exercise won't dominate all of my time. I'll simply follow a workout schedule and enjoy the ride through a workout regimen I don't have to think about too hard. After starting today I'm excited to see where this monkey-see, mokey-do method of exercise gets me.
After the blitz After this little blitz of mine I'll attempt to take my running habit back up. The weather here in sunny Zhengzhou is at its lowest here in January, so by next month it should be more bearable to workout outside. I'm very interested to see how the video series effects my stamina as well as my muscle tone, so trying to go for a long jog after a day's break will do a great job of that. With taking my endurance training back up I'll set some targets, goals, time frames, etc. but for now it's time to blitz my way back into running shape!