Where from Here?

Happy New Year, MSL readers! As many of us look towards the promise of a fresh start in a brand new chapter in the journey of life, we're often faced with some pretty tough choices. Life tends to present us with crossroads, opportunities to break free from our comfort zones or continue at the safe pace of the status quo. Our guest this week, Daniel Gaynor, is the first MSL voice of 2017 for a reason; his post reminds us of the tremendous value in overcoming our fears to embrace the unknown and chase down what matters most to each of us.      


         So there I was with no debit or credit cards, only $97 in cash, and all my belongings stuffed into a backpack, wandering along the beaches of Cambodia looking for work. I took a backpacking trip through China and Southeast Asia after college, in hopes of finding myself.  However in the midst of motorbiking through Vietnam, I lost my ATM card.

         Life doesn’t always go according to plan. In fact, most of the time it doesn’t.

         Someone told me there was a city in Cambodia where many nightclubs hired westerners, so I high tailed it over there. The city was called Sihanoukville or, as westerners living there called it, “Stuckville”. For whatever reason, it seemed to be the place where western travelers ended up when they ran out of money, overstayed their visa, or lost their passport and couldn’t leave the country.

          The best thing you can do in a situation like that is to remain open minded and flexible. You have to make do with what you got.

          I walked from bar to bar asking for work, but apparently all the bars already had too many guys working there and wanted more women. Eventually some English and Australian guys took pity on me and pulled some strings to get me a job at a nightclub called Serendip. I wouldn’t be paid but I would get 2 meals a day, a bed to sleep in, and free alcohol all night. It wasn’t ideal, but it bought me enough time to get a new debit card mailed out so I could continue my travels.

          If you are open to endless possibilities and treat others kindly, things have a funny way of working out.

          Since college I’ve learned that there are some lessons school can’t teach you. One of the most important being that society's opinion of success won’t necessarily bring you happiness. When I was abroad I realized how often we pigeonhole ourselves and deny ourselves the right to be unconventional. In the U.S. there is a mapped out path and a timeline for what we are supposed to do. We grow up going to grade school, we go to college, we get an internship or entry level job, we work our way up a corporation, we save up to buy a house, we get married, we have kids, we retire at the age of 65, and then we grow old with our spouse. Of course there is nothing wrong with this kind of life but, as you can see, it comes at a cost.  It doesn’t leave enough money or time to explore the world or discover ourselves.

          Going against the status quo can be stressful. When we stray off that timeline we are met with constant opposition. Many may think that we are wasting our time or that we are lazy.  People are often threatened when we take the risks they were too afraid to take. They are terrified that we will make it when they played it safe.

          There are a million different ways to live life and very few are wrong. Don’t fall into the trap of only seeing the “American Dream.” Sure you can have the white picket fence with your nuclear family, but maybe that isn’t you. Decide what is important to you and what makes you happy. At the end of the day, you are going to be the one who has to live with your decisions, so try to make them meaningful to you.

          Don’t be afraid to apply for that dream job or try a new career. Yes you will fail a lot, but occasionally you won’t and that’s what makes it worth it. My last semester of college I decided I wanted to help film Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. I sent my resume to shark cage diving companies in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, San Francisco, San Diego, and Mexico. None of them responded to me. After a bit of waiting, the Managing Director of Shark Diver recognized my college email address (just because his friend’s son went to my school) and decided to give me a chance. He spoke to the captain of Horizon Charters, a boat that he chartered out of San Diego, and got me a job as a deckhand.  Later on that year, Discovery Channel filmed an episode of Shark week on our boat. I was able to go on the trip and even assist in some of the underwater camera work.

           Ultimately I realized that this was not the career path I wanted to take. But if I hadn’t tried it, I would have spent my whole life dreaming about and glorifying the life I could have had - if only I had the courage to pursue it. To me ‘what if’ is more troubling than rejection. Being thrown out of your comfort zone can be terrifying and make you rethink every decision that led you to that point. But that’s also when you learn the most about yourself.

          If you are constantly waiting for the opportune moment, you will spend your whole life waiting. Big changes and adventures cannot happen until you make them a priority. If friends and family can travel with you or help you pursue your dreams - great! However if they can’t, that shouldn’t hold you back. Think of your dream job and bucket list items. Make a plan to do them now. You don’t know what the future has in store and it may not be feasible later in life. The last piece of advice I have for you is don’t ever let age stop you. It’s never too late to start something new.  Even if you don’t get to the destination you had hoped for, life is about the journey anyway.

-Daniel Gaynor

This post has been edited for grammar. All other content remains the original thoughts & expressions of the author.