When The Going Gets Tough (Part 1)

While standing in the Bolivian airport attempting to get my visa with several other remotes, one beautiful individual whom I still haven’t had a lot of contact with decided to strike up a conversation with me. When you have visible forearm tattoos it is natural for many conversations to begin there. Some people are too timid to ask, others dig right in, intrigued by the designs, who did it, personal meaning and so on. On this particular day, the questions revolved around meaning and why I have them. If you have ever had this conversation with me or listened to others sprinkle me with questions, you will know that I tend to be fairly guarded about what information I disclose as everything I have has a tremendous amount of meaning. They are reminders of beautiful times in my life, being a survivor in extremely difficult times, of many loved ones no longer with me and planting seeds for all of the amazing things yet to come. Some stories are not easy to talk about, nor listen to, so I usually stick to the warm and fuzzy stories. The meaning we place on our experiences in life is solely unique to us. How we deal with those experiences impacts us at our core and ultimately defines our character over the long term.

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View from Mt. Condoriri. Bolivia

I have been struggling for a few years to find purpose and meaning in life again following a failed 15 year relationship and the demise of a technology that I held near and dear to my heart. I’ll always remember that day everything stopped, because it happened on the same day, within 10 minutes of each other. I signed my divorce papers and walked to the back of the courtroom and sat down. In a daze waiting for my lawyer I became aware of my surroundings, there was a woman sitting behind me crying and we briefly made eye contact. She was about to do the same thing, watching what I had to go through was causing her to struggle even more. I opened up Google News Reader to distract myself and was completely blindsided by what I read in the news given my personal situation.

I built a career around a technology that spoke to my heart and as a result, I romanticized about it for years. The honest truth of the matter is I truly loved it tremendously and was so passionate about it that, no other comparable technology has fulfilled me the way it did. Counting on it being my rock during a difficult time, I was blind to a fault. When the shift in the industry occurred on that day, my resentment of a failed relationship was directed towards my career and many other areas of my life. I crawled into my bathtub and wept till some dear friends showed up and thankfully pulled me out of my apartment. The next few months had been a very dark time for me but I knew amidst the losses in both personal and professional areas of life, I needed to take time to heal and not burn down the world around me.

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Spices at one of the Saturday markets in La Paz, Bolivia

It’s been five years, five really hard, really fucking good years that have been full of all sorts of rediscovery, successes and failures. Over the years I set to spend time with myself pursuing things I loved, rediscovering lost passions and building new relationships with people in an attempt to find direction again. The one area that I never sunk my teeth back into with the same hunger and thirst as in my twenties, until recently, was my career. Instead of dealing with my career in a constructive way and working my ass off as I had done so many years earlier, I was crippled by the wounds of the past. Jaded by the long hours of a former employer all while romanticizing about a past life that I loved but certainly no longer existed made for a difficult hurdle to overcome.

I don’t feel bad about my healing process, to others it may not have been ideal, given every aspect of my life was upside down with the help of an amazing therapist I think I did quite all right. Every person who goes through a trauma deals with it in their own way on the path to recovery. There is no right or wrong way but with the right help they can become an amazingly strong and resilient person. I’m still working on it. That period of life where I felt completely lost was extremely important and has shaped a certain self awareness.

When I was first accepted into Remote Year, I was overwhelmed by emotions. Being accepted into Remote Year is an incredible high. I know, or at least hope, Remote Year is going to be the catalyst for the next series of changes in multiple aspects of life I have placed on hold for years. To accomplish them, I knew it was time to remove myself from my comfort zone in Chicago, it was holding me back. Part of that was also the need to distance myself physically from the employers who have stood by me in very difficult times and become lifelong friends. They are amazing people, I’m fortunate to have them in my life but I needed some sort of distance while retaining employment. To strip myself of everything I knew, loved and/or be able to fall back on as a crutch was terrifying yet liberating. I simply want to focus on myself and nurture the core motivating factors that are important to me.

Once the initial emotional roller coaster of being accepted to Remote Year had ended, like many before me, I began dealing with all of the various aspects of my life that needed to change immediately. Something else was happening internally as well. My brain began to think about what psychological, mental & emotional preparation I needed to do in order to be successful while on Remote Year. The reason for this thought process was because of a book I had read earlier last year.

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Bolivian Cholita Wrestling at its finest.

Amidst my quest for life changes and pursuit to hike the AT, I read a book called Appalachian Trials: The Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking The Appalachian Trail by Zack Davis. This is an amazing book full of not only tips and techniques for successful long distance hiking but a book full of life lessons. To put this in context for those of you who have never thought about long distance hiking, we are talking about a 5-7 month commitment and around 2100+ miles of backpacking putting a tremendous amount of stress on your body physically, emotionally and psychologically. Most when preparing for such a trip people hyper focus on the physical things because they are the things that need to be figured out before you start. Gear, food, money, survival skills and other temporary issues are the primary focus while many neglect preparing themselves mentally and emotionally.

In Zack Davis’ book he talks about the emotional lifecycle a person goes through while attempting to thru hike the major backpacking trails. From the initial high, figuring out the basic needs around resupply, blisters and gear adjustments, the Virginia blues, knowing your purpose, injury, sickness, getting off trail and a multitude of other topics. Ultimately, if a person survives the first few days, the initial high wears off and they are left with only themselves. What is going on inside the head of a person as you walk through the wilderness can be crippling if not addressed early.

“When it comes to backpacking 2,220 miles, the greatest determining factor of success is purpose.” – Zack Davis

When I think of Remote Year, I think of this book. All of us here have made a commitment to participate in a 12 month long journey for different reasons. To the outsiders, living in 12 different countries over 12 months sounds like an amazingly romantic experience. This romance is part of the allure of the program, an adventure of a lifetime with (hopefully) like-minded individuals! The reality is, this trip is extremely challenging and is going to be even more challenging in the future. Living in 2nd & 3rd world countries with 75 very different personalities is not for the weak of heart, especially if you don’t have a purpose for being here.

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Roadside: Patagonia, Argentina.

We have a broad spectrum of ages and personality types which means everyone is at a different stage of life and has varying opinions about what they are experiencing. Since mental and emotional preparedness is a very personal thing, I have often wondered have the people participating in Remote Year prepared themselves for successfully completing the program. I’m not talking about the high level, generic reasons that come automatically with joining this program as a motivator for purpose. Travel, adventure, community, food, learning to work remotely and more, are all obvious aspects of this program – dismiss all of those reasons. If a person hasn’t thought about goals or a purpose for being here, are those surface level traits of this program enough to get them through 12 months when they become challenged by things they may not like? The obvious answer to that question is ‘no, it’s not’ – but depending on the individual, I will concede a weak ‘maybe’.

I think Zack Davis’ framework for success is quite insightful. Changing them slighting for Remote Year, I challenge my fellow & future remotes to think about these questions:

Knowing Your Why:

  • I am participating in Remote Year because… (this is your why)
  • When I successfully finish Remote Year, I will… (these are the personal benefits you’ll acquire upon reaching month 12)
  • If I give up on Remote Year, I will… (these are the negative perceptions you’ll develop of yourself, the program or your fellow remotes if you quit – harsh but effective)

To our peers, we have done the most exciting thing ever. We packed up our lives, defying our friends, family and employers to set off on an adventure that most people can barely comprehend, let alone do themselves. While our world is moving at a blistering pace as we experience new people, places and cultures, everyone else that was important to us is continuing to pursue their passions in life without us. Minimally we share each others lives bidirectionally through the lenses of social media, photos, videos & blog posts but that is no substitute for active in-person participation with each other. What is the purpose of sacrificing relationships, careers or doing any of this without knowing our why?

As I personally continue to define and refine my reasons for being here, listening to my fellow remotes struggle with various issues has me wondering why they are here. Knowing your why will help you when faced with self doubt and complicated challenges along the way. If you are on a current Remote Year trip, about to embark on a future trip, have you really asked yourself why you want to make the necessary sacrifices to participate? Stripping all of the superficial shit away, what are your goals and what is your purpose for embarking on such an adventure?

I’m curious to know, feel free to share them.

For more on the section of book I am referring to, you can refer to a short post by Zack Davis: (http://blueridgehikingco.com/training-brain-appalachian-trail) or find Appalachian Trials for sale on Amazon.

3 thoughts on “When The Going Gets Tough (Part 1)

  1. augustjhenry November 3, 2016 / 8:06 pm

    Thanks so much for writing this. I just applied to RY this morning after I saw it as I scrolled through my instagram feed. I do need to figure out why this pull to travel has a hold on me and why I feel like this is something I need to do, why is this current life not enough. So when I feel like I want to quit, I will know exactly what I am going back to and why it’s important for me to stay.

    Liked by 1 person

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