Hi Chris. :)
You’ve traveled to almost 175 countries. You go to places where you don’t know the language over and over again, which tends to make people nervous. You also teach people to quit their job for a living, which almost everyone is anxious about.
Are you nervous about these things? Do you remember a time where you ever were?
Yes and no. In some ways, I’m a nervous wreck with everything I do… I just do it anyway.
In other ways, I’m the world’s most nonchalant and unprepared traveler. It would actually be good if I prepared more than I do, since I’m always forgetting things, booking the wrong tickets, leaving my iPhone in coffee shops, and so on. But again, I just keep pressing forward, for better or worse.
As for teaching people to quit their jobs, that originally began from my own lack of experience at holding down any sort of job. I was a terrible employee and not good at working for anyone other than myself.
I feel like I can relate a lot to that. A lot of other people probably do too, but they’re not in the situation where they just say “screw it” and buy the ticket/get on the plane/quit. What helps you get through that moment?
Well, there are a lot of popular stories of people saying “screw it” and making big changes all at once, and they can be inspiring. But as you mention, not everyone can do that, and some people have legitimate obstacles or concerns that may take a while to resolve.
On my book tour last year I told a lot of different reader stories and tried to pay attention to which ones resonated the best with audiences. Probably the most popular story was about a guy in North Carolina who had a family and a “good” day job. He wanted to make some changes but couldn’t just abandon it all and move to Thailand, you know?
So instead of jumping ship, and instead of just going on with his self-described boring life, he started making a series of small changes. They began with what he called “Life Experiments”—just doing things differently, like going to the art museum during his lunch break, taking up a new hobby of photography, and so on.
Then he started traveling for work, and instead of going to Paris for a three-week commitment on his own, he found a way to take his wife and their three daughters. This way, the whole family had a fun and interesting cross-cultural experience.
Upon returning to the U.S., he eventually started consulting and is now completely self-employed. But the moral of the story, at least how he told it to me, is that the greatest change actually came from the beginning, the life experiments that helped him become more comfortable with doing things differently. With this story in mind, I always encourage people who can’t say “screw it” to start saying “What small things can I change right now?”
There’s a great book about that out there, I think it’s called One Small Step Can Change Your Life. It’s about small changes being more effective because they don’t set off alarms.
When I talk about it in the Flinch, I actually say the opposite. Let your alarms go off and realize that they’re not working well for you at all. They’re ineffective. Your fear is supposed to protect you, but it chokes you instead. For most things, our internal alarm system is defective.
During your book tour, how did you make people feel that they were capable of changing their programming?
Yeah, that’s good—I agree that fear can be a deadly force. When we’re being honest, I think most of us would admit that we’ve let fear make too many decisions for us. That’s certainly been the case for me, at least until I became aware of it.
I don’t think anyone can make people feel they are capable of changing their programming, or at least I don’t think I can. But it does help to provide examples: hey, look at this guy. He used to be just like you, but now he’s a totally different person. What did he do to bring him to this new place?
Especially when you’re a writer or otherwise doing something publicly, the danger is in assuming that everyone wants to be you. Sometimes this is self-inflected, other times some people may actually phrase it that way themselves: “I want to do what you do.” I always try to put the emphasis, and therefore the burden of change, back on that person: “Really? What exactly do you want to do? What’s stopping you?”
Right, what they actually want to be is just an idealized version of themselves, and you try to help them see that.
Just a final question: what is it that’s currently stopping you now? What is that thing that you still have some kind of anxiety about, if anything? How do you fight it?
Good question. I’m coming to the end of my quest to visit every country in the world, and that fact scares me a little. It’s funny because my wife, along with several other smart people, have been asking me for a while now: “What are you going to do when this is over?”
And for a long time, I didn’t understand the question. “What do you mean?” I’d say. “I’ll keep traveling, keep writing, and keep working on my business stuff.”
All of these things are true, but I think the people who asked were right in assuming that there is still a bigger question. In one way or another, I’ve been on the road for much of the time over the past decade. It’s become a big part of my identity. So all of a sudden, I feel a sense of loss and uncertainty, along with the anxiety you mention.
It’s certainly a good problem to have, compared to sucking down candy bars in a cubicle somewhere, but I honestly don’t know what I’ll do to fight it. For now I just keep traveling. ***
PS: I get inspired a lot by conversations I have with people. The Flinch was inspired by a moment I had with Jonathan Fields. This conversation actually helped me put together an idea for a book I’d been kicking around. Stay tuned.
Btw, Chris just came out with a guide to publishing (not an affiliate link). Check it out, I found it extremely informative. :)