My friend asked me the other day, “So what brought you to Bali, everyone in Bali has a story”. It’s true, everyone that comes here has a story that led them to drop whatever they were doing back home and come on an exotic island with a culture vastly different from their own. The reasons vary of course, but there is typically one through line: they wanted to do something different with their lives.
So why did I come to Bali? I’ve thought about this lots in recent months. The events that led up to it were not spontaneous, in fact it was a process that took several years. It started with just general discontentment with my life circumstances. The feeling that I could/should be doing so much more with myself. When I was a child I thought that when I reached adulthood I’d be something great. A great astronaut perhaps (I know this is a common childhood aspiration), or great businessman, great singer, great actor, or maybe even a great president LOL! Being something great would mean that I’d have all the money I’d ever need, and everyone would love me.
Real life did not present itself quite so grandiosely of course. Sure I’ve had some successes that I am proud of. I graduated college, held down a few good jobs at respectable organizations, and ran a successful business. But the feeling that I finally “made it” never came. Making good money was satisfying for a while, until it wasn’t. So I thought I’d turn to the arts for inspiration. Learning the guitar and taking acting classes was satisfying for a while too, but the minute I began to place expectations on myself, that too became more work and less fun. I thought that I could perhaps find happiness in a long term relationship, but of course that too eventually lost its initial excitement. My job was stressful and boring at the same time, and I could no longer think of anything that I wanted to do professionally that excited me.
Yes, I do realize these are all first world problems. Even in my lowest lows I would always remind myself of the wonderful things I did have. A house, a loving partner, a well paying job, good people as parents, wonderful siblings that make me laugh constantly, supportive friends, all my basic necessities met, and some luxuries not available to a huge portion of the world’s population. But a question kept plaguing me: what am I to do with myself now if nothing interests me? How can I continue to support the lifestyle me and my girlfriend had become accustomed to if the job I had ate away at my soul daily? I discovered a strange dichotomy in my life: I had struggled for so many years to attain a certain level of security and comfort, and now that I had it, I was bored.
Eventually I realized that I needed to leave my job. I wasn’t sure that was the answer to all my problems, but it was a start. It was something that I could do that would make me feel in control – like I was taking charge of my destiny as opposed to passively sitting around complaining. Furthermore, I didn’t feel I had a reasonable choice. I felt like I was sacrificing my mental health to hold on to a job that was secure.
When I told my girlfriend of my plans, that’s when the proverbial doo doo hit the fan. It became more apparent than ever before that we had vastly different life goals. She was career-focused and had her entire life planned out, whereas I had no idea what the fuck I wanted to do. After years of trying to reconcile and compromise, we decided that it was time to go our separate ways.
Leaving a job, a girlfriend, and a home, all at the same time was one of the hardest decisions, if not THE hardest decision of my life. It meant giving up all the love and security I had known thus far and embarking into the complete unknown. I wondered if I was nuts for dropping everything that was important to me. My ex-girlfriend wondered if all the stresses in my life had made me irrational. In fact, I went to a few therapy sessions for the first time to help me organize my thoughts and makes sense of the emotional whirlwind. Thankfully, my therapist, my closests friends, and my parents, provided the support and reassurance that I needed to help me work through such a trying time. All I knew deep inside is that self discovery is a process. When one attains a certain level of achievement, one then reaches for the next goal. It’s how we evolve and grow. It wasn’t so much a matter of discontentment as it was a matter of exploring my potential. And the only way to discover that was to give myself space to be inspired again. My hope was that if I finally let go of the expectations I had carried with me most of my life – expectations of attaining a certain level of financial success (in the western sense) by a certain age, and expectations of achieving a certain level of societal significance – I would finally give myself the space to live a life that was uniquely my own. And I trusted that within that process I would find a way to sustain it.
I have found more inspiration in Bali than I ever expected or thought possible. It has led me to a level of personal growth that I could never have anticipated. From it ideas are being born as to how I can be a better person, how I can contribute more to others, and how I can do my part to improve the world. Does this make me a happier person? The short answer is yes. It certainly makes me feel more fulfilled. It is also giving me a clearer picture of how I would like to live my life moving forward. The long answer however, is sometimes. Happiness to me now is less about external circumstance, and has much more to do with being at peace and being grateful with what life has presented me. Happiness, in the conventional sense, changes like the weather and is affected by so many things, some as trivial as whether or not I’ve had my morning coffee. But inner peace is much more of a constant. I can find peace within myself even when some external circumstances are a bit shitty. Rarely is everything exactly perfect. And when it is, seldom does it last for long. But that quiet moment of space that I can find when I let go of all thoughts and just breath, is always there.