I recently celebrated my 6 month vanniversary. I’ve been traveling the country for half a year now, living with my brother in a converted Sprinter van.
The 23-year old, freshly graduated guy that left the driveway in January had some nice qualities, but he was also naïve, timid, comfortable with mediocrity, self-conscious, stubborn, one dimensional, directionless, and scared.
182 days later and I don’t even remember that guy. Deep down I’m still that guy, and I’m still most of those things to some degree. But it’s no secret that in just 6 months, I’ve changed. A lot.
I look at pictures from the first few days of life on the road and am in disbelief at how far I’ve come since being that guy. It’s not the birthday I had in May, the inches of hair that I’ve grown, or the many different beard lengths I’ve experimented with. So much has happened internally since January.
I don’t claim to know all the answers. In fact I know very few of them, if any. But this new process of learning by living has broadened my perspective. To put it simply, I’m growing.
I narrowed it down to the 7 most impactful things I’ve taken away from my experiences so far. Although it’s learned from living the vanlife, none of what I’ve learned has anything to do with a van and everything to do with life.
1. Do It Now
If you read one section of this post, read this one.
I can’t count how many people have told me that they wish they did what I’m doing when they were my age. I know it’s a compliment but when I look into their eyes as the words slip from their mouth, I see regret; clear nostalgia of a moment where they could have jumped but chose to sit down and follow the rules. It’s heartbreaking.
Since birth, we’re crammed into rule-shaped boxes. We’re told what’s good and what’s bad, what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy, how to live and how not to live. We’re told that if what we want isn’t safe we shouldn’t do it.
I’m begging that you do it.
While our friends, family, and mentors want the best (perhaps safest?) for us, only you know what you really want. Not your parents, not your government, not your peers. You. Only you know what you want. It’s up to you, and only you, to make your life truly yours.
In the first chapter of Love Does, Bob Goff writes: “The sad thing is there is no “next time” because passing on a chance is an overall attitude toward life rather than a single decision.” (If that line made you mutter ahh shit under your breath, you’re not alone. Me too, man. Me too.)
I’ve rushed through towns worth exploring, passed up on hikes with friends, and left lookouts early because of storms on the horizon. I’ve hoped that next time will be a better time. The brutal truth is that next time usually never comes. When else am I going to have opportunities like this?
If you can’t drop everything and do it now, you can at least take 5 minutes to start. Write down a gameplan, do research, or get your feet wet and learn from experience.
Whatever it is you want to do, for the love of God, do it now.
2. Location Does Not Equal Happiness
Since the very beginning of the trip, peers have expressed jealousy that I get to go to new places whenever I want. Being tied to one place can get monotonous and we often attach our problems to our current zip code.
It’s true that I constantly get to be in new places. When we get stagnant, we move. It’s simple. But what people don’t realize is that your miseries follow you. As do your habits and your attitude. You don’t change with your environment. If anything, being in a new place forces you deeper into your shitty ways. Our habits are our comfort in foreign places. The result: same problems, different coordinates.
I believe that happiness is a state of mind, independent of geographical location. Sure, uncrowded point breaks, dense forests, and starry mountain skies put a smile on my face. But the same appreciation for nature, life, and the unknown can be found in your backyard.
Changing your location does not make you happy. You do.
3. Pee Outside More
You’re never more alert than when your junk is hanging out of your pants.
Are there people around? Or worse, animals? Whoa, that breeze feels good. Is that a mountain lion?
You experience life more vividly when you’re vulnerable. I can’t imagine a more vulnerable state of being, can you?
Be vulnerable more. Pee outside more.
4. We All Define Success Differently
Some people feel successful with full wallets, some with a beautiful woman on their arm, and others with college degrees hanging on their walls. There’s no right or wrong. There’s just what works for you. It’s important to realize what is fulfilling to you. And more importantly, what’s not.
If you don’t define those things for yourself, somebody else will decide it for you. Define your own success and move toward it. Fill your days with meaningful work, people, and possessions that add value to your unique life. Trim the fat of what doesn’t fit, and move the hell on.
Don’t apologize for going after what you want. Your success is defined by you.
5. You don’t need to shower every day
I don’t know the scientific facts about how often you should shower based on climate, humidity, skin complexion, etc. What I do know is that in 182 days I’ve showered 59 times. Sometimes 5 days in a row, sometimes with 9 days in between. It can get a little gross but it hasn’t killed me. And I appreciate hot, running, water more than ever!
6. Don’t Let Your Possessions Own You
Inanimate objects are made to serve a specific purpose. Surfboards are for surfing, cameras are for taking pictures, and guitars are for wooing women. But the moment I associate them with a sentiment or price tag that used to hang from them, they become something bigger than what they are. They’re things. That’s it. Things come and go. Let them.
If you’re too attached to owning your things, they actually own you.
7. My Life Isn’t About Me
I can choose to do whatever I want with my life. It belongs to me. But that doesn’t mean it’s about me. I have the ability to impact so many others’ lives and so do you. The more you focus on yourself, the less impact you have on the world around you.
I’m no saint, and I struggle with this daily. But when I do get it right, it feels way better than worrying about myself.
Look outside yourself. Your life is less about you than you think.