So what happened to the plans to take a career break and travel the world for a year?
Well, as Amy and I sat at a great little tapas bar in Barcelona back in 2010, we realized that we weren’t just looking for a way to travel and see the world while we’re still young and healthy. We were unhappy with our lives in general. Not our relationship or families or anything like that. We were (and to some extent still are) feeling trapped. While all of our prior vacations provided an escape from that feeling, we would fall right back into it once the trip was over. So what can we do? How can we un-trap ourselves?
Amy pointed out that what was really bothering us was that we had fallen into the trap called the American Dream. We had gotten married, bought a large house, talked about having kids, and started trudging along in the rat race. Things were fine at first. Then we started filling that house with furniture, paying for maintenance and upkeep expenses on the house and the stuff it contained. We still need to have our big vacation escapes though so the debt started to pile on. Before we knew it we were rolling credit card debt into home equity loans, but the expenses continued and the trips couldn’t be postponed because they were the one thing keeping us sane.
We both decided over the course of a few years that kids weren’t something either of us wanted, but at that point we were deeply entrenched behind a mountain of debt and a huge house. We were both working full time just to keep everything afloat.
We couldn’t figure out what the problem was back then though. We knew we were unhappy, but we couldn’t figure out what to do. We had been following some heroes that had chucked everything and ventured off on multi-year voyages. Our love of travel made us yearn for that sense of freedom. Our vacation travels were the only thing giving us that freedom, so we decided that chucking it all and taking a year off was what the doctor ordered.
Well, the crushing debt and the house were things we were reluctant to face head on. We committed to paying down the debt slowly and wondered if it was simply our careers that were leaving us with that feeling of being trapped. So we both entered graduate school on an American Studies track (like a traditional history track, but focused more on American culture than names and dates) in the hopes that we could pursue teaching and do something more fulfilling with our lives.
We both graduated with high honors and loved the program and had some ideas of switching careers. The mountain of debt and the mortgage loomed between us and those new career goals like the Rockies must have looked to Lewis and Clark on their expedition to the West Coast. How could we possibly switch careers when we NEEDED both of our salaries just to stay afloat!?
The unfortunate answer is that we couldn’t.
Sure we could give up eating out so often (and we did), but neither of us was willing to give up travel. It was our escape, the one thing we looked forward to. We were hopelessly stuck.
The one amazing thing that our studies in the graduate program gave us though was a better understanding of the true issue. It wasn’t necessarily that we hated our work, we hated being tied to the American Dream. The idea of American Dream varies, but mine had always been a picture of climbing the corporate ladder, owning your own home and all of the things that come with it, a nice car, and looking forward to some utopian retirement in a warm local down the road. Its actually not much different than the storyline for most religions … behave in some proscribed manner, obey all of the rules, work your way up (or stay below the radar), and look forward to some form of paradise when your time is up.
The American Dream is the storyline of the religion of American capitalism.
And neither of us were buying into it. We needed a different plan a new doctrine.