On the 8th of February 2018 it will have been 4 years that I left France, quit my corporate job and flew to Australia not knowing what I was going to do, how I was going to earn money, how I will handle being on my own for the first time… I didn’t even speak English at that time. So many questions and doubts were holding me for this 2 years long decision to quit everything and start a meeting with myself, with my life.
Today, I reflect on those past 4 years as I’m about to head back to Europe and I realize there are no paved paths, there are no right or wrong rules, there are not even rules, you are the creator of your life in every second of it. Don’t be scared of making mistakes it never is mistakes in the end but lessons to be learned. This is what I learned in this adventure, I hope it can help you.
One who makes no mistakes, makes nothing at all.
It all started with one decision.
And it was a hard one. After a master 2 and a few years working in a corporate job, I was doing ok but never felt very passionate about it. Luckily, I was a photographer on the side and my colleagues were great so it kept me on going being ok. After the company I was working for merged with another one, things shifted and I started feeling anxious, pressured, not recognized anymore, not so good. It lasted for a few months and a depression started to build up. It became so bad during a period of 6 months that my body started being covered in eczema. I didn’t feel making photographs anymore and was feeling kind of dead inside. No willpower anymore, this led me to drink too hard and too often, just maybe to feel something again. I decided to ask for a gap year. A decision that took me nearly two years and a strong depression to take. I was so scared of leaving my comfortable addictive income and jump into the unknown. Today, I’m grateful for this difficult period because I would maybe still be working in my cubicle and just be doing ok if none of those things would have happened.
No Mud, No Lotus
Thich Nhat Hanh
The day I received the letter saying the gap year was accepted, my life started again. I felt free, started being excited about photography again and crazy thing, the eczema disappeared a couple of days later. I never came back at the end of the gap year. Until now, that hard decision appears to be the best decision I ever took. It allowed me to experience life, to fail, to try again, to fail again, to understand, to improve, to succeed at some points and to discovering new things to fail at and finally to grow.
I bought a ticket to Australia and left on the 8th of February 2014.
Buy the ticket, take the ride
Hunter S. Thompson
When I arrived in Australia, I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do with my new freedom but I had enough money to sustain 3 to 4 months and figure it all out. Thanks to the help of my friends Stephane and Ali I had a comfortable first step out of my comfort zone.
Step 1 – Stepping out of your comfort zone.
When I arrived in Australia, I realized that I didn’t know how to speak English, at all. Which made the first three months even a bit more challenging. The simple things such as getting a sim card, buying a car, finding a job, making contacts… were very difficult when you don’t speak the language. I got a few jobs while in Sydney, got scammed during a job interview which makes me lost quite a lot of money according to my budget, and sometimes never got paid for my work… That’s how to learn life I guess.
It was hard to leave Sydney, as I tried to recreate the comfortable life I had in France, looking for a job and a flat to rent. Luckily it didn’t work out so I decided to go on a road trip, sleeping in my car and heading north to Byron Bay where a contact of mine who became a friend told me I could have a chance to work for someone taking photographs for a ballet. I never took photos of ballet but I liked the idea even though I wasn’t sure of anything. 800km later, I was there. The first step out of my comfort zone. I was on my own but never alone as I shared the ride with a French guy found on couch surfing then met my contact. This time it worked out. I started to work for them straight away. It was a helper’s position meaning that I was working in exchange for food and accommodation. Those 3 months were awesome. Surfing and Photography every day. When my money started to run low, I decided to go pick some bananas up north near Cairns, 1900km away. This job is well paid because of the hot weather and the snakes staying in the bananas crops.
My car decided for me that I won’t reach any banana farm and broke down in Airlie beach. A little town, known as the gate to the Whitsunday islands. I found myself alone with a car wreck and very little money. Not enough for anything else than a few days of food. That night, was the very first night that I spent alone as I was always sharing rides or houses before. I didn’t know anyone here. I remember the feelings I had that night. Mixed between being scared and excited at the same time. For the first time in my life, I had no money anymore and I needed to find a solution. I was suddenly feeling full of hope. A strange feeling in this kind of situation.
That night I learned that when you have nothing to lose anymore, then everything is possible.
Seriously, I was still alive and got the energy to find a solution. Which is what I started to do. Finding a solution.
Since four years, I’ve been so many times out of my comfort zone, I can make a long list from the smallest things at the beginning such as sleeping in my car to sailing in one of the strongest storms since the last 30 years between New Zealand and New Caledonia or cycling through the Australian desert on my own or sleeping on top of an active volcano…
What I realized, is that every growth happens only when you step out of your comfort zone. after taking a difficult decision. The more often you step out of it, the bigger it becomes and the easier the decisions are taken. Today, I’ve experienced so many things that I’m feeling comfortable almost everywhere and in many situations. Every challenge makes you grow with it. Especially if it scares you, do it, but always with care! It doesn’t matter how big are your steps, always start small and expand.
Do one thing every day that scares you
Step 2 – Find solutions
So I was alone laying down in the trunk of my broken car, with mixed feelings when I decided to get out and laid down on the roof to watch the stars. Maybe, a solution would arise. I started feeling one with the universe, it’s one of the greatest feelings ever as everything is alright right here right now. Nothing else matters. Even though everything was going wrong it didn’t matter, that night I learned to trust the universe. This feeling gave me the strength to take actions right away. I got on my phone and started looking for a job. Found an ad for making websites, sent an email and got an answer in the next 30 minutes at 10 pm. I was going to have an appointment in a couple of days. Things are working out!!
Actions expresses priorities
It is crazy because this job has been the most well-paid job of my entire life so far. I went from broken to earning around $2000/week! But even more interesting is that it made me realize the market was huge and after those 3 months, I started making websites for a living during the next 3 years. It became my main source of income with taking photographs.
I had to find solutions many times during those 4 years and sometimes, being poor or having limited resources pushed me to be creative like that time when I was in the middle of the Australian desert almost exactly 400km from both towns on each end of the sandy track when my tire literally exploded. I had spare tubes but no spare tires. The solution I found was to use a plastic bottle to make a patch in between the tube and the tire. One more time, when this happened, I felt so excited having to find a solution with only what I had right here, right now.
For every problem in life, there is at least one solution. Be attentive and you will find it. Most of the time it comes from inside of you. I believe that we have it all already inside of us, we just need to listen. Trust me, it’s hard to listen, we’ve been growing in a hectic society and it tamed all our senses because of too much noise.
Step 3 – Be true to yourself.
How to be true to yourself? It starts by spending time alone. I skipped it a lot during my year in Australia but New Zealand was the place for that. It all started when, one afternoon, I decided to hike the Tongariro crossing, a 20km hike, starting at 6 pm, a couple hours before sunset.
This usually crowded national park was now all mine. When mixing physical efforts and time alone, it enfolds such a magical world. Like a meditative state. I started speaking to myself aloud, cracking jokes, laughing, it was such a relaxing time. I discovered that I could be friend with myself. No need of anyone else to be happy. That was very new to me.
I arrived at a point when I needed to make a choice. I could either keep on the official track or climb a volcano, Mt Ngaruhoe, as well, known as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Ring. It was stated as a 3 hours hike return to the summit on loose volcanic stones. The night was already here and I decided to start climbing it. When strong winds arose and rain started to pour, I pitched my tent on the side of the volcano and stay inside until it suddenly stopped. I stepped out and that feeling of being alone in the middle of the elements was just amazing.
I cooked and stayed here watching the moon appearing and disappearing in between the clouds moving fast.
A bit later, everything just stopped. No wind anymore, no vegetation, no wildlife, no city nearby, nothing. Just me in the total silence of the night. I’ll remember that night all my life because it was the first time that I had trouble sleeping because of hearing my body working. That morning when I opened my tent and finally saw the view, I sat down by my tent and I cried. The 24th of February 2015 is the day I found myself.
From that day, I spent a lot of time on my own, hiking peaks. I started analyzing myself, my emotions, my beliefs, my reactions to many things, my resistances, the boundaries of my comfort zone. I realized that I started to be calmer in front of stressful situations. My relations with others improved a lot. Being more confident, you don’t take things too personally anymore.
Knowing who you are and what you stand for is such a great step ahead. It takes a lot of time and It is a life-long process but the more you spend time on your own, the more you will learn to know and to love yourself.
The more you are able to know and love yourself, the more you are able to love others.
Knowing yourself will lead you to be more balanced and to respect who you are. For example, when I was younger, I hated and I still do hate going to clubs, but all my friends were going and so I was going with them. I was always feeling anxious about it but I never knew why. Well, now, I know. I just didn’t like it but I was not able to interpret the messages delivered by my body.
We have it all inside us, we just need to learn how to listen. For this, we need to get out of the noise. Meditation is a great way of doing so.
Do not over think, just feel.
We think with the brain but we feel with the heart and the guts. Try to be aware of your feelings and what it tells you. When you think about something, how does your body feel about it? You’ll often find the answer right away.
Step 4 – Take money out of the equation
Money is part of our daily life, it runs the world but don’t let it run your life choices. It is very hard at first to take this apparently very important information out of the equation when making decisions but it is the key to find what you really want to do.
Since the last 4 years, I’ve been broken twice. The first time just lasted for one night, it was an easy experience. The second time, in New Zealand, lasted for a bit longer. The day that I found myself with only 5 dollars left in my hand and no back up of any sort, I realized that I was still breathing, and actually I was still able to enjoy happy moments with friends. Hiking is free, nature is free, rivers are free and luckily you can find some food for free in nature, either it is fruits or fishes.
That experience made me realize that I thought money was equal to life. Without money, I could not be alive anymore. But the funny thing is the less money I had, the more alive I was feeling.
Outside is free
The money might actually be, without you noticing it, a big influence on your everyday life decisions. But if you want to know what you really want in life ask yourself what you really want to do every day if money was not a problem?
The secret is that if you take money off the equation of your life decisions, you will start making choices that really matter to your happiness. We often associate success with money. Are you not successful if you find a way to be happy having a simple life?
I think real success is finding happiness. And happiness is more often found by sharing moments with others rather than buying the best car or last phone which might make you happy at first but will disappear with time. Happiness is as simple as cooking a dish with someone else and it doesn’t cost much.
To find real happiness, you don’t need money, you need time. And time is the only thing that you won’t be able to get back in your life. Every second is gone forever.
You always can lose the money you have but will never lose the experiences you acquired
I’m not saying that you should quit your job and start what you really want to do in life straight away, it will take time to transition if you are not ready, but this will help you find your true motivations.
The real precious thing in life finally is time, not the money or the things you own. So focusing on making your time worth is maybe the best thing to do.
In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, It’s the life in your years
Step 5 – people are goldmine
We are more than 7 billion people on earth. In each one of us, there is a goldmine made of knowledge, values, culture, skills, experiences, beliefs… I learned a lot about myself during those 4 years on the road and most of this knowledge comes from others. Amazing people who have shared their stories, their way of thinking, their beliefs, their doubts, their joy, their sadness, their knowledge sometime coming from many generations.
Meeting people from other cultures, other religions are so enriching, with the medias we learned to be fearful of strangers. We learned that we live at the right place and other places are dangerous. During my bicycle ride from New-Zealand to Vietnam, I met many people from many different cultures and religions living all along the way. I always felt welcomed because people are curious, kind and generous.
I remember that time in Indonesia, I was sick with 40 degrees fever, but needed to keep cycling for visa timing. As I was having a break at a shop to drink some water, a man, who didn’t speak a word of English, and his family, sat next to me. He asked me something that I didn’t understand. We were smiling amused at not understanding what we were saying to each other. We used our hands to communicate. At a moment, he left and came back with a box full of cakes. I was really surprised. Is it for me? He said yes take it, you need to eat because you are cycling. I explained to him that it was very nice, I was very grateful of his action but I could not eat it because I had stomach problems and fever. He understood, left again, and came back with a doctor and kept on going with his family. Our different religions didn’t matter, we were just humans and this man has been very kind.
I have loads of stories like this one and often the simplest people are the more humans.
I truly believe that our world is amazing and that we, humans, are very kind to one another.
Everyone can be your teacher whoever they or you are. Even a newborn can teach you something. You just need to be curious.
The next step
Those four years made me realize that we live in a beautiful world and what media is showing us are meant to scare and keep us in boxes. I’m full of hope for the future. Earlier this year, I decided to stop my bicycle trip here in Vietnam after 14 000km cycling and a few thousands by sailing. I learned so much and will never stop learning but I feel that I need to focus more on the next step of my life. Focusing more on my real passion, photography, keep traveling while being more grounded, focusing more on the community around me, which will lead to creating a solid base for a family.
The most important is to feel alive! Share experiences, value your time and dare to try! Everything is possible you just need to decide.