It hit like a car crash: no warnings, no time to think. No matter how you prepare, the first shock is always brutal. Having left Canada 3 years ago, I had forgotten how harsh it was. Brace yourselves, winter is coming.
I woke up, inhaled the cold air and reached for my phone… -22° C! I thought the hardest part would be to sleep at night. False! The sleeping bag was so tight I couldn’t move. Three layers of blankets wrapped my body like a larva in its cocoon, leaving only my nose out to breathe. I slept like a rock.
The trick was getting out, which meant a 60° C change in a matter of seconds. I stepped out of bed and my whole body started shaking. I dressed up in light speed and went for the sink. I pumped several times but nothing came out. There was no water in the container, only ice. Mother Nature was knocking on my door. It was time to leave.
My friends Pablo and Sam accepted to host me, again, for my last weeks in Montreal. I seized the opportunity to plan the big escape. The itinerary was still undefined but the goal was clear: to get away, fast and far. Fuck winter!
I was still broke, and in debt. Living in the van full time would significantly reduce my expenses. While building la Chichona, I overcame most challenges and learned many lessons; six months of sweat and tears kind of force it on you. Yet, there was one challenge left: to answer THE question.
Going back to the comfy apartment life, I pondered over the last months. The only true power I had was to choose my attitude, so I accepted the things I could not control: stoicism 101. I let go of the hope that Eloïse would come back, that my job would become fulfilling, or that my parents would understand my aspirations. Dropping that mental weight was a relief. It left more space for THE question… What am I doing with my life?
To answer that, I followed an exercise from a Ted Talk. I sat down with a cup of tea, a notebook, and a pen. The exercise was to do an honest introspection by answering questions designed to spot trends. I went back five years, and listed every major life decision I had made and how I felt at the time. Understanding that was the first step.
This exercise is powerful, yet simple. It is hard to lie to yourself when you’re alone, even harder when you're writing things down. You lay down your vulnerability on paper, put it all out, and let honesty shine through your words (and tears).
For the past five years, I had designed several goals, a to-do list for life in general. Being focused on achieving them kept me busy for months at a time. Once I achieved my goal, I would move to the next, and so on. By applying productivity tactics from Tim Ferriss, I managed to increase my revenue while working less than four hours a week, from anywhere in the world.
When you have time on your hands, no responsibilities, and the luxury of money on top, you could do lots of things. You could become a good Samaritan, build things and change the world…or remain a child, a kidult. I remained a child. What's more, I had a fucking blast…until I achieved my goal. Then, THE question would creep in again.
Reading through my notes, I spotted a trend. I was happy when two things came together: love and a good atmosphere. Love means friends, family, or lovers. Atmosphere refers to the values of a place. I detest injustice. Hence, I could not handle life in Morocco where injustice is common. And when love or a good atmosphere was missing, I was miserable.
That realization enlightened a life paradox. I had it all right here in Montreal. The love, the good atmosphere, the career, the security. My life in Montreal was remarkably fortunate. I had what many people would gamble everything for. Yet, I was creating distraction after distraction, all disguised as life goals. La Chichona was the latest, and it kept me busy for half a year. Why? Because despite all that, I was just like Tim.
I could try to answer THE question, or create yet another distraction. This time, time wasn’t on my side. Winter and my financial distress made that decision for me. I had to go. This new distraction was about to last awhile. Enough time to figure out THE question, I hope.
So tell me…what are YOU doing with your life?