When we set out for our big adventure I didn’t really know what to expect. Sure, I knew what I hoped for: discovering new places, meeting interesting people and learning how to be less materialistic. But I didn’t expect that it would turn out to be a big spiritual journey (however sassy that may sound) next to our physical journey. We both constantly learn new stuff about ourselves and we are developing ourselves faster than we ever did. It’s safe to say I’m a very different Jeroen now than the one that drove away from Amsterdam last October.
We’re roughly four months in now. So it’s time to finally write my first journal and share with you what I’ve learned so far. But to understand what that is, I also have to tell you about the lesser period in my life. Which is frightening because it’s personal. But I hope you’ll understand and that you may even get something out of it.
I started working full-time when I was seventeen. I had just finished school and decided to do an accountancy study in my free time and wanted to start working to earn some money. After my first day at work I set my goals for the time I was thirty. By the time I was twenty-five I had reached those goals and so I set the bar higher for when I was thirty-five. At thirty-two I reached those goals too. In the meantime I switched jobs five times. I also got promoted four times at those different companies. It’s fair to say my career went up and the sky was the limit.
Let’s go ahead in time and switch to September 2015, it’s my first year in another new position as sales at a global software company. I just started this position in March, but even though there were only ten months of the year left, I still got a full year sales target anyway. The targets were high and not a lot of people were expecting to make them. That september was my time to celebrate. I over scored on my annual target by twenty percent and that meant my bonus was in. It was a very good bonus too, so we decided to go to Bali for a month to celebrate and recharge our batteries, so I could maximise my over score and the accompanying bonus in the remaining months. But it didn’t turn out the way we planned at all.
When you drain a battery too deep too often, it won’t charge anymore. The same happened to me. Without the adrenaline of work I crashed. After just five days in paradise. The rest of our holiday was ruined. I felt depressed and I was being a complete asshole to Hedwig, my girlfriend. The diagnose was a severe burnout. So once we got back home I reported sick, to eventually never return to my job again. The first few months are a blur now. I just remember being immensely tired and depressed and doing nothing all day every day.
All through that process Hedwig supported me and in the end it’s mostly thanks to her I got well again. For that, but not just for that, I’ll love her forever. In May 2016 I felt like I could work again and I really wanted to work. I was looking forward to start earning money again, because I felt useless when I didn’t. But at that point Hedwig saved me again and suggested not to start just yet, but first fly back to Bali. Alone this time. To think about what I really wanted to do, instead of just jumping back into the rat race. So I did and it was a weird month, but also a special month. I had a lot of time to think and that’s about all I have done there. I didn’t surf, I didn’t read a lot. I just sat on the beach and watched the waves and thought things over. And it worked. When I got back I was full of energy and I felt like something wonderful was about to cross my path.
And exactly that happened. On a sunny afternoon in June in Amsterdam, Hedwig and I were drinking craft beers and all of a sudden an idea was born. We would sell our house. We would sell all the stuff we’d gathered throughout the years. And we would buy a van and start traveling. A crazy idea. But it felt so good that we called some realtors the very next day. In the following weeks everything was set into motion and as of end of October we were off on a journey to the unknown. That was four months ago and today I’m writing this article whilst sitting under the Moroccan sun. So now you know my history. Let’s switch to present day.
About learning to be free
Is learning to be free as easy as that? Just sell your house, sell your stuff, buy a van and set off. Are you feeling free and happy then? I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the answer is no. It helps, but if you are like me, you’ll have a hard time adjusting to this new lifestyle too. To find the proper mindset, because that’s what it takes. First of all I don’t have a job now. I’m not making any money and that was, until about a month ago, still a very big problem for me. In the first weeks of our journey the feeling of being obsolete was stronger than the feeling of being free. Sure, we’d sold the house. So I didn’t need to pay a mortgage anymore. And yes, I had some savings. And yes, Hedwig was still doing freelance jobs so we can almost pay all of our monthly expenses and not run out of those savings too quickly.
But for my whole adult life I’d been ambitious and I was always planning my next career move and now it just felt like I was living without a goal. As if this was one big holiday, and as if when I came back I still had to rebuild my career and start earning lots of money again. Because that’s what I always did. Only this time I would miss the foundation to build it on, so it would be harder than ever. I rushed around Portugal. I wanted to see everything and that meant we moved almost every other day. I couldn’t find the peace to stay in one spot for a longer time.
During November and December my restless feeling decreased. I slowly started to realise that we didn’t plan an end date. And that this wasn’t a holiday. That we chose to live this life for as long as it suited us. And that our monthly expenses were way less than when we lived in Amsterdam, so there was no need to start earning a lot of money again. And that we could live even cheaper than this if we wanted to. All we had to do to achieve that was slow down. Drive shorter distances and stay in the same place longer. Spend less money on gas and groceries. Take our time and live mindful. Actually enjoy this life for what it is.
So when we crossed the sea to go to Morocco my mindset differed. At first it didn’t work. We had to rush again, because Hedwig’s sister was coming to visit us and we had to be in Marrakech by the time she arrived there by airplane. And the week she was with us was hectic too. We felt responsible for showing her as much of this beautiful country as possible. So we drove around half the country in one week. After when she flew back and we were alone again we finally managed to slow down. We mastered not thinking about our next destination, but live in the moment.
Right now I think I finally know what my life is all about. It’s about being okay with who I am. Me as a person. Not me being defined by my accomplishments, by my success, by my earnings or by what other people think of me. So recently I’ve built a new website for our project and I’ve designed our artwork myself. I’ve started writing and I’m learning how to make better pictures and videos. I’ve even started following a masterclass on how to edit those videos. And I’m managing our social media.
In none of those things I’m doing I’m better than what anyone else does. None of it is perfect. Not even close. Nor have I earned a single dime with either of those things. But they make me happy. And that’s what matters. I’ve stumbled upon a creative side of me that was suffocated by an urge for perfection and effectiveness, by ambition, greed and vanity. I’m not there yet, but I’m on my way. For an example I can still get upset if someone criticises my stuff. But that’s okay. And sure, I realise that at some point I need to earn some money again, but this time only what I need to live.
So hopefully I can achieve that with doing something I love. And if that’s not possible I’ll just take any job I can. Because I’m happy with who I am now and I don’t need to be perfect. I just need to accept that I’m not. And once I fully master that, I’ll be truly free.