Probably the most important personal lesson I have learned while traveling is that in life it is possible to do anything. I truly believe, whether naïvely or not, that it is possible choose any path in life and achieve considerable success at it. Personally, that could mean founding an international adventure travel company, getting a geology degree and working for an (honest) diamond mining company in the Congo jungle, becoming a nomad on the Mongolian steppe, getting hired as an Al Jazeera war-zone correspondent, buying a piece of land in the Canadian mountains and living out a peaceful, natural life with my future family, working as a business consultant to help NGOs function better, or a crisis doctor for MSF; even becoming a politician or a Wall Street banker. Not that I find the latter two appealing, but the point is that I know it is possible if I commit myself.
Yes this might sound over-optimistic, and some people would tell me that optimism dies in the real world if one sets their goals too high. But that is beside the point. Aim for the stars and you might just land on the moon. If you have targeted something and want it with complete conviction, then nothing could be more satisfying than striving for that goal. Yes the steps forward might be slow and heavy, but they will come. And yes maybe there could be some huge or immovable roadblocks, but it is about the satisfaction and magic that happens when going after what you believe in. I have met enough successful and amazing people with highly unconventional and sometimes barely believable stories about how they reached their goals to know that anything is possible.
These questions go to the core of my underlying uncertainty about the meaning of life. Is it giving back to the world and trying to leave it in a better state than you found it, or is it being a good individual and giving back positively to the energy of the universe? (This terminology is my quantum physics pantheistic interpretation of God coming into play, but you get the point.) Is it enough to be happy and at peace with one’s self?
I have met many intelligent and inspirational people who have followed each of these two branches. Working in the Canadian Rockies as a tour guide, for example, I met old cowboys who have spent their entire lives riding horses through one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth. They are perfectly fulfilled in life, have a never-ending basket of interesting experiences, specialized knowledge, and insights into life, are never bored – there are always new challenges to face and new mountain paths to ride – and give off the aura of genuine happiness. On the other hand one doesn’t have to look far to find example upon example of ambitious people doing amazing things and contributing to the betterment of society an advancement of human knowledge, and also seeming happy and fulfilled in the process (I wont even list an example because virtually every speaker on TED.com fits the category).