I'm not depressed—for the record—but I could easily see why many backpackers fall into depression after returning to their home countries. For me it's like I just spent eight months on an incredibly focused journey. Never in my life have I felt so fulfilled as I wandered aimlessly around a beautiful country. For once it wasn't about the money, the cars, the clothes or even the success stories. Everyone was on an equal playing field. We were all broke in search of an adventure. All of our realities were far behind us and in some euphoric way we were living out our daydreams. It was beautiful. Each day was a surprise. More than once I wondered where I would lay my head that night. I worked jobs well under my qualifications but I didn't care because it was all for the cause.
After eight months of this bliss, I found myself ready to come home and resume my responsibilities as an adult. I was ready for a career. I was ready to feel safe in the arms of insurance. I was ready to make enough money to comfortably support myself and rest assured knowing where I would sleep each night. In essence, I came back motivated for adulthood.
But instead I've found myself continuing down the lazy river of the backpacking mindset. This isn't necessarily by choice, I've looked for jobs and searched for projects, but at the end of the day I'm still without a career. The whole thing is very delicate. On one hand I don't want to throw away all that I learned while I was gone. I finally mastered the art of “being.” I enjoyed each moment as it came and had not choice but to let the future take care of itself. On the other hand, all of that aimless wandering is much less fulfilling when you're surrounded by doers and achievers. America is not the land of lazy rivers and relaxing hikes. It's the land of the great ladder. Climb it until you reach the top, then keep climbing.
Why is it okay to be happy with nothing and nowhere in a foreign country but the same standards are not acceptable at home? I want more, I want to be American. But also I want less and I want to remain fulfilled with and in myself. How does one balance a lifestyle so different of one's surroundings? My friends, family and co-workers haven't had anything to do with this double standard. It's purely something I've put on myself. I take my twenties seriously. I see them as building blocks towards my future, but where should I build my next blocks? I started my twenties with a serious career using my degree, then I ditched it all to travel and now I'm back home looking for the next path. Do I go back to traveling? Do I go back to a career? Do I keep working this minimum wage job with hope that it'll pan out into one or the other paths previously mentioned?
Maybe I'm not the only ex-backpacker who feels this way. It seems like many of us are trapped in between two worlds—one of settled and one of soaring, one of bliss and one of boredom. We're in between a daydream and a reality, trying to figure out where exactly we see ourselves fitting in. We are committed but not permanent. We need that stable, reliable something to hold us down, keep us from foolishly running off on another adventure, but at the same time we can't give too much because that would mean giving up our freedom, our adventure, our free spiritedness.
We're ready for our next adventure but held back by finances and circumstances. We want to continue our traveling but age is slowly becoming a factor too. What's our plan? What's the next step? These are the questions that haunt me. These are the questions I have no answer for. While I continue to seek out my plan, I also continue to swim around in the big pool of life, looking at everything but going nowhere.