August 2, 2015

Why I Quit my Job at 26 & Backpacked Instead.

author's photo

I’m currently writing from Ladakh, in the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

At an altitude of 11,500 feet, I’m having a hot cup of black tea in the garden of the guesthouse I am staying in.

Prayer flags, strung all around me on rooftops, are gently blown by the wind coming from the Himalayas right in front of me.

Crows are filling the trees surrounding me, while purple butterflies decorate the air. And most beautifully, my ears are enjoying the sacred texts the owner of the guesthouse chants daily, as she lights candles in the small temple next to my room.

Yes, this is what I’ve chosen to replace my daily routine with.

To some, how I’m living might seem absurd. To others, it might be exactly what they are craving.

I have to admit that booking the ticket was really different than actually holding my backpack and hitting the road.

Doubt and fear still knock on my door sometimes, but I choose not to open for them. Instead, I daily welcome courage, conviction and happiness.

I’m 26-years-old, and I’ve saved money, quit my job and started backpacking.

The reasons below are what prompted my departure:


For the past 26 years, my life has been filled with certainty (not only my life actually—everyone’s life). Anyone who has been on this earth for more than 30 years knows how the story goes.

Once we learn to speak few words, they throw us in school with other beings who are speaking few words as well. We stay there for around 15 years and basically get our first backpacking experience courtesy of the heavy books we carry to class daily.

After we complete our schooling, we hit college. We choose a major that will generate us good money for the future and assure us a stable income.

Once we finish college, we hang our degrees on the wall, and start “the journey of the sheep.”

“The journey of the sheep” is a name I came up with one day, on my way to work. Stuck in traffic, I could see the million other faces driving next to me. We were like a sheep on the road, heading to our execution.

We all had one thing in common—we were an unhappy sheep.

What I’m trying to say here, is that we all tend to lead a certain life, and the reason we do so, is because we are unconsciously terrified by uncertainty.

Uncertainty seems like a dangerous sea to plunge into. But once we start swimming in its water, we realize that there was nothing to fear in the first place. It’s lovely water to swim in, and personally, it brings me excitement and utter joy on a daily basis.

Learning more about myself—and about life.

If there is one thing that I’m sure of, it’s that throughout our years in school, college and jobs—we don’t know who we are. We get so busy with what they are teaching us, that we don’t have the time to learn about ourselves or life.

With piles of books, our offices and misleading opinions obstructing our view—we will never know what is beyond the horizon. We are like those people who believed in the flat earth theory, before Christopher Columbus came along and demonstrated that the earth is spherical.

Once we break out of the cycle everyone tends to live in, we get the chance to know who we are, and we begin to understand the very elements of life.

Never before, have I learned so much about myself. What I love and what I don’t. What I’m scared of and what I’m motivated by. What makes me happy and what doesn’t.

The only “book” I’m reading now is my own soul’s—and life’s.

Experiencing our infinite capabilities.

Last week I attended a Dharma talk. The monk said the most valuable words I’ve heard in a while. He said:

“Do you know that you are the only life on this planet that can cover up? Trees, animals, the earth and other energies cannot dress up. The reason is because they are not capable. You, human, are blessed with the freedom of choice and with infinite capabilities. You are capable of anything but you always choose not to be able.”

Months ago I thought I was only capable of sitting a certain amount of hours in traffic. I challenged anyone who could remain seated for two constant hours and not get tirelessly bored.

When I decided to backpack, I mainly decided to experience my capabilities.

The astonishing part of the story is that, day by day, I am finding out just how much I’m capable of. Just like the monk said, we are capable of anything—but sadly, we don’t believe it.

Do what makes us grow.

It all started out last year, when I backpacked in Nepal for a month. Returning home, it was obvious how much backpacking let me grow, internally.

Before, I grew financially and mentally—but internally and spiritually, nothing “slapped me in the face” better than carrying my backpack.

Simply—find what will make you grow and do it.

I firmly believe that our sole purpose in this life is to spiritually grow and to realize the truth. As a matter of fact, when we realize the truth about this life, we can search directly for what will help us grow.

In my case, it’s backpacking. Yours might be different, but be sure to find it.

Why not?

Before undertaking the 1,700-mile trek from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean—Robyn Davidson was faced with the question, “Why are you doing this trip?”

Her answer was, “Why not?”

Really! Why not? We live in an uncertain world, where death might be just around the corner. The sunset we are watching today might be the last sunset we watch. At any moment we might never again feel the warmth of the earth with our feet or the blaze of the sun in our eyes.

And what are we doing? The Dalai Lama puts it this way:

“Man, he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he doesn’t enjoy his present—the result being that he doesn’t live in the future, or in the present, he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies never having really lived.”

We live as if everything is permanent—hence, we keep on delaying what’s important and run after the nonsense instead.

Just like the Dalai Lama said, “We die never having really lived.”

Fear is a disease that can keep us stuck in unfathomable situations for a long a period of time.

We can talk forever about how we are willing to change our situation, but words will remain words until we put them in action.

I am not telling you to quit your job and embark on the same journey I have—I am enjoying washing my clothes in the river and staying in a small room for 150 Indian rupees—but you may not.

What will bring you in harmony with yourself could be the complete opposite of what I am doing—but whatever it is, do it!

And while you are doing it, keep these two things in mind:

1. Fear is a liar.

2. We’re not getting out alive, anyway.


Relephant reads:

The girl who waits.

Why I believe Everyone is, or should be, a Traveler. 


Author: Elyane Youssef

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Author’s own.

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