What We Labour For

Happy Labour Day, all.

I’ve decided to celebrate this day of labour by not doing much of it.

Below is an article I wrote for the Expeditionier waaaaay back (6 months ago) when we first started our journey. The original title for the article was “Why I Quit My Job To Travel The World Or (Some Would Believe) Why I Chose To Commit Financial Suicide”.

I am reprinting the article on this blog today because I think it is important to remember what we are labouring for (and also because I am too lazy to write anything today).

I stand by what I said that long term travel is not for everyone, but at the same time, I think it is sad to labour for labour’s sake. I like to believe everyone has a dream, and it is towards this end that we should labour.

It is just too easy to forget this goal when we get tangled up in the process of getting there.

So, here’s to working hard and loving what we work hard for.

Loving everyday!

================================================================

“Hi I’m Wei and I just quit my job of 10 years. I intend to spend the next year traveling around the world with my wife.”

You’d be surprised by the myriad of responses this ice-breaking statement managed to evoke. The wife and I are used to hearing the gasps of horror and the plain exclamation that we are committing financial suicide. Every once in a while, however, we would hear someone whisper, “I wish I could do what you guys are doing.”

While it’s easy to respond to that statement with a mightier-than-thou, “So why don’t you?”, it reminded me of the first time the idea took hold of me.

I woke up (too early) one morning, brushed my teeth, stared at the mirror and realized that if things carried on the way they were now, this is probably what I am going to be doing for the next 30 years of my life. I froze. I could literally feel the air rush out of my lungs, and without being overly dramatic, my (would-be) life flashed before my eyes. I found myself asking a question that was probably too complicated to be answered at five in the morning: “What am I doing all this for?”

I draw a decent salary. I work five days a week. Normally, I would reach home from work too tired (or lazy) to do much except surf the internet and watch a bit of television. I go to sleep. Rinse and repeat for all weekdays. I spend the weekends rushing through things I enjoy doing and catching up with friends. Whatever money and leave days I had, I saved up so I could go for my annual grand trip of two weeks where I could let myself go and just forget about work.

This was hardly the life I pictured myself living. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten my dreams and all that I was passionate about. I needed a break from the routine to sort my thoughts out. It is difficult to think about what truly makes you happy when you are working 50- and 60-hour weeks, and it is easy to come up with excuses to not pursue what you really love to a point where you forget about them.

The question then was when could I take a break? I only have 21 days of leave a year, and even with the holidays added in, I could never be able to get away from the job for more than a month at a time. I needed more time than that.

The next decision was not that easy to make.

I was newly married, and the wife and I just bought a house that comes with a mortgage to pay off. We had spent the past few years (rather successfully) building our careers and we were both at a point where we were drawing pretty comfortable salaries. We could not possibly give all that up on a whim.

Yet, I know that we could not live the way we had before. But no matter how we looked at it, it was a zero-sum game to choose between pursuing the dream of traveling and continuing through with the rat race.

So we asked ourselves this question: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

What’s the worst thing that could happen if we drop our career now and go for our travel? We would definitely lose our jobs and give up careers we have been building for some time now. We might not find jobs with comparable salaries when we got back from our trip.

Are these deal breakers? We decided that it really was not. We can get by living on half the salaries that we had been drawing. And the mortgage for the house could be supplemented by renting out a room or two in our current place. True, it would be a less comfortable existence, but we could still get by.

Comfort.... pbbffftttt.... over rated...

I was reminded of a quote from Fight Club: “Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need.”

So what’s the worst thing that could happen if we give up on the trip and continue with our current jobs? For me, I think I would slowly lose my mind going running through the same maze looking for the same cheese day after day.

And I guess since the idea had already taken root, we will always look back at this time and wonder: What if?

Once we broke it down like that, the choice was easy. The consequences of going for the trip far outweigh the price of not going (especially the part about me losing my mind).

For us... there are some things money just can't buy...

Here in Singapore, long-term travel and “gap years” are not popular. We come from a culture where it is “decent” to find a career, work for the organization your whole life and get a gold watch and an appreciation dinner when you retire 40 years later.

We still have well-meaning friends and family who are trying to talk us out of it, and others who simply dismissed our plan as plain stupid. We have learned to disregard them because this is something that we truly want to do, and also because it is hard to listen to advice from people who have not done this before.

At the end of the day, we know that long term travel is not for everybody. And when it comes to life changing decisions like these, it is best to know that this is what we really want to do and do what is best for us.

Check back with me on a year’s time on how well this decision is going.

For now, we are living free!

7 thoughts on “What We Labour For

  1. Nice to hear your decision to travel.

    I met ang-moh backpackers in my youth, when I was still backpacking. You know, the kind with huge backpacks, sleeping in dorms with shared toilets, getting by with their student discount cards, take the cheapest land transport, etc. They take a year to travel across Europe, Asia, South America, etc.

    I realised I didn’t envy them any more, because travelling around the world is also very tiring. Always being on the road, always looking for the cheapest bus or train ticket, always packing and unpacking from dorm to dorm and hostel to hostel, hitting the sights at every new city or town, living on Lonely Planet, etc.

    But backpacking across Europe or Asia is a huge tradition, esp for Americans.

    I envy your decision but I’m too old to do it now. I don’t want to sleep on creaky sagging dorm beds any more.

    • LOL. Thanks for sharing.

      I guess you give some to take some.

      We are not that young to enjoy “slumming” it too much now too. We do pay just that little bit more to get just that little bit more of comfort too.

      We’ve backpacked around after graduation too, but it is a very different experience doing this with someone you love too. So great fun!

  2. The price which people pay for being in the rat race is more than they imagine. A man without a dream is hardly a human – what makes us human is our capability to transcend to and create that world which we want to live in. But unfortunately, we keep living in the world provided to us, not in the one we want to create.

    Your story is inspiring. And I am glad you took the plunge! Better late than never! :-)

  3. Pingback: One Year Later (aka We’re not Bankrupt/Broken Up/Dead yet???) | TW and Jo's Excellent Adventure

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