From Worthless Bum to Long-Jump Champion

Derek Perspectives 23 Comments

“my head may explode if i see one more list post with ‘make a plan’ as one of the steps” @rulesoptional (take a look, you won’t be disappointed www.RulesOptional.com)


As you may have determined by now, I’m not particularly fond of the word “PLAN”.

P-L-A-N

I’m an anti-plan kind of guy. Plans restrict me and truthfully, I don’t like being restricted.

Sure, people have financial plans and pension plans and health care plans but that’s not exactly the kind of plan that I’m talking about. What I really want to discuss is the other kind of plan – you know, that all time favorite, the Plan for Your Future…oooohhhh…

Plan for the future? If by ‘future’ we’re talking about the next three hours, sure I’ll give it a shot. Anything beyond that though, no thank you.

Call me naïve, call me misguided, threaten to kidnap my new Olukai extra-arch-support sandals …I’m not changing my stance. I believe that in order to make the most out of every day, you need to be free, both physically (by avoiding prison time) and mentally (by understanding that change is vital). You need to have the ability to constantly alter your course in life, as your goals, opportunities and perspectives change over time.

It doesn’t make sense for me to have a plan for my future. I am simply unable to know what I want 1, 3 or 10 years from now. I know what I want today. To finish this post, go to the beach and drink some iced tea. Tomorrow? No idea.

The thing that bothers me about the word PLAN is that it implies that people must have their life in a neat order, with all the steps figured out ahead of time. In fact, if you don’t have a plan, you must be lost. You must be unfocused, you must be worthless, you MUST NOT BE HUMAN. Where’s your plan, man?

Let me check. Wait a minute, is it in my back pocket? Maybe it’s in my file cabinet? Actually I think it’s…oh, I remember now, I don’t have a plan!

When people discover that I don’t have a concrete plan for my future, they think I’m a bum. And then, while slowly shaking their heads as if I’ve just passed away, they display their authority on the subject of life by declaring to all those around, “he’s wasting his life” and “what a shame, he had so much potential”.

But why doesn’t anyone ever ask me if I’m happy living the way I do? Oh, thanks for asking.

I’m happy. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the world for 10 years, start online projects in order to sustain my nomadic lifestyle and accomplish more goals at the age of 32 than I ever thought would be possible by the age of 92.

I’m a happy Earl, just not an Earl with a plan.

Do I have goals? Certainly. How do I achieve them? By following my gut and enjoying the ride.


Home Depot Can’t Help Me

One year ago, I faced a major dilemma.

I had finally quit working on board cruise ships for good and I wanted to continue traveling. Of course, I knew I needed to find a way to earn a living (see, I’m not a bum after all).

So, the question was: How could I continue my first-hand exploration of the world while working the long hours required to achieve financial freedom?

I know what you’re thinking…I needed a PLAN.

Well, I thought differently. A plan is a set of specific procedures used to attain an objective. Sure, if my objective involved anything resembling the normal life path, I’m sure a plan would come in handy. Billions of people have already tread this common path, leaving behind an endless amount of useful tools in the form of resume-building websites, pet adoption agencies and the Home Depot. With that information, I could easily formulate a plan.

But considering that my goals involve freeing myself from the rules of a conventional life, I have no idea just quite yet what the procedures are to attain my objectives. How can I make a plan when I’m learning as I go? As I attain each objective, I could then describe all the procedures I used to get there, but I’m quite sure this wouldn’t be too useful at that point.

I know what you’re thinking. Start with a small plan, Earl. Take small steps, set small goals and proceed from there.

And I shall reply with a somewhat louder than normal “WHY?”. I want my life to be full of boundless and bold leaps and aerial jumps and high dives, not eensy, weensy tip-toeing steps. I just don’t have the time to take it slowly. At that rate I’ll achieve my goals by the time I’m 70. I want to achieve my goals much sooner than that, perhaps by February, or March the latest (joke). The only way I’m going to get there is to leap, running leaps in fact. I’m going to long jump my way through life, clearing obstacles, soaring into the unknown and confidently landing in the places I envision when I ask myself, ‘what do I want to accomplish in life?’ Watch out Irving Saladino!

Now that 2009 is almost over, I can reflect on the past year. What was the result of not having a PLAN?

To begin with, I had two major goals before the year started:

#1 Continue my first-hand exploration of the world
#2 Set up an internet business that earns money and can be run from anywhere

Great stuff. How did plan-less Earl do?

Actually, 2009 proved to be one of my busiest travel years ever – Australia, Thailand, India, Italy, USA, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

And during this time I also went from earning $0 through internet ventures (I didn’t have any prior to 2009) to earning what many people would consider a decent living. Let’s put it this way, I visited all of the countries above, lived well and traveled well, and still have more money in my bank account today than I did on January 1st, 2009. Is it a great deal more? No. But it’s more. So I’ll call that a success and keep on working to improve my situation.

Inner Voice – It Speaks, I Listen

Over the past year, I never knew when or where the next stage of my adventure would take place until the very last minute. I simply stayed in one location until my inner voice told me to move on. And then I moved on within a few days.

For example, at the end of 2008, I felt an urge to go to Australia. Four days later I flew to Melbourne. Then four months later, after successfully starting an online venture and meeting incredible people that would prove to have a lasting effect on my life, I up and left.

‘It’s time to move on Earl’ is what I heard and so I listened.

Were my businesses fully set up the way I wanted? Nope. Was there a lot of work to be done? Definitely. Would I be leaving behind great friends? Yes.

But I followed my gut and a week later flew to Thailand where I found a quiet island (Koh Mak), booked a bungalow for a month and chilled out in a hammock. I avoided doing any work and instead focused on eating coconuts, swimming in the water at sunset, hiking through the jungle and hanging out with the handful of other travelers – all things that put a genuine smile on my face (unless I eat too much coconut).

This pattern just ended up repeating itself over and over again – periods of independent travel experiences followed by longer periods of staying in one place in order to work on my projects.

After Ko Mak I spent:

  • 2 months in Chiang Mai, Thailand working harder than ever on my projects
  • 1 month volunteering at Mother Teresa’s Missions of Charity in Calcutta (without working)
  • 2 weeks traveling through Italy with my mom (no work)
  • 4 weeks of intense work while spending time with friends and family in NYC
  • 5 weeks of backpacking throughout Central America, from Costa Rica up to Mexico (no work)
  • 3 months of dedicated work while living on the beach in Mexico

So here I am today. Still without a P-L-A-N. Yet still truckin’ on and more motivated than ever. I am free to change direction at any time and to follow whatever path feels right at all times. I don’t have any plan to constantly re-arrange. My life seems to naturally sense the optimal balance of travel adventures and hard work that it needs to keep me achieving my goals one by one.

I have no idea where I’ll end up over the coming year. I barely know where I’ll be next Wednesday. But this lack of knowledge does not cause any fear within. On the contrary, it allows me to concentrate on where I am and what I’m doing today, fully confident that the next stage of the journey will present itself when the time is right.

What are your thoughts on having a ‘plan for your future’?  Do you have one? Do you feel it is absolutely necessary to achieve your goals?

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Comments 23

    1. Earl

      Welcome James! Thanks for finding a place for me in your morning routine! I truly appreciate it and wish you a wonderful holiday season.

  1. Simon

    I like limited plans … I do. I won’t lie to you.

    I think a ‘rough’ plan is a good idea, as long as we keep in mind how much is out of our control, and how everything could change tomorrow.

    Super detailed plans are just plain unrealistic because we don’t control nearly as much as we think, and we just get anguished when they don’t materialize.

    I think plans should be like driving to the store. You have an idea of where you’re going and what you want to buy there, but if you run into heavy traffic or come across a closer store you didn’t know about, then sticking to the plan becomes counterproductive.

    Hopefully at the end of day you still end up with the milk, even though not according to plan. Maybe you get some bonus cheese. Who knows.

    1. Earl

      Hey Si – Your driving to the store analogy fits perfectly. I just don’t want to join the group of people who create detailed 5-year (or more) plans, concentrate solely on that one goal they set way back at the start, and fail to experience life or make beneficial adjustments to their goals as circumstances change. Using your analogy, we also need to make sure that if we are driving to get the milk and the wife calls to tell you to buy an avocado instead of milk, we buy the avocado. Sometimes we are so set on the original goal that we fail to heed such signals and end up pursuing something that is no longer relevant or beneficial to us.

    1. Earl

      Hey Walter – Thanks so much for adding your comment and welcome to the site! You’re right, the only way our map could be accurate would be if we only had one concrete, non-changing goal to aim for. But as life constantly changes us and given its unpredictability, our map must have the ability to re-shape itself many times during our lives. We need completely flexible maps to find our way.

  2. Jackie Rose (@letssitoutside)

    By not following the plan and going to Indonesia, I discovered what I really want to study: International health and disaster relief. So that’s where I am now, working towards a masters degree and planning to spend a semester in the Philippines next year!

    Here’s to the heart!

  3. Jackie Rose (@letssitoutside)

    Haha, thanks for a great post!

    Whenever I leave the US for a few months people want to know what I’ll be doing ‘over there’, how long I PLAN to stay and what I PLAN to do when I get back. I always feel like a lazy person when I respond, to all three questions, I don’t know! There’s a social construct hey! Somehow if I don’t have a plan, I’ll never do anything…

    I thought after undergrad I’d go to law school. That was the plan. Instead I followed my heart and found my self helping birth babies at a rural clinic in Indonesia. Even there, I had planned to stay for 3 weeks but ended up bumping my flight back twice, ultimately staying for 3.5 months.

    I try not to have expectations and plans are just complex expectations.

    Hope all is well!

    1. Ash

      THAT IS AWESOME. You must have some amazing photos. Saw this comment come through in my email, since I was subscribed to this post, and just had to come back on to commend you. Super cool.

    2. Earl

      Hey Jackie! I think the best part of your comment is that you are following your heart. I love to read that – especially your decision to go to Indonesia instead of law school. Plans and expectations, they restrict us to the point of not being able to make such rewarding decisions as we see fit!

  4. Jen

    Fantastic post Earl. For me, following my gut is so important. I just love your attitude and faith in yourself – it is really inspiring. I think ‘loose’ plans are good for me at times! I can be disorganised, and find a little planning can help focus my mind. On the other hand, as soon as it becomes too restrictive, or as you mentioned far into the future, it just doesn’t work for me. I think part of the problem, is (especially if we are interested in growth and new experiences) that we change so quickly, and what we may want one day, could be completely different the next.
    Thanks Earl! 🙂
    Jen

    1. Earl

      Hey Jen! – We do change too quickly for a long-term plan to actually represent what we want in life. And with a set in stone, long-term plan, we are basically stopping ourselves from using our growth and new knowledge to help shape the the course of our lives. If it doesn’t fit into the plan we made, we must push it aside instead of welcoming our growth and re-setting our course as it occurs. I appreciate your thoughts!

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  6. T-roy

    What your name is Earl and you don’t have a plan… “F” the man and damn him to hell I say!

    Glad to know your independent for sure now and making some money from your writing. I think that’s what everyone wishes they could do; travel, blog, enjoy life, being free from a boss and be able to do it while making enough money to support yourself. Working on that myself man with my website and any tips would be great.

    “There’s always a job available teaching english in japan or korea, earning good money.’ It might not be someone’s ideal job, but working in Japan and earning good money certainly is not a terrible ‘backup plan’ for someone who feels the urge to travel.” …is a great statement and is what I try and tell friends back home. Jobs are a dime a dozen, so if I’m going to break even working in the US… why not do the same in a foreign country and experience something new. That and it keeps me from getting into huge debit (car/house/cell phone payments) that hold so many people back. Yeah it might not have a retirement plan but then again neither did working 30 years for Enron and GM.

    GREAT POST!

    1. Earl

      T-Roy – I think that people often don’t realize how many opportunities really exist overseas to earn an income and survive. Again, they may not all be ideal for everyone but like you said, it’s certainly better than unhappily working in the US for someone with the urge to be exploring the world. It seems like you have figured this out already, putting you in quite a good situation. Just keep working on your site (and spending time every day simply learning about the world of blogging) and you’ll get it to the point you want.

  7. Ash

    Dude, you’re hilarious. I read every word of this post, and even though I don’t know you, I just felt like I know exactly how you were saying everything, in what tone and everything. I’m not gonna lie – might have just fallen in love with you after reading this:

    “And I shall reply with a somewhat louder than normal “WHY?”. I want my life to be full of boundless and bold leaps and aerial jumps and high dives, not eensy, weensy tip-toeing steps.”

    YEAH!

    You know why not having a plan doesn’t scare the crap out of you? Because you’ve seen first hand that things work out perfectly fine without one, if not better. You’re not the least bit insecure about the future, you WANT change and the unknown and the excitement that comes with that, so you’re all about riding the wave. And you know what? I think that’s just wonderful. I wish everyone could read this post. You’re fantastic. RT city, here you come!

    1. Earl

      Ash – Sweet! Because I’d already fallen in love with you after discovering your site!

      I’m sure most people would agree that life works out quite well when you follow your inner voice and go after your true goals, yet, for some reason, the concept is still terrifying enough to keep almost everyone from doing it. There should be more people riding the waves…

      Safe travels on Tuesday!!

  8. Nate

    Earl – great post and I like your take on the world and life in general. It’s super refreshing and honest and you don’t care about any of the other ‘stuff’ that’s out there. I like that a lot!

    It works for YOU and that’s what’s important. Do you have any thoughts on those who feel ‘stuck’ in their current situation (obviously you don’t). For example, those who want something to happen, but don’t do anything to get it…almost expecting it to find them. Would a plan work for them?

    I think once you’re living in true alignment with yourself (which you are), non-doing…in this case non-planning….is actually propelling you through life. Life is flowing through you and effortlessly guiding you and telling you where to go. Unfortunately some aren’t in this position and are lost….their internal compass is sort of spinning out of control so to speak. I wonder if setting some goals and even a basic plan would work for those types of people?

    1. Earl

      Nate – You definitely bring up a good point here. Of course, I’ve certainly followed my fair share of plans in earlier stages of my life, however, they were mostly steps towards financial goals in order to allow me to travel. In order to reach a point where life itself effortlessly guides you along, the most difficult step is the first one – trusting yourself. For someone who is a bit lost and feels ‘stuck’ in their current situation, sure, a plan might enable them to get to the starting line. A plan could help them save some money, learn more about what they’re passionate about or taste the freedom they may seek before diving right in. ‘Expecting something to happen’ is a dead end. We must trust in ourselves and confidently go after our dreams in order to get into that rewarding flow of life. It’s the people who make bold and life-changing decisions (quitting the job they don’t enjoy, moving overseas, starting the business they’ve always dreamed of, etc.) who achieve ‘success’.

      The one idea, which is being heard more and more, is that a person should always think “What is the worst that could happen? And if that happened, is it really so terrible?” (I think Ash used that over at TMFproject.com the other day!). For most people, the worst is really not so bad. I always tell people who are afraid to quit their job and embark on their dream journey around the world – ‘If you can speak english, you’ll never be unemployed. There’s always a job available teaching english in japan or korea, earning good money.’ It might not be someone’s ideal job, but working in Japan and earning good money certainly is not a terrible ‘backup plan’ for someone who feels the urge to travel.

      If anyone is lost and unsure of how to proceed, a basic plan can get them out of their rut. A plan can help focus your mind on your true life goals. Once you are focused and know exactly what you want – get up and take that first leap. You’ll be long-jumping before you know it…

  9. Andrew MacPherson

    First of all, thanks for the plug.

    Second… You’re onto something here: “It doesn’t make sense for me to have a plan for my future. I am simply unable to know what I want 1, 3 or 10 years from now. I know what I want today.

    “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert describes some of the science involved in the inability of humans to accurately predict what will make them happy in the future. After laying that out, he describes the bias humans generally have for sincerely believing they can accurately predict what will make them happy in the future. Poor prediction skills and blind faith in them is a nasty combo!

    So… despite the planning Nazis’ attempts to cast anti-planners as disorganized and lazy slobs, planning to proceed without a plan is actually the scientifically enlightened position.

    1. Earl

      Andrew – Scientifically enlightened position – that will give my argument some more weight next time I’m labeled a bum! It’s true, we cannot accurately predict what will bring us happiness in the future. I feel that setting up a long-term plan is pointless unless the conditions that exist in a person’s life today will be the exact same conditions that exist at every step along the way and once the goal is eventually reached as well. As this is never the case, I’d rather spend more time following my gut and living a fuller life today instead of following steps towards what I’ve ‘guessed’ I want in 10 years, only to discover later that my goals have changed.

      Looking forward to “Stumbling on Happiness”. Thank you as always for your insightful contributions here!

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