Live Life to the Fullest

Is it Really Possible to ‘Live Life to the Fullest’?

Derek Perspectives 107 Comments

Live Life to the Fullest

We were eating soup at a local restaurant in Bucharest when my new friend seated opposite me, upon learning that I had been traveling and living overseas since I was 22 years old, stated with great excitement, “So that means you’ve spent your entire adult life traveling!

After a short pause, I quietly responded, “I guess it does.

I had actually never thought about that fact before and as I sat there repeating it over and over again in my mind – “I’ve spent my entire adult life traveling” – I surprisingly started to feel a slight sense of sadness as opposed to the joy one might have expected.

Most people spend their entire adult life working and living in one place, unable or unwilling to make the necessary changes that would allow them to achieve their wildest dreams, their truest goals, whatever you want to call them. And by the end, life has passed by and the dreams still remain dreams, and all that such a person can say at that point is, “Oh well. I didn’t do what I really wanted to do during my time on this planet.

On the other hand, some people, and I suppose I fall into this category, somehow manage to flip that equation around. We manage to achieve many of our goals (travel goals in my case), to turn our dreams into reality, to find a way to actually do the things in life that we truly want to do during our adult years. As a result, it has always been my belief that, when the end comes, I will be able to sit there and smile widely one last time, perfectly content, and declare, “That’s right, I did it!

But here’s the shocker…as time goes on, I’m not too sure this will actually be the case. Despite the fact that I am able to travel and travel and travel, I must admit that I still experience some of those very same feelings of hopelessness that those who are not out there achieving their goals often deal with. What I’m saying is that I still don’t feel as if I’m living my life to the fullest at all.

Maybe it’s because the chances are quite low that one individual can actually achieve EVERYTHING they could possibly want to achieve in life, a fact that would lead to a never-ending feeling that we’re not living to our full potential. Maybe it’s because the more we do anything, the more we live one particular type of lifestyle, no matter what that lifestyle may be, the more we start to wonder what life would have been like had we done something different. It seems only natural that our brains would become curious about the decisions we didn’t make, and where those decisions might have led, again, regardless of our actual situation.

In reality, I’m quite happy, I’m more than ecstatic that I did choose this crazy traveling lifestyle and I certainly wouldn’t want to trade my experiences for any other path. I hesitate for not even one second in reaching those conclusions.

All I want to examine with this post is whether or not it is possible to actually live life to the fullest, the absolute fullest, after all? I tend to think that such an ideal is not possible and that we will always wonder ‘what if’ and always think about how our life could’ve been.

And perhaps this is a good thing to be aware of before setting out to achieve our travel goals, or any goals for that matter. I really believe that such a realization would help anyone make better choices in life, to remain flexible at all times, and to understand the need, and the importance, of making changes according to our ever-changing situations, interests, goals, etc.

For example, if we understand that ‘a life of travel’ cannot be the ‘be-all and end-all’, that there is no ‘be-all and end-all’, that none of our goals in life will lead to guaranteed, endless fulfillment, we will feel more comfortable making adjustments, whether simple or major. We won’t feel like we’re quitting on our goals or that we have failed in our attempt to live life to the fullest when we decide to move in a new direction. We should understand that our life is about making any and all decisions that seem best at any given time, about trying as many new things as we possibly can, about focusing on creating a unique and interesting overall story, not on the idea that there is only one perfect goal, or one lifestyle, to achieve. Otherwise, we just may be disappointed.

The night before I flew to India, just a couple of days ago, I was having a quick chat about life with a very close friend I’ve known for 18 years now. We talked about our own lifestyles and discussed the things that we’d achieved and the things that we each still want to accomplish over the coming years.

At the end of the talk, my friend started to shake his head, as if in disbelief. Then he said,

It’s crazy. I’m getting ready, like most people, to go to work tomorrow, to sit in my office for the next week, just like every other week. And you’re about to fly to India to lead a trip for twenty days, while trying to choose between Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Tanzania for your next destination after that, simply because that’s what you want to be doing.

I love that I have this freedom. I love that I can travel like this. I really do.

But as my friend dreams of this traveling lifestyle, I must admit that I sometimes dream of his. I’m not saying I want to work in an office and have a daily routine, I’m just saying that my brain won’t allow me to live without wondering what life would be like had I chosen to do something else. And since I don’t know the answer, and never will, that one thought prevents me from feeling 100% fully satisfied with the life that I did happen to choose so far.

Is it just me? Do you agree? Do you think most, or all, people wonder about what they could’ve done in life, no matter how they are actually living?

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Comments 107

  1. Hey oswaldo, i feel the same, so i started travelling really slow like every place is my home, i have some things i keep on doing during my travels like juggling, playing music, taking good care of my health above anything, helping people out in their garden, anything really like i would do at home, on my own pace. I travel with a goal, like im now in india to do more yoga and meditation, thennim going to new zealand for working on farms,… I dont even look around to ,visit, really something, it happens naturally, you meet somebody that invites you or by accident you arrive at a beautiful place. I see that just being open and relaxed creates space for the beauty coming to you. In the morning im curious whats gonna happen this day, and in the evening im always suprised. I feel very well which place is good for me at what time, and so i move slowely but shurely, a sustainable nomadic lifestyle. I love it.

  2. I understand. Just don’t overthink it.m & remember – Life’s about the journey, not the destination. 🙂 you made the right choice for you. It wouldn’t have ever went any other way.

  3. Hey Earl,

    The great question you proposed is worth thinking for anybody and in any situation. I’m a great worldwanderer myself, but i have also returned to my home to reach the dreams i had during my travels. Now i am in Belgium between great friends and doing great projects, exactly what i dreamt about to do as i said ‘when i come home…’ The biggest fun is to live towards something, to dream to realise and to enjoy afterwards aswell. whatever the dream is, As long you can see everything in it’s context and as long it all makes sence, everything will make you happy. I found out that you don’t have to be a worldtrotter to be the happiest fulfilled man in the world, you just have to know you are able to fullfill your dreams, so the dreams fullfill themselves and from there you will be satisfied alreaddy.

    Thank you for the great articles, good job and all the best in life!

    Thijs from Belgium

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  5. I know what you mean mate.There is no such thing as ultimate happiness.I think our mind is created that way.That’s where Mindful awareness comes in.When we realise this is only moment we have then probably we appreciate our life experiences more.

  6. I think the underlying issue here, Earl, is that constant travelers don’t get to enjoy, CULTIVATE the type of relationships that people with “daily routines” get to — or is at least way, way harder. Even some relationships remain, they are perhaps less rewarding, due to the time spent abroad, which “takes away” from the bonding. Or something like that. (It’s 1 AM in America, pardon my clumsiness with words)

    but many of the points you raise are also true: there are always things we “wished” we did — we humans always want more!

    -Maria Alexandra

    1. Hey Maria – That’s an interesting point. My theory is that for those who truly want to cultivate those relationships, they can find their own way of traveling long term, perhaps by traveling very slow and staying in each destination for longer periods of time. This is what I’ve been doing as of late and the main reason is to create more friendships and bonds with people I meet. But I understand what you’re saying for sure and it definitely isn’t for everybody this constant travel and the lack of being around your friends all the time.

      Hope you’re doing well!

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  8. I love your quote “I love that I have this freedom. I love that I can travel like this. I really do.” Travelling affects as all in different ways, but for the most it is such a positive experience. Whenever life gets stale, pick up your backpack and go. Just by hitting the road again you open your eyes up and have such a different perspective on life.

  9. Earl, my favorite travel blogger who does not always talk about travel! Thank you I hope to meet you someday.

    I agree and this post could not come at a better time. I’m in Central America(Nicaragua now) traveling now for 6 weeks…going good. But, my mind is ok what are you going to do next for income when back in the states on the road. Too make a difference in your life and others(including nature,animals) loved loved your post on the Indian pet rescue! amazingly awesome.

    Check out this article by my great world traveler friend from my home Denver. Happiness factor Bhutan, Asia….

    Cheers/Thanks Earl!
    Scott W Poindexter

    1. Hey Scott – Thanks for sharing that article about Bhutan and looking forward to meeting up somewhere as well!

  10. Great post. I’ve been a vagabond for six years as of next month. When I’m in one place for a few months (in the States), I hear the call of the road, and get twitchy. When I’m abroad, I get longings for a real, permanent place to call home. What I must always remind myself of is the fact that I chose this life, and I’m free to choose something else at any time.

  11. Asking questions about life is just like wanting to fully understand a book when you have read half of it. We need to read even the last phrase on the last page to understand it and even then we don`t get it. We never do 🙂 ..but we have a good reason to drink bottles of beer with friends and reflect about it.

  12. If we went all out each day, the highs wouldn’t stand out as nearly as well as they should. Everybody needs downtime. Trust yourself to know when it’s time to head out and live it up!

  13. Great article, really makes you think. I think that if you don’t put your mind to the right mindset, you will never live life to the fullest. I am experiencing it too. I felt like I was living life to the fullest while I was backpacking in Australia, but there is always a voice in the back of my mind longing for other things too. Living life to the fullest can only be achieved when you accept what is I think.
    Thanks for giving me something to contemplate about. 🙂


  14. As I approach the big six-oh, I realize that life is a series of junctures and decisions. At different points we make decisions that foreclose or facilitate others. At times in my younger days, I felt plagued by doubts about some choices, but my mother was right. It all worked out.

  15. I really liked your article it made me realize that wishing for a dream life is only gonna lead to disappointment. That it’s important to realize why my current life doesn’t make me happy and try to incorporate what I want from life rather then trying to abandon it for an idealized version in my head.

  16. Life is the name of balance. The more you want something, the more balance you will loose. You are living the life most people dream but you are right, we can’t get everything in life. Life is the name of experience and everybody wants it a different way. Question is: Are you getting on with life as you want? The feeling you are getting is one of dissatisfaction because you want to experience the monotonous 9 to 5 life as well, just to see how it feels. I have been in both places, I spent my life traveling and working for passion, later-on figuring out that I like traveling and I have a passion for technology but I don’t enjoy working for someone else. So, I combined both, finding a travel-tech company and now en-route of doing what is required. Of course, I will have to travel for it and of course I will have to innovate someways to bring business, which I also enjoy.

    End result of everything is how you enjoy it, how you feel at the end of the day. If you are happy, that’s maximum and fullest .. at least for me!

  17. Sometimes I think “What if my life would be like that?”, there are times that I really do reminiscence and dream of something. Nice post Earl, for me what important is as long as you love what you’re doing and you’re happy with that.

  18. Travelling is my first love….I m just 16 and I wanted to become a travel journalist but due to some reasons I have to change my dream …..I don’t know what to do….therefore I m following my parents advice and go for interior designing hopefully its the right choice I m making….

  19. I feel that way too. As I’m getting ready to leave for my world adventures, I find myself missing the job or school that I once found unfulfilling and meaningless. Sometimes I don’t think it matters where I am or what I’m doing. This sounds so cheesy but if I’m with people I love, any place would be home sweet home. 🙂

  20. Life is a trade off of the things you do and the things you wish you could do. It’s impossible to have it all. That said, if you end up mostly happy with your decisions and in most of the moments when you ask yourself, “am I doing exactly what I want to be doing?” the answer is “yes,” then you’re doing all that you can.

    For me, just like you, that means traveling long term as long and as far as possible, even if that meant I gave up a well-paying job and a routine at home.

  21. This post reminds me of the paradox I live constantly: When I travel I got tired eventually and I feel the need to go back home to find a routine, but when I’m at home I got depressed and sad, hence, I want to travel.

    Does somebody feel identified with what I just said? How do you deal with this feeling?

  22. To each his own. I think that you are fortunate to be constantly travelling as that is what you want to do. And I am pleased that you have to freedom to wander at will, because some of my personal heroes are explorers, just like you are. I have a family and a home base so my trips are shorter but still frequent, which suite my situation. However, I do like the fact that I have a permanent place to call home, a good family life and a dog that is excited each time I walk through the door after another journey.

  23. The path of the nomad is a path of discovering, but also a path of lonelyness.

    Travelling is still expensive.

    It is great to have friends on the other side of the globe, but while you can keep in contact virtually, you cannot share real moments together.

    The more choices we have, the more we think on how it could be the other choice we could made.

    I smile while thinking about it.

    But remote work has something great, freedom.

    You are free to travel and spend just few weeks or months in a place, but nobody forces you.

    So I if succed to gain a remote work lifestyle I think I will organize not in a truly nomad way.

    We comes from century of non-nomad life, it’s hard not to have a home somewhere.

    But where is home? where we’ve born? where ze’ve grew up?

    Or just where there are the ones who loves us?

    I don’t know yet. I still have to find the answer to this question.

    One thing I am sure about, even the fullest, adventurous live cannot replace the human need of love.

    This word whose men are scared to pronounce but still at the true heart of deep happiness.

    For me, I think I will prefer to maintain a semi-normal life, living most of the year on the place I’ll decide to be my home, and just travel for 4/5 months a year, or more, but hurring home wherever the “nostalgic alarms” rings in the soul.

    1. Dear Ben, I really agreed your post. I have spent most of the past years travelling or living in a place that is far from home. And what I understood, when your work can be done remotely, is that the best way to enjoy the world, friends, family, love and experiences is to spent just part of the year travelling, knowing new people and places, sharing stories, and then go back home to share more of your life with your closest friends and relatives. And then start again. Maybe this is even more nomad than continuos travelling: real nomad people have strong community ties. I have also chosen to spend some months in a foreign city where I can share professional experience as well, enjoying the local people and life. One part of the year at home, another traveling, the rest enjoying a new city: in this way I dont have the feeling that my closest people will feel and look too “distant” when I go back home after a long time, and I also appreciate a lot more my home “town” (being Rome it sounds easy, but trust me, not everyone there agrees).
      In a ultraconnected semi-virtual world, made of ephemeral products you can have when you want and touch-screen “social” lifestyle, the real wealth will be “physical” contacts and challenges. Freedom is nothing without close people you can share your life experiences with. So my answer is: home is where there are old friends enjoying your comeback and listening new travel stories…

        1. I love your line

          ‘One thing I am sure about, even the fullest, adventurous live cannot replace the human need of love.’

          I am going to quote you on that. Also, great response to the article. Thanks for your thoughts!

  24. I believe fully that you are right on track. We all find something to be missing no matter what path we take. I believe it is the search and the quest for union with God. We all have the desire and are trying to figure out what it is and then how to get there.

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  26. I love the idea of having a internet business that allows you to money and have the flexibility to travel or not to travel. Having a choice is the greatest freedom.

  27. Hi Earl, that is a good reflective post. You’ve found something which you love and that guides and motivates you.

    I dare say if you live your life to the ultimate fullest, what is there left to achieve. We need to keep finding new factors and reasons to drive us to new things.

    Safe travels.

  28. A very thought provoking piece. I’ve been traveling and leading a nomadic life for 10 years now and I get all the things you are saying. There are times that I wonder what life would be like if I had a routine 9-5 job with a stable income and a house, but like you, it was more out of curiosity than the need to lead a life like that. But I have had few bases, and the stability/routine that comes with it did help me to balance the unpredictability of life on the road.

  29. Really great post to get people thinking Earl!

    I’ve always thought I would love a life of being nomadic, and I’m excited to give it a try this summer. However, recently the most I think about it, the more I start to think of how I do want to settle down sometime– have a house, a family, kids, etc.

    It’s really hard to choose sometimes what path to take in life. But I feel that regardless of how people live their lives, the important part is that they’re actually LIVING their life and enjoying the time that’s given to them.

  30. Hi, As one of your admiring readers (and a limited traveler) who is probably much longer in the tooth than most of your traveling friends, I struggled with how to respond to your post because I’m closer to the end than I am to the beginning. The struggle came from asking myself the question: “Do I have regrets, have I missed out, did I make the right choices?” I could say yes, I have some regrets that I didn’t start painting and traveling earlier, that I didn’t have children, that I haven’t saved a ton of money for retirement – but really, what’s the point? I’m painting and traveling now, I’m Auntie to lots of great kids, and I’ll probably be able to eat when I’m 80. Then tonight, this wonderful quote showed up in my Facebook feed – and I think it really sums it up pretty darn well.

    From Buddhist Boot Camp
    “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” —Douglas Adams

    1. Hey Judy – Thank you for sharing that quote and your thoughts. I like that quote a lot and seems like a great way to think about things.

  31. “I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that life was, it was important and beautiful but not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
    -Cheryl Strayed

  32. Absolutely true Jody … Earl, life is about the journey. Life is wonderful ”one day at a time” and the only real time is the ”present” time. Enjoy .. count your blessing .. close your eyes ..breath .. smile.

  33. I think it’s impossible to look back on your life and feel that you’ve accomplished everything you would have liked to accomplish. There are simply far too many options and our human lives are far too short to explore them all. However I don’t think that means it’s not possible to live your life to the fullest as long as you see that as simply living fully in each and every moment (the good and the bad) without regrets.
    I used to be envious of people who knew what they wanted in life at a very young age, who went after it and by their mid 20’s were settled into a career or were starting a family. I have never been able to decide on just one thing and therefore have become a professional dabbler. I feel as though I’ve lived many lives in my 40+ years, some have been filled with joy and others have been tinged with pain and sadness but all of them have been experiences and for that I have no regrets. The funny thing is that it turns out that those people whom I was envious of are actually envious of me and my life of constant change and freedom from conformity. It’s just human nature to wonder if life would be better if it was different.
    Now in my 40’s I am finally living my life as I feel I was meant to…slow traveling indefinitely. This makes me supremely happy as it is something I’ve always wanted to do but it does not mean that I wasn’t living the first half of my life to the fullest. I truly lived fully in each moment and I am grateful for all of them, even the painful ones.

  34. I am not sure how to understand your thoughts because I haven’t spent my whole adult life yet, but this is the first time I’ve encountered such a belief from a well-seasoned traveler. I am trying to grab the things I want (although I seem to be having a difficult time knowing what these things are) in hopes that in my deathbed, I can say that I have lived my life to the fullest.

    See you around!

  35. Life is about the journey. Every decision you’ve ever made has brought you to right here and right now. My right here and right now is a good place. If I had made different decisions it may not be such a good place. Thankfully, I’ll never know… but from time to time, I still wonder. Safe travels my friend.

  36. Wow!!! What a thought provoking post.
    I agree with you. People are hardwired to the “what if…?” scenario. A person can be happy and possibly even content but still have the thought of “If I were to do (go, meet, etc.) this, what would it be like (happen, change, etc.)?” However the sad part is most people don’t find out about their “what if…”? scenario.

  37. Bern, I agree with you. Many of us are bound by our characters. Too timid, too considerate of others before ourselves and other things that stand between us and our dreams. The difficulty is that you cannot really change your character. It is just that some people have jobs which go perfectly with their character and they then do well. The only difference between one person becoming the president and another is that the president thought I could do that. (Apart from an army of helpers and lots of hard work and a large slice of luck of course).

  38. I believe it’s a matter of perspective. How does one define on living their own life to the fullest? We have our set of priorities that we should be focusing on, and in your case, your travel goals. I used to fantasize the idea of long term travel (I would say the longest I did was 3.5 months) and it can be really frustrating when things are not going your way. The choices are out there, for us to decide and act upon it. My ultimate goal is to quit my job and travel around the world for 2 years, or more. Of course, I need to work (a necessary evil) and save enough to achieve this goal.

    What I am trying to say that there is no absolute correct method on how to live your life to the fullest. Ask yourself, if you are really happy, and that’s what really matters the most. When you’re happy, you’re in a better state of mind to make a decision.

    Remember, you are never too old to start living your life to the fullest.

  39. I think that it is human nature to always think that the grass is greener on the other side. Occasionally I have met a person who has devoted their life to one particular thing and as a result they are at the top of their field, or are reaping the rewards of years of hard work in their chosen arena. And I think, “If only I had dedicated myself to that a few years ago, I would be where they are”.

    But in dedicating themselves to their chosen field they have missed out on some things that I perhaps take for granted. And maybe they are jealous of MY life.

    I guess the best solution is to make peace with the choices you have made. If you think you could have lived life a little fuller (such as pursuing your dream earlier, etc) then ok, acknowledge that. But if you really did do everything to pursue your dreams, you HAVE lived life to the full. Don’t compare your life to another person’s, because their life and achievements are really irrelevant when you are examining your own.

  40. I think once you reach one goal of life you make a new one. So there’s always going to be a sense of unfulfillment. Instead of worrying about living life to the fullest, even if bum around all day what matter only is if i’m happy.

  41. I think it’s human nature to always question things that you dream of and don’t achieve. If we meet our dream of traveling long term, there will always be those other ‘dreams’ on the backburner.

  42. I guess it depends on one’s definition of “fullest”, but absolutely I think we can live life to its fullest! That doesn’t mean we have to do everything, go everywhere, all the time. I think it just means we use every bit of time we have to do something useful, positive, fun. I currently have a “regular job” and have lived in the same place for many years, but I make use of as much of my time as I can. I’m always on the go, don’t sit around, rarely watch TV, try to never waste a minute I could be doing something fun, productive, experiential, etc. Sure, I wonder “what if I’d chosen differently” or “I wonder what that place/person/lifestyle is like.” I guess that’s natural. But as long as we’re doing SOMETHING, moving along our path in a positive direction, our life is full!

  43. Excellent question! I believe my answer is YES, we can live life to the fullest. How?? By deciding that what ever choices we make, wherever we are, whomever we are with, what ever our situation, that we are truly grateful for that moment, for that experience, for that lesson learned, for that gift. With that mindset our life takes on tremendous peace and fulfillment, and allows us to be open and flexible to whatever the future may bring.

  44. I’m amused to see Brian’s reading above of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” To my mind the key to the poem is in lines Brian did not quote, viz:
    “… the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same”

    I read Frost’s poem as an example of his dry wit. Both his choices are “really about the same.” The “all the difference” that one choice makes is that whichever choice one makes, even those that seem insignificant, make “all the [and no] difference.”

    I’m also reminded of the Peggy Lee hit “Is That All There Is?” She sings about various things that ought to be delightful – or crushing – and ends up saying,
    “I know what you must be saying to yourselves,
    if that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
    Oh, no, not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment … ”
    Then she goes back to drinking and dancing.

    I would like to travel more myself. I find it stressful, so I don’t think I’m cut out for the traveler lifestyle you chronicle, Earl. But my quiet life in Berkeley isn’t suffering.

    1. Hey Glenn – Thank you for sharing your own thoughts and I do tend to believe that every path is about the same in the end. It’s all about our own ability to simply be content or happy with the choices that we do make, knowing that this is our own personal adventure and every decision that we do make has the ability, like the poem states, to make all the difference depending on our mindset.

  45. That’s a really interesting point, and, I think, one that needed to be made. So often people view the travelling lifestyle, or some other major life change, as a cure-all, when in actual fact it’s often far from the case. Hand-in-hand with that is an inability to recognise that all seeming ‘cure-alls’ come with a lot of work.

  46. I agree that most people live their lives wondering ‘what if…’ about some parts of their lives, often many parts of it. I disagree that that is inevitable. The key is that if you look for happiness, contentment, love and other positive emotions outside of yourself you will always be looking. We first have to find those within ourselves, learn to love who we are and accept who we are before we can find a truly full and contented life. And it’s a life-long journey.

    Personally, I accept the mistakes I’ve made in my life, I really don’t do regret (though I was once told by my teacher that while that’s a good thing it also means that perhaps I don’t learn). I know if I’d been able to make different choices in the last few years my life now would be very different. But I did the best I could at the time and I’m very happy with my life now.

    Another key to contentment and to calming down the endlessly searching and ‘what if…’ internal dialogue is practicing gratitude. Every day I write down (or at least think of) around five things I’m grateful for that day. It’s a powerful exercise and I love doing it, it means I stop and appreciate my life every single day.

  47. It’s human to be unsatisfied. Like you, I live my life to the fullest, and always think about what my life would be should I be on another path, still, I never regret my lifestyle. You will never get the answer, but guess what? You are not alone on this one… 🙂

  48. I don’t think that’s it’s possible to completely ‘live life to the fullest’. Only because we are always looking for new experiences. The richest person on the planet who can have and probably does have everything he (she?) ever wanted will still be striving for something else.

    I believe that the key is to find joy in the present. Know where you would like to be headed, but don’t dwell on it. Similarly don’t live in the past. Enjoy where you are now, decide how you would like to expand that experience and take action to head in that direction.

    I really recommend watching the documentary ‘I Am’ (on Netflix) for anyone who is dealing with these kind of thoughts.

  49. I guess everyone has their own definitions of a fulfilled life. For me, a life spent living for myself isn’t fulfilling, chasing every little thing that I think might make me “happy.” That’s not to say I shouldn’t accomplish my own desires and dreams. But now I see the big picture and realize that my life in many ways really isn’t about me at all, but about what I’m a part of as a child of God. Just my thoughts.

  50. I think it is always a matter of the ‘what ifs’. People always wonder about what they would be doing if they had chosen a different path in life – and it is the what ifs that keep them from feeling like they are living their lives to the fullest. I personally try hard to forget about the what ifs and just live in the moment, but it certainly is difficult sometimes!

  51. I always listen to other peoples lives and think about what it would be like if I lived that life. Whether that life was appealing to me or it never once crossed my mind, I still think about it and wonder what if.

    As long as we have expectations for ourselves I don’t think it is possible to live life to the fullest. There is no bottle cap to life, you never know when it’s actually full. Well maybe you do at the very end, but until then there is always room for more.

    I’m 21 years old today, if tomorrow I wake up and it was determined that I have lived my life to the fullest, than what else is there to live for? Whenever we achieve goals, we want to set more, we are never satisfied.

    To sum up how I feel: living life to the fullest is a great goal to have, but not a goal you should ever want to reach.

    Thank you for this awesome post, Earl!

  52. What beautiful responses so far 🙂

    You said, “I’m just saying that my brain won’t allow me to live without wondering what life would be like had I chosen to do something else.” I completely understand and I think that’s human nature in general. We always tend to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes, regardless of where our lives have lead thus far. Sometimes I wonder what I would be doing now if Patrick and I had waited to get married, or waited to have kids. We’re in the late 30s/early 40s range, and our oldest has moved out, youngest is finishing high school this year. Some of our friends from high school are just starting families! Some talk about how they wish they could plan a trip like the one we’re taking in May/June, but they don’t realize the journey of parenthood that they’re currently embarking on is so huge. They lived the single / single couple life while we raised our kids, now they’re starting on the same journey we’re seeing to a close 🙂

    I think to honestly live life to the absolute fullest, you have to be able to look at your own life and say, “Wow, this has been pretty amazing.” I look at my kids and feel that I have really made a great contribution to the world. The two little humans that I raised are pretty impressive young adults. Now it’s time to continue living life and making it as full as possible along the way. The next chapters of my life are going to have to be pretty amazing to compare to the previous chapters!

  53. I always wanted to be a mom… so I had my children and worked part time trying all kinds of jobs over the years, learning new things and taking classes. I home schooled my kids and moved often to satisfy the nomadic part of me… but always stayed in a general area. Now my kids are growing up and I will hopefully still have lots of time to travel, live in other countries, meet new people, or follow whatever other dreams I have.

    Life changes, and what we do from season to season changes, we can experience many different ways of living in our lives… it’s never too late! Do it all!

  54. I think it’s only human to wondering “what if” and to have continued dreams and aspirations. Once we achieve a specific goal, it’s natural to set another more lofty goal. As we near the end of our lives, there will always be the “what if” questions, but for me, I counter those nagging feelings with ones of contentment. Even if I never get to do everything I dreamed of, I am content with my life, including what I have and what I have done.

  55. Nice post. 🙂

    But in reality EVERYONE “lives life to the fullest”, it’s just that “the fullest” here is not exactly THE fullest, but THEIR fullest. Life is made of choices, and you cannot turn right and left at the same time: by choosing a specific action, you are sacrificing all the other possible actions available to you. It is impossible to “choose everything”. “Choosing everything” is a contradiction (i.e. it’s nonsense), since choice implies selection and therefore also neglection. And this is why, by the way, we derive so much pleasure from making choices.

    But again, everyone always chooses the “right” choice — the right choice for THEM. Your friend, for example, has worked from 9 to 5 in a job he hates for perhaps dozens of years, because he lacks the courage to pursue his “dreams”. But the very fact that he has not actually worked towards his “dreams” proves that even HE doesn’t REALLY WANT those “dreams”. In reality his complaints are empty, because the truth is he feels much safer (=”happier”) living his little slave life. Contrast this lifestyle to yours now and you’ll realize that his “happiness” would be a LIVING HELL to you — and this is precisely why you decided long ago to put your life on the line in order to chase after your dreams — and became free.

    At the end of the day, as a wise man once put it, potential is a concept that can only be applied a priori, in ignorantia, because in the grand scheme of things everyone (and everyTHING) draws their quantum of power’s ultimate consequences at every moment… and some people/things are simply more powerful than others.

    You should really take a look into philosophy one of these days. 🙂

    P.S. — But what, then, is the origin and the intended meaning of the expression “to live life to the fullest”? Simple: strictly speaking, as we’ve just seen, this is a redundant and stupid phrase, since everyone is always living their lives to their fullest; but what people mean by this when they order/advise you to live your life “to the fullest” is that your life, compared to some other people’s lives is LESS “FULL” than theirs. I.e. that some people have much “fuller” lives than you and that you should STRIVE to “make” your life more “full”. But your life’s “fullness” depends, as we’ve seen, on your quantum of power — and thus we finally uncover the meaning beneath this truism, which is: DUDE, WAKE UP, STOP BEING SUCH A COWARDLY WEAKLING AND START BECOMING MORE POWERFUL — which is pretty much what Zarathustra was also saying when he told us: Become hard!

  56. Living you life to the fullest is very different from one person to the other. Some may think that staying put and reading all books ever written would be it. Travelling certainly is a synonym for freedom for most but once you have started doing it for more than few weeks at the beach, you start to understand what limits it has. The grass is always greener on the other side… like they say.

    This being said I don’t think I’ll ever miss working in an office the way I did before. But travelling is not enough either. I need projects and space to work on them, a more stable environment to build things that will last. It gets difficult to achieve that when always on the road. At least for my kind of projects…

    I guess what living life to the fullest really means is one should try to accomplish all his dreams, spend his energy on the one or few things that matters most to him. This also means that one has the right to change his mind 😉

    1. Hey Andre – For sure, changing one’s mind has to be a part of it or else we may get ‘stuck’ in any lifestyle, regardless of happy it once might have made us feel. So, perhaps my mind will change at some point. We shall see!

      Hope you guys are doing well!!

  57. We will always be thinking: What would have happened if I had chosen this instead of that? What would have happened if I had not finished with my girlfriend/boyfriend? What would have happened if I had studied another career? What would have happened if I had decided not to move to another city?

    All life is based on decisions, but instead of yearn the past is more fun and entertaining to visualize the future. What will happen in 5 years from now if I choose this? In five years you will be surprised and happy that it didn’t come true what you thought

  58. In Spanish, they say pasarlo bien. In English, we say to have a good time. They use the word pasar, literally “to pass,” in a phrase in which we use to have. Notice the difference? We use the concept of having when referring to experiences. Can a person “have” an experience like they “have” a bed to sleep on? Maybe this is where we get confused. What happens when our satisfaction hinges on “having” something that is actually intangible? Maybe then the concept of “living life to the fullest” and having a bucketlist to fill makes the task of a fulfilled life feel impossible. What if a person’s focus was on passing time, and passing experiences. Like sitting on a raft floating down a river. The past is past. The future is ahead, and will come in due time. Let’s be mindful of right now — the little waves bobbing us up and down, the wind in our hair, the sun on our skin. Nothing to fill, only time and experiences to pass.

    I wrote about this concept recently: 1 Minute to Immediate Fulfillment and Success

    1. This is a fitting comment – pointing at the cultural meaning that each of us derive from fulfillment. I truly believe that “having” as opposed to “passing” puts a great amount of pressure on our time and experiences. The possibility of contentment is nowhere in the horizon if we wander into this space of constantly “having” and finding ourselves unable to achieve it. However, this could also be my cultural upbringing that stresses on chasing “contentment” instead of “fulfillment”.


    2. Great thoughts Mitch. And I do tend to agree that we often approach our life experiences in a manner that makes it more difficult for us to truly enjoy.

  59. I guess it’s very different because I spent a good chunk of my twenties working long hours in office jobs and wishing I was doing something else, but after two years away from the US, I’m so wildly happy I can’t imagine ever going back. That said, I totally did get tired of the constant movement and have settled in Switzerland for at least a year. But no nostalgia at all for office jobs (which I quit fourish years ago) or living in the US (which I left almost two years ago).

  60. I think some of what you’re going through is because of the society we live in. You know, having left for India just after writing this, that the option to constantly move up, do more, have more, etc just isn’t even a thought pattern for over 75% of the people of the world. And I think that is a huge component in the unhappiness Americans express in their lives. Not that I want to be stuck in a certain way of life, as many around the world truly are, but there often seems to be, not happiness exactly, but a serenity and acceptance of their life. Constantly wanting more, and having the ability to change your life, is a very western way of thinking that, sometimes, only leads to disappointment in not having more.

    1. Hey Rhonda – I understand that thinking completely and definitely feel similarly. Having so many choices and options is typically not a very good thing.

  61. It’s not just you — I’m constantly thinking about stuff like this. I’ve been travelling on and off for the last 7 years. At the moment I’m in what I suppose you’d call being a bit ‘settled’, in that I have a routine, and a regular job and a house I rent with my boyfriend and a few friends … but prior to this I was travelling constantly and really craved a solid base for a while. I think part of the problem is thinking that you can only choose one thing in life, one career, or one way of living. If you like change, then it’s possible to travel for a year or 2, then be settled for a year or 2, then back to travel. I suppose at the heart of everything it probably helps to have some overal purpose. Anyway, that’s enough of my rambling. You got me thinking.

  62. He Earl and all !
    I occasionally wonder how our lives would have panned out if we had stayed in London with our families and not gone off to work and live in 5 other countries over 30 years. But I know I am happy with what we have done and experienced. (It never occurred to us that we could possibly travel like you have). We have both always had 9-5 jobs, that also brings happiness; with a sense of security and familiarity. If I travelled all the time I think I would sometimes feel a bit lost and insecure – do you? Ever? The biggest decision is ahead of us, to play it safe and ‘retire’ (age 55-60) in NZ or to run a B&B which we will build, in Bulgaria which is our dream, but scary…. which road will/should we choose?? Is it better to regret what you have done, or regret what you didn’t do?

    1. Hey Lorraine – I definitely feel a bit lost at times but I’m definitely enjoying my travels/lifestyle enough to the point where I don’t spend too much time feeling as if I am completely lost and unsure of what to do. As this post illustrates, I do have my questions and I do wonder from time to time, but I will always say that, in the end, I am definitely content having chosen this lifestyle.

  63. Absolutely Earl. It’s natural that as humans we wonder about what they could’ve done in life, no matter how we are actually living as the grass is always greener n’ all that.

    My older brother is 3 years older than me, married early in life and settled down. He has two sons and has never left the country except once.

    I, on the other hand, went to private school and an elite university, did a gap year, lived as an expat in 4 different countries, worked in a corporate company, lived in the capital, went on holiday to at least 4 countries per year. I married late (as planned). Have a wonderful German husband and an only child and I live in a huge apartment, in an international city with a job in which I am hugely respected.

    I love my life and yet, I sometimes envy the fact that he didn’t move at all and that for him, nothing has changed! However, having said that though, wanderlust, ambition and a strive for challenges, has always been my life-style and never taking the word “No” as a reason not to do something.

  64. By the tone of this commentary it does sound as if Earl may have fell a bit out of balance recently. When these questions arise in one’s life, it is a chance to bring balance back in. Just as the the Yin and Yang need to complement each other, too much Yang, as in Earl’s life at this moment, is not always a good thing. If someone works all year for one or two weeks of vacation, they just about go nuts over those two weeks vacation, but on the flip side when someone is doing exactly what they want at all times, they are maybe lacking a bit of structure that their subconscious mind is calling for. Structured living is a potent drug for me and most of the people who read this post, a little bit will definitely go a long way. But Earl, it might be time to throw in a few weeks or months of it, along with an uninspired job, just to get back into the equilibrium of life. And remember to breathe, this moment is much to precious to waste.

    1. Hey Nicholas – Thank you for that comment and I think part of my problem is that I am working a great deal, so much so that it gets overwhelming at times. On the outside, it appears as if I am doing what I want, traveling, all the time. But the reality is that while I do travel and live overseas, I am still working very hard and juggling a great deal of responsibilities. So that tends to weigh down on my after a while.

  65. I think that if you really want to know, give it a try. Give living a life of routine a go. Pick up an office job for just 3 or 6 months (maybe an internship in something that sparks your interest) and see if you actually like the constraints of it and the daily life. It would give you a taster and put you in the mix with other people who live that lifestyle, giving you a window into that way of living. For me travel is about learning and being able to see and understand things from different perspectives. So I live many different ‘mini’ lives. If you find yourself yearning to know an experience, just because that experience is considered a conventional one, doesn’t make it any less a travel adventure! What do you think?

    1. Hey Claire – I’m not necessarily looking to life a normal routine, but to just sort through everything I’m doing – work, travel, etc. – and get a bit more organized so that I can enjoy each aspect a little more. Although, heading back for a contract on board cruise ships would be a good option as that does give me another ‘mini’ life to experience for a while!

  66. Brilliant question. I do not think it is possible to live life to the full because we do not live long enough. Here is a brilliant lecture on it from
    How to Live Given the Certainty of Death – Professor Shelly Kagan
    And the transcript if you want to read that too.

    I also think that we can try, in the limited time that we have to follow one of two paths. One, follow our passion i.e. look for happiness/success/living life to the full out there in the world through trying to achieve our greatest desires. Here you might succeed or fail or even find that your “passion” is not really your passion when you really do it. Or, like the readers of Cal Newport, let your passion follow you, a more internalised outlook in which we let our attitude to what we are doing determine how fully we are living.
    I have tried both, LOL, but will leave it up to you to decide what is best.

  67. “TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could

    . . .

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.”

    Oftentimes this poem is interpreted as encouraging us to take the road “less traveled,” but it’s really about lamenting the Road Not Taken (which is the actual title of the Frost poem.)

    It seems to me that your pondering in this post is the same as Frost’s. He never answers the question as to which path was better, and neither will any of us. We can’t know where life would have lead had we made different choices.

    And if we define “living life to the fullest” as exploiting every single option life presents, we set ourselves an impossible task. As with Frost, choosing one path necessarily means forgoing another. It’s just a fact of life that we can’t do everything. The trick, I think, is not to spend time worrying about all the paths not taken but to make the best possible choices regarding the paths before us. If we do that, we won’t necessarily “live life to the absolute fullest” but I think we’ll achieve something more important: contentment with the life we lived.

    1. Hey Brian – I appreciate that post and I agree with your final statement. Contentment is the goal and should always be the goal as we move through life.

  68. Love this post and the question.

    My opinion is that it’s normal to think about different outcomes of our life if we had done something different or chosen something else. But it’s also soo pointless and destructive. Earl you ‘could have’ done so many other things: been an accountant, studied business… But you didn’t and all you should do is focus on what you did do and are doing. And try to make the most out of that. There’s a certain sadness about not accomplishing everyyything but it depends on how you look at it 🙂

    It’s kind of like marriage. Once you’re married you can’t think of all the girls you could have married but didn’t right? Haha

    You are given what you have and a unique set of abilities and you made something out of your life! Don’t compare with alternate lives, love and live in the one you have.

    1. Hey Andi – I see what you’re saying for sure, but where I get caught up is in the fact that technically, if I did get married, I could think of all the other people I could have married and if I truly wanted to, I could change direction and marry someone else. So the same applies here. Just knowing that I can change direction at any time makes it hard to fully accept any one particular path!

  69. It is natural to wonder and pounder at such issues, but the truth is that it matters how you feel. Happiness I think it is an illusion, what counts is how you feel in the long run. Like some people said in some of the comments above, “the grass is always greener in the other side of the fence”. What it is important is to enjoy every day and whatever you do, like it. Love people around you and try to be as satisfy as you can.

  70. Earl, I think that you tap into a deeper question than “should I live a nomadic vs traditional lifestyle”. The truth is that a person can be deeply satisfied in many circumstances if they feel they have satisfied spiritual questions (ie why is there injustice and suffering, what is the purpose of life, how did we get here, where are we going) While traveling in beautiful places and having quiet time to reflect are a start, it is also important to take time to find answers. The only way you get that deep down contented feeling is to go to a reliable source and get answers nagging your innermost thoughts. We are made with an intrinsic desire to connect with our creator and higher being. Maybe your explorations will include inner quests along with your outer travels? 🙂

    1. Hey Kaitlin – I think that my travels have mostly been about an inner quest over the years. It’s almost impossible for it to be any other way when traveling this much. And part of that quest is to constantly challenge oneself and to ask questions, as you mentioned. However, I tend to be of the school of thought where there are no definite answers to anything…everyone has their own unique perspective on life based on their own circumstances and situation, so there can’t be a definite answer that covers everyone. So, that is why I simply try to find a path that works for me, a path that allows me to experience life in a way that makes me the happiest and most comfortable.

      Thank you for sharing thoughts Kaitlin!

  71. It’s a sad thought, but I completely agree with you Earl. I see it in the same light as greed, a brighter light, but in the same light nonetheless. The idea of having lived a life to it’s fullest contributes to happiness, and like most things, we’ll always want more happiness. Thus we start questioning our decisions in the past, thinking “what if?”

    What I strive for (but I know it’s still quite far away) is reaching a certain level of peace within myself… about life, my surroundings, my past and my future. Only then, I think, will I truly be content with the life I’ve lived so far.

    The great thing is that we can always make new decisions, even if it’s against beliefs we had in the past.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post my friend.


    1. Hey Ruann – And that’s one of the most important things to understand, that we can, and sometimes need, to make decision that go against everything we once thought. It can be hard, but sometimes that’s just what we need to do.

  72. Decent overview here Earl. Having experienced working in busy office jobs as well as being nomadic, it’s my opinion that being a long term traveller is much less stressful than a generic routine lifestyle, hence my reason for choosing this lifestyle. Personally I’ve also never spent more than a year of my adult life in the same job or place, though I have had “bases” along this journey. I guess it’s only when you get time to think about these things you wonder about it. These days, the only thing I can say I really miss about staying in the same place with a generic 9-5 job in my homeland, would be seeing my family and old friends more often. Other than that, I think we’ve chosen a pretty cool path to live our lives to the fullest. Safe travels. Jonny

    1. Hey Jonny – I think that’s right, we sure did choose a cool path for our lives, without a doubt. I guess when you achieve such a goal though, you really believe you can keep on achieving more and more and as a result, the chase towards living life to the absolute fullest never ends!

  73. No matter what our situation and circumstance Earl, we will always wonder if the ‘grass is greener’ in another time or place. In that sense we are ‘doomed’ to a certain level of hopelessness but as long as you have goals to work towards and achieve, it should be enough to keep you going and avoid the never-ending ‘what ifs’ we consistently seek answers for 🙂

  74. I think the only way to truly “live life to the fullest” is to live life from all possible perspectives. Travel is one of the best ways (*the* best way?) to experience and understand as many different perspectives as possible, but you still live within your own head…your past and your present and your proclivities still color your world.

    I also think it’s a very (modern) American question to ask yourself. I was raised by my great- and great-great grandparents and they never asked these questions of themselves. Not that they didn’t feel the immense array of emotions that we all do, but they just didn’t live in a culture that was defined by achieving personal happiness. I’ve traveled fairly extensively myself, living with families and on farms in some of the most remote places, and I always got the sense that these people were happier than me…not because they had a wider variety of life experiences (they definitely did not), but because they didn’t constantly question whether things could be better…they just lived. And I think this is, as modern Americans, both our curse and our gift. We have so many possible options available to us that it’s hard to make a choice and stick with it…you always wonder if you ordered the right thing, if you took the right path, if you made the right decision. These aren’t the questions people ask themselves who grew up on a farm in Ecuador and know from the beginning that they’ll live and die on that farm. They find joy in the farm because there are only two options: find joy in it, or hate it.

    Would be curious to hear what you think.

    1. Hey Misty – I absolutely agree with you as I often tell people similar stories of those I meet during my travels, those who have much less than we do but seem to be much happier overall. It makes sense that if your goal every day is to simply have enough food for your family and enough clothes and a roof over your head, and you achieve those goals, you’ll be happier than if your goals are never-ending, your choices are never-ending and there is no way to actually achieve everything that enters your head as an option.

  75. I think anybody who’s doing what he or she really wants to do is living life to the fullest. There are people who always say, “I wish…” and then there are people who say “I am doing what I want to do”.

    1. Hey Renuka – That does sound good but in my experience, you don’t really find too many people who are 100% doing what they truly want to do at all times.

  76. Without questions there would be no answers. Without downs, there would be no ups. Without sadness there would be no happiness. Life, thankfully, is not static. We change and what may make us happy today might not tomorrow. The process of seeking, growing, and adapting is the foundation of the journey, and each journey is unique. Accepting your path is certainly on of the hardest parts of the journey.

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