What next?

Sean Stuart
6 min readJun 21, 2023

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“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Unlike Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I am taking a year off.

It’s a self indulgent, entitled, and privileged thing to say. But I guess that’s a pretty good description of what it is to be young.

I wanted to share with you my thoughts about this decision for a few reasons. Firstly, I can show my parents. Secondly, I can make it clearer for myself. And most importantly, to anyone else on the verge of recklessness, I can be the nudge that propels you down the slopes of your own adventure.

So, mum and dad, why am I taking a year off? Leaving the stability of a great job in exchange for the haunted gap on my resume.

Did he get fired?

Is he having a mental breakdown?

Has he renounced capitalism to be a street busker?

All of us have felt this anxiety at some point, but I think the truth is that most people don’t really care what you do. And for the few people that do — your future employers, any gap that can be explained thoughtfully is actually an advantage.

But before worrying about how you are going to explain something retrospectively, why actually do it in the first place?

For me, I had a deep pull to see the world, speak to people in their own language, and write a fiction book. It was an idea that crept into my day dreams, and soon occupied an unhealthy amount of time in my head.

Life was never going to give me the perfect time to do this. And I heard enough times from drunk adults that their best memories were traveling the world.

Or that their greatest regret was that they didn’t.

So I looked at a map, and landed on South America. A land sufficiently foreign that I had to see it with my own eyes.

The plan? Live in the great cities the continent has to offer, Medellin, Buenos Aires, and San Tiago. I am less interested in seeing every monument, hostel, and must-see attraction. I just want to experience what it is like to live a life that is completely different from my own. Write. Watch. And hopefully speak Spanish.

Currently, I am in Guatemala, in a beautiful city called Xela where I have been learning Spanish at an intensive school for the last month. It’s definitely harder than I thought, es muy difícil. Next week I will sail from Panama to Colombia.

Is Sean okay?

Again, the self inflicted, imaginary voice of societies non existent social commentary on my life.

Personally, it’s not a commitment to a lifetime of vagabonding, and it’s not a rejection of corporate life. It’s the exact opposite. It’s widening the aperture before intense focus.

Each month I am away, it’s hard not to feel the gravity of knowing that all your friends and colleagues are progressing in their careers, while I am not. They are also earning money, while I am not. (All donations are welcome, by the way ;).

This brings us to the two big reasons why young people don’t take time off to explore the world and the big obstacles I also had to summit.

  1. Financial pressure
  2. Social pressure

The first one is glaringly obvious. Twenty something year olds barely have enough money to buy a beer, let alone travel without income. But the more people I meet, the more I learn that it can be done on the smell of an oily rag. Living in Xela costs $300 AUD a week — all meals, accommodation, and school included. You can also work while you are traveling and offset your meagre expenditure. Ten hours of tutoring a week, could cover the cost of your life comfortably. Personally, I am lucky because the royalties from my book cover most of my expenses with the help of some savings.

But the far greater challenge is the existential angst of not doing what most other people are doing. This one requires the most effort to overcome.

There are multiple levels at which this pressure exists. Here are some examples:

· What will my parents think? My child is a failure

· What do I think of myself, I wanted to be at this level by now and I am not? Everyone is ahead of me

· What will my friends think? He’s lost it

· What will future employers think? HE WAS FIRED, DON’T TRUST HIM

· What will that boss I didn’t like think? I knew it, he could never work hard

· What will that teacher who thought I was never going to amount to anything think? Told you so he was going to be a backpacker in South America on drugs

It can feel like each level of pressure is on top of us, and the only way to not feel the weight of it, is to not take any risk in the first place.

This is a tragedy, that our own brain can hold us prisoner to imaginary voices, that it has no idea whether they even exist.

And even if some of them do exist, as time passes, they will likely be proven wrong.

That’s because when you do eventually re-join the world, your future colleagues and employers, care about two things:

1. Are you good at your job

2. Do they like you as a person

I would argue that assuming a level of basic competency, number two can be more important than number one. And for the sake of a thought experiment, which person do you prefer, the one who has studied every weekend, never taken a holiday longer than one week and has no stories or hobbies outside of work? Or the person who has travelled, taken time to develop themselves, learn from others and has stories which even the accounting department finds funny?

Travel inherently develops one of the most non-talked about but most important qualities of work, being likeable. I’m not saying all people who travel are likeable but that the skills that travel develops are likeable qualities.

But I think, the best tool of reducing the feeling of social pressure, is not trying to worry too much about colleagues and employers. Instead, I like to use this heuristic:

What would my great grandkids remember of me?

It’s a great forcing function. Because in two generations, we will likely only be remembered by a few sentences. A paragraph if we are lucky. It cuts through prestige, because that fancy industry you are in, probably doesn’t exist anymore. And kids rarely care about the same things that adults do anyway. They will remember you for how you treated your family, and importantly, they will remember you for your stories of adventure, passed on by their parents. Stories of you exploring a world that is very different to the one that they now live in.

It forces you to take risk and do the things you actually wanted to do, as you are smacked with the realisation that most things we do are forgotten, and status seeking behaviour in work, is usually the first thing to go.

So if my future great grandkids ever do read this, don’t listen to your mum and dad, go travel the world.

After all, I’m older than them.

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