The Isolation

A couple days ago a guy named Sebastian Marshall wrote an excellent post called, “The Million Dollar Question“. It spoke to me in a way that blog posts rarely do, and prompted me to write this post.

In the post, Sebastian is sitting by a train station, watching normal people go by, happily executing their normal lives. “I don’t get to have this,” he says. That’s how I’ve always felt, too.

There are a great many benefits associated with living an unusual life. Those are fun to talk about because they can be inspiring, amusing, and provide readers with a sort of voyeuristic pleasure. Talking about the hidden downsides isn’t much fun, but probably warrants some discussion, at least for the sake of being comprehensive.

One of those downsides is the isolation.

It’s not loneliness. I have tons of great friends and never feel like I’m alone, even when I’m traveling around the world by myself. And it’s not, to me, at least, being misunderstood. I feel like people understand what I’m trying to do. It’s isolation– that feeling of having your entire life on your own shoulders at all times. It’s a lack of common ground with pretty much everyone.

Sound dramatic? Here’s an incomplete list of things normal people care about that have no bearing on my life whatsoever: careers, school, marriage, mortgages, tv, video games, movies, vacation, bills, alcohol, concerts, clubs, bars, bosses, furniture, weekends, shopping, sports. I’d guess that most people, at most points in their lives, are either thinking about, talking about, or acting on one of these topics.

Meanwhile, all the things streaming through my head have almost no bearing on normal people’s lives, either. It’s a two way street.

None of this is a jab at normal people, by the way. I learned the hard way that it’s much better to judge people by their own standards rather than by mine. Just as I would be miserable with a “good job”, a suburban house, and weekends drinking with the boys, someone who enjoys that kind of stuff would be miserable with my life. If someone succeeds by his own standards, that’s all that matters.

People sometimes tell me that they wish they could travel like me. They don’t actually wish that, though, or they would do it. It’s not that difficult. There’s just a certain allure to the highlights of a life that’s foreign to you. I feel that allure, too.

I’ll see a father and son riding their bikes on a sunny day. They have helmets on, and he’s dressed in a way that just screams “good office job”. It’s the weekend, of course. He’s not crushing life, but he’s not trying to, either. He’s just enjoying his weekend off from work, and putting in time with his family. Sometimes when I see this, I get flooded with emotion. I realize that this is a good life, and that I won’t ever have it.

Though I obviously think the benefits of my lifestyle outweigh what I’m giving up, I’m still aware that I’m giving up something. And that’s the commonality that most people share. It provides a framework for understanding each other, builds rapport, and acts as a catalyst for empathy. Instead of all that, I have freedom, full responsibility for my life, and a bit of isolation.


I thought I mentioned this before, but I’ve gotten a lot of email in the past week where people assume I’m in San Francisco. I just came through Shanghai to Tokyo, where I’ll be for a month. After that I’m off to Thailand, Berlin, Panama, and a handful of other places. That reminds me. I should put some Shanghai photos up on flickr (like the goose photo at the top)

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