The “I Gave It All Up” lie

10 thoughts on “The “I Gave It All Up” lie”

  1. Having recently read more than a few of these gap year, true-passion, gave-it-up narratives I think your comments are extremely poignant. I plan to take a gap year myself at some point, but am fully aware I do so as a privilege of my status, career foundation and savings. Glad I found your blog, keep writing.

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    1. Thanks Greg, I hope you enjoy the gap year. I was a bit doom and gloom here but a gap year in itself is a great thing to do if you can do it 🙂

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  2. I always found “Gap-Year” stories very hollow and unsatisfying. I could not point out why, until I read your thoughts on the subject.

    Thank you, fellow human.

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  3. Excellent examination of the issue. It is true that some people have vacation lives and simply choose a new locale. They often cannot relate to the less fortunate because they do not believe there is an element of luck in their success. And yet they wise to dictate what the rest of us are doing wrong.

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  4. Hello there,

    I left my job as an Engineer a few years back. I ended up travelling through South East Asia, hitch-hiking and the like mostly. With my background of privilege and wonderful generousity of the people, it was easy to live spending very little money (A dollar or two a day, or less). Even with my very modest savings, it seemed plausible that I could extend my travels out virtually indefinitely. I returned home, and waxed lyrical about my experiences – how the promised land was just around the corner and all that. Unsurprisingly, for a variety of reasons, including those you’ve discussed, I didn’t get very far convincing others.

    Eventually, as I used up my credit in the gift economy (Combined with beginners luck, karma etc) and the journey absolutely kicked my ass on one particularly harrowing night. It took me a while to get over that – I had a lot of growing up to do. All the same, having picked myself up, I continued on with my journey and am currently living in Thailand having carved myself out a little niche helping people who pass through. We’ll see what the future holds.

    You’re right to call out the “I gave it up” narrative the Guardian presents as unrealistic for the vast majority of people. As I suspect you’re going on to talk about – I believe there’s plenty of room for “I gave it up” stories, though they’re typically less sexy than the blogging human cannonball variety. How about the person who gave up their high flying corporate job to become a kindergarten teacher? The world is filled with Yoga teachers, tiny house builders, community gardeners and countless others who’ve stepped away from the consumer lifestyle (Or in the case of many locals around these parts, never entered into it in the first place) and done well for themselves. Of course, none of these people got where they are without, firstly, a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, their activities are firmly rooted in serving a need of their community that was going unfilled. By contrast, these Guardian types are little more than self-serving parasites feeding off the rest of us.

    P.S. I don’t judge the individuals of course, I was like that myself not too long ago – we’re all on our own journey. The narrative and the exemplar being set is what is at fault here. Thanks for your work, it was a good read.

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  5. Very good post. This is essentially the Situationist critique of the way genuine ways to live are ‘recuperated’ and sold back to us as ‘lifestyles’. Arguably, anyone really living ‘a simple life’ has been at it for decades and is not interested in publicising their attempt beyond the small circle who may naturally get to hear about it, who will doubtless regard it as eccentricity although perhaps inspiring in some way. But what is inspiring exactly? Probably a certain disdain for much of the junk that passes for ‘minimalism’ and ‘simplicity’.

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  6. Thank you so much for this article. Have bounced around a bit on the Minimalists lately, I was left with the same impression. It’s one thing to leave a six-figure corporate job and write books and do tours “without routine”, quite another to leave your minimum wage job to pursue your ambitions. As a woman and a writer from a poor background, which is still incredibly privileged compared to some, I face Wally’s challenge every day. To take up another part time job or to spend five hours writing as I am want? What do I want more: children or financial independence?

    The completely self-sustaining farm in the picturesque countryside is only nice if you can afford it.

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    1. People have no idea why they do what they do. They have no idea why they don’t travel the world when it seems like an attractive life. They also don’t know whether those who rave about travel really find it so brilliant, since they probably remember times themselves when travel didn’t seem all it was cracked up to be. But people always like to look on others seemingly in better circumstances than they are. These examples serve either as inspiration or they evoke a certain amount of jealousy because these others are apparently doing what they would like to be doing but for some reason aren’t.

      It is natural to dislike those who are not only doing what you want to be doing but having the gall to be enjoying it and also being ‘in your face’ about it too. But really who cares? So some people have a brilliant lifestyle travelling the world. So what? You’re just doing what you’re doing just as everyone else is doing what they are doing. You may think you’ve chosen this and need a pat on the back for making such a good choice, but no-one chooses anything. It all just happens. So it’s pointless being bothered what anyone else is doing. If they brag about it a lot they’ll probably get anally raped in Karachi and beaten to a pulp in Istanbul, and the shine may go off travel and other stay-at-home types can say ‘I knew there was something about travel I didn’t like’. So fall off a cliff or something, so couch potatoes can feel good about themselves.

      As for ‘social capital’, everyone knows that other people’s travel stories are the most boring thing in the world. And when you return, in just a few days it’ll be like you never left. They say travel broadens the mind, but I think it just makes people smug.

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