I get lots of emails from readers with questions. One I got recently stood out and as I pondered it I got new insights. I tend to be lazy and therefore I sometimes do things more from intuition without really thinking through why I do them. So sometimes when I get letters I am forced to formalize my thoughts and work through why I do the things I do. This letter was like that.
A guy wrote and said he currently lived in a house but was interested in living in a van and traveling. But first he wanted to work another 5 years and get to retirement and build up a nest egg. He also had a motorcycle and didn’t want to give it up. I wrote him back and made several suggestions and he answered and told me why each of them wouldn’t work because of this and that. The bottom line is he had a reason why he couldn’t do any of it because it would mean he would have to give up something he just couldn’t do without. This is the response I wrote him:
Here is the sad fact of vandwelling that I discovered a long time ago: It involves lots of compromises and you don’t get all that you want. We all had to make hard decisions and things we really wanted to keep had to be let go of.
In many ways the things we love are equally dead weights around our neck. Throwing them off is both tremendously painful and tremendously freeing. The great risk is that in trying to have everything, we end up with nothing.
The bottom line is you may have to make some hard decisions and compromise some of the things you want. For me, gaining the level of freedom I have found is worth the many, many things I had to give up. Only you can decide for you just what you are willing to abandon. Bob
My response crystalized some of the things I felt intuitively but never put into formal thought. The core thought being that in wanting to have everything we usually end up with nothing. We want security, a house, our stuff and our freedom, all too often we end up without any of those things.
There is a scene in the movie City Slickers where Billy Crystal (the city slicker out playing cowboy) asks Jack Palance (Curly the grizzled old cowboy in charge of the cattle drive) what the secret to happiness is and Jack Palance raises his hand with his forefinger extended and says nothing else. Then Billy Crystal replies in a puzzled voice something like, “The secret to happiness is your middle finger?” Jack Palance answers, “The secret to happiness is in finding the one thing that makes you happy and doing that one thing.” (that isn’t a direct quote, but the general idea of it). That scene has always stuck with me and I believe it is 100% true. Happiness comes from finding the one thing that makes you truly happy and being willing to eliminate anything in life that stands between you and it. (I think the reasons that scene appeals to me so much is that there is so much similarity between being a cowboy and a vandweller. They are both a life of freedom, travel, simplicity and love of nature carried to the extreme. The only real difference is in the mode of transportation.)
My advice to all of my readers is to be truly honest with yourself and find the thing that makes you happy. When you daydream about the good life, what do those dreams look like? What would be your ideal vacation? What if you could make your vacation last the rest of your life, what would you be doing? The fact that you are reading my blog would strongly suggest that you have a deep longing for freedom, simplicity and travel–you long to be a vandweller! Why else would you be here? If that’s true, what are you doing to make it happen? Living this way is actually very, very simple, but it is not easy. It requires a very high price: you MUST be willing to walk away from everything that restricts your freedom. Freedom is not free, it ALWAYS requires sacrifice. Extreme freedom (like Curly in the movie has or like I have) requires extreme sacrifice. You can’t have everything, you can have the good things of modern life or you can have true freedom, but you cannot have both. You must choose one or the other. Here are some things you may have to sacrifice:
- Security: having a secure future requires money and usually lots of it. You will need health insurance, and some kind of financial plan like a 401k or pension. At the very least having those things mean you need a job that pays for them for a very long time. That’s not freedom and it certainly isn’t extreme freedom. You can have security or freedom, but not both.
- House: houses require money, money requires job and jobs mean greatly reduced freedom. So if you want true genuine freedom, the very first thing you need to do is give up your house.
- Excess Possessions: having anything more than the things that are necessary to live requires money to buy it, money to take care of it, and a home to store it. That requires a job and jobs are the death of freedom.
What happens is we fall into the delusion of the American Dream and think we can have it all. So we have our big house full of useless crap we think we just have to have and we buy an RV on credit and take it on a vacation trip every year and we get a loan and fly off on a trip every year and go deeper into debt and have to get a second job or both spouses have to work and the pressure and misery of life grows and so we get divorced and then money becomes even more critical and we are more miserable. The stress and misery of our lives starts to impact our health and we get sick and accumulate medical bills and miss some work and fall further behind into debt. Then the economy goes bad and we lose our job and then our unemployment runs out and we face the choice of moving into a van or living in a cardboard box under the overpass.
We wanted and demanded that we get it all and ended up with literally nothing. First things First: Find the thing in life that will make you happy and single-mindedly pursue it!
As my friend Terry often says: “You can have a rich life, or a life of riches, but not both. Choose wisely!”