Almost three years ago I made a major life decision which, to an outside observer, might appear quite foolish. I was on an extremely promising career path, quickly moving up in a multinational and highly reputable company that had not only relocated me to Japan per my request, but also graciously provided a real sweetheart deal to boot. My minimalist lifestyle allowed me to save more money than I knew what to do with, and staying on that career path essentially meant being set for life. I wasn't even working much overtime, which is nigh unfathomable in Japan's workaholic society, and which garnered extreme envy from many a flabbergasted Japanese cohort.
My position came with a lot of responsibility, and an equal amount of stress, which eventually manifested in a multitude of minor maladies such as mild vertigo, a semi-regular twitching beneath my right eye, chronic fatigue, disturbed sleep including nightmares about work, and what felt like early onset carpal tunnel syndrome. But a bigger problem soon eclipsed all of those maladies combined, and it terrified me: the cancerous emptiness inside of me, slowly hollowed out over the years by the corrosive and insidious monotony of work that I wasn't passionate about.
Many times in vain I tried to self-medicate and fill that emptiness with alcohol, lying to myself by calling it "winding down after work" or "just a lil' wine with dinner" or some other euphemism that masked the reality of the situation and absolved me of the chore of actually thinking about my life.
I managed to fool myself with that charade only for a short while until I forced myself to acknowledge that regardless of whatever company I might be working for, and regardless of however juicy my compensation package might be, it horrified me to look at the path I was on: a self-imposed life sentence of doing stuff that I didn't want to do, for the majority of my waking hours for the majority of the days of the week, for the majority of the weeks of the year, for the majority of the years of my life. It stuck me as undeniable that such a path, no matter how good it might look on paper, would only lead to misery or insanity or both, and that I couldn't do it.
So I hatched a plan.
At my then-current rate of saving money, I roughly calculated how much longer I would have to work in order to retire as soon as possible to Thailand or Vietnam or somewhere thereabouts. Assuming death at the age of 105, and assuming no major oversights in my calculations, the math looked promising: the combined factors of my minimalist lifestyle and Southeast Asia's exceptionally low cost of living meant that in about a decade — barely into my forties — I could comfortably retire for life. So I made that my goal, to just bear down and grind it out for that ten year homestretch.
But as I trudged through the grueling months, each one more unfulfilling than the last, I soon realized that my plan suffered from a fatal flaw: what if I work for nine years and then die? When did I ever enjoy my adult life full time? I realized that I'm not guaranteed to make it to forty, or even to make it to tomorrow, and that I needed to start enjoying life full time now, rather than sacrificing my current happiness for some future day that may never come.
All things considered, my job at the time (even with its heavy stress load) was perhaps the best corporate job that I could realistically hope for, and thus the prospect of throwing that away truly frightened me. But what frightened me even more was the prospect of wasting the majority of my life doing things that I wasn't passionate about, so I solidified my decision to quit my job and start living. For the first time in my life I threw caution to the wind, and I set sail without knowing where I would end up, only knowing that I couldn't stay put.
There's a real possibility that I may end up shipwrecked, or lost at sea. My decision brought with it some degree of long-term financial uncertainty, so who knows — if I do make it to forty, instead of lounging in a hammock between two palm trees on a picturesque beach in southern Thailand as originally planned, perhaps I'll end up dying disheveled and penniless on the street. But one thing is for sure: the financial "certainty" of that well paying job also brought with it an inseparable certainty of emptiness, to the extent that, in a lot of ways, I was already dead.