“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
– Marcel Proust, French novelist

Earlier this week I reviewed a book called Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. In response to the post, my friend Chris posed a question to me:

“Besides your 7 month time limit, have you contemplated what a successful journey entails? What if you reach success in 5 months, would you be comfortable with leaving then?”

The question “what does success look like?” is something I’m thinking about constantly, but mostly in terms of my life’s work, my legacy, and my happiness. If I were to paint a big picture of success in this sense, it would look like this:

I’m living a life of complete freedom of time and location. I’m spending my time doing the things I want to do. I’m pouring myself into creating something worthwhile with the people I care about most — something that’s larger than myself or any of us. I’m surrounded by people I love and who love me. I have the ability to live and work anywhere I please, whenever I please. I’m constantly fulfilled, feeling alive, healthy, and happy.

So where does this current seven month stint in Europe fit within my greater vision of success? And what does success look like for this journey? Here’s my attempt to answer these questions.

Success is tasting success. One goal of this trip was to “taste” success, to make success feel achievable. I wanted to act out the life I’d like to live.  And every day on this trip, I’m doing it — I have complete freedom of time and location. I’m spending my time doing what I want, with whom I want, and pouring myself into the places and people I meet. I’m finding myself surrounded by people I enjoy being with. By tasting it, I’m showing myself it’s possible.

Tasting success has another purpose: it de-romanticizes the concept of a “final destination”. Maybe this life I’m living now, traveling and doing what I please, is how some people imagine retirement (aka when they “arrive”). I won’t say it’s a disappointment — far from it, it’s great. However, the destination is always more romantic in the mind.

Realizing a dream addresses another measure of success…

Success is not having regrets. Last year, an Australian nurse working in palliative care recorded her dying patients’ epiphanies in Top Five Regrets of the Dying. The #1 regret?  I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

When my friend Shannon died unexpectedly in January, I reflected on my potential regrets. One of my dreams was to live abroad on my own terms. I realized if I was on my death bed, that would be my #1 regret.

Because I’m here in Europe, doing what I dreamed of, I’ve already reached a level of success. My trip could end tomorrow, and I’d still consider it successful. But just because it could end tomorrow, doesn’t mean it will end it tomorrow because…

Success is never arriving at a final destination.  I don’t see success as one final destination; it’s dynamic and always evolving. Success is a journey of constant learning and growth. So instead of a final goal, I thought more about skills I wanted to learn and interests I wanted to explore:

Hard Skills: website creation/maintenance; email marketing; social media; web analytics; building an online platform; photography; videography.

Soft Skills: easily connect and make friends; learn new languages; become more openminded; storytelling.

People: expand my worldwide network; meet inspiring and influential people; understand diverse people on a deeper level.

Experience Life: know what it’s like firsthand to live in different places around Europe.

Other: read more; write more (for an audience and for myself).

I’ve grown in each of these areas, but I have not “arrived.” I believe levels of success can be achieved, but when each level is reached, they’re replaced with a new, updated definition of success.

Success is to never be completely satisfied or finished. Success is never feeling like you’ve arrived, but still being proud of what you’ve accomplished, because…

Success is to always be wanting, but to never be ungrateful. I don’t think success is reaching every corner of Europe, or the rest of the world; it’s wanting and trying to reach every corner of the world because it’s beautiful and it’s there to be seen. But it’s also learning to still be grateful if I never see another exotic place again.

It’s not necessarily the act of seeing exotic places which makes me want to travel; its the way that exotic places open my eyes, challenge my assumptions about the world, and inspire me.  So perhaps in the end…

Success is realizing the external journey is actually an internal one in disguise. I see success as being able to see the world with the same sense of wonderment and curiosity, whether I’m traveling around the world or around Wisconsin.

In this respect, success isn’t reaching a destination as much as it is reaching a state of being. It’s to be present and to enjoy wherever you find yourself, because where you are is just as beautiful and complex as anywhere else.

So I guess in the end, success on this trip is realizing that I travel not because I want to see unique things; but because seeking those unique things make me feel alive and reveal my true self.

Do you agree with this definition of a successful journey? Disagree? Or do you think “success” should be left undefined on such a journey?




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