When it was time to decide what I wanted to be “when I grow up”, I had no idea what I really wanted to do. I had to decide a career that I was going to be stuck with for the rest of my life, and that was scary. How does someone so confidently decide what field they want to get in to? And then you have to stick to that for some years!
I thought about becoming a teacher. My favorite classes in grade school were the ones with the silly professors. The ones who would really try to connect with their students and you can just tell that they really loved their job. Those are the classes I paid attention in and did the best in. Because of those teachers, I always felt like trying my best. I wanted them to know that their efforts to engage us and to teach us did not go unappreciated and that it made all the difference for me. I wanted to have that same impact on others.
But when it came down to applying for college, I thought there’s no way I can mentally do 4 more years of school! This was actually really silly of me because I genuinely enjoy learning and going to school. But I was making up excuses all the time. Every profession or career that interested me, I always found a reason for why I wasn’t capable of doing it or why I shouldn’t pursue it. There was a very evident lack of confidence in myself. I didn’t believe I had the strength to do 4 more years of schooling or the smarts to become a lawyer or the grit to owning a business. I didn’t believe in myself and that has single-handedly been my biggest setback. It is true when they say “You are your worst enemy”.
So I decided to take a year off after high school. I was working full time jobs and part time jobs. New job, hated it, quit, new job, hated it, quit, repeat. And on weekends, it was just parties and drinking and wasting a lot of time on nothingness. And losing lots of brain cells. Oh, but it was fun! I just don’t remember most of it. I was drunk and high all three years after high school. Yep, my year off ended up being three years off.
I didn’t want my family to think I was going to be a complete failure so I took a few courses at the local community college and thought maybe I’ll take a few classes and find my true calling! So I took a few electives, like psychology and botany. But I was skipping class all the time to go smoke weed with my friends or because I didn’t do my homework or because I simply just didn’t care. I developed a habit of excessive tardiness and absences, and so I failed my classes. Or did the professors drop me from their class? I don’t remember.
This “party hard, don’t give a fuck” lifestyle was finally catching up to me and I was starting to get really depressed. I felt empty most of the time and without purpose. This was definitely not helping my already broken self-esteem.
I hated the fact that I was becoming exactly what everyone expected me to- a college drop out with a shitty dead-end job. A minority coming from a broken family and a ghetto community. Just another statistic.
There had to be more to life than going to school to get a good paying job, get married, buy a house, start a family, and vacation a couple weeks every summer. That’s fine, and that works for others but it just didn’t feel right for me. If I was going to do something, I may as well do what I want, what feels right. Right?
The only thing I knew for certain is that I wanted to travel the world. This is still the only thing I know for certain. This is going to sound so cheesy, but I want to see the world! I want to learn about the way of life in other countries, on different continents. I want to learn about the different cultures and meet all kinds of people! I want to see monkeys hanging off trees and giraffes eating whatever they eat in the safari. I want to discover new landscapes, and the amazing wonders that Mother Nature has to offer. I don’t want to keep dreaming of being in all those places that I see photos of on my Instagram feed. I want to experience that myself.
Of course, there were always the realists who told me it couldn’t be done. “Settle down, Christopher McCandless. You’ve got to get a career.”
But what if it is possible? How will I know if I don’t try?
A few weeks after my 21st birthday, I received a message from an old coworker about a summer job in Alaska. The job was somewhere right outside Denali National Park working for a resort. Umm, what? YES! Without second guessing it, I immediately applied online and started looking up ticket fares. I quit my job and booked a ticket to Alaska (of course, after I received the job offer). The Last Frontier, the most remote state in the nation, so far away from home and anything I’ve ever known. I stepped onto the edge of that cliff with closed eyes and with open arms. I was completely terrified and nervous and excited and uneasy, but I leaned forward and dove right off that cliff.
This is the summer that changed my life.