Like clockwork, my body wakes itself at 6:55 AM every morning, 5 minutes before the 7 AM alarm goes off and the subsequent “In My Memory” tune plays to welcome the day. I’ve learned to cherish those 5 minutes like the blood that flows through my veins. Somehow, it always feels like that “extra” time would last forever and the dreaded morning drive to work would never come.

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy what I do. At 31, I’m finally hitting my stride at work. At the end of the day, I feel personally responsible for bringing every person who takes to the sky home safely. Isn’t the feeling of making a real difference a hallmark of a “good” job? I suppose it is, but 9 years into my career, I’m at a fork in the road with what seems like 20 paths I could take, and each one drastically different than the other.

The easiest and safest path to follow would be the one most taken: stay the course and retire 25 years from now as one of those career old timers. I could further my skills in engineering or even try my hands at management, sales, or join the corporate ranks. But there’s something about that morning drive to work that seems to deflate my enthusiasm before I get to the door, slowly chipping away at the stone of motivation, as do waves on a rocky shore.

Should I quit to live out my days watching palm trees on a hammock somewhere in the Caribbean? This pervasive thought always seems to find its way with the second cup of coffee after lunch. Perhaps the nagging feeling would be remedied if company-sanctioned naps were implemented, or perhaps it’s the finality and certainty of the career life that frightens me the most. Life would certainly throw its curveballs here and there, but this is it. This is what I’ll be doing for the next 25 years. The thought is truly scary.
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And why not retire early? A recent article by Next Avenue pointed out 8 countries where $200K could last you 30 years. To stretch the savings I already have, I could climb aboard the Noelle Hancock train and scoop ice cream for a living as the savings trickled away. I certainly have the capacity to do so, but the persistent “will it be a fulfilling life” question keeps me from making any serious plans.

Having an addiction to travel doesn’t help, either. Retiring on ice cream scooping income would hamper plans to see the world. But how about becoming a travel blogger or the likes? Google “quit my job to travel the world” and you’ll be enthralled with countless tales and guides for how to do so. Through my travel website and The Trip that Changed my Life book project, I’ve met many who are about to embark on or are already on their journeys around the world. It’s a rather romantic notion: drifting from one place to another, working out of your computer, and seeing everything the world has to offer.

But this path is laden with risks and uncertainties. The first of which is the highly competitive nature of being a professional travel blogger in today’s saturated market. And those who frequent my site understand that it isn’t built for profit, as silly travel stories can’t compete against “how-to’s” and popular lists such as “Top 5 this and that” – you know… useful information, of which I sparingly provide. If I were to do it full time, I’d reckoned pleading for a morsel of work would be a daily occurrence. “Oh please, let me go on your media trip so I can write beautiful things about your establishment.” I’m also at the point in my life where modest luxury is preferred to the budget mindset of hostels and cheap lodgings required for such a nomadic lifestyle.

Another option that carries even more risks is striking out on my own. I’m no stranger to this world; though, I haven’t made a serious commitment to do the entrepreneurial thing full time. I’ve written four books. They all bombed. I have a provisional patent to my name, a recording album registered with the copyright office, and even an app that provides daily environmental challenges. None of which have made it very far.

Small victories including my recent book project with 72 other writers keep me coming back for more. Honestly, I love the challenge. I love having projects that keep me learning.

Hundreds of ideas still adorn my notebook, and many more will be added as time goes by. But all in all, I have learned a tremendous amount from the constant foray into this world. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you need to dedicate your life to the maturation of your ideas. I’m certain I can make it if I gave it my all, but the sacrifice might be too great: I don’t want to be married to work. I’m desperately clinging to the ideals of a work/life balance.

Perhaps I could get into the stock market or real estate investing or flipping houses or DJ full time or move to Costa Rica and take tourists out to fish or this or that and a hundred other things.

I’m not entirely sure why this internal struggle to define my path for the next decade surfaced. Perhaps it’s overexposure to social media and the beautiful lives that other people are seemingly living. Perhaps it’s the anxious anticipation for the lessons from my failures to bear fruits of success. But most likely, hitting 30 feels like a pivotal milestone in life. Professionally, you would have been in the industry for a decade by now. You’re no longer a junior but not yet a senior at your company. You feel like the middle child, not really fitting in and not really knowing where your career is headed. And if you’re like me, you feel fatigued – tired from the daily grind, of having to expend a huge amount of energy solving the same problems over and over.

Outside of work, wedding invitations are piling up. Friends are forming family units. And soon you’ll be one of the few weird people showing up to little children’s birthday parties without children. People will ask questions. You will deflect those questions with some immature responses like your quest to become a porn star. Then, you will no longer be invited to such parties. Your love life and family status will always be a topic of discussion, and soon you’ll find it absolutely aggravating.

Your early 30s is also another milestone in economic status, a time when the divide between you and your friends becomes apparent: some will be living in lavish luxury, some will be struggling to get by, and some will be in the same proverbial economic boat as you. And while you might say, “money doesn’t matter in friendship,” I’d argue that it certainly does. The cost of spending time together will dictate how much time you spend together. If your friends only invite you to $500 dinners and you can only afford $50 dinners, would you go? Face it; resentment and jealousy would soon be the sword that severs ropes of friendship.

A high level inspection of your life might reveal some truth to what I’ve laid before you, and where you go from there is up to you. It is different for each person. I personally don’t know where I’m going. I hoped that the process of writing this piece would bring clarity, but it leaves more questions than answers. I’m probably overthinking it, but my years in engineering cannot simply escape me: logically eliminate or reduce risks. Though, this upcoming decision might rely heavily on that leap of faith.

Until the path forward becomes clearer, I will continue trying new things and travel whenever I can. Perhaps a deliberate pros/cons listing of each path might be the solution.

It feels incomplete to leave you with no answers – to have only brought up questions. And I hope I don’t appear be complaining because I am truly grateful for my life right now. My intention is to outline an internal struggle that perhaps some of you are going through as well. At least you know that there’s one other person out there pondering the same thing. And if you’ve found some magical elixir to share, please do. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Hung Thai

Since my face is plastered all over the place you might have guessed that I'm the owner of this here blog. WRONG! It's me, Mario! I'm a gonna win! And my favorite weapon of choice is the banana peel. Oh, I also travel a lot and write stuff about it. And my name is Hung... or am I Luigi?