Why I Quit My Engineering Job To Travel The World in 2019

by Jun 12, 2019

At the beginning of 2019, I quit my high paying job as an automation engineer in the pharmaceuticals industry, sold or donated over 90% of my belongings and set off to travel the world with just a backpack and a hand-drum. This is the story of why I quit my engineering job to travel the world.

The Backstory

 

Prior to my life of travel, I had been working for 10 years in the engineering industry. I have always loved to travel – be it to a faraway lighthouse in Muroran, Japan or to the bustling back alleys of Bangkok in search of street food, I find excitement and freedom in visiting places I’ve never been to before. When I was a child, my father would take us on long road trips in India every time there was a holiday. We would often visit the vast and beautiful state of Rajasthan and eat amazing food on the roadside dhabas. It was magical! Who wouldn’t want to travel after growing up with a taste of that?

But due to the nature of my job, I could never travel for more than a few weeks at a stretch. Every vacation started with a deadline and every vacation ended with a feeling of despair as I showed up to work on Monday.

Quitting my job to travel the world was just a pipe-dream I had.

“Some day, I’ll quit my job to travel the world”, I would often say, along with, “some day, I’ll learn how to swim” and “some day, I’ll write my own novel”.

Some day.

I like to call them my “some day… dreams”.

The Turning Point

 

In 2017, I was going through a bit of midlife crisis. I had just changed jobs and was working in one of the best pharmaceutical companies in the world with some of the best people I’ve ever worked with in my career. The pay was good and I had rented myself a nice condominium in Singapore. I was dating a beautiful artist and was saving up money to eventually start a family. In other words, I was living the Singaporean dream. But despite these things, my life felt empty and pointless. What was I doing all this for?

My girlfriend at that time (who is an amazing person) had done an intensive life-coaching course a few years ago and suggested that I try it too. After some initial hesitation, I signed up for it.

The course lasted 3 full days and by the end of it, my entire life had unraveled right in front of me. All my victories, all my failures, all my joy and all my sorrow; I had been responsible for them all along. Whether I wanted to live a shallow life or a deep one, had always been my choice alone. I could blame life, societal expectations, my job, my parents, my teachers, my friends and failed relationships all I wanted, but ultimately, I was responsible for my own life. It was a deep realization that shook me to the very core of who I was, who I am and who I choose to be.

The great author, Henry David Thoreau, had once lived alone inside a cabin in the woods to truly experience what life was. Here’s what he wrote on the subject in his book, On Walden Pond

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
Henry David Thoreau

Something stirred inside me. All my “some day…dreams” stared me straight in the face, and they asked me- what have you been waiting for all this time?

Who’s going to make your dreams come true, if not you?

4 weeks later, I finished writing and editing my first novel- Aoirei.

“Who’s going to make your dreams come true, if not you?”
Calling those 4 weeks tough would be an understatement. I had to handle the work of 2 people at my day job, because my colleague was on leave and we were preparing for our first ever Engineering Run for a new drug product (anyone who’s worked in the pharma industry would know how intense that is).

I had signed up for swimming classes to overcome my crippling fear of water (because of several traumatic experiences between the age of 8 and 9) and practiced by myself every day, even when it rained (which is almost all the time in Singapore).

And in between all of that, every single day, I wrote a minimum of 1000 words for my novel (20,000 words during the weekend). Without fail. Even if it meant eating just an apple for lunch to use the rest of my lunch break to write. That was the commitment I had made to myself and to my dream.

And the funny thing is this- the more I wrote, the more alive I felt. Sure, I was physically exhausted, but mentally, spiritually and emotionally, I was on fire!

2 months after finishing my novel, I swam the breast stroke for a 100 meters without stopping. After 22 years of living in fear of the water, I had learnt how to swim.

That year, I learnt some very important lessons:

  1. I am responsible for my own life.
  2. Only I can realize my dreams, nobody else can realize them for me.
  3. The best time to start is right now!

The Journey Since Then

 

Since 2017, I have learnt how to drive and now have an international driving license. I learnt how to cook. I sang in front of a live audience. I paid off all my college loans. I learnt the ways of the Shaman and have been practicing Shamanic drum healing since 2018.

And in mid-2018, I took a huge step when I told my boss about my plans to leave my job to travel the world. We spent the next 6 months finding a suitable candidate to replace me and making sure that everything would continue to function smoothly even after I had left. I don’t think anyone gives 6 month notices any more but I’m a responsible person like that :P.

I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”

Don’t get me wrong, I have my share of bad days too. I’ve been traveling for 5 months now and it’s been both amazing and challenging. I got hit by a nasty bout of eczema right at the beginning of my journey and I still haven’t recovered from it. I had to sell my backpack and buy a suitcase to carry all my medication with me. I’ve had bouts of food-poisoning In India, Indonesia and Thailand. I developed a chronic eye infection in my left eye that flares up in dry weather. My eczema spread to my lips and they swell up every time I eat spicy food (I love spicy food!).

And I’ve come to realize, that’s what the road is like. Not every day is an adventure. Some days are just staying inside, slathered in steroid cream and moisturizer. But the journey continues. Step by step, I walk this winding road, never knowing what’s around the corner. Sometimes life is mean and sometimes it’s sublime.

Is it easy to follow your dreams?
Hell no!
Is it worth it?
Absolutely yes!

It’s one of the most rewarding, frustrating, exhausting, exhilarating, gritty and magical things I’ve ever done.

I don’t know if I was able to sufficiently answer the question of why I quit my job to travel the world. I’m still searching for that answer myself. Perhaps you were expecting a “top 10 reasons” list. Perhaps you’re leaving with more questions than answers; and that’s good. So let me leave you with 2 more questions:

  1. What’s your “some day…dream”?
  2. If there’s one thing you can do today, no matter how big or small, to work towards that dream, what would that be?

Leave a comment below.

And see you on the road!

 

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