“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
I shuffled down the winding dirt path, careful not to slip onto the jagged rocks on either side of me. It was nearly dusk and I was on the last leg of a six hour trek through The Andes. Today was the first of a five day’s journey that would culminate at the wondrous Machu Picchu.
Exhaustion had set in hours ago and over the last hour I fell into a state of near delusion. I had been marching fearlessly onward with my trekking companions but the high altitude was new to me. What started as a throbbing headache had spread down to my chest and arms until my whole body was nearly numb.
As I descended down the mountain’s face, I stopped to catch my breath and survey my surroundings. I could see the camp down below nestled in between the unforgiving mountains that shot into the sky. I estimated I was only about twenty minute’s walk from a good meal and a night’s sleep. The trekking group had spread thin at this point and I was alone somewhere in the middle of the pack.
In need of water and some cocoa leaves, I took a seat on a flat rock just off the path. In the evening twilight, the mountains and valley began to darken as the cloudless sky morphed into layers of tangerine orange, powder blue and deep purple.
It was nearly impossible to believe that just a week earlier I had been in my cubicle making cold calls to hit my Q2 sales quota. What a stark juxtaposition this life was to mine in America. I took a deep breath and let the fresh air of the Andes escape through my nostrils.
Reflecting back on the day’s journey, I remembered the fresh fruits we picked off the trees, the donkeys that roamed the hillsides and the tiny villages. The villages, by American standards, would be considered impoverished and nearly unlivable. There were no paved roads, mud floors and seemingly no electricity. Yet, every local we passed carried a huge smile on their face and offered food and hospitality. They seemed to be unbothered by their quality of life. In fact, they actually seemed happy with the way things were.
I took another sip of water and chewed on more cocoa leaves as my headache subsided momentarily. For a while, I couldn’t make sense of what I’d seen that day but, as the tangerine sky slowly faded into darkness, something clicked.
Their life was better than mine.
Last week, back in Boston, I was hunched over my computer with my headset on, trying to see who I could cold call next. Everyday I’d do that for nine hours and then get an hour of downtime at night before doing it all over again. I shook my head. And what was I doing all of it for? I reasoned with myself that I was doing it for the money. I was doing it so that I could take amazing vacations like this one.
But then I caught myself. I was working like a madman so I could escape to the life that these people were already living. In a sense, they had already gotten to the place that I was seeking. And they had gotten here without the struggle, stress or the corporate climb. Now I knew why they were smiling.
I felt a shiver go down my spine. What was I doing with my life? I had heard I needed to avoid the rat race, but somehow I had misstepped. I was right in the middle of the pack scrambling for the cheese. I took another breath and fixated my eyes on the camp below that was now glowing with light. Someone had started a camp fire.
I blinked again and realized that the world I thought I knew was going up in smoke. The sales quota and the cold calls didn’t make sense to me anymore. None of the corporate life did. It was time for me to reevaluate my life.
I got to my feet and began descending down the path toward the camp as a cooling darkness crept in around me. As I walked down, I felt awake and afraid at the same time. I think part of me hoped that when I got back to Boston I’d forget all about this realization, but the other part of me knew it’d be impossible.
I knew that I had to escape from the life I was leading. I had to start paving a new path for myself. I was scared, but what choice did I have? I had seen the light.