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The Scenic Route What I've Learned FROM a Life that Hasn't Turned out The Way I thought It Would

by Srinivas Rao

Author, Curator of Insanely Interesting People, Instigator of Insanely Interesting Ideas

Introduction

It is incredible how much you miss when you stick to the beaten path.—Gaur Gopal Das, Life's Amazing Secrets

If you drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, there are two routes you can choose from. You can drive up Interstate 5. It’s faster and there’s not much to see other than cows in fields. The other option is to take the Pacific Coast Highway, which has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

It takes twice as long. But there are twice as many reasons to stop. Twice as many reasons to take your time. Twice as many breathtaking views you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. In my five years at Berkeley, I made the drive from San Fran to LA dozens of times, and I never once took the scenic route. But I've been taking it every other part of my life ever since.

To say that my life hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would is an understatement. But I’d like to think that I’ve had twice as many experiences and twice as many opportunities and squeezed twice as much out of life as I would have if I hadn’t taken the scenic route.

Between the ages of thirty and forty, I’ve learned to surf, snowboarded down a black diamond, planned a conference, interviewed seven hundred people, and written two books. I’ve added destinations to my itinerary that were never on my list. I had no plans to do any of this.

It’s taken me twice as long to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. And, at the rate it’s going, it seems clear that it will take me twice as long to do all the things you’re supposed to have done by the time you turn forty.

When you put a destination into a GPS, you know exactly how to get where you’re headed. Taking the scenic route means detours, unplanned stops, and unexpected turns. It means that things won’t go according to plan and your expectations won’t always be met. It means having the courage to ditch your map for a compass and to be guided by the thing that ensures your life will be interesting.

But it also means you’ll go places you never would have been, meet people you never would have met, and have experiences you never would have had. It means that amazing things will happen.

When life doesn’t go according to plan, you’re forced to take a detour. If you’re looking around and wondering where you’re headed, how you’re going to get there, and what you’re supposed to be doing with your life in the meantime, consider the following:

Maybe you’re not a gigantic fuckup who is ten years behind on accomplishing your life goals. Maybe you’re just the taking the scenic route.

ITINERARY

Wanderlust

By the time I was born in New Delhi, on April 11, 1978, my dad had already left India to start his PhD in Adelaide, South Australia. It was the beginning of our unintended world tour. But, unlike a boy band, we had to build our fan base from scratch at every destination. We had to make new friends. I suppose that’s why I’ve chosen a career and a project that ensures I’ll never stop meeting new people.

When my friend Matthew Monroe asked me to describe my childhood in three words, one of those words was *nomadic*.

By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I’d been born in one country, lived in three different ones, and attended nine schools. For some reason, during our seven years in Bryan, Texas, the school district was playing zoning roulette, so I ended up at a different school every year. The year I entered eighth grade, the district had the foresight to put sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at the same school. But we moved away after ninth grade.

When my parents are mystified by the geography of my life and the fact that I’ve “traded in” countries to live in as frequently as they’ve traded in their cars, I always say, “You drag me around the world for my entire childhood and you’re surprised I want to see more of it? You have nobody to blame but yourselves.”

They instilled a lifelong sense of wanderlust in me that makes it impossible to travel in any other way than by taking the scenic route.
A White Baby in The House

On January 16, 1983, my parents, who were unaware that brown people and cold weather are an unnatural combination and had immigrated to Edmonton, Alberta, woke me up early in the morning, bundled me up like an Eskimo, dropped me off at a family friend’s house, and headed to the hospital to give birth to my sister.

I met Sirisha Rao for the first time the next day. I liked her so much that, a few weeks after we brought her home, I climbed into her crib when she was crying and brought her into the kitchen like a loaf of bread. Though my mother had the foresight not to freak out, I’ve been scared to death of holding newborns ever since.

After that, people started visiting. They brought gifts and I started to have some buyer’s remorse. I might have even asked my parents if we could return her. Fortunately, they had no intention of doing that. Since Indian parents never talk to their kids about sex, that’s how I learned that storks don’t bring babies to the hospital, that you can’t just go buy one, and that you definitely can’t return it if it’s making you jealous.

Shortly after that, we took our first trip to visit my dad’s siblings, and my sister was the center of attention. My mom’s cousins fought over her, they set timers for how long someone could hold her, and word spread throughout the neighborhood about those Indians that have a “white baby in the house.”

Sirisha has an effect on my dad that only daughters can have on their fathers. You hear it in his voice when she calls. You see it in his eyes when she walks into a room. I’ve never had that effect on him, not because he doesn’t love me, but because that just doesn’t happen in the same way with fathers and sons. But I like to think that their relationship will have a ripple effect if I’m lucky enough to be a father, have a daughter, and end up with a white baby in the house.

IMMIGRANTS AND EXPERIMENTS

In an immigrant family, the first child is an experiment. The second is an opportunity to fix all the things you screwed up or didn’t understand with the first. I’m sure this happens with nonimmigrants too. But if a parent at least went to school in the US, he or she will have some understanding of the assholes kids will become when they’re teenagers.

Right around sixth grade, your hormones rage, you figure out your social status or lack thereof, and you become excessively preoccupied with being cool. For young boys, a life of video games is suddenly dominated by hair gel, designer clothes, the desire for athletic stardom, and compulsive masturbation behind closed doors, while claiming to be studying. To top it off, your parents become the most awful people on the planet who are salting your game even though you don’t have any.

Shoes were a big deal for some reason when I was a teenager. Somewhere in sixth grade, buying shoes from Payless became unacceptable. This was the first of many experiments for my parents. I would tell my dad about the nice shoes I wanted and he would tell me, “You wear shoes on your feet, not your head.”

Then one day we were at a Factory Outlet hundreds of miles from Bryan, Texas, and some kid I’d never met started making fun of my Pro Wings from Payless. My dad finally understood what I’d been dealing with at school. He bought me the best Nike sneakers that he could afford.

There was another day that my mother insisted I wear a shirt and brown corduroy pants that I hated to school.

So I put on a Bugle Boy shirt underneath, and took off the shirt I hated when I got to the bus stop. Somehow my mom found out and we got into a huge fight over it—and not a single hot girl had walked up to me in school and said, “Excuse me, Is that a Bugle Boy shirt you’re wearing?”

It took me a long time to learn that advertising is basically nothing but a series of false promises designed to make you buy a product.

In eighth grade, I didn’t tell my parents about the open house. I thought if I didn’t tell them, they’d assume we just weren’t having one. But just like all my other plans to pull one over on them, this failed. When they asked why I hadn’t told them about it, I explained that I was embarrassed by their accents and my dad’s jokes. They were rightfully hurt. But now I’m anything but embarrassed, because my dad is one of the funniest guys in the world and all my friends love him.

Since my dad is a scientist, he tested all his inaccurate hypotheses on me, and adjusted them with my sister. By the time she got to seventh grade, they’d already been through this insanity before.

MUSIC WITH WORDS

I don’t believe in natural talent because I don’t believe that I ever had any. I’ve sucked at everything I’ve learned how to do when I started learning.

  • I thought flags on musical notes were for decoration and somehow made it to all-state band.
  • I couldn’t get down a bunny slope without eating shit at age twenty, and flew down a black diamond at age forty.
  • Despite having the attention span of a five-year-old, I’ve managed my attention long enough to write a handful of books.

The discipline to practice and persistence to continue when every conceivable metric said I should quit are the only two reasons I’ve managed to do anything worthwhile with my life.** And it all started with the tuba.

My band directors saw in me what I couldn’t see in myself. They seemed to have an unconscious understanding of the Pygmalion effect, which means we live up to the standards and expectations that people have for us. What they believe becomes our reality. For some unexplainable reason, my band director decided that I would make all-state band one day, and I eventually did.

Music has influenced my writing more than anything else has.

Writers who are musicians don’t see words. They hear them. They pay more attention to how something sounds than to how it looks. They don’t write sentences; they compose lyrics. They judge their work by the ring to it and its potential for resonance. For them, writing is a way of making music with words.

You Don't Have to Choose from the Options in Front of You

Our motivations are heavily informed by the media. Our social feeds are populated by endless images of wealth, travel, power, relaxation, beauty, pleasure and Hollywood love. This virtual runoff perpetually seeps into our consciousness, polluting our sense of reality and self-worth every time we go online. We compare our lives to these largely artificial constructs and structure our plans accordingly, hoping to eventually afford a golden ticket to these misleading fantasies. - Ryder Caroll, The Bullet Journal Method

As far back as fourth grade, I’ve been making plans for my future.

None of my plans included becoming an author or writer, because I was failing reading. My teacher called my parents in for a conference and suggested that I might have a learning disability. But most Indian parents don’t believe that their kids have learning disabilities, just that they have shitty teachers.

My first plan was to become a doctor and drive a Mercedes. All the Indian doctors we knew had big houses and drove Mercedes. Deep down it was the only reason I wanted to become a doctor. I’m not certain about much, but I am certain you’d get rejected from medical school if you said the reason you want to become a doctor is to drive a Mercedes.

Prestige and accolades were the value system that determined most of my plans for the first thirty years of my life. This system was reinforced through every message I received:

  • These are the classes you should take.
  • These are the colleges you should apply to.
  • These are the careers you should consider.
  • This is the definition of success.

Most of the messages we receive from our cultural programming are based on collective agreements that we’re actively discouraged from challenging. If you told anyone that I went to college with that working at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey sounded like a terrible opportunity, you’d likely be excommunicated.

So in the fall of 1996, I started college at University of California, Berkeley, filled with hope, optimism, ambition, and dreams. But with each semester’s grades, I lost hope and became less ambitious. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’ve felt for most of my adult life: I don’t belong here.

  • I felt it at Berkeley.
  • I feel it when I’m surrounded by Indian people, perhaps more than at any other time.
  • I felt it at every job.
  • I feel it when I’m at a conference with like-minded individuals and weirdos like me.
  • Sometimes I even feel it when I’m in front of an audience who is paying me to be there.

I think the only times I don’t feel that I don’t belong are when I drop into a wave, when I’m flying down a mountain, when I’m behind a microphone, when my head is buried in a book, and when I’m immersed in a blank page. So I’ve chosen to spend my life doing these things.

The fact that something is the next logical step in society’s life plan doesn’t always mean it’s the right step for you. If you want to shape your reality, you must have the courage to question it. That’s the only way it becomes malleable.

Peers, parents, society, friends, and family members might ridicule, criticize, or question your decisions. So often, we make our most important life choices on the basis of other people’s opinions.

The greatest lie that you’re ever told is that you have to choose from the options that are in front of you.

Don't let the options in front of you blind you to the possibilities that surround you.

NOBODY ELSE WILL LIVE WITH THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR CHOICES

You’re the one who wakes up every day and goes to your job.

You’re the one who falls asleep and wakes up next to the person you married.

It makes no sense at all to let society’s life plan, parental expectations, arbitrary time lines, self-help books, and even the advice of so-called spiritual teachers determine anything about what you should do with your life.

You are the one who is ultimately going to live with the consequences of every decision you make.

Planting Seeds

My friend Michael Bungay Stanier says that seeds are always being planted. My mother started planting the seeds for my life as a writer and storyteller. She would read to me before bed.

After a few months, she thought it would be efficient to record herself reading to me and play a tape instead. (This was before audiobooks.) But I insisted that she had to read to me herself. Fortunately, none of the people who read my books have asked me to do the same. And this is not an invitation.

Telling stories has been my way of making sense of the world. I even managed to do it with an assignment in math class. Instead of solving the problem, I turned my classmates into characters in a criminal case, set matchbox cars on fire, and created a video in which I was a journalist reporting on the crime. Nobody learned anything about math, but I loved having a captive audience and making them laugh.

  • When I discovered a digital camera, I took hundreds of pictures.
  • The moment I got a video camera, I made lots of stupid videos.
  • When it became possible to publish your ideas on the internet for free, I started writing.
  • After that, I plugged a microphone into a laptop and started recording my conversations with people.

-

The question I ask myself every time I discover a new piece of technology is, “What could I make with this?” When you see the world through the eyes of an artist, you’re always looking for opportunities to express your creativity. Nothing and nobody is immune to your pathological inability to accept the status quo, which someone once told me is the definition of creativity.

SELLING DOGSHIT

My first job out of college was for a company that sold medical transcription software. We’d go to conferences where attendees had bumper stickers with slogans like “MDs need MTs.” They were more excited about winning gift certificates to Bed Bath & Beyond than they were about winning the latest tech gadget.

The CEO was on a rampage to fire anyone who disagreed with him or challenged his authority or wasn’t Indian. It didn’t count if you were an Indian American.

Our product manager had built a successful online wine business. His uncle was a prominent Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur. I have no idea why he was working there, but I’m glad he was because he kept things funny, especially when he explained our software development process to me.

“So, if a dog shits on a carpet, you can clean it up, or you can cover it up with newspaper. Now, if the dog shits on the newspaper, you can clean it up or cover it with more newspaper. Eventually the smell will go away. Well, that’s what we do with bugs in the code here.”

I replied, “So what you’re telling me is that our software is dog shit.”

On the surface, and on my resume, I was an inside sales rep for a software company. In reality, I was selling dog shit.

LIFE BY DEFAULT VS LIFE BY DESIGN

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. —Jim Carey, 2014 commencement address at Maharishi University of Management

People ask me about patterns I’ve recognized in the people I’ve interviewed. While there are too many to list, there’s one characteristic that all my interviewees have in common: their paths are never straight and narrow. They’ve all endured major detours, reached dead ends, overcome unimaginable losses, and turned tragic setbacks into joyful comebacks.

The conventional path rarely leads to an interesting destination because all it does is get you from point A to point B. Unless you’re forced to take a detour, take one step in a different direction, or deviate from your itinerary, you’re not going to see that much along the way.

We are not one-dimensional unless we choose to be. Life is our opportunity to expand our horizons, abandon our labels, and not be defined by any one identity. Most of our labels limit our capacity, while the label “artist” expands it. You can approach your life in one of two ways:

  1. As a series of check boxes to check off as you follow society’s life plan, or
  2. As a daring adventure where you’re the author of the story and the architect of your destiny.

One is a choice to do life by default. The other is a choice to do it by design.

DETOURS

This is not how your story ends. It's simply where it takes a turn you didn't expect - Cheryl Strayed

You've just arrived at the Crossroads of Should and Must, so I thought this might help you decide which way you should go

At some point in your life, you’ll be forced to take a detour, to go down a different road than the one you originally intended to take:

  • A different career
  • A different romantic partner
  • A different version of the family you thought you’d have

For a long time, I had a clear vision of what I expected my life to look like: MBA from a top-notch school, corner office, kicking ass and taking names, marriage, kids, etc., etc. But then I got rejected from the best schools I applied to, graduated into a recession, and found myself living with my parents at age 38.

We all have visions of what we think our lives are supposed to look like. Detours force us to let go of the one way we thought our life would be in exchange for a myriad of ways it could be.

Detours cause dreams to come true in unexpected ways.

I went to business school in hopes of landing a job in media and entertainment. I wanted to choose what went on the air at a television network. But it turned out that nobody hired MBAs for creative jobs in the entertainment industry. The year I graduated, the economy imploded.

I couldn’t even find a job that wasn’t in media and entertainment. So I started a blog, which eventually led to a podcast, which eventually led to all the work that I do today.

Yet, in some roundabout way, I do work in media and entertainment. I don’t just choose what goes on the air; I create it. And deep down, that’s what I wanted the most.

You may not be the person you thought you’d be, but your life will probably be more interesting because of it.

The Longest Relationship I've Ever Had

December 31, 2008 put me on the scenic route for good. There was no turning back after that. I had no idea just how much that day would change my life. It was two days before I came home from a six-month study-abroad program in Brazil. My friends had all gone home early because they had run out of money.

When our plans get disrupted, we can adapt and search for our next adventure, or we can lament the fact that things didn’t turn out the way we thought they would.

All my athletic pursuits up until that point in my life had been disasters.

  • I was the most-improved player on my seventh-grade basketball team.
  • I was the slowest person on my eighth-grade track team.
  • I was the only one of my friends who couldn’t get down a mountain without falling when we took a ski trip in college.

None of this was preparation for a sport that requires a great deal of coordination and willingness to continually adapt to conditions that are always changing. But that December morning, I stood up on a surfboard for the first time. I became a surfer.

Unlike other sports, surfing isn’t a hobby. It’s an identity. It defines people, connects them, and makes them sound like obsessive fucking lunatics to people who don’t surf. It determines our vacation plans, the jobs we’re willing to take, and in many cases who we’re willing to marry.

For male surfers, the ocean is another woman in our lives.

Barring the birth of a child or a wedding, I’m sure surfers have missed lots of things in pursuit of one last wave. If a good swell rolls in, it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas. Surfers are in the water. Those words “One last wave and I’m done” have probably been the cause of lost jobs, divorces, and so much more.

Catching that first wave was the first of many inflection points that have led me to take the scenic route, and it’s something I will do for the rest of my life.

I’ve chased her around the world. I’ve refused to live far from her. I’ve tolerated her violent temper tantrums, and the days when she returns my love with indifference, all for those moments of serenity, joy, and bliss that she gives me every time I stand up on a wave. My relationship with the ocean is by far the longest relationship I’ve ever had.

Temporary Circumstances

There’s a diminishing permanence to everything, both good and bad, in our lives.

  • Experiences transform into distant memories.
  • People come in and out of our lives, making cameos.
  • A person could seem like he or she is in love with you today and be out of your life tomorrow.
  • Everything that hurts eventually heals.

If you’re taking the scenic route, the one constant is change. The only certainty is uncertainty. Your circumstances are temporary, but—as a mentor drilled into my head—“They don’t have to become your permanent identity.”

There have been many temporary circumstances in my life that I thought were going to be permanent:

  • I thought I’d be stuck living at my parents’ house forever, and I finally got out in 2017.
  • I thought my career would always be defined by the jobs I got fired from, and then I wrote a bunch of books.

But in some cases, particularly in my relationships, I’ve accepted that in permanent identity, all circumstances are temporary.

  • When I was twenty, I had a really close friend. He was one of my best friends, the kind of person I thought would be the best man when I had a wedding. At forty, I’m not even sure I’d invite him, because our friendship changed. We went from being the best of friends to talking once a year via phone call or text message.
  • I had another friend who stopped returning my calls and disappeared with no explanation. And others whom I don’t see as much, don’t hear from as much, and don’t talk to as much. The loss of friendship is one of the most difficult losses because there’s no protocol for it.
  • I don’t save the phone numbers of the people I go on dates with, even after three dates, because if I feel any sense that what’s happening isn’t temporary, I’ll get too emotionally invested in the person too quickly and scare the person away. It’s easier to delete a phone number from my life than it is to delete a person.

All this has made me trust people less, let my guard down slower, and question whether anybody will actually be around forever. Life gives us challenges like this so that, more than anything, we can learn to love ourselves as if our lives depended on it.

My friend Kamal Ravikant says, “When things are good, it seems like they’re going to last forever. When things are bad, it seems like it’s never going to end.” All our circumstances are temporary. We just have to make sure the worst of them don’t become our permanent identity.

The Most Misunderstood Man in the World

A couple of years ago, I self-published a book called *The Art of Being Unmistakable*. It was literally a bunch of really long Facebook status updates that I compiled into a Word document and hired somebody to edit. Then I asked Mars Dorian to design a cover, uploaded it to Amazon, and called it a book.

A few weeks later, some guy I’d never heard of until then found it while he was searching for something else, talked about it on his radio show, and caused the sales to skyrocket. His name was Glenn Beck. I Googled him, found his personal web site, and sent a thank-you note to his contact form.

To say that we had next to nothing in common is an understatement. I’m a surfer who went to Berkeley, smokes pot, and drops occasional f-bombs. He’s a Mormon who was at one point one of *Time* magazine’s most admired people in the world, behind Nelson Mandela. (When I asked him what had happened since then, he said, “I went to work at Fox News.”)

My dream media appearance was *The Daily Show*. Glenn’s show was the exact opposite. But clearly we had *something* in common. My ideas resonated with him. So, despite all the things I’d read about him on the internet, despite how many of my friends seemed to despise him, I decided to meet him.

While I don’t necessarily share his opinions on just about everything, I learned some interesting things about Glenn. Michael Bublé was a friend of his and even tried to defend him when some stranger in Las Vegas was bad-mouthing him. I liked Michael Bublé’s music, so I figured Glenn had to be all right on some level.

His endorsement turned my book into a best seller, eventually changing my life and career. Over the years, I’ve met people who worked with him and I’ve become friends with some of them. When one of them left his company, he wrote a status update about Glenn and said, “He’s the most misunderstood man in the world.”

When you take the scenic route, it’s inevitable that you’re going to meet people who are nothing like you, don’t share the same values, or don’t have the same opinions. But if you look for it, you can find common ground with just about anybody, even the most misunderstood man in the world.

Things That Wouldn't Have Happen

When your life doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would, there are always things that didn’t happen or haven’t happened. Sometimes you feel as though you’ve missed out. But there are also so many things that wouldn’t have happened:

  • If I had gotten a job offer when I finished graduate school, I wouldn’t have become an author.
  • If I hadn’t had an entire summer without that job, I wouldn’t have become a surfer.
  • If I hadn’t become a surfer I might never have traveled to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Sri Lanka.
  • I might never have had my first surf session in India, something I’ve wanted to do ever since I started surfing.

Taking the scenic route reveals things hidden in plain sight. It causes you to see the world with your eyes wide open. It forces you to stop and look around with childlike enthusiasm and wide-eyed wonder. Things that wouldn’t have happened are the most overlooked gifts of a life that hasn’t gone according to plan.

If my life had turned out the way I thought it would, I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met, had the experiences I’ve had, and learned the things I’ve learned. The more I think about the things that wouldn’t have happened, the less I’m upset about the things that haven’t happened or didn’t happen. Sometimes you just have to change the backdrop to appreciate all the things that wouldn’t have happened.

*Written from the Mantra Surf Club in Mulki, India*

Stop and Look Around

I’ve spent a lot of my life in a big damn hurry to get through lines at the grocery store, at the post office, or at my local Starbucks. But it hasn’t saved me much time at all. It’s paradoxically taken more time, and caused me unnecessary stress and anxiety. It’s worth asking yourself where in your life you’ve been in such a hurry.

  • Maybe the love of your life is in line behind you or in front of you.
  • Maybe you’ll find that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by striking up a conversation with a stranger.
  • Maybe that long layover is a perfect opportunity for a long, slow dinner with an interesting person.

When we’re in so much of a hurry to get somewhere, we fail to see the world around us, even though it’s rich with color, experiences, and opportunities. You defeat the purpose of taking the scenic route when you don’t stop and look around.

The View From the Top

You will take wrong turns, reach false horizons, and end up in dark valleys. You’ll encounter obstacles, reach dead ends, and walk through storms if you choose to take the scenic route. Scenic doesn’t always mean *easy and effortless*.

Every experience in your life is defined by what happens to you and how you react to it. You don’t have very much control over what happens to you.

But you do have control over how you react to it, the story you tell, and the meaning you assign. You get to choose whether something is a temporary circumstance or a permanent identity, whether you’re informed or defined by what happens in your life. This is the choice that determines whether you grow or shrink because of a life experience.

If you choose to view things as temporary circumstances, the most powerful chapters of your work can emerge from the most painful chapters of your life. No experience, whether it’s a job you hate or a relationship that didn’t work, is wasted.

I’ve done the hike to the top of Half Dome at Yosemite twice. It takes almost six hours to get to the top, and I made the mistake of doing the hike with a hangover the second time (not advised). If you want to see the view from the top, you have to be willing to pay the price that it takes to get yourself there.

FALSE HORIZONS

AN AGENT, A BOOK DEAL, AND PUBLISHER

There was a time in my life when I thought I would one day feel as if I’d made it, as if I’d arrived. When I got a two-book deal with a publisher in 2015, I felt that way for about three weeks. Then I realized I had to actually write a book. At the height of his success, actor Ed Helms said that “life is a series of false horizons.”

Two books later, I don’t feel as if I’ve made it, and I’m not sure you ever arrive. The point of the scenic route is to travel, to explore, to experience the world, and to grow. The point isn’t to make it to one place and to stay there. Even if you get an agent, a book deal, and a publisher, you’ll eventually realize that all your accomplishments are nothing more than a series of false horizons. So decide what your next destination is going to be and start heading there.

A FULL-COLOR-FULL CONTACT LIFE

If you’re going to live what my friend Pamela Slim calls a “full color, full contact life,” you’re going to get punched in the face. You’re going to get hurt.

  • You’re going to put your heart on the line and someone will break it.
  • You’re going to give someone your trust and he or she will betray it.
  • You’re going to try something you really care about and fail.

Unless you plan to spend your life like a hermit in a cave, there’s no avoiding this. Pain creates wounds, which turn into scabs that leave scars. Our scars are the reminders and the lessons of our most painful experiences. If you have lots of scars, it’s a good indication that you’ve lived a full color, full contact life.

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED?

Sitting at dinner, she turned to me and asked, “When was the last time you cried?”

Men in our culture are discouraged from crying. We’re taught to see it as weakness instead of vulnerability. When a girl broke up with me after I cried in front of her, I swore I’d never cry in front of a woman again. But I had cried plenty behind closed doors. Depression puts you on the edge of tears for unexplainable reasons, ones that feel trivial.

Part of me wonders whether tears are a release valve of sorts designed to help us let go of the pain we’re carrying inside.

  • A tear or two had rolled down my face when I visited India last year and I thought about how I might never take this trip with my family.
  • I had cried a bit watching my sister shop for her wedding, out of fear that I didn’t have the money to do any of this even if I met the woman who was perfect for me. But nobody really noticed and I did my best to hide it.
  • I had cried at the thought that my parents might not be around to see me get married, have kids, and do all the things I thought I should have done with my life.-

We resist sadness as if it’s something to be avoided. But sometimes the release of our sadness shines light on all our reasons to be happy …

  • I was sitting across the dinner table from a woman who got prettier every time she spoke and every time we met.
  • I was eating my way through India and getting to know my young cousins. We were planting the seeds for future trips and memories that our parents would no doubt disapprove of.
  • I was falling in love with my motherland, which I had started to hate while growing up.

Joy fluctuates. Happiness crescendos and diminishes. Sadness permeates our lives and dissipates. Without experiencing the wide range of human emotions, our circumstances don’t give us enough colors to paint with. It’s hard to paint a masterpiece if all you’re experiencing is black and white. Tears of joy and tears of pain are the inevitable destinations on the scenic route through life.

ALTERED PERCEPTIONS

Ask yourself what assumptions have to be true for you to be happy in the choice you are contemplating - Clayton Christensen

CONDITIONAL HAPPINESS IS A SELF-CREATED PRISON

Wanting the outside to happen exactly the way you choose is the path of conquest, tyranny, dictatorship. - —Sadhguru, Inner Engineering

Conditional happiness is a recipe for unnecessary suffering. When your happiness is conditional, you’re always at the mercy of your circumstances. You sacrifice joy in the moment for a possibility of happiness in the future.

You write a book. But then you decide that it needs to become a New York Times best seller in order for you to be happy. Your happiness depends on something that’s outside your control. Even if it does become a best seller, this is only a temporary circumstance, not a permanent identity. For about a week, I was a Wall Street Journal best-selling author. It wasn’t my permanent identity. Eventually people forgot. My life returned to normal, and I just kept writing.

If your son or daughter has to be married for you to be happy, you live in the future and deny yourself the joy that’s accessible to you in the present. Say your child gets married. Then all your suffering was for nothing. What a waste of your precious life.

Because of hedonic adaptation, this change of circumstance won’t lead to the everlasting happiness you think it will. Something else will replace it. What you’ve been wanting so desperately all along will be your new normal. The reference group will change. Now you don’t have an unmarried son or daughter—instead, you don’t have any grandkids. Conditional happiness keeps us living in a perpetual state of deficiency.

My oldest friend told me that people started asking her when she was having kids within a week of her wedding. When she had her first daughter, people asked when she was having the next one. And after three daughters, somebody asked her whether she wanted a son. Biology isn’t the same as ordering packages on Amazon, and the fact that someone has three daughters doesn’t mean he or she wanted a son. As author Natasha Badhwar says in her book Immortal for a Moment, “We all isolate each other, callously spitting smug, self-righteous judgements without a second thought. We have quick-stick labels for everyone, irrespective of the personal choices we may have made.”

If other people’s circumstances have to change in order for you to be happy, your happiness is outside your control. And your emotions will affect their perception of you. If they see that their unchanged circumstances are the source of your unhappiness, their only solution will be to distance themselves from you. They will feel as if they are the source of your misery. Why would *you* want to spend time with a person if that were the case?

In the book The Three Laws of Performance, authors Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan tell the story of an Indian woman at the Landmark Forum whose husband had left her and whose daughter had died in the same year. Naturally, she was grief-stricken. But then she realized that she was denying her son the thing that he needed most in that moment: a happy mother.

Earlier this year I was going through what felt like a roommate search from hell. Just when I thought I was going to be screwed, the perfect roommate showed up. The conditions changed and all that stress and suffering was for nothing.

Conditional happiness is a form of desperation and creates an energy of scarcity. Scarcity repels money, romantic partners, opportunities, etc. Out of scarcity, we choose jobs we hate, partners who violate our boundaries or treat us like shit. But unconditional happiness creates an energy of abundance. You don’t cling to anything. You’re able to hold things with an open hand.

When your happiness is conditional, you live in a hell and prison of your own creation. But it’s a prison that you can leave any time you’d like. You have the key that unlocks the door. The paradox is that when you stop needing the conditions to change in order to make you happy, they do change.

While it is sometimes excruciating to not have what you want, suffering until you get it is pointless and stupid. Whether you suffer or not, the conditions will eventually change because change is the only constant. Conditional happiness leads to unnecessary suffering, while unconditional happiness opens up an infinite well of joy.

WHAT IF TODAY WAS THE BEST DAY OF YOUR LIFE?

Time is the most valuable asset at your disposal. Unlike money, it’s a nonrenewable resource. Once you’ve spent it, it’s gone. Think about all the time that we waste resenting the people who hurt us, lamenting the things we failed at, and staring at the highlight reels of other people’s lives on Facebook and Instagram.

There are few things I’ve regretted in my life more than wasting precious time on things that I could never change.

A few years ago, I met a guy in a coffee shop. Every single time someone walked up to him and asked how he was doing, he said, “It’s the best day of my life.” I was having one of the worst years of my life, so I thought I’d ask him why it was the best day of his, and this is what he told me.

I realized at a certain point in my life that there was less time in front of me than there was behind me. So from that day forward, I decided that every single day was the best day of my life.—a guy in a coffee shop

Maybe it’s worth reconsidering how much time you’re pissing away on things that won’t matter a year from now or ten years from now. Maybe today is the best day of your life.

EVERYBODY IS DOING THE BEST THEY CAN WITH? WHAT THEY HAVE

I believe there are only two kinds of people in the world—those who love and those who are cruel. People who love transform their anger into forgiveness and the cruel change anger into a tool that creates disasters. —A. R. Rahman, The Spirit of Music

A few years ago, I had a breakup that shattered my identity, made me question the existence of God, and filled me with rage and resentment. My feelings blinded me to the nicest thing someone could possibly say to you when ending a relationship: you’re a gift to the world.

It took me a long time to realize that resentment is the acid that destroys the person who carries it. Forgiveness, on the other hand, sets you free. We confuse forgiving and forgetting. We’re stuck with our memories. But we’re not stuck with the stories we tell about them.

Bob Goff once said to me, “A lot of times in our lives, when we’ve been hurt, there’s an emotional sting. But eventually, you realize that everybody is doing the best they can with what they have.”

That’s what love does. Even when it hurts. Even when it doesn’t turn out the way we hoped it would. It makes us see that everybody is doing the best they can with what they have.

We see the world through the lenses of the stories we tell ourselves. If you see the world through the lenses of rage and anger, that’s what will color your perceptions. If you see the world through the belief that everybody is doing the best they can with what they have, that will shape your reality. The first makes you bitter. The second makes you better.

DAMN GOOD REASONS TO DEVIATE FROM YOUR ITINERARY

A friend of mine was on her way to meet me at a bookstore in India and got stuck in traffic. She was worried I might miss my flight. I told her the worst-case scenario was that I’d take another flight. It would be totally worth it if I got to spend more time with her.

When some people travel, they freak out if things don’t go exactly as planned or if they have to deviate from the itinerary. But there are damn good reasons to deviate from the itinerary:

  • If you got stuck in traffic and missed your flight because you were spending time with a cute girl you have a crush on.
  • If the surf picks up, a swell rolls in, and the waves get better.
  • If a storm brings in a foot of fresh powder.
  • If you miss a flight at any time of day because you were having mind-blowing sex.
  • If you want to spend one more hour, one more day, or one more night with a friend or family member that you absolutely adore.

There’s always going to be another flight, or another way to get there. So there’s no point sacrificing damn good reasons to deviate from your itinerary.

The Backdrop Matters Far Less than The People You're With

It's the perspective we choose— not the places we visit— that ultimately tells us where we stand - Pico Iyer

You could visit the most exciting place on the planet with the most boring people in the world. Or you could visit the most boring place on earth with the most amazing people in the world. The latter would be infinitely more fulfilling.

In all the times I had visited India, I’d never seen the Taj Mahal. My sister said pictures didn’t do it justice. Unfortunately, the day of my visit, my friend was unable to join me because of a death in the family. I completely understood her predicament. So I decided to go alone.

There’s no question—it’s breathtaking and awe-inspiring. But, despite the fact that it is one of the seven wonders of the world, it was the least memorable of my experiences in India.

  • The day I spent hopping from bookstore to bookstore with my friend was one that I would treasure more than my visit to the Taj Mahal.
  • The week I spent with the first surfers in India mattered more to me than the Taj Mahal.
  • Eating and drinking my way through Hyderabad with my young cousins would always be a fonder memory than the Taj Mahal.

Those were the days that would stay forever in my heart and mind, while my visit to the Taj Mahal meant little more than some pictures I could upload to Instagram and Facebook. The backdrop matters less than the people you’re with. Backdrops lead to pretty pictures. Time with people leads to unforgettable memories, even if those memories are as simple as a cab ride from the airport.

OUR LAST TRIP AS A FAMILY

My sister called me toward the end of the summer and said, “I think you should come on this trip. It’s been twenty-five years since we’ve been to India as a family, and this is probably going to be the last time we’re all going to be able to go together.”

The words “last trip as a family” echoed as the plane took off from LAX. It felt a bit like a time warp. I was back twenty-five years, sitting next to my dad on a flight when he was a young postdoc"about to start his career as a professor. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, he’d raised two kids and become a tenured professor, and he was planning his daughter’s wedding. And as I typed, sipping my wine between sentences and paragraphs, I felt tears coming to my eyes as I contemplated what Tim Urban has referred to as the “Tail End.”

I used to hate these trips as a kid. India for the whole summer? Why? The summers felt as if they were never going to end. From the moment we landed, all I could think about was the moment we’d take off from Mumbai, leaving the unbearable heat and heading back to America where we could finally see our friends, use toilet paper, and get back to our lives.

But with age, time accelerates. Days start to feel like hours, weeks like days, months like weeks, years like months, and decades like years—all going by in a blink. I can feel that pace in every minute, even now: forty-eight hours with a friend until our next encounter, two days with a friend I haven’t seen in ten years, and then surf camp in the motherland. It’s frenetic, and before long it will all morph from experience into memory.

Families are beautiful, messy, and complex. We fight, disagree, laugh, and love. There are few things in life that force you to confront your mortality like watching your parents age. “Despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life,” says Tim Urban in his blog, *Wait but Why*.

We take it for granted that we can pick up the phone and they’ll always be there just to talk. We have a home where the doors are always open, they’ll never let you leave without being fed, and you’ll always receive that text asking whether you’ve arrived safely, even if you’re driving no more than an hour away.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a family like the one I just described, spend time with your aging parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles, it’s worth reflecting on the final words of a friend whom I lost in the summer of 2019: “Never take it for granted.”

SUNDAY DINNERS

When you turn forty, it can feel a bit like the journey is half over. You start to contemplate your mortality and that of the people closest to you. For me, the fear of being alone was replaced by the fear that my parents might not be around to see the milestone moments of marriage, kids, and all those things I thought would have happened by now.

Shortly before I turned forty, I interviewed Frank Ostaseski, the director of the Zen Hospice Project. Frank has had a front-row seat for death. So I asked him about my fear. He told me not to wait for the milestones, to spend time with my aging parents now. So I started going home for dinner every Sunday.

I fill my parents in on the events of the week: book sales, surf conditions, interviews, etc. We discuss the presidency, which they find shocking since I’ve always encouraged them not to watch the news. I avoid telling them about the people I have gone on dates with or hooked up with, and they don’t ask because we now have an unspoken rule that when it’s worth telling, I will.

Indian mothers have the superpower of being able to make amazing food without any recipes. They use “dashes of this and that” combined with instinct to make meals that are unmistakably theirs and impossible to replicate. Just ask any Indian person who has stood next to his or her mother at a stove and tried. The kitchen is their canvas, and meals are their art. For Indians, food is the glue that brings us together and meals shape our memories.

My friend Neha once sent me a message that said, “I might be biased, but my mother is the best cook in the world.” With rare exceptions, every Indian mother is the best cook in the world. There’s very little that I can say with 100 percent certainty is a worthwhile reason to stop when you’re taking the scenic route. But I am 100 percent certain about this: if somebody offers you a home-cooked Indian meal, don’t ever turn it down.

UNICORNS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PLANET

I’d sworn off romantic interest in anyone who knew me through my work. They’re into the persona, not the person; the fantasy, not the reality. I never live up to their expectations. Having a public presence of any kind makes you guarded because it becomes hard to decipher who is there because he or she is really your friend and who is there because of your perceived status (which in daily life, nobody gives a fuck about). Maybe it was because I was 10,000 miles from home. Maybe it was because she was on the sideline during one of the most intimate moments of my life: shopping for my sister’s wedding.

I texted my friend Joseph and wrote, “What would you say if I told you I met an Indian girl who is down to learn how to surf and snowboard?” He replied, saying, “I think you’ve found a unicorn.” But the universe apparently has a sense of humor, because I discovered a unicorn in an inconvenient place: on the other side of the damn planet.

With her, I didn’t feel rushed, in a hurry, or as if I had somewhere to be. I felt like myself: quirks, imperfections, sarcasm, and no pressure to perform, to live up to some image that I’ve created on the internet under the disguise of a “personal brand.” We talked for hours, sharing stories about our families, and I told her my feels so crazy that even Mira Nair would say “holy shit.”

Every time I saw her, she was prettier than the time before. We smoked a joint and went bookstore hopping, and when we were at a tourist attraction in Dehli, I told her my parents might ask questions if they saw that I’d spent the last two days with an Indian girl. When she asked me what I was going to tell them, I stumbled through an answer, while secretly wanting to kiss her right then and there.

But if I did and she didn’t react well, I’d be screwed. She was my tour guide, and I’m certain that I wasn’t equipped to navigate the adventure of walking around old Dehli on my own. So I hesitated ... until we were in the Uber, saying goodbye with the looming possibility that I wouldn’t see her again.

We kissed before we parted ways and I couldn’t help thinking I wanted to see her again. When I told her I thought I’d regret leaving India without seeing her again, she expressed concerns that I might come back to see her with expectations about what would happen.

I made it clear that I had no expectations and that I just wanted to see her again. Because I had no expectations at all, every moment was a delight instead of a disappointment, and the time we spent together led to some of my fondest memories of my trip.

I also wondered what would happen if a girl I started dating back home read this. Would she wonder if I was all in? After all, it’s completely impractical to date someone on the other side of the planet. The one and only long-distance relationship I’ve attempted was a disaster.

Simon Sinek once posted on Twitter, “My favorite definition of love is giving someone the power to destroy you and trusting they won’t use it.” While I like the definition, I don’t know whether there’s anyone who won’t use that power, because there never has been.

When you’ve been hurt, you lose the ability to love with reckless abandon. You’re cautiously optimistic. You let the walls down one brick at a time. If there’s any indication that the wall might crumble and you might be destroyed, you put the bricks back. You choose to be vulnerable in small doses as opposed to big portions. You temper your expectations, or ditch them altogether. Delete a phone number, take a shot, book a trip, go down the mountain as fast as you can go so you can forget about it all.

So far in my life, I knew I was going to break up with the girls I was dating within weeks of dating. But the ones I hoped would stay never have.

I also couldn’t help but wonder whether this whole experience was amplified and intensified because I was in a novel environment. When you’re in another country, everything is a stimulus. And when you’re in a country like India, crossing the road is a death-defying adventure. There’s cause for celebration every time you get to the other side.

When my soon-to-be brother-in-law and my sister arrived in India, he asked right away, “What’s up with this girl?” He’s perceptive enough to tell there’s something up from the way I mention her. When I tell him we smoked a joint and went bookstore hopping, he said, “It’s no wonder you like her.”

When I landed back in the US, I texted the cousin whom I’m closest to, who is like my other sister, whom I trust the most, who is my litmus test for any woman that I’d ever let into my life. Then I told her that this is completely impractical. So I sent my new friend a message on Instagram, told her I’m quitting social media for thirty days, and said, “Meeting you was one of my fondest memories of 2018.”

Without the weight of your expectations, you can travel lightly, see more, experience less disappointment and more delight. You might even find a unicorn on the other side of the planet.

EXPANDED HORIZONS

As people get older, they get set in their ways. They don’t change things. They eat at the same restaurants, hang out with the same people, and stop exploring the world and—more importantly—themselves. They become one-dimensional. They avoid anything that’s not on their itinerary or isn’t part of the plan.

But the only way to expand yourself is to keep expanding your horizons. If you visit any country, you’ll find that there are multiple versions of it. There’s a rich version, a poor version, an adventurous version, and a safe version. But if you limit yourself to just one version, you limit your experiences. When you limit your horizons, you limit your perceptions. When you expand your horizons, you’ll transcend those limitations and expand yourself in the process.

ATTENDING MY SISTER'S WEDDING WITHOUT A DATE

Every couple of months, I make an appointment to see my therapist, just to check in. By September 2018, I’d hit something of a low point:

  • My business partner and I had parted ways.
  • My books weren’t selling as well as I’d hoped.
  • Money was getting tighter.

At this point, my parents are wise enough to know that something is wrong when I make an appointment to see my therapist. My dad asks what’s wrong and offers to help me with money, and I can’t say a word, just shed tears. He reminds me that there’s going to be so much to look forward to.

During my appointment, I tell my therapist that I’m probably going to be at my sister’s wedding without a date. I feel ashamed, unwanted, and unlovable. Being at my younger sister’s wedding without a date seems like the ultimate indicator that I suck at relationships.

For ten years, since my last relationship, I haven’t had a date for anybody’s wedding. At this point, it seems like the only wedding I’ll have a date for is my own.

But then something shifted. I surrendered. I accepted that I’d probably be at the wedding without a date. I stopped seeing myself as the guy at my sister’s wedding without a date, and instead as the most eligible bachelor.

The week of the wedding, there was so much joy and love in the air that I felt anything but unlovable. I was seeing family I hadn’t seen in years and having the time of my life.

My mother was glowing. My dad looked like an Indian James Bond in his tux, and he spent about fifteen minutes at the end of the night bragging to my mother about how many compliments he had received. The way my sister looked in all her outfits made me feel the way Glennon Doyle described having a sister:

Being a sister's sister is like being a museum curator charged with protecting and displaying a precious gift. When someone comes to look, I have to make sure he gets it. I have to make sure he's paying enough attention. I have to make sure he understands the value of the artwork. I have to make sure he's approaching with the right mix of curiosity and reverence. I have to make sure he's in the proper state of Awe.

I knew two things going into this: I look good in a tux and I’m damn good at giving speeches. If you’re my age and single at an Indian wedding, you’ll hear one of two things: “You’re next!” or “When are you getting married?” I’d been completely annoyed by this for years. But with my speech, I decided to put my network of “Indian aunties” to work.

I opened my speech with a slide of my phone number and said, “For all of you Indian aunties who might be wondering when I’m getting married, you can text profiles, pictures, and all other relevant information about potential suitors to this number. I’ll expect a report on your progress by the end of next week.”

The speech was a big hit. One of my brother-in-law’s friends invited me to speak to his students at Texas A&M University, and people came up to me all night telling me how much they had enjoyed the speech.

When one of my mom’s friends came up to me, I explained that I’d meet anyone she wanted, but if she set me up on one bad date, I’d fire her. After all, if she set me up on a bad date, she didn’t know me well enough to be qualified for the job. This would be like The Apprentice. The last aunty standing would win. As of right now, those aunties have proved to be unqualified and unmotivated to do my bidding. They're the worst unpaid employees in the world.

When we stop catastrophizing and wallowing in self pity, obstacles become opportunities, pain turns into potential, and being at your sister’s wedding without a date becomes the opportunity of a lifetime.

SPIRITUAL SKEPTICISM, NEW AGE BULLSHIT, AND LEAPS OF FAITH

I’m what you might call a “spiritual skeptic.” In moments of darkness, I’ve questioned the existence of God. I think religion is a bit too time consuming and I’m drawn toward things that can be explained by science, logic, and reason. But I’m also spiritual.

When I met my energy healer for the first time, I asked her whether the healing sessions were “just a bunch of New Age bullshit.” When I had my first session, she brought books with her so she could give me a logical explanation of energy. After our first session, I stopped thinking about a painful experience that I’d thought about every day for almost three years. I became less of a skeptic after that.

On the day of my sister’s wedding, before the ceremony started, the wind was howling. It was so strong that the guy who had built the outdoor platform asked us to find four volunteers to hold the beams on each corner. He said there was a 1 percent chance it would fall, but even that 1 percent chance wasn’t worth taking. Given that it was my little sister who would be on the platform, I volunteered. But then something mysterious happened.

The moment the priest started the wedding ceremony, the wind died down. There’s probably no moment in my life that restored my faith in things I could never explain as much as that one did. In our lives, there are forces in the universe we can’t control, explain, or understand. Believing in those forces is what I suppose people mean when they encourage you to take a leap of faith. Believing that you’ll discover unparalleled beauty when you take the scenic route is a leap of faith.

THE GEOGRAPHY OF A CREATIVE LIFE

The geography of a creative life is different from that of a normal one. It doesn’t follow predictable arcs or have clearly marked destinations or well-lit paths. It requires you, in the words of my friend AJ Leon, to “grab a machete and hack your own” path. You don’t take the MCAT or pass the bar exam. No certification or diploma makes you qualified to do your work. Instead of choosing from the options in front of you, you take the scenic route and explore the possibilities that are around you.

False Starts

I’ve had many false starts in my life.

  • I quit Muay Thai, bass lessons, and Capoeira within a few weeks of starting.
  • I started a dozen writing projects, many of which are buried in digital graveyeards with early incarnations of my work.

Everyone has false starts. Entire industries thrive on false starts.

  • We sign up for a class, but never remove the shrink-wrap. Or we look for the thing that’s going to solve our next problem when we haven’t yet solved the first one.
  • We join the gym, but never attend.
  • We purchase an instrument, but never practice.

A false start is better than standing still. You try something. You learn something. False starts allow you to collect data points and pay attention to what you find engaging. False starts are only a problem when they stop us in our tracks for good.

Dead Ends

When I was twenty, I had a plan. But I quickly realized that life rarely goes according to plan, especially if you make that plan when you’re twenty. I was fired on my twenty-fifth birthday, graduated into two recessions, and was broke at thirty. You couldn’t have planned such lousy timing.

If you choose to pursue a life of meaning, intention, and purpose, you’ll hit dead ends. You don’t choose this kind of life if you want to get from point A to point B without stopping anywhere along the way. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom in order to reach your peak. New beginnings are often disguised as endings, and dead ends precede significant change.

Dead ends hurt. When the book doesn’t sell copies, the album is a dud, and the project fails, we hit dead ends. “Artistic losses are our miscarriages,” said Julia Cameron in *The Artist’s Way*.

Layovers

Every creative journey has a layover between the beginning and the final destination. Day jobs and whatever else we need to do to pay the bills are layovers in the geography of a creative life:

  • Steven Pressfield picked fruit and drove trucks.
  • Michael Crichton went to law school.
  • John Legend worked for the Boston Consulting Group.

People on a layover know it’s temporary. They spend a small part of life, their life, doing what they need to do so they can do what they were born to do. Dyana Valentine says that you should treat your day job as the first angel investor in your dream or company. Treat your layovers accordingly.

Detours

In the detours of a creative life, we arrive at what Elle Luna in a Medium article, calls the crossroads of should and must.” We begin a part of the journey where everything is unknown, and anything is possible:

  • When a doctor quits her practice to pursue some humanitarian effort, she takes a detour.
  • When a designer walks away from a start-up to make art, she takes a detour.

Detours take us into uncharted territory. We can approach them like a person who drives across the country and only stops for gas. Or we can stop and look around. All it takes is one turn in a different direction to end up at a different destination. When you arrive at the detour, you’ll be encouraged to take the tried-and-true path, and discouraged from enduring the uncertainty of an unproven path. The detour is the call in every hero’s journey.

Peaks and Valleys

In 2013, I was on top of the world. I became a Wall Street Journal  best-selling author. I made more progress with my career in six months than I had in all the years prior. By the summer of 2014, I was in a dark valley, my crucible, or what I referred to in my previous book as “the impact zone.” You’re taking wave after wave on the head, and it seems as if you’re never coming back up for air. We canceled an event because we didn’t sell enough tickets. A few weeks later an editor contacted me about writing a book.

When you’re in a dark valley, it can be hard to find reasons to live. The wounds feel as if they’re never going to close. It’s been said that cracks are how the light gets in, but in the midst of grief, that light passes through you, quickly fading back into darkness. Every experience is intensified, and every emotion is heightened.

  • You feel beyond lonely, yet you can’t be around people.
  • You want to climb, but you can barely stand.
  • You want to feel intimacy, but all you’re capable of is distance.

But every dark chapter eventually comes to an end. Permanence is diminishing. The wounds close and we’re left with the scars of distant memories, and valuable lessons to carry us into what comes next. The clouds clear. The sun rises again. In the midst of darkness, I always reflect on these words:

It’s all about connecting with the sun, because when we wake up before the sun, we’re able to see that transition from darkness to light. And I think there’s something so deeply healing to the human psyche about seeing that happen because it’s a reminder to us that darkness is temporary, and it passes and gives way for the light of the sun of the day. So these dark habits and destructive patterns and thoughts that we have will only have a temporary existence in our mind. —Ananta Ripa Ajmera, The Unmistakable Creative

All seasons of adversity eventually come to an end. In the dark valleys of a creative life, loss creates an opening. We lose what wasn’t meant to be so we can focus on what we’re destined for.

False Horizons

Remember how Ed Helms said that “life is a series of false horizons” at the height of his career? When we’re not at the mountaintop, we think that to reach it will lead to everlasting happiness. When we reach the mountaintop, we understand why accomplishing our goals won’t make us happy forever. The expression of your soul’s calling is in a perpetual state of evolution. There is no “I’ve made it” moment. There’s only a craft to master and more work to be done. To be an eternal master, you must be a perpetual student.

If you choose the geography of a creative life, you’ll have more memories, experiences, scars, wounds, and stamps in your passport. In the geography of a creative life, you’ll learn far more from the journey than from the destination. You travel with a compass instead of a map. Most of what ends up in your passport of life, as in your real passport, is collected and created for an audience of one.

DHARMA

I’m not sure where or when it started. But somewhere along the way, I began to develop an inferiority complex about my sister. While I always had my head in the clouds, she always seemed to have it together.

- She got good grades in college. I barely graduated.

- She rose to the top of her field by her early thirties. I’d been fired from all my jobs by age thirty.

- She’s naturally charming; I’m more of an acquired taste. She successfully crossed off all the check boxes of society’s life plan; I had to burn it and create my own.

- She’s pretty much everything that I’m not. One of my oldest friends jokes that she’s every Indian parent’s dream come true.

The day I finished business school without a job lined up and my graduation seemed more like a funeral than a reason to celebrate, I felt as if she was the source of my parents’ pride and joy, while I was the source of all their shame and disappointment. Of course that’s not true. But it’s easy to believe when the external reality seems to indicate that it is.

A few days after graduation, I threw a bag in my car and drove off to Sedona, Arizona, to find the meaning of life. I walked into a New Age bookstore and picked up some book that said that I was meant to be a writer, religious leader, or spiritual teacher. On the drive home from Sedona, I came up with my first idea for a blog post. Writing became my lifeline, my dharma.

Dharma is something unique to each of us. It makes little sense to compare our lives to anybody else’s. You could compare yourself to the people whom you think are more impressive than you are. Or you could see that you possess certain gifts, an expression of your soul’s calling—one that will allow you to leave the world a little different because you’ve been here.

The more we compare ourselves to anybody, whether that be a friend, a sibling, a hero, or a role model, the more we unnecessarily suffer. I’m not my sister; she’s not me. You are not me, and I’m not you. We can play the hand we’re dealt or wish we’d been dealt a different one. My dharma was to change people with my words; hers was to change them with her work. We resist our dharma to our detriment.

As for that pesky inferiority complex, it still creeps up when she’s able to give my parents things that I haven’t yet. That was the hardest thing about watching her shop for her wedding. I kept seeing what I wasn’t currently capable of. But I remind myself that the future is unwritten, and add to the list of all the things that I hope I’ll be able to give my parents someday, the first of which is a palace on wheels.

IMAGINED LIMITATIONS

After two seasons in my early twenties, I concluded that brown people and cold weather are an unnatural combination and gave up on snowboarding. But after five years of surfing, my pathological need to do anything that involved a board under my feet led me to a skate shop in Venice Beach, California, and then to a ski resort near Big Bear.

The one and only toy that was within their means that my parents denied me was a skateboard, because kids who skateboarded broke bones. So in some strange Freudian way, I think my love for board sports is a rebellion against being denied a skateboard as a child.

I took to snowboarding quickly this time, and I’ve said that surfing will always be my first love while snowboarding is a fantastic mistress.

When you drop into a wave or when you’re flying down a mountain at forty miles an hour, you can’t really think about anything other than what you’re doing. It’s the ultimate escape from the voice in your head, the problems in your life, and the people who are driving you crazy. It’s where your demons die and the ghosts don’t follow. This is, more than any other reason, why I surf and why I snowboard.

The exercise is just a convenient fringe benefit.

Before I turned forty, I figured I’d reached my limits as a snowboarder. I’d never be able to do a black diamond and I was ok with that. But when my friend convinced me to go down one in the spring of 2018, I ended up on the ride of my life.

Sometimes when you take the scenic route, you’ll end up back at a place you’ve been before, but the second time it takes you down a different path altogether.

In my twenties I gave up on snowboarding, and before I turned forty I was riding a black diamond. Age, and many other things, in most instances are imagined limitations.

WISDON OF THE SURFING SWAMI

I met the very first surfers in India at the Mantra Surf Club. They’re a group of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet. They love chasing waves, are apparently all amazing cooks, and shared one surf board between the nine of them growing up. And this is the little bit of wisdom they passed on to me:

  1. Be disciplined
  2. Be sincere
  3. Give 100 percent and aim for the stars.

THE INDIAN BENJAMIN BUTTON

The way my father has aged has been nothing short of remarkable. It was almost as if he looked younger each year. He’s almost seventy and looks like he’s forty. We’re occasionally mistaken for brothers. He's also been carded at a bar when he came to visit me in college.

My friend Gareth Pronovost once said, “Your dad is like the Indian Benjamin Button.” It’s almost as if he’s aging in reverse. He’s one of the happiest and most likable people you’ll ever meet. From the checkout clerks at Costco to our family members, everybody thinks the world of him.

There are days when I wish I had more of his temperament, but I’ve always paid attention to his principles. He practices stoicism, it seems, without even knowing. These are the small things that he’s said over the years that have stayed with me:

Whatever happens, it’s for the best: My journey along the scenic route has been filled with perils and pleasures, highs and lows. And when I’ve hit the lows, I try to remember this. The worst doesn’t seem like it’s for the best in the present moment. But in retrospect, it almost always ends up being that way.

Worrying is pointless: I’m not sure about you, but I worry a bit too much, most likely about the same things you do. I worry about money, about relationships, and about the future. But nothing really comes of it. So I try to remind myself that worrying is an exercise in futility. As Jen Sincero says in *You Are a Badass at Making Money*, “Worrying is praying for things you don’t want.”

Anger is one of the worst qualities in a person: I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my dad lose his temper. It takes a lot to make him angry. While we’ve had our arguments, he doesn’t yell and he doesn’t brood. He has a remarkable ability to let everything go.

These three basic principles, it seems, are the key tenets for aging in reverse, for becoming the Indian Benjamin Button.

HOW WILL YOU MEASURE YOUR LIFE?

Several years ago, a Harvard Business School professor named Clayton Christensen wrote a book titled *How Will You Measure Your Life?* It’s something I’ve thought about a lot over the past ten years. I’ve measured my life in dollars, prestige, status, notches on my bed post, book sales, podcast downloads, traffic to my website, and other vanity metrics. I’ve also measured it according to other people’s expectations, with their yardstick.

Here’s a harsh truth you probably don’t ever consider when you’re worrying about how you’re going to make more money or have sex with that hot girl or guy, or about how your start-up is going to succeed: When you’ve taken your final breath and you’re six feet under, nobody will give a fuck what was on your resume, how big your bank balance was, or how many people visited your website. Instead they’ll be giving your eulogy. What are they going to say? Measure your life accordingly.

ADVICE FOR GRADUATING SENIORS

A few years ago, I gave a talk to my high school AP English teacher’s class of graduating seniors. There’s probably no other time in your life when you have so much freedom, and your life is ripe with so many possibilities. This is what I shared with them.

Not too long ago … well, actually twenty years ago (which has gone by in the blink of an eye), I was sitting exactly where you’re sitting, doing what you’re doing, in Miss Fauver’s AP English class, about to graduate and at a time and a place in my life, much like the one you’re in, when, in the words of Elle Luna “nothing is known and everything is possible.”

So I thought what I’d share with you is the advice that I would give myself if I could go back and talk to the eighteen-year-old version of me. Ironically, if I had known everything I’m about to tell you, I might not have been here telling it to you. That’s the thing about being eighteen. You think you know everything. So, in no particular order of importance, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned on this journey.

What Do You Want to Do with Your Life?

Chances are you’ve been giving a lot of thought to the answer to this question: What do you want to do with your life? And it’s kind of a loaded question because, despite what you might think, you hardly know who you are. You’ve only lived a small fraction of your life. You might be tempted to answer that question with how you plan to earn a living. **But there’s a difference between what you plan to do with your life and how you plan to earn a living.**

When you don’t limit the answer to that question, you open yourself up for a hell of a ride. Even though you’ve probably spent the past eighteen years of your life searching for the right answers in order to get good grades, pass AP tests, get into the college of your dreams, and become masters of the universe, I’m not sure there are any right answers. And even if there are, I encourage you to search for interesting ones.

So make a list of everything you plan to do with you life.

  • Write it down in a notebook.
  • Don’t worry about how crazy or insane it sounds, or how it’s ever going to happen.
  • Just make the list.

At the end of every year, see how many things you’ve managed to cross off.

As you get older, fatter, and slower (which I know sounds unlikely to you right now), some of those things might not be as easy as they seem right now. So use your time wisely.

The author Neil Gaiman refers to his list as the mountain. And he once said that as long as he kept walking toward the mountain he knew he’d be all right. And that’s the first piece of advice I’d give to you and to my eighteen-year-old self: Don’t walk away from the mountain.

Maybe You Have Plans

Maybe you have plans, even a career in mind. If you have Indian parents, some options might have been implicitly or explicitly suggested to you: “Do you want to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer? Well, how do you plan to earn a living otherwise?”

Maybe you’ve had this conversation at your kitchen table with your parents. I wish someone had told me that you don’t have to choose from the options in front of you. There’s a whole set that you’ll find if you’re just willing to look for them. But I didn’t look for them. My plan included Berkeley in the fall, straight As, and some high-profile job that I could eventually brag about on my resume. Which takes us to the next question …

What is school for?

  1. 1. To attend the greatest party of your life and have lots of sex (if you weren’t cool enough to do that in high school)?
  2. To change the world?

Ideally, both. And I know this because I managed to do neither. I had a map and a plan. I thought about being an English major and I went to a career fair on campus two weeks after school started. A recruiter at Accenture told me they didn’t hire English majors. So I dropped that idea. And every single choice I made from that point forward was based on what I thought would lead to a job.

I didn’t get straight As. I never got the high-profile job. And because of that, I wasted one of the greatest gifts that was ever given to me: Berkeley, with a world of possibilities that I would have seen if I hadn’t just been looking at the ones in front of me.

So don’t be in such a hurry to grow up and get a real job.

Embrace your curiosity. Study how to make films, cook delicious food,make good art, and do other things that seem like they have no practical purpose. In indulging your curiosity, you’re much more likely to find a calling, which beats the hell out of a career.

Maybe college isn’t part of your plan. The good news is that there are other ways to attend the greatest party of your life, have lots of sex, and change the world. And given the rising cost of tuition, they’re probably more cost-effective.

The beautiful thing about being young is that you have no real responsibilities. You can take big risks, the kind that your parents, peers, and society might initially frown upon, but will ultimately cause you to grow in ways you never imagined. Some of my happiest, most successful friends are the ones who did stints as ski bums before they became “productive members” of society.

When It Doesn’t Go According to Plan

Even if you have this whole journey all mapped out, it probably won’t go according to plan. Besides, what fun would that be? I graduated into two recessions.

  • The first was in December 2001.
  • The second was from graduate school, in April 2009.

One of those recessions you grew up with, the other you probably have little recollection of. Just imagine a time when there was no Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no iPhone, and no Instagram. I know what you’re thinking: “Damn, that dude is really old.”

At thirty-one, I was broke, had two degrees, and had a resume that looked a bit more like a rap sheet. So I turned to the two things that have become the driving force of my life: surfing and writing. I finally did what I wish I had figured out when I was your age: I ditched my map for a compass.

A map is great if you want to go where people have been before. A compass, even though uncertain and unpredictable, will cause you to pave new paths and lead you to unexpected and amazing places. So, for the past seven years, I’ve trusted my compass. It hasn’t always been fun. It hasn’t always been easy. But it has always been interesting.

  • I wrote every single day, until I was writing 1,000 words a day.
  • I started a show called the *Unmistakable Creative* that thousands of people around the world listen to today.
  • Since I couldn’t achieve something worthy of being invited to TED, I planned my own conference and convinced nine friends to speak and sixty attendees to show up.

And close to the end of 2014, I almost quit. That’s the thing about a creative career. It will test your commitment to it. But because I wasn’t sure what else to do with myself, I told my parents, “Give me until the end of the year, and if it hasn’t worked out, I’ll quit and I’ll get a real job.” Two months later an editor found my work online, and about a month ago, I got an offer from Penguin Portfolio to write two books. And it happened right after I was almost ready to throw in the towel.

Have there been hard things? Sure. I’ve seen my friends lose their parents, some lose spouses, and others lose their kids. Life is a combination of soul-smashing and beautiful things, none of which can you really prepare for. But it is also filled with tiny beautiful things, as Cheryl Strayed would say.

So I’ll leave you with this, which I hope more than any of what I’ve said you’ll take to heart:

  • May your eyes be clear.
  • May your hearts be full.
  • May curiosity rule your senses.
  • May enthusiasm ignite your actions.
  • May you see what can’t be seen by the world around you.
  • May you make the impossible possible
  • May you strip away your fears, your expectations, and your doubts, and unleash upon the world your gift of the boundless originality that resides within you.
  • May you steal like an artist when appropriate, as I have throughout this talk.

Let your life be filled with the magic of hours that feel like minutes, and minutes that feel like seconds.

Let it be filled with words that sound like music, paintings that look like movies, and people who touch your heart.

Let it be filled with sunsets, sunrises, perfect waves, long-drawn-out kisses in the rain, chocolate cake with ice cream, and moments that flash before your eyes like a montage when you die.

When you arrive at the crossroads of should and must that Elle Luna refers to, choose must. When you must choose between the map and the compass, embrace the compass. When you have a choice between the most efficient way to get somewhere and the scenic route, take the latter.

Make living your art, life your canvas, and remember, you like the gods were born to create.

WHEN YOU'RE NOT THE PERSON YOU THOUGHT YOU'D BE

My fortieth birthday was the most anticlimactic birthday I’ve ever had:

  • The girl I had been dating broke up with me two weeks before.
  • My birthday dinner was me and three couples.
  • Nobody could make it to the “big party,” so we canceled it and I felt as if life was beating shit out of me one punch at a time.

After that, I figured that I’d never want to celebrate another birthday again.

I wasn’t the person I had thought I’d be. But when I finally stopped wallowing in self-pity, I started to see that the greatest gift of my life was that I wasn’t the person I had thought I would be.

  • I hadn’t climbed the ladder and settled into the comfort of a corner office.
  • I hadn’t given up on my dream of writing books.
  • I hadn’t settled into a life of routine, convention, conformity, and mediocrity.
  • And the list of amazing things I had experienced would be too long to write about here.

I realized there were so many reasons to be grateful my life hadn’t turned out the way I had thought it would.

You can lament the fact that you aren’t the person you thought you’d be. You can cry over the fact that life hasn’t turned out the way you thought it would. Or you can get to work becoming the person you could be.

When you finally stop dwelling on the way you thought your life would have turned out, your future is suddenly a blank canvas that’s open for invention and possibility. And that life might be a million times better than the one you thought you were going to have.

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS AND UNMET EXPECTATIONS
We are going to do better, and be happier, if we start by recognizing we’ll never be sure of the future. —Annie Duke, Thinking in Bets
  • I never expected to be forty and single.
  • I never expected to attend my sister’s wedding without a date.
  • I never expected to have so much fun giving a speech at her wedding.
  • I never expected to be a published author or professional speaker.
  • I never expected to fall in love with the country I hated visiting as a kid.
  • I never expected to find so much meaning, joy, happiness, and love in a life that that hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would.

There were two moments during my sister’s wedding that I knew would fill my heart forever. The first was watching her and my dad dance together. The second was seeing her throw her arms around him and give him a huge hug. Even without being expressed, the sense of love in the air was palpable from all my family members.

When I walked into the house the day after the wedding, it felt quiet, empty. I missed the sounds of kids running up and down the stairs and three-year-olds hijacking my Xbox. The aromas wafting through the kitchen, the sound of jokes, stories, love, and laughter had all been replaced by silence. What we’d been anticipating and looking forward to for a year was now over. The night of the wedding had been one of my favorite nights of my entire life.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my unmet expectations, it’s this. When you release them, you end up making space for unforgettable moments and amazing things you never expected.

ALTERED PERCEPTIONS

When I visited India as a kid, I didn’t think I’d have any reason to come back except to see my family. I thought it was hot, dirty, crowded, and chaotic. Years ago, my business school roommate Sumeet Malik said, “Get out of the cities and you will see a very different India.”

And on this trip, I found a different India. One that I think you could only find when you take the scenic route through life. One that you’d probably only discover if your life doesn’t go according to plan. One that I feel proud to have been born in.

I met listeners of the Unmistakable Creative podcast, and managed to recruit some new ones. I met one of India’s first female surfers, who is pioneering the next generation of young girls who surf, and who taught me that what has kept many women from surfing in India is a fear of getting dark. My hope is that this will change and they’ll start to see that the joy of riding a wave could fundamentally alter their perceptions, their confidence, and their narrative about body image.

There’s something magical about witnessing the beginning of a subculture and the transformation of an entire culture’s value system. There’s a wanderlust and thirst for adventure that seems to be infiltrating the consciousness of the young people in India.

And I feel blessed to be a part of passing on the “stoke,” the term surfers use to describe our absolute love for the ocean, to the next generation. It also doesn’t hurt to have the most uncrowded lineups on the planet. (This is something that is in rare supply in the surfing world. Hopefully I haven’t ruined it by writing about it.)

For more than ten years, I’d seen what surfing could do for the quality of a person’s life, but more importantly to a person’s state of mind. I’m undeniably a happier person when I’m surfing. In her book Still Writing, Dani Shapiro said, “When I’m not writing, the world around me is leached of its color.” I feel the same way about surfing.

If surfing can help kids who are living in poverty feel hope and happiness, I think it might be one of the most important catalysts for transforming their circumstances. I’ve also started chatting with the guys I hung out with about making a documentary film about surfing in India, and finding a way to use all the proceeds to get a surfboard into the hands of every one of these kids.

As we headed for the airport, all that was left of my experiences were photos and soon-to-be-distant memories:

  • the kids at the Mantra Surf Club and how they would shape India’s next generation of surfers
  • my cousins and the adventures we had shared eating, drinking, and laughing our way through the restaurants of Hyderabad
  • the young Indian action sports photographer at the start of his own creative career and journey along the scenic route
  • the woman who had been the highlight of my trip
  • shopping with my sister for her wedding, knowing that—more than likely—it would be our last trip as a family, and we probably wouldn’t take such a trip when I got married.

Unlike the relief I’d felt as a kid when the trips were over, I felt nostalgic. It seemed as if three weeks had gone by in the blink of an eye. I’d arrived in India with a surfboard and departed with my hands empty, my heart filled, and my perceptions of India forever altered.

AN AUDIENCE OF ONE

My previous book was titled An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake. It was about letting go of the expectations we have for our creative work and finding joy in the creative process. I struggled to let go of my expectations for that book. But eventually I did and got back to work.

I know myself well enough to know that if I’m not writing, if I’m not working on something, I’m not happy. I feel as if I’m moving but not going anywhere. One of my friends said it’s safe to assume that I’m always working on a new book, even if a publisher doesn’t want to publish it, even if nobody wants to read it or buy it. It’s something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.

I didn’t write this book for you. I wrote it for me. It feels amazing to be back at my desk, tapping away at the keyboard, back in touch with the joy of creating for an Audience of One.

Aging, Mortality, and The Time We Have Left with People Who Matter Most to Us

As our time winds down, we all seek comfort in simple pleasures—companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight on our faces. We become less interested in the rewards of achieving and accumulating, and more interested in the rewards of simply being. —Atul Gawande, *Being Mortal*

Above all things, we take for granted the time we have left with the people who matter to us. We assume there will always be tomorrow, we can always call an hour later, or we can see each other again next week, next month, or next year.

But the time we have left with the people who matter most to us is limited. No amount of money, no level of success can make up for it. It has an infinite value that can’t be quantified. While on the surface we might think we have years, when you add up the actual time, it turns out only to be days.

Knowing all this, we text more often than we call and we message each other more often than we see each other face to face. We choose short, shallow interactions over deep and meaningful conversations.

We accumulate fans, followers, subscribers, and visitors to websites as if those are worthwhile metrics to measure the quality of our lives. We compare our lives to the highlight reels of everyone else’s, prioritizing attention over connection and vanity over value. But the only metric that’s worth measuring your life with is time well spent.

In the ten years since I graduated from business school, I lived at my parents’ house well into my thirties to get my career as an author and speaker off the ground. I got a front-row seat to watching them age. They took more pills and moved more slowly. And it brought me face-to-face with the reality of their mortality.

  • There would eventually be a day when I’d never hear the sound of my dad’s voice, or visit Costco with him (where he’s become the unofficial brand ambassador, with the tagline “everything in this house except your mom is from Costco”).
  • There would eventually be a day when I’d never eat one of my mom’s home-cooked Indian meals again.

I used to think I had lost close to a decade of my life during the time I lived with my parents. It certainly wasn’t the kind of thirties I hoped or imagined I would have. It made it almost impossible to date. I was filled with this perpetual sense of shame that I hadn’t managed to get my shit together. When I finally did move out, I thought I’d hardly ever go back.

But within a year, I found myself at my parents’ house for dinner every Sunday. With a slight shift in perspective, I finally started to see that I hadn’t lost ten years of my life. Instead, I had gotten to spend more time with my parents than most of us are usually given with the people who matter most to us.

Families are, in the words of Cheryl Strayed, “unforgivingly complex.” They’re full of dramas, disagreements, and disappointments. There are moments in our lives when the people who love us unconditionally seem so insane we think that God must have made a sorting error to pair us with them. They drive us crazy and push our buttons, and there are days when we’ve had enough. Nobody is immune to this.

But here’s something to consider: We assume that they will always be a phone call away, that we can talk to them next week. We’re too busy to call, too lazy to write, and spending one hour in traffic is just not worth it to see each other for dinner. And each time we part ways, we assume that we’ll see each other again. We don’t hesitate to be harsh with our words, to argue with each other or criticize each other. We never consider the possibility that any conversation could be the very last conversation we have.

Aging forces you to confront your mortality and that of the people who matter most to you. When my friend died in the summer of 2018, I realized that mortality doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age, race, religion, skin color, or status. It’s equal-opportunity. Or, to put it more bluntly, we’re all going to die.

When I met my friend Travis the other night, we talked about “growing old, finding love, enjoying family, and doing the work we’re meant to do.” These are the kinds of conversations that fill our lives with meaning and purpose.

Speaking in a Manner You’ll Regret Later

In his book *Inner Engineering*, Sadhguru shares the story of a thirteen-year-old sister and eight-year-old brother who were taken captive by Nazi soldiers. The brother forgot his shoes, and the very last thing his sister said to him before they were separated was, “You idiot! Don’t we have enough trouble on our hands? We don’t know where our parents are, we don’t know where we’re going! And now you go and lose your shoes? What am I supposed to do with you?”

She never saw him again, and concluded, “It doesn’t matter who I meet, I will never speak to them in a manner that I regret later because this meeting could be my last.” So many of us speak to each other in a manner we would regret later if it turned out to be the last time we met.

Last year sometime, I unloaded on my mom before I boarded a flight to Colombia. Fortunately, it wasn’t our last meeting, but it easily could have been. If something had happened, both of us would have regretted it.

My oldest friend from college got into a slight argument with her mother over a piece of clothing her mother had picked up for her. For some reason, it wasn’t stylish enough. But when her mother passed away right after college, my friend remembered that moment and regretted it.

I used to meet my friend who passed away and we would commiserate over the fact that our mothers were lamenting that we weren’t married. He got his parents a dog so that they would leave him alone. I’m not sure what their last conversation was like. I hope it was one that none of them would regret.

Before you criticize your son or daughter for something you disapprove of, vilify a stranger on the internet, or send a scathing email to someone, remember there’s always the possibility that this will be your very last interaction with this person. Make sure you don’t regret it.

Seeing Someone Who Matters for the Last Time

At the time I started writing this section of the book, my sister and my brother-in-law had just returned from their honeymoon. Because I was scheduled to travel for a speaking engagement, I wasn’t going to be at my parents’ house before my grandmother returned to India. My sister said, “Oh, you should go home this weekend, then.”

I knew going there that it might very well be the last time I would ever see her. It was clear that she was slower and older than she had been on her previous visits.

One of the last things my grandmother said to me before I left was, “I need to live another ten years.” She probably guessed I’d be married by then. She told me about all the things she’d cook for me if I came to India.

I had told my mother that if my grandmother got to be alive for only one of the grandkids’ weddings, she had lucked out: it was better that she see my sister’s wedding than mine or my cousin’s. I look pretty damn good in a tux, but it pales in comparison to my sister as an Indian bride.

A New Definition of Rich

There’s an infinite value that can’t be measured for the time we have left with the people who matter to us.

  • If you’re a parent, think about the time you have left with your kids, and vice versa.
  • If you have a best friend who doesn’t live close by, pick up the phone and call, despite the physical distance or the time difference.

Pick up the phone and call. Write a letter instead of an email. Book a flight. We need to hear each other’s voices in order to touch each other’s hearts truly. And you can’t do that with tweets, status updates, and text messages. The ultimate measure of a meaningful life is time well spent on things and with the people who matter most to us. That’s my new definition of rich.

BECOME AN EXPLORER OF THE WORLD

The scenic route has led me to distant shores in pursuit of waves and to mountains in pursuit of snow. It has taken me around the world and helped me discover the adventures in my own backyard. It has led to friendships with people from all walks of life and taken me beyond the boundaries of race, religion, and status. It has taught me to look beyond the options in front of me and it has opened my eyes to the possibilities that surround me. It has made me an explorer of the world.

Sure, my life hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would. But I wouldn’t be who I am if it had. It hasn’t been perfect, but whose life is? It’s had unmet expectations, but whose life hasn’t?

If there’s one thing that this journey has taught me, it’s that there’s so much to see, so much to experience. But your life will always be limited if you’re rigid about your plans.

Travel with a compass instead of a map. Go off the beaten path instead of taking the track that’s well worn. Choose what’s unfamiliar over what’s comfortable. Say yes to what makes your heart sing. Say no to what makes it ache. Say yes to beers with new friends and no to arguments with old enemies.

When you’re tempted to linger, give in to that temptation. Give in to it

  • when you’re kissing someone, or staring at something awe-inspiring
  • when the final notes of beautiful music echo,
  • when it means a long, slow dinner when you and a friend are the very last people at the restaurant.

Because there’s really no point in taking the scenic route if you’re not going to stop and linger.

Your life may not have turned out the way you thought it would. But that doesn’t mean it won’t turn out the way it could.

Living in the present as if the future is somehow prewritten or predetermined on the basis of your past not only limits your potential, it robs you of joy. Your future is unwritten and filled with an infinite set of possibilities. You are an eternal work in progress, and your life is a blank canvas and a masterpiece in the making—so live like it.

THANKS FOR READING

When I opened my laptop at the beginning of a 17 hour flight to India at the end of November 2018, I had no idea what would emerge. I started typing away at the keyboard and the scenic route was born. And I've had a blast working on this project.

If you enjoyed this, there two things you could do to support me.

First, share it with someone who you think will enjoy it. Because Adobe Spark doesn't have a social sharing buttons, you'll have to go through the trouble of copying the URL. But I've set up an easy one that will redirect anyone to this page www.unmistakablecreative.com/scenic

Second, I've made a kindle version available for 2.99. Your purchased would help cover the costs of our copy editor and the amazing cover design by my friend Mars Dorian.

Above all, I hope I've inspired you to take the scenic route in your own life.

Credits:

Created with images by Francesca Tirico - "untitled image" • GOLDINPIC - "spring vegetables comfort" • Dark Rider - "Guitar on fire" • qimono - "doors choices choose" • Rodion Kutsaev - "Yellow wall" • Denys Nevozhai - "Cityscape and interchange" • Caleb Jones - "Muir Woods trails" • Jeremy Bishop - "untitled image" • James Zwadlo - "Road by the dark woods" • Brannon Naito - "Unbelievable View of Half Dome" • jplenio - "sea ocean water" • i yunmai - "untitled image" • PublicDomainPictures - "sad child boy" • Alvaro Reyes - "Fireworks" • 27707 - "boy silhouette family fun" • sammisreachers - "prison prisoner slavery" • Monoar - "clock alarm clock watch" • Pexels - "art fingers heart" • Ashim D’Silva - "Airport in the evening" • ArtificialOG - "indian food indian kitchen meal" • Debashis Biswas - "The Color of India" • DariuszSankowski - "knowledge book library" • Fleur Treurniet - "Measuring tools" • Gellinger - "books read learn" • Kyle Glenn - "untitled image"

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