It all started when I trekked the Kalalau Trail on the island of Kauai in June 2014. I lucked out with good weather during my 3-day expedition, and carried just enough rations. For the first 30 minutes, I had doubts and thoughts of turning back to trailhead. But there was no way I’d flown all the way from California – for my vacation – only to turn back to the parking lot. I did not come here to fail.
Something happened to me during those 3 days in solitary. I thought about how much time I spend in the office, and how much time I spend on the computer when I am not. While I was on the trail, what I saw before my eyes seemed so much more real than what I saw back at home. I yearned to feel alive, and at that very time and place, I did.
I had a great job, with great pay and benefits. I was part of an exciting startup since the beta-period, and have seen them grow from 30 to 300 employees; move between 5 different offices; scale from 1 to 50+ markets nationally; contract from 50 to 2000+ drivers; complete 100 rides/week to 100,000 rides/week; all within 1 year.
But I quit.
I quit during one of the biggest transitional periods when serious investors got involved, valuing us as a multi-million dollar company. The most common question I’ve been receiving, is “Why did you quit?”, or “Why would you leave the opportunity to grow your career in the tech industry, especially in San Francisco?”
The central hub of the world’s startup tech scene… San Francisco; also the region of my hometown. I left the city where others would kill to live in. I set aside a lifestyle that would stabilize me financially. I broke up with the image I once identified with: the modern techy, receiving glamour and recognition from friends and family, that Calvin is doing so well with his career. His employer is sending him all around the country, while paying for each and every step of the way. From food, drinks, accommodation, and transportation to gym memberships, yoga sessions, massages or any other health-wellness practices. He doesn’t have to pay a dime. He must be happy and proud of the success he has achieved at his age. We are proud of him.
With my savings, I invested in a condominium which I was certain to be of high demand. I utilized Airbnb to connect me with people who needed a place to stay, and found out I have a 98% occupancy rate. This gives me more than enough to cover my mortgage, utilities and tax, while taking away a small amount of profit I can spend. It isn’t much, but it’s enough to get by.
Little did I know what it was I actually wanted. Growing up as the oldest male in a traditional Asian family, it felt like I inherited the responsibility to carry on our name; to set an example for everyone else to follow. While I am ok with this responsibility, I am not ok with the generalized expectations that come along with it. I never wanted to become a doctor, lawyer, dentist, CEO, psychologist, or any other well-recognized role people “look-up” to.
I was never set on a specific path, as if I had an itinerary to follow for the rest of my life.
And just in case you’re wondering: Yes, I do have goals. I do have loose plans for myself, but I am very open to the fact that my plans will change… and in doing so, I will adapt. A former colleague and current friend told me: “It’s okay to live spontaneously… it’s okay to go crazy ape shit sometimes… it’s ok to push your comfort zone once in a while… but never lose sight of the lampposts you have set for yourself. They will give you direction in the midst of all the the madness that you choose to experience.”
I’m not surprised that he himself is now traveling the world. And I have met countless individuals since I’ve quit who share the same ideals and perspectives as I do. Instead of accepting the norm, we begin to wonder. Instead of focusing on what we can do to one-up everyone around us, we realize it’s just an act of our egos. We’re only chasing our dreams, as cliché as that may sound. But for me, I know that my dream was non-existent in the bubble I lived in before.
After taking a one-way flight to Southeast Asia, I’ve made new friends across the globe, found work on small remote islands, reunited with familiar faces in different countries, learned to network on a global scale, learned to adapt culturally and environmentally, almost got detained by foreign police, nearly got robbed by manly-looking “women,” got food poisoning from a street vendor, learned how to negotiate with locals, got into a car with 2 random girls off the highway, shared a tent with them for 6 weeks, ate pasta with salt for days, got lost on the road, eventually found our way back… and overall, I just learned how to fucking survive.
For those I have not yet told: I am now in Germany. Every little spontaneous decision I have made in the past year led me to be right here, right now. I intend to stay here for a bit, to pick up Deutsch, which I think will be invaluable for my future. One of the coolest things I noticed are charismatic, multilingual people I meet in hostels. Their unique ability to bring everyone together from all countries, and break down barriers which would still stand in the way, had they not possessed the skill to speak different languages.
I hope to be that guy one day.
By Calvin Chu