5 Questions to Answer During My Southeast Asia Sabbatical

“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.”

– Amelia Earhart

One of the things that we believe at work is the importance of designing one’s experiments properly: if experiments are designed properly then it’s impossible for them to fail. You always learn something and that is, after all, the point of an experiment. So what are some of the hypothesis that I’m looking to test by going through this sabbatical experiment?

  1. Could Southeast Asia be home?
    • Before moving to Palo Alto I was quite happy living in West Michigan. After living in the Bay area though I was blown away by the possibilities: the passion with which live is lived was so much more intense than those living back home. Just like Adam and Eve with the apple “eyes once opened are rarely closed” (I thought that Seneca said that but after being quoted on Twitter I tried looking it up and couldn’t find it anywhere…so until I see it again I’m claiming credit!). But the cost is also high in the Bay and thus the value uncertain. Southeast Asia has a very low cost, so I want to checkout the quality of life to assess overall value.
    • What was the chance that I had moved to the one place that was better than Michigan? Might there not be many other places that would be superior to the Bay? I have heard of Chiang Mai being a haven for digital nomads and want to see what live is like there.
  2. Is it possible to be a Winter Bird?
    • Michigan has its fair share of people who leave for the winter, but they’re usually retired or independently wealthy. Someday I hope to be both of those things, but right now I’m still working on it. Is it possible for the two to mix? Steelcase has a leave of absence policy but it’s very rarely used. And in general Americans tend to be much more loathe to travel for extended periods of time than people for other countries.
    • I love fall in Michigan but really dislike the snow…especially driving in it. My family is from Michigan, and it’s where I make money in real estate…but that doesn’t mean I have to be there all the time.
  3. Are there things I don’t know?
    • The answer to this is certainly yes. But I list it because asking that question has served as an important catalyst for growth. There are two ways of not knowing something: the things we know we don’t know and the things we don’t know we don’t know. So when I need plumbing or electrical work I hire a professional plumber or electrician; because I know I don’t know those things. But if I tried something I didn’t realize I didn’t know it would be much more dangerous. So I try to find ways to put myself in situations that allow me to learn more so that when I don’t know something I know that I don’t know it. Confusing, eh?
    • The more we learn about different people – their cultures, their religions, their feelings – the better off I believe we are. The world isn’t that big or scary…unless you think it is! Perception becomes reality.
  4. Can I live on only 50 liters worth of stuff and $50/day?
    • Minimalism is an art form, and the only way to get good at an art is to practice it. I’ve certainly gotten better in recent years. As a young child I would collect everything and wanted to own everything: DVDs, books, stuffed animals, POGS, you name it. But after lots of reading and just trying it out I fully believe that one of the keys to happiness is to invest in more experiences and less stuff. But I still have a lot of stuff that I don’t need.
    • One good way to prioritize things is to put a limit on something. Life is limited by death and thus we all have to figure out how we’re going to spend our 70 years +/- 20. Similarly by buying only a 50L backpack I forced myself to choose only those things that are important. By the way I failed already because I got a smaller 10L daypack that I intended to keep folded up but when I went to pack everything in my main bag I couldn’t fit my laptop or camera bag. But let’s see how 60L works!
  5. Can I focus on living life and not work?
    • I already realize that there are several things I need to finish up for Steelcase work. But after those things I intend to disable work e-mail on my phone and give my colleagues my personal e-mail address in case they really run into trouble.
    • I’ve never had more than a 2 week vacation from work all the way back to the time when I was 13 years old. But work is a large part of people’s lives. It’s not surprising then that when people describe themselves it’s often as their profession: an architect, an engineer, a salesman. The irony is that this tells us much more about what they do but not so much about who they are. I want to discover who I am and figure out how I describe who I am just what I do.
    • I already know that I will fail a little bit…I have an addiction to buying houses and there was a beautiful property that I purchased about a month ago. And there’s another one that’s still in the process of being redone. I do have contractors that I can trust to finish this, but I haven’t outsourced the general contractor part of it, so that means that it’s still on me.
    • My past manager told me that a one week vacation is certainly not long enough to stop thinking about work and 2 weeks is just barely. It’s not until the third or fourth week that you really start asking yourself the bigger question like “What’s life all about?”. I want to figure out the answer to questions such as those.

Will I be able to answer all of these questions? Are there other questions I should be exploring? Time will tell. But if we fail to have goals then the unfortunate thing is that we might just achieve them…and accomplish nothing. We improve those things which we measure, so outlining a rubric to hold my adventure too seems like a good idea to me! What do you think? Any changes or additions? Am I trying to focus on too much?