The Backpacker and the Pearls

Oh to be young, footloose and fancy free. That’s what I think sometimes and then I remember the angst and am desperately glad I’m in my thirties. I like to think I’ve gathered some useful wisdom along the way and periodically fling my pearls at those patient enough to listen to a old wrinkly pontificate.

If you are in your early twenties and want to travel the world spend three months and do a bar keeping cocktail making course, a cookery course, a sewing course, learn to be a massage therapist, a nail technician or a hairdresser. Do a bookkeeping course or something. All over the world there are people who need a drink, a meal, a dress, a massage, a manicure or a haircut.

Sooner or later on your travels you will find yourself running short of the old green stuff and it helps to have some skill you can use to earn a few bucks. Knowing amateur psychology, being able to discuss medieval philosophy or debate theological theory is not going to get you a hot meal on a cold night in outer Mongolia. Having an MBA, being a Cannes winning designer or having a PHD in nuclear physics is not worth anything when you’re on a Contiki tour or backpacking in Venezuela. And for God’s sake do a first aid course before you go.

The fact is that few people are as lucky as my backpacking friend who each time he was down to his last dollar found an ATM spitting out cash on a corner, or a wallet floating in the Red Sea. My cousin ended up running away from a slave labour job in the Scottish Highlands with nothing but a backpack. He snuck away in the dead of night, walked miles in the snow and ended up on my doorstep in London exhausted, broke, pale and starving. He slept for three days waking only to go down to the Indian on the corner for a curry. Yes, it was character building, but most character building experiences are horrible to live through and completely avoidable.

Chatting to a twenty something colleague today I was reminded of the Bible story of the talents. I think the universe is trying to tell me something and I am too obtuse to pick up its meaning. The universe can be way too subtle sometimes. I digress. The point is sometimes you meet someone with a God given innate talent and somehow they are beaten out of believing in it, perhaps because it comes easily to them. Maybe we browbeat the idea that you have to struggle, that it has to be hard too much. Maybe it is really easy.

If you have the ability to rid someone of a migraine with your hands or create art that can make a man weep or laugh, maybe that is what you should do. Maybe it will bring you happiness. I believe that loving what you do and using your talents will serve you better than slogging away at something you don’t really enjoy. They’ve done studies to prove that salary increases bring little joy after a month or two, but that when you do something you are passionate about, the cash seems to take care of itself.

I could be feeling oddly optimistic as a result of the wonderful migraine cocktail courtesy of my pharmacist, but hey, it makes a change from my usual cynicism.

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