Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Is Youth Really Wasted on the Young?

article from June 26, 2012
By Jamie Douglas

"Youth is wasted on the young." It is a phrase we hear often. But what of it is true? Have a look in the mirror and ask yourself that question. Did you waste your youth in a celebration of sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll? Or did you attend institutions of higher learning for years, incurring enough debt to take care of all your disposable income for the next 30 years, then add mortgages, kids and all their tuition expenses, car payments, and so forth? Did you learn a trade that will sustain you and your family for life?

If the answer to any of the above is “yes,” then you probably did waste your youth. While looking forward to your retirement sounds nice, things will have changed substantially by the time you will reach 60 or so. That climb up the Matterhorn will be quite a challenge, and that trip to Antarctica will have to be experienced from the safety of a cruise ship.

Then there are the health issues to deal with, dragging all your medications and prescriptions around, watching your diet and all the other drawbacks of ageing. (I know all about that, although I did not waste my youth).

So the bottom line is that most of us are forced into a system of being economic generators, working our asses off all our lives so we may possibly enjoy those last few arthritic, diabetic, high blood pressure, cholesterol-watching years – the so-called Golden Years. But for most, they are not golden at all. They are rusted out! It is all of those individuals who wasted their youth.

Then there is the other group: We followed our dreams, and they did not lead us to an executive washroom at Goldman-Sachs. Instead, we did what we could to lead brilliant lives, traveling the globe, making friends in really strange places, visiting all those weird places we heard about in songs, sailing the Caribbean and Pacific, hiking in Amazonia, swimming with dolphins in the wild, driving dilapidated vehicles halfway around the planet, joining the Peace Corps and/or a few anti-government protests and then finally settling down much later in life – without a lovely home and student loan to maintain, but rather, a lifetime of rich experiences. When these folks watch the BBC specials or National Geographic, they can actually say, “Been there, done that!”

Well, a few weeks ago, I did another of those crazy things: Without much thought, I left a secure place in Argentina and drove to the extreme northeastern corner of the country to see the spectacular Iguazu Falls and then came back to Uruguay. But it is certainly not the last adventure I will have. This is merely the first leg of the latest chapter in my life with my faithful traveling companion and wife, Julie R.

It does take some inspiration and courage to live your existence day by day out of a suitcase, not knowing where you will be spending the next night! But take the example of two even more courageous travelers we met near Iguazu. Stefan and Katrin, a young couple from Germany with secure careers and family back home, decided to chuck it all for a while to ride bicycles across South America. We at least had a Renault, but all they have is a couple of backpacks and their bikes. Of course, things don’t always go as planned, and Katrin wiped out on a wet railroad crossing, injuring herself and forcing a two-week layup, during which time they met other interesting people and got to explore a region they had not planned to stay in. Back on the road again, albeit at a more leisurely pace, we had the pleasure of meeting them when they stopped in at the cozy cabañas we were staying at, and we enjoyed sharing stories and adventures, greatly admiring their spirit.

So, is youth wasted on the young? I think that depends entirely on what each individual does with their life. If you spend hours every day sitting at Starbucks with your Apple computer, surfing the Internet and interacting with your friends on social networking sites, you might as well start working on your “justification for existence” dissertation and have an occasional pulse check by the barista.

If, however, you are riding bikes across any continent, climbing mountains and discovering this marvelous planet before we destroy it, then you are not wasting your youth. Congratulations!

Jamie Douglas
In the Eastern Republic, where we have yet to unpack our bags, because you never know what comes up next!

[Photo by Jamie Douglas]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.