Last night I watched a documentary called Do More With Less, a project that followed and interviewed hundreds of hikers seeking to traverse the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). You can watch the trailer for the documentary below and you can watch the entire version here for free.
The PCT is a massive hiking trail that begins at the southern tip of California at the U.S.-Mexican border and extends 2,600 miles up through California, Oregon, and Washington all the way up to the U.S.-Canadian border. The trail is so long and enduring it typically takes the average hiker 5 months or more to complete.
Insights From a 2,600 Mile Walk
Within the documentary, hundreds of hikers were interviewed at different stages of the trail. They shared what was going through their mind and what insights they had experienced while hiking. Here are some of my favorite quotes and ideas that were shared:
“People always say I’m so lucky I can have this experience. But the truth is, nothing is stopping them from having this experience too. They just have to make certain sacrifices.”
“Being on the trail isn’t ultimate freedom. It’s just a different type of freedom. I mean I have to forego seeing my family for almost half a year to do this.”
“People always ask me about what I’m going to do for work…and I tell them there will be work to find when I get back. Work isn’t going anywhere, but my youth is.”
A common insight that kept popping up was the idea that although these people were doing something wild and unconventional, the reason they were able to leave work and all their other daily obligations was because they placed extreme importance on this hike. Each hiker individually made the choice at some point that the experience of hiking for several months straight and leaving normal life behind was worth it.
Sacrifice is Inevitable
The more I listened to the interviews with these hikers, the more I began to notice a recurring theme: the choice to partake on this adventure was rarely spontaneous. Instead, it was well thought out and contemplated. It took serious planning and courage. Some hikers said they quit their jobs permanently to go on this half-year hike. One woman said she even sold her house.
If I could transform the quotes of these hikers into a maxim it would be:
Doing what is important to you involves sacrifice. But the sacrifice is worth it.
I think even more so than showcasing the journey of hiking an enormous trail, this documentary really gets at the heart of a profound phenomenon: the idea that time is finite. It’s the idea that in a single lifetime we actually have the capability to do almost anything we want, if we can simply realize that we can’t do everything we want.
You can throw all your current daily obligations to the side and hike the Pacific Crest Trail, but it will involve a certain degree of sacrifice. You may have to quit your job or leave your loved ones for several months, but you can do it.
In less extreme scenarios, we can apply this style of thinking to other areas of life. You can quit your job and make the transition to a less stressful one, but you may have to take a pay cut. You can obtain early retirement, but you may have to forego purchasing a new car every three years. You can do anything you would like, you just have to recognize what the sacrifice will be in order to make it happen.
This Is All We Have
It’s important to recognize that this is the only life we have and if we don’t determine what is truly important to us, then someone else will.
Whether it’s our parents, bosses, friends, social media, or whoever else. Every person in your life will be more than happy to offer you life advice – where to go to college, what career to pursue, what type of house to buy, what type of person you should marry, how often to take vacations.
But despite the advice we receive, we must decide what is important. No matter what choices we make, there will always be a sacrifice. We can’t have everything. But if we can develop self-awareness about what we value in life, the sacrifices we must make suddenly become doable. If we can find what type of life actually brings us meaning, the fear of missing out (FOMO) will slowly dissipate. We can conquer the comparison game. When you find a lifestyle that brings you genuine happiness, you no longer feel the need to compare your life to others.
I think people within the early retirement, financial independence, and minimalism communities have unlocked the formula to pursue a life of value and meaning. These people truly understand that this is the only life we have. This is our only shot. They recognize that we must decide what is important to us and ignore all the noise attempting to tell us how we should be approaching life. They recognize that sacrifices must be made to obtain a life of freedom but the sacrifices are small in comparison to the joy of the lifestyle they’re pursuing.
One of my favorite videos stressing the significance of the shortness of life is by entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk (warning- there is some profanity):
To cultivate a life that revolves around meaning there will be sacrifice involved. But this is our only life. The sacrifice is worth it. You simply must recognize what is important to you and what sacrifices must be made to do what is important to you on a daily basis. Conquer the fear of missing out. You’re not missing out on anything if you create a lifestyle that enables you to live how you want everyday.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes regarding happiness from Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss:
“Maybe happiness is this: not feeling like you should be elsewhere, doing something else, being someone else.”
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