In 2003 I traveled to Hanoi to help open our organization’s office there. I returned from that trip a different person.
When I left for the trip, I was married with three adolescent sons, living in a large, beautiful home in an affluent suburb. I had been successful the last several years, first with my own technology consulting business and then taking a position at The Atlantic Philanthropies, as Director of Information Technology. Atlantic was in a growth phase and opening offices around the world.
I had a healthy family that I loved and a career that was hitting its high point. I should have been very happy, but still, something didn't feel right.
Before I left for the trip I had finished a book called Affluenza (a play on the words affluence and influenza), which had left me with an uneasy feeling about my life, but nothing so strong as to make me change it. Affluenza’s proposition defines the epidemic as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more."
In Vietnam, besides the shock of visiting a new culture in the east, I found the juxtaposition of how people were living there, as compared to how I was living, dramatic. Over there, everything felt simpler, more real, not to mention dirtier and riskier. The noise and smells of the cities brought energy and optimism, the beauty of the land brought calmness. I liked it.
I returned home to what I call my David Byrne moment.
And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?"– Once in a Lifetime, The Talking Heads.
Something in me had changed and it took me a few years to process it. It took time to ask myself the right questions and explore what I really wanted out of this one life. Also, to find the courage to course correct and change the elements of my life which weren't aligned with my values and passion. I made it though.
Recently, while telling this story, someone pointed out to me the slight similarity of these feelings to Chuck Feeney's story, the man behind the organization I worked at for many years, the billionaire who gave it all away. While my story is not nearly as dramatic, nor do I have large sums of money to give, I understood what they meant.
At some point in life you arrive at a place you thought you were supposed to get to and become the person in that place, but what if upon arrival you find it unsatisfying in some way. What do you do then? With this one life? Your life.