Colin Wright is an American author, entrepreneur, and full time-traveler. We talked about values that we have in common – following your own way, chasing happiness, freedom, minimalism, and more. I hope you will find something meaningful in Colin’s words.
A few years ago, Colin left everything behind and made the decision to travel. He created a blog where his readers periodically vote on what country he should move to next. He has written dozens of books, co-founded a publishing company, given a few TED talks, and currently runs a blog that brings in a few million readers a year.
Me: A few years ago you had a very comfortable lifestyle, a life that many people dream about. You had a very well paid job and a long-term relationship. Then you realized that something was missing from your life. What was it?
Colin: Satisfaction. No, that’s not the right word. It was fulfillment. Because there was a type of satisfaction to be found in doing well in business – having the rest of my fears, having a bunch of money, that type of thing. There was a certain type of satisfaction in that. But when I took a step back and looked at the people who were further along than me – the people who made more money and were more successful – they were just miserable. And I realized that I probably wouldn’t be happy if I kept going the way that I was. And if I lived up to the same standards that [those who are more successful than me] have reached, then I would never stop. I would never stop and go travel. I would never go learn. I would never get healthier. I would never get sleep – that was something I didn’t have much of at that time. So I had all those trappings of success and they would look very good to everybody outside, but I would never become the more capable, well rounded, better educated person that I wanted to be.
So you started traveling to learn something new and become a better version of yourself?
Yes. And I wanted to be exposed to new ideas. The space that I was in… I was doing quite well because it was something I was doing for a long time. It was a business outside of school that I started when I was a teenager. But I also knew that there was this nontraditional education that I knew nothing about. I had no experience with being outside of the American system, outside of the English speaking system, outside of the Western system, outside of all those things I was so familiar with. I had no experience. The more people I met and the more I looked at all, I realized that there is still much of the world and so much human experience that I didn’t know. There was a mountain on a horizon of my entire life and I already explored this area that I was in really well. I knew it so well, but there was another mountain and I was just thinking “what’s over there?” I had no idea, and I really wanted to go see. I knew that if I stayed here and kept building and building this life, I would never go over to the other mountain. I would have never seen what is on the other side.
And you decided to climb the mountain?
Yeah! And I wanted to do it when I was young enough to survive… and also to take anything I have would learn and actually use it. People who are older, they can learn things and adapt to them, but I think it is more difficult because you have an entire life of experience that creates habits and rituals. It is more difficult to accept change. And I wanted to get out when I was still young enough to be more easily flexible. So that I could change based on what I learned and actually have more impact on my life; rather than being sixty or something and going out and learning those new things and then realizing “Oh shit! I have been doing it wrong my entire life! Too late now!”
Isn’t it a very brave idea for such a young person? Many people in their twenties do not really know much about their life and what they really want…
For me, it actually became a very easy decision because I had a big opportunity. I have already had a lot of opportunities. My mentor offered me this big opportunity to make even more money and have even more opportunities. He wanted me to come work with him a bunch of big companies. Looking at that and looking at the life he had… He was a billionaire. And he was the most unhappy person I have ever met in my entire life. So unhealthy, with like seven divorces, his entire family hated him. All the people he had around, including me, were there only because he was paying us. I didn’t want to be him. So bravery really didn’t come into it. It wasn’t looking over at that mountain and saying “I am so terrified, but I am going to do it anyway”. It was kind of looking at where I was now and recognizing that [the other mountain] was probably the better option in terms of sanity, in terms of finding something that was better, and in terms of not ending up where I saw myself going.
What about the other people around you? Was there nobody who could have inspired you in any way?
There were a lot of people, like my mentors or clients, who were similar to him. I didn’t know a single one that was where I wanted to be. None of them were doing things that I thought they should be done. They were very successful in one way, but in every other way they were so weak. I couldn’t find a good example. There are people out there like that. But you have to go out and get other experiences in order to make that happen. I was not going to become more well-rounded by doing the same things I have always done. Einstein said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I was doing the same thing over and over and I got really good at that one thing, but to expect something else from that one thing would be insane. So I had to go and do something else.
In such an extreme way…
If you are going to do something, do it. I felt that if I had left myself too much (kept my apartment, stuff, relationship, or anything else), I would have gone out a little bit and then assume it became difficult, so I would have come back. I kind of needed to start fresh, clear the land a little bit, and say, “OK, this was a good learning experience. I am glad I did it. Now it’s time for something new.”
You pay more attention to experience than to things…
Definitely. I know there are many people who get much value from certain possessions. There are certain things that I have which add a lot to my life, but my focus is definitely on going out and learning, doing, and seeing, and trying to spend more of my time being happy and finding fulfillment. It is a very simple idea. I think that if you ask most people, they would say this is what they do. But we don’t really. We look at a lot of our lives as sacrifice: “This is what I give up, so maybe one day I will be happy,” or “I am going to go to this office and work this job that I hate, so one day I can be happy.” We sacrifice so much, particularly most of our most productive years for maybe being happy someday. And we look at people who are further ahead than us and they are not. For me, it simply doesn’t make sense. For me, to go out, experience new things, and know that I have done them, means that I have a much higher ratio of happy to unhappy.
What is your definition of happiness?
For me, happiness is the freedom to peruse whatever is interesting. It is the freedom to surround myself with the people I want to be surrounded with, to interact with the people I want to interact with, to do the type of work that I think is important, fun and interesting, and to always be exposed to new things – new ideas, new people, new experiences, new music, new food, everything. I am the happiest when I am being challenged and when I am seeing more sides of humanity and the world. When I feel like picking up those new puzzle pieces and putting them in place and having the freedom to pursue that – that is happiness. It is important to figure out what makes you happy and realize that it will change over time, allowing yourself to change; not saying, “this is what made me happy five years ago, so I am going to keep with that.” Because that’s easy. We should stop and ask ourselves, “What makes us happy now?”
You change and develop with time, so you need to update the definition of your values constantly.
Yeah! If you are the same person you were five years ago, you probably haven’t done anything interesting. You need to be exposing yourself to new variables, so that you can grow.
As for me, it is a great source of satisfaction to look at all those changes that I have worked out, looking at where I was a few years ago and where I am now. Is it the same for you?
Exactly. I call it growth. Evolution. Iteration. If you are able to do that, then you do not stagnate. To become a more refined version of yourself, you do not change completely and become a totally different person. You are forming yourself into a sharper instrument. You are defining yourself. You are like a sculpture. Over time you are chiseling away more and making it more clear. Hopefully, by the time you die, you know yourself very well and you are a work of art – something that was worth making.
I remember that in one of your TedX talks you said, “Extremes are easy. Balance is hard.” Do you think that you have the balance in your life when you are exposed to so many changes and different kinds of experience almost every day?
There are so many variables and changes all the time. I’ve gotten really good at keeping tabs on how I am feeling and how I am doing, so I am pretty good at shifting. It’s almost like a circus performer, like standing on a ball. All the time you have to put your arms out and balance. [I have to balance] all the time because it would be very easy to become extreme, one way or another. To me, part of the challenge and part of what makes me happy is trying things and finding this balance all the time. It could be argued though that people who set up a very concrete life (something very solid that doesn’t change very much) are more likely to result in extremes because they are less likely to course correct all the time. [Imagine] walking towards a destination from a distance, and you start walking more or less in the right direction. If you are so concrete that you do not change very often and check-in with yourself, very likely you will end up in a place where you did not intend to go. Whereas if you pay very close attention and go a little left, a little right, balancing all the time, then you will change as you need and you land up exactly where you want. So it takes more work, but I enjoy that work. To me, that’s part of life.
Let’s talk about your attitude towards minimalism right now. You travel only with your carry-on baggage. Are those all the things that you own?
At the moment, I have a few other things that I didn’t bring with myself (for example a suit that I have bought to wear a few times), some lights, and some equipment that I use for recording videos. Those I left in the basement of my parents’ house. I buy things when I need them. And I get rid of them when I don’t. If I have bunch of stuff in a place and then start traveling, I would think, “Oh, I wish I had my stuff,” or I would call the place where I store them my home and compare it to every other place. For me, having just what I can carry in my bag is the best because then I am not so obsessed with stuff. I am forced to always think about whether what I carry is something that I really need. I do not need checked baggage that might get lost.
Everything that I have is exactly what I need. It is a nice balancing mechanism that’s built in, but it also shows my priorities. Going out and experiencing, learning new things and seeing new places, anything that I have beyond some clothes and a laptop is stuff that gets in the way of what is most important to me. Having fewer things allow me to save money, so I can afford to travel. It also allows me to be super mobile. I can go anywhere all the time. It takes me two minutes to pack. I can carry on, so I don’t have to go through trouble at the airport. So everything is oriented around less. Because that’s my priority. If that ever changed, then I would own different things as well. Just like many minimalists who have homes – they have a table, they have chairs, they have things I don’t have, because I don’t need them.
Can you really count all the things that you own?
Yes, but I try not to do it anymore. Back in the day, I used to give a number just to show people that you don’t need much. I have everything that I need, like about 50 things. But the number doesn’t matter. People were taking the number as something like “If I own less, then I am more of a minimalist.” No. That’s not right. You should have the things you need. For different people, that will be different. If your hobbies require more things, and that’s what you love, you should own those things.
Do you have any advice for people who would like to travel with carry-on only, but are still hesitating?
It’s so much fun. You have so much less to worry about. Once you do it, you won’t worry about what to wear each day or about buying something – you won’t have any room for it, so you don’t have to. It’s so nice. It will make your travel such a joy.
And let’s go more extreme. What would be the 3 things you would take with yourself on a desert island?
It depends on the circumstances. My passport. Because then when I am rescued, I need to be able to go. I need it, unfortunately, but it would make my rescue much easier. If I am going to be there forever, then I don’t need the passport. As a writer, I need my laptop. I don’t usually handwrite, I type, so my laptop allows me to do what I want. Then I need a charger, a solar charger I think, so maybe that. But increasingly, a lot what I do when I am not writing is on my phone, so maybe that instead. It really depends on what I am doing. If it is just survival, I wouldn’t bring my laptop. I would want food. Or a book that would show me how to survive.
I like this attitude! While thinking about going into a desert island, you immediately think how to escape from there and not staying there!
[Laughs] Yes! I want to go! There are too many things to see. I have been on a desert island before. It was so boring there, even those beautiful beaches. And I am so pale. I will burn very easily if I go to the beach, so I need to escape!
Thank you for the interview! Good luck with everything!
You can learn more about Colin, visiting the following links:
Colin’s website: Colin.io
Colin’s podcast: Let’s Know Things
Also, you can find him on most of the social network channels as @ColinIsMyName