For as long as I can remember I’ve been filled with wanderlust. Which is weird because I’ve lived in the same corner of the planet my entire life.

My first chance at travel came when I applied to college. I had it in my mind I’d go somewhere far away from my New Jersey hometown. But in the end, I went to school roughly 2 hours from where I grew up. I never even applied to a college in a different time zone. There was a disconnect between what I thought I wanted and what I ended up doing. I realize now I made a trade with myself: give up the excitement of going somewhere new for the comfort of being close to home.

The same trade opportunity happened at graduation. A friend invited me to drive with him cross-country to L.A. I still wanted to travel. I still wanted adventure. But again, out of fear (of being far from home, of having no money, of disliking L.A.) I once more traded for comfort. A few weeks later he moved into a West Hollywood apartment and I moved back into my parent’s house.

I spent that summer searching for job opportunities in far away places—but couldn’t get any. The more rejection emails I received, the more local jobs I applied to. Unsurprisingly, my first job ended up being 30 minutes from where I grew up. Taking it was another trade: this time, I swapped travel for short-term financial security.

As you might imagine, this became a theme of my 20s. I told people I planned to travel, and because of all the trades I made, it was always just a plan. I ended up living with my grandparents until I was 25 (their home was closer to where I worked in NJ than my parents’), worked my way up the early career ladder, then joined all my friends across the river in New York City. Door-to-door without traffic I was still within 45-minutes of my childhood bedroom. My ambition of travel and adventure in my 20s had morphed into something much more familiar and far less thrilling.

I finally gave myself an ultimatum: I would travel before I turned 30. That gave me 5 years to figure out how to make my lifelong goal a reality. During that period I acquired my British citizenship (my mother is a native), dedicated weeks of research to ESL programs, Greenpeace, and Habitat for Humanity, and got to several final round interviews with international companies. But on September 27 of last year, I blew through my self-imposed deadline.

The reason I didn’t end up traveling is because I wasn’t willing to struggle for it. It’s easy to romanticize the idea of travel, but much more painful to make it a reality. Thus, when confronted with this trade, I repeatedly ran towards comfort, security, and certainty. I imagine this is the same trade that keeps people from starting a business, writing a book, falling in love, or doing anything big or scary.

Taking a step back, it’s helped me realize that everything in life is a trade. Most of the time, you’re trading big, ambiguous, long-term goals for short-term comfort and stability.

I’ve mentioned a few of the bigger trades I made, but even those were the product of many smaller trades. For instance, one thing limiting my ability to travel was lack of money. But instead of continuing to live at home and save, I reinvested my income in new clothes, nights out with friends, and NYC rent. Each and every decision to spend money was a trade.

I wasn’t conscious I was making the trade at the time. It’s often only when we look back at how everything played out that we can see the trades we made.

So if everything in life is a trade, I try now to be more conscious of the trades I’m making. If I don’t write today, I’m trading valuable practice for short-term comfort. If I don’t speak up in a meeting, I’m trading potential growth for a desire to not rock the boat. If I don’t tell my girlfriend how I feel, I’m trading long-term relationship stability for short-term stability.

But even more important than realizing the trades is living with them—regardless the outcome.

I could beat myself up over not doing the things I told my childhood self I would do—or I can think about what I got by not trading for travel: getting to live with my grandparents, being together for family holidays, experiencing NYC in my 20s, new memories with old friends, and a successful writing career.

Most importantly, I met someone I love. And I found her only 45-minutes from my childhood bedroom (with no traffic).

Could all that have happened if I went to college somewhere else? Or moved to L.A. after school? Or ran off to Europe? Or joined Greenpeace? I have no idea. But I can live with the trades I’ve made to date because I still have time to make new ones tomorrow. With that in mind, my girlfriend and I are planning to leave NYC and travel the world next year.

And I’m confident it’s not just a “plan” this time, because I’m no longer making the same trades I used to. It’s easier once you’ve seen the other side of the deal.

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