Unconsciously, I've felt at unease with my life for some time. It was all perfectly on-track and I had the fortune of experiencing so much incredible adventures during high-school and during my time at the university. I had a perfect girlfriend, graduated university honours cum laude and was all set to kick-start my career with a position in strategy consultancy. But I still felt like I missed out on something.
The perfect life isn't perfect when you do not know how to take the time to enjoy the ride (saying you don't have the time to enjoy the ride is an important cue you do not know how to take it). Like I've experience when training for a marathon, I've learned in hindsight that I was too focused on goals, and therefore wasn't able to live in the moment. When you get caught up in keeping up a winning streak for the sake of keeping up a winning streak it is time to re-evaluate what you're doing.
I feel like I've taken some important steps in getting away from an overly goal-oriented lifestyle since then. And I feel these, or similar steps, could be important to peers my age. I'm 27 now, but the process of stepping away from goal orientation started after graduation at age 24. Especially to those who've grown up in goal-oriented families, have a brain that does its job reasonably well and especially especially those who've, besides, studied things like Economics & Business, in which goals (read: money, power, status) are the holy grail. In this post I'll describe the series of events that led me to appreciate the now and that got me more in tune with myself. I'll start by describing my breakdown that kicked in after university, the first breaks with my self-image and the waking up after abandoning the ego. I'll conclude by stating what I think defines a contemporary warrior.
And so the in my perception in-the-eyes-of-others perfect life came to a slow hold. I think the process started when I picked a master thesis subject that would get me the piece of paper I needed but just only slightly touched upon something I actually found interesting. A gruesome process began, beautifully interrupted by a year in the board of the Study Association of Economics & Business of the University of Amsterdam, which, for all of you economics students, is a must-have to get into the large corporates. For me it was part of the winning streak. But truly, it was a heck of a lot of fun as well, mostly due to spending a year locked up in a too small room with fellow suffering boardmembers. Out of these circumstances an interesting sort of humor arose, I think is comparable to any office in which its people realize their job is actually pretty unpleasant. The cynical type of humor tightly bonds people together and feels like giving relieve from the actual work. We even made a pretty sucky video that got 7 others to become our successors:
But there wasn't really time to consciously enjoy the ride, we were being lived by the demands that came from the job instead of being able to determine where our lives went ourselves. Besides, the amount of beer quite didn't help in raising levels of consciousness. I feel like this year gave me a peek into a hard working I-need-this-job-for-a-salary kind of existence. It was good because it was temporary. It was good because I realized how crappy it was, how much it didn't suit me.
It took me about 7 months to finish my thesis after the board year. It felt like I had lived through 50 lives already, I was that tired. There was about zero passion left in me at that point. But there was a pressure I had unconsciously allowed to build inside, to keep going on the 'winning' path I was headed. With my resume sufficient enough to aim for the top of the corporate world I believed I had to give my all to try to become a successful strategy consultant. So with zero energy I tried to work my way through books on the infamous case study interview method strategy consultant companies apply during their assessments. It felt like I was learning a magic trick that, if performed well enough, would land me a fantastic job. I kept telling myself: 'see this as a continuation of your studies, so that after working at such a firm for a couple of years your possibilities are truly endless'. Note the hinge towards a better time in the future here. And so there I went, in the summer of 2014, off to the office of the most prestigious consultancy office of all: McKinsey & Company. I came out 2 hours later with pretty much the following feedback. 'Hey Bas, you're a cool guy and would fit our team. But your math was just not good enough. We'll put you on our please-come-back-once-you-land-a-similar-job-elsewhere list though'. I tried three more similar offices. The messages the same. I had pretty much abandoned math after my first year of studies when I choose the business specialisation over the economics track. So here I am, a near perfect resume, but no energy, no passion, and too slow math for that 'perfect future job'. Now what?
the first scary steps of listening to myself
Over the next 2 months I took time to think. In hindsight not the perfect solution. I should have taken time to feel. But I didn't know how to feel. So I thought. My thinking resulted in exploring the monstrous world of vacancies: endless lists of requirements of what you need to be as a person. I remember accidentally discovering a vacancy platform that specifically focused on jobs at companies, NGO's and start-ups aiming for sustainable impact. It was a rainy afternoon at the start of the fall of 2014. The reason I remember it vividly is because my energy level jumped up every vacancy I scrolled through. I felt something. I ended writing application letters for three NGO organisations that same evening. I remember doubt and fear to also crawl under my skin that same night. It was the fear of deviating from my winning streak. Surely working at a NGO (read: NON-profit) was not the most appealing in the eyes of the peers of a business graduate. I felt like I took a plunge into something completely uncertain, on a personal financial level as well as on a social level. The decision to work at Circle Economy over the next 1,5 years though I now understand was a first step following internal energy instead of following perceived external pressure. But I was still expecting too much of myself in the job, deeply stressing and numbing me by times. This did not only express itself in unproductive time spent in the office but also had a negative effect on my relationship with my girlfriend. Because I didn't know how to talk about my emotions and did not have the balls to confront them I went full-on into the male checkout syndrome as coined by Bryan Reeves in this video resulting in a breakup in the summer of 2015. Although I had made an important career decision based on inner energy I still felt stuck in personal growth. I had to get out. It wasn't until I sought help in exploring my inner sensitivity and emotions that I could start the process of finding personal peace. And yes, coming from a family in which emotions are a sign of weakness, signing up for a three day retreat full of 'tree-hugging-like workshops' was a very scary thing to do...
Before I continue with the steps that in my eyes led to the beginning of my personal liberation I would like to emphasize the fact that everyone's spiritual path is completely unique to him-/herself. Some might be raised with a deep self-consciousness while others only 'unshackle' after a long career. Since I'm merely sharing my experience, please don't take this as a step-by-step guide. It's only because I'm writing this in hindsight that I'm able to connect some dots, and still this description of events is an extremely simplified story. But I hope you're able to cherry-pick elements of my story if they resonate with you.
So, I signed up for a retreat. After having heard an interesting personal account of a participant, and having heard the founder speak at an event, I decided a YourLab retreat might be able to pull me out of my comfort zone. I wasn't at all sure what it would bring, and doubtful till the last moment to sign up. But there I was, only two weeks after the break-up with my girlfriend, heading to some three day event for which I had no clue what the ROI (return on investment) would be. You see, it's funny and stupidly ignorant to head into an experience like that with expectation for an ROI. In three days, I remember doing a lot of group talking sessions, a 1,5 hour body shaking session, I remember getting high on my own breath through something called transformational breathing, crying a lot, dancing a lot, doing boxing blindfolded, and the thing that I shocked myself with most: seeing aura's of my fellow retreat members. Important for this story aren't the activities themselves though, it was the effect they had on me. I had felt so much emotions. And through it I had gained such a tremendous amount of positive energy in a very short amount of time. I felt alive in a lot area's of living that I had long repressed unconsciously. The retreat made me feel the sadness of the past period in which I was stuck and in which my relationship with my girlfriend was stuck. The retreat made me feel the intense liberation that a new chapter in my life would bring. The retreat made me feel the deepest of gratitude I had ever experienced for about anything that had happened in my past, and for being able to exist in the now. Crucial here is the intensity of feeling throughout the retreat. I remember sitting on the pavement outside the facility once and falling in love with a fly that was calmly sitting next to me. The creature seemed to be the most beautiful and complex being in the world in that moment. And it was.
All in all, through the retreat I realized I had missed out on some aspects of living through my previous lifestyle and mindset. But the retreat was just 3 days with some noticeable positive effect for a couple of weeks, and although it provided me key insights into some personal flaws, it wasn't going to change me for the better for the rest of my life. I knew I would have to be actively working on myself from that day onward. But I didn't quite know how and I was afraid of falling back into old habits if I would just continue life's regular 9 to 5 flow.
Still on the retreat's high I remember the week after to be filled with synchronicity. Having just realized I had to find a way to keep up the immense positive energy from the retreat I ran across a small flyer upon getting into the Circle Economy office in the morning. It triggered me because it was so accurately posing the question I posed myself at the time, saying something like: "Are you eager to become the best version of yourself?" It turned out to promote the 100 Day Warrior training. I signed up after talking to its founder about my intentions a week later.
The program ran from September to December and gave me all the tools I was looking for. In short, it gave me the tools to properly take care of myself. And once you do take care of yourself properly important insights around your relation to others will emerge, making you a better person for yourself and for others. The 100 days were magic. Practically the program optimized mind and body by combining a healthy food program with frequent exercise and daily meditation. It was 100 days without intoxicants, even skipping coffee, processed sugars and obviously alcohol. It was a 100 days of meditating for a minimum of 30min daily. And for 100 days key insights into my personality kept raining down on me. This has had numerous positive effects on me and the people around me. Most importantly, I was getting to understand how to raise my consciousness and energy levels by listening to what I needed. It let me in the end to follow a longheld personal dream: to ride a bicycle across the world. My self-analysis got me and my ex-girlfriend to come to terms, we became really close friends. It allowed me to appreciate my parents a lot more, and the family have gotten more tight. Most importantly tough it allowed me to discover an inexhaustible energy for life, that I knew I would be able to tap into whenever I needed it.
But for now I'm living my dream: I'm cycling a bicycle from Amsterdam to Singapore. I will forever thank myself for overcoming my personal barriers, to build the courage to follow a different path and for getting to know how to properly take care of myself.
I answered 13 questions about how I experienced the program if you want to read some more. Find more info on the program and some reference video's of a couple of the beautiful people I met during the program here (It's in Dutch!).
a contemporary warrior
This post has evolved much more into a life story than expected. Which is why I would like to round off with a simplifying bullet point list of what a contemporary 'warrior' (using the term warrior in the extension of the term used in the 100 day warrior program) entails in my perspective. In my eyes a warrior:
- takes responsibility for taking care of him-/herself
- spends time reflecting on internal processes: connecting body and mind
- has the courage to face fears and communicate vulnerabilities
- is able to operate without perceived external social pressures
- follows his/her dreams
- is kind hearted and helpful to others
- has an interest in human progress and acts along the lines of his/her belief systems
Want to continue reading about similar topics? Check out my favorite blog waitbutwhy.com. Around the topics touch upon in this post specifically his posts on How to pick a career, The cook and the chef and Taming the mammoth are incredibly valuable.
Its an impressive feat to stay sane in modern day society. While observing people it sometimes seems there are only two ways of doing so: staying sane but ignorant by committing (to work/money/power, other people, some form of addiction, etc) or staying sane by slowing down life enough to be able to process all of it. I began slowing down life and meditating after I lost all passion pursuing a winning streak during and after my studies. I was committed to this series of 'success' just for the sake of it. Looking back, I feel blessed to have freed myself from myself in time. Meditation has been an important tool contributing to where I am now (quite literally) & I have never felt more alive than the past year fulfilling my dream: to cycle the world. In preparation for a conscious next phase in life, it is time for me to sit and reflect again. That's why I'll be doing a vipassana retreat starting tomorrow. Ten days of meditation in silence. Somehow it feels very appropriate to sit still for ten days after having been on the move for a year. No updates from me for while. You go hunt dreams in the meantime. Namaste 🙏 . Since part of my growth has come from sharing my story with you, I'm challenging myself to continue this practice. I therefore wrote a blogpost on my process of getting from zero passion to living a dream on my website. See the link in my bio for if you're interested. It being the most vulnerable and personal post so far, it feels scary but powerful to share.