From 14 Hours in the Future: Back to the Future

The adventure continues.

So, it turns out that I’ll be heading back to the future.

Many months ago, in a far away place called October, I decided that my life really didn’t seem to be going anywhere at any significant pace. I’d been out of college for almost six months, and in that time all I’d managed to do was secure a job at the local mall.

It wasn’t exactly the grand entrance into the real world that I’d had planned for myself. I wanted to be a writer, but I was finding myself immensely uninspired. It felt like I was accomplishing nothing, and I hated that feeling.

So the natural solution was to do something. Anything. There had been an idea in the back of my head, one that I’d been ignoring. With things as they were, though, it slowly made its way back to the surface of my thoughts. I knew that I wanted to go back to Japan someday, and for more than just a quick visit. But just hopping on a plane and going to explore another country isn’t the cheapest or easiest thing to do, so I knew I would need some help.

When I’d been a student in Japan, I’d been told many times about a program called JET (Japanese Exchange Teachers), run by the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C. The concept is very simple: You go to Japan, you get put in a city or town, and you teach English to the local students, you get paid.

The thing of it is, the program took a one year commitment. One year away from home. One year away from all my friends. One year away from everyone I love. One year may not seem like such a long time to many of you, but I’d never committed a year to anything, really.

Sure, I’d gone away to college, but my college was close enough to home that I could go back if I really wanted. Maybe I wouldn’t need to or want to, but at least I could. It was just nice to have the option. But Japan is several thousand miles away, and getting home is a little more difficult than filling up the gas tank and hitting Route 301.

But, I said to myself in those hazy days of autumn, if I just fill out the form and send it in, at least I will have completed something. So I did. I ran around and got the letters of recommendation, I got the medical tests, and I polished up my resume. When that was all done, I slapped a stamp on it and dropped it in the mail. End of story.

Until February, that is. Months later, when the application was a distant memory, I received a letter in the mail saying that I had been selected for the second round of applicants. I would be interviewed in DC at the embassy itself. Many things had changed since October: I had found a day job at a local television station doing Internet work, I was part of a highly successful Internet site, for instance. Something was still nagging at me, though. Sure, I had a job, but was it what I really wanted?

Again, though, I decided that there was no reason not to do it, so I drove on down to our nation’s gloriously poorly laid-out capital and had myself an interview. If I got rejected — well, rejection sucks no matter what, but it would be beyond my control. If I got accepted — well, I could always turn it down later.

More weeks of silence followed. Winter turned into spring, which turned back into winter, which turned into summer, and then back to spring again. In early April, there came a large ghostwhite packet in my mailbox, stamped with the JET logo. I had made the cut, it told me. I was being given the chance to sign on and do something like I’d never done before.

It was finally decision time; I had less than two weeks to fill out the final forms and accept or reject my opportunity. It was solely in my hands now.

To be honest, I had been thinking about it since the interview. I wanted to be accepted, if just so that I could be the one to decide whether I wanted to go or not. And it was not an easy decision I had to make. I argued the pros and cons to myself for countless hours over many, many weeks. But now it was time to make a choice, and time was short.

Like I said, a year is a long time. There were a lot of things I worried that I would miss. And sure, I’d gone away to Japan before, but that was only four months. This was three times as long, as my limited math skills figured. What about my family? What about my friends? What about the girl I loved very much? Was I going to be able to be away from all of those things?

I asked other people for their advice, and it was just as varied as my thoughts. Some told me to go for it. Others said I was just going to be wasting my time. I was worried about that, too. Was I going to be wasting my time? As it stood, I had a job, making a fair bit of money. And I could probably go on and find a better one, if need be.

There was something more, though, something that felt empty inside me. Ever since I was young, since as long as I can remember, I’ve always thought of life as being an adventure. That may sound trite, or overly romantic, but that’s just how it is.

And up until recently, life had felt like an adventure. Growing up, learning new things, it was great. But things seemed to have petered out after college; I’d fallen in a rut. Gone were the days of running off into the woods to find some new trail, or of passing up on a night’s sleep just to finish a good book.

Some people may tell you that’s what growing up is: settling. I think that’s just giving up. I had a job, I could work the 9-to-5, but here I had a chance to go and do something incredible. Something that would truly be an adventure. And, as a writer, how could I say no? How could I pass up a chance to gain so many new experiences they could probably fill volumes?

I couldn’t. There was no way I could let this slip by, and go through my life always wondering why I let it just pass me by.

It was not going to be easy, and how could I tell people that I wasn’t leaving because of them? If the situation were reversed, I know it would be hard for me to accept. And, in a way, I guess it is a selfish decision.

Sometimes in life, though, you have to make the selfish choice.

If you want to grow as a person, you have to find your own way, and you have to do what you know will make you better. I’m not ready to settle; I need adventure. Cubicle walls suck the life from me, and I won’t let that happen.

No one should ever just give in because it’s what they’re “supposed” to do. Maybe that’s an idealistic attitude, but what would the world be without idealists? (Realists, please don’t answer that question.)

And who knows? Maybe when I come back from the future a year from now, I will be ready to settle into the societal mold. I’d like to think I won’t, and that there’ll be another adventure waiting just around the corner, and I’ll I have to do is be willing to look.

Seriously.

Article © 2002 by Joel Haddock