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  • So for the first 27 years of my life,

  • I'd say I lived a life of probabilities.

  • Growing up, I was really good at Math and Science,

  • so there was a high probability I'd be good at Engineering.

  • And so I went to Georgia Tech

  • because it was probably one of the best Engineering schools in the country,

  • besides Lafayette, of course. (Laughter)

  • Because there would be a high probability that I'd graduate

  • and land a great job out of college.

  • And so, at Georgia Tech, I studied Industrial and Systems Engineering,

  • a practice that is rooted in statistics and probabilities itself.

  • And after college, I took a job with IBM,

  • because it was probably one of the best job offers I would receive,

  • and IBM was probably one of the best

  • and most admired companies in the world.

  • And so, for the next five years,

  • I began my career on solid ground.

  • And I labored besides ridiculously bright and driven individuals

  • on engaging and challenging projects,

  • and I could feel a successful career brewing.

  • But the problem was, over the course of those five years,

  • slowly the reality began to set in.

  • The work I was doing and many many hours I was putting into this

  • felt mostly empty, disconnected and meaningless.

  • And so, while it may have looked like this --

  • it started to felt more like this.

  • And when I'd look around at my colleagues,

  • whether they admitted or not,

  • they all kind of felt the same way too.

  • We were all just going through the motions of life,

  • not hating life, but certainly not loving it,

  • not living with curiosity or fire.

  • And I began to ask myself,

  • "Is this really the beginning of the rest of my life?"

  • But the problem was, I didn't have an answer to that question,

  • and I made no plans to create an answer for that question.

  • And then, on January 18th, 2012, I received a call.

  • I heard that my college friend Shannon

  • had been killed the night before in a car accident.

  • As it's common with any sort of sudden death,

  • I began to reflect upon my own mortality.

  • And then suddenly, these questions

  • that have been fighting a quiet struggle on the sidelines erupted.

  • "Am I spending my fleeting time on Earth doing things that matter?"

  • "Am I utilizing my gifts?" "Am I pursuing my passions?"

  • "What are those gifts?" "What are those passions?"

  • All these questions had this overarching theme of "Who am I?"

  • "Who am I meant to become?"

  • "Why am I here?"

  • Which, you know, are like light cocktail party questions.

  • And so, along with these questions,

  • I began to see glimmers

  • of unrealized dreams and potential regrets.

  • And in particular, one dream came to the forefront,

  • this dream that I was putting off to some unforeseen day in the future.

  • It was this dream of going on an unstructured,

  • slow, traveling long-term adventure.

  • And I think the reason that this dream in particular came to the forefront,

  • was the very way that my friend Shannon and I had become close.

  • We had each studied abroad in this small city in France called Metz.

  • And Metz was the first time that we had really lived outside the of country.

  • It was the first time that we had traveled.

  • It was where we discovered our passion for culture and exploration.

  • And so, high off of these emotions, these dreams, and these questions,

  • that very next week, I did what any sensible person would do:

  • I booked a one-way ticket to Iceland.

  • I mean, it was departing five months into the future,

  • so maybe I was a little sensible.

  • And then, after booking that flight,

  • I thought, "Okay, I guess I need to figure out what I'm doing about my job."

  • So, at that point, I decided,

  • "Okay, I'm going to ask for a seven-month sabbatical to go travel."

  • And so, all I had booked was this one-way ticket to Iceland,

  • and this idea that I wanted to travel for seven months with no plan.

  • You have to understand, with this idea I had,

  • I seemed to be throwing down a challenge to the very world of probabilities

  • I had been living inside for the past 27 years.

  • I seemed to be asking the question:

  • what happens when someone goes from an engineer's life of probabilities

  • straight paths, clear answers and to-dos

  • to a life of possibilities,

  • to an unknown and unplanned path,

  • only big burning questions, and only want-to-dos --

  • doing things because I was excited by them,

  • doing things out of curiosity, or out of enthusiasm?

  • What happens when someone steps off the well-worn path?

  • What does that path, then, look like?

  • Well, it turns out, it looks a little bit like this.

  • So after spending a few weeks in Iceland,

  • I then took a flight to London, and went northward through the UK,

  • from Scotland over to Dublin, then westward in Ireland.

  • Then I went from Cork back to London, to Lithuania,

  • spent a few weeks in Lithuania, took a flight to Stockholm,

  • and a boat to Helsinki, another boat to Tallinn,

  • spent a few weeks in Estonia, went to Riga, took a flight to Copenhagen,

  • went south through Denmark, east through Germany,

  • went around Poland, through Prague, celebrated October Fest in Munich,

  • went to Zagreb, and then went to the Croatian coast.

  • I mean, this makes complete sense, right?

  • This is like Rick Steves Guide to Europe, basically, in a nutshell.

  • And so, with no set agenda and no plan,

  • I just went to places that pulled me.

  • Maybe a traveler or a local suggested a place, and so I'd go there.

  • Maybe I just liked the name of the city,

  • or maybe someone invited me to their hometown.

  • But if something tickled me in a good way,

  • I'd say "yes."

  • And I guess based on this map, I said yes a lot.

  • (Laughter)

  • What I did with this time --

  • this unstructured time for the first time in my life --

  • I just did the things I wanted to do.

  • I read a bunch of books, I met many people

  • and just had random conversations on the streets.

  • I explored artistic pet projects, and photography, videography.

  • I learned how to make a website and started writing about my travels.

  • These were all the things I had never done before.

  • So, one day, I found myself in Zadar, Croatia.

  • This small city on the Adriatic coast.

  • While in Zadar,

  • I received a message from a Lithuanian friend that I had met.

  • She said, "How's Matt, the pilgrim?"

  • And then, suddenly, this image of buckles and funny square hats entered my head,

  • which, honestly, kind of offended me.

  • I mean, Matt a pilgrim?

  • Not a chance.

  • Figuring, maybe I was just ignorant to the word.

  • I did what anyone would do, and I went to Wikipedia.

  • And Wikipedia told me that

  • a pilgrimage is "a journey made to a sacred place or a religious journey."

  • And a pilgrim is "a traveler who is on a journey to a holy place...

  • May refer to the inner path\\of the pilgrim,

  • from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude."

  • "Wretchedness."

  • I mean, a little dramatic, Wikipedia. (Laughter)

  • I mean, I was on an epic journey across Europe, of course,

  • on an adventure, checking off some bucket list items, absolutely.

  • Taking time to reflect on my life's direction,

  • while exploring some creative endeavor, sure.

  • But let's face it, I was a single, unattached, twenty-something guy

  • traveling around Europe.

  • My intentions were anything but holy or spiritual.

  • And we're in a chapel, so I won't get into details.

  • (Laughter)

  • But the term "pilgrim" stuck with me,

  • and because I had created this unstructured time

  • to explore such weird and impulsive inklings,

  • I decided to do some research, and do some reading.

  • So, when I got past the guys with the funny hats and buckles,

  • I found that pilgrimages were indeed rooted in spiritual practice or religion.

  • There's your pilgrimage to Mecca, still one of the five pillars of Islam.

  • Jewish Law used to require Jews to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem for passover.

  • Christians have been journeying to the Holy Land

  • to walk in the footsteps of Jesus for hundreds of years.

  • And then I came across pilgrimage-like journeys

  • in other civilizations.

  • So people from all over --

  • Egypt, Italy, Asia Minor -- would make the arduous journey

  • to ask the burning question of the oracle of Delphi.

  • From Australia, there's this concept of the walkabout,

  • which is this call into the outback,

  • this unknown kind of weird call.

  • And then, there was also Native American tribes.

  • Some Native American tribes would send their adolescents on vision quests

  • to discover their life's direction.

  • And then I came across other pilgrimage-like journeys,

  • albeit less spiritual and religious ones.

  • So let's say a car-buff taking his vintage Corvette down route 66.

  • Or maybe even an Ancient Rome history scholar

  • taking a track along the Appian Way in Italy.

  • And in all these examples, as I studied and read all of these,

  • I started to notice common threads in all these pilgrimages, journeys, adventures.

  • And one of those common threads

  • was a call.

  • They all started with some sort of call.

  • And as I researched further,

  • this is actually what mythologist Joseph Campbell called

  • "a call to adventure",

  • in his concepts of "The Hero's Journey",

  • this idea he has, that all religious, mythical,

  • and even pop-culture narratives,

  • are just variations of a single great story,

  • and where a hero has a call to adventure,

  • goes on that adventure, with all of its trials and tribulations,

  • and then he or she returns home with the wisdom that they have gained.

  • And so, in the religious examples,

  • it was the law, that was the call.

  • In ancient Greece,

  • it was a burning questions that called people to the oracle of Delphi.

  • Maybe it was a call to pay homage to something

  • near and dear to the individuals' heart.

  • Or maybe it was a wake-up call.

  • So maybe that car-buff was fired from his job,

  • and then he finally decided to go on that track down route 66.

  • Or maybe that history scholar was diagnosed with cancer,

  • and so she figured she had better make that trip down the Appian Way

  • before it was too late.

  • Or maybe, an unexpected death of a college friend

  • reignited the dream gone ignored.

  • And so for the first time,

  • I began to consider that maybe I was on some sort of unplanned pilgrimage,

  • even if I didn't have a destination in mind.

  • Now, there's another part of "the call to adventure."

  • It's that the call is one thing, but that's not all.

  • The second part of the call is the decision.

  • The journeyer, the adventurer or the pilgrim had to make a decision

  • to heed the call,

  • and the adventure only started when they said "yes" to their adventure.

  • And until they did, that journey did not begin.

  • So, while the call itself may be inexplicable,

  • divine maybe,

  • the decision to say yes to the adventure, to heed the call,

  • that's an act of free will.

  • And that decision,

  • is the part that matters the most.

  • So there's a part of my journey that I don't really talk about publicly,

  • but I'd like to share it with you today

  • because I think it shows the importance of saying yes to our adventure.

  • Whether that takes us half way across the world,

  • maybe on a new career trajectory,

  • or maybe just a new way to class.

  • So after Zadar, I decided to go to Belgrade, Serbia,

  • where I spent about a month.

  • While in Serbia, I met a friend there,

  • who would soon be working in a tiny village in Northwestern Germany.

  • She invited me to come visit.

  • I had five days

  • before I needed to go visit my sister in Barcelona.

  • So I figured I had enough funds to justify an inexpensive trip,

  • so I said yes to that adventure as well.

  • Why not?

  • So I spent the weekend in this tiny German town.

  • On my last night there,

  • I pulled up a map, and a timetable,

  • and I was looking at the path I needed to go

  • from Germany to where I was going in Barcelona.

  • As my eyes traversed down this path,

  • I noticed something and it shocked me, it gave me the chills,

  • and that was that this path went straight through Metz,

  • the same Metz where my friend Shannon and I had discovered our love for travel;

  • that same Metz where we had become close friends.

  • Essentially Metz and Shannon was the very reason

  • I was on this journey altogether.

  • So with two days to spare, I decided to go to Metz.

  • While in Metz,

  • I rightfully acknowledged this bracelet of Shannon's

  • that I'd been carrying with me on my backpack

  • for the past months.

  • And I took that bracelet,

  • and I walked around Metz.

  • I went to the classrooms where we studied,

  • I went to the bars that we hung out in,

  • I went to the parks that we walked through,

  • and in one of these parks, I decided to take that bracelet,