Matthew Trinetti – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
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. 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 18, 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.
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. 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. 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.