Say ‘Yes’ to Your Adventure: Matthew Trinetti (Full Transcript)

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?

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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.

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.

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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.

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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, and I thought it’s appropriate to leave it there.

I left it there along with this note, and I said, “Thank you for sending me on the trip of a lifetime. Little did I know that this would become a pilgrimage in your honor. Thanks for all you taught me, and thanks for leading me back to where it all began. We are each playing our part in a much larger story.”

Now, I had no intention that my trip would end in such a dramatic, personal, and even spiritual way. But because it did, it taught me something important about saying yes to our adventure, wherever it may take us, wherever it pulls us.

And we say yes to our adventure because it teaches us something that we can never learn in the world of probabilities alone. And that’s faith and trust. Faith in something that we cannot see; trust in something that cannot be calculated.

Trust in ourselves, in our heart, in the universe “your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever,” as Steve Jobs would say. And now, this is from that Stanford commencement speech, which I love. And I’ve always loved this quote as well, but by living purely an engineer’s life of probabilities, I would have never internalized the message that he was trying to teach.

And the hardest part about faith and trust is the not knowing. But the reality is that we can never know. All of our plans have the potential to fall through.

And the thing that gave me the courage to embark on this unplanned journey was my friend Shannon, because I’m pretty sure that dying at 27 was not part of her life plan. So I knew if I couldn’t rely solely on this world of probabilities, I’d better start to look elsewhere.

And there’s a second reason why we say “yes” to our adventure when it calls us, and it’s making a statement to ourselves that we believe our life has the potential to be an interesting story. When we believe our life has this potential to be an interesting story, a mysterious myth, a beautiful piece of folklore, and we view ourselves as the hero, as a protagonist, as the pilgrim, then something magical happens.

When we view our life as an interesting story, it has no other choice than to become one. When we view our life like an interesting story, and when we say yes to our adventure, our life becomes the adventure. We become the hero. We become the pilgrim.

Our story becomes a story worth sharing, a story worth sharing because it offers a glimmer of faith and trust. When we live our life as an interesting story, like a beautiful story it always had the potential to be, then we give faith and trust the chance to show their faces, and sometimes they do show their faces.

Now there’s some sort of perfection in the way that my trip turned out, and it’s not something that can be engineered or calculated. There’s no sort of planning or predicting that can uncover the kind of perfection that I stumbled upon.

And that, to the naked eye, the way these dots connect doesn’t make any sense at all. But the way that they connect makes perfect sense to me. And I think this is why the physical journey is often used to symbolize our journey through life.

So the question isn’t “Will you be called?” Because you will. Because we’re summoned daily. The big question then becomes whether you are going to be able to say a hearty “Yes” to your adventure when it does call. And I hope you do.

Thank you.

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