Most of my blog posts so far have been relatively impersonal and were merely describing my travels. Now that I have a little more time to play with ( it’s raining here in Samarkand) I thought I would answer a question that a couple of people asked me already: “Why on earth did you leave your job at Google, isn’t it paradise to work for them?”…
Regarding Google, sure not everything is perfect, but for me it wasn’t far from being perfect. I was surrounded by very clever, friendly and open-minded people, I was working on things I’m really passionate about, the work environment was simply amazing and I certainly miss all this as well as the delicious free food, the foosball tables, pool tables and countless other games, the free fitness room and of course the massages!
During the last conversation I had with my grandfather, he told me that his greatest regret in life was not to have followed his passion for Romanesque architecture and to have instead focused so heavily on his insurance business. Now, I have always had the upmost respect for my grandfather and such honnest statement coming from him had a deep effect on me.
So I did reflect on my own life and realized that so far, I had mostly let myself drift through it without much effort: I chose to do business studies after school, mainly because I didn’t know what else to do. At the end of my studies I specialized in Finance and was so bored during my internship at the bank that I had my first reaction: I would not work for a financial institution as I intended to. Instead I chose to work for a company I really admired for having revolutionized the internet in the best possible way.
After three years however, I started to severely need a change from my 9-6 daily routine. Staring at a computer screen 8 hours a day was becoming really hard for me. The prospect of doing this for 40 years was scaring me. What for? Did I really want to be saving my money my whole life for an unknown purpose like so many people do? What kind of stories would I be telling my grand-children later?
It is during my six-month exchange program in South Africa that I developped a taste for both travelling and photography. My grandfather gave me his old manual Nikon FG-20 before I left. And this gift had a bigger consequence on me than he probably realized at the time. The very first roll of film shot with the camera yielded two of the most successful pictures I ever took: the picture of two lions in love that on its own was viewed more than 40.000 times on Flickr and the picture of the smiling giraffe that has been used for a big nation-wide marketing campaign in Belgium (and is about to do so again!). Unfortunately the zoom of that camera broke down on the second roll, but a new passion was born for me. And more importantly, I realized after this experience in Africa how much my encounters with the local people and with the many different travellers I met on the road had broadened my mind and made me understand our world better.
Add to this a growing concern about the environment and that was enough to convince me to take off. Since my early childhood I have had a deep fascination for nature and animals ( ask my poor parents, they’ve seen all possible animals in our house!). Constantly witnessing the degradation of our environment without reacting was feeling increasingly wrong. But I do not believe that trying to make people feel guilty like many ecologists are doing is the solution. I wanted to witness environmental damage for myself, and see what I think I could do when getting back home. To minimize the ecological impact of my travel, I decided I would not take a single plane to go back home from Australia. And hopefully it would convince other people to avoid planes on their journeys too.
Only time will tell whether it really was a good idea or not. But for now, the only thing I can say is that it feels right, and has felt so ever since I took the decision. And that’s a great feeling, believe me!