8 + 2 values that I rediscovered during my gap year and what I am doing now
As probably most of you reading, I always valued my career and dedicated the last 12 years to grow and build it the way I wanted, with one trait d’union: being an innovation maverick. Because defining me a “non-conformist idealist” does not sound as good on a LinkedIn post.
Then, all of a sudden and unexpectedly, last year I found myself lost.
I was blessed with great team members, an excellent role but still, I had that urge and need for change that has always driven the best part of my career. I was getting the results that I wanted professionally, however, at the same time, those results were having an impact on my personal life and happiness.
This made me stop having fun and see neither a purpose nor a path of self-development. I was stuck.
And guys, that moment of truth hit me hard. Harder than what I could have expected. I felt exposed and weak. For how silly this could sound, I was guilty to have been defined by my job and my title for most of my adult life and I was not ready to drop it.
That was when I had to rely on one of my strongest beliefs: if something does not work, go and fix it or change the way you are doing stuff. And I did it. How? By leaving the problem with no solution: which I always considered the worst way of dealing with one.
So I left my possessions in a storage and traveled the world for 7 months with one backpack with no backup plan and no idea of what I would have done and where I would have gone once this experience terminated.
Now I could be playing cool and tell you that I felt awesome. Instead no, for a long time, I freaked out. Regularly, every morning for at least 3 months, I was not enjoying my days 100%.
Then, the day to day life started feeling more normal and, since when I came back home, I had the time to put into perspective what I learned over these months and some of the values that I rediscovered during my gap year:
1) Self-reliance + independence
Traveling on the Trans-Siberian railway in immense Russia was the perfect beginning of the experience. The train journey made me feel on the road to nowhere. However, it brought me a great learning: we have got to go our own way, having self-reliance and independence.
The same way that Russia always protected their traditions and beliefs, if a friend or an employer was going to consider my experience not valuable for my development, well, I was probably more interested in finding someone who was.
We are used to all sort of comforts in our Western lives and tend to forget that we do not need that much. Experiencing the way that Mongolian people live when sleeping in a ger, I rediscovered the value of frugality.
We must remember that we can be happy with a simple meal, riding a horse and testing our manual skills with bow and arrows while sleeping next to a fire. That fancy dinner and those expensive shoes are great but they are not a need.
In China, I felt disoriented and strayed with a culture so different from ours in the messiest and noisiest cities like Xi’An. Surrounded by hundreds of people, I understood that the value of a life in China is lower than in our Western countries.
In Europe, we are taught that every single human being is important, we consider ourselves precious and unique, entitled at times to the detriment of the others. However, there are countries like China where the community is more important than the single person. And this is pushed to the opposite excess.
Compassion has never been one of my favorite values, but China definitely changed my perspective on it. We need to dedicate more time to reflect on the misfortune of others and being more helpful. And this is true in both Western and Eastern world.
During this year, I had the luck of meeting several digital nomads communities in places like Bali in Indonesia. What surprised me about these expat communities is how they are individualist on one side but strongly believe in the value of cooperation.
They support each other in sharing information, accommodations, jobs, clients and solving each other problems. Cooperation is needed to make their dreams of location independence come true every day.
In the corporate world it can happen to be cooperative mainly with the purpose of career progression, these guys showed me the most sincere form of cooperation I have found so far in any working environment.
A natural, sincere and non-interested gesture of cooperation is so energizing that should be part of our daily routine without expecting anything in return.
When spending time in Iran in Isfahan with a family of 20 preparing food and spending time together every night, my mind ran to all the time I spent far from home (5 years and counting).
I have heard many times people saying that time is the most important thing, however, reality started striking when my grandma passed away while I was traveling this year.
I have been away for too long and not dedicated enough time to the whole of my past and present family.
When in Turkey visiting Istanbul, I discovered a city that is half in Europe and half outside of Europe and I had one of the greatest traveling experiences flying on an air balloon in Kapadokya. Flying on an air balloon takes advantage of the hot air and the wind currents in the early morning using the balance created by these natural forces.
If we run constantly, we do not enjoy the journey. If we always walk, we do not get as far as we want. If we fly with an airplane, we get far fast. If we experience a hot air balloon, we enjoy a magical journey but we can not get very far.
In life, it is a lot about balance. Balance offers variety and variety is what makes life rich.
In Tbilisi, I stared in front of the iconic statue of Kartlis Deda and I learned the history of the Georgian values that it represents. The statue holds in her left hand a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends and in her right hand a sword for those who come as enemies.
While I was sipping wine and having good food with some travel mates, I reconsidered the amount of time dedicated to friends over the last years.
Being an expat for 5 years, I have been blessed with many new international friends and experiences. At the same time, I also created a gap in experiences and memories shared with the old time friends and lost the last years with my best friend who passed away this year at 36 years old, after a 9 years’ silent fight with cancer.
Friendship is as important as family, friendships must be nurtured and grown over time by dedicating time to them and being there.
8) Humility + Authenticity
When in India, I observed that humility is a founding part of Indian culture. I discovered that Indian people also value authenticity and they do it by showing who they are and the way they live without the need of pleasing anybody. This behaviour grants great freedom.
There were times in my life when I had the need to be defined by what I achieved and shared the bare minimum, forgetting that free thinking is one of the things that defines us as human beings.
Before my trip, I would have probably not been so open about my thoughts and would have never written an article like this. From now onwards, I promised myself to be more authentic.
What I am doing now
After all this traveling, I started looking randomly for opportunities across Europe. However, no role seemed to fit the eccentric brief that I gathered from my brain:
being closer to friends and family after 5 years abroad, innovate with startups in an international environment, with a young ambitious team, in a project with European scope and an open culture.
And then I found the FinTech District: a unique environment and hub that wants to represent the Italian FinTech community. Created in 2017 by SellaLab and Copernico to connect the dots between startups, entrepreneurs, Venture Capitalists and Financial Institutions, it aims to foster the development of Italian and European FinTech companies to support the growth of the financial ecosystem of the future.
An innovation and a vision from the Italian Sella Group: a group that is fully embracing change, leading the way to an open ecosystem and being what I consider a unique example for everyone in the banking business in Europe.
I am proud to finally share with all of you that I have joined the Fintech District to lead this journey of innovation from my hometown of Milan. I can’t wait to make a difference for Europe from Italy and finally support my home country innovation effort.
Old/new friends and business contacts, feel free to hit me up with a private message if you’d like to meet and visit the District.
DISCLAIMER: all pictures other than the Aerosmith one below (Mick Hutson/Redferns) and the Kartlis Deda statue in this article are taken by me during my travels and can be used under Creative Commons license. This article does not want to be another of those ‘leave your job, everything will be better’ articles. The message is: be happy and make the necessary changes if you are not, even if they look non-sense at the beginning. Stay rock.
As Aerosmith wrote a long time ago:
“Life is a journey, not a destination and I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings” (Amazing, Get a Grip, 1993)Steven Tyler