Millions of us dream of transforming our lives, but few of us are able to make major changes after our 20s.
“The shortest path to oneself leads around the world.” So wrote German philosopher Count Hermann Keyserling, who believed that travel was the best way to discover who you are.
As a business consultant and working all my life with education, I have always encouraged family, friends and clients to chase their goals making changes as needed.
22-year-old Christopher McCandless, a brilliant student, in the summer of 1990, decided to leave everything behind—including his family, friends and career plans. He gave his life savings to the charity Oxfam and hitchhiked around the country, ending up in Alaska. He survived for about four months in the wilderness before dying of starvation in August 1992. His life became the subject of writer Jon Krakauer’s 1996 book Into the Wild, which inspired the 2007 film of the same name.
Why was he both so inspired and motivated to provoke change and discovery and so uninformed and naïve that he did not research the harsh climate and sparse food sources, the two main reasons so few people live in Alaska?
Well one of the reasons was his age and incomplete brain development; neuroscientists have proved that the brain is not fully finished development until the early to mid 20’s. As late as 25 for many males the prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed. That’s the part of the brain that helps you inhibit impulses, assess risk, understand consequences and to plan and organize your behavior to reach a goal. Also the brain’s reward system becomes highly active right around the time of puberty and then gradually goes back to an adult level, which it reaches around age 25 and that makes adolescents and young adults more interested in entering uncertain situations to seek out and try to find whether there might be a possibility of gaining something from those situations.
Consider Jordon Belfort’s behavior in Wolf of Wall St, huge risks at an early age to exact huge rewards, we know how that ended.
So as our 20’s fade away and our prefrontal cortex has matured so do our risk taking desires, hence the reason the average army enlistment age is 20.4 even though the educational benefits are apparent to the potential 42 year old maximum age recruit.
To travel helps us incite personal growth and change and yet provide the short term certainty of a safe return to a known base. We gain knowledge and experience of other places and cultures that builds our expertise in people skills and supports our business and personal growth. Yet only 27% of Americans have a passport but 42% of American self-made millionaires have taken the much riskier, no going back change of becoming first generation immigrants, 67% in Canada (but Canadian immigration is more open).
So get a passport, get a ticket and challenge yourself to change. Eat noodles in Thailand, walk a glacier in Canada, sleep in a yurt, discover the correct way to give a victory salute in Britain without getting arrested and challenge your brain to never quite grow up.