Back in March of this year, Raam Dev quit his day job, sold everything that wouldn’t fit in a 30 liter backpack, and went somewhere he’d never been before: abroad. Since then he’s been chronicling his 6-month journey through India, Vietnam and Nepal on a shoestring budget. Recently he released a free e-book, Small Ways to Make a Big Difference.
In short, this guy is doing the type of things I’m aiming to do, so I figured I should pick his brain and see what he can share about living life on one’s own terms and making a positive difference in the world. I asked, Raam answered…
1) Why are you on this journey? How did it all start?
I grew up dreaming of traveling the world as a nomad — exploring jungles, climbing remote mountains, and spending weeks out on the ocean. Even after starting a career in the IT industry, those dreams never left me. So many years went by sitting in front of a computer staring out the window dreaming of “what could be”.
Finally, late last year, after discovering the lifestyle design community and learning of others who were younger than me and who took action and made their dreams a reality, I felt my inner spark dying. I was losing the ability to keep those dreams inside me alive. I knew that I was reaching a turning point; if I didn’t do something soon, those dreams were going to die.
So I began selling all my possessions, at first moving everything into a storage unit and then, as the departure date got closer, moving things to my parents basement. I practically gave stuff away just to get rid of it. I sold my pickup truck on CraigsList three days before I was scheduled to leave and I sold my triathlon bike a few hours before I got on the plane.
I arrived in India with one backpack and almost no plans for what was next. My purpose wasn’t very clear either, except that I was following my heart — I was following dreams that had been with me for most of my life.
2) I loved your most recent post entitled Discovering the Real Nepal. You wrote a bit about purpose at the end of that article, about how you feel yourself losing interest in doing things just for the sake of doing them. Can you elaborate on that?
When I embarked on this adventure, I felt no sense of direction. I was simply breaking free from the status-quo and following my heart. I was a cloud floating aimlessly over an open ocean and I had no idea what kind of person would emerge on the other side or what would happen when the initial six-month journey was over.
If there was something I was traveling with though, it was an open-mind and a willingness to help. Slowly making my way from south India to north India, I witnessed all sorts of poverty and suffering around me, day after day, month after month. It began to have a big effect on me and I wanted to help. At the same time, I felt the universe pointing a big finger at me as if to say “you’re supposed to be helping fix this”.
It was the strongest and most in-your-face sense of finding purpose that I had ever experienced. I couldn’t sleep at night and I woke up every morning eager to continue brainstorming solutions. With that purpose so clearly defined — with that direction so obvious — everything else seemed to fade into the background.
As the days and weeks wore on and I began walking in this new direction (the Small Ways to Make a Big Difference ebook was one step), I began to feel myself becoming less interested in anything that wasn’t directly advancing me towards this new goal. Anything that didn’t help me work towards making a difference in the lives of others felt detrimental to the journey.
I recently went on a planned five-day trek in the Himalayas to relax and experience the mountains of Nepal. However, it left me feeling so lost, unfocused, and disinterested in simple pleasures that when I got back I decided to cancel the one week trip in north India where I was going to visit several touristy places like Darjeeling, Varanasi, and Agra (Taj Mahal).
I will instead be spending my last two weeks in Delhi working on my laptop and having lunch with a school teacher who connected with me through my blog to discuss education for poor children in India — an opportunity for me to learn more about something that will help me on my mission. Visiting a bunch of touristy places will do absolutely nothing at this point.
3) Another article you wrote that really made me think was entitled Sustainable Distribution of Abundance or Why I Don’t Haggle in the Third World. You’ve obviously seen a lot of hardship and poverty on your travels. I’m curious to know if such experiences have dampened your positivity and optimism. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by it all?
Even more than the scale of the problems, the sheer number of people who are already trying to help is overwhelming. As all of this is very new to me, I’m constantly learning everything I can about what’s already being done and it never ceases to amaze me how many people are trying to help and how little it seems to be having an effect.
My optimism will never be dampened, but at the same time I have a healthy dose of realism embedded in me. I see a future that I am confident will be a reality… some day. I’ve already accepted that it’s not likely I will live to see my Utopian vision, but that’s not important. What’s important is that enough people see the possibility for a future where poverty and suffering don’t exist and recognize that their own actions are determining how soon that will happen.
I have several little notes on my Mac dashboard that I look at whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed. One of them reads “Humans have a natural tendency to over-complicate issues AND solutions.” Another one says, “Helping people is NOT complicated.” And lastly, my favorite, “Nobody said saving the world would be easy. :)”
Every mountain looks challenging before we start climbing it, but no climber ascends to the top staring at the summit the entire time. He looks at the ground in front of him and takes one step. Then he takes another. And then another. Once the climber knows where he’s going, the steps behind him aren’t important. The summit isn’t important. It’s only the next step that matters.
Remembering how fortunate I am and how much I have going for me in comparison to all those people who are living on the street and scraping by just to feed themselves, that always eliminates any feeling of negativity or self-pity I may have.
4) Who inspires you?
Everyone. I’ve never met a single person who doesn’t inspire me in some way.
Speaking more generally though, children are an incredible inspiration. They can be born into the most difficult conditions with absolutely nothing and yet they’ll find ways to play and have fun. No matter what their circumstances are, they will always find ways to enjoy life and make the most of it.
One of my favorite things is to just watch kids play. I try to put myself in their shoes and see the world through their eyes. I feel the simplicity of life that they’re experiencing and suddenly all the problems in the world seem solvable.
5) Tell us about your greatest strength and, if you’re feeling strong enough, your greatest weakness.
Six months ago I would’ve told you my greatest weakness was my lack of direction. Now I’d argue it’s my greatest strength.
My inability to socialize, to really make people feel comfortable around me and hold a conversation (especially in groups) is a big weakness. I’m very sensitive to changes in emotions, but I’m often entirely oblivious to what they mean. I’m also extremely reserved and I have a hard time forming opinions and speaking my mind when it’s not entirely made up (which, due to my being extremely open-minded, it rarely is).
Instantly being able to learn and understand new concepts and technologies has been invaluable in my life. My ability to control my emotions and not let them get out of hand is also invaluable. I’m extremely observant, dedicated, patient, and analytical but most of all I find that my ability to accept criticism and then work towards changing myself is a great strength.
And on that note, please send over all the constructive criticism you can conjure up!
My sincerest thanks to Raam for taking the time to respond to my questions so thoughtfully.