I don’t believe the universe will provide

Photo by Franco Folini

Saturday I received an email from a young woman who has begun her own travels across the US. She is in search of a sense of meaning and purpose and she shared with me some wonderful, vulnerable feelings I won’t share here. But she also asked me a question:

“I was wondering if you have any tips on how to trust that the Universe will provide, and how to make money while doing this soul searching.”

I told her I don’t believe the universe will provide. I’m worried I broke her heart. But I also hope that out of all the voices telling her what to do, and giving her simple, optimistic advice, maybe my voice will stand out a little because I’m trying to be truthful.

Here’s what I wrote her:

Dear __,

I don’t believe the Universe will provide. She is a beautiful, wonderful, rich universe but she is both loving and cruel. To love the universe is to love both sides of her, and to accept her as she is.

I found that the hardest part of my traveling life was creating a sustainable income while I travel. I still don’t make a great deal of money, but I make enough to live by and keep moving and that’s enough for now. But I was only able to do that by (a) planning carefully (b) learning from professionals how to do freelance work on the road [writing in my case], and (c) taking the risk and the time and effort to pitch many, many clients, getting a lot of “no’s” before I finally had a list of regulars.

There are people who do it very differently. You can work on cruise ships, take odd jobs, or busk and perform for tips in certain cities (other cities just aren’t profitable).

One thing that is very scary to me is knowing that, although I have enough income for right now, I don’t have enough for as I get older. I will need better healthcare, a home base and better professional equipment as I age. So I’m using the next leg of my journey to settle in one place—Guanajuato, Mexico starting in March—to do a sabbatical. I’ll focus on my career, especially putting out more books and planning how I will become a more successful writer.

I’ve also met people who travel with no concern for money, no plan and no resources. You have probably seen or met the “traveler” kids [also called: “gutter punks”] who hop trains and live in squat houses. They have happy beautiful moments but also pain, abuse, guards shoot at them, dogs bite them, friends turn on friends under the influence of drugs, sexual assault is common. Most train hoppers want to get out of the lifestyle before they become career hobos or get killed. Every train hopper has lost at least one friend.

Many people hate money and working but, within reason, it’s also the key to safe and successful travels. It allows you to have a refuge where you feel at peace. I do believe it’s best to build your income/career around your passion if possible, which is why I write professionally. I love writing. But most of what I write for clients is not stuff I would choose to write on my own. I do that work because it makes my dreams possible.

I don’t know if these thoughts are helpful to you. Some other travelers might tell you differently. This is just my own experience. For me, it takes some planning. I admire what you’re doing and I want you to succeed.

What I didn’t tell her, and I wish I had, was that this advice is not really advice I wrote for her, it’s advice I wrote for myself. This is the advice I wish I had taken three years ago.

Before I started traveling, I had set a deadline for myself: my thirtieth birthday. I had to quite my job and leave by then. As that deadline approached I scrambled to make sure everything was ready to go and I didn’t feel prepared. Like my reader above, I reached out to another traveler I admired and I asked his opinion.

He told me to wait a year, save more money and not travel till I had a nest egg.

I ignored that advice and it is something I still regret today. I don’t regret any of my travels or adventures, but I do regret making them absolutely more stressful and anxious than they had to be. I was always scrambling, and I’m sure I missed many opportunities and side quests because of it.

If I had stayed at my old museum job one year longer, I would have started my Adventure with all debts paid and plenty of money saved. I may also have built up a substantial freelance client portfolio before I started. The result would have been more freedom to enjoy my journey once I was actually on the road.

My girlfriend also works and travels, and she did this much better than me. When she quit her corporate job to freelance, she was worried she didn’t have enough clients to make a strong living. So she looked for grants for graduate work in her field, went back to school and got a PhD for free—while freelancing after-hours to build up her business. When she earned her degree she already had a successful one-woman company and money to travel the world.

Our stories are so different because when I have an ideal or a belief I can’t wait to run after it. Sometimes this is a good quality, and it has gotten me into some of the best adventures and breathless wonderful moments of my life. But many soul-searching wanderers, like me and like my young reader, share this trait and sometimes it blinds us. We will harm ourselves by insisting we cannot wait.

I don’t know if that advice applies to you, dear reader who wrote to me, but I know it applies to me. I feel happy about my life, my Journey and my career—I wake up happy with who I am. But I know I could be in a much better place right now, and be much farther along in achieving my dreams, if I had been more sensible. This is, perhaps, the fate of adventurers.

I haven’t heard back from her. I worry that perhaps my note offended her or will discourage her. I hope that’s not the case. My advice is based on my own life and for her it might not apply. But what does the universe provide? She provides us the backdrop, the dizzying endless backdrop, and waits for us to move.

The world is both good and bad.

Therefore, she is good.

To adventure is to make love to the world.
What advice would you give my reader? Please comment and share this post.

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.


17 thoughts on “I don’t believe the universe will provide

  1. It’s different for everyone… this quitting your job and following your passion. To some it’s freedom. To others it’s travel. To others it’s a means to stop getting sick every day.

    As a devout hippie, I say follow your heart. If it feels right to do it now, do it now.

    I’ve known many people that, looking back, would have paid more debts, saved more money, built a stronger client base…before quitting. Strangely, I’m one of those people, too. I should have built a seed business before quitting the day job!

    Or so I say. Would I have created the side business or was getting out of the rut and on with my life really what was important? No one will ever know. Quitting to build a business / quitting to travel the hero’s journey. It’s just the choice we made.

    But, empty transience doesn’t last forever. At some point, sustaining yourself is necessary… and some part of the plan has to be providing for your future.

    We’ll grow from the experience either way.

    The universe DOES provide. It just provides a little better for those who work hard.


    • Would I have created the side business or was getting out of the rut and on with my life really what was important? No one will ever know. Quitting to build a business / quitting to travel the hero’s journey. It’s just the choice we made.

      But, empty transience doesn’t last forever. At some point, sustaining yourself is necessary… and some part of the plan has to be providing for your future.

      We’ll grow from the experience either way.

      The universe DOES provide. It just provides a little better for those who work hard.

      Spoken with wisdom, Stu.

  2. Matthew Hajel says:

    I believe God will provide, you just have to know how to spot it when He lays it out there for you. Just as God provides for the birds of the air He will provide for us.
    I have alot of traveling stories but one that comes to mind was when I was hitchhiking to San Francisco. I remember it was such a hot day and I had been humping for a while when I ran out of water. I was somewhere outside of Tracy,Ca if I remember correctly and nothing but almond trees around. I was so thirsty and starting to feel desperate when ou. of all the almond trees there was a plum tree. Yum they were delicious and provided energy to keep moving. This was before I was a Christian but God is with us all at all times.

    • My friend is a devout Hindu priestess whose family lives in India. She described to me the unimaginable poverty and suffering there. “Some of the poorest places on earth, André. And believe me, it’s not for a lack of praying.”

      Matthew, I’m happy you were able to discover sustenance when you needed it most. I’m troubled that you construe it as a guarantee from God that everyone will have the same good luck. In Haiti, the people who need water do not find a plum tree (if they do there is a fence around it; if they climb the fence they are shot). The same might be true in the US, if your skin were a different color.

      The gods deserve our respect, but they only provide guidance. There are many bones in the desert, and many final prayers.

  3. I think that is wonderful advice, and true. But. I’m not sure if it would help. I think we’ve all been “there” (what the “there” is depends on the life in question)…at that choice of “go for it” or “plan and wait and chance never going”…where good advice is rarely taken, and only hear what we want to hear.

    I wholly agree that the Universe will not provide. She is, indeed, beautiful…but she’s also not personal or caring. The Universe is wonderful and terrible…powerful and powerless. Stunning, miraculous, but cold when its not firey furnace of hotness ready to burn you to a crisp. It is not forgiving, though sometimes (when you aren’t counting on it) you might get lucky (maybe a bit like a casino). She provides only by virtue of our laying in provisions, or the means to get them. She provides by our planning and elbow grease…or sheer dumb luck (which is just as likely to strike against those that plan and work hard). She helps those that help themselves, to borrow a turn of phrase. Wandering fecklessly into the Universe and expecting to be provided for is dangerous at best and often deadly. As a young female, its also a good way to end up used and abused, a victim of human trafficking.

    I don’t think that should stop anyone from traveling. Personally, I’m not a traveler…I’m a mover. I don’t think traveling lets you experience spirit of place appropriately. I like some comfort, and to move and settle for a bit and get to know the place and the people…then move on. The military really was ideal for me, in that regard…as is the job I have now. And while I don’t yen to travel, I like a vacation now and again–especially hiking and canoeing away from pretty much everything, no electricity, no phones. I get the attraction of seeking adventure, which for me was leaving society and going into the woods–I loved it, and I will do it again and again and again, but I wouldn’t personally want to live it every day.

    I think that we need to temper our need for adventure and spontaneity with caution and common sense. At the risk of sounding crass and making light of a young man’s death, it seems a fine line between Mick Dodge and Christopher McCandless. In action, that is much harder to do than to say. Then again, where would we be, we funny naked monkeys, without pioneers and dreamers and those among us reading to leap? I hope she finds what she is looking for…and that she considers what she is looking for worth the sacrifice. But mostly, I hope she she stays whole and healthy, and whatever adventure awaits her in life, whether she does this or not, makes her a better person and doesn’t break her body or her spirit.

  4. Bruno Pythio says:

    This article literally brought me to tears! I’m planing my world trip for when I’m thirty, I was hoping that the Universe would provide. But I know that She is light and dark, She is life and Death, and I love Her for that. Thank you for your honesty and love. I felt love in your words. Thank you, thank you.

  5. Cecilia says:

    As a “traveler kid” I think the letter you wrote her was well thought out. The universe is equally as cruel as it is breathtakingly beautiful. She needs to know that, especially if shes asking. And we do have to love them both equally in order to receive the soulful lessons meant for us. I have been subject to abuse, however that will never make me afraid to talk to a stranger. I have lost friends over drugs, but I will never deny someone my love in the face of their addiction. My very favorite man was taken down by a train, and still, as she chants “too bad, too bad, too bad” in the face of my fury and tears, I marvel at the beauty only a train can show me. Steady, stealy bitch that she is. I suppose what I’m getting at is what I believe you overlooked. The difficulty IS the beauty. The magic even. The sad, beautiful magic. I am not on the road all of the time, and when I’m not my life becomes mediocre easily. And I’ve still, in those stand still periods, experienced abuse, or losing friendships over drugs, or mourned for the death of a beautiful friend. The reasoning for the pause you articulate is important. Stop. Build. But those of us who are coming of age in the very beginning of this decline are looking at a very different future. I often deliver pizza or serve food next to individuals who have 4 or more years of schooling, and not nearly half my real world experience. The idea of school being our hand out of poverty is no longer realistic. Poverty is here, and coming harder. What “traveler kids” are seeking is the knowledge nessisary to sustain our lives with very little resources. Practical skills, like farming, processing animals, folk medicine, ect…Living. With very little comforts. And since most of us come from already impoverished families, our only opportunity to gain these real skills are to put one foot in front of the other, open our minds, and introduce ourselves to those that know. I won’t say I don’t hold us signs on highways when I don’t have shoes, or that I never spend my food stamps sharing meat with my dog, but traveling is not a choice for many of us. We have so much to learn, and very little time to learn it. And I for one, out of love for the beauty in the sadness of the world, am grateful for the blessing of this being my time to be young in history. The world is changing. And I am in it. And I can’t wait. Or rather I won’t.

    • Cecilia, thank you so much or writing this. Thank you, especially, for sharing the painful moments and also putting them in perspective. When you say, “The difficulty IS the beauty. The magic even. The sad, beautiful magic,” I agree completely. This is my experience on a bicycle, and camping in the snow, and living with hunter gatherers. I think that I mean something like this when I write, “The universe is both bad and good; for that reason she is good.” That is my credo wherever I go.

      I also want you to know I have great respect for the train hopping travelers. I hope my use of “traveler kids” didn’t imply otherwise; I thought it was more respectful than “gutter punks.”

      Again, thank you.

  6. In my opinion the universe does not provide, for your own wits and intelligence reflects on yourself if you survive in society today but you increase your odds in the USA better than in India I would think or in Haiti since you brought up trainhoppers in your story I knew a few of them and Gods bless them they weren’t all bad folks just trying to make it alive ,day to day, I made it off the streets by my own ingenuity not by divine providence by good choices I made for myself, logical ones that is….but I admit it is getting out off the streets is getting much harder while trying to subsist in the USA if you are homeless, ask my homeless friends, who are still homeless trying to survive. When I was homeless I didn’t expect the universe to fix my life lol I put into place the right choices to change my life for the good….it’s good to have faith if you believe in a God or Gods yes but don’t use it as a crutch for waiting for something you have to do for yourself……

    • Well spoken Hee Kim, and thank you for this. I agree with everything you say – and yes, I never meant to imply that train hoppers are bad people, only that they have a very difficult and dangerous life. I’m glad you were able to get yourself off the street and change your life. Not everyone has the chance, even if they do work hard, and as you said it is getting harder.

      I’m very interested in Korean shamanismn, by the way. I’d love to talk about it if you have a chance.

  7. I think the universe does provide. I think the universe also doesn’t provide for us what we can provide for ourselves, even if and when we think we can’t.

  8. Pingback: Who Tips Their Hat to the Kids in the Gutter? |   Rogue Priest

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