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When Nowhere is Everywhere I Want to Be
The son also rises in Australia (to the sounds of ol' Neil Young)
Standing at the bustling Pitt and Park Street intersection, I knew my life had changed forever.
I had been rooted on the corner for a good forty minutes watching the people, cars, and buses rush by me as they navigated the morning commute. Everyone was trying to get somewhere. I can vividly remember this moment as I watched the flow of traffic flash by me. It’s as cliche as it can get, but it’s exactly what it was - I was standing at a modern-day crossroads.
I remember saying this out loud to myself, “Everyone’s just trying to make it.”
In February of 2005, we flew on a one-way ticket to the ass-end of the world - Sydney, Australia. This would be our new home for the next five years. I had hardly been out of the United States, let alone moved to another country. I’ve never been one to turn down an adventure or an opportunity to experience something new. But this was more than something new for me, it was a genesis of who I’d become and how I operated.
Heavy-Duty. Full-on. All the way, baby.
The morning work commute. I had been part of it countless times back home. But seeing it in an entirely different context, an entirely different country was wide-eye-opening.
At that very moment, my entire worldview was flipped on its head. Everything I thought I knew about how the world worked was shattered. Admittedly, until that moment, my worldview was akin to peering into a galaxy through a keyhole. Standing on the corner of Pitt and Park St. was as if the keyhole's door was kicked in and obliterated into splinters.
“Everyone’s just trying to make it.”
What did I mean by that?
It was the realization that there were other people that lived in the world outside of the United States. I was seeing them with my own eyes. And they weren’t that different from me. They needed to earn a living. They were going to work. They had jobs to do. They had places to be. They had responsibilities. They were just trying to make it. They were just trying to make life happen. They were trying to survive, to live their lives, and to get to where they needed to go to do it.
When I say they weren’t that different from me, I don’t just mean they were white and English-speaking. That is mostly true in Australia, but what I was feeling was deeper than that. Take this leap with me. Strip away the nationalities, skin color, cultures, and biases - when I said everyone, I meant Human Beings.
That street crossing could have been anywhere. Oxford Circus in London. Times Square in Manhattan. Or the small, dirt road town of Hampi in South West India. Each of these places - all of which I would live in or visit after Sydney - were inhabited by humans trying to survive in their own contexts.
I know this all sounds obvious. I was sheltered. Seeing the world working in a familiar but different way in Sydney was like being transported to a parallel Earth in the multiverse. The realization that the world worked in similar ways and was connected by trade, macroeconomics, geopolitics, trends, whatever - was exciting. Yes, I know. I can’t overstate this - I was sheltered.
I was a stereotypical small-town American. I was a no passport, flag-waving, and freedom fry-eating Yank. My worldview changed, and my view of America and what it means to be an American on the global stage changed. I learned more about America living outside of it than I did when I lived in it. I never tried to completely disassociate myself from America, but I did assimilate as a local as much as possible to live life from a new point of view.
Here’s one for you. This is indicative of the many similar instances I experienced living outside America.
One time, a Sydney-sider, whom I respect and who became a very good friend, introduced me to a group of Aussies like this, “This is Judd. He’s American. Don’t worry - he’s one of the good ones.”
🎵 Everybody seems to wonder what it's like down here
I gotta get away from this day-to-day running around
Everybody knows this is nowhere 🎵 - Neil Young
Neil was talking about his disillusionment with Los Angeles, the "down here" in the chorus of "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere," - the song we’re focusing on in this entry of the playlist of my life's greatest hits.
Neil is infamous for being disillusioned or just not being fucking bothered with hype and fame and trappings of success. He’s always done his own thing, on his own terms, in his own way - no matter who he pisses off. It’s led to radical, dumbfounding, brilliant career choices and musical direction.1
🎵 I think I'd like to go back home and take it easy. 🎵
🎵 Every time I think about back home, it's cool and breezy
I wish that I could be there right now just passing time. 🎵
Fame, success, hits, klieg lights, record label bullshit. That was “nowhere” for Neil. So he bought a ranch, went to where the pavement turned to sand, and took it easy.
In my mind, I’ve co-oped the first line in the chorus to be about Sydney. Yes, I am referring to the obvious “down under” quasi-reference. The day-to-day running around that I wanted to get away from was America. My interpretation of the last line of the chorus was that Australia was so isolated that, for most people, it was nowhere they would ever visit. They wonder what it’s like, but it’s nowhere they would be visiting anytime soon.
I fell in love with Sydney.2 For me, it was gloriously "nowhere." Nowhere was everywhere I wanted to be. There was so much that was so new to experience. I felt like I had found a hidden world - a playground to explore and learn from. I'll be sharing more about my Sydney experience in future entries.
There’s a line from another Neil song that I think about whenever I reminisce about our time in Sydney. It’s from one of his best and most recognized songs, “Helpless”
🎵 In my mind, I still need a place to go. All of my changes were there.” 🎵
So many of my changes happened when I was in Sydney. Deep-rooted to the fibers type of changes. They happened on every level, too - personal and professional, and especially in my marriage.
My wife and I were married just under four years before we moved to Sydney. The feeling of being together in a relatively new relationship and breaking out to do something so ambitious, scary, and exciting was indicative of the type of life we wanted to live together and, ultimately, demonstrative of what we were capable of as a couple, an entity. We just went for it. Heavy-Duty. Full-on. All the way, baby.
I’m still inspired by those two people who just went for it and are still going for it today. It will be twenty-two years married this summer, and my respect for my wife and us as a couple grows deeper daily. It wasn’t just me that was experiencing change, it was my wife too. It was happening to us as individuals. We were experiencing change ourselves, seeing each other change, supporting each other, inspiring each other, and in the process, achieving new levels of compassion, trust, and love.
My biggest change, and one that still resonates, was my sense of self - my sense of who I was and what I was capable of. Once the aperture of my worldview opened up, so did the scope of my potential - realizing what might be possible and what I could accomplish if I pushed my perspective and capabilities farther, as far as I could.
I pushed myself in many ways. I went back to school for a full-time MBA. I never would have done that back in the States. I had to go and find a job in a country I had never been in, had no connections, had no work experience, and sell myself based on my character and a whole lot of promise. I went on so many damn interviews. I walked the streets for months. I made a handful of friends with people from Australia and other ambitious foreigners that moved there - and they are still my good friends today. I traveled to countries I honestly never even thought about dreaming of one day visiting. I was rolling.
🎵 “But me I'm not stopping there
Got my own row left to hoe
Just another line in the field of time.” 🎵
- “Thrasher,” Neil Young
Was it in me all along and just waiting to come out? Or was it my change of scene that opened me up? Was it both? Yes, I think it was. I believe I was made for it. I always had a travelin’ jonze - from when I was a high-school kid and after I got out of college. In my early twenties, I thought I was taking hold of my independence and bravely setting out in the world when I was moving around New England. That was just my starter kit. So well-intentioned but still so sheltered.
“Buy the ticket, take the ride”. - Hutner S. Thompson
It’s so true. I bought it. I took it. And I kept buying it and taking it. We left Sydney and moved to London for five years. And then Manhattan for three years. My worldview and sense of wonder and possibility kept expanding. But Sydney was my growth spurt. It’s where I grew up. It’s where I got wiser and more worldly. It’s where I shed what was left of my adolescent skin.
I realized this about a couple of years into living in Sydney.
Before my wife and I left for Sydney, we obviously had to let our parents know. It was a big move for us and would be for them, too. My wife’s parents were world travelers and instilled a bigger worldview in their kids when they were young. They were sad not to be close to us but excited and encouraged us to go (and visited us many times throughout our world travels).
My mom is a wise woman. My sense of independence, openness to possibilities, and belief in oneself come from her. In a less dynamic way - on a global scale at least - she expanded her own worldview and life exploration. She operated without limits in a responsible way that I could learn from. She was sad to see us go, but her response was true to her character, “Go for it!”
When I told my dad, the first thing he said to me was, “I don’t think you should do it. You don’t know anything about Australia. You haven’t even visited it first. You don’t know anyone. How will you get a job? Are you sure you want to do this? Are you being forced to do this? You shouldn’t go.”
You shouldn’t go.
I was surprised. I didn’t expect such a strong negative response. My response was curt and a bit cutting.
“Thanks for the advice. I’m going.”
A couple of years into living in Sydney, my parents came to visit for a few weeks. It was a big trip for them, and we wanted to make it special. My mom had been to China, India, and other places. This was an even bigger trip for my dad. He obviously had reservations about Australia, but international travel was out of his comfort zone.
They arrived in Sydney, and we had a great time. After the first week, my dad and I were having a beer at a local pub. We were just shooting the shit, and he was telling me what a great time he was having and how much he loved Sydney. And then he said, “I’m sorry I told you not to go.”
The child is the father of the man.
That phrase comes from the Wadsworth poem, “My Heart Leaps Up.” It’s also a killer Blood, Sweat & Tears album. A popular interpretation of this idiom is that a man is the product of habits and behavior developed in youth.
When I think of that moment when my dad said, “I’m sorry I told you not to go,” I think of that phrase, “The child is the father to the man.” I’m going to be liberal with my interpretation because it rings true for me.
At that moment, I understood his “don’t go” comment. He was telling me two things.
He was telling me he didn’t know how to give me advice. He’d reached the outer limits of his ability to do his duty as a parent and provide guidance. He couldn’t do his job as he defined it. If you knew him, you’d know that how he defined his role was about controlling his environment and domain. This was beyond his domain. He couldn’t relate. The best way to maintain the status quo is not to allow change. Sometimes you do that by exerting an influence that benefits you, not the other.
He wasn’t being malicious. He wasn’t telling me not to go, he was telling me he couldn’t go. I think he was expressing how he felt about what he couldn’t do and projected that in his “don’t go” reply to me.
I’m not trying to create a negative portrayal of him. In fact, I think he actually did his true job as a parent. He put me in a position in life to want to do something like move to the other side of the world and be confident to do it with more looming questions than firm answers.
The second thing he told me (without actually telling me) when he said, “I’m sorry I told you not to go,” was that his eyes had been opened, too. In his own way, his Australian experience did for him what it had done for me. He was at home in Australia. He responded to the people, culture, and new perspective the same way I did. Once he got accustomed, he got comfortable. He had to see it to be a believer. He understood why I wanted to go and the possibilities it opened up for me.
The child is the father of the man.
It’s been eighteen years since we moved to Sydney. Since then, we’ve had stops in London, Manhattan, and Chicago, and now we live in Denver. We’re happy here. We don’t plan on moving any time too soon, but our sense of wonder and adventure remains strong.
Now we have an eight-year-old daughter. In her short life, she too, has been on a roll. She was born in London, learned to walk in Central Park, was a toddler in that old toddlin’ town of Chicago, and is now loving the outdoor lifestyle of Colorado.
She gives her audience a shorter version of that story when she introduces herself. We’ve tried to instill in her that she is a resilient citizen of the world and her story is one of travel, adventure, and experiences. We never want her to lose that, and we will always nurture that in her. She’s the best of her parents.
This brings me back to my dad and the beer we shared in Sydney. He was a proud man, but not too proud to say he made a mistake or didn’t know better. I admire him for that. He died in 2014, four months before my daughter was born. We didn’t have a name for her at the time. He used to call her “London Girl.”
Another lesson from Ol’ Neil applies here.
Whether you are thirty-three-year-old me landing in Sydney for the first time or my then sixty-year-old dad landing in Sydney for the first time, you are never too old to keep moving forward.
You have to.
Time is always on your tail.
Rust. Never. Sleeps.
Two of my favorite Neil quotes (not lyrics):
“It's what I'm doing now, man, right now, that matters. Not yesterday or the day before that, but now. Right now.”
“I still see the vista. I hear the muse. I continue.”
I’m still in love with Sydney. I like to call it our retirement home. I could easily see us living out our days there. It’s such a commitment, though. You have to make the call to leave a lot behind - mostly extended family - to make a move like that. We weren’t ready to do that at the time (London was calling), but someday I do think the time could be right.
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