One of my goals in writing this blog has always been to encourage others to live their dreams – bucking societal expectations and pursuing independence, whatever that means to them.
I was intrigued, then, by a recent request to speak with a television producer about appearing on a show about van-dwelling and traveling on a tight budget. We’re not dying to be the next reality TV stars, but I’m all for new experiences, and I would happily take advantage of such a public platform to spread the word about financial independence, frugality (or pseudo-frugality), early retirement, and full-time travel.
I agreed to an informational phone call to learn more.
I spoke with two people – a producer and a business development person, if I remember correctly. After some initial small talk, we got down to business.
We started with the content of the show. “We’re pitching a reality series about van-dwelling,” they explained, “following the stories of people living frugally in their vans.”
I watch so little TV that it took me a minute to process “reality series.” I gathered that the term meant that if this all worked out, we’d have cameras and producers following us around for months – not just filming a ten-minute segment and moving on. Kind of like that Kardashians show that I’ve never seen, but with much less attractive stars.
The conversation turned to me and Daniel, and I gave an overview of who we are and what we’re doing. I walked them quickly through my journey to financial independence, our decision to quit our jobs in early 2016, and the travel we’ve done to-date in Eastern Europe and around the U.S. and Canada in our lightly converted Dodge Caravan.
As the conversation progressed, I could sense their enthusiasm waning.
“Matt, this is reality TV. We’re looking for drama,” the business development manager told me, sharing an example of someone whose van-dwelling lifestyle had gotten him disowned from his family.
“Is there some tension or some conflict in your story? If all we air is your happy-go-lucky travel lifestyle, everyone’s just going to hate you.”
I ignored the dig at my upbeat tone and racked my brain.
Sure, there was the dissonance I still feel about dropping my professional career ambitions to pursue the things that are most important to me. There was the conflict between my values and the endless social pressure to consume more. There was the complication that I’m financially independent but Daniel is not. There were a few differences of opinion with my more expensive friends. And there’s always a little bit of day-to-day drama, whether it’s mechanical issues with our van or navigating foreign language bus stations in remote parts of the world.
But aside from that… us, dramatic? Not really.
In fact, I’d venture to say we’re two of the least dramatic people I know. Part of that is personality; even my very first formal job review referred in the first two lines to my “calm, laid-back demeanor.” Part of it, too, is good fortune. We don’t have chaotic family dramas, homophobic parents writing us out of their lives, or friendships falling apart. For that, we’re thankful.
On top of all that, I told them, we don’t exactly “live” in our minivan, either. I find that notion quite unappealing. We’ve traveled and camped in it for a few months here and there, but it’s hardly our home.
“I’ll be honest with you, Matt,” the producer commented, “I think we’re missing a layer here.”
I appreciated his candor. “Yeah, sounds like it,” I laughed.
Sadly, you won’t be catching The Resume Gap cable TV show any time soon – at least not in this form. If you do someday, it will be preaching the benefits of financial discipline and pursuing big dreams, not drama and conflict. That’s just fine by us.