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What I Learned From Fighting | 1 Year Sabbatical

What I Learned from Fighting

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on March 2, 2011

OK, I haven’t actually been in a fight but I did watch Fight Club the other day and I have to say that I really enjoyed the movie.  If you are not familiar with the movie it stars Edward Norton and Brad Pitt and centers on Norton’s nameless character who is a discontented white-collar worker who creates a ‘fight club’ with Pitt’s character Tyler Durden.  They eventually form Project Mayhem, an anti-materialist and anti-corporate organization.  There is a lot going on in this film and one could read several messages out of it but there was one scene in particular that really caught my attention and got me thinking.

WARNING: The following is a movie spoiler so if you haven’t watched the movie and want to be surprised bookmark this post and go watch the movie.  It will still be here when you get back.

What I Learned From FightingOK, so for you who have either seen the movie or don’t mind being spoiled, the scene that really caught my interest is where the narrator (Norton), who after the death of a Project Mayhem member during a failed sabotage mission tries to find Tyler Durden to shut the whole thing down.  Having traveled around the country trying to locate Durden (Pitt) he suddenly finds Durden in his hotel room and confronts him.

Narrator: I don’t understand this…
Tyler: You were looking for a way to change your life. You could not do this on your own.  All the ways you wished you could be…that’s me!  I look like you wanna look, I f&*^ like you wanna f&$%, I am smart, capable and most importantly, I’m free in all the ways that you are not.
Narrator: No, this is impossible. This is crazy!
Tyler: No, people do it every day. They talk to themselves. They see themselves as they like to be. They don’t have the courage you have, to just run with it. Naturally you’re still wrestling with it so sometimes you’re still you.  Other times you imagine yourself watching me. Little by little you’re just letting yourself become…Tyler Durden!
Narrator: Wh…What are you saying?  This is…this is bulls&$#!  I’m not listening to this. You are insane.
Tyler: No, you’re insane, and we simply do not have time for this crap!

At this point the narrator collapses on the bed trying to absorb the realization that he and Durden are one and the same.

This really got me thinking.  How often have we seen the cool things that others are doing and wished we could do the same?  I think it’s called life envy.  Why does it always seem that the fear of doing something is what ultimately holds us back from doing anything?

I’ll be the first to admit that the closer we get to our 1 year sabbatical the more fearful I become.  All the what-if’s start to crop up again.  But maybe the narrator in this movie is onto something.  Maybe to combat that fear we need to reinvent ourselves into the person we really want to be.  Maybe we need to put on our crazy face and get a little wild, throw caution to the wind and create the life and person we’ve been dreaming of.  Maybe like Tyler said we can’t do this on our own.  Maybe we do need help to have the courage to just run with it, to say the hell with everything, I’m going to do this.

“Hitting bottom isn’t a weekend retreat.  It’s not some damn seminar. Stop trying to control everything and just let go! LET GO!” – Fight Club

Maybe part of the problem is that we are too scared to just completely let go.  We cling to the remnants because that is all we know.  We’re so used to people telling us what to do, what to wear, where to go to school, what career we should choose, where we should invest our money for the best return, what kind of car we need to drive, what smartphone we need in order to be cool, what path our lives must take to be successful and happy.  But real freedom is in having nothing to lose. 

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” – Fight Club

Our life is a series of choices and contrary to popular belief we do have the power to make those decisions on our own.  It’s all in our head anyway.  We can actually be and do whatever we want in life.  But we have to overcome our own mind and truly believe it.  If we don’t believe it then it will never be.

Here’s the catch.  It’s harder to unlearn than learn.  We’ve been so hypnotized and brainwashed to believe that we need certain things, that we have to do things a certain way, that we’ve lost sight of the power we really have to control our own destiny.

 “If you don’t know what you want, you end up with a lot you don’t.” – Fight Club

Know what and who you want and be and then be proactive in being that person.  I have a vision in my mind of what I want our 1 year sabbatical to be like.  I can picture each and every day, the things we will do, the places we will go, the sights we will see.  Without that vision how would I know what direction to go? 

“At the time my life just seemed too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.” – Fight Club

I want to make sure though that I am the person I really want to be.  If that means going ‘crazy’ and reinventing myself in a way that makes me look insane, like the narrator of Fight Club did, then so be it.  Maybe we have to break what we know in order to make ourselves better.

I’ll leave you with one final thought from Fight Club.  Remember, this is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.

Before you go I want to let you know that I’ll be launching an email series called Sabbatical 101 this month.  I’ll have more details on what it is and how you can get in on it soon.  I just wanted to plant the bug in your ear and get you thinking about it.

If you enjoyed this article be sure to sign up for the 1 Year Sabbatical newsletter over in the sidebar, as well as take a look at the RSS Feed.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Gillian @OneGiantStep March 2, 2011 at 1:35 am

I like this. I find that I emulate pieces of people that I admire – there are pieces of almost everyone I know that I wish I had and so I take a little bit of everyone I know and make it part of me. I also once read somewhere that if you want to change something, and are maybe resisting it a bit, that you should ‘try it on’ for a while to see how it feels before rejecting it out of hand. I’ve tried this approach and find that it really works – in my recent job interview I ‘tried on’ being confident, in control, and calm and found that, really, I AM all those things…I just needed to give it a shot! Great post Matt. Thanks.
Gillian @OneGiantStep recently posted..Twitter Travel Tips- Building Community


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 2, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Hi Gillian! I love hat you wrote here about ‘trying it on’ to see if you like it before rejecting something. I’ve done a similar thing with job interviews where I went into it saying I didn’t care whether I got the gig or not (even though I really did). But what embracing that attitude did was cause me to relax, exude confidence like the Old Spice guy and ended up getting the job (maybe ’cause I smelled like the Old Spice guy). It’s surprising at times what we can become when we need to.


Srinivas Rao March 2, 2011 at 1:33 pm


First let me commend you for finding your voice. This is my favorite post you’ve written to date. There’s so much here that is so relevant to life. I havent seen fight club in a while, but I just did the advanced course for the Landmark forum (which apparently fight club came out of), and they talk about this stuff quite a bit. More importantly I’m living most of what you are talking about right now. I’ve just let go of most of what I own and I feel a bit liberated. All I have left is a surfboard, a laptop, and some clothes. All of a sudden I have a clean slate to create something new. You can’t create a masterpiece on top of a cluttered canvas. Sometimes hitting rock bottom is what people need. Really profound ideas in this post.


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 3, 2011 at 12:01 am

Srinivas!!! I love your comment “You can’t create a masterpiece on top of a cluttered canvas”. In many ways this sabbatical is a fresh canvas, on which to paint a new picture of our lives, yet another masterpiece. It’s a new start, a new journey a new page in the book of life. It sounds like you are feeling the same way with your recent changes. So glad that you are feeling it and living it. Cheers!


Josh Crocker March 2, 2011 at 1:45 pm

I agree with Srini Matt, you’ve really found your voice. I just celebrated 1 year of making the unknown decision (quitting my job) and just realized even in the freedom that I have, I’ve started to coast. Thanks for the wake up call.

I’ll be re-watching Fight Club tonight 🙂

Josh Crocker recently posted..Mondays – Dread them Or Charge Into Them Like a Mad Man or woman


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 3, 2011 at 12:04 am

Thanks so much Josh! Congratulations on your 1 year anniversary of freedom. It’s easy to get acclimated and accustomed to a routine. That’s when we need to shake it up. That’s exactly why I’m pursuing this sabbatical. Time to shake it up! Enjoy Fight Club.


Rob March 2, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Excellent post Matt! I absolutely love fight club. It’s just so..*relevant* to almost everything in life!

‘Remember, this is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.’- b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l.

I also agree with what Srini said. Over the past couple of years, I’ve dwindled my possessions down to less than 50. This wasn’t really a conscious thing, I just kept trashing everything I didn’t need, and eventually thought ‘hell, I don’t actually have much stuff any more!’, so did a count.

Anyway, I’m uber excited for you about this adventure. I’ve been location independent for well over a year now, and it’s SO DAMN GOOD. You’re going to love it. I’ve decided to turn my blog slightly toward that angle, as I think that stories like yours are few and far between, when they simply shouldn’t be.

More people should have some balls to grab life by them, and swing it round like a cat in a huge room. People need to realise they are dying every second, and stop settling for mediocrity and normality. They need to go beyond what’s normal, and make the most of every moment, and that’s the feeling I believe, truly, that you’ll be feeling when you’re on this epic adventure!


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 3, 2011 at 12:13 am

Hey Rob! The more I’ve seen Fight Club the more parallels I draw to life. Our whole culture revolves around consumerism which is fine to a point but we’ve taken it to a level that can’t be sustained and instead of offering us freedom it’s ensnared us in slavery. All these pay later or interest free for 1 year advertising does nothing but dig us in even deeper. And before too long we find ourselves so deep that it takes great effort and perseverence to get out of the hole. I know because I was there. Now I’m just a few thousand away from being completely debt free and on the verge of starting a new chapter in my life and it’s exciting. It’s exciting and scary and I think that is normal. As you say though I’m going to ‘grab life and swing it around like a cat in a huge room’.

I really appreciate this comment Rob. I really think that when you are trying to do something epic, something out of the ordinary (whatever that means) it’s important to surround yourself with people who have traveled the path before you. So I appreciate hearing that you’ve been living location independent and not only making it work but enjoying your life. I don’t know whether I want to be location independent or not but what I do want is to have the option. Cheers man!


Andrea March 2, 2011 at 7:44 pm

LOVE this film. And I think it really applies to travellers and people looking to change their lives. Great post!
Andrea recently posted..New Zealand ps – Rotorua- Wai-O-Tapu pretty smelly!


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 3, 2011 at 12:16 am

Hey Andrea! When I saw this movie it really got me thinking about so many things about my life. What did I really value? Why have I not lived my life the way I really wanted to live it? What I needed to do was become the person I’ve always wanted to be. Taking this sabbatical is the push to make that transition happen. It’s a great movie with so many life lessons. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Steve Catalunya March 4, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Hi Matt,

glad to hear you haven’t completely freaked out yet as your travel date approaches. I am over 4 years into my adventure in Spain and it’s feeling time for another big change. No point ending up in the same rut, but just in a different country. At least I can say that my new rut is more interesting though.

My whole plan before making the move was to not have any deadlines, expectations or concrete plans. That way I could not be disappointed or limited in my options once I arrived in Spain. Over four years later and I have a brand new life in evry way. Weird.

Don-t be surprised if that 1 year sabbatical ends up being longer.


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 5, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Hey Steve! Yeah, haven’t totally freaked out yet. You make a really good point here. A rut is a rut no matter where you are. It’s good to shake things up, break a few things and embrace change. And maybe that is the biggest thing that holds people back is that fear of change. I know that for myself I’ve gotten way too comfortable and despite the sound of being comfortable it’s not a good thing. It’s awesome what you’ve been doing for 4+ years now.


Judy March 5, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Wow Matt,

I think this is my favorite post. It got me thinking about a lot and Srinivas Rao’s comment inspired me to continue downshifting in order to create space for my own master piece!
Thanks a bunch!

Judy recently posted..Photo Edition- Volcán Tajumulco


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Thanks Judy! We are working on our first of several garage sales to get rid of all the stuff we have. The final piece will be selling the cars (we own two). Getting rid of my truck is going to be the hardest thing. But as Srinivas said, I need to unclutter my canvas for my next masterpiece. Cheers my friend!


Matthew Bailey March 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Whoa Whoa, hold up Matt.

It seems you have forgotten the first rule of Fight Club!

Don’t talk about Fight Club!

Maybe nows a good time to look at the second rule of Fight Club.

Don’t talk about Fight Club!

Tyler Durden is going to be pisssssed!

I won’t tell though.


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Haha!! You’re awesome man! I am so looking forward to connecting in person at #WDS in a few months.


Ayngelina March 5, 2011 at 8:14 pm

If it helps I had tons of what-ifs and none of them came to fruition but a whole lot of other things I didn´t think about popped up.

What-ifs don´t help, just enjoy the anxiety so you can laugh at it later.
Ayngelina recently posted..I don’t know what kind of meat it is but I want to eat it


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 8, 2011 at 1:55 am

Hi Ayngelina! Embrace the anxiety so I can laugh at it later seems like a good position to take. I’m hoping all those things that popped up that you didn’t think about were good things.


Erica March 6, 2011 at 2:26 am

I love this!

A year ago I “woke up” and realized that while I was over competitive and aggressive as hell, for some reason I was waiting for life to make its path for me. I think it is then that I realized I have to go and make my life for myself. For the first time in my life I’m letting life dictate life and go with the flow – which is panic attack inducing at times but I know it is the right step for me.

Shaun on the other hand is my “yang” and is down for any adventure. Thank goodness too!
Erica recently posted..Travel Photography – Burning Man by Moonlight


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 8, 2011 at 1:57 am

Hi Erica! You know recently I’ve found myself being overly aggressive, quick to anger, short tempered, irritable and basically all the classic signs of stress. If anything I need this time away for health reasons. I think when we stop and look at ourself and realize that we have become something we never wanted to be we need to change directions and try something else. Glad to hear that is the same conclusion that you have come to.


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