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Nystrom, Waking up in Portugal

The last time we met was in 1991. I was 23 years old, a freshly minted college graduate, posing as Andy Warhol in the kitchen of my apartment in Tokyo.

Six years later, I found myself in Portugal, the short hairs on my chin the early sprouts of freedom.

My journey from Japan to Portugal was, in retrospect, random. Like most 23 year old kids, I had no idea what to do with my life. I had just finished up with 18 years of schooling, and was therefore used to being told what to do.

Suddenly, after graduation, there was no one there to tell me. Did you feel this way, too?

So I fell back on old ways. At 24, I went back to graduate school. In some ways, school is easy. There is not much pressure to think. You only have to do what you’re told. But mainly I went back because my old professor told me to do.

That professor was a big guy. He was famous. He was scary and intimidating, and occupied an outsized proportion of my attention. I didn’t want to disappoint him. Not only that, he had a prescription to my uncertainty, and he delivered it with authority: “You have no skills. Get your advanced degree. It will open doors for you,” he said.

“Ok,” I said.

Which is how, after two more years, I ended up with an advanced degree, working on a ‘fast track’ towards becoming general manager of an elegant Japanese restaurant in downtown Seattle. But from all outward appearances, it looked like waiting tables.

So who should walk into that restaurant one evening but my old professor, the one I didn't want to disappoint.

“Hello Michael, what are you doing here?” he asked, a palpable shock in his voice. Apparently he expected me to be out somewhere moving and shaking, certainly not waiting tables.

I’d disappointed him.

And that is the moment the irony hit me. I had originally entered university as an art major. After my first year, I worried that I would only end up waiting tables to support myself as an artist. So I switched majors to something more “practical.” That is how I met this professor in the first place.

Sometimes you meet your destiny on the road you took to avoid it.

But not only had I disappointed him, I had disappointed myself.

Restaurant work wasn’t for me. Management wasn’t for me. It didn’t take long to figure that out. Then I ended up at the brokerage, which I loved (for the first six months). And then the other brokerage, where I took my place in a cubicle, under the fluorescent that glowered at me for eight hours a day.

It was 1997 and I had just turned 29. Saturn had returned and was barreling right down on me.

That’s when a friend asked me if I wanted to go on a trip to Portugal with her. Her parents were from there, and she had family there. We weren’t romantic, but things were … complicated.

Immediately I said no. I was used to saying no. I was well on my way to becoming a ‘Yeah But.’ I had lots of practice.

“Yeah, I want to be an artist, but…”
“Yeah, I’d love to stay in Tokyo, but…”
“Portugal sounds nice, but…”

I don’t know what caused me to change my mind. To this day it remains a mystery, but I still remember the feeling of my mind flipping from no to yes, and a whole new world opening up. This is where I began to learn about the power of yes over no.

It was my first trip to Europe. My mind was blown. Everything was new. Life was suddenly fresh. I was free! No clock to punch, no schedule to keep. Barreling through the streets of Lisbon in a Mercedes cab (Mercedes cabs!?), I marveled at a completely different world. I sensed how large the world of possibility could be. I could feel the beginnings of my own transformation.

I was like a Jack that had just popped out of his box for the first time. My whole existence felt like it was going supernova.

Six months later, I quit that job and never looked back.

At the time I had no idea, but in retrospect it is clear what was happening.

I was waking up!

Have you ever felt like that?

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Thanks for sharing this. I

Thanks for sharing this. I interestingly just got back from a trip to Lisbon less than a week ago. That's a cool place. I'm in my late 20s and trying to figure out what to do in this world. The "sit at a desk all day and slowly die" approach doesn't seem too appealing to me.


I didn't see this sooner!

I love these stories, Michael! Thank you for posting.


Amazing Story

Michael, I just loved your story! I empathised so much with what you had to say and said to myself "Yes I see me in him"..."Yup that was pretty much me too at that time!"

So glad to be a part of this website. My homepage is camped out at Daily Paul and here it will stay for the forseeable future. Thank you once again for being able glimpse part of your life.


Michael, thank you. I love the way you write. I feel right at home. You are an awesome man.

I love you to death.

Love, Renato

You look so happy - waking up in Portugal!

And you are opening up now.... Opening up in the snow. So open. So wonderful to read about. Never stop!!! My song for the day.... Brand New Heavies...

Mike, you should really write

Mike, you should really write a book of your most interesting experiences and sell it! It would make for a great read.

Michael, This Poem Says Alot About Life's Choices

...or lack thereof!
I first discovered this poem back in the early 70s working for the publisher of the Edgar Lee Masters "Spoon River Anthology"....it has stayed with me since!

"George Gray"

I have studied many times

The marble which was chiseled for me—

A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.

In truth it pictures not my destination

But my life.

For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;

Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;

Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.

Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.

And now I know that we must lift the sail

And catch the winds of destiny

Wherever they drive the boat.

To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,

But life without meaning is the torture

Of restlessness and vague desire—

It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

by Edgar Lee Masters

"Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom." Patrick Henry

Love this sentence:

Sometimes you meet your destiny on the road you took to avoid it.

Destiny is destiny...eh?

The law cannot make a wicked person virtuous…God’s grace alone can accomplish such a thing.
Ron Paul - The Revolution

Setting a good example is a far better way to spread ideals than through force of arms. Ron Paul

I am 25 and finished my

I am 25 and finished my business degree during the economic crash and could not find a job anywhere and ended up coming to UT and worked at an insurance brokerage. I hated it, being in a little grey cubicle in an industry I had no passion or care for.

Finally I got a job working for a Consulting group and they said I could work from home but went back on it and I had to work at this lady's house every day. It was such an insult, all my hard work working toward my 'future' and I was treated like a 13 yr old despite my accomplishments. They finally got me an office below an optometrist after I complained and I now sit alone in a basement with no windows doing data entry work every day. It pays well but the monotony is driving me insane.

However, I listen to professional lectures on youtube 8 hours a day day to get new skills to hopefully free myself from my current career track which I despise. I am now a master audiophile and can set up a home theater system at a near professional level and am currently learning about photography and am going to do my first wedding this summer.

Sometimes you just have to fight and keep focused on what you really want in life even when your goals appear so far in the horizon.

We all share this eternally evolving present moment- The past and future only exist as inconsequential mental fabrications.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Whatever you do, don't give up hope.

The data entry sound boring, but it is good to know that you're putting that time to use in a way that not only enriches you, but that serves as an investment.

Keep following your interests. They will lead you to amazing places. When I was working in the restaurant, I was really interested in markets, and got that job at the brokerage. Whenever possible, treat your job like an extension of school. Learn what you can, and get paid while you do it.

Ultimately, the way out of the rat race is to start your own business. One of the best books to help you understand why, if you have not read it is:

Rich Dad Poor Dad

Another one, to give you some ideas about what is possible on a shoestring:

The $100 Startup

Keep up the good work!

He's the man.

Thanks Michael, also thanks

Thanks Michael, also thanks for your work in putting together and running the Daily Paul. Especially for us younger members, we have learned more here about politics, the world and ourselves than almost any other institution.

Its funny, I had a phone meeting with my boss about 10 min ago and they want me to relocate to Chicago which is not something I am willing to entertain so I guess that is a push I need to make a change in my life.

I wonder how good my breakfast will taste tomorrow...

We all share this eternally evolving present moment- The past and future only exist as inconsequential mental fabrications.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Here's a story for you

When I worked at this brokerage ^^ - the one I was on vacation from in these pictures, one day one of the other guys wrote this on the whiteboard in the morning:

The past is history.
The future a mystery.
And God's gift to you is the present.

I guess that is a saying, but it was the first time I'd ever heard or read it. I thought it was pretty cool. And then around lunchtime, he got fired! Not for that - it was a long time brewing, and that was the day the ax fell.

And then, for the rest of the day, that saying stayed up on the board at the front of the office. It was a small office - just 6 guys. And I thought it was so profound. The Universe doing one of those things again. Winking. He definitely wasn't happy working there, but all he did was complain about it, and keep working there.

So the Universe gave him a little shove that day.

Sounds like you're getting a little nudge, too.

Whatever you do, don't ignore what your gut tells you. There are brain cells in there too!

Thank you for the kind words. I'm glad to know the site has been helpful to some.

Best of luck on the new adventure!

He's the man.


Michael I am so happy that

you shared this with us. Glad you are evolving the DP community in this direction.

Those very human moments, fear, doubt, hope, and joy the most challenging time of a young person's life. IMO

So much Freedom every decision and choice impacting the path we take, our future, our destiny, our pride, oh what a crappy time it was. No way would I want to go back and relive it.

A time of testing and being tested, creating boundaries for personal growth, weaving our beliefs into the person we wish to become.

Learning to shut out the noise and just be, flow, fly and experience each moment, mundane or hectic, it's all good.

"We can see with our eyes, hear with our ears and feel with our touch, but we understand with our hearts."

Into The Wild

I tell my kids in school that popularity is a prison.
Now that I think about it, plans can be, too. For a great book on the absurdity of too much planning, read The Men, The Mission, And Me. Military stuff. Part of the theme is that sometimes you just have to go there, see what's happening, and "develop the situation."

Love the stories here a about breaking the chains. Reminds me of the movie "Into The Wild."

Michael Nystrom's picture

Ha! I never saw that movie.

Look at how young he was! (That's what she said)

He's the man.

How could you have seen the movie?

When you were busy living it... sort of.

Great stuff!

Thanks for sharing.

Can't wait until the Olympics start

You know... like when you changed your name briefly and went on to win a few gold medals?

Apolo Ohno

This is awesome...logged in

just to thumbs up it (and I have an old-lady crush on Apolo Ohno). Seriously could be related though....

Golden Coincidence

Or Golden Conclusion?

"Gold" Medal leads to Daily Peace-"Gold"-Love.

Definitely related!

jrd3820's picture

Oh, Michael....I love this post...

Where to even start?

I've had 3 memorable moments of 'waking up' to living my life how I want to.

I moved out of my parents house when I was 17. I was in love. He was older and had a car, and a tattoo lol. He was a rebel. 17-20 I went to school and worked a million hours to pay rent and tuition and books and bills and all that stuff that I thought I could handle at that age.

20 comes around. I have the chance to go to Denver, and boy did I hate the situation I had set up for myself by taking on so much responsibility at such a young age, so I said yes to Denver. Denver, LA, Phoenix, Vegas, Austin with some other minor wandering in there for the ages of 20-23.

23 rolls around, I have this great picture of me and my friend Liz sitting in a bar in Austin TX and we have just decided we are up and moving to New Orleans, we knew no one there, we had no plans, and we were leaving at the end of the following week. We look so happy in that picture. We were. I love that girl.

So off we go...New Orleans for a while, then Caribbean Island hoping on and off for months. Major islands, small islands, islands islands islands.....And that set me off on a whole other journey....

So, 20 when I said yes to Denver, 23 when I said yes to New Orleans which like I said just set me off on a crazy path of other places and a world map journey that is pretty cool.

My next waking up moment happened at 27 (28 for all practical purposes since I was so close to 28).

28. There I am in Shanghai. Great roommate. Great job. Great money. Great apartment. Ability to go to travel more....

And yet, I was not happy. Not at all. There were a few reasons. I had things at home to take care of, but really, I just wasn't happy. I put on a great show. I wasn't happy though. My next snapping moment of waking up came from finally saying no. No, I don't want to keep this lifestyle up right now, I'll pick it back up later.

No, I don't want to do anything I'm not interested in.

No. I am making my choices from here on out, and while I'll accept advice, I am doing it my way. And I'm not making choices to prove a point to anyone like I did with Shanghai, I am making them for myself.

So, sometimes No can be just as powerful as yes.

Ok, but what happens next Michael? After Portugal...what's next?

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
― Dr. Seuss

yeah, travel is overrated

I know many people that live to travel. They always talk about the next place they are going to visit and they are counting down the days to their next trip. Meanwhile, their life is slipping by day by day. They dream about distant lands, and they haven't even visited the next town over. They take the same way home everyday, and don't even know that there is an different road they could take, with a beautiful house on it, and an old, ancient tree. I am overwhelmed by the world within an hour's drive of me. There are some many places I want to visit near where I live, that I don't know how I will ever get to them all. There are so many activities I want to try right around here. There are bird species, butterfly species, wildflowers, and mushrooms, that live right around here, that I haven't seen yet. There are fish species living in the rivers around here that I haven't caught yet. There are trails within an hour's drive that I haven't run yet. There are bays I haven't kayaked yet. There are restaurants I haven't tried yet. Damnit, I don't have time to travel. But I can't wait to travel again all the same :)

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — Albert Camus

jrd3820's picture

It is really interesting to just slow down for a minute

And spend time at home with friends and family. It's been almost 10 years of go, go, go, go, go, go....and I imagine I'll pick that back up at some point in my life, but just being in my hometown with friends and family I have known my whole life, and just enjoying it....
It's different. It was actually kind of shocking at first because I knew it would be a bit longer this time. Usually when I get home to MI, I am only staying for x amount of weeks until I leave again, and I always have a leave date scheduled...I will leave again I'm sure, but I don't have a leave date picked out yet.

Oh, and I have not forgotten about Kumare. I am going to put it up in the jam session because I think other people might really like it...

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
― Dr. Seuss

Michael Nystrom's picture

It is nice to have a home base like that

My dad's house in Seattle was home base like that for me. I had my room. I had a basement to store all my crap. I could come and go as I pleased, and it was always so wonderful to know, wherever I went in the world, that I still had that place called home.

And then, my dad had a stroke. And within a few months, he was gone. And then the house was gone. It all just disappeared, and everything got turned upside down.

I know some young people who are embarrassed and ashamed to still be living at home. I don't think you're one of them. But if you are, don't be. Be thankful and joyous that you can now, because nothing lasts forever.

Look at Laroche. He just was who he was. Lived with his dad. No front teeth. Drove a beat up white van. He didn't care about details like that. He had something bigger. Way bigger.

He's the man.
Michael Nystrom's picture

Oh yes, No can be just as powerful

Really, no is just the other side of yes. You have to say no to something to say yes to something else.

Madonna's Ray of Light came out right about then, right when I was going supernova and this one hit just the right, exact spot. Like it was made for that spot.


You had some adventures, didn't you! Lots of awakenings. Waves of awakenings.

After Portugal came a pretty much total transformation. Saturn'll do that to ya' ;)

But I'll get to that... later.. :D

Good. Make your choices for yourself. Just like Laroche. He was my favorite character in that movie about writing.

He's the man.

Thanks Michael

That's a great story. You are so inspiring.

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Look how cute you are Michael!

I was lucky enough to be a product of divorce in the early 1960s (not the common issue it is today) which led me to living with my dad at 14 and from then on out being pretty much on my own as far as EVERYTHING other than needing a place to lay my head. As a fourteen year old girl in the early 1960s without any oversight let alone curfew, I found my own path, one avoiding trouble I witnessed my older brother go through. I made choices which suited me and was able to jockey around the drug culture my friends were into as well as steer clear of other trip ups due to my determined self preservation. To this day I still enjoy the fact I was able at such an early age to make all my own decisions and for the most part I have remained a very happy as well as content person.

My 'pop' happened at the age of 25

Teenage years are messy, so to get out of that I made a plan. I was going to do x,y,z and accomplish it all by the age of 25. Suddenly it's my 25th birthday and to my horror I had acomplished it all! So I'm sitting at my desk at work, glum, dragging hard on a cigarette and pondering the world I created for myself.
"What's wrong?"
It was useful idiot staring down, wide-eyed, at me. This chickie HATED me so all my defenses go up. But that lasts no more than two seconds because I'm feeling really depressed and need to unload.
"It's my birthday."
"Yeah," she grimaced. "We got a cake for you and we'll be singing Happy Birthday. We didn't forget you."
"You don't get it. I had plans. My life was going to be a certain way by the time I was 25. And now I'm 25 and I've accomplished everything. There's nothing more for me to do in my life. It's OVER!"
She gave me that look, a semi-smirk filled with ennui.
"Well, there's gotta be something you wanted to do that you haven't done yet."
POP! The Edison bulb over my head lit up like the sun. "Well.... there IS!" I blurted, my sputtering throwing her back a bit. I realized then that I had imprisoned myself in the cell of my plan and couldn't see passed that plan, and now that it was fulfilled, it was time for a new one. Except this time I would abandon all plans and just let life do with me as it pleases.
She suddenly looked very pleased with herself. "Then go do it."
I said 'I will' and did and had the best adventures in my life roaming America, Mexico and ending up in India.
Life is good, you just gotta let it be.

If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.
James Madison