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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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Michael Nystrom's picture


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.

You're lucky you realized it that early in life, when your mind was still flexible.

Except this time I would abandon all plans and just let life do with me as it pleases.

Oh yeah! After I quit that job, it was a whole new ballgame. Y2K was upon us, and I'd be damned if I was going to spend the last 2-1/2 years on earth sitting in a cubicle under those fluorescent lights. I got bit with the travel bug in Portugal, and it was off to see the rest of the world after that.

To be mean is never excusable, but there is some merit in knowing that one is; the most irreparable of vices is to do evil out of stupidity. - C.B.

Y2K??!! You make me feel old ROFL

Flourescent lights aren't so bad when you consider that in that place I had been working, this was a few years before my 25th b-day, I had a boss who hated me so much he deliberately had my desk moved into the area where they were removing asbestos!! ROFL Oh yeah, I can laugh about it. I laughed about it then. They had already moved everyone, including me, and I walk in one day and he had pushed my desk back under the untiled ceiling. I looked at him and asked if he really thought he was going to get away with this, and laughed at him. I had showed him up a few weeks prior at some meeting with higher ups, he was an idiot, and he hated that 'this kid' knew the system better then him - he couldn't answer a question and I could, so he decided to try to kill me by having me sit by myself in the asbestos area. And I sat there because I knew it'd be noticed and it was that same day and I said he pushed my desk back there and he was told to move my desk, which he had to do in front of everyone. It was great. Some months later they promoted me and I wasn't reporting to him anymore and soon after that he left the company.

My journey into the wonders of this world started in '86 - I don't even know what was going on back then because I became oblivious to the workings of the 'real' world.
A year or two later me and my friends are boarding a plane, this time venturing to the jungles and high deserts of Mexico. This was our anthem and we felt fine!

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

Love the article

and YES I have felt that. Started over several time and still have the hope and joy every morning when I wake up. (over 60 & still living)