Adam Carter on Searching for Meaning by Traveling Abroad

In Chapter 4 of 13 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, micro-philanthropist Adam Carter answers "Where is Your Comfort Zone and What Do You Do to Break Free of Living in It?"  After graduating college, Carter decides not to pursue traditional career paths and instead looks for meaning traveling abroad.  He starts his adventure by buying a one-way ticket to China.  Over time, he works summers selling beer at baseball games to finance international travel.  Ultimately, Carter decides to break out of this routine, walk away from the beer vendor life, and relocate to Brazil. 

Adam Carter is a micro-philanthropist currently living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  He is the founder of the Cause and Affect Foundation which raises small amounts of financing to provide direct-to-source project funding for individuals and communities in need across the globe.  To date, Carter has traveled to over 80 countries.  He earned an MA in International Development from George Washington University and a BA in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Michigan.


Erik Michielsen: Where is your comfort zone, and what do you do to break free of living in it?

Adam Carter: I broke out of my comfort zone when I graduated from college because I decided that instead of following the kind of pre-described path, of, you know, starting to interview and starting to work, and working towards a certain career goal and then retiring, whatever, that I just completely broke away from that, and that’s when I started to travel. So I think buying a one-way ticket to China is a great way for anybody out there to break out of their comfort zone. 

I’ve always respected those that have been able to do that on a professional level or on a personal level, and I’ve often had to reinvent myself or do that myself and then constantly thinking, okay, what can I do to challenge myself? What can I do to present a whole new set of stimuli or opportunities? And so as I continued to travel, I realized that I wanted to find a way to live abroad and continued to seek out a new comfort zone, but, at the same time, I had this job. I was a beer vendor in Chicago with the baseball stadiums, which was fantastic. I was able to go home every summer, make money. It was easy. You know, I’d go home, I could live with my mother, I could save my money, and then I could go travel and do my philanthropy work and everything, which was a great lifestyle and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it got to the point, where I realized, “Okay, I’ve been doing this for 17 years now,” and I could see the guys around me, some of which have been doing it for 30 years, and they’re in their 50s, or in their 60s, and they got the bad knees and bad back and they’re kind of humbling around there, and I realized, I don’t want to do that. I want to do more in my life than be a beer vendor. 

So I had to really step out of my comfort zone and walk away from this job. And you know, my cohorts assured me, they’re like, “all right, dude, you’ll be back next year. We’ll see you next year.” I said, “Well, never say never, but I feel like I’m making this move, I got to do it.” I knew there was only one way to do it, and that is, you know, walk away and just cold turkey. I mean, there are challenges inherent in that, as I was saying, it’s all of a sudden, you have to provide income and you have to realize, okay, I’m an adult and I have to provide for my future, cool, but I felt like I never would have taken the next step if I had this comfort zone to come back to. I think it’s really important to—not to be afraid of what’s out there and to embrace uncertainty, and to me, I think one of the lessons that I have learned personally and that I try to pass to people that I meet is to embrace uncertainty, because uncertainty is the one certainty in our life, and yet, it’s the one thing that often brings people down. And the more that I’ve—every challenge that comes my way, I try to embrace it and say, “well, it’s all in how I’m gonna deal with this and how I react to this, because we all know that if this uncertainty doesn’t happen, a month down the road, something else is gonna come up,” so the more I can kind of, you know, take everything with a smile and be like, here we go again. Let’s see what we got to do here. It’s really helped me just find my place in the world. So I’d say that being ready for the unexpected and having confidence in yourself and having confidence in the fact that, okay, things are gonna work out in the end. You know, we often stress about these little things, then we look back ten years later, and I’m like, “I can’t believe I got so stressed out like that because, look, it doesn’t even matter,” so I try to keep that mindset, which has really enriched me I think as a person.