11 Jan “Off the Beaten Trail” – Jake Heilbrunn
Jake Heilbrunn is the author of “Off the Beaten Trail.” It’s the story of what he learned by going on a backpacking trip throughout Central America by himself with no phone or knowledge of Spanish.
His book is a memoir.
I like memoirs.
Especially from people who have lived long and interesting lives.
Jake is 19. He hasn’t been on the planet for very long.
But as Indiana Jones once said, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.”
Jake’s got a story to tell.
Especially because at 18… Jake decided to leave the life he was used to… and go on a solo backpacking trip through Central America with no phone OR knowledge of Spanish.
We’re going to talk to him about that trip… and some of the things he learned from the experience.
Jake’s been rocking it since his return. In addition to his new book, he’s also been featured in Psychology Today, ThoughtCatalog.com, and The San Diego Union-Tribune to name a few.
He’s living the DREAM THINK DO life… so I wanted to have him on. Listen in because Jake has some wisdom to share that’s way beyond his years!
I’d love to hear what stood out to you about Jake’s story.
Leave a comment and let me know.
Jake’s Contact Information:
Off the Beaten Trail by Jake Heilbrunn is available on Amazon.
Now, here’s some show notes for those who enjoy that kind of thing:
What could happen if you dared to follow your heart and make a major change in your life? What if that action taking your life in a whole new direction? Nineteen-year-old Dream Think Doer Jake Heilbrunn focuses on these questions. He’s written about his adventures in Off the Beaten Trail and is a sought-after speaker at high schools and universities across the country.
Time-Stamped Show Notes
- [00:00] The first of three podcasts featuring three very diverse Dream Think Doers, at different points in their lives, who recognize the need to make a change to live more authentically.
- [05:00] Off the Beaten Trail is a memoir written by Jake Heilbrunn, covering his solo-backpacking trip through South America with no phone and no knowledge of the Spanish language.
- [07:00] An outbreak of hives and overwhelming anxiety made Heilbrunn question his life direction, and consider how he might make some changes.
- [10:46] Volunteer work in Guatemala was a brave choice, but it turned out that by following his gut feelings, Heilbrunn found a new way of being.
- [18:02] The contrasts between life in Guatemala and life in the U.S. brought Heilbrunn a new understanding of the world and the choices we make.
- [23:00] Heilbrunn finds inner power from his experience. He learned not to be afraid to put himself out there, and not to wait for someone to give him permission to live the life he dreamed of.
- [29:15] How a college career counselor changed his life by asking him two questions: What is the worst thing that could happen and what is the best thing that could happen.
Dream Think Do – Jake Heilbrunn
Off the Beaten Trail is a memoir of sorts, written by Jake Heilbrunn, covering his solo-backpacking trip through South America with no phone and no knowledge of the Spanish language. Memoirs often bring to mind work written by a person after reaching a seasoned age, but at nineteen, Jake already has some pretty incredible stories to tell, not just of his adventures, but of how he allowed the experiences to change his life.
A Rough Start at College
Heilbrunn’s problems started in earnest three days after he left his home and family in San Diego to attend an out-of-state college where he knew no one. He broke out in hives and was pretty much plagued by them every day for the first semester. Doctors prescribed pills and creams, but nothing seemed to work, and they couldn’t identify the source of his problem. If that wasn’t enough, he also began manifesting signs of excessive anxiety. He was no more successful at shaking those than he was his hives. As awful as his problems were, they served one important purpose. “They made me question my life,” says Heilbrunn. “I had no passion for what I was doing.” In mulling over his situation, Heilbrunn remembered his father, how he had no passion for his work either, and how staying with it anyway made him a very unhappy man. Did he really want to become his father?
The wheels in his head began to turn, and Heilbrunn found himself on the website Work Away, dubbed “the site for cultural exchange,” checking out volunteer job listings from around the world. You work for free but are provided room and board, and in exchange for your labor, you get to experience another culture and gain valuable work experience abroad. Heilbrunn was drawn to a Guatemalan listing to teach English and soccer to local children. He was given convoluted instructions that ended with, “you get off the bus and ask for Chris the Gringo.” He knew not a word of Spanish.
Mom, Dad, Guess What?
When he called home to tell his parents he was coming home and then leaving on his foreign adventure, their reaction was mixed. On the one hand, they were happy he was coming home because clearly the college experience was not working well for him, even though he kept his grades up.
After he was home for two months, his hives began to clear, and when he made the decision to have his foreign adventure, the anxiety vanished as well. His parents were nervous but supportive. He had saved $4,000 for the airfare and expenses. Heilbrunn spent six weeks with a family in Guatemala and two weeks camping in the jungle. The entire adventure cost him $3,500.
More than a few surprises were in store for him on his trip, and one of them was how the locals seemed to take everything in stride. At one point, on a nine-hour bus ride, they were stranded at the side of the road for a further eight hours. Locals were unflustered by the delay. He was the only one who felt angry. It contrasted with how a 45-minute flight delay in the U.S. breeds impatient, angry people. In Guatemala, an eight-hour delay was just the way it was. He got out his soccer ball and kicked it around with the children from the bus, communicating through play since he didn’t yet know the language. Later he learned Spanish from the locals, but in teaching the children, he used to dance and play to communicate while instructing in his capacity as an English teacher. He just let everything unfold, and took each challenge as it came. Heilbrunn’s favorite quote is, “If you know you’re why, the how will come.”
So what does he do differently now as a result of his adventurous trip? “One of the big things I learned was the power of just putting it out there,” says Heilbrunn. “I kept putting my book out there and didn’t worry about the rejection aspect of it. The power is in just going for it. Don’t be afraid to hear the word no, and don’t wait for permission.”
“The other thing that happened was that the experience gave me a shift in my mindset. Instead of thinking, why would anyone want to hear me speak; I’m so young, I just made a shift. Now I realize that this weakness was actually my strength because other kids could relate to me. Thinking differently about it gave me power.”
Too often dreams are killed before they even begin due to thoughts like, Who am I to do that? Who would ever want to listen to me?
Two Questions to a New Life
One of the moments where Heilbrunn’s life changed was when he was still in college. He had been meeting with a career counselor and confided in her about the trip to Guatemala he was contemplating. She asked him two life-changing questions. The first was, “If you do this, what is the worst thing that could happen?” In that moment, he realized he had been catastrophizing everything in his head. By keeping his fears locked up in his head and not verbalizing them, he realized that they were paralyzing him. By saying them out loud, they lost their power to hold him back. The second question she asked was, “What is the best thing that could happen?” He then opened up to her with his visions of going to new places, meeting new people, having adventures, and maybe one day writing a book about it.
“I had a vision of what I wanted,” he says, “and now two years later, most of those things have actually happened. But it all came from those two questions.”