(Interview published on 05 May 2019)
We experience more and more the term sabbatical. Especially around the age of 40 some tension arrives. Need of a change. Why people desire to take a break for a few months or a year? What causes this? Burn out? Stress? Something else? We talked to Matej Šemšej, who „ran out“ for one year of sabbatical. Literally.
Matej. You have a great job. Suddenly, stop? What was the first impulse?
Routine. Comfort zone. Exhaustion. Experience something new. Change. Adventure. Like this in keywords. I came to a life situation, where every day was a boring routine. Not in one area, but more complex. It all required some change. The desire for adventure was increasing, until I couldn’t think of anything else. Then I made the decision.
How did your company find the idea?
I have two amazing managers and the company’s reaction was a surprise but the same time I was happy. It was some sort of satisfaction for the years of hard work. They said that they are not saying no, and we agreed. We openly discussed, that we will see what happens in one year and we wished good luck to each other. I put away the termination of employment I had prepared.
Day one. You woke up. No work to go to. What were your thoughts?
The first morning was somewhat different, than expected. It’s exactly that sort of situation, where you are expecting something for a long time, you are looking forward and doing everything, to reach that day, but the feelings when it comes are not that amazing. You realize everything and you ask yourself: “So, what now?”. That was back in Bratislava, in a known environment. This feeling luckily didn’t last too long, since the moment I started hitchhiking to Germany from Prague everything was one unbelievable dream.
Now you are at something like a half of the process. What did you achieve to “run through” already?
More specifically, I started the last third of my journey. Most of the adventure is over, I spent almost eight months in South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand and this longer part of my journey I finished at an exotic island Guam, in the middle of nowhere. I completed seven projects and run for them so far 1380 kilometers (current project for a Filipino mission is still running). Exactly this amount of US dollars from my own pocket I donated, I run and help under the principle one US dollar for every kilometer I run. This is not all, I am more than happy, that there were other people joining every project. Family, friends, colleagues, but also people whom I met on my journey, or people who started following me on different social networks. This is the moment you realize, that what you do makes really sense.
Your running has a charity aspect too. Tell us more.
As mentioned above, I run for selected projects, either charity organizations or individuals. A common aspect for every of them is, that I learned about them by a reference. It is important, that I can be sure about the transparency and honesty, a project I cannot visit in person I don‘t realize. I collected kilometers for young women in Czech who suffered on breast cancer, a dog shelter in Thailand, orphans from an orphanage in Myanmar, Czech organization who is helping on the Indonesian island Lombok, a disabled boy from Moravia, or currently for a mission in the capital city of Philippines, Manila, which is taking care of disabled kids and abandoned old people from the streets.
What are you taking for your further life so far? The routine may come again.
There are more life findings. The cliché which every traveler will tell you is true: that the world out there is not dangerous at all, people are amazing, friendly and smiley. More than here at home. And that they can live from small, they don’t chase the life, they live. Some survived genocide, earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons, at the edge of the poverty they lost everything or live with every day’s risk that they will lose everything, but… They don’t think about that so much. Our hectic and stressful way of life is far away from them. Also, since I returned for three weeks home from Asia (soon I will continue in my journey), I keep smiling and don’t take a lot of things that serious. These are the pillars I want to follow in my further life. And help. The whole 12-months journey I was preparing for 13 months, more than the real travelling time, however I realized, that collecting kilometers for charities fulfills me and I want to continue with it occasionally after I return to work. I want to do it until I will be able to run, swim, bike, walk… I didn’t invest thirteen months into twelve, but into my whole further life. I can continue doing it while working and while spending a routine time at the office again. It’s all about the setup. It all will be slightly different, in my head and in my heart. And, the routine won’t be like before.
Where will your next steps lead you and what do you expect from it?
After I will run my 10th Prague marathon at the beginning of May, the reason why I interrupted my journey, I will head to Baltics and Romania. Few days at home and finally, I will „repack“ for the United States – I will be travelling in the US for the whole June. For the last two months I decided to not travel to Latin America as I initially wanted, I will keep this for later, instead of that I will enjoy the beauty of Slovakia and Czech Republic. I plan a round trip on my road bike around Slovakia, a stay in isolation in the Šumava national park and few more projects.
What would you tell the people, who think about something similar? How much money a person needs to realize something similar?
To not be afraid. The main barrier of our development and happy life is our own fear. The question „what if?“. We have only one life and I better risk and lose something, than not having the opportunity to catch the chance, which I would feel sorry about for the rest of my life. Yes, it might not work out, on the other side, it could. Don’t miss that chance. At one day, in a lot of years, we will be old, sick, weak, and it will too late. You don’t have to be dying, to start living.
I will keep the exact amount for myself, l may disclose it at the end. I don’t travel the lowest-cost but I also don’t throw around with money. I sleep wherever and eat whatever (no meat), on the other side I didn’t want to be limited with counting every cent. I have been working for 15 years and I invested all my money into this journey. On the other side, you can travel with almost nothing and work while travelling, I met travelers like this as well. I finally like the fact, that the journey has an end date. I believe, that for a reasonable price I am getting an unrepeatable quality.
Do you plan to write a book or e-book about your travel? Do you have a plan to share your experience? Besides donating every kilometer for a charity.
Yes, I am keeping a diary and I would like to write a book about the journey. It would be a pity to not share with the world the facts about traveling and running through more than twenty countries. Last 8 months I lived a life, which most of us don’t experience in 10 years. I don’t want to sound arrogantly, all I want to say – I have a lot of experience, it would be a pity to keep them for myself. I would love to inspire people, who maybe don’t have enough courage, strengths, power or money for such journey, they have families, mortgages etc. I want to tell them, that a person doesn’t need to run through half of the world, to change and experience something. And to help changing the world of others. I would also like to share all this at different traveling and running events, festivals etc., if there is demand.
Can you close our interview with your motto?
I have few of them in my life, but my running journey is the best summarized in this:
“Someone once told me the definition of hell: the last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.”