Billy and Brian talk to disenchanted former educator and current digital nomad Dr. David DeMarkis.
--What exactly is the pursuit for higher consciousness, and how did this idea develop?
--What about his doctoral program turned him into a disenchanted educator
--What his life as a digital nomad has taught him about his pursuit for higher consciousness
--How he's seen others pursue higher consciousness beyond traveling
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David: I think context is everything. I keep going back to this pandemic. I graduated with my undergraduate degree during the Great Recession, and then I graduated with my doctorate during a global pandemic. So, a little square piece of paper that you hang on the wall as a little status symbol did not matter that much to me when there is — regardless of what political side you land on with this, there's mass illness and death, and there is mass hysteria and confusion. So, why would I care about professional life when mortality is staring me in the face?
Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. Join your hosts, Billy and Brian, a couple of average dudes who will serve as your armchair life coaches, as we share our life experiences — both the good and the bad — in an effort to help us all better understand how we can enjoy and make the most of the life we have left to live in a more meaningful way. Take a deep breath, embrace the present, and journey with us through The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I'm your host, Billy. And as always, I'm joined by my good friend, Brian on the Bass. Brian, how are you doing over there, man?
Brian: I am pretty hot and tasty, otherwise known as PHAT.
Billy: Oh, that is a completely different direction than what I thought you were going with there. Pretty hot and tasty. I've never heard that acronym before.
Brian: Did you not know that that's what PHAT stands for — pretty hot and tasty? That's what it means, dude. You never hear that?
Billy: No. Are you serious?
Brian: Dead serious. I've heard that. I didn't just make that up. I heard that.
Billy: Oh, my God. No, I never knew that. I never knew that that's what it was. That's beautiful. Listen, I am today years old when I learned what phat actually meant. Well, I love it.
Brian: I see you're not from the streets like me.
Billy: You're right. I'm book smart, not street smart like you.
Brian: Yeah, that's what it is. That's why I know that sort of stuff. I hang out in those circles.
Billy: Well, that's perfect because our guest today is both book smart and street smart. Our guest today is Dr. David J. DeMarkis. Dr. DeMarkis is a disenchanted former educator turned digital nomad who holds — count them 1, 2, 3 — 4 degrees in different topics of inquiry in the humanities and social sciences. A man prone to bouts of existential crises. This guy sounds just like me. Dr. DeMarkis decided to leverage the global pandemic to reimagine his life. In 2020, he took to the trails and the weight room and lost over 30 pounds. Congratulations to you. He proceeded to buy an RV on his 33rd Birthday, ditching rent totally in 2021, and conquering over 100 state parks along the way.
In 2022, his goal is to capture 100 sunsets around the world. I've got sunsets in Portugal for days that you can go and check out. Dr. DeMarkis is a full-time freelancer who currently is working a contract making language assessments for the US military. He spends a third of his time in the RV, a third in international Airbnbs, and a third with family and friends in the United States and Mexico. You can follow his batshit crazy journey on Instagram. His handle is @feral_visions. Welcome to the show, Dr. David DeMarkis.
David: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here. That was an epic introduction.
Brian: That was quite epic, dude.
Billy: Yeah, that's very impressive.
David: Thank you.
Billy: I don't know if you guys remember. If you listened to the episode that we did with Brett Hill, I connected with somebody over Instagram about who is pursuing a PhD in higher consciousness. Well, that's Dr. David DeMarkis. That's why he's here today. He is here to talk about that pursuit for higher consciousness. We've just talked a little bit more over the last few weeks. I got to admit. I think you're on the right path. David, I think you're on that path to seeking out higher consciousness. So, we wanted to bring you on the show. We feel like this is an excellent way to put a bow on this amazing season we have had so far around reinventing your life. Because that's something that you have figured out much earlier than the rest of us have. So, let's do this. Let's get into what 10 roles you play in your life. So, what are the 10 roles that you play?
David: I think I broke the rules. I have more than 10 here. But the 10 roles I play — I'm a digital nomad. When I asked Madi, my fiancee, what I am, she said, "You better tell them you're a disrupter, because that's what you do. You shake things up a bit." I'm a man of contradictions, a minimalist, divergent thinker, a blue-collar scholar. I jokingly refer to myself as a professor of the people. I'm a vagabond at heart. I'm forever a free agent in life. I am a class clown or a jester of the court. My alter ego, as you said, is feral visions. You can follow me @feral_ visions on Instagram.
Billy: Yeah, we were joking before the show that you're bouncing all over the world like a feral cat. It's hard for you to stay in one spot.
David: Yeah, take ADHD and scale it on a global level, that is who I am. Those kids in school that used to bounce around the classroom in elementary school and high school, I'm that guy. Now I have mobility, so I'm all over the place.
Billy: You talked about being that kid who bounced off the wall. How does that tie into being the class clown or the jester of the court? Because that's one of the roles that you listed here as what you're most looking forward to in the second half of life.
David: Yeah, that's definitely a role, I think, I've had my whole life. I think what's interesting is, I struggled in the professional world. Because not every professional context is set up for that personality and set up for someone who likes to joke or have a good time. I struggled in public education, specifically with how strict that profession felt to me. I was also in the role of a dean of students. So, it was kind of weird. I'm the dean of students, working with kids that were like me, relating to those children but then also having to put in a disciplinary system, which didn't vibe well with my personality.
I'm a class clown. I like to use humor. I think humor is a great place for creative freedom. I like to use humor as a way to poke fun at these traditional constructs in our society, and dismantle these constructs through clowning and just humor. Today, I have my glasses on here. I'm in my workout clothes. This is my goofy ass personality, and that's just who I am.
Billy: When you look back on being a dean — because that's the role that I was into. When you look back on being a dean, what were some of the things that a student maybe was sent to your office for, or you had to do a disciplinary measure but you're like, "You know what, that was kind of funny"?
David: There's a lot of those cases. What I'll say is, it's difficult when you throw 30 plus kids into the same classroom that you all and I were in. 30 kids in those seats and 30 different personalities. Sometimes the teachers within those contexts are as stressed and frustrated as the students. Sometimes they pry open these rebellious personalities.
But I don't have a specific moment. There was just crazy shit that happened, like kids running down to construction zones. We had to run after them and stuff. We had this crazy, it was like a charter school. There was a crazy demerit system that use technology. Every time a student did something wrong, they plug it in. So, it was like a carrot and stick model. It got to the point where these kids are just like, "Forget it. I can't do anything right with these teachers and these administrators." I think the students just got deflated, to the point where they're either rebellious and just telling everyone to eff off, or they're just deflated and sleeping in class because they're sick of the consequence, consequence, consequence.
Billy: Well, I know Brian and I have had conversations before too about, "Should we say this? If we post this, how should we word this? Because if I'm in education, and kids see this, how is this going to be portrayed if they're doing the exact same thing?" There's always that. That's certainly come to a head at times. It's a tricky situation to navigate. You also said here that you're a minimalist. I imagine that if you're roaming around the country, especially if you're living in an RV, being a minimalist is crucial to living your lifestyle.
David: Oh, wow. It was such a process. Madi, my fiance, and I, when we got the RV and we're thinking about transitioning into living out of an RV or living out a suitcase, we realized how much junk we had. We rented a three-bedroom home in Austin to start. Then we downsized. We moved to Waco for a bit. Then we downsized to a one-bedroom apartment. I was like, "You know what? I want to downsize even more." There's just so much junk, material crap that you have, that I just wanted to get rid of. It was just taking up space, taking up emotional space.
Brian: And your time when you own all this stuff, like if you own a boat. It's not just the time you're on the water. It's the time you're waxing the boat and cleaning it and putting it in storage and fixing the tire on the trailer, and all this other stuff. So, I know exactly what you mean, man.
David: Yeah, and we have like an HOA in Austin. You have to mow the grass at a particular height. I'm working 12-hour days in a charter school. I'm coming home, and then I have to mow the freaking grass at a specific height and edge the grass. I was like, "You know what? I'm done with this. I'm done with this lifestyle." I was never someone who aspired to house. I've never wanted the American dream. The suburban American Dream never appealed to me.
I grew up in a small halfplex in Pennsylvania, and there's so much love in that tiny home. That's the lifestyle I'm about. It's like you don't need these big physical spaces that take up your time and take up your emotions, when you could have a lot of love and happiness in a smaller space, and in mobility, too. I enjoy mobility.
Billy: I remember I used to want the white picket fence and the house in the burbs and the two and a half kids. I know I've talked about this before. I dated somebody who said, "I don't ever want to have kids." I was like, "What? That's an option?" It never dawned on me. It reminds me of the conversation that we had with Dr. Yolanda and Tiffany Byrd from the Trash the Checklist Podcast. I was on that checklist very much so.
Like I said, I applaud you for being able to figure out to trash that checklist that society seems to normalize. You are very successful. You are very well-educated living this digital nomad life. So, tell us more about why you're looking forward to being a digital nomad for the second half of your life.
David: One of the things I listed is, I'm a huge proponent of calendar freedom. The digital nomad lifestyle allows me to have that calendar freedom. Because I'm a professional writer. So, I'll write anything — from technical writing, marketing writing, assessment writing, curriculum writing. That means I could work odd hours, and I could work hours that are spaced out throughout the day. So, I could put in two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon, and then four plus hours burning the midnight oil.
That excites me, because that allows me to move away from my last lifestyle where I'm working 6 AM till 6 PM as an educator. I'm not really getting paid much as an educator. My hourly at that point is — at that point, I could have worked hourly. I could have gone and worked in McDonald's and made more, I think, than what I made.
There's no cap on how much I can make. There's no specific calendar of time. There's no 9 to 5, so I get to hike during the day. If I need a break, I could go lift. I think that is exactly what my mind and my personality needed — to get through this existential crisis that I'm going through. I need freedom of time, considering I also am a doctorate which took up almost every weekend. Our classes were on weekends for eight hours a day, once a month. So, it would be eight hours on Saturday, eight hours on Sunday. You go back to work on Monday. You couldn't miss any classes. Because if you missed class, you're potentially failing. You're on this track, which is the opposite of what I see. I think education should be about you're on this really strict track to the doctorate.
I felt confined. It confined my personality. You see me bouncing around now. It's hard to imagine that this personality that I have now is actually confined to one office, to one brick and mortar building, to a really tight calendar where there's no room to see family, no room for myself, no room for my relationship with my fiance. So, that's why I'm excited for this digital nomad lifestyle.
Billy: I imagine that if you are being a writer, you can sit down and write when inspiration hits you, or when you are feeling productive, that sort of thing. Because I'm sure there are times when it feels forced, and it doesn't feel like your best work. Maybe you just need a walk that'll clear your head and unlock what it is that you need to do in order to be creative when you sit down in front of the computer again, and type up whatever it is that you're working on.
David: Absolutely. It also eliminates all that dead space that you normally have, the normal 9 to 5. That dead space where you're not working but you're still stuck within the context. I could go take a break. Usually, I do. I do a lot of my work after I'd lift or workout or go on the trails, because that's where the inspiration hits me most. But it's good for my mental health because I'm able to step away. If I have writer's block, I've got to leave. There's no way I'm going to get through it. So, it's easier for me to go on the trails and gain some inspiration.
Billy: Well, like we said before, we wanted to have you on so we could talk about this pursuit for higher consciousness. What we want to do is we want to take a quick break. Then when we come back, we're going to continue talking to Dr. David DeMarkis. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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And now, let's take a minute to be present with our breath. If you're listening somewhere safe and quiet, close your eyes and slowly inhale for 4, 3, 2, 1. Hold for 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Slowly exhale for 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Let's do that one more time. Inhale for 4, 3, 2, 1. Hold for 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Slowly exhale for 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Go ahead and open your eyes. You feel better? We certainly hope so. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are talking today to Dr. David DeMarkis. You can follow him on Instagram @feral_visions. We're trying to learn more about what he means by this pursuit for higher consciousness. So, Dr. David, what do you mean by that? How did this idea develop?
David: Well, as I was mentioning, I think my life — especially between the years of about 2016 and 2020 — had become really unconscious, very rope, clocking into work, to the point that it became so unconscious that it's unhealthy for me. It was unhealthy financially. It was unhealthy mentally and emotionally. It was unhealthy physically. That, combined with the course I took as a public educator and in working on my doctorate and how much time was consumed by that, I became really disillusioned. Not only with society and the norms and the status quo, but also just disillusion with myself.
I'm living this life that I never wanted. I'm living it for financial purposes more than meaning. There's no sense of self. There's no pursuit of anything higher than the day to day. That unconsciousness really thrust me into this new lifestyle. It was boiling for years inside of me, bubbling up inside of me for years. But really, the pandemic allowed me to have the time and space, especially during quarantine, to really reflect and think about, what is it that I want in life and where. Where do I want to go with my life? It wasn't what I was doing. I needed to escape that lifestyle.
So, the pursuit of higher consciousness actually began, really was a transition into this. I was trying to rebrand myself as a digital educator. When I started to rebrand myself, I realized that I wanted to break off from education even more. Then also, what was going on was, there's this other aspect of financial consciousness that was beginning and health consciousness.
During the pandemic, I started going hiking and getting into the trails. Then as soon as I was on those trails, it became more of a spiritual journey for me, more of a higher conscious journey than I initially expected. I didn't expect this to be a pursuit of higher consciousness. It just happened as I took care of my body, as I took care of my mind. As I changed my daily habits, it allowed me the space to think about something other than what's immediately in front of me,
Billy: There's something very relatable to that. Because I just got back from the Oregon coast. Being out in nature, — I've talked about it before just even being in Lisbon — being out in that fresh air, I feel like fresh air and trees are really underrated when it comes to our mental health and our productivity. It almost feels like in these concrete jungles that we surround ourselves in urban places, you almost need a recess. You need recess, where you go outside. It's forced. You can't stay inside with the teacher anymore. You have to go outside. When do you stop with recess? You stop with recess around sixth grade. We might need to go back to recess.
I think people who are figuring that out are finding themselves to be more productive. They're happier, and all around feel better. They're not completely wiped out at the end of the day. I'm sure that they're wiped out at the end of the day, but there might be something more to that. We're really, really undervaluing the importance of being outside.
I haven't been outside yet because I'm in Redmond, Washington, and it's raining. There are the elements that you can deal with too. Especially as Minnesotans, Brian, I think it's negative 15 there today. So, those elements play a role in that as well. But I'm curious to hear more about how nature has played a role in this mindset shift for you.
David: Yeah, a joke. I guess, it's not even a joke. I say, the trees are my greatest therapy. What I mean by that is there's a lot of stillness and solitude that I'm able to get in nature that is disrupted or destroyed, like you said, by the concrete jungle, especially in a place like Austin, Texas, where I lived, where you're stuck in traffic on I-35 for an hour. So, you're not only working six to six. Then you have another hour of the beginning and at the end of your day stuck in traffic.
Nature, for me, has provided me with a space to escape the civilized world. Some people call a rewilding of your mentality or your body, or to tap into uncivilized parts of me that had been repressed by the concrete jungle in the society.
Billy: When we were looking at having you on as a guest, just knowing your story, it related really well to what the Trash the Checklist ladies talked about. You were pursuing your doctorate. You have four degrees. You posted recently on your Instagram that earning your doctorate was a small mountain you've climbed in your life, but you didn't like the view from the top. So, what did you earn your doctorate in, and what was the view like up there once you got up there?
David: I earned my doctorate in K-12 educational leadership. I think context is everything. I keep going back to this pandemic. I graduated with my undergraduate degree during the Great Recession, and then I graduated with my doctorate during a global pandemic. So, a little square piece of paper that you hang on the wall as a little status symbol did not matter that much to me when there is — regardless of what political side you land on with this, there's mass illness and death, and there is mass hysteria and confusion. So, why would I care about professional life when mortality is staring me in the face?
Imagine going to the top of the mountain, and you're like, "Well, shit. That was a terrible hike anyway. I'm out of shape. I am physically and mentally ill from the lifestyle I've been living. I'm a first-generation college graduate. So, I didn't even have a mat for the trail. I'm trying to get to the top, I don't know how to get to the top of the trail. Then when you get up there, you're like, "This view sucks."
It reminded me of a hike that I did once in Arizona. It was a project peak. It wasn't the main hike. It was the other hike. I went all the way up to the top, and then all it was the interstate. You're looking at the interstate. It wasn't a great view at all. That's what my experience with higher education reminded me of.
I also saw a lot of your guests might talk about the rat race. I guess it's the term the rat race in professionalism, where a lot of my colleagues, they want to cash in. They want the golden handcuffs of a superintendency. I'm at that point in my life, I want to cash out. Get me out of this profession, and get me back to something that's more simplistic.
Billy: When you were originally going to school for superintendency, what was your driving force? What was it that you were hoping to accomplish by being a superintendent?
David: Well, here's the thing. I didn't want to be a superintendent. So, there's a severe mismatch between my personality and my goals in the program. I'm not knocking the program. It's a great program if you want to be a superintendent. I think there's some nuance to the story of mine. Because I think a lot of my colleagues got exactly what they wanted out of the program.
I applied for the program, because I wanted to be the first in my family to get a doctorate, first and foremost. Then the program was called K-12 Educational Leadership, with a little asterisk at the bottom saying that you could pursue the superintendency if you wanted to. But upon entry, within the first few classes, I'm realizing that this is a pipeline for superintendents, which I never really wanted to be.
Educational leadership doesn't have to lead just to the superintendency. You can be a CEO of a nonprofit. You can be a charter school's CEO. You could create a private organization for test prep. This is a huge field that was narrowed. Maybe I should have done my research more. I never wanted to be a superintendent. So, I'm seeing people who wanted to be. It just wasn't something that spoke to me, or I was interested in.
Billy: But you're still doing some of this leadership work. So, how do you do that? How do you be a digital nomad? How do you do it reputably where people aren't looking at you like, is the dude messaging me from an RV? Are we Zooming from his RV? That kind of thing. How do you do that in a way where it still comes off as professional? How do you find Wi Fi when you're roaming around in an RV, the real little things that we maybe take for granted if we're living in a house, or going to a job that has all sorts of the perks? So, how do you take care of all that?
David: Well, first of all, in terms of Wi Fi, we have a MiFi through AT&T that we use. Basically, wherever we get cell service. This is a whole culture. There are so many different options. You could get a satellite internet. You could use the hotspot from your phone. You can use MiFi like we do which is difficult, which means we're limited to places where there's cell service.
My fiancee, she has more conference calls than I do. Her remote work is slightly different than mine. It's not as asynchronous as mine. It's really tied to conference calls. So, we have to do our research in fine state parks or campgrounds or RV parks where there is service. Sometimes, to be quite honest, we have to stop at a Starbucks or a McDonald's, or something to use their Wi Fi and have their service for conferences.
The other thing that's interesting is, you could use the sewage and shower in your RV. We're choosing not to. So, we use a lot of campgrounds where we're actually using the showers and services there at the campgrounds and also using our Planet Fitness Black Card to take showers as well. So, I think there's a lot of research that goes into that, that I guess my skills from four degrees helped me to complete that research and look at my trajectory and where we're going and how we're going to get Wi Fi. But you're saying about keeping it professional. Were you alluding to the predatory nature of a lot of services that are on social media?
Billy: I'm wondering if you do the whole, if you're doing Zoom — I don't know how much you're doing Zoom. It sounds like your fiance is doing more Zoom. It's business up top, party down below where you're in shorts, but you're in a suit, that sort of thing. So, I'm wondering how much of that do you see? Is there a stigma that goes with your reputation as being a digital nomad? Does that not even play a factor in the work that you're doing or that your fiance is doing?
David: Again, I think the pandemic nudged us in this direction where more and more people had to work remotely. Then all of a sudden, all these professional standards that we used to have, we're starting to chip away at them. I think millennials and Gen Z have been chipping away at these standards for quite a while. I use one shirt. I don't even have it on today, because I decided not to wear a professional shirt. But I have one professional shirt that I wear to every conference call. So, it's kind of ridiculous. My colleagues have to catch on me. I just don't think they care. I think people are starting to not care about that. Because what is the meaning in that?
I wore a suit for three plus years every day as a dean of students. I didn't really get any meaning out of that. Why do we focus on that as a status symbol, instead of functionality of wardrobe? The cool thing about the remote world is they're mostly like my personality. A lot of these people don't want the nine to five. They want to remote work to get away from that crap. Their business up front, like you said, nothing down below. I think that's the direction it's going. I think that's why a lot of people are enjoying remote work over "let's get in a suit and tie every day, and let's clock in specific times." It's chipping away. The pandemic helped us move beyond that.
I think that's the silver lining, right? A lot of people for good reason wants to see the bad in this. I think there's a lot of deficit mindset that's attached to the pandemic, for obvious reasons. It's a traumatic experience for some people. But I'm looking for the silver lining. My father, who's a baby boomer, works remotely twice a week now working for the state. He's never had that opportunity before. During the pandemic, I am sitting next to him. We're all in the same house — my father, my fiance, and I, are all working together through different generations working digitally. To me, that's exciting because it's chipping away the old and chipping away those old bureaucratic systems.
Brian: It goes along with your philosophy about the house, though. So, you buy a house and you spent all this time taking care of it. You get a job. Now you're spending an extra hour out of your day getting ready for that job. It's just piles more unnecessary stuff on sometimes.
David: Yeah, if not more, I mean, you're going to dry cleaning. I always wore my shoes. I wore those dress shoes out so quickly. So, I'm spending money on stupid things like dry cleaning and wardrobe. It's wasted so much of your time.
Billy: As a boomer, how does your dad like working part-time remotely?
David: At first, my dad was like, "I really miss being social at work." He was remote full time for part of the pandemic. Then when he had to go back to work, he hates the commute. He commutes from Pottsville, Pennsylvania to Harrisburg. Sometimes in winter weather, it's over an hour each way. All of a sudden, he's starting to see my perspective and my fiance's perspective on why remote work could be good.
Because you get more time with your family. We get more time to spend with each other. At first, he was like, "I missed the social aspect. I missed my colleagues at work." I think he struggles with change a little more than I do. But now he's like, "I wish I could work remotely every damn day." He's like, "If I could push this all the way to retirement, I'm going to do it." He's hoping that he could — he's retiring in the next few years. He's hoping that he could do more remote work more days a week, because he likes it so much.
Billy: That socialization aspect is crucial, right? Here's the thing that I've been thinking about lately. I think this is pretty common. When you leave a job, you might not stay in contact with your former colleagues. You have your work friends, and then you have your real friends. To be honest with it, I had people who I was friends with. I was friendly with at school. But there were really maybe only four or five people out of that group that I was friends with outside of school. I don't know the answer to this. But the pandemic, taking you away from the ability to socialize about work. You're socializing about work, right? So, why not take the opportunity to socialize with more friends and do things like that and do these virtual happy hours with friends, maybe not with colleagues. Because then you just are back at talking about work, work, work, that sort of thing. I don't know.
I've thought about that recently. I saw something. We had Dr. Dawn Graham on earlier in season three. I saw her post something the other day about, don't feel bad if your old work colleagues, the people that you thought were your work friends aren't contacting you anymore. They moved on. You should too. That's been running through my head a little bit here as I'm now entering my six months out of six months of this leave, that sort of thing.
Not staying in too much contact with my old colleagues. But trying to reconnect or make new connections — really, that's what I've been doing. It's making new connections. You're a new connection that I've had. The podcast has given me an opportunity to make new connections. Those new connections have opened up new experiences. They've opened up new relationships. I'm not stuck in the mire with my old colleagues. Listen, that's not a slam on my old colleagues. They're really great people. I think you're right, that this pandemic — the silver lining in the pandemic, as awful as it has been, is that it has provided some people the opportunity to develop our new awareness of what meaning they want to get out of this one and only life that we have.
David: Yeah, one of the things that I keep reflecting on and writing about is this idea of work-life balance, which is constantly fed to us. There's articles written about it. You go to trainings at work to discuss work-life balance. Why? Why does there have to be balance? The word itself seems like contradicting to me. Why can't we just have life? Why do our relationships have to be bound, like you said, to work? Why can't we have stronger, deeper relationships outside of work? Why is work consuming the majority of our days in a digital era?
I just can't understand that. I think you hit the nail on the head. The pandemic has given us opportunity for new relationships, and deeper. I've got to see my family for months during quarantine and during the height of the pandemic. I didn't get to do that. I wasn't at home in Pennsylvania for that extended period of time before this. To me, those relationships matters because those are the people that I really care about. It's not that I'm an anti-social person, but I prefer deeper, more meaningful relationships.
Billy: You're looking for —
Brian: Quality over quantity.
David: Yes, exactly. Quality over quantity. Sometimes in a work culture, it's like you're having work happy hours. They're not necessarily mandatory, but they're mandatory. So, you're forced into these superficial, artificial relationships instead of finding deeper friendships and meaning and connecting with people outside of the stress of work.
Billy: I think to the misperception around work-life balance is that if you're looking at work-life as a pie, are you saying that 50% of the pie is work, and the other 50% is every other aspect of life? Let's just take a look at the pie as life, and work is a slice of it. But if it's half of the pie, oh my goodness, that means you're going to jam pack every other aspect of life into that other side of the pie.
Brian: That's an unfulfilling pie.
David: That's a terrible pie. I think my last pie.
Billy: I don't even like pie. So, now that we're all hungry and we need a snack, let's take a quick break. Then when we come back, we're going to continue talking to Dr. David DeMarkis about this pursuit for higher consciousness.
Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Thanks for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We will do our best to put out new content every Wednesday to help get you over the midweek hump. If you'd like to contact us, or if you have suggestions about what you'd like us to discuss, feel free to email us at email@example.com or follow us on Instagram @mindful_midlife_crisis. Check out the show notes for links to the articles and resources we referenced throughout the show. Oh, and don't forget to show yourself some love every now and then, too. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with Dr. David DeMarkis. We're talking about the pursuit for higher consciousness. Dr. DeMarkis is a digital nomad. We really enjoyed talking to you about your exploits here as a digital nomad, and trying to make the most out of this god-awful pandemic that just doesn't want to go away. The pandemic has had its way with a lot of people's plans. To say the least, my plans have changed significantly now because of the pandemic. I'll talk about that next week. But your graduation from your doctoral program, this thing that you put a lot of time and definitely a lot of money into in order to earn this higher education degree, the ceremony behind that was thwarted due to the pandemic. So, can you talk about that a little bit?
David: Yeah. Imagine being the first-generation college student working your whole life. I got two masters on the way to the doctorate, because I had to go through a lot just to get to this doctorate. The pandemic hits. I defend my dissertation in February, and then our graduation is set for May. So, I defended right before the pandemic starts. Then the pandemic hits. Then a lot of these universities are caught with their pants. They don't know what to do. This is unprecedented.
How do we celebrate these students? Baylor, with all due respect, their plan was basically put our names up on a scoreboard, and then silently scroll through our names. Basically, you're not only missing the live cheers and the celebration but, basically, it's your name, silence, the next person's name. That's how I graduated.
Billy: That circumstance on repeat.
Brian: That's the exact falls short of the spectacle, I think, you deserve when you put all that work in.
David: Yeah, I mean, it was perfect though because it's a symbol of how anticlimactic the whole experience was for me. It was just, you know what? That's exactly what it was supposed to be. Now I'm moving on to something with more meaning and more happiness in life.
Billy: Doctoral programs are not cheap, and traveling isn't cheap either. But it sounds like the latter has been more fulfilling for you. So, how do you look back on your doctoral program experience? Was that necessary for you to go through for you to pursue this higher consciousness?
Brian: Also, would you personally recommend people get a doctorate or just travel?
David: Oh, wow. I think there's some nuance here. Because if you look back, again, I keep going back to the first-generation college student from a small town in Pennsylvania. I'm the first of my family to do this. With a small town comes a small mindset sometimes. So, travel and college weren't separated at first. I escaped by going to college. Then I liked it so much that I wanted to see what another city was like. So, why not get my masters in Milwaukee and move there? So, it was a means to travel at first. There was this huge, huge amount of growth within the first two degrees. I mean, amazing professors. I'm thrust into privilege for the first time.
I come from a lower income community. That was good. The books allowed me to explore when I didn't have the means to explore. I think college also provides a very comfortable bubble for you to experiment. I'm a late bloomer, obviously, I think. To think and to mull things over, before impulsively following it is whatever you want to follow. So, there's an incubation period that happens the first two degrees. But I think I plateaued at that third degree, and I never quite recovered. You know how you're working out, if you do the same routine over and over, you might not get growth. You have to shake it up and disrupt your body a little bit, and to try a new routine. Let's try yoga instead of just weightlifting, or let's incorporate running, or biking for cardio.
I think I had gotten everything I needed to get out of school. I understood school. It's a system. It's compliance-based system. I understood how to get through school. So, I needed to shake things up a bit. Then travel has become — my self-directed, self-funded travel has become a way for me to explore, among other things, to explore outside of the ivory tower, I guess, outside of these walls, and to pursue knowledge from a different pattern or a different workout for pursuing knowledge.
Would I recommend people go the path I went? No, it was the path that I thought I had to go at that time. I don't regret it. But it was also a burden that I was happy to release off my shoulders and pursue. I'm also very thrifty. You said about costs. Certainly, I got four degrees, probably for the price of two. I had a lot of scholarships. I had a lot of financial aid.
Then travel, travel is what you make. Everyone thinks you just travel. You could do the Vagabond lifestyle. You don't have to spend a lot of money to hop in a car. Split gas with your friends and ride across the country, which is things I've done time and time again.
Billy: You have this note here that you think that people attach a deficit mindset to student debt. I think this hits home for me, just because my nieces and nephew are all in school right now. They're accumulating debt. I worry about that, on how they're going to dig themselves out of that. I was just having this conversation with my niece the other day.
You put a note in here that you think that too often people come out of college with this deficit mindset, saying, "I'm never going to conquer that. I'm drowning in debt. I'm in a hole. I can't dig myself out of." The same goes for travel. "I can't afford that. I wish I could go to here, but I'll never get to there because I can't afford it." You put in here that you're convinced that despite your disenchantment, you came out of college better than before. You're not worried about conquering debts. Talk about that. Because that blows my mind a little bit. That's counterintuitive than to what I have maybe what to think your message is.
David: Yeah, and I'm a man of contradictions, if you haven't noticed already. I'll contradict myself from one sentence. But the thing is, I have no problem investing in knowledge. I have no regrets pursuing higher education and dismantling generations of work. Because college did help me build this mindset that I have right now. The liberal arts did help me build these ideas that I'm championing right now. So, I do think that people are afraid to invest in that. But at the same time — like I said, the most ridiculous crap on a daily basis — how much do you spend in a bar tab every weekend? I mean, think in your 20s. How much did you spend on a bar tab?
Billy: When I was in my 20s, I ran the numbers one time. I think it came to about $15,000 from the age of 23 to 30. Because I think I calculated it was $400 a month times 12, times 7. So, it was a lot. To which, I don't remember much of my 20s. I'll tell you what. I didn't have a lot of experiences that were outside of the Red Carpet in St. Cloud or the bars in Rochester that I went to when I lived down there.
I think a big piece of that goes back to what we always talked about — your network equals your net worth. Listen, I love the friends that were in my life at that time. But there's that old saying too, that you are the average of all your friends put together. That's who I was at that time. I like to go out and have a drink. I wasn't investing in my maturity. I wasn't investing in my social emotional growth. I'm playing catch up at this point when you're having anxiety attacks and struggling with suicidal ideation in your mid 30s. Your behavior in your 20s, it's maybe something that contributed to that.
For me, I think, yes, completely. What's funny is coming out of this trip that I was in Oregon, I spent a lot of time alone, which means I spent a lot of time with my thoughts which is not always a good thing. So, when I woke up today, I was in a funk. I had to journal. I had to get it out. There were things that were on my mind. So, I got it out. After probably about an hour, I felt a little better. But it's lingering here today. It's like getting over a sickness. So, it's lingering a little bit.
David: I didn't talk about sobriety. Sobriety has been a whole part of this pursuit of higher consciousness for me. I'm sober for 17 months coming up.
Billy: Good for you.
David: Thank you. It's weird. It's not for everyone. I'm not being puritanical. I know it's right for me, because I started drinking at 14. When you start drinking at 14, like you said, your emotional growth over time, you're drinking from 14 really hard, really hard for me until 24. Then still drinking a little afterwards. I mean, binge drinking for 14 to 24. My emotional growth is done. I'm playing catch up too, man. All my growth from adolescence to adulthood surrounded alcohol.
One of the most revolutionary things I did during this whole journey is I chose sobriety. Because that was the one thing I never did throughout my life. I regret how much money I spent on alcohol. So, it's weird that this is coming up with a conversation on education, but I think we pay for things like that. We pay for consumerism. We'll pay 500 plus, thousands of dollars for a mortgage. But why should I feel sorry for investing in my education when there's also things like that, that we're spending our money on? I think this is going back to that conversation of education.
But sobriety, man, I'm a huge proponent of it. It doesn't work for everyone, but it's worked wonders for me. I'm able to think consciously because I was unconscious like you during my 20s especially.
Billy: I think that relates back to what Aaron Boike talked about and what Greg Scheinman talked about. Even coaches need coaches. We can benefit from investing and working with a coach. I am on the precipice of working with a coach right now, whether it's a life coach or whether it's a personal trainer because I'm in a funk right now. I think the thing that's stopping me is I'm not working. So, I'm living off of my savings. It's been ingrained in me to be frugal and to be responsible with my money.
But how many times did I go out to eat when I was in Portland? I had access to a kitchen at the Airbnb that I was at in Portland, so I could have eaten smarter. I didn't have to have a drink when I was down in Portland, those sorts of things. They add up. So, I think you make a good point. I think this is another thing, too, that I hope our listeners understand. Brian and I have talked about that we're not perfect living, breathing examples of what everybody should do. We're working through this as much as anybody else is. I think that I need to sit down and take a look at what is it that I'm spending my money on that could be better invested in myself.
Because there's a difference. You can spend, and you can invest. I think I need to take an inventory on that. David, you and I talked about this about starting a group. We talked about this when I talked to Dr. Yolanda and Tiffany Byrd. I imagine the four of us get together and form this group where we're helping people live their best lives. I think we could just crush it.
David: Yeah, I think it's a great idea. I think it's necessary. Like I said, one of the reasons it's really hard for me to tell my story right now is, I'm in the middle of it. I'm a divergent thinker, so I'm going to be over the place a little bit, all over the place. But the other thing is, I'm in the midst of this. People like me could really — I'm about to come out of it, I think. But there's people like me that are at the beginning of this, that could really benefit from some sort of cohort and coaching, even if it's emotional support, design thinking, cohort, or vision boarding, just conversations about how the hell do we navigate this thing that we're never taught to navigate?
We're taught how to get through school, but we're never taught how to pursue meaning. I don't think traditional education always focuses on how to pursue meaning. It's how to pursue professionalism or finances. The other thing I want to say is, I think it's awesome that you're thinking about looking at your finances. I'm really pretty radical with this right now. I haven't gotten a haircut in three years. I used to spend like $60 or more to get a fade all the time with my hair cut. My hair grows fast, so I'm paying $60 every two weeks just on a haircut. It sounds so tiny. But that extra money that I get from that, I get to invest that into travel or opportunities where I get to learn experientially.
Then I've also placed a ban on purchases for clothes. So, I'm in a three-year ban right now currently on purchasing clothes. This is what I wear. I just wear a workout gear. I have five outfits. I'm not changing. I don't need professional outfits. That's also saving money. Because think about how much money you save on new wardrobes over time. But yes, I think that's worth considering. Also, I love the idea of bringing a group together.
Billy: Greg Scheinman introduced me to Brian Gallagher. You can follow him at Simple Man Guide. He's coaching people to do, just what you're pursuing to do. That's actually who I'm looking to work with. He said that he would join us on the show here at some point. So, when we get going with season five, I'm almost certain we'll be able to have Brian on there. I think he's going to be a fascinating person to talk to, as well.
Sometimes I feel like people think the only way to experience higher consciousness is through travel. So, that then gets in the way of their ability to simply listen to what the universe is trying to share with them. So, through your experiences, through your research, how have others — besides yourself — pursued this idea of higher consciousness?
David: Yeah, I mean, if you're limiting it just to travel, I think it's a great disservice to this pursuit of higher consciousness. First of all, is there one route to higher conscious? Am I ever going to actually achieve it, or is it just something that you pursue for the rest of your life? I'm willing to bet it's more of a pursuit than this transcendence.
Brian: It's a practice, yeah.
David: Yeah, a practice that I'm completely confident, comfortable with knowing that it's a goal I may never reach. It's a goal that I pursued through practice, but it's not a reward maybe at the end of the road. I've been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately. I think people find higher consciousness through flow. I think athletes. A lot of the times, underestimated athletes in an athletic flow that allows you to be really in tune with the moment, but also feel like you're transcending the moment. Have you guys watched a free solo?
Billy: Yes. I was white knuckled the entire time, the last 20 minutes. Even though I know that guy survives, I white knuckled the entire time because it's so terrifying to watch.
David: Yeah, I think a lot of people can find the pursuit of higher consciousness to meditation or maybe religious practice. But I look at something like the idea of free soloing. I'm looking at reading about other people who are alpinists, who are pursuing these amazing athletic feats that allow them to be completely in the now but also transcend the normal circumstances of society.
I'm the type of person that needs to do something physically to actually meditate instead of being still. It's not for everyone. But I think it's worth considering that some people can pursue higher consciousness. Even on the road as I'm driving, I'm meditating. I'm thinking on the road. I'm being consciously aware of inputs and outputs. What's going into my body? I talked about sobriety. But also, am I feeding into the new cycle? Am I feeding into toxic stuff on social media, or am I in books, listening to audiobooks, listening to music? Those inputs are just as important as food.
Then output is, I'm trying to limit my own toxicity. Because social media can be really toxic. So, I want my outputs not to seem toxic to other people. I think solitude is something that's a recurring theme of other people's pursuits for higher consciousness. You think about old priests and aesthetics or Buddhist monks sometimes pursue solitude. I find that solitude in a different way. I find it on the trails. I think there's a lot of people who also love hiking or love the outdoors. Because that solitude allows them the space for thought, that they're not always allowed in other contexts. Those are essentially some of the things I've been thinking about as I'm reading, and as I'm trying to figure out what this means. I'm not really a spiritual person, in a traditional sense. So, I get that metaphysical feeling or sensations in other ways such as hiking, or trips, or travel.
Billy: Where does the pursuit for higher consciousness take you next?
David: I am traveling. I'm going abroad for the next few months. So, I'll be in the Dominican, Costa Rica. What I would really like to do is continue my routine. I'm in a pretty good routine right now in terms of, I'm reading at a faster pace than I ever read during my time in a doctorate. I'm working out consistently. I'm eating healthy. I'm taking time to meditate on the trails, and to think I'm writing a lot, and I'm creating a lot. Creativity is an important part of this process, I think, with social media. So, I would like to continue this track. Like I said, it's a pursuit. So, I don't know exactly where it's going to go from there. But I know that those are the core values and routines that I'm going to keep.
Billy: How much does environment play a role in all of that? Is there a specific reason you chose the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, or is it because they're warm? Because we talked about it. You like being a snowbird. How is the environment conducive to your pursuit?
David: I've realized through this process that a lot of — I get seasonally depressed. I need sunshine. I lived in Vermont and Milwaukee. I grew up in Pennsylvania. A lot of the winters were brutal in those years. I realized that, "Hey, I have a choice." Part of being conscious is I have conscious choices that I get to make. I can eliminate winter by going to places like the Dominican Republic, and being able to be in sunshine in 80-degree weather in the middle of January or February.
That, to me, is important. Because it helps you. For me, specifically, I wasn't a skier or a snowboarder so I'm not as physically active in the winter. I like sunshine because it pushes me out to kayak, or to go biking, or just to go outside running, or to just stay fit. How do you guys feel? You're both from Minnesota?
David: Have you experienced different personal vibrations during the winter where you're lower?
Brian: Most definitely seasonal. What do they call that? Seasonal mood disorder or something?
Billy: Seasonal affective disorder. It's SAD. The letters are S-A-D. Sad, because you are really fu**ing sad. It's winter in Minnesota. Credits to so many Minnesotans out there who are tough out there, who are braving it out there. It's just not for me, man. It's just not for me.
Brian: It gets tougher every year, too.
Billy: Yeah, that's why I asked how is environment conducive to your pursuit for higher consciousness. Because I've talked about it before. Portugal felt like home for me. I've never felt so at ease. I have never felt so at home. Even actually staying at my sister's is as rainy as it's been here, the structure here that I am in, it feels very homey. I feel very content here. I know that she doesn't want me to feel too at home, because she wants me to leave at some point. But it does feel like home here, and I feel very at ease here. But there is also a longing to go back to Portugal. It would be great to go to other places.
But right now, I just have this calling to go to Portugal. That's where, I guess, I see myself. I feel like there's something about the energy of your environment that allows you to be more in tune with yourself and, like you said, your vibrations. That sort of thing. Again, chalk that up to things, you never would have heard me say it two or three years ago.
David: Oh, yeah, I don't think I would hear it. Like some of the stuff I'm spewing here, I would never, ever say years ago. I was the type of guy that was like, "What are these influencers doing? Always ranting on social media? Why are they so happy? Why do they look so freaking happy? I'm not happy." I had to call myself out on my own BS. You're not happy, dude, because you don't want to be happy. You don't want to make the conscious choices that that influencer or whoever made you to be happy.
I think environment is huge. I eliminate winner. It's been great. It's been great from a mental. I think if you're feeling Portugal, if that's the vibration that you're feeling right now, man, I encourage you to go and see what that means. Maybe you need to live in Portugal. Maybe that's where your future is. I mean, you could do this podcast while you're still there.
Billy: We've done that before.
David: You could do that. You could carry your work with you. So, do that if that's what's making you feel good.
Billy: And I think it's important just to recognize that we're not saying you need to become a snowbird. We're saying it's important for you to recognize the things that you need to eliminate in order to feel the vibrations, in order to feel in tune, in order to discover that level of higher consciousness.
David: As I'm posting on social media, as I'm speaking here, I don't want people to follow the same path as me. That's not my goal. My goal is not to be a snake oil salesman on social media that says follow me. That doesn't sound pretty cool. Like you were saying, I think people need to make this conscious choice of what it is they want in life, how they want to customize their own life, and how they could find their own pursuit of higher consciousness or happiness. It's not follow me, I know the path. It's follow your gut. Follow your heart. Follow your trajectory on to the next steps in life.
Billy: Well, if you want to follow Dr. David on social media, you can certainly do that. Go to Instagram. Look up feral_visions. Dr. David, we wish you the best on your pursuit for higher consciousness, man. I'm excited to continue to follow along and learn and connect with you, and pursue my own level of higher consciousness.
David: Thank you for having me on this podcast. It's my first public appearance since I left public education. I was really nervous, obviously. But really, my cup is full coming out of this. I hope other people's cup are as full as mine is right now.
Brian: Well, we're honored that we were your first public appearance.
Billy: Welcome back to society, my friend.
David: Yeah, man. I've been out.
Billy: So, with that, for Dr. David, for Brian, I am Billy. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved. Take care friends.
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