How big plans can change

When you have a big idea – one of those ideas that is big enough to shift the entire course of your life – it rarely comes out fully formed.  Or maybe our little brains are just ill-equipped to accommodate the ramifications of the idea.  Big ideas have a tendency to push and squeeze our hearts and minds.  We think we change our ideas, but maybe the ideas change us.

Yes, our plans have changed.

You might be thinking that this idea to travel the world for a year was crazy to begin with and we have finally come to our senses.  Perhaps three or six months is more reasonable.  Or maybe a short trial run in a safe, English-speaking location . . . like Nova Scotia?  That would be responsible.

Sometimes big ideas are scary and we anxiously work to make them smaller.  Other times they are inspiring, they grow, and before we know it they have developed from a cute little baby idea into a wonderful, funny, complicated adolescent idea that is always hungry and often challenging but one that you realize you can’t live without.

So here is how things have changed for us.

Shortly after our last blog/vlog entry in early January I came home after a block of ER shifts and sat down in the kitchen while Linds was cleaning up after supper.  I was exhausted but I was also sad.  Not because something terrible had happened at work but because it was clear that I was burned out.  Maybe it’s the constant noise and chaos, maybe it’s the ever-present threat of college complaints or lawsuits, maybe I’ve just been doing full time emergency medicine for too long, . . .  or maybe our big idea, our crazy plan to travel the world had changed me.

The bottom line  was that I had run out of ways to find enjoyment in my job.  I could still perform, and I like to think I could perform well, but it was wearing me down rather than building me up.  I was doing it because I felt like I had to, not because I wanted to.

This realization, which could have been terrifying, had several interesting consequences.

The first thing that happened was that my already incredible wife climbed a few notches on the amazing-scale.  As a backdrop to this event you should know that in making our plans Linds had always wanted to keep our house here in Canada.  It would be a safety net in case things didn’t work out as planned.

But soon after pouring my heart out to her, she stopped what she was doing, thought for a second, then looked at me and said, “If we sold the house, could you stop working – at least for a while?”  Linds was more than willing to trade her security for my happiness.

Turns out that selling our house and most of our possessions would have multiple spin-off benefits.

Since that conversation, I have actively decreased my shift load in the ER.  In fact, as I am writing this blog entry I am in the middle of six weeks off.  To put that in context, I haven’t taken more than one week off at a time or more than two weeks per year in the last 13 years.  And it feels amazing.

But I am not just sitting around – quite the contrary.  Since we want to get top dollar for our house, renovations must be done.  Over the last 5 years I have slowly renovated about half of our 40 year old back split.  I love building and renovating.  Time to finish the job.  So, I have temporarily traded my stethoscope for a screwdriver.  Funny how happy and enthusiastic I am spending multiple 14 hour days renovating versus one 8 hour shift in the ER.  Interesting.

Selling the house seems . . . drastic.  But the more we thought about it, the more benefits we saw beyond the obvious financial gain.

It has encouraged us to travel further down the minimalism path, really examining what possessions truly add value to our lives and which ones are mostly just taking up time and space.  What we have realized is that we have too much space and too much stuff.  The embarrassing truth is that we didn’t even know what we had in our own storage room.  Actively decluttering and selling has made it clear that when we do land back in Canada, we will choose to live in a much smaller house with fewer possessions.  We are keeping track of the income we make from selling unneeded items.  Current total is around $5500.

Another benefit of selling the house is the mental one.  Owning property here would somehow tether us to Canada emotionally.  Though there is the cost of uncertainty, we want to be free to truly invest ourselves in other cultures when the opportunities arise.  One friend of mine with Indian heritage has predicted that we will find a community or cause in India that will pull us in.  Would we be as likely to partake of such an experience if we had a 12 month rental agreement wrapping up back here in Canada?

Of course, there is another obvious benefit – time.  At first, a one year adventure felt like a huge amount of time.  But as we research and plan it is clear that one year isn’t nearly enough to do what we want to do.  You could spend a year in a single country – and there are dozens we want to see.  Not only that, but we are interested in getting far beyond the tourist attractions.  It will take time to experience the people and cultures in a way that will be meaningful.  You can’t rush those things.

Lastly, as enthusiastic as we are about our backpacking adventure, we are already planning phase two of our adventure: sailing.  Most families who are doing the long term travel thing are sailing.  We read their blogs and watch their youtube channels and have kind of fallen in love with the idea.  So much that we are familiarizing ourselves with the used catamaran market and I just got back from a week in Antigua where I got a tan and my RYA Competent Crew certification.  Three words: sailing is amazing.

All that to say, we don’t have to accept the status quo.  If normal isn’t working for you, there are choices you can make.  Of course, there is some risk involved, but sometimes it’s riskier staying where you are.

There is a parable I read somewhere that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently.  A man goes to visit a friend.  As they sit on his front porch, the friend’s dog is asleep on the deck beside them.  As the men are talking the dog in its sleep is whimpering and yelping the whole time.

The man asks, “What is wrong with your dog?”

The friend replies, “Oh, there’s a sharp nail sticking up right where he is lying.”

To which the man reasonably asks, “Why doesn’t he move then?”

“Oh, well it doesn’t hurt that much.”

To paraphrase the author Tim Ferriss: Given the choice between unhappiness and uncertainty, most people will choose unhappiness.

So, I’m not sure if we changed our plans or they changed us but things are different now.  We feel different.  Parts of us are already disconnecting from the things we know here.  In a way it would be easier to stick with what we know no matter how dissatisfying it is.  Instead, we are embracing uncertainty and letting go of a familiar normal, betting that opportunity and adventure await.

 

4 Comments

  1. Amazing! It can be scary to jump into the unknown but spending your life not being happy, only waiting for retirement to do what makes you happy is no way to live. I totally had moments of doubt leaving my secure job with great pay and benefits in Toronto to move to the County. But I have never been happier. So glad I didn’t let fear or a need for security hold me back from what I not only wanted but needed. So happy for you guys. And I can’t think of any better education for your boys. A truly priceless experience.

    1. Exactly, Paige! The best moments and experiences are always the ones you didn’t plan for. Sometimes you just have to be willing to put yourself out there in new situations and see what happens. Seems we live in a culture where risk is avoided or mitigated at all costs. What a shame. I think risk is a great, underrated tool of self-improvement.

  2. Amazing! I am from Vancouver and despite having the home base here, I travel for month long stints all over the world with my 7 and 5 year old boys! Cant wait to keep following along! Keep the destinations coming!

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