This blogpost has been simmering in the back of my mind for months. Over the past week, I have been met with some overwhelming feelings that have forced me to sit down and write.
We all know the power of social media. One of the most bittersweet kinds of posts are the “Go Fund Me” campaigns. I find them heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. Many are about people who are going through terrible situations. Fortunately, there always seems to be a large community who are there to help.
Tragedies make us think
In the past week alone there have been four different Go Fund Me pages pop up on my feed for the deaths of people in their late 30’s and early 40’s. My age. I don’t know these people but they are all connected to friends of mine. Have these tragedies always been happening but we are now more aware due to social media? It seems as though there is always someone we know who knows someone who has left this world far too young or is battling an illness while still having little ones running around at home.
Perhaps the hardest to comprehend are the babies and young children who are fighting for their lives while their parents are forced to watch. When these tragedies strike, we can’t help but reflect and evaluate our lives. Life truly can be “too short.”
This is not self-help fluff
So, we need to try to live our best life while we have the chance. I know, this kind of sounds cheesy. It’s right up there with #blessed. The reality is, so many of us go through life on autopilot without really stopping to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it. Sometimes life will throw us a curveball and that will force us to stop and examine our choices. Other times, we know what we value but put it off until it is too late and we are left with regret over the decisions we made (or didn’t make).
Our first introduction to “values”
Before we got married, Matt and I read a personal finance book together called, “Smart Couples Finish Rich” by David Bach. Matt was still a resident but we were trying to be responsible about our future and our finances. There was an exercise early on in the book called, “Your Value Circle.” For the first time in our lives, we actually sat down and thought about our values.
I will admit, it seemed a little silly at first to be writing down our top five values (not goals – we had to learn the difference). After we figured out what our values were, we shared them with each other. The point was that our money should be used to support our values – something we still believe. What seemed silly at first turned out to be an exercise that helped us determine what was important to ourselves and to each other. It doesn’t mean we had the exact same list but we were able to understand each others values and make a solid plan for our future.
Revisiting our values
Over the years, our values have mostly remained the same with a little tweaking here and there. It wasn’t until we were in Spain that we sat down to do a similar exercise. You may remember when Matt was feeling a little uneasy about life. After reading Matt’s blog post, a good friend of ours sent us an email. She thought we might benefit from an exercise called “your personal mission statement.” At this point we were willing to try anything to relieve Matt’s “uneasiness.”
The exercise required a full hour of uninterrupted time. I didn’t really know what to expect. In all honesty, I was really just doing it so that Matt didn’t have to do it alone. Technically, this is meant to be an individual exercise but that’s not how we roll.
This is how it played out. . .
There are 5 steps to this exercise. You don’t go over it with your partner until the very end. You do you. . .that’s it!
Steps 1 was pretty easy. Just answer the question: What are your lifetime goals? Take 5-10 minutes and list whatever comes to mind.
What are your “5 year” goals? Unlike the other exercise, these are goals not values, but perhaps because we’d read that book, I found that my goals were all related to my values. Basically, describe how you would like to spend the next five years.
This is when shit gets real! “You will be dead in 6 months, but in that time still have full mental and physical function. List everything you would want to do.” Wait, what?!?! This step can be pretty emotional! Seriously, they should add a “box of tissues” to the “things you need before you start” list.
If you think about it, this actually happens to people. Just look at the Go Fund Me pages. Matt used to see it all the time in the ER. We felt very fortunate to be doing this exercise without the actual terminal illness, but for the first time we really considered the possibility that it could be around the corner.
Wipe your tears away and focus. Take your answers from steps 1-3 and make a shortlist of your most important goals.
Using your list of most important goals write a personal mission statement. If you have one primary goal your mission statement might be three words long. Tying in a few goals might require a little more complexity – but keep it as simple and concrete as possible.
Be prepared: this might be a powerful moment.
Just when you think this can’t get more emotional, looking at your mission statement and weighing it against your life . . . we then shared them with each other. (Actually the exercise says to leave it alone for a few days and then come back to it – but Matt and I are cheaters)
Several boxes of tissue and several hours later, we both agreed it was best thing we could have done (there is a link to the PDF at the bottom of this post).
The result: clarity
In our case, we realized that we ARE living the life we want to live. Our values have remained (mostly) at the forefront of our decision making over the years (often without realizing it). And although neither of us are through with this life, we both could die tomorrow feeling like we lived a good one. This exercise reminded us that hanging out with our four monkeys and learning together as a family IS the most important thing to both of us. Right now, the boys love being around us. Chances are, that will change some day. So, for now, we are going to enjoy this ride (whether it be on land or water) with each other.
This process also clarified things for Matt. He used to be the most productive person I have ever met. He was efficient and goal oriented and always had a project or three on the go. While traveling, he was really struggling with his lack of productivity. I, myself, quite enjoyed it! After this exercise, Matt realized that the completion of a hundred little projects is not the most important thing to him – his wife and kids are. More specifically, having rich shared experiences together is what he values most. Because of this exercise, Matt was finally able to let go of his need to constantly feel productive (go HERE to read about his thoughts a few months later). That’s a pretty big win in my books!
Don’t be like us. Be like you.
By no means is this a general recommendation to “sell all of your stuff and travel the world!” like we did. That might be the path for us right now but yours may look completely different. That is the beauty of these exercises. They force us to sit down and think about what is important to us, as individuals – not what society thinks, not what your parents want you to do, not what is expected of you. That is what values are. Values should guide our decisions.
Turn off the autopilot (even for an hour). Do the exercise. It may feel uncomfortable but I am pretty sure you won’t regret it!
Good life is a privilege, like a gift given no matter you deserve or not. How don’t feel guilty when you see people suffering or struggling their whole life for no reason other than they were the unlucky ones (majority in our planet) to be under difficult conditions their entire life (short or long one)? I think the answer is: sharing and caring!
This made me remember the movie I’ve told Matt about it. It’s about this little girl who was adopted by a Brazilian family and took her in a sailing around the world when she was just 9.
Also, there is a documentary about their sailing called “The World in Two Round Trips”.
Enjoy your adventure, guys!
Thanks for comment Rudy. I think when I wrote this I was subconsciously thinking of North Americans. By no means does this apply to all cultures. We come from a very privileged country and we are reminded of that often while we travel. Matt and I feel very lucky to be able to expose our kids to different cultures all around the world. Interestingly enough, I actually think that many of the places that we have traveled to have a better understanding of their values. Family seems to be the most important to many of the European, Middle Eastern and South East Asian countries. You can see it first hand. They may not have all the fancy things North Americans have but they do seem happier.
Thank you for the links. We will definitely check them out!
This one resonates deeply. My wife is the efficiency expert (we are both ER docs) while I like to call myself our relationship’s senior VP of leisure. Getting her to embrace stillness as a valid form of spending time has been a challenge, but I’m proud to say travel with our own kids (who are anything but still!) and similar exercises have made a difference. Quiet time together allows for many of the important conversations, both between the adults and with the kids. I’m glad you and Matt are taking advantage of that quiet time, so rare during periods of more ordinary living.
VP of leisure. . . I love that!
I am glad that you have also found similar exercises to be helpful. It really can be a challenge for people like Matt and your wife. I think you and I are here to balance it:)
Slowing down and enjoying time with the family can be a powerful thing (whether you travel or not). I know many parents have said that they loved the conversations they would have with their kids while driving them to and from sporting events. I totally get it! They were trapped in a car with their kid with limited distractions. This is often when meaningful conversations happened. Quiet time together in any setting is so important but sometimes so hard to come by.
Because we have four kids, we don’t have a lot of one on one time since we are always together! Instead, we have all adapted to having a constant family conversation about most topics. It is amazing to watch the boys grow and learn right before our eyes. We are all constantly reflecting on what we see and read, out loud. Even our quietest child has become pretty chatty. All day long, you will hear Ben say, “did you know. . .” before spewing out some interesting fact that he read about that day.
I think we have traded our “ordinary” daily chores and projects into four super important
projects . . . Owen, Jake, Ben and Eli:)
Thank you CD for following long with us!
I love you guys! Thanks for sharing this amazing part of your journey. It is so wonderful to hear about your in depth feelings of ‘life’ from your perspective. Feeling inspired ❤️
We love you!! Thanks for the comment Elaine. I am sure your recent trip was filled with reflections. I think that is one of the many wonderful benefits of traveling. Seeing, learning and trying new
things. . . you can’t help but sit back and think about how it impacts you. xoxo
Wow, great post! I’m scared to do that because I know or can sense what the consequences would be, and it would be such a huge change. But you’ve planted a seed, and I’m sure I’ll be thinking about this for a while. Thanks!
Thanks Travelin’ Dad! I know what you mean. I was fortunate enough to not really know what I was getting into when I did the exercise. I guess I kind of spoiled that for you guys. . . sorry:(
I am pleased to have “planted a seed.” I think that’s a good start! Happy travels!
Couldn’t have read this at a better time. THANK YOU LINDSAY!! Dan and I were talking this morning about intentions for our trip, what we hoped to gain and bring back into “normal life” (presuming we come back to it). One of the intentions is to do what you describe since it feels we don’t do that enough as we zip from one obligation to another. Thanks for the road map. I think we’ll do this the first week or so as a signpost.
Thanks Angie! I can’t wait to hear how traveling impacts you guys. You haven’t even left and you are already talking about the changes you will make when you get back. I love it! I strongly believe that it would be very hard to go back to a normal life after a year of traveling and not change anything. If we had to go back now, our life would look completely different! We talk about it all the time as a family.
I could see us redoing this exercise if we want to stop traveling one day. I think it really helped us organize our priorities. I like your idea of doing it at the beginning of your trip. It’s a great way to set the expectations early on. In the end, we found that our goals were pretty basic which alleviated any unnecessary pressure. Good luck!! xo