When I met my husband, Jordan, at the tail end of our senior year in college, he got my attention with an unusual pick-up line: “I promise that with me, you’ll have a lifetime of adventure.”
And here we are 14 years later. I guess it worked.
With that promise of a lifetime of adventure, we did what any other broke 21-year-old recent grad would do: we split cheap bottles of wine, got burritos from the taqueria on the corner, and stayed up late at night talking about our big life plans. And let me tell you, these big ideas were going to be good.
You can probably see where this is going from a mile away. But we didn’t. We turned into the cliche that you have nightmares about after watching This is 40. We started putting more weight on the practicality of decisions and less on fulfillment. We took jobs at companies that at best, didn’t excite us, and at worst, conflicted with our morals. We got really busy and bought a lot of things. Then we got busier and bought even more things.
As the years passed, we measured our success with someone else’s yardstick: getting a promotion and a raise even if we didn’t like the work we were doing, buying a home even if it meant being saddled with a big mortgage, going to nice dinners and planning fancy vacations because we worked so hard and deserved it….and YOLO, right?
We put more and more of our energy into achieving those while promising that someday we’d make time for the other priorities that used to be important to us like volunteering, undertaking creative endeavors, living a healthy lifestyle, and spending all-important time with family and friends.
While this didn’t necessarily feel good, it felt normal. If any doubt ever crept in we’d remind ourselves that this is adulthood, it’s what everyone does, and it’s just how the world works.
By no means was life bad. It was comfortable. We worked hard during the week, but then lived for the weekends. We traveled, though sometimes those vacations involved crashing into a deck chair on the beach and not moving for days because we were exhausted. In 2014 we relocated from California to London for Jordan’s job and we were ready for a new adventure! But soon those less than ideal habits made life in a new country look pretty much the same.
I’m not sure who asked it first, but the question stuck: “Would our 21-year-old selves be excited by who we’ve become?”
We thought about changing a little. We’d set an alarm to get up early and go to the gym. We’d call our family every weekend and look for opportunities to volunteer. And the bigger things would happen someday. We’d save up enough money and make a career change to something we cared more about. We’d move closer to family. We might even take a few weeks off to spend real quality time with them. We’d get there, someday.
Our turning point
A few years ticked by with no real change. Life was comfortable enough so there wasn’t a real push to change.
In January 2018, I was seven months pregnant. We were excited to become a family of three and Jordan’s parents, who had recently retired, were planning to move to the UK to spend a few months getting to know their first grandchild.
Jordan and I had just spent the day figuring out details for their stay when they called us.
His mom tearfully shared news no one was expecting: “I’ve been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. We can’t come out.”
That was the first time either of us realized that life doesn’t always give you a someday.
We had dreams of spending all-important family time together. Of coming home from the hospital and having our new baby welcomed home with the full love and support of his extended family. Of having his grandparents enjoy sweet newborn cuddles that they’d waited years for.
In stark contrast to that dream, when Henry was born, Jordan called his mom to share the news while she was on her way to a chemotherapy session.
They say having a baby changes everything. Having a baby while living 5,000 miles away from a parent that has just received a cancer diagnosis really changed everything. I didn’t fully understand it then, but Jordan was caught between the joy of welcoming his first child and the fear of losing his mom.
Finding our new way
A few months after Henry was born, we were finally feeling adjusted to life with a newborn and Jordan’s mom’s cancer was responding well to treatments. Things felt like they were getting back to normal, but we didn’t want to go back to a life that was spent prioritizing achievements that we really didn’t want.
We wanted a life of meaning and purpose. One that we would look back on and say, “yeah, that was worth it.”
But what was that life?
By chance, I stumbled upon an article that talked about the three questions from financial life planner, George Kinder. The questions are designed to help you uncover who you really want to become in life. I was skeptical, to say the least, but I shared them with Jordan and we spent time during one of Henry’s naps answering them.
Almost immediately, the process got us energized about the possibilities for our life. We spent evenings pushing Henry in a stroller around our neighborhood, dreaming up what we truly wanted to do next. These questions helped us remove all external expectations of what our life should look like, and focus on how we wanted to live. What we’d look back on and without a doubt know was absolutely, positively worth it.
That life looks like:
- Developing deep relationships with our family, our friends, and our community
- Caring for and spending more time in the environment, learning about the natural world
- Creating more value than we consume by building a business we can be proud of and focusing on the pursuit of life-long learning
- Prioritizing our physical and mental health
Starting with small steps
Last fall we didn’t have all the answers, but instead of waiting for inspiration to show us exactly what this new life would look like, we began making changes.
We started to dip our toes into the idea of minimalism and removed clutter from our home, giving us back a surprising amount of time and mental space.
We looked for ways to green our home and focused on reducing our food waste, which saved us more money than we expected and improved our health.
We planned more outdoor adventures — which really isn’t easy in the UK in the middle of winter with a baby — but it got us outside to appreciate nature and inched us slowly outside of our comfort zone.
We started a podcast to flex our creative muscle and help us learn a new skill.
And we started finding small ways to give back to the community around us, donating our time and our money.
From these changes, we started seeing results. It was a snowball effect — little changes started building momentum for us to dream bigger and have more excitement for the future and what is possible. We started reconnecting with our 21-year old selves and who we had hoped to become.
Onto bigger changes
After months of planning, saving, and testing the waters, we’re going on a new adventure. We’re selling most of what we own, packing our baby and our dog and moving 7,000 miles from London to Hawaii. Jordan is going to explore business opportunities in the green space, and I’m going to continue to write and teach about money. Jordan’s parents are joining us and mine will visit as frequently as their time will allow. And in an effort to continue life-long learning and creativity, we’re going to document a new adventure and experience exploring the environment and the world.
As we’ve talked about on the podcast, once we had a crystal clear view of what we wanted to do and why working on the money piece felt a lot easier. There was a purpose behind every dollar earned, spent, and saved. And that purpose gave us money momentum that we needed.
To help us remember our priorities and not get sucked into spending every day in a beach chair sipping a Mai Tai, we’ve given ourselves 3 priorities. As silly as it sounds, these priorities help us make decisions as we set out on this journey.
- Courage: “I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” While we’re proud of our life so far, we wouldn’t be proud to sit back and not chase our bigger goals.
- Community: A community is only as strong as it’s weakest link and we’ve wanted to spend more time being active and engaged in building a strong community. We’re excited to make this a priority.
- Conservation: Nature, the environment, and sustainability are truly the things we are most passionate about in life. We want to learn more about the natural world and help create solutions to protect it.
Weekly, we’ll be setting out to have a different experience learning about the environment and in an effort to continue life-long learning and creativity, we’ll be creating some videos to share the experience.
It may not seem realistic, practical, or meet other’s measures of success. But this is a plan our 21-year-old selves would be proud of. And it’s a plan our 35-year-old-selves are eager to pursue.
There’s a lot of unknown in our future, but we’re excited to step outside of our comfort zone, expand our view of what is possible, and see where this new adventure takes us.
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: personal finance and family travel. website. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.
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