“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
– Søren Kierkegaard
Seven years ago I was living in suburban Boston, Massachusetts with my husband and wondering how we were going to make it work. We were both traveling too much for our jobs, and our time together was almost nonexistent. When we were home, we were overwhelmed with the task of taking care of a suburban house while living a mobile lifestyle. It was exhausting, and we were on the brink of personal and professional exhaustion.
Something had to give.
The final straw was meeting each other for dinner at the Denver International Airport as we crossed paths for work. (As you recall, we lived in Boston.) We both realized how ridiculous our situation had become, and we had to make a conscious change or watch our relationship wither and die.
This started us on the path to the life of our dreams, though we didn’t realize it at the time.
Instead of focusing on how we could better adjust to our circumstances, we made the decision to adjust our circumstances to the life we wanted to live. That’s an easy to thing to say and a much more complex thing to do.
We started by making a list of the lifestyle we wanted to live:
- Home together most nights and all weekends
- A reliable schedule so we could have a social life
- Easy access to friends and entertainment/dining options
- Shorter commute times
- Free time to pursue hobbies and interests
We then compared this list to our existing life:
- Home together less than 50% of the time
- Unpredictable schedules meant always canceling plans
- Living in the ‘burbs meant an hour’s drive to do most things
- 1-2 hours of commuting each day
- Free time meant “catch up time” on chores and responsibilities
Faced with reality, we then made a list of what we could change to make our lives better. There were no easy answers, and we knew this going in. To choose one thing meant giving up another, and we had to become okay with making the choice ourselves instead of letting work or outside forces take the blame.
We knew our jobs had to change for any of the improvements to be possible. We made a list of the cities we could envision living in and evaluated the job market for our skills in each one. We settled on 3 cities and my husband Warren began applying for jobs. I asked internally at my company about the options for a transfer or job change, and I was able to eventually take a home-based position with nationwide responsibility but less travel.
It took a couple of months for Warren to find a job in Seattle, Washington, 3000 miles due west on Interstate 90 from our existing home. We sold our house, one car, downsized our possessions, and prepared to live in a much more manageable townhouse in a funky neighborhood in our new city.
Success Breeds Opportunity
The next two years were a whirlwind of new friends, fun activities, and reconnecting with each other in a way that just wasn’t possible in our old lives. We walked or took public transportation, virtually eliminating the stress and unproductive time of a commute. We were both home every afternoon at 5. I wrote a book and Warren learned Spanish. We learned we had the power to drastically change our circumstances if we were willing to do the work, and this knowledge and experience set us up for the biggest adventure of all.
In 2008, reeling from my younger brother’s brush with death and worried about a friend in the hospital recovering from a brain aneurysm, we chose to make a big change again. These two people we loved were in their mid 30s, and at the time we were both 37. It was hard to ignore the similarities.
When we made our previous life change we were motivated by the question of how we could find work that revolved around our lifestyle goals instead of the other way around. This time we asked ourselves an even more powerful question:
If we knew we wouldn’t make it to our 40th birthdays, what changes would we make in our lives right now?
We both wanted to travel the world, and it was in this instant we decided to make it happen. Using our past experience as a guide, we focused on how we wanted this goal to look and then set up a plan to make it happen. We took action every day, made tough choices, and rallied our friends to support us.
In just 25 months, we sold everything we owned and saved enough money to take a trip around the world. We met the deadline we set the day after we made our decision and took off to Ecuador as the first stop on our round-the-world adventure. And 15 months after that, we decided to make it a permanent lifestyle, using the same planning and action-oriented strategy that worked for us before.
Seven years ago I couldn’t have imagined living the life we have today, exploring the world together as best friends. But what I’m most grateful for is waking up to the reality that we had more control over our lives than we thought. It wasn’t easy, but knowing we could make drastic changes in our lives to get drastic results led us to see more opportunities around us. When the idea came see the world, we could actually consider it. And now that we’ve been living this dream since 2010, we see all the opportunities around us in a different way.
Once you know you can change your life, the possibilities are endless.
If you could make one big change in your life with no consequences, what would it be? Sink deep into the feeling and imagine your life with this change and how incredible it would be. Now throw the consequences of the change back in and imagine your only choice is to make it happen.
It may not solve your problem immediately, but it will teach you to start thinking of the possibilities in a different way, weighing the joy of the result heavier than the temporary pain of change.
Photo by Ángelo González
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28 thoughts on “How Today’s Priorities Impact Your Future”
Betsy, what a beautiful post! I found great inspiration in your story because my fiancé and I are in the middle of something very similar. Left big jobs, moved to a new city, got rid of lots of stuff, started our own business and now making adjustments to that business which will allow us to TRAVEL!! I’ve followed Married with Luggage (love that name!) on Facebook and look forward to your insights. Best, Sara
Hi, Sara. Nice to see you here! You know, people often ask us how we were able to make the big change to live the life we have today, and they are always surprised when I take the story back 7 years. Big changes always begin this way – we gain bravery and confidence from all that comes before a big decision, and you can’t have that without a bunch of small- and medium-sized decisions first.
Best of luck to you both as you embark on a new life and business together (we have learned a LOT about getting along and working over the last few years of 24/7 togetherness…in fact, that’s the subject of our next book! :))
What a delightful surprise to find you here!
I love the thinking that happens automatically when I respond to your question about one big change and giving it the absolute of “my only choice is to make it happen”. I whiz right past the quivering jello fear stage and directly to a query full of curiosity, “What does has to happen for this to occur?” It is a much more powerful and positive response, for sure. Thanks!
Hi, Kim. It’s a subtle mind shift, but a powerful one! I love what this has done for me in both small and large ways. You can start practicing it right now with a tiny little problem or aggravation and pretty soon it will become second nature for all your problems and roadblocks.
No more quivering jello fear stage! :)
Betsy, Hello !
It was a delightful experience reading your experiences. Being in my late twenties i could see some similarity to your past. Driven deep into professional abyss, i too feel suffocated at times. But ultimately we only are to be held responsible. Reading your post i felt some relief, some hope is still alive and i could re-realize that i still have the control. Thanks for sharing. Smiles, Mahesh.
Hi, Mahesh. You have so much more control over your destiny than you think! All you have to do is put some action toward a dream you have and you’ll see it for yourself. Good luck!
Love your story so far!
I have started to re-evaluate things (early days) recently. Little harder for dramatic change because we have two kids but I definitely want to live my life differently.
For me I am at the stage where the need to make a change is ringing loud & clear, I’m just not sure what it looks like yet.
I’ve found it helpful to read about others in similar situations who asked the same questions and did something about it.
Thanks for sharing :)
Thanks for the post, Betsy! I skipped over to your website and enjoyed reading there, too. :)
Catherine, another way to judge your best path is to look at what you do when you are at your most down and need comforting and lifting up. Typically, people will either escape or help themselves–or both, alternately. So, someone who feels very depressed might turn to an addiction, or they might go for a hike in nature; they might go on a shopping binge, or they might write in a journal; they might watch TV, or they might play a musical instrument.
Then take those things you do to help yourself feel better and see if you can create a more permanent place for them in your life.
Hi, Catherine. We get this question a lot – “what if I don’t know what I want to do?” It’s a valid question. When you forego your dreams for a long time, it’s easy to forget them or realize what you want now if you’ve outgrown them. We write about this a lot in our book, Dream Save Do, and in our website.
It’s all about taking away the negatives in your life bit by bit and adding in the things that interest you. You’re essentially making room for the new dream and then sending out a casting call for tryouts for the one(s) that fit best.
It’s a very effective strategy and I hope you find some time to try it. Good luck!
Great post Betsy.
Sure would be an awesome world if more people allowed themselves to live the life of their dreams rather than just existing. Taking a leap like that is inspiring. I hope more people take that risk!
Hi, Susan. You hit the nail on the head: it’s all about giving yourself permission, allowing yourself to chase your dreams. We focus so much on the outside forces in our lives that we neglect to examine the ways we are sabotaging ourselves! We can be our biggest heroes or our worst enemies, and it’s powerful to finally understand that.
This was a super cool post. I am in university right now and hate it, but I am trying to get through it. I study stuff I don’t want to be studying and do things I don’t want to be doing. Maybe I can change my mentality to taking the opportunity to really embrace the learning of things I necessarily don’t want to learn.
I’d love to travel the world and make life happen like you did. Thank you for the positive inspiration. I appreciate it : D.
Hi, Sebastian. It’s always a good idea to embrace learning and new experiences because that’s how you’ll find the one thing that really makes your heart sing. Keeps your heart and mind open because you are definitely in a “sponge” period of your life. Absorb as much as you can!
Betsy, your story hit home for me. My husband and I made a big change in our lives and it took a lot of planning from our part. I am wondering how you were able to adapt to the change in your life. For me it was a little frightening because I thought I was letting go of my control but in reality I was becoming more in control of my life.
Hi, Veronica. It was a little shocking at first, but I found I was more open to other changes in my life when I was going through it. It became a time of transformation in many ways for me.
When we finally decided to make travel our lifestyle, it took us 2 years to save for it and sell our belongings, so we had time to get used to the idea as we went. It was still a bit of a surprise to wake up that first morning in Ecuador, but we were absolutely ready for it.
You are right that letting go of the status quo and expectations of others (what we mistakenly refer to as “control”) leads to actually having more control over your life. Kudos to you for making such a dramatic and positive life change with your husband!
Hi Betsy! Even though I “know” your story, I keep reading it whenever and wherever I see it. So many people think, I can’t because ______, and the two of you are proof that you can if you want to and are willing to do the work to make it happen. I am so happy for you.
We were in our mid 30s when we felt something had to give. Many changes later, we’re still saying, What’s next? It’s a lovely feeling to know that we can take action to make our lives the way we want. I didn’t know life could be this fun!
Hi, Tammy! It is all about a series of small changes rather than one big leap, isn’t it? (Of course everyone has an individual definition of small and big.) It’s learning that we can positively change our lives that is the real lesson here. And you are right…it is fun!
Your story was inspirational and important. I think many of us feel at various times in our lives that we need change. It was interesting to read how you and your husband made one major change in your lives to increase your quality of life together (in starting a new life in a different part of the country) and then a few years later deciding to change your lifestyle and travel. It takes courage to undertake major change, and your story highlights the benefits of swallowing our fears and choosing to live our lives on our own terms. Thank you for sharing this story.
Hi, Happy Chance. The most important lesson we learned is that nothing is set in stone if you don’t want it to be. It takes work, but change is possible – even repeated change!
It was great story. If you are traveling now I`ll be happy to see you in Azerbaijan, Baku..)
Hello, Elchin. We’d love to come see you at the Caspian Sea! We’ll be in Turkey this fall to walk the Lycian Way, so we’ll be “in the area.” It’s such a beautiful part of the world. :)
just drop an email to me. I`ll be happy to see you in Baku… firstname.lastname@example.org..
I just have to say, what a beautiful picture!
Great post Betsy. You’ve got a great formula figured out. There are two things that stand out to me. Many of the people I work with struggle with them.
The first is that we usually have to make tradeoffs. Giving up something to have something better is part of the deal.
The second is long-term orientation. We so often want what we want immediately. Sometimes on of the trades we make for the big changes is the time it takes to make them happen.
I agree with both of these points, particularly your second one about the long-term orientation. Lifestyle changes don’t happen overnight.
absolutely great post u got here Betsy… I’ts really encouraging to know what difference we can make when we sumourn courage to address our panicks and discomforts… as we gradually begin to yield it’s fruits in the latter… many thanks… evergreen
Instead of focusing on how we could better adjust to our circumstances, we made the decision to adjust our circumstances to the life we wanted to live. That’s an easy to thing to say and a much more complex thing to do. – really a line to ‘keep in mind’ Besty! – nice post :)