A few years ago, I came across a website that completely captured my attention. Andrew and I had been exploring the concept of traveling the world, so I was on the hunt for any resource or website that could help me with the process. As we were downsizing and selling off our stuff, I looked for others that had “been there, done that” too. And one of the sites I came across was Married With Luggage.
I became a steadfast follower, plugging Betsy and Warren’s blog into my eReader and checking back all the time for the latest posts.
I’ve learned so much from reading their blog, reading their books, and listening to their Podcast. In part because I love their story. And in part because their motivation resonates with me; when they asked the question “What would we do now if we knew we wouldn’t make it to our 40th birthdays?”, their lives changed in big ways.
For me, it’s always been about what I want to accomplish before turning 54 – the age my father passed away from a heart attack. And as that age creeps ever-closer, I know there are many things I have left to do. As I read through Betsy’s answers once again while I was creating this post, I realized how well she says what most of us feel, yet very few are willing to take action on. I learned a lot, and I know you will too.
I write romance novels for women over forty, tales of adventure, close friendship with other women, and love with men who appreciate a little seasoning. The business didn’t start out that way, of course. Like most entrepreneurs, I had to take a step down the path and figure out the sweet spot. I began by writing nonfiction books about how we changed our lives – the nitty gritty of decluttering, saving money, and taking action to achieve a dream – and it wasn’t until I wrote my own love story, a sort of memoir/travelogue about our years of traveling the world titled Married with Luggage, that I began to think about how I could share my experiences and ideas in a more imaginative way.
I live in a tiny village in Spain, nestled in the hills but only 20 km from the Mediterranean Sea. My house is a quiet zone of creativity, and it is here where we run our indie author business, online course called Declutter Clinic, and weekly Married with Luggage Podcast.
When did you know your life had to change?
My brother had a heart attack at the age of 35, followed one year later by my good friend suffering a brain aneurysm also at the age of 35. At that time, my husband and I were both 37, and these events rocked us to our core. You see, we were doing all the right things: working hard, saving money for retirement, and planning for what we’d do “later.” When these two people we loved came so close to death, we realized our own mortality. Why were we putting off living our dreams for decades?
We asked ourselves a question in 2008 that changed our lives completely: “What would we do now if we knew we wouldn’t make it to our 40th birthdays?”
Without a doubt, we knew we wanted to see the world. And the very next day we started a plan to make it happen, leaving just 25 months later on a trip around the world that eventually turned into this lifestyle.
What did you learn from the process of moving from your old life to your new one?
The kind of lessons you learn from this experience cover everything from money to stuff to relationships to speaking your mind to knowing what’s important and what can be let go. It’s a complete metamorphosis, a full coming into your own in a way that the comfort of everyday life doesn’t encourage.
I learned to appreciate my good relationships and let go of the ones that pulled me down.
I learned (even more so) the power of speaking clearly and directly about what I wanted, despite the consequences. (Because if you don’t, you’ll suffer the consequences of not getting it anyway!)
I learned that my money was there to work for me, not the other way around. No more spending to the max or buying without thinking. Every dollar went toward the lifestyle I wanted to live. Fleeting desires go away, so there’s no need to spend money on them. But that big goal? It’s worth every penny.
I learned that a partnership is vastly superior to a marriage. When you work together as a team, a yin and yang of complementary tasks to reach clearly defined goals, you’ll reach new heights of love and appreciation of your partner. A team means you’re working toward something, and for too long our marriage was in a less active state, more like a stasis of trying to convince the other to go our way. As a partnership now (in both life and business), there is none of the game-playing we used to do as a married couple. We in it together now.
And last, I learned that possessions are there to enhance my life, not weigh it down. One of the single most important things I ever did in my life was get rid of everything and start over. The feeling of freedom was incredible, and it made everything in life seem possible. There was nothing holding us back. And now that we own a house in Spain, we’ve continued our mantra of just enough, making sure our house is maintenance-free enough to lock it up and walk away for weeks or months at a time as we travel. I will never be owned by my stuff again; there’s too much I want to do in this world!
What was it like transitioning from employee mindset to entrepreneur mindset?
I had a leg up on this one because I had a small consulting business for a few years before we left. And before that, I worked for years from home because my job required so much travel. I’ve always been the CEO of my job, no matter where I worked. I was the one who saw how things could be better and took action to make it happen. I proactively changed what I could within my jobs from the very first one, and that kind of attitude and outlook is helpful when it comes to entrepreneurship. If you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, this is the single best thing you can do in your job right now to start training your mind for your own business.
Our situation was a little different in that we didn’t start out with a business when we began traveling. We simply had a website and wrote about our experiences, planning to travel for a year or two and then go back to the US to live and work. It wasn’t until about six months in that we decided to make it into a business by sharing what we learned and how we did it during this life transition. The hardest thing for us was adding a business component to our relationship. We had to learn to communicate as partners and not lovers, which was not always easy. But now that we’ve been doing it for several years, I’d say it is one of the best things we’ve ever done for our relationship. We are very good communicators now because we have to be. And we each get to appreciate the talents of the other because we see each other’s work product every single day.
One thing I consistently hear when talking with people who reinvent their lives is “friends and family thought I was crazy to leave behind a career with a great salary and perks”. What kind of friction did you have? How did you handle it? Did they ever come around?
There were some naysayers, but I’d say overall the response was good. Some people did leave our orbit because our lifestyle changed dramatically. We were on a tight budget for two years and our social life changed, and not everyone wanted to potluck and picnic instead of going to nice restaurants. And this is the thing we learned: they don’t have to. Just because we changed our lives doesn’t mean other people have to. They can appreciate from afar, but you can’t blame people for not wanting to hang out with you in your new lifestyle if it doesn’t fit theirs. We all go through changes in life, and it is unreasonable to expect every single person in your life to bend and sway with your decisions. That was a good lesson for us, and one we’ve seen from the other side, too.
The other big lesson was learning that people’s reactions are based in their own fears, goals, and experiences. If you listen closely to their objections, you’ll see this clearly. “Aren’t you scared of X?” means the asker is probably scared of X. “Don’t you worry about Y?” means the asker is probably worried about Y. Like most things in life, it’s not about you. 🙂 Once I realized that, it was much easier to let those comments roll off. (Though it is a bit of mind bender when you start using this same logic to examine your own reactions!)
You have gone through another major change recently by writing a fiction book, which was never a part of your original business structure. What kind of adjustments did you have to go through to bring this into your business? Was it easier the second time around since you have already gone through so much adjustment when starting up your first business?
This was actually a fairly easy transition in our business, and I think it is because we are used to trying new things. We talked about it a few times over a few months, getting comfortable with the idea, and then when the time felt right we made the commitment to do it. We’re big planners, so we go into every project with deadlines, release dates, and promotion plans formed, so I always feel pretty confident from day one. One of the biggest risks for entrepreneurs is not having structure for ideas to take them to completion, so we begin with the end in mind from the start.
One of the greatest gifts of our lifestyle and business is the feeling that we can attempt just about anything. There is no guarantee of success, of course, but I’m not scared to try something new. I’m not scared of failing. And everything I’ve done up to this point helps me do the next thing even better.
The gift of evolving the business into new areas is that every new venture is faster. For this new series, I had a bigger email list in just a couple of weeks than I had in my first business after two years! The website was set up in just a couple of days. I knew where to source the advice and outside support needed to accomplish the goal, and I didn’t hesitate to spend the money on critical elements.
What are your biggest life lessons learned since this journey began?
- Experiences are far more valuable than things. Experiences always appreciate over time, while possessions rarely do.
- The people you choose to surround yourself with will shape your destiny whether you like it or not.
- Achieving a big goal with your partner is the sexiest glue you will ever find for your relationship.
- Saying what you want – clearly, with no room for doubt – is critical to getting what you want.
- Saying yes and trying new things on a regular basis will make adventure part of your DNA. You will experience less doubt and anxiety when you challenge your assumptions and yourself on a regular basis.
- Only fight about one thing at a time and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your fights get to the point and get to the making up.
There is no guarantee of success, but there is a guarantee of failure if you never try.
What 3 things would you recommend to anyone contemplating whether to move forward with their own Big Ideas?
1. Set deadlines for what you want to accomplish or you’ll never finish (or even get started!).
2. Take action every single day on your goal.
3. Create a solid description of the daily life and business you want to have and keep it top of mind so you won’t fall back into the routine of your current lifestyle and work. We humans tend to go with what we know, and if you make your dream lifestyle and business so real you can taste it, you’ll be far less tempted to veg out on your couch after work or spend money on things you don’t need.
The more niche your product, the better you’ll be able to find your audience. I write romance for women over forty, and my covers do not have hot sexy people on them. My readers want to be able to read these books on the train or at the beach or in front of their kids and grandkids, and my covers make that possible. I also call it out from the first line of the Amazon sales page: Finally, a romance series for women over 40! A lot of romance readers are under 40 and conventional wisdom says that I’m losing sales by excluding them and using covers without sexy people. But those women who are over 40 and shopping? I just called to them like a beacon.
There are other romance writers who focus on college-aged readers, those who like westerns, motorcycle lovers, tattoo lovers, historical drama lovers, and more. No matter what business you decide to start, you have to be able to call out to your ideal client. If you can’t do that yet, or if you think your product is perfect for everyone, you need to do some fine tuning.