Six months ago, Andrew and I started out on our Gap Year journey. We sold our house, got rid of two-thirds of our stuff, and decided to spend a year in an area we’ve never been to before, to do a considerable amount of exploring and experiencing things we’ve never done before. And to rediscover ourselves in the process.
We explore new things every single week. Some are small – exploring a new restaurant. Some are large – taking up kayaking. And while they are all new-to-us, and allow us to see things in a new way, in many ways they might seem boring or hum-drum to the people that have lived for years in this community.
For instance, people here laugh at our fascination with moss. But let’s face it, moss doesn’t exist in Denver, where you can go weeks at a time with no moisture at all. So the fact that moss grows on everything, everywhere is fascinating to us. Andrew has even started his own little pet project photographing moss to refresh his photography skills and give him new perspective.
We still work for a living, which means we have to bring in new clients. So we’ve made Meetup our new best friend, and attend several different networking functions every week. Some for fun, some for work, yet all give us the opportunity to reach out and talk with people we would never meet in any other way.
Portland is a very friendly city, and when we describe our Gap Year concept to people and our desire to explore, they instantly go into action mode.
“You’ve gotta go here, its incredible.”
“This is my favorite place in the state, check out the festival in March.”
I have an entire calendar for the coming months based on recommendations we’ve been given in this manner.
But we’ve noticed something else as we tell our story that intrigues us even more. I had it happen again just this weekend.
I was volunteering for a local organization. I worked closely with two other women, and of course told them my story. One was a native of Oregon, the other moved here in 1999 when her husband was transferred through work. Between them, that’s a lot of years spent here in the Pacific Northwest. As I described some of the things on my calendar, things we’ll be doing in the coming weeks, they both piped in again and again with “I’ve never done that” and “We lived here several years before we went down there.”
Frankly, I’m blown away when I hear that. But trust me when I say it’s the norm, not the exception. Very few people we’ve come across have done deep exploring throughout the state, throughout this region, beyond the city limits. They get sucked into work, kids, home maintenance, and “life” without realizing it’s a great big world out there.
They get sucked into what happens to them, instead of focusing in on how to control what happens around them.
If you live by dealing with what happens to you, you’ll always be in reactionary mode. You work because you have to pay the bills. You have bills because you buy “things” that cost you money, whether you enjoy them or not. And all of that takes away from the concept of being able to live for what makes you happy.
Now I realize that not everyone wants to travel and explore the world the way we do; many people would say they are comfortable at home and can’t imagine life without their stuff. Still if you look at the top lists of what people say they want to do in retirement, the top 10 are always filled with travel ideas. Consistently I see things like:
- Learn a language and visit that part of the world to use it
- Become an experiential traveler, where you do something (like taking a cooking class in Italy) instead of just touring
- Volunteer to become a part of a new cultural (teaching English in a foreign country anyone?)
Even moving to a new community, one that is more retirement friendly, makes the lists again and again, whether the “new community” is in the US or not.
Yes, that makes it seem like a lot of people push traveling to the top of their to-do lists. Yet they don’t start the process when they are younger and have the time to discover and explore in different ways. Why?
We all fall into the trap of being “too busy” with our own daily lives, without thinking about what we truly would like to do.
Ask yourself 4 questions right now.
1. Are you truly happy with everything in your life?
Do you like your job? Is your house worth the daily maintenance? Do your relationships fulfill you? Do you enjoy what you spend personal time on? Are you comfortable with the groups you belong to?
2. What would you change?
This process takes some soul searching. In some cases, you may instantly know what you would change – I hate my job and would quit today if I could. In some cases it may require thinking. But the more you look at every activity currently in your life, you’ll soon realize that some make you happier than others. Some you could easily let go and not miss for even a moment.
3. What would happen if you made those changes?
It’s difficult to let go of things and let change enter your life, especially if it’s significant. It’s easier to ignore the possibilities and just go with the normal routine. Once you have a better idea of the things you can see yourself letting go, take it to the next level and imagine your life without that activity in it. How different would your life be? What would you do instead? What struggles would you have to face to make it come true?
4. How can you let go?
Realizing and doing are two different beasts. It’s easy to see what you don’t like, realize you would be happier without it in your life, even see your life with other things in it. But to take action to move on can be difficult at best. People can and will look at you like you’re crazy. People can and will abandon you all together. (Yes you learn who your true friends are when you bring on significant change.) And that can be excruciatingly difficult.
Sometimes its one day at a time. Sometimes it’s about doing nothing. Sometimes it’s about taking a step backwards.
Yet sometimes it’s about celebrating your new step forward too. That’s the payoff.
When we decided to sell of our house and get rid of two thirds of our stuff, we gave up the American Dream. That dream is strong in some people; so strong it cost us a relationship with a family member in the process.
When we decided to take a Gap Year, and move 1200 miles away from our “home”, we abandoned the lifestyle most choose to live by. It cost us more family relationships and a few friendships too.
Was it difficult? I would be lying if I said it was anything but calamitous. We’ve cried. We’ve spent hour upon hour reviewing our decisions. We’ve stepped back and undid changes to try and keep the peace.
But in the end, when we found happiness, we found what truly made us happy, it made all the difference.
Easy? No. The most amazing experience ever as we began seeing the full impact of our changes? Life-changing.
I wouldn’t change where I am today for anything in the world.
And I know the best is yet to come!