My husband and I have lived in three different countries in the past three years. We started in Canada, then moved to the United States, and now we’re living in the Czech Republic. To some, the personal and professional choices that led to this lifestyle seem erratic. We’re in our late 30s, after all. Shouldn’t we be settling down, finding stable jobs, and sheltering ourselves behind a white picket fence so that we can pop out a few kids? For us, the answer is no. And that makes some people uncomfortable.
Luckily there are a growing number of examples of people our age who are living unconventional lives. Take Stevie Trujillo, who has been living out of a van for six years while her and her husband explore North and South America with their three year old daughter. Or Bryan and Jen Danger, who quit their jobs to travel the Americas in a 1967 VW bus. Or how about the Gourlay family, who make enough passive income through online businesses that they can travel extensively with their two children.
Technology is allowing us to broaden our views about what life should look like between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five. Traditionally, this is a time when you’re supposed to find a mate, settle into one spot, and start creating some stability with your growing family. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this lifestyle – however it just doesn’t suit everyone anymore.
Some people prefer to stay single (or partnered but unmarried) well into their 30s so that they can take time to make sure they’ve found a love that will last. Many women are waiting until their late 30s or early 40s to have children, or choosing not to have children at all. Some people, like Chris Guillebeau, who visited every country in the world (193 in total) before his 35th birthday, are choosing lives of travel and intrigue.
In general, there is a growing movement to value experiences over possessions.
People often get confused about how my husband and I have managed to move around so much without breaking the bank (or our relationship). While our lifestyle of travel and intrigue isn’t as extreme as the Trujillos, Dangers, Gourlays, or Chris Guillebeau, we’ve found our own ways to create a life we love at a pace that works for us.
Here’s a peek into our process:
1. Figure out what you value.
Around a year ago, when we realized that our quality of life in Boston wasn’t what we’d hoped it would be, we started brainstorming about what we value individually and as a couple. We came up with a few values like inspiration/meaning, low cost of living, personal growth, friends/family, adventure, art/culture, and freedom/flexibility. The scientist in me likes to be systematic about everything, so we created an Excel spreadsheet that listed each value in the first column. We headlined the remaining columns with cities that we had an interest in exploring. Then we rated each city on a scale of one to ten in terms of how much that city aligned with each value.
We completed our ratings separately, and then discussed our results as a couple. This “analysis” revealed that we wanted to spend some time in nature and move to Prague. So I left my job at Harvard Medical School, we sold most of what we owned, and we rented a cabin in the woods for one and a half months in northern Canada. Then we spent a few weeks saying good-bye to friends and family before we hopped on a plane to Europe.
2. Get realistic about costs.
One of our goals as a couple is to create a life we love without going into a huge amount of debt. So, after we decided where we wanted to live, we started hashing out how much money it would take to get there. Many people mistakenly assume that a life of travel and intrigue is financially irresponsible, but we were pleasantly surprised to find out that it would cost us less to rent a rustic cabin in the woods than it cost to rent our apartment in Boston. (For more, read this article about how the Trujillo family saved $40,000/year by downsizing their life).
And while our move to Prague did require some finances upfront to pay for plane tickets and shipping some of our belongings, we came up with a plan to save up enough money to do it.
3. Be patient.
Related to point two, we couldn’t run to the woods or to Prague the minute we finished our Excel analysis. We needed to get our ducks in a row personally, professionally, and financially before we could make any moves. This took a few months of tightening our belts and having some difficult conversations. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
4. Be flexible.
In order to even consider embarking on this journey, both my husband and I had to get open-minded about the potential of our lives and careers. We allowed ourselves to consider all options, no matter how outlandish they sounded at first, and no matter how many logistical obstacles appeared on the surface.
One of the things that we realized we value is freedom and flexibility in our schedules, which is why we both remained open to creating careers that would give us this flexibility. My husband owns his own business that he can manage from anywhere in the world as long as he has the internet and a telephone. My choice, on the other hand, was a bit more difficult. As a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard, I was following a career track that was supposed to lead to me becoming a tenured professor. I applied to over forty tenure-track positions and, despite the relative strength of my resume, only got one interview. This process forced me to think outside of the box in terms of my career, which leads to point five.
5. Be fearless.
We knew that we wanted to move to Prague, but I wasn’t sure what I would do professionally when we got there. So I started emailing professors at a few universities to ask whether they would be interested in having me teach a course or two at their institution. I had no idea whether anyone would respond to these “cold emails,” but luckily someone did. And they invited me to teach a course on a topic that I’ve always wanted to teach about. Also, once I put out the word that I was becoming a “free agent” in terms of my research skills, I managed to start attracting clients who were willing to hire me as a consultant to study their school-based yoga programs.
Some people might perceive my recent professional decisions as career suicide. After all, who in their right mind quits Harvard? It’s important to point out that when I say, “Be fearless,” I don’t mean, “Be reckless.” What I mean is that:
You need to be fearless about pursuing your values with conviction. @BethanyButzer
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People will doubt you. People will tell you that you are making a mistake. You will get scared. Then you will remind yourself of what’s important to you, and you will keep moving forward. I’ve been living in Prague for four months, and while things definitely aren’t perfect, my quality of life has improved exponentially.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes I wonder whether my blog, newsletter, and Facebook/Twitter posts really make a difference. Some days I feel like I’m just tweeting into the stratosphere, where two people (one of which is probably my mom) actually read what I write.
Then, every once in awhile, someone emails to tell me that my blog inspired them to move out of the city and take over their family farm, or retire early, or quit their job.
In these moments it becomes clear to me that while writing a blog and posting on Facebook/Twitter is useful, it’s actually my embodied experience of living my life that is helping people. I’m doing enough just by living. I don’t need to create a new online product or write a new book at this exact moment. I just need to live. And share my experience with people.
As Gandhi said in my favorite quote, I need to be the change that I want to see in the world.
So I will continue living this life, and doing my best to authentically share it. And regardless of whether you comment on my blogs or like my Facebook updates or share what I post, it is enough for me to know that my words are reaching you. I hope my life inspires you to embody the full potential of your life.
I hope my life inspires you to be the change.
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
Image courtesy of Tim Gouw.