Traffic to CultureMutt quadrupled for the post “Things I wish I’d known about long-term world travel before I quit my job”. There were a lot of questions later about how to finance a life of world travel. I just guest posted on that exact topic on a great blog called Freedom Fast Lane. Do me a favor and head over there, check out the post and leave a comment (comments are especially important as I am new to this site). They have a readership of over 40,000 monthly readers and I am super excited they published my post!
I’ll never forget how I learned how to raise $10,000 in an hour.
Before I get there though, I have to say that some things you learn the hard way. In my first couple years of work as a professional fundraiser I learned a lot about how not to do things.
Classic example: In my first year I struggled to lead a sprawling committee of volunteers and hospital employees (I worked for a hospital) through months of agonizing planning for a huge gala event. It was super rough.
In the end we only made a few thousand dollars in profit from the event and I was just relieved to not be in the hole.
A year or so after this messy attempt at fundraising I had my first experience of asking a couple for a large donation.
I sat down with them and, after some small talk, asked for $10,000 to support a certain project. They agreed on the spot.
In less than an hour I had raised more cash than it had taken both me and a committee endless hours and huge stress to achieve with my gala event.
The key to success
What was the difference between these two experiences? What made one fundraising method effective and the other a dud?
The answer is as simple as it is frustrating to newbies: effective strategy. “What does that even mean??”
Well, for starters, if you just dive into fundraising with blind faith and zero tactics you may get lucky and raise some cash but generally your results will be terrible.
Getting to the point where you have a relationship with potential donors and you can ask them for $10,000 (or much more) takes careful thinking.
You want to woo them to your cause. There are several critical elements in effective fundraising strategy but in this post I want to start with the most important one: relationship.
Let’s get back to my good news with the $10,000 “ask”. The reason I was successful was that I had a very strong relationship with my donors. They knew why I was visiting them and they were ready to help.
Do you have a dream of supporting a big cause or starting a really innovative new business? If you do, you are going to need support.
Woo your people
Make sure you surround yourself with the right people, with people that make things happen. Treat these people right.
Support them and do all you can to understand them and help them out. Be the best colleague/club member/tennis partner they have. Hook them up when you can. Nurture your relationships. Bring your very capable friends close to your cause. Talk big, share your passion, ask for ideas. Make the friends that you would like as donors feel invested in what you are doing. They should feel part of the action, like they and their input matters. They are your VIPs.
When the time is right, you can ask for their help and chances are they will be very, very helpful. Possibly even “$10,000 helpful”.
One of the things Jammie and I decided to do nine months ago was to try to create a life where we experienced the benefits of retirement right now. Most people, ourselves included, put world travel, high-quality time with those you love and pursuing hobbies, in a “things to do in retirement” bucket. Here’s why we decided that was a bad idea:
1) Retirement is fool’s gold.
Thinking that retirement is a good reason to neglect your family and your health for 40 years is just a very terrible way to live. In fact, if you follow most of corporate America and live this way there won’t be much family or health left to enjoy by the time you get that $35 pen engraved with a swirly font, thanking you for your “years of service”. Don’t buy into the “fool’s gold” of retirement that tells people that it is good to put off the best in life until the end. This is fundamentally bankrupt. Reject it now while you have the time.
2) Retirement is too far away.
I think there is a lot to be said for delayed gratification, being content in life and learning to wait. It is good to be patient. That said, you can definitely make decisions NOW that set you up to taste some of the things that are typically associated with retirement (long-term travel, freedom from a cubicle and living in a way where you call your own shots) in far less time. CultureMutt is about finding solutions for what we call savvy, global do-gooding. In our posts we want to give you the inspiration and the tools to plan for and make the jump into a more exciting, fulfilling life of service SOON rather than in some distant retirement.
3). Who knows how you’ll feel when you retire.
I was talking to a retired attorney friend this week via Skype. He has been a mentor of mine for years. “I’m so happy you decided to travel now instead of waiting for retirement when you may not have the energy. That took a lot of foresight!” he said.
I thanked him for the encouragement but on a deeper level I thank the writers and bloggers that convinced me by their ideas and their personal lives, that this kind of life is possible in the here and now.
I’ve had too many friends and family members fall into ill health around retirement age to buy into those posters of smiley seniors frolicking in the sun. I hope that will be me at 70 but just in case I’m playing dominos at a care facility instead, I’m traveling now.
4). You could die
OK, we’re not going to spend a bunch of time on this very depressing thought. But who cares if you reach the top of the totem pole in some corporate hell hole if the first day of retirement results in a heart attack? The stats about retired executives that die within five years or retirement are alarming. Don’t be that statistic.
5). Ditching the rat race could be your best financial decision so far.
At the risk of repeating everything I said a couple posts ago about the very healthy financial realities that could be yours if you quit an unfulfilling job to travel and/or follow your passion, let me just state again, with all my heart, that I am SO glad I did not let fear of financial ruin stop me from leaving the office worker life. The long-term risk of failure in life if you stay in a crap job are FAR greater than the possible temporary financial setbacks of letting passion sculpt your future career. Nobody is saying it won’t be hard work to create your ideal life. At first, at least, this kind of independent work is harder than the traditional 9-5 life. But the hard work that you put into doing something your are passionate about and love, is so much more meaningful, exciting and fulfilling than being a slave to a broken system.
Retirement is NOT the answer. More than ever, we have choices and we can opt to live our ideal lives now. Keep reading CultureMutt and we will do our best to keep inspiring you and showing you practical tips on how to take the leap, follow your passion and serve the world around you.
It’s been nine months since Jammie and I quit our jobs to travel the world and do service projects. Nine months provides a lot of perspective. Here’s what I wish I knew about world travel back in the office worker days:
It’s cheaper than you think.
Living abroad can be cheap. Here are some monthly spending comparisons (each are totals for Jammie and I combined) showing the difference between our pre-trip California expenses and subsequent costs around the world:
Rent and utilities
Buenos Aires: $450
Transportation (the costs of getting around locally)
Buenos Aires: $30
Groceries & Eating Out
Buenos Aires: $300
As you can see, travel and international living can be cheaper, a LOT cheaper than staying put. International adventure as the sole privilege of the super rich is a total myth. Even after you add the price of your international plane ticket to your dream destination, the combined monthly savings of even a temporary relocation are often very big indeed. There are other ways to make money
“OK, I understand that living costs may be lower abroad but how am I supposed to make money?” is one of the first questions people ask when contemplating extended world travel/relocation. That’s the fun part.
If you are willing to be a little creative there are lots of ways to make money while traveling. Anyone who tries to deny this simply hasn’t done their research.
These methods will not only make you “survival” money. If you apply yourself you can often end up saving more money than you did at home because, again, your expenses are lower.
Here are some ways Jammie and I make money on the road:
Blogging (ad revenues)
Article writing for various paying publications
Other freelance/contract work
Want some other options?
Here are some ways friends of mine and other liberated vagabonds make money while traveling:
Selling their other skills – You would be surprised how many businesses and organizations would love to use your expertise abroad. For example, I was shocked how often individuals and organizations wanted to use what I had to offer in the way of fundraising coaching. What is your current profession? Often there is a great way to use it to finance a more liberated life of travel.
It’s something that you can easily put off but you really, really shouldn’t.
No boss is going to fire you if you put off a dream like world travel. Typically the only person that knows if you put off this kind of life achievement, is yourself or, at best, your inner circle of family and friends.
This is horrible because it means you can delay action on something that has tremendous positive potential to change your life.
It’s better for your most important relationships.
Let me take this one in two parts. Firstly, if you are traveling with the one (or ones) you love, travel, by its very nature, allows you to invest far more time and quality attention into the relationship than you could normally. Secondly, even if you are not traveling with those you are closest to, travel often gives you the space and perspective that allows you to consciously appreciate your key relationships in life far more than if you are sprinting madly in the rat race.
Your health improves with travel.
In my first nine months of travel I’ve lost 20 lbs. I feel healthier, I don’t suffer from sleep disorders the way I did before we took off. The other day I discovered some old pictures on my iPad of me back in the office worker days. I was shocked. I was puffy-faced, clearly world-weary and my eyes were bloodshot. It brought back the memories of sleep deprived commutes, torturous, mind-numbing meetings and a very unhealthy liquid diet of energy drinks just to get through. Gone are those days…
You really can be a lot happier.
This is going to sound cheesy but I haven’t been this happy in years. And I’m not the only one that is noticing. Friends of mine that I’ve known for years are saying things like, “Wow! You’re back! This is like meeting Bjorn 10 years ago!” Travel allows you to reconnect with a younger you, to rediscover your actual passions, the things that really make you tick. This is exciting on a very deep level. You owe it to yourself to experience it.
You need to stop making lame excuses.
I’m being this blunt because it took a number of people being very blunt with me before I sat up and noticed: STOP MAKING EXCUSES. No job or imagined disastrous consequence is worth your putting off the better life that long-term travel can bring.
There are enough corporate cop-outs out there already, shuffling towards the fools gold of an ever-distant retirement. Don’t stay in a job because of fear or tired, conventional thinking. Be bold. Take the leap. A far better world awaits.
John McCain went there over the weekend: he compared Edward Snowden to Jason Bourne. Well, at least in what he considered to be the minds of “a young generation”.
“There’s a young generation who believes he’s some kind of Jason Bourne,” said McCain to Fox News Sunday.
To back up his point, McCain shared his views on how this new American generation thinks: “Right now there’s kind of a generational change. Young Americans do not trust this government.”
That may be true, but let’s focus on the deep stuff and get back to his Jason Bourne comment. Just how Jason Bourne is Edward Snowden? I’ll let you be the judge of that after you read through my super objective list of Bourne/Snowden similarities:
They have similar backgrounds. Seriously. Both have really boring names and come from boring towns somewhere in the US. Neither one of them is a life of the party type. Pretty chill, actually. They are both military-trained (at least until Snowden broke both his legs and got out while still in training) and then went into intelligence work.
They date girls on tropical islands. They both have a thing for not-a-model-but-still-attractive girls on tropical islands.
They dress alike. Jason Bourne is no James Bond. He dresses down and he dresses drab. So does Edward Snowden. I mean, that one shirt he seems to wear in all his pictures is getting seriously old.
They are both seen as traitors, at least by some. The political class sees these guys as traitors. Cool kids do not.
They leak juicy stuff to The Guardian. This is almost spooky true but they both leak juicy intel to Britain’s The Guardian. If you don’t believe me, go back and check themovies.
They have a thing for international travel. They are both jetsetters. They are all over the place in the game of cat and mouse with authorities.
Of course, the similarities dry up after a while. Jason Bourne would never have gotten holed up in the Moscow airport for a month making Russian language flash cards. But hey, for a real life guy, Snowden gets really close. I think we’ve got someone to play Snowden when his movie comes out…
“Bjorn, you are going to need a very rare kind of girl.” The year was 2000, I was a freshman in college in France. I was getting lectured on women by an older friend.
He was right. I had quite the list of qualities I wanted in a girlfriend. And close to the top of the list was an openness to travel. I knew that things would never work out between me and someone “stationary”. Not that there was anything inherently wrong with being a homebody. On the contrary, I sometimes envied those that were content staying in one place, those that didn’t have the traveler’s itch. Being able to stay in one town and go with the flow sounded temptingly simple on some level.
But the reality was that I was born into a family that traveled and lived internationally. I had grown up traveling and I knew that I would never be happy if I gave it up.
The right girl:
I knew what I wanted:
A girl whose world was more than just her own country. A girl that valued experiences over possessions. A girl that dreamed of oversees adventure and discovery rather than six bedrooms and a white picket fence. A girl that was open to seeing things from other perspectives. A girl that was willing to adapt, to learn. A girl that was willing to serve internationally. A girl, in short, that was going to be very difficult to find.
10 years later…
And difficult it most certainly was. After that freshman-year conversation, it took 10 years to find the girl. On April 3, 2011, Jammie and I got married. Two years later we took off to travel the world long-term. I am so grateful to have found someone that shares my passion in life.
The wedding pic above is like the victorious “after” shot of people that lose a ton of weight. The “before” picture was full of the blood, sweat and tears (lots:)) that it took to get here. This post is aimed at making that process easier for others.
Here are some things I learned that make deciding if she’s “the one” easier (ladies, the same tips hold for finding a guy who travels):
Listen to her dreams. As you start spending time with or dating a girl, listen to what she really gets excited about. It’s hard to fake genuine excitement.
What does she talk most about, future-wise? Is the dream a big house in her hometown or a career that would require her to stay put? Where does she see herself 10 years from now? What does the dream look like? Don’t interrogate her. But do encourage her to talk about the future.
Be careful not to judge. It is OK to value different things. This isn’t about being right or wrong. But be practical, too. If what she values requires you to stay put years on end, then realize that this may not be the girl for you.
Hell on earth…
I remember a friend from several years back who was incredibly miserable because he had missed the warning signs. He had married a very attractive, friendly girl and they had started a family. Everything was good except for the fact that she was adamant that she could never leaver her hometown. He felt trapped and cheated in life. He wasn’t going anywhere and it was a depressing situation all round. Don’t end up this way.
Check out the family. Go to as many family functions as possible and talk to everybody. It is a good idea in general to be on good terms with her family but consider this sleuthing time as well. Ask yourself some questions:
Does everyone live in the same place?
Are those that move away equally respected and accepted or are they shunned for their decisions? Culture plays a part in this.
Is it culturally appropriate to want to spread your wings, travel and see the world?
Chat to her parents. Have they ever traveled? Do they smile and get excited when you talk about other countries or can you see them tense up? Ultimately, you and the girl will need to make the calls in your lives but it would be great to have the parental blessing, right?
Float the topic. There are ways to bring up travel with your girlfriend that aren’t too blatant. Here’s a very basic tactic I used with girls I met:
Share some travel experiences and see if she reciprocates with her own. If she likes travel or is in anyway interested you can count on her being enthusiastic about telling you stories or listening to yours. If she yawns and changes the subject, take notice.
If the two of you don’t share a passion for travel, consider the long-term implications. Are you looking forward to being landlocked the rest of your days? Don’t throw away your happiness and hers by glossing over a big difference between you. Lifestyle is a big deal. Staying indefinitely in the same town can start to feel like prison if you are interested in mobility.
Test runs. There’s no need to get too crazy too fast. Start simple. Try taking some mini-trips with this person.
The ultimate relationship test is travel. Expect some bumps in the road, so to speak. But look at how this person deals with the unexpected and the unknown. What is the chemistry like between the two of you on the road? Do you like discovering new places together or are you perpetually at each others’ throats?
Be patient and give her time. Here’s a biggie: Chances are that one of you is going to be more of a travel enthusiast than the other. This was certainly true with Jammie and I.
At first, Jammie was not at all as into the idea of world travel as she is now. I still remember the day when she told me that she would be fine living in her hometown the rest of her life. I about died. But I am really grateful that I did not completely freak out. We talked about it and eventually we found some common ground where we realized that we both valued the adventure, discovery and service opportunities that travel, done right, could bring. But this took time. It taught me some patience. It was good for me!
Straight talk. It may be good to start with a “softly, softly” approach but don’t stop there. Have patience, but also realize that you need to be real.
If international travel and living abroad are important to you, then don’t wait until it is too late to share it. No need to come storming in, but be honest. Frame it as something you really value in life. Invite her to be part of it. Respect her response either way but know that this is an area that requires common ground for there to be happiness.
If she’s game, SEAL THE DEAL!!! OK, here’s the most important part: If she is game for travel and you guys are compatible, don’t let her get away! Marry the girl and hop on a plane:)
In the thick of it… back when I was a fundraiser in Northern California
I have an unreasonable addiction in life. It is all consuming. I can’t help but get excited about it. If the topic comes up in conversation I am automatically into it. To me, this activity is the great enabler of most of what is best about the world today. It can relieve poverty, build schools, elect better leaders, even save lives. If you are good at it, you wield enormous do-gooding clout. If you are not, your cause will often fizzle.
What is this obsession? Simple: it’s fundraising.
Before I was born my mother worked as a bush doctor in West Africa where she raised the money for six rural health clinics that were built during her three years of work in the country. She passed on to me her fascination with fundraising.
For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve headed out to collect funds for various causes. I can remember knocking on doors as a kid growing up in the Philippines, with a little can asking for spare change for humanitarian relief. These early experiences sparked an interest that actually turned into a career for me later in life: raising money for hospitals.
I can literally talk all day about fundraising. But here’s the ironic part: If you want to raise a large amount of money for a noble cause, one of the first things you should do is shut up about it.
How it works…
Allow me to explain: If you are a smart fundraiser you make sure you distill your stormy madness of ideas about how to raise funds for your world-changing cause into some kind of coherent method. Whether the goal is a few thousand dollars or a few hundred thousand dollars, the most effective approach to take to reach the goal is to think of the whole thing as a campaign.
Campaigns broken down
A fundraising campaign can be broken into two key parts: the silent phase and the public phase. Here’s how it works:
In the silent phase you quietly gather your most important supporters and tell them about your cause. You get these movers and shakers on board and between them and the deep pockets that you have access to through your personal connections and those of this group of power players, you secure as much of your goal as possible. Different people quote different percentages of what you should have in the bank but a safe figure to shoot for is 50% of your goal before you move on to the next stage.
Once you have raised this much you go public. By the time you get to this public phase you already have momentum. If you have already raised half or more of your goal, people are more comfortable getting on board and supporting because they feel like they are joining a winning team. It is easy to get people excited and to cruise to a finish if you have winnner’s momentum.
Savvy, global do-gooding
CultureMutt’s tagline is “savvy, global-do-gooding” and every post is about enabling you and I to actually live a lifestyle that is defined by internationally-minded service. It is time we got into the nitty gritty of how to concretely fund this kind of service. So this is the start of my fundraising posts which will pop up more frequently than not on CultureMutt in the future.
Contain your excitement
For now though, let’s remind ourselves of the first basic point: Don’t talk to everyone about your fundraising plan from the get go. Contain your excitement and instead talk to a select few. Sit down with them and quietly strategize about how you will reach your goal. After you have a concrete plan in place and you have secured enough funding to demonstrate momentum you can release your inner blabber mouth and tell the world.
Get this right and you can change the world through fundraising. Savvy do-gooding works. Unguarded bubble blabber doesn’t… it just leads to a painful death soon after your mom and Aunt Elma donate.
As I said, more fundraising posts are in the pipeline… in the meantime, feel free to share your fundraising successes and failures in the comments. Together we can find ways to harness the power of fundraising to make this world a better place.
With some of my co-conspirators on my wedding day…
Who do you have in your life to keep your feet to the fire on high priority things that have to happen? I am not talking about projects at work or in school. I am talking enormous, intimidating life decisions that change everything… the kind of earth-shaking stuff that matters. I am talking about the dreams you think about day in and day out… those goals that matter more than you’ll ever admit. The life objectives you would never forgive yourself for letting slip through the cracks.
When Jammie and I finally made the decision to quit our jobs and dedicate our lives to international service there was a select group of people that I told first. I call them my co-conspirators, my accountability partners. The group consisted of a very small circle of family and friends that, to the very last person were supportive and excited. They understood. They knew it was time. They knew it was right. They were as excited and as nervous as we were. They knew what it all meant.
This was the same group that I had relied on for much of my life for encouragement, understanding and perspective at each critical juncture. To be in this small circle of co-conspirators there were three things you had to be prepared to both give and receive:
Unvarnished Realness Total Transparency Enormous Support
This group was one of the only reasons we were able to make the decision that would completely alter our lives.
Here’s why accountability partners matter so incredibly much and why they should be of huge importance to you if making a dent in the universe is of any interest whatsoever:
They know what you are about
Co-conspirators are the best kinds of friends. They define your inner circle. They know you better than just about anyone. They know you so well that they could make decisions for you. Except they wouldn’t because they respect you and your decisions too much to want to control you. They are life-long friends and they are worth their weight in gold.
They can often see things clearer than you can yourself
When you are in a mess these kinds of friends can often see the bigger picture better than you can. I remember a particularly anguished phone call I made to one accountability partner shortly before Jammie and I decided to act on our service and travel plans. I was agonizing about this and that but he was able to help me cut through the clutter and see my priorities over the circumstances that were blurring the larger picture.
They can be brutal
Accountability partners are there to real with you. If your efforts towards attaining a personal goal are currently sucking it is their job to tell you exactly that. The difference between accountability partners and casual acquaintances or fair weather friends is that accountability partners love you enough to be tough when they have to. Not always fun. Almost always useful.
They are loyal
You can’t find stronger loyalty than this inner circle. True, they hit you straight but when push comes to shove, these friends will do anything for you. I’ve had accountability partners help me out in incredibly difficult situations with the kind of political (or other) maneuvering that belongs in a movie. You can count on accountability partners. This level of trust also means that you need to be willing to have their back when it counts. Don’t sign up if the sight of blood bothers you because friendship on this level can involve work that is highly unpretty.
They don’t care what work thinks
Accountability partners are not your boss and they don’t care what your employer thinks is important. As their priority is your well-being and not quarterly benchmarking, accountability partners can tell you when your job is getting in the way of living. Here’s a tip: Listen. If your accountability partners are telling you that work is derailing you, don’t be a corporate coward. There are enough of those types jumping off buildings already. Listen up and make some changes.
They put set-backs in perspective
Bad news is rarely as devastating as it first seems. Accountability partners are good at reminding you that the world is not ending just because your house is in foreclosure, you didn’t get a bonus at work or you just got dumped. Be willing to snap out of your tunnel vision and listen to your accountability partners as they put your challenges in perspective. They can see the bigger picture better than you when you are in your valley of despair.
They celebrate success
Nobody can celebrate better than your co-conspirators when it comes to the most important victories in life. They know what you’ve wanted for so long and all you’ve gone through to get there. They know about every difficult conversation, the long nights, the slammed doors and the deals gone sour. They are proud that you persevered. And they sure as hell want to celebrate when you get there. Because, really, you getting there is them getting there.
Who are the co-conspirators in your life? It is time to get real, to start truly valuing them and begin focusing on how to cultivate these critical friendships. Nobody can be entirely self-reliant. It simply doesn’t work that way.
In the comments, tell me about your accountability circle. How do you add value to their lives? Are you able to share your biggest dreams with them? Are you willing to listen to them when it matters?
The Reno Road Trip: Perfect goal-setting conditions ahead!
A goal is a dream with a deadline — Napoleon Hill
Reno is a crappy town. It’s basically a bad Las Vegas. The casinos are raggedy, the hotels have seen better days and almost every time I’ve gone it has been maddeningly cold. If Vegas is “glamorous/tacky, Reno is just tacky/tacky. Having said that, Jammie and I have made a point of taking a road trip to Reno every year since 2009. Why? Here’s the answer in a word: Planning.
For some reason, every time we go to Reno we talk about the future and our life goals. I’m not talking about vague chatter either. I think it is the beautiful mountain scenery on the route that inspires us. We start to deeply intentionally strategize.
One of the most tangible results of our annual Reno Road Trip planning so far has been this 2013 service trip around the world. There are more developments in the pipeline! Intense planning and follow-up simply works.
Reason to focus on 10 Years from now:
Do me a quick favor:
Think about the path you are on in life. Now project out 10 years. Where will you be? What will you be doing? If you stay on the same career path (and are reasonably competent) you will likely have the job, schedule and headaches of your current boss. Like the sound of that?
If this little exercise makes you happy, that’s awesome. Congratulations, you are on track. If it makes your stomach churn, it is time to change gears. Here are a few reasons to get crystal clear about your goals and how you want your life to look 10 years from now: 1.) You leap ahead of the pack (at least according to your own standards)
Most people, myself included, have felt like they are just going through the motions in life. Most people just sort of exist and conform. They do what those around them are doing. This is fine if you never want do anything remarkable in life… But if what you want to do is stand out from the competition and make a difference, you have to be explicit about planning the future and seeing it as clearly as possible in your head. Your life will naturally follow what you focus on, so be sure to be intentional and get this right.
2) It allows you to think big
“Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; and if it is humanly possible consider it to be within your reach.” Marcus Aurelius
If you are planning your ideal life 10 years from now you may as well be thinking very big. Don’t get sucked into what small-minded people call “realism”. It is often just a disguise for running scared in life and never attempting anything remarkable. You can do a lot in 10 years. Aim high.
3) It gives you energy
Thinking big gives you an adrenaline rush. Every time my close-knit group of accountability partners and I talk big goals, we feel a rush of energy. It’s a wonderful feeling that will help fuel you through the inevitable missteps and setbacks on the path to accomplishing your goal. That is why people with very big goals often achieve them whereas people that people that aim low and just shuffle around in life don’t even reach the cop-out goals they may have set for themselves.
4) It allows you to say “no”
A 10-year perspective is very helpful in helping you decide what matters and what doesn’t. I was the king of over-commitment until I really took this to heart. I would get so caught in the moment and in trying to please work superiors, friends and community members that I would agree to projects, committees and other commitments that had nothing to do with what I felt called to do in life. Freedom from this came with a decision. I decided that, no matter what, I was going to be brutally focused on the long-term picture. Then I started cutting the fat and saying “no” to peripheral things that were muddying my vision. This was hugely liberating and has helped me focus on the important.
5) It helps you recognize personal bias
People always have a take on what you should be doing. But unless they know your 10 year plan, they probably will give you crap advice. Don’t take it. No matter how wise with years they may seem.
Don’t get me wrong, great, mature mentors that understand you, your talents and dreams, are invaluable in life. But so much of the other so-called advice from people that are projecting their own prejudices, fears and desires on to you, can be safely ignored.
6) It gives you a thicker skin
There are always going to be idiots in life. I am naturally over-sensitive and was far more easily offended by people’s assaults (whether passive aggressive or outright) until I started to take my 10 year goals seriously. I started repeating my goals to myself regularly, often several times a day. Suddenly, petty barbs from stressed out coworkers were less offensive. What did this little insult matter in the big picture? Not much at all.
I’m going to wrap this for now but feel free to add to the list in the comment section. Do you think it is important to have a 10-year plan? If so, share why. What do you do to stay focused on the long-term?
Buenos Aires, Fall 2005. It was unbridled, raw passion for life. We huddled over restaurant tables until ridiculous hours. We walked the streets talking excitedly about our plans in life. We felt like we were forging the future with every word. With each picture that we would paint of the future, my two Buenos Aires flat mates and I believed with every fiber of our 20-something beings that it would come true. For every mental creation of the future, we fully expected a physical creation to come sooner rather than later.
Excitement was not the word. It was a near-religious obsession with how we willed our lives to look.
From Dreams into Action
When left Buenos Aires we each took next steps toward our plans as deliberately as possible. To start on their paths, my friends started medical school. My professional plan was very different.
It had three parts:
1) Escape the fate of most international students after they finish studying in the US: being legally forced to leave the country.
2) Get some excellent nonprofit work experience in the United States that would set me up to work in what I would later call “savvy, global do-gooding” (humanitarian projects, diplomatic work, personal volunteering, etc) in the future.
3) Go back to international living and dedicate the rest of my life to international do-gooding when objectives one and two were complete.
On paper, things went more or less to plan:
1) I pitched a string of not-for-profit hospitals in California to let me join a leadership training program. I got in, they filed work visa papers for me and I moved to Los Angeles to get started.
2) The training program led to my first career and I spent 6 years in business development and fundraising for two not-for-profit Californian hospitals. I specialized in the fundraising portion because I figured any international do-gooding venture would need someone that could raise money for a cause.
3) Fall of 2012 – Jammie and I decided it was time to lift anchor. So we quit our jobs to travel the world and do service projects.
On the brink of disaster
The above steps look tidy enough but at many bumps in the road it was tempting to lose the plot and give in to a more conventional path. These were the biggest roadblocks:
As much as I always knew that freedom was one resignation letter away, it was unbelievably hard to take that step. Something about work was cult-like, you knew that you needed to get out but it was so hard to leave. I kept tabs on other young professionals in my workplace and observed the range of reactions to the work environment. A few were happy. A few were very unhappy. Most seemed to just accept that their work life was a necessary evil that had to be endured. They showed up to work, said “yes” to the boss and dreamed of the weekend and a raise. Very few actually escaped though. It was just too scary to pursue any actual dreams. The longer I stayed, the longer I felt that this kind of paralysis could be my fate.
Before I met Jammie I was in a serious dilemma. As much as I had made my mind up long ago that I would not seriously date anyone that did not share my eagerness for the international life, this was easier said than put into practice. Most of the girls I met just were not on the same page. They didn’t even want to leave LA. No way were they leaving California or the US. This made dating a challenge. How was I supposed to find someone that was comfortable with an international life? Was I being too picky?
The happiest discovery of my life was Jammie who not only shared my views but married me and kept me accountable to them! (and that is the subject of an entirely different post:))
Nobody enjoys looking crazy. I was not looking forward to explaining my job-quitting rationale to everyone from family to executives at work. I dreaded it. How was it going to look? How would I explain myself? How would people react? What if the people I respected found my whole plan ridiculous?
The whole survival thing
On a more fundamental level, how were we supposed to eat if I left my stable income? Was a life of international do-gooding going to work out financially? I was getting used to a healthy paycheck every two weeks. I liked being able to afford to buy nice things and enjoy my weekends. What would happen if I renounced my paycheck?
When I was in college I was repulsed by the idea of having to keep up with the Joneses. “Who cares! How superficial!” That righteous indignation lasted until my buddy bought an Audi. Suddenly my KIA Spectra wasn’t quite cutting it!
What about a house? In the post 2008 recession a lot of my friends took advantage of low housing prices and bought a house. Jammie and I studiously avoided buying. The last thing we needed was yet another anchor weighing us down. To save money we rented a one bedroom apartment instead. I remember going to a buddy’s housewarming. He had six bedrooms on the nicest street in town. Ouch.
How much was enough? – Through much weeping and gnashing of teeth, Jammie and I stuck to the plan, feeling more than a little foolish from time to time.
Ultimately the toughest question was, when do we actually do this? How much is enough? After an extended period of aggressive saving we had enough to cover basic travel and living expenses for long enough to find our financial footing abroad. I was learning a lot of skills in the not-for-profit fundraising world that would translate well to the world of international service projects and humanitarian work. I had done what I wanted to do as far as working in the US was concerned but when would it be time to move to the next step? When was the hour of liberation?
I had been prepared to spend five years after college getting the right work experience. Those five years were hugely beneficial. I was fortunate to have some excellent mentors at work as well as in the community that helped me grow. I was very grateful.
But by the first half of the sixth year I was keenly aware of the fact that I was compromising “the plan”. I was starting to feel queasy. Those closest to me that knew my larger goals in life started to warn me: “Get out now or you may never do it. You’ll give up on the international life and settle for middle class suburban Californian existence for the rest of your life.”
One mentor sat me down and told me that he too, had harbored bold ambitions for what to do with life but had thrown them all away at my age by chasing practicalities of conventional work and mortgage payments. “If you do the same, Bjorn, you will know that you sold out and that is a very sad place to be.”
I could only drown out my own thoughts and the advice of my inner circle for so long. It was time.
I am absolutely convinced that you have to revisit the places that were most inspiring to you life. Pilgrimages to the places that most shaped your faith, vision and drive in life are SUPER important. So Buenos Aires had to be on the list of destinations in 2013. It was time to rediscover the Buenos Aires version of me. Buenos Aires was the place I had last seen my vision for life in HD. The experiences I had in this city in 2005 had helped power me through the darkest parts of post-college existence. It was time to regain the raw passion for life that I had felt as a college kid. It was time to come back.
Last month, seven years after our original Buenos Aires experiment, my buddies and I paid homage to the old dreams. We all came back to the city that had started us on this path. And this time we also brought our wives and our friends to come celebrate and relive good times together. We had an amazing time remembering the early days that inspired us on our individual life plots. And we took some time to center ourselves for what lay ahead.
Over to you, what are your dreams in life? How far will you go to stay true to them? If you need an accountability partner, I’m in:). Leave a comment and share your thoughts about living life intentionally and uncompromisingly.
Buenos Aires 2013 - look how the old crew has grown:)