Don’t lose the plot in life

Buenos Aires 2005...

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:

Employers

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.

Girls

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:))

Ego

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?

The Joneses

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.

Taking the leap

I’ve talked about the sequence of events that led to lift off with our 2013 trip around the world. What I haven’t done is talk about the reasoning behind choosing Buenos Aires as one of our three-month city destinations.

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.

Reunited

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:)

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23 thoughts on “Don’t lose the plot in life”

  1. I have become a fan of writing now in my late twenties so I’m more up for reading other people’s work. I find myself finding my passions through no planning of my own but providence. I admire ure risk taking decisions to reshape your life the way u want it! Who knows u might setting the trend but importantly u will be fulfilled finding the unknown and conquering the questions that have otherwise been left un answered. I like home I couldn’t move around as much as u guys but one day perhaps ull be able to do it all!! Enjoy your journey and thanks for sharing!!

    1. Eric! Thanks for the thoughts. I guess my take is that travel need not be the liberation of choice for everyone but everyone should be as intentional as possible about designing a lifestyle that allows them to best be of service and live meaningfully… avoiding autopilot…

  2. This is great! One thing that came to my mind recently is that if you don’t follow your dreams, they become stale and take up and crowd out any new dreams, and that’s when people start acting and feeling old… When you start living your dreams, you keep making space for new dreams, you’re renewed, and you stay young. So glad you and Jammie are living your dreams! Thanks for inspiring us!

    1. I like that… there is definitely something empowering about taking action toward your top priorities no matter how scary or inconvenient dong so may feel! How’s the entrepreneurial project coming?

  3. What a fabulous story! And you have told it well. Even though you went through hesitations and doubts and struggles, you actually found the inner resources to just go ahead and do what you dreamed of doing. Now you are in the midst of living your dream. More power to you and Jammie! You both are a huge inspiration!

    1. Linda, you are the inspiration. Jammie and I speak about you often and love your approach to life. Thanks for checking in!

  4. Love this article :) Found the part about re-visiting the places that shaped you very true. So glad you did it. Very proud and inspired by my big brother.

  5. Bjorn, You mention the temptation to “keep up with the Joneses.” It strikes me that the problem with that is not so much emulation of someone else’s lifestyle as it is the way a group of people define success. Everyone tries to keep up with their peers. That’s why we end up being the average of our five closest friends. The problem with “keeping up with the Joneses” is that success is often measured in things that don’t truly bring fulfillment or make the world a better place (i.e., accumulation of material belongings). If I try to keep up, on the other hand, with your globe-trotting, risk-taking, life goal pursuing, humanitarian work…well, then I’m not sure keeping up the Joneses…or Karlman’s is that bad. It’s true that we should compare ourselves to our own dreams and not other people’s achievements, but we will all be inspired by other people. I just want to make sure that I’m inspired by the right other people. : )

    1. Fair point… defining your inner circle (and making sure that it fits a carefully defined take on success) has got to be at the heart of all this. Excellent thoughts…

  6. how cool bjorn! you have done what many have not including myself! cant wait to see the outcome and final prject. keep it up!

  7. Hi Bjorn,
    I really appreciate your willingness to find your passion, and essentially your calling in life. I think more people should try to do that! It’s something I hear about from pastors who feel “called” into pastoral ministry–but what about the rest of us? For me, my life passion has been evolving over time. When I was at Andrews, my mission was to become a pastor. But then, that evolved into studying marriage and family therapy, and now I see that as a type of ministry, if not complementary to pastoral ministry. I do not regret any of the changes in course, and I can see how God has been leading. Sometimes our dreams change overtime as God leads and teaches us. As you said, the danger is to become comfortable and complacent and forget to have “audacious” faith that sees the amazing potential of what God is willing to do through us. God bless you on your journey!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Thomas. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to pick a life mate that supports your “calling” in life… I am going to address that challenge in an upcoming post… to me, almost nothing is more important.

  8. Bjorn, there is nothing more admirable in a human being than having the courage to accept the “call” he or she has for their life. You have done that and it is an inspiration. I am sure that one day I will be using you as an illustration for one of my sermons (with your permission of course). People who have not done this can’t understand the fear that is connected to answering this call. Fear of failure, fear of poverty, fear of ridicule, fear of rejection. It is such a powerful obstacle and one that needs to be eradicated if we are to answer the call of our lives. Thanks again for the reminder about what life is truly about.

  9. Wow Bjorn – take blogging breaks more often! You really outdid it with this article combining your personal story, life story, professional story all into one post! It’s like a 1000 word biography. lol ok 2000, 3000…

    It is not too often people follow through like this. Most of the time we think, ‘oh, we were young and had nice dreams’ but now we’ve grown up and can move on. Let’s buy a flat screen tv. Or go to Yosemite for a vacation. haha Not saying there’s anything with going to Yosemite for a vacation but people settle. A lot and often.

    It’s really hard but I think you’ve realized something about happiness – it does not equate with keeping up with the Joneses or living in a huge house with a large mortgage. It’s about doing what you enjoy and having the freedom to do it. If that’s the case, then your happiness is probably up there on the happiness scale.

    The hilarious part is that the Joneses are probably thinking they want to do this when they win the lottery – you know, travel the world! But they’re not going to win the lottery or have any time to take a world adventure. They can do 2 weeks, not 12 months! So really what you’re doing is having experiences multi-millionaires do!

    I’d forget keeping up with the Joneses, let’s try to keep up with the Karlmans!! haha

    1. Hahahah! I like your perspective Vishnu. And yes, I agree, having that freedom to design life around priorities IS the top priority:)

  10. Bjorn,

    I like your honest writing style. Like you, my first job after school was strategically taken for long-term career objectives. And like you, the incentives to stay are almost overpowering. Believe it or not life as a military officer has some great rewards: changing locations and assignments every 3 years, clear path for upward mobility, esprit de corps, international travel and a pension after 20 years of service. When I talk with my peers in the military they think I am crazy to leave. When I talk with people outside the DoD they wonder why I ever joined. The truth is I make a great living and leaving it for an unknown is like walking into an open elevator shaft. I think the trick is to take calculated risks, draft a reasonable plan B and work like hell on plan A.

    1. Steve, I like your thinking on this one. Some day soon it would be great to sit down and have a chat about our plans in life. I am sure it would be mutually interesting!

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