What is one decision that would change absolutely everything about your life?
I am not talking about some flimsy resolution to change breakfast cereals. I am talking about the boldest kind of decision. The kind of call that makes you shudder at its potential impact. The kind of decision that few make but that, once made, completely changes your life.
In the fall of 2012, Jammie and I made one such decision. It was to quit our jobs to travel the world and do service projects in 2013. Our lives have never been the same since. Here are some of the biggest changes:
Action = Liberation! – A year of travel and service is easy to talk about. We know. We talked about it for years and did nothing about it. It was just too scary. Taking action involved quitting our jobs; uncomfortable conversations with family and friends and diving into the unknown. But we finally decided that we simply could not put off action any longer. When we, at last, quit our jobs and set our plans into motion we learned that bold action is one of the most liberating things in life.
Risks are less scary once you take them – Less than three months into our year we realized that we had been foolish to fret so much about the risk we had taken in opting to reinvent our lives in 2013. We were offered jobs; we made friends thousands of miles from home and began to see life-changing opportunities that we had never before noticed. The risk we had taken in leaving behind the old turned out to be not very scary at all. It was exciting!
Relationship magic – A lot of people say that travel is the ultimate test of relationships. Both Jammie and I say that we grew closer in 2013. Travel taught us to handle disagreements better and gave us a LOT more time to spend together. We had conversations about things we simply had not talked about in our first year and a half of marriage when we had been stuck in the rat race, running faster and faster for lack of a more healthy perceived alternative. This year we learned to appreciate each others’ qualities more than ever. Quite simply, we are better friends than ever.
Seeing the value of money- 2013 taught us to be frugal. We had planned carefully for 2013 financially but even so, the fact that we were living off of reduced income streams and savings meant that we learned to be more careful. Little savings tricks really helped. One I use a lot is converting prices into Thai baht (there are about 30 Thai baht to 1 US dollar) and reminding myself how much I could buy in Thailand with what I am about to spend on, say, a Starbucks Frappaccino in Los Angeles (I can eat out for two days in Thailand for the $5 I would spend on that one drink).
Learning the limits of money – Even if our financial planning was a big reason that we were able to do what we did in 2013, we have noticed some very clear limits to what money can provide. What good is money if you spend your every waking hour in a dreary office trying to accumulate more? I’m not knocking hard work but living in the illusion that postponing real enjoyment of life for some nebulous future “retirement” is dumb. You have absolutely no idea how your health or closest relationships will look by retirement. Find ways to enjoy the benefits of retirement (time with loved ones, travel, service and personal growth) using your current budget. It is probably not as expensive as you think. For example, living in a place like Bangkok for a month can be done for less than $500. Don’t have a month? Start with relocating somewhere for two weeks. Even two weeks of completely unplugging in a new environment can do wonders for your outlook. If you really want to see me get on this soapbox, read this: Retirement is fool’s gold, live your life now!
Leaving the United States makes more sense than ever – Growing up outside the US, I was always convinced that America was the land of greatest opportunity. That may technically still be the case but the magic seems to be fast evaporating. On the flipside, the pace of progress in Asia and other fast-developing parts of the world makes even a bustling city like Los Angeles feel like a sleepy backwater. I’m no hater, just stating facts. Dare to think bigger than life in the US. Trust me, you will thank yourself.
A quick word to my American friends: this is NOT about being unAmerican or lacking patriotism. Surely one of the best things about American thinking is the pragmatic, no-nonsense pursuit of opportunity. You are not being a bad American by pursuing opportunities outside the country. What do you think the future pilgrims lives would have looked like if they’d stayed in the Old World? Moving East is to the 21st century what moving West was to the last five.
We see more options than ever – Even if I theoretically knew that I had options in life, I was too jaded to really think about them before we took off in 2013. Whenever layoffs took place at either my workplace or Jammie’s, I would get really worried. What would happen if we lost our jobs? How would we survive in a weak economy? I would let such concerns influence my decision making and my overall happiness. I grew much less adventurous and assertive. I put up with things in the day-to-day that I should not have. Looking back at 2013 and the improved work and life opportunities we now have, I wish I had been bolder before our trip. There were always better options. Fear blinded me to them.
What is the one decision that would change everything for you? A new year is approaching. You’ve got it in you to make a decision that would change just about everything for the better. What is it going to be? Investing in a relationship? Completely changing what you eat? Firing a bad boss? Traveling the world? Please don’t waste time the way we did before making our life-changing big decision. Boldness now could mean a world of difference.