Okay, so it wasn't quite that simple, but it was pretty close.
By all measure of American success, we'd arrived. Homeownership. Two kids. Big Important Jobs. Vested retirement accounts. We were doing all right. Or were we?
Despite this success, our quality of life was lacking. With school, work, commuting, extra-curricular programs, and homework, plus getting the kids fed, bathed, and into bed at a reasonable time, our lives were hectic. Pick your metaphor — rat race, daily grind, treadmill — we were feeling it. Even when we relaxed it often felt stressful.
My wife and I both worked full-time jobs, typically from 9 to 6, and often later. This meant we relied on a rotating network of people to care for our kids and drive them around as needed. These people were all caring and qualified individuals, but our kids wanted to spend time with us. Yet as job pressures increased, we were caught between providing for the family and actually being a family. This dichotomy had pretty much sucked the joy out of our day-to-day lives. Something needed to change.
And we weren't the only ones we knew who felt like this. It was a common topic of conversation with other parents during birthday parties and youth sporting events.
And then one day, I'd had enough. I was at my Big Important Job doing Big Important Job-type stuff, and my wife was on yet another work-related trip, something like the fourth in three weeks. Usually she was gone for one or two days, but this time, she'd been traveling for four days, and I'd been pulling single dad duty for the better part of a week (I have nothing but respect and admiration for single parents).
So I was feeling stretched pretty thin emotionally, and the girls were really missing their mom. They'd often write notes to her like, "When can I see you?" and "I really want to spend time with you." and "When are you coming home?"
It was painful for me to watch and heart-wrenching for my wife to experience. So on this particular day in November, I decided it was time for a change. I was going to focus less on work and make family time more of a priority. I sent my wife a text to this effect. She responded with:
"Totally agree. Wonder a lot about renting the house out and taking a year to travel with the kids. While we can."
I was stunned. That sounded like a fabulous idea, certainly much grander than what I'd had in mind. That "while we can" portion of the message was the critical component. I didn't want us to look back and regret not doing things we could have done. I didn't want to wait to enjoy myself because it wasn't time.
This is the myth the retirement industry tries to sell us all on — give up your youthful years in exchange for a life of leisure in old age. That's not going to work out for me, and I'm not convinced it's going to work out for most members of my generation, either.
There's a quote attributed to Antoine de St. Exupéry (best known as the author of The Little Prince) that I like.
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
It's used a lot in the corporate world as a way to promote a "think different" attitude among middle managers. I'm not sure that it works in that context, but it certainly worked on me in this situation. The text message had us longing for this immense experience, and there was no way this ship wouldn't be built.
So we decided, right then and there, with a text message, that we were going to travel around the world for a year. Later that week, we asked our daughters what they'd think if we did this. They loved it.
Yes, there's never a perfect time to do anything, but our daughters are ages 8 and 11, in third grade and sixth grade. So this is as close to perfect — before academics really start to get intense for our older daughter — as we're going to get. Fortunately, the school was really supportive of us pulling the kids out of their classes for a year to enjoy their lives as road scholars.
The schooling hurdle was the only thing that really concerned us, and once that was cleared, I left my job (I call it early, temporary retirement), and my wife was fortunate enough to be able to take a leave of absence from hers.
Now all that's left is to pack up the house, find someone to rent it, sell the cars, and fly to Costa Rica.
Our adventure begins on August 19, and after Costa Rica we'll be visiting Panama, Chile, Easter Island, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, and then into Southeast Asia for awhile before moving on to India, Nepal, Africa, and eventually Europe. We'll be posting weekly dispatches from the trip here on Boing Boing (as internet connectivity allows), and you can follow our adventures over at takingontheworld.net.
For a long time, we were just existing. But now, it's time to live.
Read all of Tom's posts about his around the world family adventure.