In the spring of 2017, my wife, Nathalie, and I quit our stable, secure jobs to spend six months traveling through the US with our three children. After over a decade of living in the Netherlands – most of that time working at a university – we felt that we’d come to a breaking point with our work and living situation. We were both at dead-ends with our jobs, and we were both exhausted after spending years raising our three children, who we felt we only really saw for an hour in the morning and during the rush to make dinner and get everyone to bed in the evening. Weekends brought more time for family but also a blur of activity. We just couldn’t find a moment to sit and think, much less take stock of the kind of work we were doing and what we really wanted instead.
I suspect a lot of families have this issue. You’re living from day to day and not really sure how to get out there and change the context of your life, and there’s no time to even think about it. Before you know it, years have gone by and you’re wondering what happened.
I suppose this really came to a head when my grandfather passed away. It was the day after Thanksgiving 2015, and we got a call from my mother telling us the news. Living in the Netherlands, we are an entire ocean away from my side of the family, and the last 12 years had been us visiting for a few weeks here, a few weeks there, and seeing everyone changed by the 6 months or a year between visits. My mother said they’d wait to have the funeral until we arrived for Christmas. We flew there with our 3 kids, got over the jet lag, and the funeral was before the holidays began.
I remember seeing my family there, many of the little kids almost grown, those my age looking older than I remembered. Often my thoughts went back to my Grandparents house, really the only consistent home of my childhood, which would inevitably be sold and, one way or another, pass out of our lives. It seemed, despite the holidays and the twinkling lights, that my roots were coming unravelled. This would be the last Christmas ‘at home’ in their house. Years had gone by and I and my family had missed so many days, so many moments. What do you do with that?
For the next year, we wrestled with the aftermath of that visit. Something was missing from our lives, a sense of adventure and discovery, but mostly of meaning. My wife and I poured over stories of traveling families who home-schooled their kids on the move. We debated endlessly: where we should go and for how long; what should the budget be; should we go at all; was it irresponsible to take the kids out of school and go travelling?
In the end, we decided to go to the United States so that my wife and I could reconnect to friends and family, so that our children could get to know their country, and so that we could all have some time unhindered by work and social obligations to figure out what we really wanted in life.
What followed was six months of glorious freedom, of seeing our kids grow all day, every day, for a whole half-year of their lives: time that cannot be replaced (as if it ever could be). We saw friends we’d missed for over a decade, camped in State and National Parks, saw the glorious natural wonders of North America, and came to realize how good life can be if filled with meaningful moments. And it reminded us that traveling isn’t a hole in your resume. Work that isn’t satisfying is a hole in your eulogy.
At the same time, being in the US also sent home the VERY difficult situations our civilization is facing. We were watching the simultaneous onslaught of three hurricanes in the East and unprecedented wild fires in the West. We were watching the slow dismantling of the American state by its leadership in Washington. Many of our friends and family struggle with time and money in ways that Americans have not since the 1920s and 30s. Very difficult times are unfolding, financially, environmentally, politically, and morally.
Finding a new way to work
Now back in the Netherlands to regroup and reconsider what want to do next, my wife and I are very determined to change our lives for the better. We want independence, the ability to be mobile and self-employed. We want our family to be adaptable and able to face challenges. And we want to do something that will leave the world a better place than we’ve found it, with work that is meaningful and relevant and honest.
My wife, Nathalie, who was profoundly affected by the awe-inspiring natural wonders we saw during our trip, and by the urgent need to try and fix the world our children will inhabit, is augmenting her years of educational psychology and curriculum design experience by completing the Online Certificate on Education for Sustainable Development. Her plan is to specialise in implementing sustainability principles into existing school curriculum. We’re hoping she can do this in many exotic locales in the future.
I’m going to be posting regularly about the process of reforming my working life around freelancing and location-independent income. I’ve seen a lot of very fancy and impressive (and intimidating) websites from others who’ve pursued this dream, but I think I’m honest to a fault and can perhaps add some much-needed awkward straightforwardness 🙂 to what is otherwise an exciting and impressive societal trend. The question then becomes, what am I going to do?
In short: talking and writing. But in long form:
- Voice-over and voice-characterization: Prior to our departure, I did several narrations (which you can find on this website!) with some friends of mine, and I enjoyed it. Narration and voice characterization is something I’ve always had a knack for, and friends have always told me I should do it, and why not? Carpe carpum and all. While we were traveling we stayed with good friends Maruja Retana and Ross Palmer, who have their own home recording studio and are both media professionals, and they kindly gave me advice on recording and picking a microphone. I ordered and received some podcasting equipment (more on that later) and I’m going to start recording samples of my various voice talents, and eventually podcasts, for public enjoyment or derision, or both
- Blogging and book writing: I’ve had two books building in my brain (hopefully not the lizard part) for literally decades. One is fiction, and the other non-fiction. Plus I’ve always wanted to be a blogger, and to write about all the things I find fascinating. This works hand-in-hand with podcasting, so yay.
- New paradigm testing: My wife and I are both convinced that Western society is entering a new economic and social paradigm. Rather than waiting to see it arrive and adapting then, we’re both moving to understand and face that coming paradigm. Skills in self-sufficiency, work bartering, network community building, gear repair, and a host of other life skills are essential to that new paradigm, and you’ll see me working on those regularly
For the sake of discussion, here is my working (rough) list of rules of the new economic paradigm:
- Removal of the wall between the work self and my regular self. I need to be the same person everywhere. If there are parts of myself that I cannot share in a ‘work environment’, then I need to consider whether I shouldn’t change that part of myself, or the work environment
- Death to ‘It’s just business’. Cheating or harming other people, mentally or financially, a lot or a little, for money, is no different than harming them period
- My work should reflect my values. I should not undertake any work that actively opposes those values (though this is often difficult)
- Work exists for making a living, for contributing to my family, and not as an escape from both family and community. If you need to escape to work then something is very wrong
- If possible, fix what’s broken before buying something new. I shouldn’t be proud of my new computer (and all the waste and rare-earth minerals that went into it) but of my old computer, which I fixed myself to get more life out of it. My goal is that a computer (be it a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone, or what-not) should last ten years
- Times are becoming unpredictable: it’s important to make a living but it’s equally important to be devoted to community, to being flexible and mobile and adaptable, and to the idea that there are more kinds of currency than money (though you still need money and there’s nothing wrong with making a living)