lifestyle design

High Heels vs Chickens: The Lives we Lead


Yeah, I know it's an odd title for a post, and no I'm not seeking some weird morbid revenge on the rooster that attacked me. I've been thinking about high heels and chickens because the time has come when Jon and I are thinking of our return home, what that will look like and what our lives will be like. Inevitably the return will involve going back to a day-to-day job and that (for me, not Jon) will probably involve high heels. But in my day to day here where I'm wondering how the new baby chicks are doing - I begin to think of all the various ways we can choose to use the time we have during our lives; and all the kinds of life we can lead. For me, I find myself at a crossroads of the different versions of my life and am as curious as anyone to see where life will take me next. Now that I've explained my bizarre train of thought, let me continue. This trip has offered an opportunity to "be" many things. I've been a traveler, a teacher, an actress (at camp), a consultant, a housesitter, a web developer, a farmer and most recently a window repair person. But is this "me"? Isn't all of it me? When we go back to Portland, will I "be" whatever my job title is - high heels or not? It's so easy for us, especially in America where our culture is career driven, to be defined by what we do for work. But if there's one thing I've learned over the last 9 months, it's that the  activities I do during my time on earth don't define me, I think they're absorbed into what creates my character.

What do you think?

Certainly moving away from a career-driving lifestyle offers perspective on where we think we're going with that drive. This time in Italy has shown me how wonderful a slower-paced, tied-to-the-land kind of life can be. And I do like the chickens, even if one of the roosters doesn't like me. They give the most wonderful eggs and the little chicks are fluffy and cute.

A different perspective

Jon has a different take on all of this, which I welcome. While my mind goes directly towards, "what will I do for work?" when thinking of "home," Jon thinks first of what makes home home: friends, family, food, lifestyle etc. Work is just the thing you do to make "home" possible. I know there are a lot of arguments against this: "Oh you should enjoy the way you spend  those 8 hours a day!" But I have to admire the guy for not being concerned with how the income is made, as long as you're happy and you live the lifestyle you want.

When we don the high heels (or the suit or whatever 'costume' your job requires) does it change you? I have mixed feelings about this, because the lines between my personal and professional life are often blurred, whereas Jon creates more rigid boundaries in his work life. I enjoy knowing the people I work with and often want to know more about them than just who they are at the office.

Going Home, Taking the World With Us

Regardless of what our work lives will bring us, this trip has afforded us glimpses into many different lifestyles, which we've enjoyed, been confused by, surprised by, loved and wanted to take with us. We both agree that taking the time to travel in the way we have, to be in places long enough to understand the cultures a bit has allowed us to learn how people all over the world live their lives, and how it's not better or worse, but how there are so many options for how people can use their time on earth. I like that. I like knowing that we can "be" one thing for a time and then "be" something else (of course I understand very well the privileged position I hold in being able to say that, and that there are many many people in the world who don't have the option to change their situation). In the end it makes me feel like I do not have to be defined solely by how I earn income, but that I can choose to be defined by other things: the relationships in my life, service to my community, and sure for me, the energy I put into work and how that effects those around me. Maybe I'm giving this more of a simplistic view than it deserves, but being able to "be" many things in a short time has opened our eyes. Life is long (incha'allah - god willing) and I hope that I have the courage to define my life by the experiences I have and how I share those with others. Whether that involves high heels or chickens, or both, I suppose it will be up to me to make it good.

What are your thoughts about work, life, and how you create your life? Is it based on what you do for a living? Or something else? As you ponder, enjoy these photos from our visits to the beautiful villages and towns of Umbria - they are stunning (the towns, probably not the photos so much).

Global Travel: Irresponsible or Growing Opportunity?


This post was written by me (Jess) with healthy input and editing from Jon. Over the last 6 months, 9-12 months really, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether the decision to sell our stuff, leave our jobs and go on the road was plain irresponsible or an attempt to live life to the fullest before it passes by.  With us closing in on 6 months out, and spending my 31st birthday in England, I think it’s both.

When we decided to make this trip, we met a lot of people that said, “Oh I could never do that!” Or, “I have too many responsibilities;” or “I could never afford to travel like that.” Well, I had responsibilities, and I really don’t have much money. But what Jon and I do have is drive, flexibility and creativity. It’s working out for us so far. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s working.

Part of the reason I wanted to take this trip was because I wanted to stop working simply to live. I stopped believing that I was required to live the status quo life - that it wouldn't be that outlandish to want more hours in the day of enjoyment than occupying a desk. There's nothing wrong with the 'status quo' life - it's just not for me at this time. The meager funds that we had could actually provide for us for quite some time. And, we’d have the rest of our lives to provide for family, house, job, material goods etc. Now, we are the healthiest we are ever going to be (well, despite the series of illnesses we had early on in the trip). So, we decided to buy experiences. Luckily, and we’re really honest about this, we have the privilege of being highly educated, middle class Americans. Sorry, but that’s a reality.

When looking through the lens of the ‘status quo’ lifestyle, one that involves a career-track full-time job, regular rent or a mortgage, and other ‘adult’-like responsibilities, what we’ve done is horribly irresponsible. You could say, “Jess you had a great job, you were on the up and up, it was going so well!” And yes, it was, although I did feel a bit overworked, there was still something missing for me (see our earlier blog post about it here - Taking the Leap).

But when thinking about buying experiences – an alternate lifestyle is interesting. I’m not talking about some ‘alternative’ live in the woods type deal – I’m talking about financial stability, location independence.

While driving along the Northeastern English coastline the other day our friend got me thinking about this whilst listening to a song. There’s a bit of 22 year-old defiance there that I don’t identify with, but nonetheless, it got me thinking. I have pasted a few lines below with a link to the song by Frank Turner.

“Oh when no ones yet explained to me exactly what's so great About slaving 50 years away on something that you hate Look I'm meekly shuffling down the path of mediocrity Well if that's your road then take it but it's not the road for me

And I won't sit down And I won't shut up And most of all I will not grow up"

I thought about this song, and the lyrics as we drove and I said to Rob, “You know, I don’t mind growing up.” And it’s true, it’s actually quite fun. Plus, I’d much rather be 31 than 16 again – for me every year gets better as I learn more about myself and the world in which I live. Rob so poignantly replied, “Yeah, I guess growing up is really just about taking charge.”

Well said, Rob. Although growing up is about taking on more responsibilities, it’s about thinking independently about your life, grabbing the reins and not just sitting by while life passes.  That’s at least my young 31-year old take on it.

This form of taking charge wasn’t some flighty version of let’s up and leave and throw caution to the wind. Our trip was a highly calculated risk – one whose consequences and possibilities were carefully weighed.

This trip has already afforded us opportunities to take charge – of our finances, of our marriage, of the things and experiences that really truly matter to us.

Anyway now that I’ve thought about it a bit, I have to change my original statement. This travel experience isn’t irresponsible at all in my mind – in fact it’s the most responsible thing we could have done as adults. Because, in the end, if we hadn’t taken charge and chosen this experiment - even though I miss my friends, the people I worked with, the garden, the car and yes I really miss my pillow - I think after awhile I would have been miserable just hoping that someday I might be able to travel and see the places I’ve dreamed of. The best part is that it wasn’t that hard in the grand scheme of things to make those dreams a reality. I recommend trying.

What’s the worst that can happen? People say it all the time, but really, I would challenge you to ask yourself: what is the worst that could happen?

Taking the Leap


Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of planning a 2 month ‘sabbatical’ to travel in West Africa, my husband learned that his employer pulled a switcheroo and decided that they wouldn’t guarantee his job when we got back from our travels. It could have been an incredibly frustrating moment, because our original intent when we decided to take a trip over a year ago was to take a gap year; but we came to the conclusion we didn’t want to come back without the security of everything we currently have. So we settled on taking a much shorter trip in exchange for the comfort and stability of coming home to our stuff, our jobs, our normality. Sound familiar?

But instead of getting frustrated that we could have been planning something much different, it was a poignant moment for us, and one that I think we needed to push us to where we are now – taking a leap outside that normality; and banking on the prospect that insecurity could lead towards a stability we haven’t experienced.

Woah, let me explain and provide some context. I have a travel bug. That’s an understatement; I have an insatiable desire to see and experience the world and the wanderlust never goes away. As a nonprofit arts administrator, i.e. someone without a lot of financial means, I translate my lack of cash-flow and ability to pick up and wander, to the joy of experiencing and appreciating all things cultural in my own environment. Thus, you can imagine, working in the arts and culture community is a pretty good fit. The job is stressful, but over the course of my four years doing it, I’ve built an incredible professional network, a variety of experiences and skills, and a deep appreciation for the creativity of my community. Why should I want to leave? There’s just something about this life that’s been a little too rigid, too tightly controlled; honestly I feel trapped by my own creation of work-life arrangements.

Enter my wonderful husband, Jon. Jon’s a family crisis counselor working at a nonprofit. We work incredibly hard for our jobs, and like most people in our income brackets, just try to carve out the moments beyond the 9-5 that fulfill our personal selves. Like so many people, our student loans, car payments, bills and obligations make that carving somewhat of a challenge each month.

It seemed that in order to make it all work, to hold all the pieces together, to maintain our responsibilities, there was no way on earth we could afford to take a year trotting off.

And that’s where the blessing entered in ravishing disguise. See, we’d hit a point where we weren’t moving forward. We were just continuing to carve out those small moments, and not understand why we couldn’t save enough money to ever get close to buying a house, or paying off the student loans, or really enjoying the amazing place in which we live. We realized we were already going to be coming back from our trip to the same grind, but now with the stress of having to find work for Jon, so maybe it was time to envision something else. Maybe we didn’t have to subscribe to the live-to-work or work-to-work mentality that keeps us at offices, away from family and friends, with ultimately not a lot to show for it (not including my unsatiated need to see the world).  Why should we be bound to obligations we created for ourselves in the first place? If we created a life where we had higher bills, couldn’t we deconstruct that life and change the playing field?

While recently reading The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander, as recommended by a friend, Zander made a point that if you’re getting frustrated with the way the game is played, then make your own rules.

And that’s what we’re doing. Ultimately, Jon and I realized we haven’t been happy with our lives. We have a great set up, but there’s something that’s been missing. So instead of assuming that somewhere, somehow, with that better job or that key ingredient to “success” that we must be missing, we’re changing the rules, our rules.

We’re taking the leap; and I can’t remember the last time we felt so free, like the world really is our oyster (can we say clams? I don’t really like oysters to be honest). As of December, we’ll both be jobless (except for some bubblings of freelance work and other goodies, more on that soon), homeless, agenda-less and culture-bound. The best part is that if it doesn’t work, well, we just come home.

So this blog is for all of you who don’t have a stash of money somewhere; who don’t have a ton of savings or a trust fund, but who want something different from those that that say there are only a few ways to really ‘make it’ in this world. I can’t say that it’s for those that want something more, because really, this is about finding what’s enough; what’s enough to hit that sweet spot of fulfillment.

I look forward to sharing our travel experiences as we wander. I also look forward to your advice, feedback and thoughts.