Cold Shower Heroes: How to live a broad life

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Welcome to the second instalment of my Cold Shower Heroes interviews. Today I want to introduce you to Tim and Erin, an American couple who are embracing life outside their comfort zone by travelling the world with their 18 month old daughter and 4 year old son (yikes! I hear all the parents exclaim).

I first came across Tim and Erin on Twitter, which led me to their blog: Abroad Life. Tim’s article Daedalus Rising really captured my attention. I felt that it was a perfect metaphor for the situation many of us find ourselves in after reaching a certain number of milestones we’re meant to achieve in life and feeling like “Is this all there is?”

So Tim and Erin decided to reassess what was important to them and courageously decided to leave their comfortable life in Boston to travel around the world. I spoke to them about some of the challenges and rewards of their adventure.

What prompted you to take this trip?

Erin: We always wanted to do some extended travel and we’d tried previously to come up with different ways that we could take three months or more off work. So the idea wasn’t something that totally came out of the blue for us. But as far as actually deciding to do it, that happened in one email.  We had a really tough winter in Boston last winter, where we got 8 feet of snow in the month of February. We had three major snowstorms that winter – we couldn’t even get out the door for one of them. In February we were snowed in and the whole city was just a mess, even all the way through March. Then in April we all got sick and we had stomach bugs and intense sicknesses that never ended, it was just awful. Then I read some travel blog article about someone who quit her job to go travelling and I was just like “What are we doing?” We’d already been doing all this budgeting stuff and I was like “Why are we spending all this money next year on childcare when we’re just miserable.” Well, we weren’t exactly miserable – but I was sick at the time I said that. (Laughs) That was the tipping point and I just threw my hands up and said “Well let’s just do something else”

How did it go from being just a concept to reality and how long was it between making the decision and going?

Tim: So Erin sent that email to me (the one that’s on the website) on May 1st I think and then we came home and that night and started looking at the budget.

Erin: Well we’re big budgeters, so we already had something to start with.

Tim: Yeah, so every year we go through our budget so we’d been doing all that anyway and thinking about what we wanted to do with our house and we just started Vera in childcare three days a week and had been working out how that affected Erin’s work schedule. So we just added another column for what our costs would be and how do our costs change if we do this travel? Then we got to a point where we said “Hey, this might actually be workable” if one of us could keep an income.

Erin: Then within a few days my parents came to visit and we dished this whole travel idea. And of course I grew up travelling so they were like “Yeah, do it!”

Tim: And then while they were still there we started sorting out the house with them.

Erin: We were basically prepping our house for rental, all within days (of having the idea)! And then within a week I was interviewing realtors and having them come through the house. Within a week and a half we had a realtor signed up to list our house… and at this stage I don’t think we’d even talked to our companies yet.  We basically just decided that with such a limited window of time that we could actually do these things that everything was all ‘GO’

Tim: Unless we hit a deal-breaker.

Erin: So we started our trip all within four months. It was August 21st that we left. We had a vacation planned for that time anyway and we had the flights booked so we thought that if we just change the return flight then we’d paid for at least one portion of the trip.

Tim: And the other part of that was that in Boston, September in the rental market is important because of all the universities and colleges. In order to get someone in September you have to have the house agreed to in June.

Erin: That was really why we were moving so fast. I mean we had to rent our house, that was a deal-breaker. There would be no way that we could support the trip with it not rented out.

Do you think having the time pressure made it easier?

Tim: Definitely, I think that because it was so quick there just wasn’t any room to second guess yourself. We were just kinda throwing all the balls up in the air and seeing where they landed.

Erin: Yeah and although it was four months, we actually rented the house within a month of deciding, so that was the point where we realised “Ok, this is actually happening”.

Did you have to resign from your jobs to take the trip?

Erin: Well we spoke to our employers about working remotely and Tim’s employer had said no because they couldn’t support it. Tim said that he may consider doing the trip anyway and they said they understood that.  And I’m a self employed contractor anyway and I had been working a bit from home anyway, so it wasn’t as ‘off the wall’ of an idea for me.

Tim: Yeah, Erin had already established the principle of remote work after having the kids. I’d been doing that to some extent by working from home one day a week, but for a longer term commitment and for what I do, it’s pretty hard. I’m an architect and project manager so I’m going to client meetings and job sites, and all that so obviously I can’t do all that remotely.  So yeah, technically I resigned.  It’s all on good terms though, so I’ll be talking with them next Summer and most likely they would want to have me back, but you never know.  We’ll just have to see where things stand when I get back.

Was having to quit your job scary?

Tim: Yeah, that’s still a big unknown at this point. I mean I’m not too worried that I couldn’t get a job, but part of it is that I did actually like my job. I liked what I was doing and the people that I worked with, it was 10 minutes away from our house, which was a really good set up. And I’d been there 13 years since I graduated from college so I had really put my heart and soul into the company.

Erin: At the point when Tim realised that he was going to have to quit his job that was the point where I was like “Are you really sure, really?” Because I was afraid that this was my ‘brilliant’ idea and Tim’s the one leaving his job, I thought ‘oh no!’

Tim: Yeah, I did like my job but I was also at a point personally where I was feeling like I wasn’t getting the time with the kids that I wanted. And that we were stuck in these routines between both our jobs and the kids routines and it felt like there was just one path forward and we had no other options for what we wanted to do with our time and with our lives. I was just trying to set priorities and work out what has to be sacrificed. I mean do you focus less on career and focus more on your family? You kind of have this time pressure of your career and your family and of course your own personal interests, and at some point something’s gotta give. So I was really ready for a break and to try to take a step back and think more deeply about what we want from our lives.

Now that you are a few months in to your travels, has it been everything that you had hoped for? 

Erin: Yes!

Tim: I think so, yes. Obviously there are still challenges, but they are much different than the challenges we had at home. The travel days are tough, with the kids. All the packing and everything that comes with moving every two weeks. Ideally we’d like to stay in places for up to a month, which will makes things easier.

Erin: Yeah I think we’ll probably do that come January, we’ll have some longer stretches.

Tim: At the moment we’ve been doing housesitting where we stay at someone’s house while they’re on vacation and mind their property. Based on the way those things have been spaced out it’s been two week stints in each place. Mostly that’s been fine, it’s enough time with the kids to get them settled in and see enough of where we are without feeling rushed, but two weeks comes about fast.

Do you have an itinerary for this big adventure?

Erin: Actually the biggest question that we got before we left was “Oh, where are you going?” And we’d sort of just say “I don’t know” because where we were going didn’t really matter. This trip was never about where we were exactly, but really more about having the time to spend together as a family and experience something new. As much as I’d love to say it’s about where we are, it’s not as much because of the age of our kids. I mean we’re still dealing with two naps a day, so our outings have to be scheduled around that. We knew going into this, and still understand, that we can’t put too much into each outing otherwise everyone’s going to get cranky. You just have to have low expectations for what you’re going to achieve that day. Tim’s joke is that we generally only see 30% of what we would be able to see if it was just us travelling together. But we don’t feel disappointed by that, we don’t feel that we’ve missed out on anything because that’s not the main reason we’re here, so we’re just going with it.

Tim: Yeah, what we’re really finding is that now that we’re here, how much this trip is about the time we spend together and sharing experiences in these amazing new places.

What has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from this experience so far? 

Tim: Probably the biggest thing has been the way that it’s changed our way of thinking about what we want to do and how we live our lives.

Erin: It makes the future seem like there are so many more possibilities. I know it seems cheesy, but it’s got us thinking outside the box a little bit about what we’re going to do and where we’re going to go with our lives. When we were at home it was so pre-determined, it was like everyday was “Erin has to get both kids to daycare, sit in rush hour traffic to get to the office and then go home, go to the grocery store on the way home, Tim’s got to leave the office early to get home – even though it’s not even early – and then it’s into the evening routine.” And that was just it, the way things are supposed to be. But here, we’ve starting to think in a different way and look at how we can sustain this, or at least some of the time we spend together.

What have been the biggest challenges of the trip so far? And how have you overcome them?

Tim: Well there are two parts to that: the challenge of getting here, and then the challenges of actually being here.

Erin: Yeah the challenges of getting here were pretty big. We had a checklist of something like 200 things we needed to do before we left, and there were big things that we needed to figure out. Sorting out health insurance for example, which luckily Tim handled because I just can’t cope with that kind of stuff because I just get angry at the health care system. Urgh.

Tim: All the big decisions had a potential to derail everything, but I think what kept us pushing through was knowing that we just really wanted this, and that we were really committed to it.

Erin: Yeah, by that stage we’d already rented our house!

Tim: We kind of threw ourselves in the deep end…

Erin: Also by that stage we’d already figured out what needed to be done and made the assessment that nothing on that list was too scary that we couldn’t handle it. Having said that some of it was so stressful, I felt like I was breathing from the top of my chest for two straight months. But as soon as we left it was fine – and I went back to breathing normally. (laughs)

Tim: Then since being on the road it’s really been about logistics of travelling with kids and general problem solving, plus making sure Erin can work remotely.

Erin: Things like making sure we have internet access is important, plus some type of cell phone use and things like that.

Tim: And like we mentioned before, the biggest challenge on the road is the long travel days, getting packed up and whatever.

Erin: Yeah, physically moving with two kids is hard (we wrote a blog post on it) because we have to carry everything as well as the two kids. And we packed surprisingly lightly – I mean we’ve basically only got three outfits on rotation! It’s actually kind of silly. So it’s not like we packed heavy, there is just a lot that you have to bring having kids. I always get a bit stressed the day before and day of, but we’re getting pretty used to packing and unpacking and we’re pretty good at giving ourselves more time and not rushing.

What have been the sacrifices that you’ve had to make to take this trip? Have you found it difficult not being able to go out just the two of you, for example?

Erin: Actually, just being somewhere different makes you feel like you’re out anyway. When you’re in a different city or staying in a rental that you like it feels like a special occasion.

Tim: Yeah, when we’re at home it sometimes feels like you have to go out just to spend time together because in our normal routine there’s no time to spend together, just the two of us. But here it’s different.

Erin: There just feels like there’s less to do when you’re not in your own house. It’s taken the cleaning thing out of the equation, when you’re here for two weeks you just do a final clean (and a little wipe of the highchair each day) and then you’re all done!

Tim: For me my biggest concern is with Oliver, having him miss out on his pre school experience and not having collaborative experiences with other kids. But then the trade off there is that he gets us, full time, engaging with him. It’s not the same, but that is a struggle, keeping him engaged and interested in what we’re doing.

Erin: As for our friends and family I think that if we were gone for the full year (we’re going home for a visit for Christmas) then I think I would have felt a bit more feelings of angst or separation. The other day I got a bit sad thinking about Thanksgiving, but then I thought “At least we’ll be home for Christmas” because I think we would have had a hard time not seeing everyone for a whole year. Especially because we’re close to our family and we’ve got a good group of friends who we spend time with.

Tim: But we also Facetime a lot and have the blog and Instagram where we can connect with everyone – including new people, like you!

What do you think that you will do differently once you get home as a result of having this year away?

Erin: Well, that’s an ongoing conversation.

Tim: The biggest question for me is what happens career wise.

Erin: I think it would feel wrong to jump right back in to what we were doing before. But I’m not sure just yet how to re-align things to something a bit different.

Tim: Mostly it’s around how we can change the amount of time we both work so we can spend more time together and as a family. That both of us working less might allow us to have a life that allows us a similar experience to what we have over here. But at this stage I have no idea what that looks like at the moment.

Erin: I think that we could possibly do more travel, possibly for three months or so. I’d like to take a bigger chunk of time to take these trips, instead of just having a two week vacation somewhere. Actually making it part of our lifestyle.

What advice would you give to other people who may also want to do what you’re doing but think it can’t be done?

Tim: I would say “Think big”. For us we had to look at all the things that were supposedly big and sacred in our lives – careers, home, schooling (or pre-schooling actually) and we had to burn all those bridges to realise what actually was important. So I think you need to look at your life try and find a way to make the most important pieces fit together a bit differently. I also think that while it’s important to be comfortable with the concept and what needs to happen to get there, you also need to realise that you don’t need to answer all of the questions now. You just need commit to a plan and then trust that you’ll figure the rest out as the experience unfolds.

You can read more about Tim and Erin’s adventures on their blog or follow them on Instagram and Twitter.

And a big thanks to Tim and Erin for taking time out to chat to me. I really enjoyed our conversation and love following your inspiring adventure.  See you in Sydney next time, right? 😉

 

Cold Shower Heroes: Get Your Boots Dirty

Image via Dirty Boots Photography
Image via Dirty Boots Photography

I figured that you all must be getting a bit sick of just hearing about me and my comfort zone challenges, so I’ve decided to introduce a new series of blog posts called Cold Shower Heroes.

Cold Shower Heroes are people who are embracing the Cold Showers Are Good For You philosophy of doing things that scare them and constantly redefining their comfort zones.  With this new series of posts I am going to introduce you to some of those people.

The first person I want to introduce you to is Alex McGregor. I’ve known Alex for a while now, hmm, actually around his whole life…  Alex is my brother, but even if he wasn’t I would still want to feature him on this series as he is a freaking legend.  Until recently Alex was working in IT on a mine site in outback Queensland. A job that gave him some great opportunities but wasn’t something that really ‘lit him up’.   Knowing that the mine he was working at was drawing to a close and that a redundancy was likely in his future Alex started to see it as an opportunity to do more of something he loves. Alex is a photographer and he is about to embark on a trip all around Australia. But as you will learn from our interview, he is doing things a little bit differently, and he wants to get YOU involved.

So Alex, what is the concept behind ‘You Choose My Adventure’.

I’ve wanted to do a trip around Australia for ages, but I wanted it to be a bit more spontaneous than just planning it out, driving around and posting a few photos on Facebook. Then I remembered reading about a guy called The Dice Man, who pretty much lives his life by the roll of a dice. I didn’t want to go to that extreme so I thought it might be good to get everyone I know involved in getting me around Australia. So I came up with the idea of basically getting people to vote through my website.  Each week I’m going to post a list of three locations or adventures on my blog and then get people to vote on where they want me to go. For the one that wins I’m going to do a video from there about that place and what I get up to. And then I post another poll for people to vote on for the next place.

How long is your trip going to be?

I’m starting off in Tasmania and that will probably be for just under 2 months, then I plan on doing the rest of Australia – depending on where people want me to go – but I don’t really know how exactly long the whole trip will be.

What part of this trip do you feel is you getting outside of your comfort zone?

Partly the idea of leaving it up to chance, but probably the biggest thing is that I won’t have a ‘job’ for the next maybe 12 months.   Not having a regular source of income is a scary thing because I have been working solidly ever since I finished school back in 1999. I’ve been working for 15 or so years full time, so this will be the longest period of time I haven’t been working. The fact that I have to live off my savings and my work as a photographer is a bit scary.

Tell us a bit more about your photography work.

Well probably about 5 years ago or so I picked up a proper camera.   I basically bought a decent camera (digital SLR) before I went to Nepal to do the Everest Base Camp trek. I’d always been interested in photography and wanted to learn more about it so I just started playing around. Then the more pictures I took the more people would tell me that I had an eye for it, so that helped my confidence grow and I started taking more and more photos and kept experimenting.   Also being out at the mine I had heaps of opportunity to take some pretty cool photos and the mining company that I worked for actually started using my pictures for their publications and artwork in their offices. So I started tossing up the idea of becoming a professional photographer. Then when I got made redundant I thought I may as well just do it.

So is this trip about photography?

Well it’s about a lot of things – travel and adventure. But it is also about me pursuing photography in the only way I really know how.   I mean I know I don’t want to do wedding photography but I don’t know exactly what I do want to do. I love travel photography and I really enjoy the technical aspects of photography – using the drone, taking time lapse, like doing star-trails and light painting and I’m getting more into doing videos. Anything that integrates technology into photography basically, which I guess makes sense given my IT background and love of technology. The trip will give me heaps of opportunity for that kind of thing.

It is often said that you should do what scares you most – does photography scare you?

Taking photos doesn’t scare me, but there’s no point in being a photographer if no one sees your work. And with people seeing your work they are instantly judging it and your creativity. So calling yourself a professional photographer you have to believe that people will not only like your work but be willing to pay you for it. So sometimes I wonder if my photography is good enough to call myself a ‘professional’ or more to the point whether people will be willing to pay me for it. But they have, and they do and that’s help me to start believing that I am good enough to be professional.

What has helped push you through that fear of not being good enough?

Just doing it. I know that makes it sound easy, but it’s just remembering that getting outside of your comfort zone is the only way that you get better. I mean once you push yourself to do something and then you do it you realize “yes I can do this” and then the more you do it, the better you get and for me the better my photos get the more opportunity I get and it goes from there. It’s basically a big positive feedback loop.

Are there any other fears or concerns you have about your trip?

I guess the idea of being on my own all that time means that I’m going to have to really put myself out there so I don’t get lonely. I mean I don’t consider myself to be a shy person, but I think I can be if I don’t push myself to meet new people sometimes. I don’t find it uncomfortable when I’m actually talking to people, but sometimes the anticipation of going up to people you don’t know makes me a bit nervous. I think heaps of people have that fear, a fear of looking like an idiot, or probably a fear of rejection. But the majority of the time I do it, that doesn’t happen – or even if it did I probably wouldn’t want to be friends with that kind of person anyway. Haha.

What would you say to other people who have fears or concerns about doing something that they love?

Look at the end of the day we’re all pretty lucky that we have food and shelter so for the most part your ‘safety net’ is about having support of family and friends, which I am lucky enough to have. I mean I am not an expert on getting outside your comfort zone but I know that if I don’t do this now then when am I going to do it? I kind of consider this to be something for my soul. I’d rather go out and have fun, push myself and try and work out what makes me happy than to earn heaps of money working in IT and be dead inside. I could easily go out and get another IT job in the mines but I need to give myself the opportunity to have this experience.   Plus the worst-case scenario is that I come back after the trip and ‘all’ I’ve got to show for it is a whole lot of new skills in photography, videography, using my drone and other things. I think by the end of the trip I’ll have more real-life options than just IT.

What are you most excited about for the trip?

Probably the sense of freedom, adventure and of not-knowing. It is the sense of anticipation. Anticipation of discovering something that takes my breath away, something that stops me in my tracks and makes me go “Wow!”. I don’t know what it will be, but I know it will happen.

How can people get involved?

They can head to my blog http://www.dirtybootsphotography.com.au/blog.html to vote and check out my latest posts and videos from the winning location or adventure. Also you can find me on Facebook, Instagram and my YouTube channel.

I really hope you enjoyed this interview. If you did, please let me know and/or share it with your friends, fans and followers.  And if you know any Cold Shower Heroes that you think I should interview, please get in touch.  Until next time, check out Alex’s awesome video intro for You Choose My Adventure.

Finding Meaning at Terminal Velocity

Yep, totally cool as a cucumber.
Yep, totally cool as a cucumber.

I always used to pride myself on being ‘tough’ and ‘strong’.  I always had everything under control, I was organised and driven and un-emotional. At least that is what I thought. Until the illusion I had been living under came crashing down after the birth of my daughter, nearly three years ago. Suddenly my identity was gone, all the things I thought defined me were either not there anymore or no longer seemed important. And I realised, I had no idea who I really was. I think this is a really common experience for a lot of first time mums, but it’s definitely not limited to mothers, nor does it affect only women. For me working through this takes time (and continues to) – and a whole lot of love and support from my husband, family and friends… and my therapist.  But probably one of the biggest breakthroughs I’ve had recently came from jumping out of a plane. Really! Hear me out.

That is me in the picture above, jumping out of a plane from 14,000ft.  I can safely say that it was the most terrifying thing I have ever done, EVER.  But then again the expression on my face probably gave that away. The fear didn’t start there either, the anticipation of having to jump out of that tiny, rickety plane was bloody nerve wracking and I doubted whether I would actually do it, until 2 seconds before I jumped – and by ‘jumped’ I mean dragged along by the dude I was strapped to…  So why in the world would I do that to myself, you ask?

At this stage I could just blame my husband.  I mean technically he is the one who booked it for me, without my knowledge and then “gave” it to me (it didn’t quite feel like a gift at the time).  But quite honestly, I had been silently crying out for it.

You see two days earlier, seeing that I was moping around like a little ball of misery, hubby reluctantly asked “Are you ok?”  To which I responded (in an embarrassing-to-admit toddler-like whinge) “I’m just so boooored! Why does life have to be so haaaard.  I wish we had our old life back”.  And by ‘old life’ I meant our life before becoming parents.  I was going through one of my ‘episodes’ again. Admittedly, it was pretty mild compared to only a year or so ago where I would be curled up in a ball, not wanting to get out of bed and crying my eyes out. But it was that same heavy feeling of feeling confused, sad and trapped

So the next day hubby casually asks me “Have you checked your emails?”  Umm, no. Why would I check my emails on a Saturday, I thought to myself. I gave him a strange look and then went to find my phone.  I check my emails and found an email from Red Balloon in my inbox and thought, whaaat?  Then I get a second one pop up with Confirmation of your Skydive Booking in the subject box – FOR THE NEXT DAY!!

From the moment I read that email I started to get waves of nervousness, interspersed with feelings of complete disbelief that it was going to happen, then doubt that I would be able to do it, complete confidence that I could do it and of course fear that the parachute may not open and that I would die at the ripe old age of 37.  Those waves lasted until the moment of actually leaving the plane.  The whole flight up my palms were sweating, I was shivering and my heart was beating like crazy and I tried to keep calm by regulating my breathing (thank you yoga) and staring out the window at the beautiful view of the Sydney skyline.  Just as I started to calm down there was movement. Someone opened the door and people started shuffling towards it, one by one everyone in front of me started dropping out of the plane and I thought, WAIT! I’m not ready for this, no-one’s asked me if I’m ready!  But before I could get words out of my mouth my instructor was shuffling me towards the open plane door. ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ I thought at that point.  Then as I dropped out of the plane adrenaline and pure unadulterated fear took hold.  “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” I kept repeating, which is weird because I am not even remotely religious.  Then I finally started to smile, the biggest joy-filled (and wobbly-cheeked) smile.

Before I knew it the parachute opened and the first thing I noticed was how quiet everything went.  There was a peace that came over me, a calm and also if I’m honest a sense of relief that the parachute had actually opened.  We gracefully floated down to the ground, and for those 6 minutes and I felt so full of joy, so full to the brim with gratitude for my life and an indescribable feeling of freedom.  Being up so high was beautiful, but for some strange reason looking down at the world like that gave me a sense of optimism, I felt that the world was an absolutely amazing place.  Somehow being removed from what was going on below made my perceived problems seem so small and gave me so much perspective on my life.

And you know, sometimes life IS hard, juggling work, children, groceries and cleaning – all the while trying to work out who you are and how you fit into this crazy world.  But one thing that I realised, as a result of my skydiving experience, is that it wasn’t so much the difficulty of it all that I was struggling with so much as the monotony.  We seem to work so hard to set up this life of a nice home, good job and nicely organised routine (that makes fitting in the aforementioned elements of life actually possible) that we sometimes make everything too “easy” for ourselves and start living our lives on auto-pilot.  It seems to me that who we are is forged not in doing what we always do and being who we’ve always been, but in challenging ourselves to grow, be better, to try things we’ve never done before and push ourselves to the boundary of what we thought we were capable of.

Since becoming a Mum I had written off the idea of ever sky-diving. I thought that it was something that I just couldn’t do anymore because I just had too much to lose. It was a risk that I couldn’t take*. But taking that leap made me realise that there is risk in everything, and I don’t want to go through my life fearing everything, not growing, not venturing beyond my comfort zone.  I want to be an example of courage to my daughter.  I want her to embrace the full spectrum of experiences that life has to offer.

So I urge you – get out there, get uncomfortable, push yourself past where you thought you could go. It’s the only way you’ll really know how AWESOME you are (and you really are, if only you’d let yourself believe it).

Love Jane xx

*Skydiving is actually remarkably safe, especially doing a tandem jump. You are more likely to die driving on the way there (not that you will… I’m just sayin’).