Documenting The Journey Of A Man On A Quest For Mindfulness, Peace, and Joy

Month: May 2022

My Sabbatical – Week 1

While on a walk just moments ago, I had the following thought.

My goal is to take a two-year sabbatical, and it would be nice to give myself some sort of structure or discipline to document this journey. Two years = 104 weeks. What if I committed to writing a weekly blog post about my experiences over the past week? I can add to it over the course of the week and publish once per week. That would be a great way to not only document all the great moments, but also act as a fun way to review and assess my personal evolution over this time. 

So here we are. Week 1. 

I quit my job on a Thursday afternoon. Once I got the kids dropped off to school on Friday morning, I came home, made some coffee, grabbed my journal, and sat. I sat and stared out my window for two and a half hours. When a thought came, I would write it down, but otherwise, I simply sat and stared out at nature. Thoughts would come and go, thoughts of what I would do with my day. I practiced meditation and breathing techniques learned from the Headspace app, to let those thoughts go and to always bring my attention back to the breath. After taking this extended break to sit and simply be, I felt called to do something. My body wanted to move. The weather was nicer than it had been. And so, that afternoon, of all the things I could’ve done on the first day of being unemployed, I pulled weeds. I went out to my front yard and spent two hours clearing my land of last year’s dead leaves and this Spring’s new invasive growth. This is not a project I’d had at the forefront of my mind in the days leading up to my departure from the workforce, but in that moment, something inside told me it would feel good, feel right. So I put on some gloves, got down in a low squat (thank you Tony Riddle for teaching me this restorative position), and I got dirty. I used my body to connect with the Earth. I got low. I purged my land of what was old to make space for new growth. And now, with my physical environment cleansed, I feel more ready for the inner cleansing that lies ahead. 

Over the next couple of days, I was feeling compelled to start making lists, to “figure out” the optimal routine of my new normal. I’ve given myself the gift of time, now how I can ensure I don’t waste any of my precious, newly “purchased” minutes? I started writing down a list of all the things I could do with my time each day and week: practicing Spanish, running, meditating, practicing guitar, practicing piano, writing blog posts, various household projects… and then I wrote down the word “unlearning.” That’s when the pen took a break from the page. I realized that the drive to fill up my time, to optimize, to be busy with activities, is a learned behavior. Yes, I want to make sure I’m putting this precious time to good use, but what really is “good use” anyway? How can I know the answer to that unless I have taken the time to listen to my inner voice, and focused on unlearning and detaching from 15 years of Corporate America inertia?

Yet, at the same time, I do believe in the benefits of compounding and consistency; small activities done consistently over a long period of time yield big results. If you take 100 hours of your life and dedicate it to learning a new skill, say playing guitar, you will be a much better guitar player if you practice thirty minutes per day for 200 days than if you practice five hours per day for 20 days. I want to start laying these foundational building blocks for new skills, behaviors, and knowledge that align with my values. Balancing the effort of developing consistent practices with the effort of unlearning old constructs and shutting out external influences will be one of my biggest challenges! 

I am already noticing an enhanced presence with my children. I had always been pretty diligent about leaving my phone upstairs in the “family time” hours of 5-7pm, but now that I am completely unattached from an employer and devoid of the mental pull of the Outlook inbox, I am able to be more present with all the cool stuff my kids are doing. And when bedtime rolls around, I feel less compelled to rush them through the routine so that I can hopefully eke out an extra 12 minutes of quiet time for myself before I have to get to bed so that I can bring my “A game” at work the next day. I can let the bedtime story we’re making up together run on, and on, with no end in sight. Yes, let’s draw one extra picture on your sketch pad. Sure, I can tuck you in three times. If that’s what you need, kiddo, I’m here for you. 

We celebrated my youngest’s fourth birthday over the weekend, and I absolutely love how it went. The plan was as follows:

  • Go pick up donuts at the nearby bakery
  • Choose whatever breakfast food you want to eat
  • Pack your backpack full of whatever snacks you want to bring
  • Go to a park
  • Once tired of that park, go to another park
  • Continue through exhaustion until bedtime

It was such a low-cost, hassle-free birthday, and we all loved every minute of it. We celebrated on a Sunday, and as the afternoon went on and “dinnertime” approached (what even is dinnertime? who’s to say when we’re supposed to eat?), Old Kevin would have started to feel a mild anxiety, an antsyness to wrap up the birthday, get home, and get everyone settled in a good time to minimize stress and to be well-rested for the next day. Thankfully, Old Kevin wasn’t in attendance at this birthday party. New Kevin discarded the impulse to force an early departure from the park and kept right on playing. When the moment came for us to take a break and drink some water by a bench, all we had to do was ask the kids, “What do you think, is it time to go?” They put on their packs and started walking to the parking lot. No squabbles. No friction. And so by the act of relaxing and being in the moment, we actually reduced more stress than had we tried to strongarm them out of the park before they were ready just to try to speed things up to give ourselves more time. 

Monday.

Frisbee golf with a friend I haven’t seen since he had his second child eight months ago. Nice evening conversation with Kristyn by candlelight and incense. We discussed how it feels good when we choose each other and that we want to have that aspect of our relationship in balance. 

Tuesday.

Our youngest’s birthday! Our anniversary! We always have an amazing May 24 in our house! 

After our household birthday tradition of waking the birthday kid up by singing “Happy Birthday” and then measure the kid’s height on the hallway wall ruler, we bring them to school and then start our day. Kristyn and I start the day with what I hope becomes a new morning ritual of togetherness; upon one adult returning from school drop-off, we head outside with the dog for a walk to see the nearby lake. Sheesh, that sounds just lovely typing it out – why haven’t we been doing this all along?! 

Volleyball with friends at noon on a sunny, partially cloudy 65 degree day with the all four courts to ourselves. In a vulnerable moment during a post-game conversation with one friend, I asked what they think I need to work on most with my game, truly open to the feedback, and they said, “lifting weights.” And the thing is, he’s right. My technique, endurance, decision-making, communication… it’s all there. But in order to be a more dynamic volleyball player, I need to put on some muscle and weight train to gain vertical elevation and quickness. Old Kevin would have heard that feedback and felt constriction, felt ashamed. But New Kevin heard the truth in the statement; I’ve always been a skinnier guy, and lifting weights has always been a weak spot in my personal exercise routines. I want this to change. Weight training has now just shot up toward the top of the priority list. But first, I need to get ready for this backpacking trip to Minnesota’s North Shore. Only three more sleeps! 

Met up with the fam at Culver’s around 445pm to cash in our kids’ free frozen custard from their kids meals two days prior (yes, we held on to the paper bags that act as the “ice cream token”). And yes, that meant our kids got to have ice cream before dinner today. Life is too short to not celebrate things. 

Wednesday and Thursday. 

Gearing up for a solo camping trip at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park. 

Friday – 7:45am. 

I was so caught up in preparing for my first-ever hike-in camping experience, this is all the time I have for the week’s reflections. I am so eager to get out into the woods; whenever I spend time in the wild, it brings into focus just how convenient and comfortable our lives are. My goal with this 3-night camp is to get by with minimal provisions, meditate and write a lot, and return with a better understanding of myself, of what things and activities I want to “add back” into my life after stripping them all away for a few days. 

Into the woods we go! 

 

 

Choosing a Life of Mindfulness, Authenticity, and Less, and Letting Go of the Culture of More

It’s official! As of yesterday, I am no longer an employee.
 
I am now simply an untethered, wandering organism of the planet. After 7.5 satisfying years selling TV and Digital advertising for KARE 11, and after a total of 15 years selling advertising for a living, I’m getting out of the game.
Why?
  • Because I am accepting that what I have is, for now, enough.
  • Because life is too short and can end at any moment.
  • Because life is made up of chapters, and a new chapter is starting right now.
  • Because all my children want me to do right now is play with them.
  • Because I don’t believe in striving for more, more, more, just for the sake of having more.
  • Because I want to do more to make the world a better place for future generations.
  • Because I believe in listening closely to and trusting my instinct.
  • Because there is value in living slowly.
  • Because times change, and I’m not the same person I was when I was in my late teens and early 20’s and chose Marketing and Sales as my career path. 
  • Because, and let’s just be honest here, do any of us really believe deep down that we need *more* TV commercials in our lives?
Ok, so… What now?
 
Along with my partner, I am embarking on a 2-year mini-retirement. A sabbatical. A reshuffling of life’s typical timeline, where, as opposed to allocating all my retirement years to 65+, I am time-shifting two of those years to right now. Exactly what we’ll do with this time, and when, is largely unknown. What we do know is that we are going to attempt to strip our lives down to the essentials and reassess, from the ground up, how we want to live our lives.
 
What else do we know?
 
We know that in summer of 2023, our plan is to move to the beautiful country of Costa Rica, indefinitely. This gives us a little over one year to take all the necessary steps to get us from Twin Cities suburbs to Playa Flamingo, Guanacaste. It’s exciting, it’s overwhelming, it’s a dream, it’s a wild and crazy adventure that I’m feeling all the feelings about, and I’m thrilled to be able to share our plan with the world!
 
How am I able to do this?
 
I freely admit I am a beneficiary of privilege. I’m a white man in America. I come from a supportive family. Things have generally been working out for me. But I do believe that taking a break, even just a small break, from the minutiae of Corporate America is viable for more than just the super-rich.
 
My process has mainly involved asking myself hard questions in a journal and not walking away until I’d written down some answers. Questions like, “How much is enough?” and “What do I value above all else?” and “What visions do I embrace?” It was in the reflective process of answering tough questions like these that I realized I value the simple, fundamental things life has to offer, many of which don’t require material wealth, like: spending time with loved ones, being out in nature, exercising, cooking a nutritious and scrumptious meal from scratch, meditating, and creating stuff. When you value low-cost/no-cost activities, you don’t need as much.
 
The consumerist culture we live in is designed to convince us we have many more “needs” than we actually do. Part of my quest is to shed wanting and embrace a mindful, minimalist life.
What’s the Goal?
 
One of my top priorities for this time is to put my privilege to better use, to harness and hone my true inner super powers to unleash their maximum value for the benefit of humanity. My intent and hope is that the world sees a net payoff by me pointing my best strengths to the things I care about and value most.
 
Also, my partner and I believe that spending time as a resident of another country will be an informative, enlightening, and enriching experience for ourselves and our children. There are ways to live a great life that are different from the “standard suburban America lifestyle,” and we want our family to gain this perspective. We plan to do our best to learn the culture of Costa Rica, honor the land and its people, and foster a strong connection with our new community. 
What else is on the top of the priority list for the next few months?
  • Declutter (physically and mentally). Strip away all but the essentials. 
  • Live each moment as mindfully as possible, being present in that moment and feeling grateful to be alive to experience it (even if that moment is washing dishes).
  • Practice high-value activities, which for me are things like: hiking, learning Spanish, playing volleyball, running, cooking, and creative projects (music, writing, podcasting).
  • Invest time and emotions into my relationships with family and friends. When I’m going to bed at night, if I’ve spent quality time with loved ones at some point during the day, it feels like I’m closing out a high-value day. I want more high-value days! And the days feel even juicier when I’ve opened up, been vulnerable, and gotten into my feelings with someone I care about, so… more of this too! 
  • Develop consistent practices that align with my values and bring me joy, excitement, and contentment. Daily or weekly practices of meditation, Spanish, guitar, piano, exercise, and others. These practices will compound over time to bring me to a new state I could not achieve without a steady commitment. It will take some trial and some more error to hone the balance of practices that feels right, but then again, it’s an ever-evolving journey that will shift over time, so trick is to also practice tuning in to my mind, body, and spirit to hear what they need. 
  • Regularly ask myself, “What would truly excite me right now?” And then do it. 
 
I’ll be publishing more about this journey in the days and months ahead. I look forward to sharing it with you.
 
“The formula of happiness and success is just being actually yourself, in the most vivid possible way you can.” – Meryl Streep

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