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

Category: Costa Rica

On Sabbatical – Week 11: Parenting Wizardry At The Pediatric Dentist

MUTUAL ADMIRATION ON A MORNING RUN

I started out the week going for an early morning run with a friend. It was the first time we’d gone for a run together. When the pandemic first hit and I was getting into running as a new hobby, this friend was already a well-established runner with several marathons under his belt. From the comfort of my screen, I would observe his progress on social media and aspire to be able to run that far, that often. He was the source of my inspiration for creating a running mile-tracking spreadsheet. In the two years I was marathon training – 2020 and 2021 – I became obsessed with tracking my miles on this spreadsheet. The moment I would get back from a run, I’d look to see exactly how many miles I’d clocked using the Strava app and would immediately input that data into my spreadsheet, which tracks my miles by week, by month, and by year. What I loved about this process was the ability to track progress over time. One or two week’s worth of data was pretty meaningless, but by sticking to this process over the course of multiple years, I now have all kinds of fun ways to analyze how my spring months compare to summer months, or how my June 2021 compared to a June of a younger Kevin. They say “what gets measured gets done,” and thanks in part to the idea of this little tracking document from my friend, I was able to complete the Twin Cities Marathon in October 2021.

Running miles clocked in 2021

 

While I admire this friend for his running dedication and ability, on this morning run we went on, I felt his reciprocal admiration of me. He was genuinely interested, curious, and excited for me with the course of life that I’m on. He had specific questions about why and how we plan to move to Costa Rica. It feels very weird writing this, but it felt like in him I have a “fan.” Someone out there who is… not so much happy for me, or cheering me on, but… a fan of what I’m doing. It’s a good feeling, to feel like someone is into you, is picking up what you’re putting down. It gives me reassurance that I’m on the right track, that I’m making good choices, that going on sabbatical was the right move at the right time, and that I’m living out that sabbatical well. I’m not on sabbatical to seek any sort of external validation, but I can’t deny that it feels good to receive it. At one point he even drew a parallel from what my blog could become to the blog of Mr. Money Mustache, one of the most popular blogs on the internet about living with financial independence, retiring early, and customizing your lifestyle. This makes it the second time someone close to me has brought this up. How many people have to tell you something before it goes from trivial comment to substantial notion? 

IMPRESSING THE DENTIST

“We don’t see this. Ever.” That’s what I was told while taking my four year old to the dentist. “We don’t see this” is a phrase one typically does not want to hear while at the dentist, but in this case, it was a compliment.

As any parent knows, trips to the children’s dentist are usually lower on the list of ideal ways to spend time with a kid. Kids are scared of the dentist. And why wouldn’t they be? Ultra-bright lights, pokey instruments, masked-up strangers getting up in your grill – a child going to the dentist is basically the adult equivalent of entering a torture chamber. Because they are scared, they have a hard time following the instructions of the hygienist and the dentist. Even getting in a normal brush or floss, which is not a big problem at home, was proving difficult for the hygienist. She was asking my kid to open their mouth for a brushing, and my kid was saying “No, I don’t want to” and squirming the other way. This hygienist did what I’m sure she has done for twenty years in the profession, trying this and that tactic to get my kid on board: saying things like “it won’t hurt” or “it is just like brushing your teeth at home” and reminding her she’ll get to pick a prize when we’re all done. I was observing this from the bench 5 feet away and let it go for a few moments, but I felt like I knew what was needed and stepped in to intervene. 

Within ten seconds, my kid went from squirming refusal to calm, still, and mouth open. All I did was sit by their side, calmly held their hand, and said something to the effect of, “Kid, I know you are probably feeling a little nervous right now. That’s normal. All that’s going to happen is she is going to brush your teeth. This is a special toothbrush that makes a buzzing noise, but its gentle. It almost tickles on your teeth. Do you want to feel the tickle?” It was much less about my words, though, than it was about the presence I brought by shifting the energy in the space. The hygienist was able to proceed with the rest of her process, and I went back to sit on the bench. 

When she had a moment, the hygienist looked over at me and said, “This just doesn’t happen. How did you do that?” By which I thought she meant, “Most times when a kid this age is showing signs of fear and discomfort, there’s nothing we can do to get them calm enough to proceed. What type of wizardry have I just witnessed here, sir?”

The answer is practice. I practice controlling my own energy, my breath, my attitude, my nervous system. Sometimes I practice this when I am already in a state of relative calm, like when I wake up in the morning and meditate first thing. Other times I am practicing this control in the face of an external stimulus that is knocking me out of balance in some way. With practice, I am learning to tune in to my body’s signals, to recognize when my systems are getting out of whack, and to have the tools to realign and reset. In this instance at the pediatric dentist, as I watched this kind hygienist struggle with my defiant, scared child, I could feel my chest tighten and my body temperature rising (I usually feel the heat in my cheeks first). If I’m feeling that way just by watching, I could only imagine how my kid was feeling. So with one deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth, I reset, moved slowly toward my kid, and made sure that my holding of her hand was as gentle and relaxed as possible. When I spoke, I spoke slowly. Warmly. It was the energy of this calm presence that I transferred to her. And it’s only through practice on myself that I can even begin to think about transferring positivity to others. 

It felt pretty darn good to receive that compliment from someone who’s spent their career working with kids! 

This type of somatic attunement I am learning from Kristyn With A Why who is in turn learning it from, among other sources, Carmen Spagnola. Gotta give credit where credit is due! 

KIDS SAY THE BEST THINGS

To cap off the week, one of my kids was, once again, asking questions. This particular time the line of questioning was about being famous. “Dad, what does it mean to be famous?” I did my best to explain that someone who is famous is someone that a lot of people know. It could be a singer, or an actor, or a writer, or someone in our government, but no matter what the person is really good at, they are famous because a lot of people know who they are. My kid listened, considered, and finally replied,

“I think you are the opposite of famous.”


Oh, and also I took my kids to nature camp this week, hence the featured image on this post. The rest of the week was filled up with prepping and planning for our longest, most epic trip as a family – a 16-day road trip to Canada – which is coming up next! 

On Sabbatical – Week 5: A Week In Costa Rica, Seven Years In The Making

In order to properly write about this week of my life, I need to take us back. Back to the year 2015. But before that, I need to take us back five weeks, to the start of my sabbatical.

GOALS ARE MY WEAPON TO INFLUENCE THE FUTURE

When I left Corporate America in May 2022, one manager told me, in a farewell email, “your super power of breaking down goals and achieving them is beyond impressive.” It’s funny, the power it can have when someone tells you something about yourself. As I reflect on it now, I am someone that has set goals for myself throughout life, but I didn’t particularly consider myself a “goal-oriented person.” Yet, when I look at my track record, I have had the tendency to set up and knock out goals for a good 20 years. I really wanted to go to the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Got in. When graduating, I had the goal of going into business for myself. Did it. One lofty business idea I had was creating a large-scale event, from scratch — a free university welcome event to kick off the school year, paid for by sponsors. We estimated 5,000 students would attend. 15,000 students showed up, and our profit margin on the event was about 65%. Later in life, I knew I had the personal life goal of starting a family. Made that happen. During the pandemic I set the goal of running a marathon. Completed it. Each year in my career in sales, I had corporate quotas and personal sales goals. Most years, I either met them or smashed them. I know what SMART Goals are and try to use that framework when writing down lists of goals in my journal. But until the note in that last email from my former manager, it hadn’t really clicked for me as a label, as a trait of mine.

I had never considered myself among the class of people I admire, the “true” goal-oriented legends you read books about, visionary businesspeople or world class athletes who set lofty goals and stop at nothing until those goals are achieved. I read about people who have had success in their pursuits: the ultra marathoner who ran a marathon in every country in the world, the musician who locked himself in his home studio and didn’t come out until the song was fully produced and mastered, the young businessman who turned his tiny magazine into a global media enterprise, the athlete who set their sights on Olympic gold and won it — and I think to myself, “Wow, those people are impressive. They know how to set goals and achieve them, and it’s taken them to incredible heights. I’m just a normal person. I’m not like them.” And while it’s true, I’m not destined for Olympic gold, I now believe I am like them, insofar as I have an ability to set a goal and complete it. This is one of my super powers. How can I be putting this skill to its best use? I guess we will all have to stay tuned as the magic unfolds!

And if that farewell email wasn’t enough, it became evident on our recent visit to Costa Rica that this goal-completing ability really is one of my super powers. And with that, we go back seven years, to the year 2015.

ALL GREATNESS STEMS FROM A VISION

Kristyn and I were discussing the topic of children: whether or not to have them, ideal time, ideal age gap between siblings, and so on. We agreed that one idea we both liked was, at some point down the road, to live, with kids, in a different country. It would help them gain a more global perspective on life, and it would be one heck of an adventure for us all. The details were foggy, but the overall mission was clear — at some point, live with our kids in a different country. Over the next year or two, we had our first child, and then, two years later, our second, and we continued the conversation of where and when we might want to live outside of the United States. A Spanish-speaking destination made the most sense, since Kristyn already spoke decent Spanish, so from the get-go we had our kids in Spanish immersion pre-school. Kristyn had visited Costa Rica with her family as a teenager, and she got her second visit to the country with my family on a Christmas vacation in 2015. We had a most excellent time. So, from our positive experiences in the past, we looked to Costa Rica first as a possible destination for our eventual journey abroad. As I clocked hours of online research about the country, I was not turned off by anything I read and, to the contrary, was only lured in more.

Two people
Together in Costa Rica – December 2015

So, in 2018, we took a reconnaissance trip to Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region, where we visited multiple locations, met with realtors, and toured schools. We rented an AirBnB in a developing area that, from what we could tell on the internet, seemed like it might be a good location for us. But this was our first recon trip. There was no expectation of making any sort of big decisions. The loose idea was that, in the following months, we’d return to Costa Rica, but in a different region, to compare and contrast it with Guanacaste. Or perhaps we would do this recon trip to Guanacaste, realize it wasn’t for us, and plan our next info-gathering excursion to Mexico, Honduras, Spain, or elsewhere.

It was our last day of Guanacaste recon, and some other-worldly intuition, some knowing came over Kristyn, like the ocean washing up on the shore. Inevitable. Confident certainty. Which is particularly odd, since she has been, and still is, the less decisive person in our partnership; when we come to life’s many little crossroads, like what meals we should make for the week or should we wear the blue or the green to our friend’s wedding, I am usually the one to speak up with a quicker decision. But this time, the decisiveness was all Kristyn. She felt a deep sense of clarity. Further recon was futile. This was the place. The time was now.

Guanacaste Recon Trip – December 2018

Over the next four years, two of which were COVID-19 pandemic years, we worked toward the details of where exactly we would live. A plan was coming together, but due to pandemic travel restrictions, we could not return to the country, and even once restrictions were lifted, with vaccines not being approved for children under five (which just changed last week), we weren’t able to go actually see the location where we hope to live in 2023.

And then, in Week 5 of my sabbatical, we saw it. It was everything.

FORESIGHT 20/20

It hit me on the initial walkthrough of the house, not as much on the interior, but outside, on a covered deck, gazing out at a tiny distant sliver of visible Pacific Ocean, with a lush jungly hillside to my right and a rushing river flowing through the tropical forest behind. I felt an onrush of emotion.

Being a man that’s grown up in a patriarchal society, I have a deficiency in emotional intelligence. Feelings are hard. Society did not equip me with the tools, behaviors, and skills to talk about and express my feelings freely. It’s one of the areas of life I have the biggest room to grow. And so, even feeling and being aware of and being able to name “an onrush of emotion” is a starting point. But I’ve practiced some, and in that moment I was able to sit with the emotion, not panic but sit in it enough to allow space. Space for actual tears to form and roll down my cheeks, and space to be able to search the true feeling and name it. And the feeling was… relief. Relief that now the uncertain future is a little more certain. I had less fear of the unknown. This is where we will be living. This is where I will be drinking my daily mug of delicious, Costa Rica-grown coffee. This is the mountainside we’ll wake to every day. This is how the neighborhood howler monkeys sound. Up until then, the steps we had been taking to get closer to moving to Costa Rica all felt a bit like an upside-down, pandemic-infused dream, but in that moment, it all transformed from dream into reality.

So it was this feeling of relief from the ambiguity and fear of an unknown future, and also, after that, a feeling for which I didn’t have a word. So I sat with that, too. And it dawned on me – I was feeling happy, proud of my past self, proud of my past decisions, satisfied with the judgments and vision of the younger me. And it made me think of this phrase – Foresight 20/20.

You know how they say, “Hindsight is 20/20,” meaning that it’s easier to have complete knowledge and understanding about an event after it’s happened? Well, this feeling felt like our Foresight was 20/20, like the younger version of me was smack in the middle of the bullseye of knowing what future me would want. It was an extraordinarily rewarding sensation to have. I want to cultivate more 20/20 foresight.

Along the way, we’ve had moments of doubts. Many. “This is crazy.” “Are we really doing this?” “Are we robbing our children of some ‘better’ education or opportunities?” “How will we know if we still want this 4-5 years from now?” Countless questions more. Doubt. Uncertainty. Fear. Wicked cousins of emotion. I believe the ideal way to handle these feelings is not to avoid them but to go toward them. Stare them in the face. Learn from them what you will. And have the courage to push through them and press onward.

And through faith in those around us, a hint of that courage, more than our fair share of privilege, and a bit of luck, we got to see the result of the vision we’d had seven years ago, in living color. It was an affirmation that the old versions of ourselves could see our future. Something deep within us felt right about this spot, this plan, despite all the reasons why it might not work out. It’s validating and relieving that our old vision has not only come to fruition, but also feels so perfectly in alignment with the four-year-older version of me. To be happy with your past self is one of life’s best feelings, and I now aspire to impress my future self when making decisions. When at a decision crossroad, I ask myself, “Will this make my future self proud? Happy? Satisfied?” My intuition can take it from there.

Together Again in Costa Rica – June 2022

THOUGHTS FROM A WEEK IN COSTA RICA

A FRESH TAKE ON EDUCATION

We took a tour of the kids’ future school. We had already toured this school once on our 2018 recon trip, but now we could take the tour with our school-aged kids so they could see it and understand it for themselves. The school is one of our biggest draws to the area. It’s a bilingual school with half of the students being local Tico’s and the other half being international students from 30 different countries. Classroom sizes are capped at 20-22. They use project-based learning. The school year operates on trimesters with three different breaks throughout the year, rather than one big long break which can cause a mental “summer slide” in the developing mind of a child.

They put on a weekly “Feria” (market) every Wednesday for local merchants and students to sell their goods. We enjoyed being there to experience the Feria; we even had a First Grader give us his sales pitch for the homemade jewelry he had crafted.

Many nearby parents teach at the school. If you are a parent and aren’t a full-time teacher at the school, you are still required to contribute a minimum of 18 hours to the school’s activities throughout the year — a requirement I’m happy to abide.

Oh, and the school has gardens. And chickens. Many chickens! The curriculum includes an annual anchor project, which varies by grade. These anchor projects tend to model sustainability and self-sufficiency, and many anchor projects revolve around the chickens. Fifth Graders learn about and manage the compost at the school as their anchor project. The compost is used in the gardens, which is the Seventh Grade anchor project. The Sixth Graders are in charge of maintaining the chicken coops and feeding the chickens, while the First Graders are in charge of egg collection. Other grades work on recycling, water, and so on.

Everything about this school promotes a more communal integration with the community and with the school’s natural surroundings. This is what school should be. Everywhere.

WHEN DID SOCIETY AGREE EXTRA CLOTHING WAS A GOOD THING?

When we were in Costa Rica, and we were at a private house, with thick trees all around, not another human in sight, with tropical temps — we were naked. A lot. The kids mostly, but us grown-ups too. We saw how happy the little ones were to be free of their soggy bottoms. We wanted that same happiness. And why not? Because it’s not the norm? What’s not natural is putting clothes on when it’s 90 degrees and you have your own pool. It’s sad all the “rules” we think we have to live by. When was the last time the sun kissed your bare bottom? Answer: too long ago.

EMBARRASSING TRAVEL HICCUPS CAN HAVE SILVER LININGS

In our family, I am the planner, especially when it comes to travel. Even though it takes a lot of hours, I enjoy it. I enjoy the tradeoff of doing the work so I can arrange for the travel that I most want. This was a complicated trip, since we not only had international travel with children, but we also had life planning to attend. Meetings to set up. Tours to take. And while 99% of my planning was executed flawlessly, I had one small hiccup. When we finally arrived to the rental car lot (roughly 12 hours and two flights after waking up at 2:30am), I realized I had left my driver’s license at home. My license, which always stays in my wallet, had been removed from my wallet. By me. The day before we left. So that I could bring it to the nearby community beach as ID for our annual summer membership. I knew exactly where it was, sitting in a board short pocket in my bedroom hamper. That information was not especially useful at the current juncture. Kristyn was going to have to be our driver.

I dreaded breaking this news to her. I don’t think it’s most people’s idea of a good time to figure out driving in a foreign country. I felt bad to be burdening her with this responsibility. But it turned out to have the best silver lining ever, because there was actually something more stressful than driving around potholes and helmet-less cyclists biking on shoulder-less roads — handling the simultaneous navigation of those roads with spotty 2G cellular data and the management of two tired, hungry, hot, and curious children. Now that was some sweaty work!

Kristyn has already called “dibs” on driving next time.

WRITING REQUIRES PERIODS OF LIVING LIFE

I thought I would be writing nonstop while we were in Costa Rica this week. Writing down notes about the location and school. Journaling until my hand cramped up from all the inspiration I was feeling. Freewriting incessantly from my creative synapses firing. Instead, I barely wrote anything. I lived. I swam. I cooked. I laughed. If you don’t spend part of your life just living it, you have nothing to write about.

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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