Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. – Søren Kierkegaard

Seven years ago I was living in suburban Boston, Massachusetts with my husband and wondering how we were going to make it work. We were both traveling too much for our jobs, and our time together was almost nonexistent. When we were home, we were overwhelmed with the task of taking care of a suburban house while living a mobile lifestyle. It was exhausting, and we were on the brink of personal and professional exhaustion.

Something had to give.

The final straw was meeting each other for dinner at the Denver International Airport as we crossed paths for work. (As you recall, we lived in Boston.) We both realized how ridiculous our situation had become, and we had to make a conscious change or watch our relationship wither and die.

This started us on the path to the life of our dreams, though we didn’t realize it at the time.

Flipping Priorities

Instead of focusing on how we could better adjust to our circumstances, we made the decision to adjust our circumstances to the life we wanted to live. That’s an easy to thing to say and a much more complex thing to do.

We started by making a list of the lifestyle we wanted to live:

  • Home together most nights and all weekends
  • A reliable schedule so we could have a social life
  • Easy access to friends and entertainment/dining options
  • Shorter commute times
  • Free time to pursue hobbies and interests

We then compared this list to our existing life:

  • Home together less than 50% of the time
  • Unpredictable schedules meant always canceling plans
  • Living in the ‘burbs meant an hour’s drive to do most things
  • 1-2 hours of commuting each day
  • Free time meant “catch up time” on chores and responsibilities

Faced with reality, we then made a list of what we could change to make our lives better. There were no easy answers, and we knew this going in. To choose one thing meant giving up another, and we had to become okay with making the choice ourselves instead of letting work or outside forces take the blame.

We knew our jobs had to change for any of the improvements to be possible. We made a list of the cities we could envision living in and evaluated the job market for our skills in each one. We settled on 3 cities and my husband Warren began applying for jobs. I asked internally at my company about the options for a transfer or job change, and I was able to eventually take a home-based position with nationwide responsibility but less travel.

It took a couple of months for Warren to find a job in Seattle, Washington, 3000 miles due west on Interstate 90 from our existing home. We sold our house, one car, downsized our possessions, and prepared to live in a much more manageable townhouse in a funky neighborhood in our new city.

Success Breeds Opportunity

The next two years were a whirlwind of new friends, fun activities, and reconnecting with each other in a way that just wasn’t possible in our old lives. We walked or took public transportation, virtually eliminating the stress and unproductive time of a commute. We were both home every afternoon at 5. I wrote a book and Warren learned Spanish. We learned we had the power to drastically change our circumstances if we were willing to do the work, and this knowledge and experience set us up for the biggest adventure of all.

In 2008, reeling from my younger brother’s brush with death and worried about a friend in the hospital recovering from a brain aneurysm, we chose to make a big change again. These two people we loved were in their mid 30s, and at the time we were both 37. It was hard to ignore the similarities.

When we made our previous life change we were motivated by the question of how we could find work that revolved around our lifestyle goals instead of the other way around. This time we asked ourselves an even more powerful question:

If we knew we wouldn’t make it to our 40th birthdays, what changes would we make in our lives right now?

We both wanted to travel the world, and it was in this instant we decided to make it happen. Using our past experience as a guide, we focused on how we wanted this goal to look and then set up a plan to make it happen. We took action every day, made tough choices, and rallied our friends to support us.

Choosing Opportunity

In just 25 months, we sold everything we owned and saved enough money to take a trip around the world. We met the deadline we set the day after we made our decision and took off to Ecuador as the first stop on our round-the-world adventure. And 15 months after that, we decided to make it a permanent lifestyle, using the same planning and action-oriented strategy that worked for us before.

Seven years ago I couldn’t have imagined living the life we have today, exploring the world together as best friends. But what I’m most grateful for is waking up to the reality that we had more control over our lives than we thought. It wasn’t easy, but knowing we could make drastic changes in our lives to get drastic results led us to see more opportunities around us. When the idea came see the world, we could actually consider it. And now that we’ve been living this dream since 2010, we see all the opportunities around us in a different way.

Once you know you can change your life, the possibilities are endless.

If you could make one big change in your life with no consequences, what would it be? Sink deep into the feeling and imagine your life with this change and how incredible it would be. Now throw the consequences of the change back in and imagine your only choice is to make it happen.

It may not solve your problem immediately, but it will teach you to start thinking of the possibilities in a different way, weighing the joy of the result heavier than the temporary pain of change.

Photo by Ángelo González

Betsy Talbot

Betsy Talbot and her husband Warren are the authors of Married with Luggage: What We Learned about Love by Traveling the World. Through their popular books, engaging weekly podcast, and revealing Sunday emails, they share the unconventional wisdom they've learned about living, working, and traveling together since 2010. Find out more about modern love and partnership at Married with Luggage.