Our lives were like groundhog day moving at 100mph; the alarm woke us up and we struggled out of bed, had an injection of caffeine, got on the train to go work, answered emails, jostled with people to get lunch and then ate at our desks. We left work, got back on the train, made dinner, watched some unremarkable TV and went to bed, ready to then start the process all over again in 6 hours.  By the time it was the weekend we celebrated by cramming it with sleep, admin, seeing friends (i.e. eating and drinking), watching a movie and maybe a bit of exercise. Then it began all over again.

We were both in jobs that were draining us and taking the best years of our life away. Maybe we had to find a new job? Should we stay within the company, or look at a different company, or maybe a different industry, or do something entirely different? But alas, there was just so much to do we didn’t have the time to really think about it.

How did we fall into this repetitive process? How did we get stuck in this rut? We were doing what is expected of all of us; working so that we could become successful and therefore happy. So why then, were we not happy?

Thankfully for us, we managed to go on a few holidays a year with our hard earned money. We needed those holidays and they created space for us. When we stepped out of the rat race (albeit temporarily) we developed more clarity and had lots of great ideas of how to tweak our situation. However they were aimed at making our situation incrementally better; we’d ask the cleaner to iron the shirts, we’d ask to work one day a week from home, we’d not look at email after 9pm etc. But when we got back to reality we could never convert our good intentions into habits. Year after year after year, this cycle repeated itself and our outcome never changed. We were Einstein’s definition of insanity.

However, in the fall of 2014 we took a road trip around New England. I don’t know what it was, but the colours of the leaves were incredible, the air crisp, and the sky so blue. We felt alive! We had such a great time together and we started talking more. Kellie shared that she had watched a TED talk recently about a guy who took sabbaticals throughout his working life, rather than waiting until retirement. So we agreed our incremental change would be to start saving for three years in order to take a year off to travel. If it delayed our retirement by a year, so be it!

We expected that this would be a year to recharge (one big holiday) and return to work, but in the meantime Kellie was diagnosed with cancer and our outlook on life really changed.

We often talk about how our lives would be different if this hadn’t happened; would we still be chained to our desks? Would we be paring down our belongings in order to lead a minimalistic lifestyle in a tiny house? I somehow doubt it. But our friends haven’t been impacted by our story as deeply as we have and so they are still stuck in their rut. It seems that some personal and significant life event is needed in order to catalyze change and move away from the norm. But what if we were to shift the norm? By sharing our story we can show that there is another way of doing things and perhaps others will find inspiration in that.

Looking back on things, perhaps we didn’t have enough time on our holidays to develop clarity beyond the incremental changes, to dream bigger or think outside the box. And maybe we didn’t have the right sources of inspiration in our life to really spark our thinking and nurture our ideas, or maybe we weren’t open to them when they presented themselves.

If I could help my former self find that inspiration (without a significant life event), I would insist I take the following steps:

  • Learn about things totally unrelated to your job: Watch TED talks, read blogs, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts. You never know when you’ll make connections between random things you’ve learned and plus you’ll be a more interesting person.
    Think about it this way, you will have a huge incremental advantage over your former self in a year’s time if you take 15min a day to do this rather than be on Facebook or listen to music.
    Daily time commitment: 15-30min (this could be while commuting); 1.5-3% of your wakeful day
  • Make space in your life: You don’t need to wait for a holiday to do this. Practice meditation and yoga, walk in the park, avoid the allure of your phone (leave it at home while you walk around the park or put it down for the evening). You never know what ideas will germinate in that space.
    Daily time commitment: 15min-1hr depending; 1.5-6% of your wakeful day

  • Challenge yourself to meet different people: Research shows that we tend to surround ourselves with people that are like us (whether that be your political views, religion, favourite sports team, fashion sense, birth order, socioeconomic status etc). The positive outcome is that we feel normal, which is reassuring and comfortable, but the negative is that it creates a type of groupthink whereby we conform to reduce conflict and lose independent thinking.
    Here’s an example; Kellie had a colleague that left banking years ago with the vision to create a passive income and not work (i.e. what we’re now planning on doing). However, at the time rather than engaging with her to learn more, we thought the colleague was naive and deluded.
    Time commitment: 1 hour a week (over a coffee perhaps); <1% of your wakeful week

  • Be open to everything: Mindfulness has helped us to be more open and less judgemental about the world, which helps with all of the points above.
    Time commitment: None

And so I can only encourage others to nurture their minds by feeding it with inspiration and letting ideas germinate with space, because you never know what will grow.