Then there was yes

Exploring why and how we decided turn “someday we’ll do this” into today.

“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.”

Benjamin Disraeli Former prime minister of the United Kingdom

In about six months we are moving our family from our home in Seattle across the ocean to Scotland. It’s a pretty big life change. That being said, I want to try to attempt to explain why we’re doing this, and, I’ll let you know right now, this explanation might be a letdown. Just when I think I have a pretty solid handle on the reasons, they turn into marbles on an uneven table. My wife Kav and I have been talking about this for awhile, but it was always a “someday we should…” conversation. Then something shifted, but I’m not quite sure how or why, it’s still kind of a mystery.

A few years ago, I would have found it unlikely to know I would be moving out of the country. I’ve always lived in the US. Although I’ve moved houses and I moved schools a bunch as a kid, I’ve really only lived in two states: Washington and Wyoming. I’ve worked at Microsoft for almost 13 years. Not only that, but I’ve been working in gaming for 6 years, and my latest assignment is with Minecraft. I am LITERALLY doing what I dreamed of doing as a kid, making video games. And now I’m saying the fact I have my dream job isn’t as important as this opportunity. This strikes me as a profound leap, and I want to know how to to re-create it, mass produce it (in pill form preferably), and do it more.

But before I fumble around explaining how I got to my yes on the decision, let me try explain why we want to to do this.

First off, we’re making the big move by choice, independent of a job offer or citizenship concerns or any other forcing factor. Both my wife and I feel strongly that it’s time for a change and we want to raise our kids closer to family (or at least a part of it). This is what we say outwardly at least. It’s definitely more complicated than that, but those are the easy reasons to explain. There are plenty more.

We’re moving so that our kids will know (some) of their family more and so that we’ll have a support network while raising our kids. We’re moving for all the new connections to people, in work and in school and in life, that we’ll all make. We’re moving so we can experience a new country and way of life, and so we can go through a big project (and the challenges we’ll face along the way) together, as a family. We’re moving because there are more guns than people in the US. We’re moving so we can have weekends away in Paris (and so I can go on excursions to Belgium for beer…shh, don’t tell Kav). We’re moving to shake things up and ensure we don’t get too comfortable. We’re moving because “we’d like to someday” could very well never happen, and it certainly won’t unless we act.

The magnitude of the shift that this will make in all of our lives cannot be understated, which is ultimately the point (and also the source of our fears).

What’s so difficult to explain, and what I’d like to articulate in some beautiful way so that others can benefit, is what pushed us over the edge to make the decision. What made us both get to the point where we like, “Yup, let’s get rid of our new house right next to a great school in one of the most beautiful places in the planet and our six figure salary and beautiful cars and stock options and crazy comfortable life and shake the dice and start over with NO STUFF doing something else that probably isn’t going to be worse and potentially could be AMAZING and maybe never come back”?

At the end of all the worries, I realized (and maybe Kav has know this all along), that the likely upside is much greater than the unlikely downside.

The decision seems obvious to me now but how’d I get to this point? Kav has already touched on her thoughts. For me, I think the factors that led me to feeling so comfortable with it come down to:

  • Simplifying my life and trying to reduce material needs/desires
  • Carefully curating the inputs I pay attention to (feeds, screen time, friends, books, etc)
  • Being more present with my kids and wife, and (trying to) be as intentional and tuned-in as I can in every moment

I wasn’t expecting this. Kav and I argued over her desire to move and my interpretation of her reasons, although I always knew I wanted to live in another country eventually, I didn’t think I wanted to do it this soon. Now it’s hard to imagine why I was opposed.

I’d like to think that by focusing on the seemingly small and simple things, I was receptive and open to a big decision as it came around.

At first there was a no, and then there was a yes.

A Drawing A Day

This experiment, during a summer break between junior and senior years of high school, is rooted in life skills I’m still trying to master.

I want to be an artist!

I would say this to myself and others while I was growing up. It was a big, nebulous goal that I actively worked on in fits-and-starts throughout my childhood and into adulthood. I loved the practice of art but also romanticized an artist lifestyle that I would surely one day realize. Why did I want to be an artist? What habits and techniques did I need to develop to get me there? I didn’t know, I just knew I like it. My goal proved effective on it’s own as a way to focus energy in a general direction, but I could feel that some things were left out. For one, I wasn’t very intentional about achieving my goal.

intentional (adj): done on purpose; deliberate.

I’ve generally felt that new years resolutions are only partially effective, similar to my experience with the goal of being an artist. The same way I’m put off by the question “where do you want to see yourself in 5-10 years”, resolutions tend to be, at least for me, at risk for being too big to wrap my arms around and too focused on a destination versus the journey. Instead of just having big resolutions/goals, I’ve learned that I have to first have solid principles that ground me as well as a set of good habits and routines that support the experiments necessary to improve and progress toward my goals.

The Experiment

I recently remembered an “experiment” I did when I was 16. It was the summer of ’96, and while my sister and I went to school in Seattle, in the summers we visited my Dad in Wyoming. This meant that I didn’t have the distraction of my classmates, and in a surprising moment of wisdom, I took advantage of that situation. I set forth a goal of spending an hour per day doing one drawing. The only real criteria I set was that the drawing is done completely in one sitting. I remember that I was really interested in becoming a better artist and I knew I had to practice in order to advance to the next level, but I wasn’t very disciplined at setting aside time and always felt like I needed an idea before I started. In turns out what I really needed was to get out of my own way. I obviously didn’t think of it in any deep way though, I just enjoyed drawing.

So, I got a sketchbook specifically for the task and every afternoon, sometime between 3pm-5pm, I sat down at the desk in my room and did a drawing. The subject of most of these were of superheros and heroic adventure scenes and high-flying car chases, and a lot of them are not very good technically (my figure proportions are way off), but I did it. I filled an entire sketchbook front-to-back with full drawings, and I “finished” them by spraying fixative on at the end (thus they wouldn’t smudge). They exist to this day. There is even one or two that I love.

I drew action scenes like this a lot. Seattle Five-0!
Landscapes and buildings, definitely my thing.
This is where I started to find my style.

The Result

Even though the habit of a drawing a day was simple in theory, it wasn’t easy. Sometimes I didn’t really want to draw, or didn’t feel like I had a good idea for what to draw, but regardless I sat and and drew something.

Until last week, I hadn’t thought about a drawing a day in years and was almost shocked when I remembered how much satisfaction, joy and energy it gave me as a teenager. A drawing a day was a step towards being something I wanted to be and was totally in my control. It required the simply the discipline to put a pencil to paper and move it. A purpose, goal and action aligned.

A drawing a day led me to ultimately pursue web design, begin a career in technology and was a precursor for my approach to other changes that have most positively impacted my life. Recent examples include experimenting with my diet (going 30 days without caffeine, alcohol, gluten, meat, etc) and another experimenting with mindfulness (starting with 10 min meditations a day for 30 days).

Experimenting with your life frees you to create differently, but you need to choose new causes (intentions) consciously. If you don’t choose different intentions consciously, unconscious parts of your personality (the frightened parts) will choose them for you, along with the consequences they will create for you.

Gary Zukav, from the article Intentions and Effects

As I reflect on the past year, I can see that I’ve been pretty good at setting goals (although I can always be better at making them more SMART) and am all-in on progress through experimentation for achieving those goals, but I still struggle with feeling buffeted about by things outside of my control and sometimes feel that I don’t have an internal compass. What’s open for experimentation vs not? How should I choose what to prioritize? How do I weather different challenges and emotions with confidence? What I’ve been searching for can be summed up brilliantly by the following:

“You might not always achieve success, but you can always behave honorably. You can act in alignment with essential values, attaining the peace of mind I call ‘success beyond success.”

Fred Kofman, from the book Conscious Business

The Next Level

My next step is to spend more time developing and refining my “why” (thank you Simon), also know as my principles, and lining up my goals and actions accordingly. Here’s the framework I’m (experimenting) with in order to be more intentional:

  1. Establish principles. I have a list of principles that I have been building and refining over the past year. These are the things that provide the foundation for my intentions and who I want to be. Want help figuring these out? Try this: write down three people you admire. Now write down 3+ traits each of them have that are the basis for your admiration. Those are the same traits you want to have and, I bet, already do. An example of a principle I have is to focus on quality over quantity, and a sub-bullet under that is focusing on on depth of experience vs a material goods.
  2. Set clear goals. I have a written list of goals, the things I’d like to explore or make happen. These build off of my principles and can and will change. An example of one of my goals is to be a self-published writer and an artist. Another is to move to Scotland with the family.
  3. Make progress be experimenting. I treat all my tactics as really small, achievable experiments. This is the path to achieving my goals, as they force action and naturally lend themselves to adaptation. Setting aside 60 mins to draw and write each day for the next 6 months is an example. Creating content for this blog with my wife is another.
  4. Reflect and refine. I try to do reflection on a weekly and monthly basis, it’s so important. Thinking about what’s worked and what hasn’t tends to feel like wasted time, as we want to just get on with the next thing. Spend more time here than you want to and it will benefit. After all, that’s how your principles came about in the first place!

In many ways setting goals is the easy part. The challenge is in knowing yourself well enough to set the right goals, and in having the discipline to sit down and work on them, one drawing at a time.

To uproot or not to uproot?

That is the question.

Oh man, the weight of decisions as a parent can’t be underestimated.  I’ve always been fairly thoughtful and composed in any big decisions, but ADDING kids to the mix adds a hefty kettle bell to my arms.

Life in America right now (apart from the utter political craziness we are part of) is pretty awesome day to day!  #blessed #lucky #surreal We are probably middle class textbook – totally weird when you look in from the outside.  Married, Kids (one of each), 4 bedroom home, 2 cars….. healthy, happy.  So why change that?

A ton of reasons, all with different weight.  And whilst there is no obvious reason to uproot, all of our personal reasons leave us with an instinctual feeling that this is the way forward for our family.  And we are SO LUCKY that we are ABLE to make such a decision, and plan such a move.

So here goes our big family move from America to Scotland, where we will open new doors, new experiences, new adventures….. and lots of laughing as Nick uses his American words, and the Scottish take the piss! 🙂  Don’t worry babe, I’ve got your back (sometimes)!

*A few things the Scottish will find funny – Semi, Glasgow…..* more later in its own dedicated article!