43. Power to the people. Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.
– Bruce Mau, An Incomplete Design Manifesto
Before our trip, I had the following conversation with one of my children:
Child: “Mama, I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.”
Child: “When should I know? How will I know?”
I shrug my shoulders and wonder aloud that I can’t give her an answer.
I don’t think she was satisfied with that but she walked away in deep thought.
I really wanted to tell her how it sometimes happens fast and you know right away. Sometimes you have to try a bunch of different jobs to know what you don’t like and it can often lead down a path you never thought about ten years ago. Sometimes you return to something you didn’t love only to love it again at a different time in your life.
Throughout our comings and goings, my children have been fortunate to meet people who love what they do. Their work embodies who they are and they would be doing it even if they weren’t being paid to do it.
It all began with us.
From the moment I knew I was about to be a mother at 19, I took control of my life. I put the blinders on and ignored everyone else’s expectations and perceptions of the life I was supposed to have. I would be doing things my way. I wanted to own every choice I made so that in the end, I was accountable – I was the only one responsible for every success and for every failure.
Six years ago, pregnant with my fifth child, I made a choice to be at home full time with my children. I walked away from a business I helped start and decided to devote all my energy to my family. I can only describe it as a calling. It was a difficult decision and sacrifices were made to make it happen.
At around the same time, my husband decided to start a risky venture – his online business. I was afraid of the uncertainty – the uncertainty of becoming a one income family and the uncertainty of this next entrepreneurial leap for our family. There was a large amount of trust and financial loss incurred at the onset – investing in business trips in hopes of making valuable connections and in the business in general. At this time, we lived on loans, lines of credit, and credit cards. A scary time of living pay cheque to pay cheque.
Shortly after this life change, we made another huge decision. We decided to homeschool. I remember our initial conversations. Ever-Patient wanted to eventually work anywhere after establishing an online presence shifting out of the personal training sphere of work. We even dreamt about going away for a month and homeschooling on the beach. We imagined him working in the morning and meeting us at the beach in the afternoon.
We had imagined this:
He took these pictures of us doing lessons on the beach. He would stand there and smile. Finally, I stood beside him and asked him what was up with his goofy grin. He reminded me of our conversation years ago. We talked about our dreams and the work involved to get here. After 21 years, we are here together – a place far from the sofa of my dad’s house and the small university apartment we once called home. You can imagine the emotion felt by the two of us when we realized the reality of far we have really travelled.
We have created a life that allows us to do what we love. Notice how I didn’t say that we have created an easy and completely debt-free life? We have bills. We have lots of mouths to feed. My husband is self-employed. His income is unpredictable. But a long time ago, we made a shift. We shifted our definition of success which can be different for each family and even for each individual.
This is our definition of success:
Success is maintaining a way of life in order for me to stay home and homeschool our children.
Success is creating a life where my husband can have breakfast and dinner at home with us (and even sometimes lunch).
Success is when we feel we have enough.
Success is discovering our purpose which changes as we enter different stages of life.
The definition of success differs for everyone but Alain de Botton makes a great point:
What I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but that we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we’re truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.
–Alain de Botton
We took a risk. We spent money that we probably should have saved for a rainy day. We put the ‘right now’ ahead of the ‘later.’ We took a step outside our comfort zone in order to explore and to experiment – to see if life could be different, even better than it had already been.
Enter Costa Rica and that picture above.
“Go all the way with it. Do not back off. For once, go all the goddamn way with what matters.”
I expected to be blown away by the beauty of the land. I expected to be able to love our life just as we do at home. I expected to live roughly the same routine.
I didn’t expect to be humbled by the people we met – all these people that truly love what they do. People who connected with my people and inspired them in ways that I probably won’t know until my children grown. I didn’t expect to see how happy people are with less and by less, I mean less things and less stuff. My own family lived with about 25-30 items each and were just as happy or happier.
We met artisans that make hand-crafted jewelry who travel selling their wares. With little belongings, they travel from country to country, finding natural items to incorporate into their makings. The landscape, the connections with other people, the love for their work – these all contribute to their general contentment with the world. They had the ability to see the beautiful in every seed and shell. Their awe for the natural world propelled their love for the life and work they have chosen.
“Do anything, but let it produce joy.” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
We met an artist, Hansy Lizano Vega, who is passionate about his art. He took the time to talk to us about his story, his struggles, and his process. He even invited all of us into his studio to see his works-in-progress and did an impromptu drawing lesson.
“Cocles la isla” acrílico sobre tela 70x50cm, 2014:
“Arboleda azafran” acrílico sobre tela 145x115cm, 2015:
A quick drawing lesson:
His art on display outside of his house:
And there were other stories – the Italian couple who ran a restaurant and rented out cabins, the groundskeeper who carved coconut toys for the kids, sang songs on his guitar, and recited poems, and the people who sold everything to live a simpler life in this tiny town in Costa Rica.
What blew me away was their absolute love for their work and the lifestyle they have chosen. It was infectious. It inspired my own writing and my own dreaming. It inspired my son to want to know how to become an artist. It inspired my daughter to see that a life of failures and mistakes can be a life well-lived.
Now I am sure that all these people we have met have not LOVED their work each and every moment of every day. My husband and I love what we do but there are days when it is a challenge, when we question what we are doing and why, and feel burnt out. We are criticized and then we doubt ourselves and our choices. We have mental blocks and have low energy and we just want to quit. But inevitably, we get over it and we dive right back in.
Paul Graham wrote a great essay entitled “How To Do What You Love” where he addresses this misconception that people have when they are trying to figure it all out:
It used to perplex me when I read about people who liked what they did so much that there was nothing they’d rather do. There didn’t seem to be any sort of work I liked that much. If I had a choice of (a) spending the next hour working on something or (b) be teleported to Rome and spend the next hour wandering about, was there any sort of work I’d prefer?
But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn’t mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.
Unproductive pleasures pall eventually. After a while you get tired of lying on the beach. If you want to stay happy, you have to do something.
As a lower bound, you have to like your work more than any unproductive pleasure. You have to like what you do enough that the concept of “spare time” seems mistaken. Which is not to say you have to spend all your time working. You can only work so much before you get tired and start to screw up. Then you want to do something else—even something mindless. But you don’t regard this time as the prize and the time you spend working as the pain you endure to earn it.
In the long run, we wouldn’t be doing anything else. We love what we do. Homeschooling will come to an end but sharing what I have learned through my writing won’t end. There is no retirement plan. We plan to keep doing what we are doing – to continue to learn, to give, to share and to live a creative life.
My husband and I are coming up on twenty-one years together. In those twenty-one years, we have taken many risks and made many unconventional choices. We have failed miserably. We have had financial insecurity. My children have been with us through our failures and our days of eating ground beef and rice when we needed to save money. But they have also seen the excitement in the creative process and doing work that bring us joy – from teaching to coaching to writing to traveling.
So the next time my child tells me she doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up and asks the question of how and when she will know, I will quote Robert Frost and Debbie Millman from her visual essay, “Fail Safe“:
“A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” – Robert Frost
Debbie Millman writes,
“…Heed the words of Robert Frost. Start with a big fat lump in your throat. Start with a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, a crazy lovesickness, and run with it. If you imagine less, less is what you deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. In order to strive for a remarkable life, you have to decide that you want one. Start now. Not 30 years from now, not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.”
A mis nuevos amigos en Costa Rica:
Gracias por compartir su pasión por tu trabajo y por la vida!