The Joy of Living Deliberately: 7 Questions

When you come to a fork in the road….take it.

– Yogi Berra

When it comes to lifestyle, it’s not what you choose, but rather how you choose it.

Throughout this journey, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting people leading lives across the lifestyle spectrum. There are the traditional: married, full-time jobs, two kids, a dog, a house (or two) and a picket fence.  Then there are the non-traditional: single entrepreneurs gunning for 4-hour workweeks ticked away from various corners of the globe.  And, of course, there are a host of folks in between.

Buenos Aires is the sort of place that showcases it all.  It’s home to European-style traditions and regular weekend family gatherings around the grill.  At the same time, it continues to attract a community of foreigners looking for a relatively inexpensive but well-developed place to seek out new experiences, personal and professional.

Lifestyle choice is not a one-size-fits-all affair.  Just as the 9-to-5 life isn’t for everyone, neither is escaping the cube.

During our stay here, the topic of lifestyle choice has come up often in conversation, particularly with the newcomers.  Our personal choices have certainly resonated with them: the travelers, digital nomads, location independent professionals and those otherwise untethered.  

But that doesn’t mean our choices are necessarily the right fit for everyone.

In other words, lifestyle choice is not a one-size-fits-all affair.  Just as the 9-to-5 life isn’t for everyone, neither is escaping the cube.

And so it became clear to us that the crux is not so much about which lifestyle you choose – one is not inherently better than another – but rather that you do choose, and you do so deliberately.

But how do you know if you are living deliberately?  Here are a few questions to help you find out.

1) What are your priorities?

Ask yourself a question: What is important to me?

Then ask yourself something more difficult: For what am I willing to compromise and make sacrifices? What am I willing to give up?

Good for you if your life abundance allows you to avoid having to make difficult choices. But imagine, if by force of unexpected circumstance, that abundance is diminished. Now what’s important?

Money
Setting priorities.

Our experience: It’s not that we don’t enjoy comfort, certainty and security. We do. However, the need to satisfy our curiosity trumps them all — at the moment. That is our priority; it also explains why we left behind a perfectly comfortable existence in Prague to strap on backpacks. Our priorities also account for why we spend a majority of our time these days absorbing the world through experience and writing about it.

2) Do you recognize that you have choices? Always?

No matter how terrific or how lousy the hand you’ve been dealt in life, you always have a choice. When life is going well, choices appear easy. However, when circumstances become difficult, that’s when it’s easy to forget that you even have a choice.

Most of us have more freedom than we realize. The trick is whether we choose to recognize and leverage it.

Nelson’s experience: No personal example will outdo Nelson Mandela’s object lesson. While imprisoned in his Robben Island jail cell in South Africa, Mandela managed two astonishing choices: to walk miles a day in his tiny cell to stay fit, and to appeal to the humanity in his captors so that they might recognize the humanity in him. Imagine your own response under similar circumstances.

3) What’s better: Talking or doing?

Talk is inspiring. Doing is sublime.

Our experience: Although we talked about traveling around the world for at least one year (and possibly a decade) before we set off, it meant little until we made the commitment, turned in our resignation letters, sold the junk, packed the bags and set off.

Road Trip through Pamir Highway, Tajikistan
Hitting the road…

The we are human caveat: Yes, we still procrastinate, talk about ideas endlessly and wish that our tendency toward action was greater than it is.

4) Do your choices have consequences?

Every choice and action (or inaction) has consequences — some good, some bad. Although we may not always have control over the consequences, we do have complete control over how we respond to them.

Our experience: Our professional lives are currently defined by freedom and risk. Our lifestyle is terrifically liberating — but it’s not without its share of concerns, financial and otherwise.

5) Do you regret?

If you see a gap between your priorities and your actions, chances are that you are going to feel regret sooner or later. The longer you wait, the wider the gap, the more painful the regret.

Think: “If I wake up 10 years from now in this same position, will I be happy?” If the answer is “No,” consider what you can do to change your path.

It is telling that the people who tend to “get us” the most are people in their 60s, 70s, or 80s. After we’ve shared our story, it’s not uncommon for us to hear, “This is the time in your life to do this.”

Don’t know about you, but we are going to go with the wisdom of our elders on this one.

Our experience: No regrets. Really.

6) Can you be dissatisfied with an outcome and still be content that you took action?

Women Waiting by Broken Down Car - Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan
…and a few flat tires along the way.

So you took the plunge and things didn’t work out as you had so meticulously planned? Then it’s time to adjust and make changes. Failure is a real possibility — no matter how many cheerleading books and blogs imply otherwise. But just because things didn’t turn out as you expected, should you regret having had the courage to pursue your dreams?

Hell no.

But you can’t go back. Take satisfaction in having the courage to move, to make the decision — and yes, to fail. Then, learn from it all.

Our experience: Yes, there are some things we hoped would have turned out differently. For example, we are still waiting for a call from Oprah.

7) Do you understand different strokes and respect different folks?

Tolerance and understanding of lifestyles different than your own: that’s a sign of true confidence.

When it comes to lifestyle, there are infinite options. Depending on the company you keep — and how small the echo chamber — it may be difficult to imagine that this is true. Also bear in mind that life is fluid: your priorities, circumstances, and lifestyle may change over time. What works for you now may not work for you in the future.

Our experience: A good friend of ours shared with us before we departed: “I wouldn’t want to travel around the world, but I am glad to know someone who is actually doing it.”

We each opted for different lifestyles, but we did so deliberately.

——

By deliberate living, we are not talking about calculating each and every step in life, but rather aligning your priorities, choices, and actions and making decisions about your life’s trajectory.

So, have you chosen your lifestyle? Or has it chosen you?

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Comments

  1. says

    Fantastic sorting through of lifestyle and life choice issues—and not just in relation to the question of untethering and traveling far and wide. I appreciate that you guys take these sorts of issues on in addition to the more typical bread-and-butter travel pieces.

  2. Olivia says

    Thank you for this post. It’s so interesting to see your reflections on your life and journey, and to roll around these questions myself. I had been wanting to live abroad for sometime and the situation was really ripe for the change. Still, it’s a big deal so it didn’t happen instantly. The moment I really started pushing was when my boyfriend and I were looking for apartments to move to. Even the best ones we found didn’t excite and when I asked myself what my ideal would be, it was living in another country. So here I am. Three months down and enjoying it.

  3. says

    The timliness of this post is eerie…actually it’s not because these affirmations show up when they’re supposed to. I am currently having to make some big life decisions and this post was just what I needed to read to move the process along. Thank you thank you for sharing this wisdom.

  4. says

    I second what Alex said. It’s good to see some new topics in the travel blog world, especially when the content can be applied to non-travelers as well.

  5. Bill M says

    Hello.

    1. Priority: remain true to myself; after all, I”m the source of what I do. As for what I’m willing to compromise or give up, that’s not a thing I decide in advance: within the constraints of my one overriding priority (and its many ramifications), the answer will vary, and will probably be expressed in terms of my abilities within a circumstance–not in terms of a set of rules. This is not to imply that trueness to oneself does not allow for flexibility (with respect to people, cultures, etc.); rather, it requires it.

    2. Choices: with the exception of accidents, life is nothing but choices. Various peoples’ lives represent different proportions of those two; and some deny responsibility by blaming or claiming fatalism where choices have been neglected or (with respect to a given person’s values) wrongly made. Nevertheless, an aware person makes choices much of the time. (Of course, as fate would have it, I believe in free will.)

    3. Talking and doing are only separable when one uses the former to escape the latter. Otherwise, one might talk to plan, and then do; or, one might do by talking–though the latter frequently requires conviction and guts. For example, to speak out against (and perhaps thereby prevent) an injustice is an act of doing. And, insofar as talking inspires, if it inspires action (doing), then it’s part of that action.

    4. Choices re consequences. It’s not a choice if there’s no consequence.

    5. Regret: regret isn’t necessarily a state of mind; it’s the consequence of not living true to oneself, whether that’s a conscious or unconscious choice (the latter being an accident of circumstance or ignorance). For me, regret would be the vacuum I’d live in if I weren’t true to myself–and, maybe due to luck and age, I’ve had no occasions to feel that for a very long time.

    6. Action and outcome: since the latter can never be guarantied by the former; and since the former itself may not be executed as preconceived, the only thing to do is one’s best. After that, if subsequent actions are called for (maybe corrective or remedial ones), one does what one feels one should do. The results, whichever one’s luck goes, will be what they’ll be. The inevitable discrepancy between intended action and intended outcome constitutes a degree of risk: one weighs the risk by looking at the worst- and best-case scenarios, and either acts or doesn’t. The end is one thing; the intent is another; and the means–i.e., how genuinely one acts and accepts responsibility–are more important than both. One tries, one succeeds or fails or achieves a bit of both (as measured in retrospect–not expectation): dissatisfaction, for those who feel it, arises from disappointed expectations; and expectations, I think, cloud one’s ability to act.

    7. Strokes and folks: each person is equivalent to a country whose laws, language, and customs, at least, are to some degree different from mine. If I can’t adjust to a given country’s attributes, I don’t try to get it to change–I either adjust or move on. The one difference between country and individual is that I can have a one-on-one conversation with the latter; and in that case, if the communication is good enough and my intentions clear to both of us, I might express an opinion (not a judgment), on which the other may choose to act on or ignore. As for respect, if I respect myself, respect for others is a given.

    8. Have I chosen my lifestyle, or has it chosen me? I don’t perceive these as separate: I AM my lifestyle.

    Thanks.

  6. says

    This was a great, thought-provoking post for my morning. I especially liked the talking or doing point. It really wears me out hearing people say something similar to “I wish” when it comes to travel. If you truly wish you can find a way to actually do. The regrets topic is important to me too. Living in Brazil did not make me fall in love with the place. I feel about the same I did before we moved there. It’s not my favorite place in this world, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a fantastic experience living there or that other people don’t absolutely love it. I don’t regret our decision for a minute. This post emphasizes that life is really about attitudes and actions.

  7. says

    What a great post …

    We definitely chose our current life in India .. but I fear we aren’t truly still making the conscious effort to continue to live deliberately … will be linking back to you in a future post of mine.

  8. says

    Another well thought out and articulated post! So great to sip my morning coffee and read about your adventures and thoughts about it all.

    My wife and I are truly on the road to hopefully being able to do what you two have done with your lives. On our own path of course ;). A lot of folks call us crazy, we just call it “living”.

  9. says

    I love #2. I live by that principle, so many people fail to realize this – I think the hard part is accepting the fact that the alternative choice is not always positive or that #4 comes into play.

  10. says

    This is a perfect post really. The idea of living deliberately seems to get easily forgotten as it has become all too common to just follow the paths of others. Even those who decide to trade a 9-5 lifestyle for a more unconventional lifestyle often find themselves in places such as Buenos Aires trying to copy the lifestyle of other location independent people. So even though they think they are living a life more in tune with their priorities, they are still as far away from that as they were in the 9-5 job. (I’m not suggesting you’re doing this of course! It is beyond evident that you are living deliberately!!!)

    And I think #7 is a great way to end this post. Respect of others is vital to achieving a more deliberate and fulfilling lifestyle.

  11. says

    All points – 1 to 5 reflect my current position. Number 2 speaks the loudest. As an older traveler, I had to scrape gumption at the bottom of the barrel and realize I still have choices – the game ain’t over yet.

    Don’t fret, Oprah might call. :)

  12. says

    Taking responsibility for one’s own happiness and success in life is one of the biggest leaps one can take. It’s scary. But the rewards so bountiful!

    Awesome reading and reflections on the paths many of us have chosen. Even when leading your own path, it can be tempting to head into ruts created others, instead of truly designing our own lives.

  13. Chip Ritter says

    I have to second Robyn. Dan, Audrey, it seems like you’ve been channeling some of my fears and doubts lately and have written pieces with exactly what I’ve needed to hear at exactly the time I’ve needed to hear them. Thanks again for a great piece. I appreciate it.

  14. says

    Awareness is the most important realization we must acquire. Most of us a living life blindly, we follow our instincts instead making a choice. As we go on with life there are much to be learned, it is important that we allow ourselves to grow. If not, then we will never achieve something worthwhile in this world. :-)

  15. says

    @Ian, Joan: Thanks for the kudos. Glad your enjoying following us on this journey.

    @Alex, Kyle: I’m glad that you are enjoying the variety.  Our whole life is not about travel. We’d like our website to reflect this. And while traditional travel pieces are fun, the lessons we’ve learned through travel are necessary for us to process what we experience.  They also apparently resonate with a lot of readers. Stay tuned for more.

    @Olivia: Sometimes you have a hunch of a priority, but it takes a decision point to confirm it. It’s likely that you would have moved abroad at some point, but looking for an apartment when you did pushed you to focus (question?) your priorities and choices a bit sooner than you otherwise would have. It will be interesting to see where your priorities lead you next.

    @Bill: You’ve got a lifetime of experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    @Lori: We also get a bit tired of hearing “I wish” when it comes to travel. If it’s a priority in your life, there are things you can do to make it happen. Perhaps not tomorrow, but certainly soon.

    Yes, you can have a worthwhile experience without wishing to repeat it.  We touch on that phenomenon here:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2010/01/trip-bitch-curiosity-itch-paraguay/

    @Naomi:  It’s a process.  Good luck.  We’ll look forward to your link and reading your thoughts.

    @Tad: Exactly. The idea is that each should do what works for him, rather than working towards some model or ideal.

    @Cornelius: This is one of the hardest features of life to understand.  Even the concept of choosing “between the lesser of two evils” usually entails a third unapparent choice.

    @Earl: Thanks for a close read of our piece.  I think it’s easy to chase ideals.  What’s more difficult is forging your own way.

    @Nomadic Chick: “The game ain’t over yet.”  I like it!  Far from over, it is.  Thanks for the good vibes on Oprah. You don’t have her number, do you?

    @Cherie: Exactly.  Ruts happen, even if you choose an “ideal” lifestyle.  I think that’s the nuance that we wanted to introduce in this piece.  There are appealing lifestyles out there, but they may not be quite as ideal as they first appear, particularly if you haven’t considered how they fit with your priorities.

    @Chip: You are welcome.  I’m glad that we could channel some of your fears and doubts.  I think we all have some — we would not be human if we didn’t.  To say it another way: you are in good company.

    @Walter: To add to your comment in the vein of this piece: it’s not what you change, it’s how you change it.

  16. says

    Interesting piece. It’s not for everyone but that’s not to say most of what we do is for everyone. I hate the term “lifestyle design.” It’s ridiculous. So many mini tim ferris people out there…doing what? a whole lot of nothing. But Tim strikes on one point that we could all free up our lives a bit. Even if being a digital nomad for you, people could all better manage time and automate some of their lives to free up time to do what they want.

  17. says

    @Matt: That’s the point of the piece: no one lifestyle is a perfect fit for anyone. We deliberately do not use the term “lifestyle design” in the piece. It’s jargon (so many non-bloggers we spoke to before writing it said “Huh? Lifestyle design? What’s that?”) But aligning priorities and choices and answering the 7 questions — that’s something everyone can relate to. No argument on time management and task automation: they’ll always make sense.

  18. Daisy McKinley says

    Thanks for the excellent article. I find that I seem to make better choices when I’m able to control my mind and keep it from streaming negitive thoughts…not always easy.

    I’ve been reading your blurbs on facebook and I always smile when I think about the two of you! Stay well

    Much love,

  19. says

    @Daisy: My frame of mind certainly affects my decisions and what I see as choices. I feel like I have a lot more options after a good night’s sleep. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t yet listened to the news or anything else so I don’t yet have negative thoughts in my head. Thanks for supporting us and following us on Facebook and here!

  20. says

    I love the brutal honesty that the answers to these questions demand. People hide too easily behind fate as an excuse for their lives, especially if they are not happy. When really, the choices we make dictate our life(styles)

  21. says

    @Liv: Me,too. But the intent is not to be brutal as much as it is to cut through the traps we sometimes find ourselves stuck in when considering life choices. To your point, it’s easy to hide — so easy that we often don’t realize we’re doing it. Thanks for your comment!

  22. Carol says

    I absolutely love this entire series on personal growth through travel…I very much admire what you have set out to do with your lives and thinking beyond the “self” and seeking growth, community, bridging gaps and bringing positive change in the world. That is a very small example and I have only just begun to read your blog! I am in my early 40’s and I have always been the “talker” and not the “doer” and I am seeking to change that. I went on my first trip to Europe last year and it really had a profound affect on me and has made me rethink my priorities and what I want to experience/contribute to this world. My mom is in her early 70’s and regrets waiting to travel, etc. So, I am in the beginning stages of planning out what I want to do and see what is out there. I am taking some inspiration from this blog and hope to turn myself from a “talker” into a “doer”. Many thanks.

  23. says

    @Carol: Thank you so much for sharing this comment. I think there are so many people who can identify with you regarding being a “talker” instead of a “doer” and wanting to travel and do what you want to do before it’s too late. We also face this challenge. Your comment has also inspired us to take stock and reevaluate our goals and what we’re doing…and that we are actually doing instead of talking.

    If there is anything we can do to help with your planning or in providing fodder for your inspiration, please let us know.

  24. says

    I cant tell you how much i enjoyed this article! very inspiring! I wanted to live in London since i was 18 but never had the money saved or it just wasn’t the time and all my friends dis believed i would ever do it. during the year before i left it got serious and i realised i was being a talker and not a doer – this realisation hit and now im living in London… thats only the begining!

  25. says

    @Creative Nomad: Thank you – so glad you enjoyed this and it resonated with you. It’s easy to be a talker, not so easy to be a doer. And congrats on living in London now and making your dream really happen by taking action.

  26. says

    A thought provoking post.. yes tolerance is key i think.. and if you have that, you will see the joy in whatever you do, even if you are a fish out of water. No regrets – I think we’re happy with what we have achieved so far.. but always striving to improve of course!

  27. says

    @ciki: Tolerance as a key to joy and satisfaction, absolutely. Happy with where you are at, but understanding that perhaps there’s more out there. That’s perspective.

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