Today: guest blog from Gary Goebel, master (mostly unaware) of the Art of Really Living. Gary is a great friend and unassumingly inspiring. Here’s a guy who tends to talk about his risk aversion, his periods spent as a lawyer and teacher, and “domesticated life” as a stay at home dad.
What comes out around the edges, is that this is the same guy who left the rock star house-on-the-hill (literally in this case - formerly owned by the lead guitarist for the Scorpions) and along with his star-powered attorney wife Monica, abandoned the money-chasing rat race and moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to enjoy the fruits of their labors while still young enough to experience them fully. A 2-year sabbatical followed by a job here and there, and then most recently two other massive adventures - first an 8 month sojourn into the jungles, beaches and teeming cities of Central and South America - with 8 and 10 year old boys in tow going to “the school of life.” And now, unhappy with the local school system dynamics with his elder son, Gary has taken on home-schooling an 11 year old boy with traditional curriculum, unique experiences, and lots of TED talks.
Seriously, when other people only dream of taking the big chances and changing their lives forever, Gary and Monica have proven willing to take the risks to do so repeatedly. Every day as I consider what the Art of Really Living is really about, I think of Gary and Monica, and the strengths, resiliency, and time-expanding adventures they have been on over the last decade. With that, I turn it over to Gary and his adventures in time down in Latin America with the only edit being the addition of Really Living elements:
ELEMENTS AND CONTRASTS OF REALLY LIVING MOMENTS:
- Physically invigorating/exhausting
- Emotionally deep (Love/Courage, Hate/Fear)
- Flow State
I have known John Coyle for years, not as long as some, but have seen him in a number of personal and professional settings. I have always admired his gusto, his pursuit of adventure, and, basically, his commitment to “really live.” I assumed he was just the type of person who "lived large." It was who he was, and of course, this was natural for him. But what about the rest of us? If we didn’t share his DNA, were these adventures just something to dream about?
It was only recently that I learned that his actions are part of a conscientious philosophy, and that others can follow suit. In fact, he pointed out that my wife Monica and I have a history of the kind of risk-taking and creating incredible experiential moments for ourselves and our two young sons, that represents the heart of The Art of Really Living.
One recent time-expanding experience came in the Summer of 2013. I had just gotten out of a life-draining business (mundane), and Monica was working from home as a one-on-one business development coach for lawyers. Our two sons were ages 8 and 10. Monica was hit with an epiphany! We had no jobs that forced us to be anywhere in the foreseeable future. It was time for World Travel! (unique)
It is too trite to say we packed our bags and hit the open road. That sounds so romantic and whimsical. To plan and tackle a trip like this requires a decent amount of suffering: there was a lot of discussion, disagreement, research, preparation, arrangements, etc. to be made before our new dream could become a reality.
Eventually we settled on a Central America as a starting point. Why? We wanted to learn Spanish and enjoy beaches. Panama fit the bill because unlike the Central American countries a bit further north, there is no hurricane season. Also, flights were cheap, health care good, and they accept the US dollar.
Our adventure started almost a month before going abroad. We rented out our house, much earlier than anticipated, because we found an ideal tenant who was interested in a four month lease of our fully furnished house. Suddenly, we became “homeless.” That was an experience, but a story for another time. Let me just say that in times like that you know who your friends truly are. It was like a month long going away party!
Leaving all our worldly possessions behind (except backpacks), and giving our two boys the benefit of “the school of life,” we hit the road for a minimum of four months. We purchased one-way tickets to Ciudad Panama as our launch pad, enrolled in a Spanish Language Immersion School, and arranged to live with host families (unique). We started by spending two weeks in the mountain town of Boquete and two weeks more on the Caribbean island Bocas del Toro, with some exploration time between the two destinations. (beauty)
Beyond that, we did not formulate a plan. Who knew what we would do or where we would go? We decided to see what felt right after we arrived. I jokingly told people we would be back when A) We ran out of money; B) We got tired of dysentery; or C) We were kicked out of a country with no where else to turn. Honestly, most family and friends could not get their heads wrapped around a non-itinerary such as that. But that was the plan, or non-plan, if you will. “So really, when ARE you coming back?” Part of “really living” as we have learned is not trying to force amazing moments to happen, but instead trying to create the right kind of environments where possibility for serendipity is ripe.
So how long did we stay? As it turns out, 8 months. We traversed the cities, beaches, jungles and cloud forests of Panama for 7 weeks (physically challenging). Then, we traveled by bus over the border to Costa Rica and lived in a cabana in the jungle near the Pacific Ocean for a month. (beauty, uniqueness)
Next, we took a bus from San Jose, Costa Rica to Panama City to meet John Coyle and his family for Thanksgiving in the San Blas Islands. There, we sailed for days on a catamaran with Captain Jean Charles and a Guna Yala guide named Ronnie.
Sadly we all managed to get sick during this period (physically challenging) but bonded in close quarters along the way (emotionally deep). Next, we were dropped off on a tiny palm fringed island smaller than a city block, with gorgeous white sand beaches and a laid back vibe. We lived in straw huts and ate meals provided by Franklins -- family who owned the island. (beauty, uniqueness)
After the Caribbean Island time, we flew to Quito Ecuador, and rented a condo for six weeks. While in Ecuador, we explored the Andes mountain towns, the villages in Amazonia, and the Galapagos Islands. We traveled by planes, trains, canoes, boats, horses, taxis, vans, flat-bed trucks with benches bolted to the bed, buses, bicycles and foot. (physically arduous, emotionally scary)
When our three month tourist visa expired, we again traveled over an international border into Peru, but this time on foot, not by luxurious plane. There, we discovered yet another form of travel- we called them loco-motos, but they were really just jerry-rigged motorcycles modified to transport more people and things. The Peruano ingenuity with these transports was nothing short of miraculous! They could move mountains! But if you have visited Machu Picchu, you know that Peruanos have historically moved mountains.
Each time we left a “safe and secure” spot (OK, at least one where we had developed some level of comfort or that felt somewhat familiar), was incredibly stressful. At least for me. Were we going to the proper bus terminal? Did we buy the right ticket? Would we be crossing a border at the best or safest time? How would we change our currency? Was our gear secure? What forms of transportation, if any, awaited us? Could this taxi driver be trusted? Would we be over-charged? Robbed? (emotional depth - fear, anxiety) Travel here is not the same as there. I often railed when people asked about our “vacation.” There may be many words to describe what we did, but I do not see vacation as one of them. I tend to reserve that word for going to Disneyland or sitting at a resort by the pool with a Mai Tai.
During our travels, time passed fast and slow, we had periods of quiet contentment, boredom, painfully long journeys, beauty and of course those certain memories that just implant themselves, seemingly of their own accord, and serve to become the “stories of the road” - the experiences that “made a dent” that we will always remember, like:
- The dramatic passing of an ancient grandfather in the bedroom next door to the boys on our first night with our first host family; (unique, emotionally deep, beauty too)
- Taking 36 hours to go from door to door from our tiny cabana in Costa Rica to Park Ridge, Illinois, without cell phone, GPS, my more fluent wife, or any other niceties; (emotionally, physically stressful)
- Having our cabana burgled while we lounged comfortably on the beach; (fear, anxiety)
- The intimate connection with the ocean, land and animals in the Galapagos; (beauty, emotional depth)
- Befriending other traveling American families in one country and meeting up again in another; (emotional depth, love)
- Traversing the Sacred Valley of Peru and all that it offered; (beauty, uniqueness)
- Floating down an Amazonia River on inner tubes; (beauty)
- White river rafting on the border of Costa Rica and Panama;
- Working to create a new girls’ home for young mothers in Cuzco, Peru
- Dancing in the streets at Carnival in Chachapoya, Peru (beauty)
- The camaraderie of fellow backpackers singing around a fire, kicking back beers in hostels, riding bikes on volcanos, and soaking in natural hot springs in the mountains. (uniqueness, emotional depth)
- 24 hour bus trips; (physical challenge)
- Eating exotic “street meats” and quail eggs from vendors, buying artisan cheeses from colorfully attired indigenous women… almost any of our culinary experiences; (beauty, uniqueness)
- Chicken Buses (fear, love, beauty, ugliness, uniqueness)
We could write a small book on the trip (my musings can be found on our blog at http://ottoowenmonicagary.blogspot.com/ ). Not a day goes by that I do not think back to one thing another about our 8 month odyssey. Did we really live? Unequivocally! We were not just tourists. We absorbed and experienced an entirely different world than the one we had left. Did we expand time? Absolutely - those 8 months fill our mental data banks with the equivalent of years of memories had we stayed home, and we continue to relive special moments, reach out to new friends found abroad, and explore future roads we might have otherwise closed if not for the experience. Whatever money, convenience, peace-of-mind, etc we sacrificed, has been recouped ten-fold.
“Wait,” you say, “that all sounds fun, but I couldn’t do that…” Let me challenge you here. . You couldn’t do that because… of your house, your car, your belongings? What are those things “worth?” vs. experiences?
Let me share the story of a certain famous rock star, as related in the book, “What Happy People Know” by Dr. Dan Baker. In the book, the author relates the story of a famous rock star who had turned to drugs and alcohol because he felt so “trapped” by the establishment - recording deals he HAD to complete, concert tours he HAD to fulfill. Here he was worth a hundred million or more and he was miserable feeling like he had no choices. Easy for us to look in from a afar and say, “wait - you can just walk away, travel the world, live on an island, do whatever you want with all that money… and you still have your talent.”
But how different is that from you and I? Many of us have savings, or could scrape some together if we lived more frugally. We’ve invested in education and careers that make us easily hireable. Yet .. we can’t take 3 or 6 or 12 months off because... ? Why? Our THINGS? our JOBS? MONEY?
I challenge you - what are we working for anyway? to die on a stack of money or to “really live?”
Everyone dies, not everyone really lives… I want to really live!