We did it, but we never could have planned it.

How my husband and I radically realigned our careers & lives with a three word sentence.

The great escape. From stressful jobs and sailing very close to the winds of burnout to making radical shifts in order to live a life of freedom and purpose. Seems to be the dream of our age. There is much lore about this sort of transition as so many people feel that their lives are out of alignment with their values and desires. Some talk about it, plan it, talk themselves out of it, talk about it again, plan again, rinse and repeat…my husband and I actually did it and I can clearly identify the turning point, the pivotal moment that set it all in motion.

First, a brief bit of context…rewind to 2013, we were Londoners living very full and often frantic Londoner lives. My husband had a rather intense, high pressure job complete with a wildly spiking performance based monthly income. His fitness regimes were getting pretty obsessive as he sought to offset his stress, yet the stress was still taking its toll and he was growing more and more disillusioned and disconnected with how he was spending 50+ hours per week. I was in a fleeting moment of contentment having just completed a rather draining streamlining of my business after recognising the higher turnover wasn’t equating to higher satisfaction. I took on one lovely client and spent the rest of my time in my art studio or doing yoga & meditation. Much as I was enjoying my new balance, it felt a little rudderless and I struggled under the assumption that I was somehow falling short as I messily juggled work, family and social life. At the time, our daughter was six and, on the whole, thoughtfully thriving, as is her nature.

I remember well painting our spare bedroom a (predictably) Farrow & Ball pale blue while my husband fretfully expressed how he felt he could not continue doing what he was doing, how he was worried about his health and wellbeing, how he needed a change. He looked like shit. I could tell he was nervous, nervous about letting me down, nervous about not being a good provider, nervous about the logistics of what next, nervous about making a decision. It was clearly weighing heavily.

Luckily, in that moment, I was in a pretty groovy state given all the yoga, meditation & metaphysical stuff I was allowing myself and I managed to be pretty damn reassuring about our ability and capacity to change our lives and not let fear drive the bus. I reassured him that we would figure it out, but he had to make some choices, rather than staying stuck. Make some choices and we would figure it out…I had no idea what was coming.

At that same time, despite the demands of daily life, we held fast to a weekly ritual. Each Tuesday evening, once our daughter was asleep, we would sit at our kitchen table, open a stupidly expensive bottle of wine and chat aimlessly. We loved our Tuesday evenings they provided some much needed harmony and understanding during a testing time of juggling & striving.

So on one such Tuesday evening my husband shares the story of hearing himself give advice to our daughter to always, always follow the wisdom of her astounding heart. And it struck him, like benevolent lightening. He is not doing this for himself. How can he possibly expect her to follow his advice if he can’t embody it himself? So if not for him, at least for his daughter, he will follow his true north heart…from now, it was time. There was something I really had always wanted to do and be, but always put off.

My response was something to the effect of, “Yes, so what is it time for? What is it you want to do?” My curiosity had really piqued because he was so remarkably calm. I had an inkling something perhaps a little seismic was coming. He had been a chef in a previous life, was a food freak and also has this obsession with rugby so I was thinking along those lines.

I was totally wrong in my assumptions.

He said he wanted to look into ordination.

I had no idea what that meant. “Ordination?” I said.

“Yes, become a priest.”

“Oh.”

I took it in, which felt like one of those moments in life when all is re-jiggled instantaneously. I knew nothing about the Church of England, wasn’t a practicing Christian and found religion largely irrelevant to my life, with the exception of a beautiful, yet simple encounter with my husband’s childhood parish priest before he married us. My husband wasn’t in any way “an obvious Christian” (whatever that is) other than going to church each Sunday, which was always assumed by others to be motivated by getting our child into the Ofsted Outstanding School. He had always had a desire to be something more than just a good person. He regularly pondered the big questions of life and in a quiet and private way, he was deeply spiritual. Much to my surprise, despite my lack of knowledge, understanding and predictable middle class tendency to somewhat scoff at the devout…once he said this, it felt natural and right and made impeccable sense.

And the three words that changed the course of our lives and turned it into something we would never have dared imagined or planned….I don’t know where they came from, probably from one of the zillion of self-y help-y books I had been reading at the time.

“Let’s explore it.”

NOT let’s plan it.
Rather than plan…Let’s be OK with not having all the answers. Let’s not plan everything to the hilt and be super, duper controlling and fretful of what-ifs. Let’s just take it one step at a time. Let’s not let fear drive the bus. Let’s explore. Guided by the heart, aided by the brain; not the other way around. Say no to over-thinking, doubting, over-planning, over-explaining, over-rationalising. Explore, step into unknown territory, have a look around and then take another step {plus learn to politely deal with all the neurotic questions and concerns that will inevitably stream from other people as they project their fears of change onto you!}

There is an element of trust in this that runs almost counter cultural. To trust in yourself, your desires, intuitions, talents and keep moving towards them — this is radical these days. We are conditioned to think we need to have everything all planned out — clear, measurable, time specific goals. But what if our goals aren’t measurable in the traditional sense? What if our goals are feelings? Like freedom, purpose, inspiration. What if we trust the unseen forces, coincidences and serendipitous moments & people in our lives to help us align? What if we can really loosen our white knuckle grip on our lives? What becomes possible?

I’ll tell you…everything and anything become possible. Things you would not have dared to plan yet are gorgeously aligned, become possible and become reality.

My little family is proof of this. Nearly five years have passed since our “Let’s explore it.” moment at the kitchen table. We rented our home and left London to live in the Hebrides for six months, then moved to a beautiful Cambridge theological college where my husband studied and the likes of Rowan Williams would come to lead us in meditation. I retrained as a yoga & meditation teacher, we spent a summer in South India partially funded by a research grant, returned to London where we reside now and continue to explore and do our best to practice trust.

There have certainly been ups and downs, but we would not trade a day of it. And despite having vivid imaginations, at that moment at the kitchen table, we could not have possibly planned or imagined what would happen in our future lives. We continue to learn that when we explore and dare to practice trusting in our hearts, this is when life gets very, very interesting and flows in alignment with our values and desires.


Meredith Gunderson is a teacher and writer based in London. She writes weekly to her mailing list on the topics of modern day metaphysics as well as the lives and world that becomes possible when we live consciously. Meredith runs regular yoga & meditatiom classes, courses, workshops and retreats and is the founder of The Modern Meditation Movement. www.meredithyoga.com

Photo courtesy of my mom.

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