It’s been a while since I’ve published an installment of “Parenting Against the Grain” and I’ve missed it! I launched this series to highlight interesting choices that parents are making to live a little differently with their children. Today, we’re going Down Under to talk to a lovely woman named Carley Morgan. I’ve been wanting to talk to Carley ever since she wrote to tell me that SlowMama had played a role in the decision she and her husband made to take two years off work, mid-career, to slow things down, spend time with their growing son, recalibrate, enjoy life, and build an off-grid house. They started a blog called 1 Million Minutes to detail their adventures, which they are well into now. I’m so glad to finally be able to share some of Carley’s story with you and hope you find it as inspiring as I do!
Zoe Saint-Paul: Welcome, Carley! Tell us a little about you and your family.
Carley Morgan: Our little family consists of my husband (40), myself (35) and our soon to be 5 year-old son. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta (Canada), and my husband and son were both born in Perth, Australia, where we currently live. In the past 8 years we have lived in the U.S., Nigeria, and Singapore. We love travel, adventure, and living less conventionally. Both of our careers were in the Oil and Gas Industry. I stopped working before my son was born, however my husband continued to work until our “1 Million Minutes” adventure began, just over a year ago. While I tend to be more right-brain dominant and am interested in yoga, meditation, and the more spiritual aspects of life, my husband is very much the left-brain rational and logical one. Our son is a nice mix of the two of us — I say he’s got my heart and his dad’s brain, but really, he’s a typical little boy who loves learning, playing, running, and anything remotely gross or related to potty humor.
ZSP: What motivated you and your husband to take a two year break away from work and regular life?
CM: We decided to take a year off in 2011, and later it morphed into two years. We were living in Nigeria at the time when a colleague of my husband’s passed away suddenly. It dawned on my husband — who really loves the work he does — that he could easily see himself working into to his 70’s, if not longer. So we thought, why not take some time now, while we’re still young, to do something crazy and enjoy life? Why not spend time with our growing son while we have the energy and physical ability, and then work a little longer later on, when climbing mountains and building a house might be too physically demanding? We also realized that if we took time now we’d have greater ability to spend time and influence our son and create memories with him while he still wants to spend time with us. We were also becoming concerned that he never saw his dad actually doing work. My husband was very influenced by watching and learning from his dad, which he believes is the foundation for his strong work ethic, and he resolved to make sure that our son appreciates that work is more than trips to the office and email. In this way, we see our time as an investment in our son’s future disposition.
It would take a few years from that point before everything fell into place.
ZSP: What steps did you have to take to make it happen?
CM: Before we had even spoken about taking time off, my husband had been conceptualizing a house for years — one that could be flat-packed and modular built, flexible, sustainable, beautiful, and cost-effective. We just weren’t sure when we would build it and like many people, had casually slotted it in as a project for retirement. So the house was already in the back of our minds.
Before we even knew when 1MillionMinutes would start, we put the intention out there to buy a beautiful piece of land near Perth and we made the purchase in January 2012. While we could have started 1MillionMinutes shortly thereafter, an exciting two-year job opportunity came up for my husband in Singapore, which fit nicely into our plans as it gave us some more time to plan and save and also had us physically located closer to Perth to facilitate logistics and to spend more time with my husband’s family.
Although we had been talking about it for a few years, I think our decision still surprised most of our family, friends, and colleagues. Official discussions with my husband’s employer were initiated in July 2014 and we received confirmation on his leave of absence around October 2014. That really set the wheels in motion. Through all of this, my husband continued to work on the house plans and I started making arrangements for the move and transitioning our son to our new life. I also started a two-year diploma program. So while March 1, 2015, is the official start date of 1MillionMinutes, it truly began two or three years prior to that.
ZSP: What exactly were your goals, and where are you in the process of achieving them?
CM: Our main goal was to spend time together, make memories, enjoy our family, and influence our son as much as possible. Reconnecting with friends and family was also important and is now a beautiful part of life.
Building the house was another big goal for us. Although it doesn’t look like a whole lot from the pictures, we are well on our way. The hardest part is the design phase since it’s never been done before and a lot of work has gone into getting ready to build. Moving through the process has been my lovely engineer of a husband’s greatest source of frustration and achievement. Now that the design is nearly complete and the construction phase has begun it should be fairly smooth going.
Personally, I wanted to challenge myself, to learn something new, meet new people, add value beyond our family, and to find new ways to share myself with the world. I decided to do this by completing a 2-year diploma in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. Now that I’ve graduated, I’ll put some effort into building up a private practice.
We were extremely conscious of the impacts that stress and a transient lifestyle had on our bodies and minds so we wanted to focus on learning more about ourselves and being healthy. We did the best we could prior to 1MillionMinutes, but we both agree that we’re currently at our physical, mental, and emotional bests and really enjoy preparing healthy food, engaging in physical activities, and having the energy to work hard while still enjoying life.
Each day we realize that we’re accomplishing things that we hadn’t even intended to do; that’s what seems to happen when you have time and space and good health. Life begins to flow and opens up to amazing things.
ZSP: What have been the most rewarding parts of this decision so far?
CM: By far, spending time with our son and our family and friends. Memories and relationships are very important to us and truly the only thing that can never be taken away. We are also really pleased with our health and fitness now, being able to volunteer in my son’s classroom, having the time to contemplate life and really think about things, explore them and make them a reality. I really enjoy working with my clients and seeing their commitment to health and healing and witnessing their progress. There really isn’t any part of this decision that isn’t a reward for us.
ZSP: What have been the greatest challenges?
CM: The single greatest challenge we had to overcome was the fear of actually going ahead with 1MillionMinutes and leaving behind a very comfortable lifestyle. This fear now seems ridiculous, but was overwhelming at times before we made the decision. I went through a bit of an emotional rollercoaster when we finally arrived in Perth as there were many logistics that were unfolding and the stress of the past few years ,and the move, finally caught up with me. But we were well-positioned as a family to take some time to relax, heal, and regroup so while it was a bit challenging, it has been a blessing for us all. My husband has had a few intense engineering issues with the house, but we have grown to work with and support each other through anything and really, challenges aren’t really bad, but simply part of the process.
ZSP: How has this two-years-off plan affected your marriage and your parenting? And what has been the reaction of extended family and friends?
CM: As far as affecting our marriage, it has strengthened and reinforced the love, respect, and commitment we have towards each other. The mutual level of trust has deepened and our desire to be the best we can be for each other and our son has grown exponentially. We truly enjoy spending time together and this 1MillionMinutes has been such a gift.
Our parenting hasn’t changed much as far as philosophies go — we’re very much attachment-based parents. However, given that we no longer have the stresses of a hectic work life, we’re both able to be more present, mindful, creative, and patient in our parenting. We are very purposeful in our interactions with him and really look for opportunities to help him understand what it means to appreciate nature, work hard, be thoughtful and creative when problem solving, be mindful, enjoy life, and be a compassionate human being.
When we first started talking about 1MillionMinutes most people humored us with the discussion, but didn’t expect anything to come of it so there was a lot of surprise at the beginning when we actually did it. Our close family and friends have been incredibly supportive and we’ve met may new friends who are very interested and excited to see what happens. We’ve also let go of some friends and others have let go of us. It’s really been an amazing journey so far.
ZSP: Can you tell me a bit about the Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony you held prior to building your new home?
CM: We are well aware that there’s more to this universe than meets the eye and we’re also very aware that we’re only caretakers of the beautiful property that we purchased; it will go on to exist far longer than we walk the earth. For thousands of years, others have cared for and communed with this land. It was important for us to build our home on in the most respectful and sustainable way and that meant learning about its past and honoring those who have come before us. Having Uncle Ben Taylor (a respected Noongar Elder and Order of Australia recipient) and his family share their history, their culture, their passion, and their spiritual ceremony with us was one of the most profound experiences we’ve been privileged to participate in. We respect Aboriginal Peoples and feel that the results of poorly implemented government and church programs, and their devastating impacts on Aboriginal Peoples throughout the world, is a tragedy. We recognize the importance of these types of ceremonies not only for our own benefit, but also for the role that they play in the healing process of Aboriginal communities. We are now connected to the land’s past and responsible for its future in both the physical and spiritual sense.
ZSP: What lessons have you learned so far and how do you think you have changed from this experience?
CM: Time is precious. Living in the present moment is far easier if you’re not stressed out and tired from work. While I still have to remind myself to be present sometimes, it’s far easier to do these days.
ZSP: If someone out there has a similar dream — to take a sabbatical from their life or to build an off-grid home — what steps would you advise them to take and what do you think they should know?
CM: Here’s what I would advise:
Start planning as early as possible so you can get your finances in order and be debt-free (or have enough money saved to cover ongoing expenses like a mortgage).
Simplify your life well before you get started. Sell or donate physical items you don’t use/need, dial back your social calendar, take steps to improve your health.
Spend time thinking about what you want to do with your time off. How can you be productive? Set some goals and plan ways to achieve them. It’s not a vacation!
Evaluate the relationships you have in your life and know who your supporters are and how they can help you.
Work through the fear and entire range of emotions that come along with this type of life change. They are there for a reason and understanding them ahead of time will put you in good standing to be conscious and grounded.
In summary, be clear with your goals. Know what’s important to you and why, and then make the time to make it happen.
I love Carley’s point that this kind of sabbatical is not a vacation. I think another message that comes through loud and clear is: Why wait? Sometimes we need to in order to plan and prepare, of course, but who says reaching important goals and enjoying our families is only for retirement? It’s not easy to make such decisions, but I like how Carley and her husband overcame their fears and made the leap. I sense that when their 1 million minutes is over, things will never quite be the same. Many thanks to Carley for sharing some of her amazing adventure with SlowMama!
Friends, does the idea of taking time out to accomplish certain goals and dreams appeal to you? What would it take to make that happen?
Also, be sure to check out previous installments of Parenting Against the Grain:
Taking A Family Sabbatical
Going Furniture Free
The Modern Nomads
Images from Carley Morgan