My family and I decided to do an experiment this past summer. Since we work for ourselves and our work is primarily virtual or travel based, we were able to pack up our things and head to Bonaire for 10 weeks over the summer with our children. The plan was to work smarter, not harder and live a different life for a bit while continuing to move our companies forward. Below are some of the most standout lessons we learned.
We had high aspirations for ourselves for this summer. We had visions of becoming our "best" selves; 20 pounds lighter, exercising every day, no screens, no nighttime tv or eating, focused attention on work during work hours, increased patience with the kids, and no devices for the kids. Well, what "they" say is true, where ever you go, there you are. While in retrospect, we didn't hit "best"level we were most definitely "better" versions of ourselves.
We absolutely did a better job eating healthfully, however, there were a few weeks where the sugar and carbs found their way back into our daily diet. While we didn't indulge nearly as much as we do at home, we were still disappointed not to have been able to sustain a primarily protein and plant based diet. Regardless, it was much easier (and less expensive) to eat fresh fish, salads, fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. I've read that FDA restrictions in the US are more lax than they are in other countries. My son often gets stomach pains after we eat a meal here in the US and he never once experienced the same kind of recurring symptoms he gets here, even when eating pasta, cheese, or snacks. I am wondering if that is because the quality of food, even processed food, was better in Bonaire? In addition, I found that drinking my 64oz of water everyday was significantly easier on the island, probably because of the heat and activity. I am far less inclined to drink a lot of water while living most of my life in an air conditioned space. All in all, we did lose about 10 pounds each and have kept that off thus far. Now that we know we can be better, we are aiming to do that here as well.
It is a million times easier to exercise naturally in Bonaire. When we arrived, we were walking everyday. It felt wonderful. As the summer progressed, and our 10 year old son passed his open water dive course, we traded a lot of the walking for diving. It's amazing how many calories a person burns while diving! We also swam nearly every day. On our infrequent full work days, not surprisingly, we were a bit more sedentary. But, I must have said the words, "I can only work until xx today, because I'm going for an afternoon dive"at least 5 times over the summer to my clients. Saying those words out loud made my heart skip a beat with joy. To me, that's living my best life. Not better . . . best!
We had told the kids, we were aiming for a summer with no devices; or at least limited devices) and we had all agreed to it. Devices were put away and hidden when we had guests. Naturally our children acted better after several days away from the screens, but it was hard to maintain a zero screen time policy, especially while we were working and there were no friends to entertain them. Where ever you go, there you are. Despite all of the crafts and books I brought for the kids. . . the pull on those devices are STRONG! I'd say while we didn't end up enforcing a zero policy, they probably crept in about 25% more than ideal. Maybe not best. . . but certainly better.
Work smarter not harder . . . that was the plan. Could we work as efficiently and effectively as we do at home, all the while, filling our free time with amazing, productive and inspiring activities? In theory yes, however for us we did have the intention to spend amazing time with our children and share the island (above and below water) with our nearly weekly arriving guests and friends. Coupling that with some communication issues, we were not as productive on what my husband called our "North America work" as we had planned. We ended up working part time, however, not full time over the summer. Most weeks, we probably got in about 4 - 6 hours of work on designated work days. That had some hidden hard and soft costs when we got home but that's another post.
One of my primary issues was the phone. It had been recommended that we switch our carrier to Digicel, to avoid a ton of Verizon fees. So we did that right away. Unfortunately, we learned this was not a straight forward solution. When calling different companies for customer service related calls, I would be on hold for a long time, thus eating away at my 45 minutes of international talk minutes. By the time I finally got a hold of someone, my phone would shut off in the middle of my call. GRRRR. So frustrating. And for some reason, we weren't always able to add more money via their app. This is something we still need to solve for next year. Another phone issue is connected to logging into to certain websites. Because our login info (IP address) was coming from Bonaire, so many sites wouldn't let me just login. They wanted to send a confirmation code via Google to my phone. ONLY I had a different phone number!! ARGH!! Password retrieval systems that don't allow email retrieval became my nemesis!! Ultimately, we made it through, but toward the end, I was switching back and forth between my Verizon and Digicel SIM cards multiple times a day.
One of our challenges during the year, is watching tv at night, snacking while we watch and staying up too late. We had all the same access to screens in Bonaire. There was a tv in the living room and one in the master bedroom, as well as our iPads and our Apple TV that we had brought with us. The entire 10 weeks, we NEVER once turned on the tv in the bedroom and only occasionally watched family movies on the tv in the living room. At night, we were so tired from our full days of work and adventure, that we just looked at photos from the day, or read a bit or played on our phones for about 20 minutes and fell asleep as early as 9:30 some nights and much earlier every night than we do at home. The same holds true for our kids. This meant no snacking at night and we all slept so much better down there because we had spent enough of our day being active. That was maybe the biggest, sustained difference. And it was glorious! When it comes to this one, I'm already missing Bonaire, especially with the 5:45am get ready for school alarm!
We had hoped that living in paradise would translate to less stress and more patience with our kids. On a positive note, we spent way more productive time with the kids, snuggling, laughing, exploring, and learning together. The Bonaire lifestyle lends itself to that. However we were not without any of the normal kid challenges Our kids desire for their devices or other people to entertain them is high so when neither were an option, they would come bounding into our room / office while we were trying to focus and were fairly disruptive to the work plan part of this dream. Cue the frustration, scolding and less patience on some days. In addition, being brothers who like to needle each other, regardless of where they are. . . they did that, too. Fun for them, tough for us! So location change did not change some of the habits we have going there as a family. Where ever you go, there you are!
In life, we all have good days and bad days. It's normal. At home, however, sometimes those bad days can last more than just one day. Getting out of the "funk" can take effort. Last year, I started writing in a gratitude journal (thank you, Oprah) to focus more of my energy on the positive aspects of my life. I brought my journal down with me to Bonaire and it sat on my bedside table ALL summer. I never opened it. I never needed it. Yes, I had bad days. But the next day I would wake up, look out the window at the ocean or pool and just, ahhhhh, feel better somehow. I don't know exactly what it was that made such an immediate difference. Nothing had changed from the bad day I'd had before. But the feelings didn't last. They were gone and I was able to be me again really quickly. There is just something good in the air there and it is easy to look around and feel massive amounts of gratitude every moment of the day. People often say it's not about where you live, it's about the people you're surrounded by. I love the people I'm surrounded by at home. They are a fantastic, amazing village of friends. But they can't make my funk disappear like it did in Bonaire. No one can. That comes from within. And for me, location and weather really matter.
Based on my research from The Harp Family Institute, I know how critical setting shared family and business goals are in sustaining a happy life with your partner. After this summer's experience in Bonaire, we are even more committed to making Bonaire a part of our future. When taken as a whole, while we may not have reached our "best" selves level, we most certainly can claim to have reached a "better" level and for right now, I'll take it!! Our current business and family goals are to spend every summer sharing our Bonaire experience with any and all families who are interested in coming down with us. We are working on building a "un-conference" or "non-con" (we haven't quite decided) that will be a Family Adventure Un-Conference that will combine learning with activity and adventure for the whole family. The goal will be to stretch your limits and experience something new. We have already secured 2 amazing, inspiring, active speakers who we know will resonate with parents and kids alike. Be sure to check back on the site to learn more about the conference. In addition, we are considering taking the kids out of school for a semester (hopefully with some other families) and sharing a nanny/teacher to extend our time down there!