Transition Management Consulting, Inc.

The Explorers (Part 1)

by Bob Van Hook and Jackie Eder-Van Hook


The Explorers

By Bob Van Hook and Jackie Eder-Van Hook

By all standards, we were a successful Washington couple. We earned good incomes, made bonuses, received perks, and were given lots of kudos for our work. Success is a funny thing, however. We worked really hard to become successful. After we achieved it, we wondered, “Is this all there is?”

Despite the successes, we wanted more. We wanted to feel the same level of enthusiasm in our work that we felt in our personal lives. We wanted to help create a professional environment that is creative, mutually supportive, respectful, positive, and in which people were encouraged to be their best for themselves as well as the organization. These efforts seemed ineffective and illusive. The more we tried to integrate our values and work, the more frustrated we became.

We realized that our work didn’t seem to want or need our whole selves, just those parts that made decisions and ensured task completion. Sure, there were successes and they felt good, but as time went on the successes seemed less and less important and the costs seemed higher and higher.

When we assessed the costs we were incurring in our work, we found they were far greater than we had imagined, such as:

  • Financial costs: Economic success brought a house, cars, vacations, and lots of stuff along with the need to maintain those things.
  • Personal relations costs: We limited our relationships with others and with each other as we professed not to have the time or energy to see them.
  • Physical deterioration costs: Stress and being out of shape contributed to illnesses and injuries.
  • Time costs: There weren’t enough hours in the day. The costs of the time we spent at work were related to all the other costs. We got up early and straggled home late at night, causing us to rationalize our decision not to cook or to exercise because we were too tired. We dined out regularly, which meant we ate too much food too late in the evening and drank too much wine to "relax" so we could start the day anew after a few hours of sleep. It’s no wonder insomnia set in. It visited us before we went to sleep or would awaken us in the middle of the night. Our bodies were telling us that something needed to change, but we denied its voice for a long time.

We sought out coaches, psychologists, massage therapists, and consultant friends who helped us poke, prod, and process the source of our disillusionment. Still our spiritual well was dry. We wondered, "If we were so successful, why were we feeling so unfulfilled?" After many conversations about our hopes, goals, and dreams for the future, we realized our values and lifestyle were out of alignment. In Washington parlance, there was a "disconnect."

In the end we asked ourselves, what really matters? Life is short and time is our most precious asset, so how am I using it? How much money is enough? How much of who I am is based on what I do and how much I earn? Is money and power the way I am gauging my self-worth? What are my unfulfilled dreams? What happened to my plans to change the world? Have I sold myself too cheaply?

Taken together, these questions released a longing for a different kind of life — one that is bigger than building a retirement account and living an upscale lifestyle. There was nothing inherently wrong with the income, house, cars, and vacations. In fact, they were great! It was just that those things didn’t add to our "inner" net worth. We wondered if we could reconfigure our lives so our net worth reflected more than just assets and liabilities. We wanted it to reflect what we valued in our life: social commitment; community involvement; making our world a better place to live; working on and enjoying personal relationships; telling our life stories and pausing long enough to hear others’ stories.

For months we tried to answer the questions in our heads and hearts. Then we realized that we could learn from other people about how they were managing their lives and living their passions so we chose to take a "time out" and travel for a year.

We began by reducing the obligations in our lives by selling our home, paying off our debts, quitting our jobs, canceling our subscriptions, disposing of our possessions, and storing the rest in a 6’x10’ storage unit. While we were "repacking" our lives, we embraced our family and friends, and even met some new friends as we began to share our story with others.

We’re sure that this journey will provide us with teachers and friends to help us in our confusion. We expect to listen to our hearts, to hear our inner voices, and hear our souls’ message about who we are, what we think and like, and what really matters in life. The voice inside of us is alive and well — we simply need to clear away the noise, slow down, and listen.

This article appeared in the print version of Executive Update, June 2000.

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