Today’s blog is a story about a recent decision Daniel and I made together. Later this week, in Part 2, I’ll discuss my own lessons learned from across the 28 groups I’ve studied. Here’s our story…
Daniel and I recently learned that the renter of our backyard cottage plans to move out this summer after he graduates. We’ll be sorry to see him go—such a fun, cool guy. This also means that Daniel and I have some important decisions to make. If we want to maximize future rental income, we really should upgrade the kitchen and bathroom in the cottage this summer. But it’s a significant investment—one that likely wouldn’t be financially worthwhile unless we stay in our current home at least 4 or 5 more years. Upkeep of our older home and large (for a city) yard is a lot of work for us. My work has started involving more and more travel, leaving me less time for home/yard upkeep. Daniel’s photography practice on top of full-time work leaves him less time as well. Do we want to be living in our current house 4 or 5 years from now? Should we downsize to a condo or something else sooner rather than later? Does it make sense to invest a lot of money in this rental cottage this summer or ever?
The old Lori would have spent the next 6 months, at least, stressing out, creating several large spreadsheets of variables, spinning a ton of different scenarios out, spreading worry waves outward to my family and husband, and calling in several expensive outside experts (real estate expert, contractors, etc.) early on, trying to smartly anticipate every last detail before making the perfect decision about whether to invest in the rental cottage or not—all the while missing, or not fully seeing, what matters most.
Here’s what happened this month instead:
- I stressed out for about 5 days on my own. Then I decided that since it was a team Lori/Daniel decision, I might as well work/think/act as a group from the beginning. I asked Daniel to spend a Saturday with me to discuss the decision about whether to invest in the rental cottage (and, really, about where we want to be living in the coming years).
- Daniel attempted to start the conversation by focusing on money—saying that we couldn’t make any decisions until we understood how much money we have, how much we’d need for the cottage upgrades, and how much money we need to have in the future. This completely stressed me out. Seriously. I freaked out, started crying, and walked out of the room. I’m currently doing work that has made the traditional definition of “steady income” a thing of the past for me and turned my own idea of “retirement planning” completely on its head (moving making money very low on the list of things I care about in my present and for my future). By focusing on money first, Daniel brought my biggest individual fear to the surface—namely, that he resents what I’m doing now and wants me to go back to my large, steady-income corporate job.
- In our separate home offices, we calmed down. This took him about 2 minutes (he’s so amazing that way) and took me about 30 minutes. This was a victory for me, too, since it used to take me weeks or months to fully let go of things.
- We started again and forgave each other instantly. He reassured me that his “let’s start by focusing on money” sentiment had zero to do with what I feared—quite the opposite. He said “That’s just where I am right now. Nothing makes me happier right now than financially taking care of my family. I don’t want you EVER to go back to your corporate job. The work you’re doing now is way too important to give up, and my biggest fear is that you’ll at some point decide to give it up just for the sake of money.” Stunned, I apologized immediately realizing that a) he’s even more amazing than I gave him credit for and b) my anger was entirely my own fault. My individual fear led me to make assumptions and to read things into what he was saying that weren’t actually there at all. I also reassured him that at this point I won’t—can’t actually—give up my work studying these groups. For me, too, taking care of my family is the highest priority. However, my definition of family has evolved to include all the self-organizing groups I’m part of and study. For me, this work is taking care of my family.
- Team Lori/Daniel spontaneously conducted a “happy right now” exercise—an activity that took us less than 1 hour. Inspired by what he said, I felt we should document what makes us happy right now because what was true for us in the past is no longer true. In fact, his “nothing makes me happier this moment than financially taking care of my family” statement was a complete shock to me—sounding like something I said 5 years ago but like nothing I’ve ever heard him say. So, on a blank piece of paper:
- I wrote “Happy Daniel” and “Happy Lori”
- Around those words, we wrote everything we could think of that makes us happy. Right now. Not past stuff. And not future stuff like “I think a home on a sunny, tropical island beach would make me happy when I’m 70” but the right now stuff.
- His side has things like “financially taking care of our family,” “photography and teaching photography classes,” “working with smart, compassionate, new-idea people,” and “pizza.” My side has things like “studying and working as self-organizing groups,” “spending time with neighbors,” “community gardening,” and “chocolate mousse.”
- Down the middle—where our happiness clearly overlaps—appear words like “being silly,” “coffee,” “road trips,” “community,” and “housemates.”
- Because we’re so close, we could add more right now things to each other’s sides that we ourselves couldn’t see. For example, he added “doing something special for friends to make them feel special” and “getting regular exercise” to my side. I added “creative work” and “photography Twitter community” to his side.
- The decision was made for us. At the end of this activity, it came clear that we’re both happy with what we’re doing, where we live, and what we have right now. This sounds strange, but just by doing this activity, and by taking the time to get closer, our decisions got made for us. As we got closer through this activity—without even saying it out loud—we both knew that we would 1) stay in our home at least a few more years (a home within which—thank you house mates and pets—and around which—thank you neighbors—we have a community we love), 2) invest in upgrades to the kitchen and bathroom of the rental cottage (because the person who moves in next becomes part of our community and is worth it plus upgrades will increase the passive income we receive that’s terrific to have given my currently financially chaotic work), and 3) begin to ask for help with the house and yard upkeep as we need it (from housemates, friends, and/or professionals, as needed). We also have the money to do all the upgrades now—without borrowing from the bank—so suddently we couldn’t even see what all the fretting about money was even about. Almost nothing on our “makes us happy” list involves large sums of money–nice to see that on paper.
- We ended up focusing on and celebrating our group/selves, not the decisions. I excitedly stuck our 1-page “happy right now” chart on my office wall. Daniel’s adding photographs to the wall to symbolize the words we used—it’s going to become a living, evolving piece of art. I’m officially done with spreadsheets for major life and work decisions. If we commit to revisiting this occasionally as things change, I’m pretty sure that this is the only “plan” we’ll ever need.
To keep learning about decision making, see: