It is heartbreaking to see men waste their entire lives trying to convince other people that they are someone they are not. This is why men’s soul’s do not grow mighty in spirit and courage. They spend their existence covering up and living in fear they will one day be discovered as a fraud. There is a voice inside them that keeps telling them that in spite of all the ornaments they collect in life, they are still not OK. The results are a lifelong tension with guilt, shame and anxiety. -Jerry Leachman in the foreward of The True Measure of a Man
I read that almost exactly a year ago today, as I was flying home from a trip to North Carolina, in a book that I grabbed from the nightstand at my parent’s house. As I was reading it, I came to a note that my mother had written on one of the pages:
My dad marked that page on May 15. He died unexpectedly a few days later. Because of that I ended up paying more attention to what I was reading:
“six million American men will be diagnosed with depression this year”
“advertisers do not appeal simply to our practical, common sense but to our fears that we do not measure up”
“we give celebrities and media more and more power over our lives simply because of the images they project rather than the true values they represent”
On the plane ride home from NC, I had an epiphany: We had set ourselves up for frustration, confusion and failure. We had a huge house and an even bigger mortgage. We had 5 flat screen TVs in our house…for 3 people. We lived in an expensive city with expensive taxes. We built a huge pantry so that we could stockpile items from Costco…just because we could. We built a huge kitchen for entertaining because we thought we were supposed to entertain…and neither of us like to cook. We bought or leased a new car every three years. We sent our child to private school and bought her enough clothing that she’d rarely have to repeat an outfit. We ate at expensive restaurants because all of our friends did. We weren’t necessarily living beyond our means….but we were working to support our means. My epiphany was that I wanted to move the means.
Brett: You didn’t want to come back.
Me: I didn’t. This doesn’t feel like living. It’s all so draining. I want less to choose from. I want less to manage. I just want less.
Brett: I don’t know if we can afford to move to such a small town.
Me: We’ll make it work. We’ll sell everything, cut our expenses. We’ll find odd jobs. I would rather live out of our car, and have time for what we enjoy doing, than live like this.
Fast forward to one year later and here we are in the mountains of North Carolina.
It wasn’t easy, but it was freedom. We sold our house which, by the way, we lost money on. We left California with everything we owned in a 16 foot box trailer. On the long, slow drive cross country we never once opened up the trailer….instead we wore the same clothes day after day and did laundry in hotel sinks. (Conclusion: we didn’t even really need what we’d brought in the trailer.) We took as many backroads as we could and we saw the true heart of America. The roads typically less traveled left us in awe.
It wasn’t an instant decision to uproot our lives….I planted the seed and then we talked about it for months. But what really started the whole point of this post (long story long) is that once we started telling people about our big move we were surprised at how many people asked:
But what will Brett do?!
What will he do for work?!
How can he leave a company behind?!
I could feel the expectations radiating from the questions. And sometimes our answers of he isn’t sure yet or he’s going to be a dad and husband and help around the inn brought even more questions and lack of understanding. This reassured us about our reason for doing what we were doing…especially for me. I wanted Brett to know that I just wanted him to be happy. I wanted him to know that I would live within whatever means we ended up with. I’m pretty good at doing laundry in small sinks.
I wanted him to know that he could walk away from his livelihood and I would never once make him regret it.
He was more than his work.
Brett is a pretty simple man but he’s a hard worker. He has been an investment banker and an owner of a construction company…but he also finds the most joy in the simple things. He loves the outdoors, loves exercise and fitness, and loves to build things. He built me a bench the other day….and invited me to come and sit on it. Best gift ever.
I’ve seen a weight slowly lifted off of him the last few months that reassures me that he’s figuring it out. I have to admit I was worried about his feeling of identity if he walked away from what he’d built in the desert. But now I overhear him talking with other men at the inn and they are asking for his advice on how to get out of their own rat race and my heart swells. Men asking how he got the courage to step away from it all. He tells them how he reads with our daughter every night and helps with her homework. He tells them how he’s fallen in love with hobbies that don’t cost a thing. He tells them how spending time with his family gives him more joy than he ever felt in a high powered, high paying job. MY HEART SWELLS. His step-mother Gale and his dad recently visited us at the inn for 3 days. When they left, Gale said she had never in her life seen him more content, more fulfilled.
With almost universal agreement, [cultural analysts] tell us that in the more traditional, family-based societies of the past, men derived their identity and meaning through family relationships. A man’s status came from fulfilling a defined social role (a son, a husband, a father). Work – a discipline that created tremendous value within any social order – was not nearly as important as the fabric of one’s relationships. In the traditional social order, work was seen as merely a functional means of providing for the family and improving the quality of life within the community. Work did not define a man’s life’s worth and value in an absolute sense as it so frequently appears to do in our modern society. – The True Measure of a Man
One of the most freeing quotes I have ever read…and I wrote it in the front of my journal in 2005….is:
…if you’re trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. They will look down on you anyhow. And if you’re trying to show off for people at the bottom, forget it. They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere.
– Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
I read it over and over again and a few months after reading that I quit my job at the bank. We walked away from a new country club membership we’d paid for. We sold our house to someone that we knew was just going to tear it down and build a house five times its size.
So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.
― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
And now years later I never would have pictured us in this place. We crave the inconvenience of things that really aren’t inconvenient at all if you think about it: running into town for mail, the nearest Starbucks is over an hour away, we have to take the trash to the dump. And there aren’t any shortcuts over the mountains or across the rivers….you have to just enjoy the long curvy drives around them and along them.
And we haven’t completely gone off the grid (yet). We do have a TV….it’s a whopping 22 inch screen. I had to add the closed captioning because I can’t hear it. Actually I eventually just stopped watching because when I take my contacts out I can’t see the screen.
Boo went back to a new school on Monday and she wore an outfit she’s had all summer. We didn’t purchase any new back to school clothes. She took last year’s backpack, one that we bought at a yardsale. She made a friend. Her first day was perfect.
We live in less than 900 sq feet and we make it work. We keep expenses as low as possible and I work from home now. We live in a place that has a very low cost of living. We talk to each other, see each other, and enjoy each other’s company. We are a team.
Our new 10’x 12′ living area (and office). We don’t even own a coffee table.
Brett helps out around the inn sometimes with handy things he enjoys doing. Sometimes he’ll venture into town to hang out at Bryson City Bicycles and watches the owner Andy repair and build bikes to learn a new trade. We spend lots of time getting to know the people that own the local businesses and try to support them as much as we can.
I spend a lot of time getting to know the staff at the inn. Brett drove three hours roundtrip today to pick up a new motor for a kitchen fan because while I sat with the cooks in the kitchen I noticed how overheated they were getting. Yesterday I overheard Donna tell her husband Wally “you over salted that….put a tater in it” and I loved that she said tater, and at the same time taught me how to “un-salt something.” And Wally said there are all sorts of medicinal plants in the woods that he picks and dries…including ginseng. I helped Harper “the intern” and George one of the other cooks load food into the freezer today. I’ve never seen so many eggs up close in my life.
Most importantly: God is the center of our lives. We’ve found a small local church that we all love called The Grove. The church’s tag line is: we are an okay church for people that are not okay. I love that. Because I’ve never met anyone that is truly okay. We all have our issues. We pray about everything, especially the things that are out of our control.
Prayer is not flight, prayer is power. Prayer does not deliver a man from some terrible situation; prayer enables a man to face and to master the situation. –William Barclay
I think there is a reason that God led us to such a vast, beautiful place. There’s something therapeutic about being surrounded by so much beauty.
Many men meet God only through a wilderness experience. We find ourselves in the wilderness and we recognize that we are absolutely alone in a severely harsh environment. It is through this wilderness experience that we finally wake up to the fact that the thing we have always looked to as our ultimate hope, the thing that has driven and motivated us, that one thing that makes us feel like real men, has deserted us. –The True Measure of a Man
Emerson said that in the woods we return to reason and faith. I feel like the more we are in nature, we live very much without a past and without a future. And around here…the nature is free.
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes people to be happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and certainly it always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. -Anne Frank
Six million men diagnosed with depression each year.
Six million men minus one.
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