How we transitioned to our slow life

Slow living is about focusing on meaningful relationships, rather than transactional exchanges. It’s about pursuing a healthy lifestyle, rather than falling victim to the cult of speed. It’s about finding purpose in all you do, rather than mindlessly checking off items on a to-do list just so you can move on to the next thing.

For anyone considering slowing down and restoring balance to their life, there isn’t a magic switch you flip that instantly transports you from fast to slow. The change in thinking alone can take considerable time. Then the habits change, slowly.

You will eventually get there. And when you do you’ll wonder what took you so long. In the meantime you’ll have to figure out how to adapt this new way of thinking to the reality of your current life.

This is how Pam, my wife, and I did it – warts and all.

Ours is a non-traditional household, even though studies show that our situation is becoming more and more common.

Pam is the breadwinner of the family. She works for a Fortune 50 corporation in a senior capacity. She typically begins work at 7 am, and often finishes her “day” with an evening conference call that concludes at 10 pm. She frequently travels internationally for a week or two at a time.

On the surface there is nothing “slow” about Pam’s life.

I am a former retailing manager who used to work 80-hour weeks – including most weekends and all holidays. That was pre-slow.

When Pam and I met I was well into a mid-life crisis of minor proportions. My first marriage had disintegrated a few years previously, and I was working in a restaurant. Again, on the surface, our lives couldn’t have been more different.

Once we decided to marry we also decided that I would pursue a PhD. This provided our first taste of slow living. I “worked” from home studying for my classes and writing papers. My son, Alex, and I would do our homework together in the afternoons, and I helped coach his soccer team two evenings a week.

The pace of our life began to settle down. Certainly for me, but for Pam as well. I completed my PhD but then ran smack into the economic meltdown of 2008 and couldn’t find a position anywhere close to our home. Two years later we returned to Florida and I helped a friend with a business start-up.

Throughout all of this, without even realizing it or consciously trying to make it happen, we were transitioning to a slow lifestyle. We began to care more about the food we ate and how it was prepared. Dinners together became sacrosanct. Weekends free of work commitments became sacred.

Today Pam still works for the same company, but instead of commuting to an office every day she, too, works from home. I am a writer, dedicated to extolling the virtues of slow living and how this lifestyle can be achieved.

So what are the key elements that have made this lifestyle choice work for us?

The first and most important is a clear decision to change your thinking and embrace slow living. You can complain all you want about the rat race, but until you decide to leave it nothing much will happen.

Even for me this took a long time. I was researching slow living and learning about slow foods, slow cities, simple living, and all the other things that work together to make a slow life. I have been living this life for quite a while, but it wasn’t until recently that I completely let go when it came to Pam’s work.

Perhaps it’s a guy thing. Part of it was my natural competitiveness. Part of it was the pride and love I felt for Pam that translated into what I hoped she could achieve in her career. And I kept urging her try for that next rung up the ladder.

If it works out, great. But her position in a company isn’t what defines her or us. Our approach to the totality of our lives together is what matters most. Our work is important, but so are our relationships, our interests, and our health.

That’s the second key element to a slow life – bringing balance and putting the proper perspective on all that you do and are.

Most of us when asked what we do respond with our job or profession. It’s quick and easy. But it reinforces priorities that are out of whack. The real answer to what do you do is, “I’m an accountant, a mother, a wife, a friend, an athlete, a lover, a sailor, a traveler, a Trekker,” and whatever else that makes you you. We are way more than our jobs – who we are is comprised of all that we do.

A third key element to slow living, especially for those who currently compete in the rat race and live in the fast lane, is making peace with the qualms and conflicts this transition creates.

We are conditioned by the expectations we and others place on us. This lifestyle challenges some of those expectations, which can be difficult to deal with.

For example, I have had a hard time coping with the fact that I have contributed little financially to our family for the past several years. That’s not the way things are supposed to work. But when I take a break from beating myself up about this I understand that there’s more to this dynamic than who earns what where.

We each contribute, in our own way, to the healthy functionality of our family. But try explaining to a new acquaintance that you “stay at home” while your wife works and gracefully handle the smirks – real or imagined.

Conversely, there’s the dual income couple who both need to work. It’s difficult telling the boss that as much as you’d like to attend the after work team building social, your daughter’s recital or son’s baseball game is more important. There are all kinds of emotions – guilt, remorse, fear – that need to be overcome

I can tell you from personal experience that once you decide to live a slow life and begin to restore balance to all that you and your family does, you will face fears and questions about the expectations your prior life was built on. It isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely necessary to overcome those doubts and concerns.

There’s much more, of course. But when attempting something new the first order of business is to wrap your head around and embrace whatever it is you are trying to achieve. So it is with slow living.

 

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