Blowing up my life to start over Episode #35

Aaron McHugh


Starting in April, my life was upside down and sideways. This is my story of my how I unplugged in order to recharge, hit the reset button, and started over.

Click to Listen Blowing up my life to start over Episode #35

Podcast Highlights:

  • Understand the importance of understanding whose life you are actually living
  • How to get real honest about the current trajectory of your Work Life Play
  • How to count the cost of success
  • Why unplugging for months may be the only way you can really get clarity
  • How selling everything we owned liberated us to start dreaming again
  • Why slowing everything down to an idle gives time and space to the stuff that actually matters

What I learned in Madrid

Earlier this year, I was able to travel to Madrid, Spain for a business trip. It was a quick eighteen-hour stop over from London. As I tell you more of this story, you’ll understand the irony of me only spending a few hours there. I went to Madrid to visit a guy who worked for me. His family was considering making a big career move and I wanted to meet his wife and kids in person. I wanted there to be a human connection between me and his family before they moved across the pond. I was there to give of myself. I wasn’t expecting to receive so much from them.

His family introduced me to a way of living that will forever cause me to rethink the way I choose to order the priorities of my life.

It started with a stroll

My host family took us on a walking tapas tour of the city. We started in the center city market with small sips of wine and beer. In the states we’d call these small serving sizes “ a sampler”. What I witnessed was the Spanish have a longer view of an evening out on the town with friends. There is no reason to be pouring back 24 oz. beers. Unlike me, their evenings are not started and stopped by the hands of a clock. The cadence and rhythm of their evenings are tuned with a graceful leisure. My new friends were teaching me that I’ve had it all wrong.

Over dinner I asked his wife.

“Can you tell me What do you think of the American culture?”

She didn’t really want to answer at first. I sensed that she wasn’t sure if it was safe to give me her unfiltered answer. But I pressed her inviting her honest assessment of what it looks like to watch us live our lives.

(Gracious Host) “We (Spanish) work so that we can have money to live our lives. You live to work.”
(Aaron) “Tell me more.”
(Gracious Host) “The American’s and the British are known for orienting their lives around work. In Spain, we orient everything around family and living life.”

Once she was feeling comfortable, she continued to tell me about their long laughter-filled lunches, wine with most meals, dinners that start at 10 p.m., and Sunday afternoon dozes with the family all at home together.

Key takeaway

Their normal ebbs and flows of life exposed major roots driving my exhaustion.

I witnessed an order of priority that I didn’t know was possible.

Live Life. Play. Eat. Rest. Love and fit in some work along the way. Repeat again tomorrow.

Here is what I’ve concluded about my life after the disruptive eighteen hours I spent in Madrid:

  • I work way too much and I Live my life way too little.
  • I want words like “lingering” and “relaxed” to be used when my wife describes how her husband lives.
  • My priorities are all wrong: 80%. 18%. 2%.
    • Work is always in first place with an 80% portion.
    • Life (family, friends, marriage, kids, community) in second place with an 18% sliver of the pie.
    • Play or Adventure is under portion control with a meager 2%
  • My marriage was on the skids.
  • I was taking a pocket full of medication every day just to keep it together.
  • My day job was immensely stressful and consuming.
  • I felt stuck, exhausted, and desperate.

Everything had to change

I had two choices. Keep doing everything that I’ve been doing and hope it gets better. Or get a box of TNT, one hundred yards of electrical wire and an ignition box to blow up the whole thing (the old way of living).

TNT won.

How we blew up our life 

  • I took a leave of absence from my job.
  • Stopped drinking three of four glasses of wine every night.
  • We sold our house and 75% of our belongings. YES, I mean everything.
  • Moved our remaining stuff into our neighbors garage (Thanks Dean).
  • I went and got help @Onsite Workshops.
  • We moved to Buena Vista, Colorado to volunteer for Young Life’s Frontier Ranch for the summer.
  • My wife, my daughter, and I lived in a 500 sq. foot apartment at 9,000 ft. on the side of Mount Princeton.
  • I drove a truck and trailer, helped guide 500 kids each week to the summit of a 13,000 foot peak, and helped repair a sewer line.
  • Resurrected my marriage by watching mountain goats while sitting in rocking chairs dreaming about a life we want to live together.
  • Sought out counseling and coaching for our marriage.
  • Mountain biked the Colorado Trail from Durango to Denver with twelve other guys.
  • Played and laughed together as a family rappelling, driving ATV’s, horse back riding, and aerial feats on the high-ropes course.
  • Ate every meal together as a family.
  • Visited my son in his AA Recovery program in L.A.
  • Started working on my own Recovery program.
  • Moved in with our friends in their spare bedroom.
  • I went back to work this week 3/4 time.
  • My wife and I are doing great.
  • My daughter endured the nomadic lifestyle and time away from her friends.
  • We’re shopping for a VW Bus for my daughter and I to restore together.

Yes, I’m totally serious all of this happened.

As I write this, it’s 2 p.m. in the afternoon and I’m going to pop open a bottle of white wine. I’m going to do this differently and see where this story goes.

I know where that old story goes. I’ve walked that road to the end of exhaustion. This new story has fresh possibilities.

Thanks for being on the journey with us. And by the way, I’m happy again.

How about you? Is what you’re doing working?


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