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Don’t wait

Don't wait to take that first step.

I once worked with a woman in her late thirties who had never seen the ocean, had only been to two States, and had flown on a plane once (for a business trip). She was not poor, afraid to fly, or uninterested in seeing the world. She and her husband made decent money, didn’t have kids, and they wanted to travel, but planned to wait until her husband retired.

I was flabbergasted.

Immediately I thought of all sorts of reasons why she shouldn’t wait. He was ten years older than her, what if he got sick? What if they didn’t have enough money to travel after retirement? What if he couldn’t ever afford to retire? What if, what if, what if…

I wanted to yell, “Don’t wait!” Actually, I wanted to shake her silly and then yell, but I also wanted to keep my job.

About ten years later, my mom died at the age of 58, the same year my dad had originally planned to retire. If they had waited until retirement to travel, my mom would never have been anywhere except where the military sent them. Sure they’d lived in two foreign countries and more than half a dozen States, but it was what they did when they were in those places that made the difference. They explored the local area, and used it as a base to travel further out.

When we lived in Germany, we visited just about every country we could reach within a 17-hour drive–in a tiny Volkswagen Rabbit–even traveling through communist-occupied East Germany to see West Berlin. When my parents were stationed in Okinawa, they not only toured Japan, they went to Hong Kong and Australia.

My mom saw and experienced more of the world in her regrettably shortened life than many people would if they lived to be 100.

I’m a hardcore advocate of travel. I think people learn a lot from seeing how others live, and opening themselves to new experiences, but that’s not really what this post is about. It’s about making what you value a priority in your life.

Are you on target for the life you desire?

If you listed the five most important things to you and then compared them to how you spend your time, would they mesh? Do you value family over career, but are never home? Do you value your health, but eat all your meals out and never work out? You might not be able to change right away, but if you start planning you can. If you start really thinking about how and where you spend your time, you can.

Maybe you’ve decided that two years of long hours now are worth it for the end result. Great. You’re living according to your priorities. But maybe that two years has turned into four, and you want to see your family again. What would you have to do to make a change? Find a new job? Quit a hobby? Trust your employees enough to delegate?

I don’t have a bucket list, per se, but I have places I want to visit and things I want to do or accomplish. Maybe I can’t or won’t check them all off my list, but I’m damn sure going to try.

Yes, money can be an issue, but it’s all about priorities. Which is more important? The daily lunch out with coworkers and the morning Starbucks, or the trip to Europe?

Both are worthy, depending on what matters to you. For me, it was Europe. And when I quit working full time–a move that was also inspired by my need to live according to what I valued–we had to put off the trip to Europe we’d been saving for.

But we still went. It just took an extra two years of tight budgeting to make it happen. It was worth every penny and every extra day we waited. Two years later we’re still talking about it and sharing great memories.

There’s a difference between things that would be nice if they happened, and things that matter.

Maybe you think it’d be cool to have a master’s degree, but if you’re not actually willing to put in the effort, it probably isn't as important as you think. And if it is, and you haven’t found a way to make it happen, why not?

Barbar Sher has a great book called Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want. In it, she advocates breaking up a goal into individual steps until you get them small enough that you can start tomorrow. Brian Tracy preaches a similar philosophy–and teaches strategies for tackling goals and managing your time–in Eat That Frog!

Gunning for grad school? It’s easy to start with a search of the university website or a call to the admissions office. You can deal with the year-long admissions process, financial aid, and the GRE or GMAT in baby steps.

If you take it one piece at a time, you’ll get there.

It works for just about anything. My unsolicited advice is: Don’t wait to save for that trip, get that degree, write that book, or learn that new skill.

Take it one bit at a time and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish!

Photo credits: BABY GIRL © Aleksandra Belikova |, TARGET © Lyn Baxter |

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  1. Reply

    I agree completely she should have traveled and not waited, however if she had the means and the ability something tells me she wasn’t very comfortable traveling then, for whatever reason. Her comfort zone wanted to wait and I can respect that. Again, I love traveling too, but everyone is different.
    Good post, lost my mom way too early as well and I miss her everyday but especially around Mother’s Day.

    • Reply

      Good point, Rich. Maybe she didn’t really want to travel. Which goes back to my point about whether we truly want something or just like the idea of it. I respect her decision, I just hate to see people put things off when the future is so uncertain. Not to be morbid, but I’ve lost too many friends and family early in life to take the time for granted. In fact, I just found out today that another classmate from high school died. 🙁

      And I know what you mean about Mother’s Day. It’s still hard.

      Thanks for checking in.

  2. ramooi


    Yes Gwen! I agree 100%! My wife and I travel all the time and there is nothing more invigorating. I also know some people who have never been out of the state, saying they will wait until retirement to have fun. What a shame. I guess some people will always have excuses. But as Tony Robbins says, “When would NOW be a good time?”

    • Reply

      Thanks, ramooi. I can’t imagine my life without travel. That’s my great passion.

      Thanks for sharing the Tony Robbins quote. He says some amazing things. I used to listen to him during my commute when I lived in California. Very motivating.

  3. Reply

    It’s like when I use Tupperware. Why throw it out now when I can wait and throw it out at another day 🙂

    • Reply

      LOL, Rich. Brian Tracy might call that the good kind of procrastination: putting off things that don’t really matter so you can focus on the things that do. 😉

  4. Reply

    Amen, Gwen! It’s great to be reminded of what is or should be important in our lives. I am SO sharing your essay with my Facebook friends. It might be the gift someone needs right now.

  5. Reply

    That’s why I started writing, and my husband started his dojo. Why wait for your dream to start? Live it now! Great post, Gwen.

  6. Reply

    I am bookmarking this post, Gwen, and I am going to put reminders in my calendar to read it every month or so. I am always putting things off. Not just about traveling, but in so many areas of my life. It’s a habit I have been struggling to overcome for several years now. I’m better than I used to be, but it is a hard habit to break. But break it I must! Life is just too dang short.

    Thanks so much for sharing this.

    • Reply

      Wow, I’m glad you found it so helpful, Maura! It’s so easy to get stuck in our rut of daily life. Half the reason I write these posts is to remind myself not to let that happen. Of course, it’s good to enjoy the life you have every day too. Good luck breaking the habit!

  7. Reply

    Excellent post! This is my mantra. I’m sorry you lost your mom so young, but thankful she lived life to the fullest. Like the saying goes, “It’s not the years in your life that matter, but the life in your years.”

  8. Pingback: Inspiration for writing and life | Gwen Hernandez

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