I used to think being in the military caused couples to break up.
Between 2005 and 2010 I was a Navy Officer stationed on two different ships in San Diego and one of the things that initially shocked me about the Navy was how common divorce was. It seemed as though meeting a sailor who hadn’t been divorced was rare, and meeting someone who had two, maybe three divorces was common — so I started to wonder.
What was the cause of this unusually high divorce rate?
On the surface it seemed obvious. People in the military are often away from their spouses on long deployments, so things like infidelity and “Dear John”1 letters are common. When you spend six months or more away from your romantic partner, it puts a strain on the relationship.
But there’s more to the story.
If a couple is a good fit for each other, six months apart shouldn’t end their relationship, so I started to think that maybe the time apart was actually serving as a catalyst to end a relationship that needed to end anyway. That actually seemed more true.
I imagine that we would have a lot more divorces if every couple was forced to spend six months apart — and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Something like a deployment is actually a welcome catalyst to a relationship that needs to end, even though it may be initially hard to accept.
So here’s a dumb, but useful question.
If extended periods apart can be a welcome catalyst for necessary change, how come more people don’t do it? How come there are no “couples sabbaticals”? How come we cling to each other — afraid that time apart may uncover an uncomfortable truth?
The answer to this is both obvious and incredibly confronting.
It’s incredibly confronting because chances are there’s a relationship in your life right now that needs to end and you don’t want to see it. Maybe it’s a romantic relationship, maybe it’s a friendship that’s run it’s course, maybe it’s a job or a company you own, maybe it’s the city you’re living in, maybe it’s even a relationship to an addiction, or a kind of validation you’re getting.
It could be any number of things, and by avoiding time and space from that relationship, you’re making it harder to see the uncomfortable truth that it should end.
Sometimes we’re subtly aware of what needs to end, but sometimes we’re not. Often I’ll go into long periods of time and space and realize some very unexpected things I need to let go of once my mind has time to think and relax.
Here’s a statement we all may want to consider.
The more someone makes their life busy, the more they are distracting themselves from the truth about their life.
I see this all the time with entrepreneurs — we tend to “buckle down” at the times when what we really need is reflection and clarity. We put on our blinders just as we’re about to cross a busy street.
It’s like on some level we know that if we took a month off and backpacked through Asia, we wouldn’t want to come back — and that scares the fuck out of us. And it should. Big life changes are scary.
In 2011 I was hustling my way through a music career. I had a manager, I was spending all sorts of money I didn’t have on recording, touring and voice lessons, and I was convinced that my purpose in life was to be a famous musician.
I was playing regularly at a bar called The Tiki in Pacific Beach when one day the bartender — an adventurous surfer named Nick Carleton told me about a bicycle tour he was planning for that summer. He was going to fly to London and bike to Greece over the course of three months.
Instantly — my whole body responded with “I want to go”. Then came the second-guessing.
What about my music career?
What will my manager say?
How will I go three months without income?
I don’t even own a bike!
A few months later — after an awkward conversation with my manager — I was on a plane headed to London. What I didn’t know at the time, was that my music career was already over — at least in that phase of my life. I had burned myself out, I wasn’t excited anymore and I needed a break.
The funny thing was that only occurred to me after after biking 50-100 miles a day for three months, and the whole first month of that was with no audiobooks, no podcasts, and no music. Just me and my thoughts.
Many of us go for a walk in the woods expecting to find the ultimate truth about our life — and while that may work sometimes, I’ve found that I often need months of time and space to notice the big truths.
Time and Space
These are two of the scariest words in the english language, because they can radically change the course of your life, and often in a direction we didn’t intend. Our fragile egos think that we’ve got life all figured out, so the idea that life might have something else in store for us is frightening.
Most people have gone so long without legitimate time and space in their life that they’ve forgotten how important it is, and I’m not talking about a weekend off, or a few hours to ponder something — I’m talking about weeks and months of leaving the comforts of home and getting far enough away that you can see your life for what it is, not just what you want it to be.
It’s funny, because as I wrote that last paragraph I heard the typical objections.
Weeks or months off? What are you crazy?
I have a job. I have kids. I have a life.
I can’t just take a whole month off, that’s crazy.
It might be, and in fact for some people — they really are too weighed down by life to be able to do this. But it’s also possible that we’re just lying to ourselves.
It would be irresponsible for me to say that this advice can apply to everyone, because everyone’s life is different — however for most of the people I know, the idea that it’s “crazy” to take that much time off is not based in truth.
What’s crazy is that you’ve designed a life for yourself where it’s impossible to take a month off.
What’s crazy is you parroting cliché phrases like “good things come to those who hustle” as a way to cover up the fear of actually looking at your life. Many people think busyness is a virtue, when in reality it’s actually a sign of cowardice. It’s an act you put on because you can’t overcome the fear of letting go.
What’s crazy is thinking that if you only work harder, push more, and stay on course that everything will work out — but it won’t. Hard work is only half the equation, the other half is knowing that your ship is pointing in the right direction.
You say, how could I take several months off?
I say — how could you not?