Ahhh... the good life


The book is coming along, I promise! You'll cut me a little slack, right? I mean, I do have five kids. 😉


It's a typical day of life here in Panajachel, Guatemala - the place we've stopped for the past 3 1/2 months along our Epic Expedition.

I wake with our youngest, Atlas (I used to get up at 4:00 a.m., but not lately. Atlas likes to join me when I out of bed, even at that crazy hour). Instead it's about 5:30 a.m. when he decides to get up, still really early for a child under two (even though the sun is shining). I don't know what we've done to him.

We share a mango together, our morning tradition, then prepare breakfast for the rest of the kids when they get up. (Atlas LOVES to help cook.)

After breakfast comes chores - beds, grooming, sweeping, bathroom - before study time.

Then I head out to do some errands in town, and walk down the dirt road that runs parallel to the river. It's used as a gravel pit, since the hurricane in 2005 that washed away all soil and vegetation. Men have been working since the sun came up, sorting, sifting and creating piles of gravel and sand that will be carted throughout the city for construction.

A familiar 'Pat, pat, pat, pat' comes from several houses as I pass, the sound of women clapping masa into the shape of tortillas in their hands, which will then be cooked over a large, circular surface, heated by leña that was carried down from the mountains in burdensome bundles on the backs of super-humanly strong women.

This has got to be the biggest bundle of leña I've seen - and that woman can't be more than 4 feet tall!

Other women pass me on the street, with baskets on their heads and babies strapped to their backs, dressed in their traditional corte (skirts) and huipils (tops) - wearable art that is made by hand on a loom and can take 1 - 3 months to complete. You can tell which village a woman is from by the style of her huipil (pronounced we-peel).

I walk along the muro (wall) that cuts between houses and connects to the roads which lead to town. An overabundance of litter accumulates in too many places, or wallows in putrid mire. There's also an overabundance of dog feces which affronts my senses and collects a swarm of flies which generate an insectal cloud as I pass.

Houses constructed from wood and tin - with dirt floors and often shared with other inhabitants like chickens, turkeys and dogs - line the muro on both sides. Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is where people live. This is where a family's entire story unfolds.

Arriving at the mercado I purchase mango, strawberries, dragon fruit, peaches, and papaya (at ridiculously low prices) from the indigenous women who have their wares sitting in baskets or spread on the ground. Loading my shopping bags to bursting, I crave a shopping cart (or at least a basket on wheels), which would make carrying groceries sooo much easier.

I continue into town, passing countless pedestrians, and being passed by camiones (in Guatemala, that's the big, colorful buses) that blow exhaust in your face. The noise of the city is deafening, drowning out all thought, not to mention conversation.

Visiting the pacas (think thrift store) and walking down Santender to shop for artisan items, I gaze at the towering volcanoes that flank Lake Atitlan, and I'm in awe.

On any given day we might drive into the mountains and enjoy the breathtaking view of the lake. Or maybe we'll visit a Mayan family to see their new smoke-reducing stove.

It's such an incredible, wonderful life.

But then I have a stark realization.

Gorgeous Lake Atitlan

My life is not special. My experiences are not unique. I'm sharing them with thousands of other people (if not more). I'm doing the same 'normal' thing that these people do on a daily basis. They make or buy their tortillas, they walk along the muro, they shop at the mercado. They wear their corte and huipil, just like they have everyday since they were old enough to wear clothes. They've lived in the shadow of these volcanoes for generations.

These 'novelties'?  This is their everyday life.

It's just another normal, 'boring' day.

This little girl is dressed in the traditional corte and huipil. She speaks kakchiquel, and is attending preschool to learn Spanish.

The truth is, I really do think my life is interesting. In fact, it's ridiculously amazing.

But what makes it interesting isn't necessarily the things I'm doing everyday - shopping at the mercado or walking through Panajachel. Thousands of people are doing the same thing.

What makes it interesting is that it is different to me - it's unlike my previous life, distinct from what I've always known. The experiences I have, the things I see, are unique to me. That's what makes it exciting and fresh.

If I'd been born here, and grown up here, there's not much about it that would be new and interesting. But because I was born somewhere else, and I'm a 'stranger in a strange land', suddenly the ordinary and the mundane become captivating.

That's the magic of travel. And of living deliberately.

Even though I participate in many of the same activities that hundreds of thousands of other people do, there are some key elements that differentiate life to make it ridiculously amazing. These are the 'secrets' of living deliberately:

1. The daily routine

We all have things we do on a daily basis. Women here in Guatemala work very hard. They rise early, make the fires, prepare the food, wash the laundry by hand, carry the babies, do the shopping, collect the leña and a hundred other things.

I also have my cosas que hacer that I do everyday - preparing meals, cleaning the house, mentoring and teaching my kids. But above and beyond that, I have a daily routine that helps me to live deliberately.

This things include:

  • reading from great and inspiring books every day
  • working on part of a project that helps me get closer to one of my goals (my current project is our book, and the 'secret' that we'll be announcing as early as next week).
  • studying as part of my personal education (Spanish and the Classics right now)
  • reviewing my goals and priorities so I stay focused on what I want my life to be about

These are small things, but done on a daily basis, they make a big difference. Neglect doing them, and life becomes 'just another day' of survival.

2. New experiences

"If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." If you want an exciting, interesting life, then you have to do new things. You can't keep doing the same things you've always done and expect them to suddenly be captivating. Our brains like to be stimulated, and stimulation comes from new experiences.

So even if it's as simple as taking a different way home from work, or order something new on the menu, trying new things can actually bring a little bit of excitement.

When life gets boring and mundane for us, we know it's because we haven't been having enough 'new experiences.'

3. Picking your friends

This might seem like a strange ingredient to living deliberately, but it's actually a very powerful one (and part of our project and the announcement we're making next week.)

Author and speaker Jim Rohn put it this way when he said:

Your life will be the average of the five people you spend the most time with."

It's also been said that you can judge a person by the friends they keep.

No matter where in the world we might live, we'll all have neighbors and people around us. We should naturally be friends, or at least be friendly with these people. But they may not necessarily be our closest associates.

Those people should be chosen very carefully. They should be hand-selected. They should be people who inspire, support, motivate and encourage us. They should be people who share high ideals, are passionate about improvement, and who will cheer for you as you pursue your dreams.

Spend your time with 'small-thinkers', negative nay-sayers or criticizers, and you'll be 'kicking against the pricks' in the pursuit of your deliberate life.

Associating with amazing people makes your life better

My life is normal. It's also amazing. And it's deliberate because of the intentional, conscious decisions we make every day.

Too many people go through life simply surviving, reacting to the situations and circumstances that present themselves, instead of purposefully making choices that will help them create what they want.

That's how most of the people live that I see around me everyday. They build their fires and prepare their meals and do their shopping and wash their clothes - then repeat it all the next day. They never take deliberate actions to create changes in their life.

But whether we realize it or not, we have the choice everyday. We can make our life 'boring' or ridiculously amazing. It's up to us.




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13 Responses

  1. Fives OntheFly

    I like your thoughts on how a deliberate daily routine can lead to a life extraordinary. We’re spending a lot of time as a family putting into place the routines that will help us be on the road this summer traveling the entire length of U.S. Route 1. Even though there is a lot of overlap with what we’ve been doing living in a house with normal jobs, having the routines be part of a larger purpose that we’ve consciously chosen makes all the difference. Our two older kids love to cook too, and they are much more open to the meal and appreciate when they are involved. Your adventures are inspiring; thanks for sharing!

    • Rachel

      You’re absolutely right about that. Routines are good. Routines with a larger purpose are great! Thanks for commenting.

  2. Sam

    Thank you so much for this post. I have been struggling with the monotony of daily life and have been letting it depress and defeat me. I tend to buck against routines, but realizing that a part of the daily routine should be a part that leads me to live deliberately inspires me to make them a habit.

    • Rachel

      I’m also learning to love routines, even with our nomadic, spontaneous lifestyle. They add that element of consistency that people think you get only by staying in one place 😉

  3. samara

    The Slight Edge is a book that touches on the benefits of living deliberately, all the little things you can do that don’t seem to matter much in the moment, but make a huge difference in the end:) Another book I’m loving right now is called Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, which is a study of that elusive beauty of creativity-and how to encourage it, what successful people and companies like Steve Jobs/Pixar/3M implemented.

    I love you post, we traveled for 18 months with our Airstream, and some things we saw and did were extraordinary, while others were just the work of life, at the same time we had to remember to feed our souls to continue to be interested and alive in the day to day! Your “live deliberately” everyday list is great! I’m looking forward to implementing it right now, in the life we’re in, and seeing where life takes us next!

    Thank You, keep writing! I just found your blog today,and am so inspired!!!!

    • Rachel

      Those are some great book recommendations, I’ll have to check them out. Thanks for commenting, and reading!

  4. Rachel

    Hi Rachel,

    I just found your blog whilst half watching the England football match – partner at pub and kids in bed…peace and quiet! I really like your thoughts on life, education etc. We are heading to Central America in Sept and then down to South America…aiming for 9 months on the road but who knows where we might stop on the way?? Counting down the weeks now until the girls finish school…5 to go! Anyway, we must look out for you in Guatemala if you are still there…we share a name and my youngest is another Kiah 🙂

    I’ll definately bookmark your blog as I do need inspiration at times when I have had a ‘fishwife’ day!!


  5. Michaela

    Thank you, Rachel, for putting these correct ideas into words and out into cyberspace. For re-teaching me how it is possible to attain my goals and live my dreams 😉 For helping me recapture the vision and giving me heart. I needed it today.

  6. Della

    You inspire people Rachel, I am going to Panajachel to get away from life and live differently as my kids are now all grown up, it is some “me” time but I want to experience life to its fullest and you sound like you do. I would love to learn more about your adventures. Good luck, any more advice?


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