“What if we decided not to do IVF again?”
The words sounded alien. We were sitting in a café, and they had just come out of my wife’s mouth. I was stunned. There was no denying that the IVF journey had been hard, no denying that the miscarriages had been rough, and no denying that our intention to create a child together was pure.
Yet the first feeling I had was relief. A relief that slowly dawned that it didn’t have to be this goal, that we could focus on other things, and that it was okay to do this. I suggested we take some time to think about it, and after a month or so, we started thinking about what life would look like without children.
Today, I don’t want to get into the specifics of why we decided children weren’t for us. Instead I want to share with you a framework that helped give:
- Tremendous piece of mind
- A set of milestones to look forward to for the rest of our lives
- A great excuse to get away, drink wine, and plan our future together
I’m calling this The Life Off-site.
In the workplace, an off-site is a term used for getting out of the office, planning things as a team, and usually includes some team bonding. I’ve done a number of these at organisations like Facebook, Google, agencies, and even managed to do swing one on a boat in Sydney Harbour.
I’m a bit of a nerd for this stuff, and after arriving at our decision, I floated the idea of an off-site to my wife and she jumped at the opportunity and started providing suggestions of her own.
What follows is a distillation of how it worked, what you need to bring, where to go, and some processes. Feel free to adapt it to suit your needs. In fact, I think this process could work between friends, a group, or even as a framework for doing things solo if you love this sort of stuff.
I’m going to break it down into some sections.
- Getting there
- The process
- Life goals
- 10 year goals
- 1 year goals
- Collating and capturing
We blocked out a weekend for this. I had a major project at work that was eating a lot into my life, and needed something to look forward to. So we set a date in the calendar that was around six weeks out, and rolled with it.
The point of an off-site is to “get away”, so we needed somewhere to stay as well. My wife had a look around and we’d enjoyed Daylesford before, so we booked a bed & breakfast-style place that was a bit of a treat, had plenty of room to bounce around, and was a bit isolated (our intention was to bunker down for the weekend).
Food & Drink
As we were going to avoid society for the weekend, we needed things to eat and drink. We worked the morning and then visited a supermarket for supplies. Food that was popular with us was quiche, cheeses, soft lollies, some chips, and a mixture of soda water, whisky, and wine. This wasn’t a health retreat, and the drink came in handy for spirited debates. As it was the middle of winter, my wife also brought along the ingredients to make shepherd’s pie – which interrupted the off-site on the second night and the prep made for a welcome break from all the work we were doing.
I’m not going to lie. This was one of my favourite parts. I happily gabbled to any friend or colleague that would listen in the lead-up that we were getting stationery for our off-site and that we were looking forward to it. After grabbing the food, we visited an Officeworks (an office supplies chain in Australia) and grabbed coloured markers, blutac (sticky adhesive), butcher paper, Post-it notes of multiple colours – it was glorious.
The drive to Daylesford was about an hour and a half and we were battling end of week traffic, so there was plenty of time to get acquainted with each other and build-up to the life off-site. I played a selection of rev-up tunes via Spotify towards the end, and Eminem’s Lose Yourself may have featured.
The idea was not to put too much pressure on us once we got there and get a feel for the place before starting. Which sounded good in principle, but after unpacking the food and pouring a drink we were rearing to go.
This happened fairly organically. We agreed to do some life goals, 10 year goals, and 1 year goals. For each set of goals, we had a butcher paper page for me, my partner, and us. It looked like this:
This felt fairly audacious. Over an assumed 40-50+ year timeline what did we want to set out and achieve? It felt a bit daunting, as I’d never really thought of my life in such a way before. A few exercises helped get responses:
- The first thing we did was quietly brainstorm our own life goals independently, we set a 15 minute timer and started jotting ideas down on Post-it notes, this got things flowing and seeing my partner jot things down prompted me to go to, we aimed for 10, knowing that there would be more added as we discussed the goals with each other
- We also followed this up with a few quotes that we’d like to be said at our funeral. I’d heard of this exercise before, but when it came to putting pen to paper it was quite powerful
- The next thing we did was discuss each other’s. We presented what we had put down, discussed how it could look, and stuck it up on the butcher paper if we were happy with it.
- We then wrote the life goals for us and popped them up on the ‘Us’ paper.
Things got interesting during the exercise. For one, some of the goals were new topics that the other hadn’t heard much about before. This was great! We took our time, sipped wine, and explored why it was important, how we see it playing out, and what potential obstacles would get in the way.
There was a bit of crossover too. Goals that originally were intended for one of us, got bought into by the other and incorporated into the ‘Us’ section.
New life goals appeared with a bit of prompting, resulting in about 15-20. This wasn’t a deliberate hard number, but it seemed to fit on the butcher paper well, and there was a strong sense of completion after filling the page.
The other thing that prompted brainstorming was looking at the goals with different lenses. The lenses that helped us included:
Health, Finances, Career, Family, Hobbies, Travel, Learning, Love
Whenever it seemed like I was getting stuck, thinking through one of these lenses helped cover off things I might have missed.
I’m not going to share all the goals that were explored, but here’s what mine looked like:
They included things like becoming a professional speaker, helping a mental health cause with impact, and creating a business that enables us to live on our own terms.
We then had a break, and moved on to 10 year goals.
10 year goals
This was done in a similar fashion to the life goals, but seemed to be more collaborative. I guess because it’s a bit more tangible, there was a practical layer to what we were discussing. I also quoted Bill Gates, by stating that:
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
The same filters that I listed above came in handy, and segmenting some of the goals as ‘the next 5 years’ versus ‘the back 5 years’ was another filter that helped generate some ideas.
There were some life goals that took a back step for this period, as there’s no rush, and doing the goals in this way enabled a natural prioritisation process to take place.
Themes that seemed to take hold here were career moves, pressing travel destinations, steps in the direction of life goals, financial plans, and long-term health and fitness goals.
Some of the goals on my 10 year plan included:
- run a marathon
- attend 1 networking conference a year
- blog consistently
- start raising my profile
The life goals, and 10 year goals was pretty intense, so we decided to go to sleep and come back to the immediate 1 year goals the next day.
1 year goals
We didn’t revisit this again until the following afternoon. We were on a weekend away, and breakfasted, went for a long walk, and recharged. What we found is that sleep also benefited some adjustments to the life and 10 year goals, as there were things we thought of and remembered with the benefit of pulling away and looking at it again.
Rather than individually brainstorm these ones, we jumped on the 1 year goals and attacked them collaboratively right away. The framework we used was:
- How much can we achieve in the next year?
- What does that look like?
- Is it biting off too much?
- Does it ladder up to our life goals and 10 year goals?
If the idea and goal passed this filter, it made it up on to the paper.
Some of my 1 year goals included:
- making one networking contact a week
- find a service I want to volunteer with
- creating a monthly afternoon of solitude time
Once all of this was captured, we looked it over, and then packed up the paper, markers, Post-its, and put it away.
The way we structured the exercise and time we gave it, allowed for a lot of tangents and discussions that we let flow and simply happen.
Once the structure was out of the way, it was really good to just relax, talk things through, and unwind. We had finished by late afternoon and really enjoyed making some shepherd’s pie together. It was a warm meal and it was nice to reflect in the afterglow.
Collating and capturing
A few days after the weekend, my partner wrote up the entire thing and popped it in a combined Google sheet. We’ve since caught up and reviewed the goals to make sure they fit, and seem appropriate for day-to-day life.
If you’ve skimmed, or just want the quick version of how to run something like this, then here you go:
- Book a venue, grab food, drink, and stationery
- Set aside a weekend
- Create sheets for your life goals, 10 year goals, and 1 year goals
- Starting with your life goals, and include some quotes of what you want said at your funeral
- Brainstorm individually, then collaborate as you stick the notes up
- Take breaks and encourage discussion and debate
- Good lenses to filter ideas through are: Health, Finances, Career, Family, Hobbies, Travel, Learning, Love
- Make sure there’s time to chat and reflect – it’s the best part!
Collate, capture and review later
- Google Sheets is handy for this, and sense-check the work later
It’s a lot of fun and I highly recommend. If you’ve got any questions or feedback let me know in the comments or reach out on email. I’d love to hear stories of other people applying this.
Also, a very big thank you to my wife for helping shape what was a thoroughly rewarding exercise.