Project Equator: A Family Gap Year – Part I

As a pre-Thanksgiving special we share the story of a family traveling around the world with their five school-age children. We often joke about “living the dream” in reference to some of the more mundane aspects of life such as scrubbing the floors or waiting in a parking lot for soccer practice to end. Cliff and Lisa Sharples are living the real dream. Here is Cliff’s account of their family adventure. The ultimate permission slip.

One wintery day in 2012 at Crystal Mountain, WA, while the kids searched for powder, Lisa and I found ourselves more inspired by hot toddies than cold moguls; beckoned with a warm embrace of the upstairs base lodge bar. It had been a long week, a long month and a long year of stressful work, too much business travel and an endless calendar of games, events and to-dos for all of us. Reminding ourselves of the catch-phrase mantra “be a problem solver, not a problem alerter” we embarked on a decidedly MBAish exercise of writing our Family Mission Statement and Core Values. Both of us are serial entrepreneurs and hopeless MBAs who innately write mission statements, corporate core values and business plans as often as grocery lists. So, why not do that for our most important venture – our family?Sharples family

When we met, Lisa and I just knew our children would be waiting for us in unexpected places. Through the miracle of childbirth, the magic of international adoption and travels across the globe, all five of them found us; forming our unconventional family. As we listed values and beliefs we felt important to imbue in our children, a theme of connection began to emerge: connection with each other; connection with family and friends; connection to community and environment; connection with new ways of learning; connection with the world.

The more we talked, the more we realized that rather than remodeling our circa-1961 vintage kitchen, maybe it was time to invest in our family venture and explore the theme of connection as a family. Realizing that our window of opportunity to have a shared experience with all of our kids, with our oldest son half way through his freshman year in high school, we decided that it was now or never to embark on a project we’d dreamt about for many years. Ever the disrupters, we decided to embark on a global adventure – a gap year for the family, if you will.

After that cozy afternoon, and many hot toddies, life changed pretty dramatically for us. Like any startup, this venture had innumerable tasks and parallel strategies to execute to ultimately be viable. We had to creatively navigate our careers and achieve budget targets. The kids needed a plan for school so they could each drop back into the requisite grade upon our return. We needed a plan for our house, three dogs and two parakeets. An itinerary needed to be agreed upon, and then planned out. Reservations of many types needed to be completed. Medical and dental appointments had to be lined up, including 50 shots between us to inoculate us from the world’s ills… the list went on and on! barcelona

On September 9, 2013, exhausted from an amazingly wonderful and crazy 18 months of planning, saving and scheming, the seven of us boarded a plane for Europe. Now in the heart of Seville, Spain, it’s hard to believe we are almost two and a half months into our adventure. In my next post, I’ll tell you about where we’re headed and how it’s going!

Permission Slips will post part two on Thursday.

Cliff Sharples 

November 18, 2013 permissionslips1@gmail.com

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