It’s official. We took a major step in counteracting our lifestyle inflation by completing our sea change (or tree change, or maybe both).
What is a Sea Change or Tree Change?
Regardless of the spelling (is it sea change, sea-change, or seachange anyway??), luckily the definitions are much more straightforward.
Let’s start with sea change.
The origin of the term is apparently from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It seems like “sea change” has evolved over the years from a literal definition (eg. a change brought on by the sea) to a figurative definition (eg. a big change in one’s life) to a combination of both (eg. maybe you moved from the city to the sea while undergoing a big change in your life).
Either way, sea change has both literal and figurative definitions today (emphasis added in bold):
- “A substantial change in perspective” or “a metamorphosis or alteration.”¹
- “An idiom for broad transformation.”²
- “A form of human migration that involves individuals abandoning city living in favour of a perceived ‘easier life’ in rural coastal communities.”³
- “A literary character may transform over time into a better person after undergoing various trials or tragedies.”¹
So, how about tree change?
The difference between sea change and tree change is as simple as it sounds. Instead of moving from the city to the sea, you move from urban areas to rural areas like the countryside or forest. The figurative meaning of transformation still applies.
Favorite Descriptions of Sea Change & Tree Change
After reading numerous posts about sea change definitions, personal experiences, and stories, here are my favorite descriptions:
- “A seachange is a radical transformation; a dramatic change in one’s life. ‘Seachange’ doesn’t mean a change to the seaside, although many people undergoing a seachange have moved to the coast or to beach areas. It means reevaluating your life and making dramatic changes to ensure you live your values, and that you can look back on your life with satisfaction. It is about getting in touch with what is important and following through to make what is important a living experience. Seachange is a subset of ‘downshifting’. The desire for a seachange is driven by an almost insatiable hunger for self-fulfilment or real happiness…People from all walks of life and from almost all age groups are making the change – downshifting or seachanging.” — SlowMovement.com4
- “A sea change (or tree change) is a drastic change from a city lifestyle and is really about evaluating what’s important to you then improving your lifestyle to achieve a healthier, less stressful environment. It’s about living life to the full and enjoying a more peaceful or meaningful existence. It doesn’t really matter where you go and is often more about downsizing (your house, your income, your expectations, your workload).” — KatieRoberts.com.au5
I also came across “sea change” while reading Shauna Niequist’s book Present Over Perfect:
- “This is the story of my sea-change—the journey from one way of living to another. It’s also an invitation to a sea-change of your own. No matter your age, your gender, your season of life, no matter your politics or profession, your sexuality or your faith tradition, you are invited into a sea-change.”
- “Whatever passage you’re facing—entering your twenties or your sixties, facing life alone for the first time in a long time or learning the new dance of partnership, becoming a parent or becoming an empty nester, leaving student life behind or becoming a student once again—has the potential to be your sea-change, your invitation to leave behind what’s not essential and travel deeply into the heart of things. This is a pattern we can recreate all our lives, over and over, because who’s ever totally finished leaving things behind?”
First Impressions on my own Sea Change & Tree Change Experience
Humans are called creatures of habit for a reason—it would be easier to just stay the same and not change anything in our lives:
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. — Lao Tzu
All sea and tree changes start somewhere—there’s always some driving force behind the idea to make a massive change in your life. Maybe it’s sudden awareness, or maybe it’s brought on by pain:
Awareness is the greatest agent for change. — Eckhart Tolle
Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. — Tony Robbins
The following is a timeline of milestones that stick out in my mind if I think about my sea change in totality.
November 2015: I’d say my own sea change started with my existential crisis in November 2015. And, here we are in April 2019—three and a half years later—still in the midst of the changes. But, it all started with the internal and figurative shifts.
What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. – Otto Rank
Fun Fact—I sent this email to my Dad on Christmas Day 2015:
Just bought the domain sloww.co. Not sure what I want to do with it yet, but I’ve been inspired reading about downshifting, minimalism, simple living, and the slow movement.
2016: I really started diving deep into finding and creating my own life purpose. Much more writing to come on that in the future, but I did personally use (and recommend) the ikigai approach.
2017: Inner purpose started to form, but outer action wasn’t reflecting it. This time could be summed up like this:
Many people who are going through the early stages of the awakening process are no longer certain what their outer purpose is. What drives the world no longer drives them. Seeing the madness of our civilization so clearly, they may feel somewhat alienated from the culture around them. Some feel that they inhabit a no-man’s land between two worlds. They are no longer run by the ego, yet the arising awareness has not yet become fully integrated into their lives. Inner and outer purpose have not merged. — Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
But hey, the first post on this blog was on May 20, 2017—a year and a half after buying the domain. Gotta start somewhere!
2018: My wife received an amazing job relocation opportunity in Northern California. Relocation opportunities for her had come up in prior years on different projects, but they were in less interesting locations and I just wasn’t at a point in my career where we thought a move made sense for both of us. This time was obviously different: a great opportunity for my wife, and my chance to align inner and outer purposes. A win-win for both of us. Universal intelligence went to work and aligned the stars. This phase culminated with me quitting my job in late May 2018—officially ending the glorification of busy—to do what I’m doing now full-time. I hit the crossroads of “should” and “must,” and I chose the path toward “must.”
March 2019: We moved from the Midwest to NorCal (yes, reverse geographic arbitrage…more on that in a minute). We’re right in between the Pacific coast and national forests, so I guess we get a bit of both the literal sea change and the tree change. But, we are still in the suburbs of a large city, so maybe our version should simply be called a “sunshine change” or “nature change” from the Midwest. We’re not going off grid, homesteading, or living in a tiny house or RV (yet at least).
I believe moving is good for the mind. I like seeing the world from different perspectives. I usually get where I’m going by leaving where I’ve been. — Derek Sivers
We sold the McMansion and downsized—effectively chopping off 1,100 square feet of finished living space including 1 bedroom and 3 bathrooms, along with a massive unfinished basement with even more space on top of that. And we couldn’t be more thrilled about it! A “packing party” wouldn’t have cut it; we did full-on decluttering, donating, and discarding. Like I said at the beginning of this post, we are course-correcting after lifestyle inflation, and housing is the #1 expense for most Americans.
Back to geographic arbitrage for a second. The idea with geoarbitrage is to make money in a HCOL (high cost of living area) that you then spend in a LCOL (low cost of living area). So, moving from Kansas (LCOL) to California (HCOL) is the reverse—the cost of living difference when you plug the locations into comparison/calculator tools is estimated to be at least 25% more expensive in NorCal. Housing is the biggest factor in this difference. We opted to rent in NorCal, so we are getting out of the housing market before the not-so-great real estate market predictions for the coming years. This decision means we can officially say we are debt-free for the first time! And, because we are more intentional about everything in life now, we are paying a monthly rent price in California that is cheaper than our McMansion mortgage in Kansas.
Aside from housing as the top expense, transportation and food round out the top three annual expenses. We chose a place to rent that is less than 3 miles from my wife’s work. So, we should save on transportation costs (although, we’ll probably offset the savings with more frequent road trips, so let’s say this one is a wash). Food is the one category where I do think we’ll likely spend more in CA vs KS over the course of a year (estimates show 10% more). But, all in all, we’ve tried to be strategic in these big decisions to truly minimize the impacts of cost of living changes. You can do the same thing if you want to move from a LCOL to HCOL area.
A blank slate is a beautiful thing. For me, there’s something ironically comforting knowing that literally no one in a new city knows you. It’s like your identity gets a new lease on life in a way. Is variety (of environments, activities, etc) really the spice of life after all? Maybe so. Or, maybe I’m just currently viewing life through rose-colored glasses. Either way, I’m welcoming the change and enjoying the newfound energy and enthusiasm. It’s also given me some new topics to explore like how physical environment affects our mental health.
The pay-off(s) from a big change/move can be immense! I don’t have the words to describe the magic that the right move can create in your life, but it is magical. Somehow when you live in a new place, a good place, a place that fits your life/personality/spirit, you live in a different way. You embrace more, you notice more, you have the energy and time for more!6
What’s next? Showing up daily to keep aligning and refining inner and outer purpose. My commitment to you is to always actively try to walk the intentional living talk—and show the real (often hard) side of slow and simple living.
It seems fitting to end with this image of Einstein riding a bicycle in California. In 1930, Einstein wrote a letter to his son that read:
Beim Menschen ist es wie beim Velo. Nur wenn er faehrt, kann er bequem die Balance halten.
The literal translation from the Einstein Archives is:
It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.
Keep moving, keep balancing: internally and externally, figuratively and literally.
Also published on Medium.