We’ve come full circle

BOSTON–It’s been a long journey already, considering we did everything the hard way. But we have found the summit of this mountain, and we’re making the final ascent.

When I met Bill Starr, an avid traveler who had climbed Kilimanjaro, leaped from the world’s highest bungee, competed in ocean races and more, I was emerging from the darkness of a metro newsroom life that kept me away from home 10, 12, even 16 hours a day. He radiated sun, a global citizen hailing at the moment from Marina del Rey, Calif., living on a boat, building a social network for capturing users’ Life List. “It’s not a bucket list,” he said cheerfully. “It’s about the living, not the dying.”

I was so moved by the idea that people could live a life by design, I immediately volunteered my editorial services. He just happened to need a book edited to protect the MyLifeList trademark. A trip to LA, a sailboat delivery and a winning regatta later, I was pretty sure we were destined for greatness together.

Fast-forward two years, MyLifeList had moved to the East Coast, been incubated in MassChallenge, had won $50,000 from Mayor Tom Menino in Boston’s Welcome Home Challenge, and we were on our way to building the next-generation social network that wouldn’t lead to depression and exposed data, but rather, help people to build lives of happiness and fulfillment.

VenCorps Big Check momentWe created a highly engaged community of like-minded global achievers who wanted more experiences and less stuff, using our network to connect with–not avoid–reality.

(But here’s the trap: The more we built a virtual pathway for others to build lives they loved, the farther away from our dream life we got.)

Fast-forward six more years, and our digital and professional lives had grown exponentially. We built network-based solutions to the global water crisis and healthcare delivery, and connected social impact startups to venture funding. We built distribution channels for international businesses coming into the United States, and the first AI-driven business news outlet with a successful, ad-free financial model.

We took every opportunity to use our diverse, complementary skills. But with every new structure we built, we sacrificed more balance, and gave up more of what motivated us.

We worked around the clock–and never by the compass. We were exhausted. Our relationships were superficial, time-pressed and negative. By the time our two children were 14 and 3, growing up in the shadow of our relentless drive had taken its toll, and they were showing all the signs of emotional disconnect, tech addiction and social fatigue, especially the teenager. As parents building technology, we thought being power users would make us smarter. Instead, it made us distracted and agitated. Why would our children be any better?

Although we traveled for work to beautiful places–London, Dublin, Rome, Venice, Abu Dhabi, Bermuda–we were so tired, it was often a blur. I never even wrote about our destinations, unheard of for the travel journalist I once was. Traveling with our children, we looked like average Americans, only taking a week at time, twice a year if we were lucky. And we only made it as far as Disney or a quick cruise.

This was not the life we promised our family.

So we decided: It was time for an intervention. If we couldn’t change our life, with all of our goal-achievement training, who could? We are capturing our victory now, and taking our own advice–without delay. We are taking ourselves off the treadmill, making time to slow down, pare down, breathe, listen and let it all be enough. We are going to rescue our kids from the fate that almost took us right off the cliff. We need a simple life. We need the healing power of nature, the ocean and sunsets, new experiences, family and connection.

That’s what the spirit of MyLifeList was all about. It lives in us, and now it’s time to truly share it with our children.

This generation, more than any that came before, needs to get off the grid. An eighth-grader’s risk for depression increases 27 percent when he or she uses social media frequently, according to researchers out of San Diego State University. Teen suicide is at a two-decade high, with smartphones and social media driving feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Kids who use their phones for three or more hours a day are more likely to be suicidal due to tech’s overstimulating effects on the developing brain, says the same study.

Tech innovators Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both acknowledged limiting the amount of time their children spent online, citing the addictive power of digital technology.

Finn Maura BearDigital natives need to discover the physical world if they’re going to survive, to become the thoughtful, passionate adults we need to lead it. When tech is reduced from the equation, the world and all of its analog wonders can be reintroduced. That’s where we are heading now.

We acknowledge that travel is a privilege, and we’re grateful to have this opportunity to rest, disconnect and have fun with our children while they’re young. We feel a responsibility to give them permission to live differently. Their lives depend on it. We choose to sacrifice in other areas of our life so we can jump on planes and find the awesome out there waiting for us.

(And the journalist in me can’t resist stories of other families doing the same–so those will show up here from time to time, too.)

We hope you’ll be inspired by this journey with us. We used to be active and fun (and tan and fit), so we’re hoping that’s all still in there somewhere.

Whatever it means to you, whatever your priorities, we hope you find a way to live a life you love. Find what matters.

In friendship,
Shelagh Braley (journalist) and Bill Starr (adventurer)