From A Treadmill Existence

by Terry Sterrenberg

I want to share with you how we got to the point of doing “The Villaging Project.”

It started in 2007 when we sold our condo. We left our life behind and set out to create something profound. Part of me thought this was a bit crazy and irresponsible; part of me celebrated getting out of a treadmill existence. I remember being at work in my counseling office and saying to myself “Terry what are you doing here.” Same old same old, every day and not really making any more money than in the past and expenses going up. When Laurie got her own office we really became strapped financially. Seemed like a step up at the time. The weird thing about that as I reflect is that nothing seemed wrong on the surface. I was really doing what I thought I should. And Laurie too. We were staying afloat. We were making it on a daily basis, but as one person said in a seminar we went to, we were not thriving. I was unhappy and living in a malaise of stress and worry. And really didn’t even know it.

How did we ever come to make that decision to move out of the condo? We felt trapped in our situation. I was so stressed. Engulfed by credit card debt and using one credit card to pay for the other with those payment checks they sent us. We were literally living month to month a lot of the time. The housing market was deflating. We called a realtor to see what our place was worth. We found out that although the housing market was going down the condo market was still up. We decided to sell before it deflated as well. I was amazed that it sold so quickly at a higher price than we were asking. Got us completely out of debt and paid for much of our two sons’ college.

Turned out to be the best decision we ever made and set us on a course of no return.

We found “Surry Downs”. I really liked living there- beautiful setting, great place for our little dog, ducks in the pond. We thought we would rent until we got our lives together and then we would buy again. But the housing market never really improved. We reduced our expenses as much as possible, and still we weren’t making enough to build our savings. Still selling the condo and renting in Surry Downs gave us more freedom and a different mindset. I think it was that we finally got out of survival mode and starting thinking straight. We got out of debt. We got out of debt! Do you know what that feels like? Let me tell you the freedom I felt from that! The stress in my life melted away and I could smile again.

And then in 2009 we started making The Healthcare Movie. Making The Healthcare Movie began a new way of thinking for us. I don’t know if I ever did a project that was more heartfelt than that. I don’t know which was worse: The lies being told to the American people about the Canadian healthcare system or my growing awareness of the cruelty of the American “system.” Both became intolerable. All my beliefs about what it meant to live in America were being challenged. And I realized that what I defined as freedom and what some might call “the American Dream” was an illusion. Making the movie literally opened up a new way of life for me. We decided to really take control of our money and our lives.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Originally the movie was to be strictly about Canada for American audiences. Then we found out about the history of healthcare in the U.S. and about the many public relations campaigns designed to enhance the  fear of socialism to make sure Americans did not want a universal healthcare system. They were calculated, and very successful. They built on the notion of rugged individualism  which is a core value in this country. The result today is a deep suspicion of those who need help and of our government and a lack of real problem solving in regard to healthcare access and other issues in our country.

We decided to make the movie as a hobby and with our own money (being told by our sons that no one, unless you were Michael Moore, could make a living creating documentary movies). We discovered that the most difficult thing was telling Americans that when you live in Canada you have no stress about getting sick and going to the Dr. Then at some point we came up with the metaphor of having a jackhammer in our back yard. It’s as if we have this constant jackhammer going on and we have grown so accustomed to it that we think it is normal. We don’t even hear it until we cross the border into Canada and we say to ourselves “Whoa! What just happened? Something is missing and I feel wonderful.” The jackhammer stops. No worry. No mind chatter. Just peace of mind. I think we found a similar peace of mind when we became debt free. It was like heaven. And we wanted to keep it. We asked ourselves “Is it possible to create a life, to stop the jackhammer and to generate that peace of mind in all areas of life?

We said to ourselves “That sounds like another movie!”

We began researching innovative futuristic discoveries and inventions. We were not looking for that which could be, but rather that which already exists. We want to know what life could be like if these new ways of living were widely available and used. We explored new communities that do not have jobs and new economic systems that do not use money, new architectural systems that are weather proof. We interviewed a friend who was able to not work and survive very comfortably. How do you do that and not became a vagrant (whatever that is; something bad I think)?

We also became very aware that if one of us became ill all our money could be wiped away in medical bills. We decided that we did not want our money to be used in that way. We want to use our money the way we want it to be used not the way our medical insurance company decides. So after the movie was made, we became aware of what seemed to me to be a very odd characteristic of humanity. It was that knowledge and facts do not always move a person into action. Even though it is clear that life can be better, often times people choose what is familiar rather than what is best for them. If it was true that we wanted to have control of our lives and money what kept us from doing that?

Our lives became full of many questions about what is necessary in life and what are our human choices. For example “if it is possible to  have transportation without accidents, why don’t we?” If it is possible to have health care for everyone, why don’t we?” “Is it possible to have a society where money is not our gateway to access for everything we have?” “Is human nature really geared toward war rather than cooperation?”

So there I was. 63 years old asking these huge questions. Maybe it was a late mid-life crisis, who knows. At any rate, what became clear was that life could be much better for not just me but for everyone on the planet if we made certain decisions.  “So what are we waiting for?” I kept asking myself. I’ve never been a patient man. The real question of course was, “What am I waiting for?”  When I got to that question the answer became clear. The only thing keeping me (keeping all of us) from leaping into that new life is hesitancy to step into it. All I have to do is choose it! “OMG!” I said to myself. “OMG!” When something is possible all it takes is the choice to let it happen or do it. If we want to get out of the rat race we need to choose something different than what we are doing. So we did and now we feel more freedom than at any time in our lives.

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