If there's one ideal that blogger Mara Kofoed wants to share with Mint.com readers, it's to be open to the idea that your truest happiness and self-worth can never be dependent on others nor dependent on your circumstances.
"Feel empowered to change. Use love to help you do this. It's the most powerful force in the world," she says.
Mara and her husband, Danny, share how to put this philosophy into practice on A Blog About Love, a site devoted to how to not just weather, but triumph over the struggles life inevitably puts in your path.
For Mara, this way of viewing life is freeing mentally, spiritually and even financially - after all, when your self-worth is based on love rather than possessions, appearance and keeping up with the Joneses, why, you're richer all around.
We checked in with Mara, who recently relocated with Danny to Ecuador, to learn more about her story and how it's helped her grow in all areas of her life. Here's what she had to say:
Can you tell us a little about A Blog About Love? When and why did you start your site?
A Blog About Love is a place where we believe completely in the potential of people to rise above their darkest times. We believe that love is the greatest force that can heal and change someone and change the world. We write posts with that theme and use real-life examples in marriage, dating, divorce and infertility to share our message.
I started the blog in September of 2012. I had finally learned how to be at peace despite great trials, and it was such a miracle to me that I wanted to help others do the same.
Who should be reading it?
ANYONE who is interested in healing, having self-worth, having a happier life or a happier relationship would enjoy reading our blog. Our largest audience includes people in our age group (late 20s to 30s), but we have women, men, single people in their teens and 20s, young married couples with children, and even couples in their 60s reading our blog. Our message applies to everyone.
Can you tell us a little bit about your own background? Professional life? Family? Hobbies?
I was raised in Arizona, but feel like I "grew up" in NYC. I've lived there for the last 14 years and it's been the BEST PLACE for me to live and learn about life, success, people and what matters most. For many years, I worked as a personal assistant to the CEO of a hedge fund. It's an amazing niche job in NYC - if you have a wonderful boss. And let's just say I had a wonderful boss.
I don't have children but have a large family - parents, four sisters and one brother. Since I don't have kids, I try to use my time in a meaningful way.
I haven't devoted very much time to hobbies. Living in NYC and being a breadwinner for most of those years did not leave much free time.
BUT, I did become enamored with buying and renovating real estate. I love going to open houses, envisioning walls busted out and pristine bathrooms. Doing renovations three times in NYC is what affords us the opportunity to live abroad right now without traditional jobs. And I love houseplants. In NYC I think I had to give away 14 plants before I moved. It was hard to see them go. :)
Right now, in Ecuador, I have plans to add some hobbies to my life and I'm really excited about it: knitting, yoga, mosaics, basket weaving, attending more opera/ballet/symphony/theatre/art events, and yes, hopefully I can gather some more houseplants and maybe even have a vegetable garden.
Your blog seems to be focused a lot on the trials and challenges you've faced in life...what do you think have been the biggest challenges you've dealt with, and what have they taught you?
Infertility and a first marriage full of uncertainty have no doubt been my greatest trials. But they've taught me that the DEEPEST kind of peace and the GREATEST kind of joy are actually not dependent on our circumstances! I used to think that IF I got married, IF my husband would treat me better or IF he would say that he started to love me or IF I could get pregnant, then life would be wonderful and I would then be able to feel like I had worth and feel like I could heal and be happy.
But I don't believe any of those things anymore. I'm not fooled by circumstances anymore because I learned how to cultivate worth, healing and happiness while in the lowest state of my life. I learned that if I made LOVE my greatest motivator in life - more than having a loving marriage, more than having a baby, more than having success - that I could always pursue that and feel empowered. I could always feel worth and even the most amazing joy - no matter how much my circumstances crumbled around me.
You recently moved to Ecuador...what was the reason for the move?
We recently did two IVF treatments that were not successful. After 10 years of infertility, we decided to end the pursuit of having children. This decision changed nearly EVERYTHING about our lives. No longer did we need a home, nor did we need to stay put in one location for more years of treatments or adoption, nor did we need traditional jobs or insurance. We loved the idea of going on a sabbatical to work on our blog project, so we checked into locations where the cost of living was low. Ecuador suited us very well on many accounts (close proximity to the U.S., low cost with a high quality of living, very high-quality healthcare with no need for insurance, low cost to hire employees, Spanish speaking).
How do you expect living overseas to change you and help you and your husband grow?
I think we'll grow a TON here. We are loving learning the language. Danny is already fluent (he has a background speaking Portuguese and Spanish) and I'm taking Spanish lessons each day and trying to immerse myself as much as possible. It's really cool to try and learn a new language and learn about a new culture.
We feel very, very far from the U.S., which makes everything feel exotic, new and adventurous. Also, we can already feel our time here feels lighter and healthier. It's amazing to not be glued to a job with set hours. There is more time for taking better care of ourselves, making food from scratch, spending time outdoors, going to cultural events, hobbies, and, of course, working on our blog.
How do you think life in Ecuador will affect your views on how you spend and save?
The low cost of living is seriously a game changer. It has allowed us to spend money on what we want while, at the same time, still saving significantly. For example, we can spend very little money to hire employees for the household and business, something we didn't yet feel comfortable doing in the U.S. To me, this is one of the best benefits of living here.
Also, we can buy organic fruits and vegetables to our heart's content without ever seeing a head of broccoli that costs $6.99 or an avocado that costs $3.99. Try 50 cents for head of broccoli and six avocados for a $1. So, in many ways, our life here feels more luxurious.
In other ways, we'll go without a lot of luxuries and conveniences. For example, the clothing, shoes and household items here in stores are often not as desirable quality-wise (compared to what we're used to in America) and these items are actually MORE expensive than in the U.S., as most of these things are imported.
Ordering items online from the U.S. is possible, but we'll do so less often, as the shipping is expensive. So, we'll either go without or we'll explore one other exciting option: We can have furniture, home goods, clothing and shoes made by artisans. The cost for this is very low, as the items would be made locally. We very much look forward to exploring this option.
Overall, we can live a good life here and STILL save money.
You write that the most important thing in life is living a life motivated by love...what do you mean by this? How do you put that philosophy into practice?
Living a life motivated by love means to make offering love the greatest priority. Too often we think family, marriage, jobs, religion, etc., are the greatest priorities, but these are things that can be SO full of dysfunction and disharmony if real love is absent. But pursuing love is something we can do at all times - it's the most universal, beautiful, fulfilling pursuit.
Also, when our circumstances fail us, as they often do, we too often think that the anger, disappointment, defensiveness and unhappiness that can result from these failed circumstances is a result of love (e.g., "it wouldn't hurt so much if I didn't 'love' someone so much" or "if they really loved me they would never treat me like this"). And so, too often we are afraid to love or we withhold love, waiting for the moment when we think that love will be reciprocated if we offer it. But this is really not an offering of love. This way is closer to dysfunction.
Living a life motivated by love means offering love for the sake of love itself - without any expectation of something coming your way in return. You offer it because THAT is the kind of person you want to be, that is the offering you want to give to the world, regardless of the state of others. This is the most difficult way to love - because we all have so many needs, expectations and desires. BUT, this is hands down the MOST FREEING, MOST BEAUTIFUL way to love. It's free of dysfunction, it's free of expectations, it's free of pressure, it's completely liberating.
How does living a life motivated by love affect how you manage your finances?
To really love in the best kind of way, you need a lot of self-worth. You need to know that your worth and wholeness does not come from another human being or their treatment of you. It also doesn't come from your accomplishments or your possessions, nor your beauty or style, or your ability to look just the way you want, nor the size or style of your home or car.
We all spend SOOO much money trying to achieve greater worth and greater wholeness or value by buying things and trying to improve our appearance and home. But to be free of that pressure? To believe that your worth is not dependent on things?? This can free up your bank account tremendously!!!! :) In fact, you might even find yourself financially free to do things that matter most.