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  • Andrea Liss

Ask Andrea - Values and Dreams

Updated: May 9

ask andrea

Looking for a little advice about your relationship? Perhaps you have questions about parenting in Europe? Ask Andrea! Our social worker, Andrea Liss will pick one question a month and answer it in our mid-month bulletin. You can submit your questions anonymously to her at

Dear Andrea. 

It’s almost been a year that I have been OUTCAN, and I don’t know what I have done with my life all this time. I’m not working outside the home right now. Yes, it’s true I take care of the house and run errands and plan travel, but I really don't have much to show for myself. It has dawned on me that by the time I leave Europe, I really want to know I have made the most of my time OUTCAN.  Any suggestions?   

-- Down and OUTCAN 


Dear Down and OUTCAN, 

Regardless of where you are in your OUTCAN- beginning, middle, or on your way back to Canada this summer, staying on track with how meaningfully you spend your time will help you gain a sense of accomplishment and get you back on track. Sometimes we lose our way in life.  This can happen when life events occur that take us out of our routine such as an OUTCAN, where many spouses are unable to work outside the home. An OUTCAN is destabilizing.   

It sounds like you have had a realization and are preparing for a course shift in your life. I hear over and over in I Can OUTCAN, the MFS Europe support group for military spouses, is that embarking on an OUTCAN has provided a wake-up call for busy Canadian families. Once they are removed from their Canadian routines, they start to see its cracks. Time opens itself up for self-reflection when work and Costco trips are no longer.  Given that you are in the first year of your OUTCAN you are likely just starting to come out of the shock of change. I can hear that you may also be spinning your wheels in this new mental space you have available.   

Humans crave the comfort of routine and predictability. The problem is that when we are comfortable there is often not much growth. Sure, it can be a blessing to not be occupied with work but that does still not make it easy, so why not use that tension to propel your forward? Personal growth requires some amount of tension that can serve as important energy. Maternity leaves, retirements, changes in physical capacity, being laid off from work, and OUTCAN all have in common that it is no longer possible to anchor oneself on what came before. It can be problematic to base our identity on activities or phenomenon, that simply due to the laws of nature, will most definitely change. Even if you are at the end of your OUTCAN and feel this special time is slipping away, you can get on track by following these pro tips that will structure your day and allow you to track your goals and desires.  Let’s start with values. Though also subject to change as you will soon see, they have more staying power than certain externals.   


OUTCAN Pro Tip One:  Reconnect with your Values 

Reviewing personal values is an important first step when we have lost our way. One way of looking at losing our way is that we are not living our values or that there has been a values failure. In such instances, we also need to be honest with ourselves about what our true values are vs the values we wish we had.   

Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, posits that ‘good’ values are evidence-based, constructive, and controllable, whereas ‘bad’ values are emotion-based, destructive, and uncontrollable. I’ve included his article on personal values in the reference section at the end of this article. The Manson article is a long one which makes sense given the depth of the topic. If you want to abridge it, skip to the heading “You do What you Value." He asks great questions such as “What does a successful and meaningful life look like?” and “What is it that I want from this life?” He does a good job of describing what happens to people when they reinvent themselves. He believes that what has happened is a values failure. For those that are up for the task, what happens next is recognition and acknowledgment of this failure. This can be a painful ego thrashing where one starts to see some clarity: “I thought I was like that but now I realize that I am like this.”  The next step at reconciliation is that the person embarks on experimenting with a new value that better fits the circumstance. 

An OUTCAN provides the conditions in which people can reinvent themselves. Questions to ask yourself Down and OUTCAN might be “What does a successful and meaningful OUTCAN look like?” And “What is it that I want from my OUTCAN?” Given you’ve got the time Down and OUTCAN, I would recommend you do a deep dive into values and the Manson article is a good start. I especially like what he has to say about defining success.   

OUTCAN Pro Tip Two:  Plan dreams 

You can turn your life into your dream of it according to author Anne Lipscomb. Anne decided that after spending fourteen years as a shut-in with a chronic illness, that it was her dream to live part-time in Paris. In her time as a shut-in, she read about others who had been sequestered like Nelson Manela and Viktor Frankle. She studied their writings but was still left wanting because they did not specify exactly how they got through their seclusions moment to moment. So, she set herself this task.   

She came up with a recipe for making her Paris dream come true and this is shared on her YouTube channel, blog and in her book, Poisoned by Pollution:  An Unexpected Spiritual Journey.  To get the full context of her story and how this fits in with your situation Down and OUTCAN, check out her channel where she covers fantastic topics like how to find joy and the art of taking the “mini vacation.” Here are some of her wise tips: 

  1. Dream from an adult place, rather than from a child-like fantasy.  What she is getting at here is the importance of being realistic about setting expectations of what you can do while in Europe. Setting realistic rather than child-like fantasies will reduce if not eliminate controllable disappointments. 

  1. Make a list of 3-5 “priority experiences” that you would like to have for the time you have left OUTCAN. Focus your list on experiences that you can count on like taking beautiful walks or eating delicious food. Focusing on tangibles like this, rather than more elusive goals like making friends, increases the likelihood they will happen as they are not at the whim of chance or synergy. If friends are met, this can be seen as a bonus. 

  1. Reassess your dreams regularly and rank them in order of priority because time and money have limits.   

What Lipscomb noticed by repeatedly engaging in the dream reappraisal activity is that most of her dreams changed from the “doing” side of life to the “being” side of life. This is the repeated insight that the group members in I Can OUTCAN are exploring. Down and OUTCAN, it’s time to shine. You are encouraged to explore what gives you meaning and purpose and where your nature is comfortable. Enjoy this time of values renewal. Check out the resources below to help you on your way.   



  1. Values:,%2C%20charity%2C%20humility%2C%20creativity

  2. Dreams:  Following Dreams part 2: The Wheels of Progress Grind Slowly ( 

  3. I Can OUTCAN: This is a weekly online support group for OUTCAN Europe CAF military spouses. Please email to set up an intake with Andrea. For OUTCAN Rest of World, your group will begin in September 2024. Stay tuned with the upcoming mid-month bulletins for dates and sign-up information.   

If you would like to pose a question for the Ask Andrea column, please send your anonymous question to and Andrea will do her best to share some of her ideas.

Andrea has a master’s degree in Social Work and is a Registered Social Worker (Ontario) with over 20 years of experience. She maintains a faculty appointment at McMaster University where she teaches in the Masters of Science in Psychotherapy program.

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