What’s Next: Lifestyle Choices

What’s Next: Lifestyle Choices

Written by Heather

Topics: Planning & Reflection

This is the second post in the What’s Next series, in which I share what life has in store post-Oz.

This post has been a long time in the making! I’ve written several drafts, but every time I’d sit down to write, the words wouldn’t come. I’m hoping today is different.

Over the last five and a half months, I’ve had plenty of time to think about my year-long experience in Australia. It didn’t take that much time, however, for me to know without question what was the biggest lesson I learned while in Oz — it just took half a year for me to be ready to write about it.

In Australia, I learned that it’s possible to live a slightly different lifestyle than the one I was living before. My personal and career values began to shift. I met people who worked remotely and sought location independent work. I boarded a plane in Sydney bound for the USA knowing with absolute certainty that returning to the 8am-5pm, Monday-Friday lifestyle was NOT what I wanted for my future — at least for the foreseeable one.

Becoming a career breaker

In May 2010, I officially became a career breaker, leaving a steady job at one of the country’s top universities during difficult economic times. I had spent years researching travel destinations and dreaming of living overseas for a year, so I made the only decision I could — to quit a job for personal development and to fulfill a dream. I wanted to serve as another concrete example of why it’s not crazy for working professionals to quit their jobs and travel the world (excellent post on BootsNAll.com — check it out! Wait, wait, after you’re finished reading this one!).

In leaving my job, I made many additional choices. I chose to take a risk on myself and the future. I chose to live a dream with the knowledge that a year overseas would probably change the way I think about a variety of things, realizing that I couldn’t quite predict what those changes would be. I chose to leave a full-time job with benefits and health insurance not knowing if there would be a job at home when (if?) I returned.

In Australia, I was in charge of determining my day-to-day life in a way I never had before. I found that flexibility and mobility were two of my new best friends. For perhaps the first time in my life, the serious “I’ll give it 110%” student or employee was set aside and I simply had to live the role of “Heather the traveler”. I let go of stress I was holding onto. I found that creativity came more naturally. I had time to explore food, new friendships, a new culture, and new experiences. And I did work for a while to support myself financially, but I had a flexible schedule and still had more control over how I spent my time than ever before. The freedom, liberation, and at-ease feelings that came with everything Oz had to offer were a huge blessing.

What do you do after living your biggest dream?

After living with flexibility and mobility for a year, I found it difficult — if not impossible — to contemplate returning to a traditional work week. I knew I’d have to work to make money to support myself, sure, but I was not ready to commit to a full-time, permanent position with 2-4 weeks vacation per year, even if it meant a modest salary (I do work in education, after all) and benefits. I was somehow ready to trade the comfort and security I thought I’d craved all my life for something I now needed even more — the opportunity to continue traveling for more than 3 weeks per year and time to continue exploring my interests outside of work.

The first two months after I returned home were full of big dreams and brainstorms. I jotted thoughts and feelings in notebooks and on post-it notes. I wanted to find mobile/virtual/remote/online work and I wanted to do it quickly. But this new lifestyle I wanted to pursue was so different than the work I had always done and I really didn’t know where to start. And, trying to move forward with the next chapter of my life while sorting through the thoughts and feelings of re-entry and the death of a dear friend proved challenging for a couple of months.

How I spent my summer

Although I wasn’t quite sure where to start when I returned home, I implemented some good habits and that helped me navigate the difficult first few months.

– Before I left for Oz, I’d saved a bit of “re-entry money” to pay the bills for a month or two upon my eventual return. This money was so helpful!
– I sought out and found flexible gigs to make (just enough) money to continue paying the basic bills.
– I identified several potential areas of interest for this new mobile life and conducted informational interviews with people in those fields/positions. With every conversation, I found myself re-evaluating my path, adding things to the list while taking other options off.
– As one of my favorite grad school professors once said, “Don’t question yourself, ask questions of yourself,” so I did. It’s not easy to be a career counselor for yourself, but I managed to make a few strides forward!
– I wrote down random thoughts, jotted down (what I hoped were) insights, and began to pen what I would like my future to hold. Having a place or two to get my goals from mind to paper was key.
– I learned to be kind to myself. I wanted to make the new lifestyle a reality quickly and was ready to work for it. When others encouraged me to be patient, I sometimes felt frustrated. What did they mean be patient?! Shouldn’t I be persistent? Eventually, I learned being kind to myself meant I needed to find a blend of persistence and patience — one that would allow me to make progress without forcing anything and allowing life to happen.

Ways I’ve earned money so far

In the first couple of months I:

– Cleaned and painted my dad’s office (lobby/waiting area, kitchen, and three offices). I learned that painting will not be added to my list of skill sets any time soon.
– Proctored graduate admissions exams (the LSAT and Praxis).
– Tested the mobile website of a company with local headquarters.
– Watched a neighbor’s dogs for several days.

Thanks to conversations with former colleagues, by mid-summer I was:

– Reviewing and providing feedback on resumes and cover letters for employees of the local university (which I have continued to do).
– Researching and writing a new “work abroad” section for a career services website on a short-term contract.

In addition, I accepted a role as a contributing author at HerPackingList.com, and I accepted a temp job for the academic year in a career services office, working three days a week. I meant for Thursdays and Fridays to be used to explore additional work opportunities, but somehow they’ve been filled with other things for the last two months. I’m hoping to get back on track next week and explore a few ideas I’ve had “on hold”.

The biggest challenge

So far the biggest challenge hasn’t been finding work. For now, I’m happy to make” just enough” so I have time to explore various ideas.

The most difficult aspect of choosing a new lifestyle is feeling that very few people understand me.

I’ve heard a lot of “you’re so lucky”. Um, it hasn’t even happened yet, and if it does, it will because I worked hard for it.

Quite a few have said, “It sounds like you want a permanent vacation” or “So you’re taking a very early retirement, huh.” I’m not saying I want to be work independent — unless I win the lottery, that’s not possible. I would like to create a more location independent lifestyle. That doesn’t mean you don’t work.

I’ve been told that only people close to retirement work remotely, as they’ve put in many hard years and have earned it. Rubbish. I know a handful of people in their 20s and early 30s working 100% remotely.

I don’t know what my path will look like yet, but I’m going to have to create it for myself. And I believe that if all the people who told me “oh, you’re lucky” and “don’t we all wish we could do that” REALLY wanted to make it happen, they could.

I’m grateful for my family. Even though I still don’t think they quite get it, they’ve never questioned my choices since returning. And I am very thankful for a few fellow travelers who have become good friends, understand where I am and what I want, and encourage me along the path.

Ready for change

For more than six years, I’ve told college aged students that career development is a lifelong process — and now I need to embrace it. Some of our interests and values will change over time. We develop new skills. And when we recognize these changes and additions, we need to assess what they mean and adapt. What I wanted ten years ago is not the same as what I want today, and I’m positive the next decade of my life has changes in store that I cannot begin to imagine. I want to move forward with a blend of patience and persistence, allowing things to happen and unfold while working to make new goals a reality. Maybe that’s my next big dream now that I’ve lived the one of spending a year overseas.

34 Comments Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Gav says:

    All aspects of life affect us and our learning experiences change us, our goals and the way we see life.

    You’ve been brave, learned a lot about yourself, learned about new goals and dreams. Not all dreams are achievable, but that’s no reason not to try.

    You have many people that care about you and will offer support and advice when you need it.

    The key thing is to get organized, make a note of your goals and what you’d need to do in order to achieve them and how you see the future. You have your main goals and lesser goals required to achieve the main goals. Focus on the lesser goals because looking at the whole picture can sometimes overwhelm. As the lesser goals are completed, so the main goals become closer :-)

    Always remember that there are people at the end of a keyboard, phone or near by that will support you and help.

    • Heather says:

      I wrote out lots of things in the first couple of months and have only started to revisit them in the last week or so. I need to give myself a full day to just relax and think and daydream again.

      I agree that taking a bite-size or baby step approach is a good way to go — looking at the larger goal can be daunting and even paralyzing!

  2. Lauren says:

    I can’t believe you’ve been home six months already. It’s great you’re making these strides. And remember, when people question your work or life goals, they are either ignorant, jealous or fearful that they could never pursue the same things. Keep up plugging away.

    • Heather says:

      I know right — six months?! I ask myself where the time has gone, but when I stop to think about it, I realize that A LOT has happened in that relatively short period of time.

      I can’t but think back to my time in Oz and “what was I doing a year ago today”…can’t believe how time has fllown.

      Thanks for the encouragement, Jersey. I miss you.

  3. Mom says:

    Even though the concept is a bit foreign to dad and me, we are very proud of what you are doing to reach your new goals. You are going above and beyond ‘the norm’ and there will be people who will never try to understand it! GO GIRL!!! <3

  4. Good luck! I think the hardest thing isn’t doing what you want, it’s figuring out what you want. But it sounds like you’re on the right path to really defining that for yourself and working toward getting it.

    • Heather says:

      I hope so, Emily — thank you! I keep getting new pieces of the puzzle every so often, and I need to be patient for the rest to come (while still working for it, of course).

  5. Adam @ SitDownDisco says:

    It all resonates with me. I’ve faced similar obstacles… and it definitely is uncomfortable when you want to work with people who are in a different mould and they don’t understand what you want. What you actually want is a better life and many people think the only way to have a better life is to throw you burdens onto others or freeloading (such as relying on parents or flexible employers)… which isn’t true. You can almost hear the words “if I had to work hard in a crappy job my whole life, why shouldn’t you?”

    It’s also confronting for many people that are in fact disappointed in the way their lives are heading. Rather than looking on a cheering, they feel envy and react negatively. I guess the only answer to that is to embrace those cheerleaders and lance the nay-sayers (or try help them change their lives!).

    Good work, Heather. You’re definitely heading in the right direction and it’s great to hear that you’ve already got multiple work opportunities on the go.

    • Heather says:

      Thanks Adam. You helped get me on this path and I’ll always be grateful for that. It’s helpful to have some cheerleaders in my camp and people who have paved the way to look to for examples.

  6. Julia says:

    Love this post! I’m also starting to worry about what I will do if/when I return from my trip next year and I haven’t even left yet. I know that I won’t be able to transition back into my everyday life again and I really don’t think I’ll want to. I think that everyone who takes an extended trip leaves because they want something more out of life, so it makes no sense to just return to the life you had before. Good luck with pursuing your dreams, I hope they all come true for you.

    • Heather says:

      Thank you, Julia :-)

      We can’t help but think about what may happen AFTER the trip before it even begins, and it can be nice to be forward thinking. That being said, we can’t anticipate all of the ways we’ll change and how that will impact the days to come. I’m so glad that my time in Australia taught me to be more open to waiting for things to happen. I love identifying options, evaluating them, choosing the best course, and getting down to business. In Oz, I learned how to still be myself in doing those things while also being more flexible and open to detours. That’s carried on to my life back home and I love it.

  7. Nicole says:

    I think what people don’t understand is that you have to work *even harder* than those in a “normal” 9-5 job in order to make ends meet, & ultimately, to make your dreams a reality. You constantly have to seek out new opportunities & juggle the demands of multiple clients & you don’t have the security of a set paycheck – definitely not the easy way out! You do this not because you want to work less, but because you want to travel more – live more. And I am SO proud of you for taking these risks & working so hard to achieve your goals. Good on ya! <3

    • Heather says:

      Once again, I plan on printing out your words to post in my room! I nodded. I smiled. I thought AMEN. Thank you for being one of my biggest cheerleaders over the last few years and especially the last six months.

      Love you!

  8. Sally says:

    Wahoo! Go you! I’m loving these posts about deciding what to do with yourself. It’s really helping me think about what I want to do with myself. I can relate with you so much — especially that whole “what I wanted 10 years ago isn’t what I want right now.” Yup. I hear ya, sister.

    • Heather says:

      Thanks Sally :-) This post was a real labor of love. I’m still not entirely happy with the way it came out — more I wanted to say and the things I did say, I wanted to convey more clearly — but it seems it’s making sense to the folks reading it…perhaps because several of you are ahead of me on this path.

      I hope that wherever this new path continues to unfold, it eventually (and sooner rather than later!) crosses with yours. Lord knows we’ve talked about it often enough since I got home…I need to win a small bit of the lottery to afford a flight over. Not being greedy and asking to win the whole jackpot O:-)

  9. Heather, I can’t say enough about how encouraging is your post. It’s great to read about and gain wisdom from people’s experiences, as I’m about to go through some pretty big changes too : getting out of my present career, leaving Chile, and trying to prepare to travel for a year. Thanks again for your post!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Henry, thank you for the sweet comment! I checked out your blog earlier today and see you’ve lived in several countries recently — wow! I look forward to learning about your experiences, as I’m sure I have a few things to learn from you :-)

  10. I have no doubt you’ll find something you’re incredibly passionate about! You’re totally on the right path!!!

  11. jade says:

    Reading this post could not have come at a more appropriate time for me and deciding what I want my next chapter to be like. I was like you- very good student, always knew how to be a great student, how to impress and what I wanted as far as education went… however, the last couple of year, especially since traveling and our RTW trip, I don’t want the same things as before and it has been very difficult to feel out what I do want. thanks for being so open and honest, and it gives me strength to question myself and ask for answers. So happy for you and your continued success in finding out what you want and how you are going to get it.

  12. Erik says:

    You’ve got it.

    Do What makes you happy.

    That’s all.

    • Heather says:

      I’ll figure out what exactly that means over time…off to a good start (yes, be patient, Heather!). Thanks Erik!

  13. Kyle says:

    Such a fabulous post Heather. It’s interesting to watch you go through this post.

    People who say that those who are location independent are on early vacation are NUTS. It’s so much hard work to be a freelance, to go out and find the jobs, so much discipline to make yourself work when everybody else is playing. People who say that, have never tried it, I’m sure.

    • Heather says:

      I agree — if you’ve tried it, you know it’s not vacation and all play! As challenging as it is, going back to where I was before (traditional work life) doesn’t even seem possible — or desirable.

  14. Erica says:

    You can do it RAHRAHRAH!

    I know how much work goes into trying to be location independent for sure. Kills me but I feel so fulfilled knowing that I’m working toward MY project, not anyone else’s.

    • Heather says:

      I’m a cheerleader for you and look forward to seeing how things progress for you two as well! It’s hard work but so worth it. <3

  15. Lisa says:

    Heather, this is such an insightful, well-written, and absolutely inspiring post. Reading it was hugely helpful for me. You clearly and eloquently voiced ideas that I have thought before but always struggled to put into clear, coherent words or goals. That your personal voice comes through so much in your writing is a wonderful skill. I keep a journal of life lessons, good advice, and inspiring words, and your last paragraph- with your permission, of course!- is going to go in it. :)

    I’m still planning to take a trip to Cville, hopefully after Lighting of the Lawn- can’t wait to meet up with you then!

    • Heather says:

      Lisa, this comment is the icing on what was already an excellent day. Thank you for your very sweet words — so thoughtful and encouraging!! I have a huge smile :-)

      I’m glad I was able to offer some inspiration and look forward to seeing you again! I’m so glad we’ve kept in touch after you graduated!!

  16. Audrey says:

    It’s not always easy for family and friends to understand the life style we’re after, but it sounds like you’re following your passion, and at the end of the day that’s the best thing you can be doing :D You can do it Heather!!!

  17. Veny says:

    Hi Heather,

    I am writing this from my sister’s home in Sydney :) Adam (Sitdown Disco) introduced us via twitter when he mentioned how obsessed you are with cakes/pastries, etc, while in Sydney. Anyway, I have read most of your posts.

    Just wanted to say, I feel what you are feeling. I am 6 months into my sabbatical and starting to think about what’s next already, and I still don’t have a concrete idea just yet. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on the blog though, it helps to know other people have gone through the same :)

    Best of luck with everything!

    • Heather says:

      Aww, thanks for popping by and reading :-) Adam greatly contributed to my cake/pastry obsession, and he introduced me to my first macaron.

      I still have no clue and every day that passes brings more ideas and then confusion — where’s the clarity?! O:-)

      I agree — it’s SO helpful to know others have been through the same. Going to check out your site and connect with you on Twitter!

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