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.