6:30am my alarm sounds, then again at 6:45, by 7am I’m rolling out of bed. I shower, get dressed, blow dry my hair, put on makeup, make a pot of coffee and by 8:15am I’m backing out of my driveway. I then spend the next forty-five minutes of my life fighting morning traffic only to arrive at the office by 9am. The next eight and a half hours are spent drudging through an endless pile of work, that brings me no joy, only to then fight traffic for another hour to get home. It is now 6:30pm and I still need to make dinner, do a load of laundry, clean the kitchen, feed my pets, and get ready for bed. Most days I pass out by 9:30pm. Does this routine sound familiar to you? This was my life, five days a week, for almost four years and it was slowly killing me.
I grew up as a very outgoing and imaginative child in the middle of nowhere small-town Iowa. My days were spent out on the farm chasing farm cats or imagining I was a princess locked away by an evil witch waiting for my prince to come save me. My head was filled with romantic notions about where life would take me and the wonderful adventures I was bound to have. My mother did nothing to sway these notions but allowed me to dream the biggest dreams and aspire to the greatest aspirations. She’s a damn saint.
I made it through high school as a middle of the road academic but thrived when it came to the arts. I was the lead in every play and the favorite of every choir teacher I ever had the pleasure to work with. I loved to perform, and so I decided to continue on by majoring in performing arts in college. It was there that I made friends who truly understood me and whom I still love like sisters to this day. Even if we haven’t been in the same state, let alone the same room, for years. They are fierce, and they inspire me everyday with their ability to take this world by the balls and own it. I’m proud to be their friend. But after college I quickly realized that theatre was not the path for me even though my friends continued to perform I was (mostly) content watching them from the audience or their social media pages.
In the age of social media we are constantly comparing ourselves and our lives to others. Watching as our friends accomplish their dreams or build their families and we can’t help but look at our own life and place it under a microscope. Well, this is not the reason I decided to make a change. As proud as I am of my friends and all the beautiful and amazing things they are doing with their lives I knew that what they were doing was not what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be a doctor, or an actress, or a mother (yet). So what did I want? Where was I going?
With my 30th birthday fast approaching I started to have a bit of a life crisis. My soul died a bit more every time I stepped into my office building and sat down at my cubical. I started seeking something more.
Then a simple text message changed my life.
A friend of mine that I had worked with for a short time at Barnes & Noble reached out to see if I wanted to grab coffee. When we worked together her and I used to talk about books and writing for hours on end as our coffee’s got cold on the table between us. I readily accepted her invitation and we met later that week and a spark was lit.
After our coffee date I sat down at my computer and pulled up an old manuscript that I had written years before and was greeted like an old friend by these characters whom I’d forgotten I loved. Over the course of the next few months I started to roll the proverbial snowball that soon took on momentum of its own through the regular coffee meetups and page exchanges. I started to have bursts of real happiness and creative fire that I haven’t felt in years. Maybe this is enough, I reasoned, maybe I can still work at the office and make a salary but write on the side?
Maybe this is enough.
It was enough, for awhile, until it wasn’t.
It started to become increasingly difficult to squeeze in the time I needed to write. Remember from earlier what my current schedule was? By the time I got home from work I was usually exhausted. Plus, I had a husband who required some of my attention. I started to feel myself slip back into unhappiness due to the lack of time and energy I had to put toward my writing and other creative projects. I started to feel bitter toward my office job, hating every moment I had to spend there chained to my desk. My sleep suffered, my health suffered, and my marriage suffered. It didn’t help that my husband was going through a similar struggle with his own work.
He had been working for his father in an industry that he had grown to despise for eleven years and each day he remained there the more it aged him. One day he came home from work and didn’t even bother saying hello to me but simply walked to the living room, laid down on the couch, and threw his arm over his eyes. It was that day that I realized I was not alone in my unhappiness.
For months we went on like this, we had only been married for a year, but it felt like a lifetime. We were like two passing ships until one day I broke down. I cried to my husband for hours that night telling him how miserable and unfulfilled I felt. I told him how it broke my heart that he and I seemed to be distancing ourselves from one another and if it was like this after only a year what would it be like in five years? Or ten? It was that night that my wonderful, selfless, partner looked at me and told me that he would do whatever needed to be done to fix what was broken.
So, we schemed.
Another few months went by until one day my husband approached me and announced that he wanted to be a dog trainer. He had always had a deep love for dogs and nothing made him happier than to spend time with them. After watching how miserable he was day after day coming home from a job that he hates I readily agreed that he should go for it. I told him that I would support him in his dream the way that he promised to support me in mine.
Finally, we decided that the best route was to send him to school to be certified as a dog trainer. The problem was, the academy was in Texas, several states away from where we lived. It would be a three-month intensive program and while he was gone we would put our house up for sale.
Making the decision to move out of Illinois was scary but we knew that living in the bustling Chicagoland area was part of the problem. Neither of us wanted to fight traffic everyday anymore. We wanted a slower pace lifestyle surrounded by nature instead of high rises and the best way to accomplish that was by moving out of the area. Only that meant that I was left alone for three months to pack up our entire house and put it up for sale.
It was grueling. And I was miserable.
There was so much to do in preparation of the move that it left next to no time to write. Then with my husband being away I was left alone in a big house to dwell on my misery. The only light being the knowledge that we had committed to a path that led to change. Real change. This left me with another obstacle, telling my work.
I have been a dedicated benefits administrator for almost four years at an insurance brokerage firm in the Chicago area and I had grown to hate it. Not due to my wonderful colleagues or even the business itself but because of the time and energy it stole from me that I wanted so badly to put toward my own projects. So, I was very much conflicted when it came to breaking the news to my boss that my husband and I had put our house up for sale and were planning to move out of Illinois. A part of me sang with happiness while another part of me trembled in fear. A third part of me cowered in guilt. This company had been good to me. Its people are good people. When I started working for them four years previous I NEEDED a job, desperately. I owe them so much, but I was slowly suffocating in that tiny cube, I needed to get out.
It was an odd conversation, and it wasn’t until that moment that I was truly convinced that God was on our side in this massive life change. As I sat before my boss in his beautiful office with a top floor view and told him that I was moving away he shocked the hell out of me with responding, “would you consider working remotely?”
This is the point in the cartoon where the character’s jaw drops to the floor and their eyes bug out. While we were confident that our house would sell and that we would have enough left over to lean on for a bit we would still need to find jobs. And quickly. Being asked to stay on with my current company was nothing short of a miracle. I could work from home. I could not spend two hours commuting every day. I could not bother with applying and interviewing and training for a new job in a new place while still trying to finish my novel. I was floored, and I was so incredibly grateful.
Our house went up on the market and we received an offer after two days. We accepted. The sale went through. My husband came home after graduating from his dog training program happier than I’d seen him in two years. And we moved out of Illinois.
A month later I’m sitting on my balcony of our two bedroom apartment staring out into the trees and enjoying the 80 degree weather. I get an extra hour of sleep everyday by waking up at 8am instead of 7. Though I still work for eight hours I’m not stressed out by office politics or petty gossip. I gained an extra two hours a day that I can put toward my writing instead of commuting. And my husband spends his days building his business and hanging out with dogs.
I wont pretend that this was an easy decision or that it wasn’t the scariest thing I’ve ever done. We left a lot up to chance but so far it’s worked out pretty well. What I can tell you on this easy Sunday afternoon as I sit out on my balcony drinking a cup of coffee and hearing nothing but the chirping of the birds is that so far, it’s pretty damn good.