Category Archives: Living the Dream

Right Place, Right Time, Right Words

My husband had driven with my best friend and her two kids to Disneyland where they both awaited our arrival. Kai, my best friend’s new beau, and I didn’t have the vacation days to spend on a road trip, so it was arranged that we would fly down together a couple of days later. Although a practical decision, Kai and I hadn’t yet met and the idea of making awkward small talk for hours in the terminal and on the flight was somewhat anxiety-generating for this introvert.

“So, tell me your life story.”

Although I have a more-than-casual interest in the inner workings of other humans, I said this more out of a strategic move to pass the time with a minimum of awkward silences. A life story would hopefully take up a fair amount of time where I could be in the audience and not on stage, a more comfortable proposition for me. Besides, listening to others is a default mode for me and I like to get right to the good stuff.

He obliged me. Parents, siblings, and growing up in Philly passed the time until our flight was ready to board, the tide of our conversation carrying us onto the plane and into our seats. When the conversation turned to me I gave a few “I was born, I grew up” facts, but eventually turned to the topic I talked most about these days: work. Not my boring, sensible day job, but what I felt was my true vocation: astrology.

As if that wasn’t weird enough, I had been contemplating taking some kind of serious move toward becoming a professional astrologer for years and to me that meant letting go of a day job crutch. I didn’t want to tell people I was an astrologer when really what I meant was that I was a Procurement Program Assistant masquerading as one. At the time, I was too inexperienced with myself and life to realize how little that mattered.

As we buckled and waited for take off, I told Kai about my hopes but, trying to minimize how “new agey” and naive I thought I might sound, I expressed my reservations in the same breath. Nevermind how much money I probably wouldn’t make or how ridiculous most people would think I am, but I wasn’t really sure there was even a place in the world for me. There were already plenty of astrologers out there in the world hanging their shingle out. I doubted I could make any kind of meaningful impact.

“Who knows if it’d even work out?” I said. “I’m sure I’m kidding myself. Besides, the world doesn’t need another astrologer.”

“Who cares what the world needs; what do you need?”

The words stunned me. What an idea: to measure your success not by your place in line, but by your own fulfillment. I was no stranger to doing what I wanted no matter what others wanted of me; I’d done a good job in my post-teen years of standing up for myself. But I’ve always fantasized about being The Best, The Chosen One, The Right Hand Woman. Although I’m not maliciously competitive, I thought being Great needed proof: getting the go-ahead from the Powers That Be, a declaration of my worthiness from a mentor, being the object of throngs of screaming fans, something. But there’s a lot of frantic scrabbling and maneuvering involved when you put the go button under another person’s finger. It never occurred to me that I could, and even should, push it myself.

Epiphanies rippled through my consciousness like aftershocks after an earthquake over the next few days. Insightful dreams and meaningful conversations with my husband over dinner kept the soil of this thought-seed fresh and fertile. But one experience sealed the deal. Having arrived at Disneyland during a volcanic heat wave, we sought out a lot of shows and exhibits purely for the enchantment of their air-conditioning. We cooled off in a small theater that was showing a 10-minute film of highlights in Disney’s life and career. In his mid-20s, he suffered a major and unexpected defeat when the contract he’d had to produce the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons, his biggest success to date, was suddenly sold out from under him. Ever the optimist, he started creating a new character on the train home from that disappointing meeting: Mickey Mouse. A star was born.

As I watched success after success parade by on screen, it occurred to me that Walt never knew what his accomplishments were going to amount to when all was said and done. Although he certainly had confidence and big dreams, what drove him wasn’t becoming the “Man Behind the Myth” but his dedication to being himself: an innovator, an optimist, a creator. He simply started doing his thing and never stopped.

This epiphany was the downpour the seed needed to sprout. I decided I would make the move to phase out my day job when I got home. A few years later, day-job free and holding my first published book, Astrology of the Moon, in my hands, I opened it and reread the acknowledgements I had written:

“Thanks to Kai for uttering the sentence that shook my brain half away and, surprisingly, to Walt Disney for shaking it the rest of the way awake.”

Yeah. Thanks again, guys. That week, Disneyland really was my “happiest place on earth.”

 This article was originally featured at Sweatpants and Coffee.


Living the Dream: Leaping off the Cliff

stanley-baldwin-quotes-1798There are so many memes, motivational posters, and quotes of the day that encourage you to “live your dream.” “Life is short to waste,” they say. I’m sure Google can supply more than one top-10 list relevant to the topic. These canned platitudes sometimes work when you’re looking for the courage to quit your day job and leap off that cliff, but an inspirational poster makes a terrible parachute. How great does it feel to be living your dream when you face plant into reality?

My dream was to quit my day job as an office lackey and become an astrologer full time. While other deep insecurities (if I build it, will they come? How do I stay inspired and motivated every day?) and nameless concerns were lurking, my biggest and most obvious hangup was money. Would I earn enough money? How do I set my rates? How much would I need to earn every month and could/would I earn that much? And the biggest question: how would I survive on a variable income? I didn’t think I would be able to put up with peanuts one month and a feast the next. I’ve also never been very good at being firm with myself when it comes to living on a budget, which would become more, not less, important if I went through with this.

caution-fiscal-cliff-aheadPrompted by an epiphany I had while on a lovely vacation that I paid for with my day job income, I asked to go part-time and my wish was granted. It seemed like the best of both worlds: I could keep a smaller, steady income to rely on but have more time to work toward my dream. After five years though, I hadn’t seemed to get very far on my yellow brick road. Looking back, I probably got further than I thought, but with the lack of a fire under me (part-time was a lukewarm motivation) and a new baby taking up a lot of my “spare” time, I continued to examine the possibilities of being completely free from my day job.

Endless conversations with my best friend, my husband, and sometimes anyone would listen, happened over years as I went over the same terrain, trying to reach the tipping point. In the end, it was somewhere amidst the half-delusional frenzy I’d worked myself up into, some version of the platitude “it’ll all work out in the end,” and my own weariness in waiting for the future to start. In a turn of events that I decided to view as fate, an agent of an acquaintance of a friend of a colleague expressed interest in having me write a book and with contract on the way, I gave notice to my day job and leapt off the cliff.

I was elated. Co-workers and others wished me well, inspired by my courage, envious of my action, smug in the certainty of my naiveté.

Here’s a short list of what the first six months of living the dream looked like:

  • Within a month my elation subsided and was replaced with alternating aimlessness and frequent paralysis (the surprising pressure of freedom)
  • Our credit card debt ballooned, increasing by over $1000 monthly (financial realities of an unchanged lifestyle)
  • My guilt at going from an equal financial contributor to a financial drain began to overwhelm me as did my insecurity (hidden emotional costs)
  • My mother’s sudden health issues made it necessary for her to move in with us (unexpected shit happens)
  • Made some videos, saw some clients, taught some classes (the new daily task list)
  • Began and finished my first book (accomplished a major goal)

The truth is, it kind of worked. I leapt into the water, but I sputtered and choked and had to be dragged by a strong swimmer sometimes. That shift made a mess. Some of the mess lasted for years, some of it I still sit with, and some of it I’m slowly paying off. And all of it was made possible with support: I have a partner who is willing to work his day job for us. I have a best friend with a seemingly endless supply of encouragement and time to offer said encouragement in detail and with surprisingly few platitudes. I shared in the common idea of the American dream being all about perseverance and the self-made wo/man who fights all the odds, but honestly, I stood and continue to stand on the shoulders of others. Sometimes I fight the odds and I don’t win.

It’s not the destination it’s the journey.

Insert platitude here.