There 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.
Prompted 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.