Despite being travel centric, this post is meant to be a starting point for anyone who feels their lifestyle doesn’t jive with their ideals. The blog is not just for those who wish they had more time to travel, it’s written with YOU and your personal goals in mind. For more on the purpose of our site, visit the Start Here page.
I felt less than prepared for the world. Any job I could get with my degree paid less than my current gig as a convenience store clerk. I walked out of interview after interview, growing more and more nervous (okay, I was terrified). Is this what I spent the last three years accomplishing? I had earned a degree, but every job I applied for sounded utterly miserable and the pay was hardly above minimum wage. So, I kept working the 7-11 graveyard shift that I loved and also got a nanny job. Surprise! It paid almost two times what I had been offered at several jobs requiring a degree.
I spent the next 6 months working hard, but nervous about the future. I’d gotten a pretty big reality check and although I’d followed the “right path” according to my South Texas upbringing, my options for careers were pretty slim and the things I was qualified for sounded miserable. Sitting in an office day after day, the rigid schedule, working under people who didn’t have the same priorities as I did… I felt suffocated by the idea of the version of ‘productivity’ that was touted in an almost Koreshian manner by most everyone I’d ever met.
So, in what was my second bad decision where education was concerned, I decided to get an additional degree in a field I was mildly interested in. You see where this is going- I, somehow, did not. I knew this would be the answer to my problems. I’d be able to fill one of thousands of positions, live anywhere in the U.S. or Canada, and the program was only two years! That May, 6 months after I’d graduated, I sold or gave away most of my possessions and squashed everything that was left into my sedan, tetris style. After short stints in Dallas and D.C. I moved it to Portland, Oregon, sight unseen.
For the first time in my life, school was awful for me. My heart wasn’t in it, partly because I was desperately lonely, and had no support system. So, I found myself in the same position, now two thousand miles from anyone and anything I knew.
I’ll be honest- it was a really hard winter. Thankfully, having a gloomy Pacific Northwest rainy season worth of idle time led to a lot of thinking. I met Joey around this time, and with his added life perspective, I started to realize why the “right way” that my parents had taught me seemed to be working fine for them…but was unhealthy and miserable for me. It came down to several very simple questions:
1. “What are my lifestyle goals?”
This is the simplest question of the three, and the logical starting point when you come to that stage where you are itching to make a change in your life AND you are just fed up enough to actually do it. A lifestyle goal consists of two parts: goals for living, and goals for progress.
For our purposes, progress is measured by ‘accomplishments’, which will obviously vary person to person depending on what their values are. Your personally defined accomplishments could be anything from training yourself never to lose your temper to living entirely off of passive income or treating everyone you meet with kindness.
How do you want to live? Do you prefer a 9-5 lifestyle and the structure that comes with it, or is a less rigid work schedule more suitable for you?
What do you want to accomplish? You might strive for complete self-sufficiency without a rigid work schedule, or just a job that gives you more time with your family. When outlining your lifestyle goals, it’s incredibly important to be truthful with yourself about what your personal ‘ideal’ is, even if it feels unreachable or childish, because a list of well thought out lifestyle goals will help you suss out what your values are.
On that note, the second question:
2. “What is really important to me?”
I felt like the way ‘life’ was represented growing up went against my basic nature. Obtain degree, obtain husband, have children, settle down, sit at a desk, follow a rigid schedule, and take very little time to explore your natural interests and grow as a person. You have an obligation to society to be productive and live a certain way.
The norm is to work, to be with your family, get to retirement, then, relax…assuming you are still in good mental and physical health…and have enough money put back to support your current lifestyle…
Creativity is encouraged mostly when it will further your career, and ‘time wasting’ is allowed only after you’ve completed the daily drudgery of work and other obligations. I felt hopeless and suppressed in these environments, but they were all I’d ever known, and so I couldn’t even conceive of a life that didn’t follow that script.
In an effort to improve myself for myself instead of living under the societal constraints I’d been raised under, I made the wonderfully selfish choice to transition to a life that was focused on achieving my own happiness, health, and balance. And to be clear, by ‘selfish’ I mean ‘concerned with my own interests’- in the best interest of myself as an individual, and not to the specific detriment of anyone else.
In it’s essence, this is a question of values- What do you value? This is not about what you are supposed to value, it’s about actually having an honest conversation with yourself (gasp!) and separating your personal wants and needs from those of everyone else around you. I value my own growth, and freedom to travel and create. I place a lot of importance on having room in my life to follow my natural inclinations, let interests and relationships develop organically, and do things that make me happy. Presenting your best self to the world means you are bringing more to the table in your interactions with others. If you allow yourself to live in a way that makes sense to you, you’ll be a happier, fuller person and people will be naturally drawn to you.
Now, you make your lists.
I mean it.
Make a hard copy of your list that you can look at every day.
I created mine in ColorNote and it gets pinned to my task bar first thing each morning.
Don’t think too hard about what it will take to achieve the things on your list just yet- write it all down, even if it seems unreachable in your current circumstances. Once you decide the things that would ideally take precedence in your life, you have what you need to answer the most important question:
3. “What in my life is holding me back from achieving what is important to me?”
When I realized that for me, the answer to this question was ‘a large percentage of all the things I’ve been led to believe about life’, I’ll admit I felt overwhelmed. It is genuinely terrifying to find yourself at a crossroads and know that taking the path that feels right for you will mean completely altering your lifestyle, countless explanations to family and friends, breaking ties, burning some bridges, and generally living in a way that most of society might label as “unproductive”. Honestly. People are harsh! If I knew how many people would refer to me as a “bum” when I told them what I’m doing with my life, I would have had more reservations than I did. But now that my skin is a bit thicker, it’s obvious to me that if choosing to enjoy your day to day life leads to being labeled as a bum, you aren’t the one with the ‘problem’.
As I continued to really parse through what it would take to turn my life around, I decided to note down concrete things that I had the power to change. So, in effect, I pinpointed what was discouraging or preventing me from doing the things that were most important to me: my job, worry about disappointing my family, fear of being an outcast, and my rigidity of thinking about the ‘normal’ way to live.
When working on your own list, some of the things you think of might seem like rigid, unchangeable parts of your life- write them down anyway! If your job, your girlfriend, your kids, your financial situation or anything else is keeping you from reaching your ideal, you need to be honest with yourself about it.
Want to share your list? Email us or tag a photo with #changelist and @roadbesttraveled on Instagram.
The Next Step:
The next step is scary.
You’ll never be ready for the next step, but you have to make the move anyway. Once you’ve figured out your goals, your values, and what is holding you back from achieving those things, it’s time to actually make some changes.
Yes, it might feel to you like quitting your restrictive job and changing your entire lifestyle is an impossible undertaking, and maybe it’s not right for you…you have to decide if the positive impacts of the change will outweigh the negative ones. The thing is, you can never be certain about the future, so you can keep waiting until the “perfect time” to make a change (hint: it’s not coming) or you can change now. If the thought of making sweeping changes to your life makes you reach for a paper bag to breathe into, it helps to keep in mind that big changes don’t have to be made in leaps if incremental steps are more feasible for you. There’s no race, so go at a pace that makes sense to you.
When it came to making changes in my own life, I realized that my thoughts about what was ‘expected’ of me as a productive member of society would take a lot of time and patience to tackle. Instead, I hoped that proving to myself that I could make a living outside of the 9-5 world would go a long way towards changing my thinking.
With my long game in mind, I focused first on finding a more flexible job. I didn’t apply for any job that would keep me from being relatively free to travel as I please, would force me to sit at a desk all day, or that had a very rigid schedule. I wasn’t at all interested in having a manager breathing down my neck and micromanaging me. I can think and work for myself; being lectured on the hour about how to do my job is like existential hell for me. Those jobs were not for me, and I had decided not to take no for an answer when it came to how I was going to live day to day.
Eventually, I found a job where I mostly set my own schedule and that allowed me to take off for months at a time to travel with a certain amount of notice. Not perfect, but one step closer to my ideal. As I started my new job and my schedule opened up, I made a promise to myself to use this new influx of spare time to explore my interests and to start figuring out what it would take to work for myself and have a steady stream of income.
If you are living under a more rigid framework and can’t just sell all your things and post up on the I-5 with your thumb out, the key to making changes in your own life is to take small, manageable steps toward your goal. Go down your list and work to change one thing at a time. If your finances are holding you back, simplify your life. If your job is the issue, find one that gives you more time to yourself. You always have the option to make changes that will improve your life.
You are never stuck, you only convince yourself that you are. Remember, you have only as much power over your life as you are willing to claim for yourself.
Do you have advice for others about how to make some serious life changes or anecdotes about how you changed your own life to better fit your ideals? Head on over the the forum discussion of this post and share with the community! (or email us and let us know your story/journey/wants/dreams/etc)
Enjoy This Post? Stay Connected With Us.