“We are responsible for what we are; and whatever we wish ourselves to be, we have the power to make ourselves. If what we are now has been the result of our past actions, it certainly follows that whatever we wish to be in the future can be produced by our present actions.” – Vivekananda
Holy guacamole! Let me tell you that I have had my mind blown the last two weekends in a row, and I haven’t felt this happy/ inspired/ productive all year. First, it was caving with Georgia Girl Guides and hearing one woman’s story of how she built her business with little formal experience. Then, we visited Mushroom Mountain and learned about Tradd Cotter’s groundbreaking and innovative work in mycoremediation. These two encounters with humans driven by their passions and unafraid of failure have made me feel insignificant. At the same time though, meeting people who are creating their own life on their own terms, and spending every day practicing what they believe in, has given me waves of hope and courage. I’m finally starting to feel like, hey – I could do this too.
What a gift inspiration is. To wake up in the morning and be excited for the day ahead, knowing you will face all sorts of new challenges and experiences that will grow you as a person. Let’s be honest, I NEVER feel this way when I wake up Monday-Friday to report to the office. That’s what got me thinking: maybe, it doesn’t have to be this way for the next fifteen years until I retire. Maybe each day can be filled with inspiration. I witnessed two individuals (doing radically different things) who clearly operate this way. Yet, the cynical voice in the back of my head tells me that I’ll never be that lucky. I’m not good enough. I’m not fortunate enough.
The sad thing is that until the last year, I truly believed these things about myself. I thought that I was destined to be just another brick in the wall, fighting my way through the working world against my will. After years of interviews and being turned down for all the “good” jobs, I’d resigned myself to finding a tolerable job that paid the bills. I looked at people who loved their work and knew that I wasn’t talented enough to be one of them.
Growing up in an upper middle class household in the 90s, all I ever heard was how great I was. The praise was constant – at school, at home, on the field. My parents were very supportive and led me to believe that I was god’s gift to the world. I got good grades, was a star athlete, and knew how to behave – what more can you ask for? All the social structures around me reinforced this notion that I was special. Everyone was cheering me on to the tune of, “Follow your dreams! Do whatever you want! Be who you were born to be!”
When I finally left the nest, I was shocked that the real world didn’t appreciate me the way my parents, teachers, and coaches had. I was used to having everything handed to me because, c’mon, I was awesome! Throughout college, I brushed off misfortunates thinking, “oh well – their loss.” It wasn’t until I traveled halfway across the country to go to graduate school, and failed miserably after one semester, that the reality of my situation finally sunk in. Good grades do not equal a good job, just like good intentions do not equal success. The working world is not a fair place. Once all this hit me, I felt 100% betrayed by everything I had experienced growing up.
I struggled to find full time work for three years after I quit school. The endless litany of interviews with no call backs did a number on me. I felt like I could barely keep my head above water, let alone find purpose and fulfillment. That’s why early retirement was initially such an appealing idea to me. Early retirement was the promise that one day I would be rewarded for the years of professional medicority. I figured, if I can’t be someone who loves my work, then I might as well not work at all.
Everything I’ve said so far is an oversimplification of many complex factors, emotions, and experiences surrounding work and selfhood. The bottom line is that I (like many others in my generation) realized that I was not special; I was just one more college educated white girl from the suburbs who was used to life being easy. This led me to conclude that my place in this world was not meaningful or vital – that I would never be someone who made an impact on society, or even myself and those around me.
Sounds like a horrible place to be, right? Actually, it wasn’t that bad. I finally landed a job I was OK with, and I began stashing away over half my income. That became my plan for the next 15 years, and honestly, that was still my plan when I began this blog. At that point, I didn’t see any other way to achieve my goals. Fifteen years seemed like a small price to pay for the ultimate freedom of not having to work for the rest of my life.
I am rational and logical (um, hands up math nerds!) – and I like seeing one solution, one most efficient path from A to B. This is how I solved my work problem. Issue: work sucks. Desired outcome: don’t work. Solution: early retirement. Once I boiled it down to this, the path was clear and I didn’t think twice about it. After the last two weekends though, I’ve seen a new path – and it’s not something I think I’ll ever be able to unsee. It’s the path of letting go of your comfort zone, pursuing your passions, and creating the life you want.
The issue with the 90’s “every child is special” attitude is that you become completely desensitized to it. At a certain point, the notion of “doing whatever you want when you grow up” becomes vague and meaningless. At least it did to me. People who were actually doing whatever they wanted seemed like aliens. Until now. Now, these people don’t seem so alien. They seem like people just like me. People who worked unfulfilling jobs. People who got fed up. What I’ve learned from the people I met is that getting fed up is the essential turning point. You can either give up and resign yourself to subpar work conditions, or you can do something about it. You can get excited. You can forge your own way.
Wow, how empowering is that little change in attitude? It has made waves in my everyday life over the last few weeks. I’m thinking critically about the world, and about myself. I’m exploring new ideas. Andrew and I are talking about the future, and all the possibilities. It used to scare us. Now I feel stoked.
I truly believe these people came at the right time in my life. If I had met them a year ago, experiencing their perspectives probably wouldn’t have made such a profound impact on me. This is prime time though. I’ve been in the full time work world almost a year – I have a grasp of what it entails and how it makes me feel. It was easy to sit down and say, on paper I just have to work 15 years then I can retire. But living those 15 years is completely different. I don’t want to spend the next decade and a half working for the man. I want to do something with my life. How? No clue yet … stay tuned 🙂