“Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you, and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight, turns you into who you are tomorrow, and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in. Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.”
― Chris Hadfield
Last Thursday, as Marcel and I were heading to bed, our night-owl daughters were teasing us because they’d get to sleep in the next day (it was a day off school) and we had to get up to work. Smiling, we both gave a similar reply… “I don’t mind. I actually LIKE my job, so it’s not that hard to get up in the morning.”
It was a lovely realization that we’d both come to places in our lives that “work” feels a lot like “play”. We’re both doing what we love to do and we feel like we’re making a difference in the world.
It wasn’t always that way. A dozen years ago, when we were expecting our third daughter, we were both pretty miserable in our jobs. Marcel was working in the transportation industry more by default than intention (a former truck driver who’d moved into management), and I’d worked my way up the government ranks into a job that used a lot of my creativity and leadership skills but left me feeling miserable and without a sense of purpose. We were making good money, and we enjoyed the perks that money bought us (like a boat, camper, a second vehicle, trips, etc.), so we’d stuck with it through the misery.
Gradually, though, we both recognized that we were nearing burnout and that our unhappiness wasn’t helping us to be very effective parents. Plus our exhaustion was causing us to make poor choices, like buying a few too many MacDonalds meals for our kids at the end of our long days at work.
So we started making changes. We sold our boat, camper, and second vehicle, and cut out as many discretionary expenses as we could. Marcel quit his job so that he could become primary caregiver to our kids (and cook us healthier meals than MacDonalds could offer) while attending university.
More changes followed. A few years later, we downsized even more so that I could leave my government job to take a job in non-profit that suited my passions and sense of purpose better. I loved that job for about 5 and a half years, and then got burnt out during my last year and knew it was time to move on and pursue the thing I’d long dreamed of – starting my own business.
It was pretty risky jumping into self-employment when I did, given the fact that Marcel had only managed to find work as a substitute teacher and his income wasn’t very stable or high enough to support our family, but the timing felt right, so we agreed to try. A year and a half later, Marcel got a great job teaching at a jail, and my business started to grow.
Which brings us to today, when things finally feel financially stable and we are both happy to get out of bed in the morning and work.
Has it been an easy 12 years? Not at all. We’ve had to do without a lot of things, say no to our kids more times than we’d like, not go on the trips we dreamed of taking our kids on, and cash in more of our savings than we wanted to. There have been lots of sleepless nights when we weren’t sure how we’d pay all the bills that were coming in. We’ve been living with the ugliest set of couches this side of the garbage dump, our carpets need replacing, our walls need painting, and most of our dining room chairs are broken. (An aside… yes, I recognize my privilege when I talk about these things as hardships. Some people would think of my ugly couches and worn out carpet as luxury.)
But has it been worth it? I would have to say an unequivocal YES to that. I am living my dream – doing just the kind of work I’d been longing to do. The same for Marcel.
AND, even though those 12 years have been without many of the benefits that money brings, they have been (mostly) good years. Marcel thoroughly enjoyed going to university, and I loved the non-profit work I did (especially when it took me to interesting places like Ethiopia and Bangladesh). We were much happier parents than we were when we had more money and more stress. Our kids may not have gotten Disneyland, but they have lots of good memories of road trips, camping weekends, and cheap hotel rooms. (Some of our best family conversations have been around campfires.) They’ve learned to appreciate the simple things in life and are rather proud of themselves when they pay their own cell phone bills while some of their friends have parents who pay for everything.
There is not much in our lives that promotes the value of sacrifice. We all want easy lives, and advertisers try to convince us that we deserve easy, so we buy bigger houses than we can afford, put more on our credit cards than we should, and seek that which will make us feel (temporarily) happy.
The market economy that drives so much of our culture is based on the quick fix rather than the long sacrifice. In order for businesses to grow, they have to sell us the next best thing that will make our lives easy, and we buy into that, so we are forever searching for something outside of ourselves that will fix our unhappiness. It’s a never-ending cycle, though – we go into debt to buy the things that will make us happy and bring ease to our lives, and then the debt stresses us out, so we need to buy MORE things to make us happy, and so on, and so on. There is no true ease or true happiness in that.
There is also a culture of ease within the self-help and coaching industry. There’s this dream that if I can only find my giftedness and if I think all of the right positive thoughts, I will always live a life of ease and abundance and won’t have to make any sacrifices. Many coaches and self-help authors try to sell you that dream because it makes them more money, but it’s not based in truth. Living your dream means putting in the effort to get there.
True happiness comes from the long sacrifice, not the quick fix.
Last Friday night, we celebrated my friend Jo’s registration as a licensed clinical psychologist. For nineteen long years, she has worked her way through her education to finally get her PhD and pass all of the requirements to be a psychologist. That’s a whole lot of sacrifice, but if you ask Jo, she says it’s been worth it. She’s doing work she loves and is making an impact in the world.
This past weekend, I read Chris Hadfield’s book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Christ spent almost all of his life training to be an astronaut, and only spent a total of 6 months in space. The path to astronaut is an incredibly difficult one and the competition is fierce, and even when you finally make it in to the space agency, there are no guarantees you’ll end up in space. And yet, Chris would tell you that all of the sacrifice was worth it. He lived his dream, and even if he’d never made it to space, he said his years in the space agency learning everything he needed to know to go to space were worth it.
As I say in Pathfinder, that path to true happiness is not a smooth and easy one. “Sometimes the journey is excruciating. The ground is rocky and uneven, the storms come and wash away the trail markers and leave giant puddles for you to navigate, and your travel companions desert you. You’re in the middle of a jungle of broken dreams, failed relationships, disappointment, betrayal and confusion, and you’re scratched, bruised, disheartened and exhausted.” But does that mean it’s not worth it? Not at all.
A life of authenticity, integrity, and following your dreams is worth every sacrifice you make and every rocky patch you have to go through.
Instead of ease, seek truth. Instead of momentary happiness, seek long-lasting joy. Instead of the quick fix, choose the long road that leads you to a life of purpose.
Note: If this reflects the path that you have chosen in life, you may find “Pathfinder: A creative journal to find your way” to be a good companion on the journey.