Forget “Should” and Live the Life You Want to Live

Girl Skipping at the Surf

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

There was a time when I “had it all.”

I was in my tenth year of teaching in a small, rural school. I lived with my husband and daughter in a four-bedroom house in a subdivision in the woods. Life was routine, predictable, and secure. We made plans to fix up the house and figured that I would likely work in my job until retirement.

However, two things got in the way of those plans.

First, I felt this constant unrest. My job became progressively more stressful, and I resented the time commitment that seemed to be unappreciated.

I came home to a house that needed constant attention. Cleaning and yard work brought me no more joy than spending hours completing paperwork in my classroom. I began to procrastinate in both areas, which only increased the amount of stress.

And then we began sailing. The day we launched our twenty-nine-foot sailboat on Lake Huron, everything changed. We loved the small space. We loved the tight-knit marina community. We loved the traveling.

We loved it so much that we lived aboard and cruised for ninety-three days in the summer of 2012. At the end of the summer, I physically returned to my job, but mentally I was miles away, still sailing the seas.

And that is when we decided to move. My tenth year of teaching in the rural school was my last year living up north. My last year living in a house.

We packed everything we could fit into our Volvo station wagon and drove south. We drove 1300 miles to Houston, where we started a new life. In August 2014, we traded our apartment for a thirty-five-foot sailboat, aptly named Breaking Tradition.

We have broken away from the script everyone thinks they should follow if they want to be “successful.” We do not own property. We take our showers in the bath house, and we did not own an oven for our first year living aboard. My husband and I started out sleeping together on a twin mattress.

And yet, we have never been happier. Instead of doing housework or yard work, we walk the docks. Rather than spending the entire day inside a house, we sit on the back deck and talk to our neighbors. Everyone keeps cookies in their boat, in case my daughter comes over.

Your dream may not be to leave it all behind and live on a sailboat. There is nothing “wrong” with enjoying the creature comforts that a house provides. However, is it possible that the conventions we take for granted as being “the way things are done,” are holding you back? Is there something that you only do because you are “supposed to?”

Here are some lessons I have learned, from living a life apart from the script:

1. Rethink “success.”

The greatest lesson I have learned in our journey is to question everything that we think we need to do in order to be successful.

“Success” is an arbitrary term, with no meaning on its own. What is the point in being “successful” if it is at the expense of your own happiness? Spending less time working and worrying about material gain can free up your energy for things that really matter to you.

2. Don’t be a slave to “security.”

I have met so many people who live mediocre lives, because they think that their situation is “secure.” And yet this is an illusion. Anyone can lose a job at any time, and limiting your experience in order to try and avoid this does not make any sense.

Trust in your own ability to problem-solve, rather than allowing fear to prevent you from taking risks.

3. Spend your energy on things that matter to you.

Do you love maintaining a yard? Does home ownership matter to you? How important is that large paycheck? Ask yourself what you value rather than just doing things because you are supposed to.

This is your life, and there is nothing that you must do. Everything is a choice, even when you think it is not.

4. Don’t be afraid of change.

I loved my teaching job up north when I first started. And that made it more difficult to leave. So many of us look at our current situation as being permanent, when the only thing that is guaranteed in life is change.

I left the house, and I may not live on the boat forever. Move with the flow of life rather than resisting it. Be ready to move on when it is time.

5. See judgment for what it is.

When you do something different, it is likely that you will face criticism. But understand that other people’s words mean nothing about you.

When someone criticizes or judges your choices, they are only showing their own misunderstanding. It is an insecure person who judges another person’s choices.

6. Don’t be afraid of failure.

Just like “success,” “failure” is also an arbitrary term that has no meaning. Trial and error is how we inherently learn, so making mistakes will be inevitable.

When we attach the loaded word, “failure” to our mistakes, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to learn from the experience. Things might not always go as planned, and you may change your course as you go. This is all a part of the process and nothing to worry about.

In our journey, we experienced a great deal of trial and error. I interviewed for jobs that did not result in offers. I made plenty of mistakes in starting my business. We have had repairs to the boat that didn’t go as planned. Last winter, then leaky windows caused our cabin to be filled with mold!

And still, each of these mistakes led to greater learning. In the end, we are living a life that we had only dreamed of in the past, and spending our time with friends who share our passion. I can think of no better way to live.

Girl skipping at the surf image via Shutterstock

About Bethany Rosselit

Bethany blogs at , where she helps others to break from the script and find the courage to face their fears, realize their dreams, and reach their true potential. She offers e-courses as well as individual e-mail, chat, and Skype sessions on a sliding scale designed to fit any budget.

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  • GREAT article and reminder! It’s amazing how happiness doesn’t need to be a “secure” job and steady paycheck! I loved reading your story and appreciate your sharing!! 🙂

  • Oh, I love your story, especially about redefining success. Most of the people I know who seem truly happy are the ones who have had the courage to follow their dreams even when people thought they were crazy for doing it.

  • Victoria D

    My father scraped and scrounged the things it took to hand build a 60ft ferro cement sailboat in our back garden in England for seven years of my childhood. When he was done he took me and my mother sailing around the world! Needless to say, feeling stuck and unhappy in my life situation currently, that article really struck a chord! I now wish for that life and would drop everything to find a way to do that again it is a great way to live , only the important things, not material, matter.. Any suggestions to find a single sailboater ? he must be loving and dosnt matter…. I can dream!

  • Bullyinglte

    Great article. Psychologist Dr. David Burns calls this type of thinking “twisted thinking” in his book “Feeling Good” and even has it as number 8 on his list of twisted thinking:

    “Should” statements (every other word for me): You criticize yourself or other people with “shoulds,” “shouldn’ts,” “musts,” “oughts,” and “have-tos.”

    Stop using these words as descriptors and change will happen. Once I discovered this and stopped doing it, life became much more positive. It is so important to let go and enjoy whatever the moment brings if you can. Thanks for the reminder.

  • LaTrice Dowe

    I’m currently working on Bachelor’s in Sociology, and will be graduating next summer. My goal is to become a Social Worker, since I want to work at an adoption agency. This is something that I’m extremely passionate about, despite the objections. Although I had dealt with insecure people in the past, they’re NOT obligated to be a part of my life.

    Thank you, Bethany, for writing an excellent article, and for sharing your story.

  • onlinetherapyandcoaching

    Thank you, LaTrice! You likely hit the nail on the head, when you said that the people voicing objections are insecure. Keep this in mind in your interactions with them, and remember that the words they say are only about THEM, not about you. YOU know where your passions lie in this moment, and also know that it is fine if they change one day. The beautiful part of life is that the options never go away. Wishing you the best in your endeavours!

  • onlinetherapyandcoaching

    You are right, Bullingite. So often, we just follow the script without even questioning those “should”‘s, because we’re not even aware that they can be questioned. For me, it was a slippery slope. When I began to simplify my home–to physically declutter, I began to question the items that we “should” have. My journey started with getting rid of the toaster! And identifying that one “should” that I took for granted, led to more (and deeper) questioning.

  • onlinetherapyandcoaching

    Well, Victoria, they are out there! 😉 We have quite a few in our marina, if the truth be told. But why not start out single handing or join a group? There are ALWAYS options, and waiting for a man is NEVER a prerequisite. I hope that you find and follow your dreams–whatever they may be. When you take the plunge, you may find that the right people are waiting for you along the journey.

  • onlinetherapyandcoaching

    Thank you, Leslie! People say that they are crazy, because they (the people) are having some doubt. Perhaps they are worried that the person will lose financial security and become a “burden” on them someday. Or perhaps they compromised their own dreams, for “security,” and they are feeling insecure about their own decision. There are a lot of possibilities, but it is important to realize that the doubts are all about the doubters. Not about us.

  • onlinetherapyandcoaching

    Thank you, Shannon! It’s wonderful how freeing that “insecurity” can be, isn’t it? Trusting in ourselves, and knowing that we can make ANY situation work brings a greater peace of mind than we can ever get from giving everything up for a “secure” job.

  • Joy @ Joyfully Green

    Great article, Bethany! I think it takes growing up and growing wiser to realize that other people’s negative opinions of our choices aren’t worth the time or worry.

  • onlinetherapyandcoaching

    Thanks Joy! I agree, and it also takes the self-confidence to stop adding meaning to other people’s words. Comments only sting when they feed into our own, pre-existing insecurities.

  • Lori Robinson

    It takes incredible courage to break away from ‘having it all’, especially when you are not sure what your new life will look like. Trust!. I did it six years ago and like you have never been happier. I left the money management business to work for my passion of saving wildlife and wild places. No regrets. Thanks for the reminder of my journey. Lori from SavingWild.

  • onlinetherapyandcoaching

    Isn’t it crazy how much we fear uncertainty, Lori? We think that we would rather know that we will be miserable, rather than risk possibly still being miserable (but have the possibility of happiness). Good for you for seeing through this craziness and creating the life of your dreams!

  • amina

    Those who preach poverty are hypocritical

  • onlinetherapyandcoaching

    I’m curious what you mean when you say that those who preach poverty are hypocritical, amina?

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  • onlinetherapyandcoaching

    Hi Kathy! Thank you for sharing your online business and letting readers know about this opportunity. In the future, you might want to share it in your own comment, rather than in a reply that someone has written. You also might want to tie it into the discussion, so that readers do not think it is spam. The most challenging aspect of having an online business is getting the word out, and I certainly had my fair share of trial and error! Good for you, for taking the plunge, and I wish you the best in your endeavours!

  • Ashley

    Fantastic post! I love number 5! I see so many people do things in life because they are afraid of what others would think-they end up waking up one day filled with regret.
    I used to be the same way. I wouldn’t do things bc I was afraid my parents wouldn’t agree or friends would think I was crazy but after going through a mild identity crisis, I realized that I wasn’t going to wake up with regrets one day. I was going to live my life the way I wanted to and if somebody didn’t like it… Well that was their problem. Lol

    Thank you for sharing! I love reading your blog! 😉

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  • Hello Bethany,
    A terrific story! Thanks for sharing it,
    And the tips you list are right on!
    Wishing you well, Carol

  • May

    This is much an incredible idea, Rosselit. Thank you for inspiring me ^^

  • May

    This is an awesome article, Rosselit. Thank you for inspiring me ^^

  • Thanks Bethany for a wonderful and often forgotten message! Yes, absolutely your life is meant to be lived the best way for You… not others. I have to say a life on the sea doesn’t quite appeal to me (sadly, I suffer from seasickness) but the ability to live however I want is so integral to my being. Love it! 🙂