“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