I remember a time -- maybe a year ago? -- shortly after Mike and I had started pinning down our life timeline, including that we wanted to move to the West Coast, that we wanted to build our own house, and that we wanted to adopt a lot of kids. I had lunch with several different friends over the course of a few weeks, and inevitably they would ask what our future plans were, and I would lay them all out, then say:
"I feel like I'm waiting for my life to begin."
That is, we wanted to wait to adopt kids and look at land until we moved. And we wanted to wait to move until we could get jobs out West, which required first gaining more experience in our chosen fields. But I didn't know when we would finally reach that point where we could make the leap and start finally putting our "after we move" plans into action.
Today, I sit in amazement at my life. Here we are, in a city that so perfectly fits our values it could have been made for us, a short distance from friends and family, in a beautiful, fully furnished apartment on a gorgeous campus. Mike has a job that couldn't be more perfect for him, one he never thought he'd be able to get. Because the job pays for our housing and his meals, and he has no commute (his office is literally attached to our apartment), we will be able to put most of his salary and all of mine, when I finally land a job, into savings for our life goals. I'm able to take some time to work on a few personal projects, and I have several possible career paths stretching out in front of me, all of which I would love.
So now I have to stop and ask, "How did we get here? What went right?"
It seems like most of the stories I've heard of people "making their dreams come true" have involved huge risk.
"I quit my job to do what I love, and the clients followed."
"I moved to the city I wanted to live in with no job prospects, and the right job came to me."
As a risk-averse person, this frustrated and depressed me. I heard this as "there is no slow and steady path to getting your dream life." The only chance for big rewards was big risk. Period.
Now I know that's not true, and so, for all those people like me out there, I want to share what lessons I can possibly extract from the journey Mike and I have taken over the past few months. (Metaphorically speaking, that is; you can find tips from our literal cross-country journey here!)
Define Your Goals
This is something I learned at my previous organization; my supervisors liked my work and wanted to make me happy as an employee, but their ability to do so hinged on my telling them what I wanted. When Mike and I first got married and he complained about the horrible Chicago winters, we talked generally about moving somewhere warmer (the Carolinas, maybe?) but it wasn't until we locked in on wanting to live in Seattle that our future plans started to take a more realistic shape. Similarly, Mike floundered a bit trying to figure out what other kind of work he could do if he left food service, and he didn't find this job opening until he had decided that being a residence hall director was a position he wanted to shoot for.
Lesson learned: It's hard to hit a target unless you know where it is.
...But Be Flexible
We had both looked occasionally at job openings in Seattle, and I'd made some contacts out there, but nothing seemed like the right opportunity. Then when my brother started talking about Whoville, we decided maybe Seattle wasn't the only place we would feel at home. Almost as soon as we'd opened that door, things started falling into place: Mike looked up residence hall director positions and found one open even though most schools had finished hiring for the year; it turned out we knew a bunch of people with connections to the school; Mike fell in love with the school's culture and mission; and finally he landed the job.
Lesson learned: Be open to chance; don't let your focus block all other paths.
Believe in Yourself
This was truly the largely stumbling block, and I've found this to be true with other job coaching clients. Mike had applied to residence hall director positions before, after he quit his job, and he'd decided that he never got an interview because he didn't have the right master's degree. Convincing him to apply was the biggest hurdle; he wanted to disqualify himself upfront rather than potentially face rejection again. But I knew that not only was he capable of doing the job, he would do it extremely well and would love it, so all that remained was to write a kick-ass application to help them see it as well.
Lesson learned: If you know you're capable of achieving your dreams, trust that you can help other people see your potential.
...But Be Realistic
We had talked about moving a year ago, after Mike quit his job, but I was only a few months into my new position and knew instinctively that it would be very difficult to get an equivalent job in a new city. I did apply to a few places just to see, and I never heard back. A year later, and I've only applied two places and landed interviews at both. Similarly, I launched my job search coaching business as a side venture to my day job, not only because I'm not looking to do it full time but also because I knew that, realistically, it would take me a while to build up a client base, and I couldn't rely on it to immediately replace my full-time job.
Lesson learned: Know your strengths and weaknesses and what you need to do or learn before you can make a leap.
Don't Rush Yourself
One of the things that was most frustrating to me when I was having those "I feel like I'm waiting for my life to begin" conversations was the feeling that my life was never going to begin. If I couldn't find a way to make my dreams happen right now, then they would be forever postponed, forever a faraway wish, a thing to look back on wistfully in ten years and say, "What ever happened to our big plans?" I had no way of knowing that everything would fall into place in a year's time. What kept me sane was reminding myself how many decades I likely still had to live, how many people made big life changes when they were 10, 20, 50 years older than me, and how much had changed just in the last five years of my own life.
Lesson learned: Don't despair if you can't start living your ideal life tomorrow. Plant the seeds now and trust that they will flower in time if you take the right steps.
...But Be Willing to Set Deadlines
About six months ago, I again brought up the topic of moving, to see what Mike's thoughts were on our timeline. He was insistent at that point that he wanted to stay at his restaurant long enough to see more changes implemented. I said I wanted to put a concrete deadline on it, so that if those changes were never implemented, we wouldn't be waiting around forever. We decided on one year; we would start looking for jobs out West at the beginning of 2013. Putting a deadline on it made the whole thing infinitely more real and changed it from a dream to a plan. Well, when Mike's supervisors suddenly started making it clear that none of his suggestions were going to be implemented, and he got fed up with working there, it made complete sense for him to start looking for jobs on the West Coast. Why would he find another job in Chicago when we were going to move the following year anyway?
Lesson learned: Setting concrete goals and deadlines can put your wheels in motion when nothing else will. Even if you don't meet your deadline, you'll probably be a lot closer to your goal than when you started out.
- Pray: God doesn't always answer my prayers, but the ones that have been answered tend to be the ones that come from my deepest heart, driven by sincere emotion. I prayed hardcore about this, mostly some variation of, "Put us wherever You can use us best, Lord. And if that's on this campus, then help Mike present himself the very best that he possibly can, and help the decision-makers to be fair." When we got a million signs back that we were on the right track, it gave me such peace of mind; I'm not even that worried about my own job search because I trust that wherever I eventually end up will be where I'm needed most.
- Rein in Your Doubts: Once Mike was offered the position, I nearly made myself sick with worry that something was going to happen to take it away. I did the same kind of thing before our wedding; it seemed too good to be true, and I was sure something was going to happen to prevent it from happening. The truth is, if something terrible does happen, having anticipated it isn't going to make it suck any less. Allow yourself to celebrate when things start going your way, without just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- Make Some Concessions: I've said it before: Even the very best things in life are not 100% perfect. In this case, we had to find a new home for our rats because they wouldn't be allowed in the residence hall. It wouldn't have made any sense to hold out for some other school that would hire Mike, allow us to be near friends and family, in a city we love, in a beautiful apartment, and let us keep our pets. Nothing in life is perfect, and if you wait for something (or someone) who fits your 100 specific criteria to a T, you could be waiting forever. Find what's most important to your happiness, and let the rest go.
What would you add? What has helped you reach your life goals?