Some dream of a house in the suburbs, a reliable car to drive, a dog in the backyard, and kids to cart off to soccer practice each week. Others dream of travelling the world for as long as they can. Both are great dreams to have. I’ve been fortunate to have lived both. (Or at least a version thereof.)
What does your dream life look like? Everyone’s dreams are different.
It’s doesn’t matter what your dream is, it’s what makes you happy that’s key.
What makes your heart sing?
Someone asked me that question many years ago, and it’s something stuck with me. What lights you up when you talk about it? What makes your heart sing? Truth be known, it took me a while to figure the answer out.
Twenty years ago, I owned a cute, blue two-storey house with a white picket fence. I knew my neighbours. I knew my daughter’s teachers well enough that when we saw each other at the supermarket, we’d stop for a chat. I took my daughter to soccer practice every Thursday afternoon in preparation for her Saturday morning games. I had a car I loved to drive, and I earned a decent income from my job.
Over time, I upgraded the house, the car, the neighbourhood, and the job. At work, I’d gained a reputation of being “committed, logical, organized and extremely hard working…(performing) at a very high standard, producing exceptional work.”
And yet, I was absolutely miserable. Why?
Because I lost who I was.
My life had become what most would consider a ‘normal life’.
But whenever I paid the mortgage, I felt ill. It was way more than I ever expected to pay for a house. When Christmas came around and overabundance was expected (“because that’s what you do” or “because <x> was on sale”), the number of gifts under the tree made me feel ill. When it came time to open them, we never had time to acknowledge the gift, let alone have a good look at the gift being given. We simply moved on to the next, otherwise it would have taken all day to open the pile.
I refused to do it anymore. I wanted more for my life.
I knew there was more to life than material possessions.
There were also some ‘ah-ha’ moments that made me wake up and face reality, but when the universe is throwing example after example at you, at some point you need to listen, right?!
So, I shifted gears and thought about what needed to change. Then I started planning.
I went from suburban soccer mum to photographer. Then world travel blogger to indie author.
I knew I had to take the leap when I left my corporate job in 2011. My mental health suffered, and I needed to do it for my physical and spiritual health too.
Finding the way to becoming an author took over ten years, and getting there was not easy.
Photography was the first gig I explored. I photographed a few weddings and events over the first year. Mainly I sold my photography at local art festivals and markets. I still love taking photos. But packing up the car at dark-thirty every Saturday morning, spending two hours setting up, only to endure the sweltering Texas heat for very little in return… well, it got old, fast.
I moved away from the place I was no longer happy.
When I first visited Austin, Texas in 1992, I loved it. My first experience with southern hospitality came that first morning during breakfast at Denny’s.
Here was the scenario: I was sitting in the restaurant booth, and a waitress approached our table. Her hair was up in a bouffant style. She wore frosted pink lipstick, and she wore an apron with a name tag. Her name could have been Alice or Fern. I really don’t remember. But as she approached our table, her smile beamed. Then, with pen poised above her notepad, she said in that syrupy southern drawl: “Hi. How y’all doing? What can I get you?”
It was like something out of a movie set, I kid you not.
I was hooked. Everything about Austin drew me in. Without hesitation, I moved from California a week later when my then-husband was offered a job. The plan was to stay 5 years, which somehow turned into 20.
If you’ve ever lived in one place for 20 years, you may understand that it can grow very stale. It’s especially vapid if you are living a life you don’t believe in anymore, and in a situation where you have no choice but to stay. That was my life.
When the opportunity came knocking to move home to Australia, we jumped at the chance. My family were all excited by the change. To be honest, I was the last one to get on board with the plan. What can I say, I worry!
Moving was easy compared to travel blogging.
We moved to Australia in 2013. For a long time, I dreamed of traveling full time and with our big move, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to think about making the dream a reality. With our daughter graduating at the end of 2016, we began to plan. To ready us for a nomadic life, I started a travel blog. I initially wrote about Sydney and our travels getting (re)acquainted with Australia.
While travel writing sounds glamorous, it takes tremendous effort to make it look magical. The business didn’t sustain our travels, but it did offer us some great opportunities. The challenge was to stay in love with travelling, and not constantly look at it through a business lens. Sadly, that happened by the end of 2018 for me.
After travelling full time for almost three years, I reassessed again what I loved doing.
By mid-2019, we were tired of living out of a suitcase and felt we needed a base. I knew by then that writing books was in my future. COVID hitting in early 2020 made the decision clear. Travel blogging was going to get a lot tougher, so I retired my website and business, Travel Far Enough.
By that stage, Camino Wandering was drafted. I had a second manuscript drafted as well, Beneath the Surface, which I started writing in 2016. While I walked the Camino in 2018, I had an editor look at the Beneath the Surface. I knew by the end of that year that the book needed serious rewriting, which is why that book was published in 2021.
Thus began my author career.
How could I afford to do all this?
It’s a question I’ve been asked many times. How could I give up a well-paying job to travel the world for three years, then settle in Tasmania to write books?
Here is my answer (yep, bullet pointed because it’s not a straightforward response):
- Before we moved to Australia in 2013, we sold most of our worldly possessions in Texas. That included our house, two cars, our white goods, and most of the furniture.
- When we left Sydney in 2017 to travel full time, we donated everything we had left to a family who’d lost everything in a devastating bushfire. Watching that moving truck drive away was cathartic. All we had left after that were the sentimental items, plus things we’d need if ever we stopped travelling. Those we put in storage. At the beginning of 2017, we had no intention of stopping. But in 2019, burnout and the need to base ourselves somewhere had us finding a place to rent. Which brought us to the east coast of Tasmania in mid-2019. (Good thing too!)
- We invested wisely while we had decent-paying jobs. I worked for Apple for almost 20 years. My husband worked there for almost 11. We both had the opportunity to buy Apple stock at an employee’s discount, and since we started investing, the stock has split several times.
- I work damn hard as a writer, working six days a week. I focus a lot of my energies on marketing and promotion because, without that, people wouldn’t know I have books published. Since I began in 2020, I’ve developed a loyal following.
- I have worked as a freelance writer, a professional photographer, and have travelled to some amazing places thanks to some unique sponsorships in each place.
- While travelling full time, we worked as house sitters, which kept the expenses down. Many of our favourite housesits have invited us back.
- We live minimally, buying only what we need. We buy quality when we can, but also shop at op shops, consignment stores, or discount retailers. We make lists and stick to them. I can’t remember buying something simply because I wanted it. I’d rather invest in people and experiences.
- We’re driven to live with our goals in mind.
I ask you: what makes your heart sing?
Making such changes has been scary. It’s still scary. I’m kind of surprised by the decisions I’ve made for my life. But I feel like I’ve lived my life fully. Did I question the decisions? Of course. That whole idea of “what if I fail?” went through my head many times. But it was quickly replaced by: “But what if I succeed”?
When I took the leap to leave my corporate job in 2011, I gave myself a year to find my footing. It took a bit longer than that, but I was on a good path by then. They say that you need one month for every year you work in at a company, to get it out of your system. That was true for me. It took me about 19 months to move on from feeling like an Apple employee.
But years later, I would do it all over again. Maybe even sooner, because now I’m living the life I always imagined. Life is simple. Less stressful with fewer obligations and no reason to live up to societal norms. I set my own schedule and my own deadlines. I decide who I want in my life and who I don’t. I have an unconventional life and you know what? That’s okay. Because I know I have worked hard to get here.
And you can too. Look inside. Find that thing that lights you up. You won’t regret it, even if it is a bit bumpy along the way.