Maybe not “easy”, but entirely possible.
I recently listened to an episode of The World Wanderers Podcast where the host discussed working at a cafe in a great city that a lot of people would love to live in. She mentioned how, had she not moved to this cool, exciting city, the job she had would have made her feel like a loser. In your hometown working retail after getting an expensive degree seems pretty lame. Up and moving to a destination city and working retail to support the lifestyle seems kind of adventurous.
Back home, she would have dreaded seeing an old friend come in. “Oh, so you’re working here?” In the new city when someone she knew came in the question was more like, “Wow, so you’re living here?”
Just a few days ago I talked to a guy who’s biking across the country and loving it. He spent several months in beautiful Missoula, Montana waiting for the weather to improve so he could continue his journey. He worked at a grocery store while there and it provided everything he needed to live the lifestyle he wanted and get back on the road in time. What would his resume look like when, several years out of college, he had “Grocery bagger” listed? Not great, except when put in the context of, “Spent two years biking across the U.S., paying my way through with odd jobs and blogging about the adventure.”
I thought about this phenomenon more in Mompiche, Ecuador a few weeks ago. We found a little place with a sign for American-style pancakes. A welcome breakfast after days of fruit and cereal. The breakfast nook was run by a twentysomething woman from the Ukraine. She fried up pancakes on a small griddle and served them with coffee for breakfast and lunch in the tiny Bohemian surfing village. She lived in a neat little house right above the pancake joint and spent the rest of the day as she pleased.
Imagine this ambitious young woman back home responding to the common, “So, what do you do?” with, “I make pancakes for a living.” Likely her friends and family would be a little worried and ashamed and think something wrong with her.
Contrast that with the same answer to the same question but with a change in geography. “I moved across the world to a tropical surfing village in Ecuador where I opened my own business.” Wow. What an enviable life, right?
There’s something weird about staying in your hometown. It severely limits the definitions you accept for what makes you successful. Oddly, most of the hometown definitions of success have nothing to do with happiness. They have to do with becoming what everyone in your past expects or desires given who you used to be. It’s a sort of tether to a past self that no longer exists.
When the expectations of back home no longer apply you can ask better questions and make clearer connections. What kind of person do you want to be (vs. what job title do you want)? What kind of people and surroundings do you want to be immersed in (vs. where do you want to work or live)?
Many people would probably love to be the master of their own schedule, be in a beautiful outdoor setting with interesting people from around the world, seriously pursue a hobby with lots of their time, and be challenged in new ways daily. Yet most of those same people would be horrified at the idea of playing guitar on the street for money, flipping pancakes, or doing freelance odd-jobs online, any of which might be the very means to achieve the life described.
Most people have this idea that you have to work a boring job in a boring house in a boring city for a few decades, and then if you play your cards right and all kinds of things totally out of your control (like the stock market or real estate prices) do the right thing, you can have some kind of two week vacation cruise or retire in a place where you enjoy good weather and leisure. The weird thing is, all those “someday” goals are available right now with relatively little difficulty. You can afford to live in a cool bamboo house in a beach town just by making pancakes for lunch and breakfast. You can (as was one guy I met) travel the length of South America living entirely off the cash you make playing guitar outside of restaurants.
I’m not claiming this kind of life is for everyone. Not at all. There is nothing wrong with a 9–5 job and life in the suburbs if that’s what really resonates with you. There’s nothing inherently noble about traveling or working some low wage odd job. The point is that it’s too easy to choose things based on an artificially limited option set. It’s too easy to define your life by stupid things like college majors or giant industry labels or titles that will make Aunt Bessie proud at the family reunion or salary levels.
The last one is especially dangerous.
It’s a weird habit to measure your success in life only by the revenue side of the equation. Who cares if you bring in $100k a year if it only buys you a crappy apartment that you hate in a city that stresses you out with friends that don’t inspire you and a daily existence you mostly daydream about escaping from? Your costs exceed your revenues and you’re actually going backward. You very well could get twice the lifestyle you desire at half the annual income. Like any business, the health of your personal life should be measured using both revenues and costs. On the personal level, neither are just monetary.
Only you can know what kind of life you want. But getting off the conveyor belt of the education system, getting out of the home town expectations trap, and opening your mind to measures of progress beyond salary will give you a much better chance of crafting a life you love.
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Isaac Morehouse is the founder and CEO of Praxis, a year-long entrepreneurial apprenticeship program for young people who want more than college. His company’s mission and his life mission is to help people awaken their dreams and live free.
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