What It Takes to Live the Life You Want

June 30, 2014

Last week my soon-to-be husband left for a two-month, 3,500-mile bike trip on the West Coast. His brother is joining him, and they’re calling it #NoRestOutWest.

Friends and family keep asking if I miss him, and of course the answer is yes. But missing him isn’t the overwhelming feeling in my gut right now. What I really feel is PROUD.

Know how I took a career break at age 27 to travel through French-speaking Africa? (Many of you have been reading this blog since that trip in 2008!) Well, it’s even more difficult to make that decision now.

It’s difficult because it’s not what everyone expects you to do in your 30s: spend nine weeks cycling through the mountains, sleeping in a tent, bonding with your brother. What everyone expects — and especially here in the U.S., my British fiance tells me — is that once you get on the career ladder, you never get off.

What it takes to beat the status quo

This applies ten times over to the corporate world Ben just left. Most employees don’t take weekends off, much less two whole months. And when you’re surrounded by that standard, as most of us are, it puts a certain pressure on you. To conform. To color inside the lines. To keep driving at the same speed as everyone else, even if it feels like the wrong direction.

In the few weeks before he left, Ben would tell me he felt guilty. Guilty for stepping away from it all, as though he had severed a cord he wasn’t supposed to cut. Guilty for doing something different. Guilty for letting down people who expected him to keep on chugging in his “good job.”

“Who exactly are the people you’re letting down?” I would ask. (Because clearly, the woman he’s marrying is not incredibly impressed by the Joneses.)

He couldn’t name them. That’s because no one in particular had told him outright that he shouldn’t leave his job for an adventure. It was an unspoken feeling that choosing an alternate lifestyle was wrong, that deviating from the path everyone else seemed to take was a bad idea. That feeling was strong and dominant, a bully. It tried to push him around until the day he left, and I imagine it still lurks occasionally.

Can you see why I’m so proud? Because despite that force, despite that muscle-y magnet of a status quo, he followed the dream anyway.

I know how hard that is because I did it, too. I left a great job to travel when most of my friends were looking for promotions or getting married or having kids. (Look, I turned out okay!)

Ben made some similar choices around the same time. He took a career break to cycle across Norway and later walked across Spain. But just because he did it before didn’t make it an easy decision this time. Now, at 33, he has a mortgage to keep up with, and soon, a wife. These things — plus other life decisions we’ll make in the coming years — will tie you down if you let them.

So how do you get past that status quo bully?

Society does not make it easy to go against the grain. Right now, as you read this, you might be feeling the urge to do something different. You might want to take a leap, but can’t get over the constant push-back that keeps you in place.

Here’s my advice: ignore everybody.

Who cares whether the person next door thinks you’re a slacker? Or the gal in the cube on the second floor gossips about how you can afford to take time off? (The answer, by the way, is you set priorities and worked your butt off.) This life of yours is meant to be lived!

Except… that approach doesn’t always work. I’m pretty damn good at ignoring everybody, but not everyone feels comfortable doing that. So here’s an even better option: surround yourself with go-getters. Do not let that gossiping gal in the cube define your normal. Find other people who think it’s amazing that you’re giving the status quo a big FU, and hang out with them — even if you can’t do it in person, even if it’s only online. These people will help you approach life the way you want to.

You can start right now, by leaving a comment on this (handsome) cyclist’s blog, telling him not how crazy he is for following a dream amidst the responsibilities of 33, but how you support his quest to live in a way that makes him happy, and how you’re doing the same.

We have to cheer each other on, us go-getters. We have to keep reminding ourselves that living differently is not only okay, it’s pretty freakin’ awesome.



P.S. If you want to take a career break, here are all my posts on the topic.

P.P.S. That handsome cyclist is also sharing updates on Instagram and Twitter.

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    23 Replies to “What It Takes to Live the Life You Want”

    • Alexis – I love, love, love this post. Especially the part about the gossiping colleague wondering how you can afford it. It’s true — it takes a lot of hard work that people should be proud of, not ashamed of. Thank you for writing and best of luck to your fiance!

    • Reading this post made me realize why I’m still angry that my husband’s planned 3-month work break is now only a 6-week work break: someone told us we couldn’t do it.
      The CEO of the non-profit where he works is one of the people you described and she blocked it from happening. She couldn’t imagine herself doing this and couldn’t wrap her head around how we could manage to do this, so she said no.
      My husband’s boss was on board with the break (he’s been at the job 10+ years, is in good standing, picked a good time to be away, had a plan for covering his responsibilities and we have been smart with our money in order to be able to afford this).
      So now it will be a one-month break. Yes, he could quit the job but my husband is more comfortable having a job to come back to after the break. It’s a job he’s already burned out on, though, and the way the CEO has acted during this process was very telling of the frustrations he’s having with the job.
      I quit my corporate job three years ago at the age of 40 and am now a full-time freelance writer. Alexis is right, you have to ignore the naysayers — sometimes I’m better at it than other times, but I do truly believe that those who question my actions the most are the ones who wish they could do the same.
      For anyone considering taking a work break from one month to one year, I suggest a book called Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career & Life by Taking A Break.

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Grr! That would make me frustrated, too! But, as you said, sometimes you have to weigh the pros and cons of living with someone else’s rules (even if they’re ridiculous). Thanks for the book suggestion!

    • Emma says:

      Sounds like you two make a great team. I hope Ben and his brother have an absolute ball.

    • Amy Stark says:

      Wow! I’m impressed by both of you: Your fiancé for taking a trip that is obviously very important to him and a dream come true and you, Alexis, for supporting his dream. I hope he enjoys the trip and creates a stronger bond with his brother. Sounds like fun (although I don’t think I would want to be a little bike seat for 9 weeks 😉

    • christian says:

      good luck to your (handsome) cyclist soon-to-be-husband Alexis. Wonderful essay.

      At 54, I feel as if I have had my ladder on the wrong wall…for years. After being let go from a Swiss Running shoe startup last year, something clicked in me. It was time to let go of the enchantment I had been holding on to my entire career. The career trajectory I had envisioned was never going to happen. With this awareness comes responsibility: I have to find the things that will give my life meaning and they aren’t work. I applaud your fiancé and anyone who has the cajones to be authentic and deny the status quo in order to live authentically. Bravo. Best of luck to both of you. My quest continues….

    • Marcia says:

      Alexis, hooray for you, hooray for your s00n-to-be-husband(he IS very handsome, and I would just need to hear that British accent to fall in love with him (shallow, I know) 🙂 ). My philosophy has always been (I’m a young 63)…do what makes ME happy, not what others have in mind for me. I’ve paid my dues, I should be able to reap the rewards from them. And maybe, just maybe, those folks are just a wee bit jealous?

    • Thank you i needed to hear this post right about now.

    • Heather says:

      Awesome post — it’s amazing, if you think about it, that we all get to make our own choices. No matter what’s going on around us, we choose what we do every day. Some choices are easier than others, but we can choose to stay put, or we can choose to leap.

      Go Ben go!

    • Amen, amen, amen.

      I especially love this:

      “Society does not make it easy to go against the grain. Right now, as you read this, you might be feeling the urge to do something different. You might want to take a leap, but can’t get over the constant push-back that keeps you in place. Here’s my advice: ignore everybody.”

      Thanks, Lexi! (And Go Ben!!!)

    • Outstanding advice and such an inspirational story, good for him!

      There are 2 things that make this whole post resonate right now –

      1. My husband gets 3 weeks of vacation at his company and rarely ever takes time off. When we were going back east for a family wedding recently he asked to take 2 of the weeks consecutive so we could drive back and have an awesome road trip. They waited until last minute and told him no, because someone else was already on vacation for a honeymoon the same week. It made us sad and him start to…

      2. …look into going for his own as a self employed person like me! We talked a lot about it and it would allow us both to live the life we want while still living the life we need as 40-something adults (mortgage, life bills & stuff).

      He’s hoping to launch this fall. You’re never too old to go and get what you deserve!

      Great post, thanks!

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Love to hear this, Jenn! It amazes me that companies don’t bother to do the little things that make work convenient for life — things that would help them keep employees. Alas, I’d love to hear how this pans out for you. What kind of work is your husband hoping to do in this next iteration?

    • LOVE!

      Good for your fiancé!! This reminded me of the time my boss decided to cut my pay out of the blue (the company was merging into another and claimed my rate was higher than the new company’s pay scale). My boss actually said the words to me, “It’s not like you need the money, right?”

      He had assumed that because I had chosen to work part-time (to do the writing side-gig, to travel, and to focus more on family), that I simply didn’t need the full-time salary. It’s amazing what people assume about you based on your decisions instead of getting to know you. No one knew of my writing at that time, but everyone assumed I had a trust fund or something instead of simply choosing to live a simpler life without the high corporate salary.

    • Nina says:

      Inspiring post Alexis! I left some encouragement on Ben’s blog as you suggested. Congrats on the upcoming wedding!

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