There was so much to appreciate about our old life.
We loved our house and neighborhood in Saint Petersburg, Florida. We were finally starting to make friends after nearly two years there.
Our babies were growing into toddlers who came home from daycare smiling.
I’d found a yoga studio; Ben had his running route along the water.
But underneath all those good things, we weren’t happy.
We were living under the curse of Doing Too Much.
Neither Ben nor I wanted to pull back on our career when we had our kids. The timing just wasn’t right. I’d sold my company and committed to growing The Penny Hoarder a few months before giving birth to our first son. And Ben was eager to build a business he was proud of after years in a corporate job that didn’t feel right.
We both enjoyed our jobs. But with two demanding careers and two kids under 3 years old, we simply could not find our stride. This will be no surprise to working parents with young children, but we were exhausted. All the time.
Ben got pneumonia twice, ended up in the ER, and developed a chronic health condition. I felt resentful and angry about being stretched thin, that no matter how hard I tried or how much we outsourced, I could not stay on top of everything at work and home and take care of myself at the same time. My migraines were debilitating, and I felt terrible about my postpartum body.
Those health challenges were the worst part about the last few years, but they served a positive purpose: they pushed us over the edge. Ben and I realized we couldn’t move at this pace and stay healthy and happy for our kids. We realized we needed to prioritize our physical and mental health.
To achieve that, we knew we had to make a drastic change.
We had to figure out how to do less — even if that meant making hard choices.
And we had to give ourselves easy access to the kind of outdoor exercise and fresh air we enjoyed: hiking and biking and trail running. For that, we needed to move closer to the mountains.
Until now, we’ve each lived in cities of varying sizes, from London to Houston to D.C. to St. Pete, where most everything was convenient except getting into the woods. We wanted to flip that equation and get mountains on our doorstep, even if it meant driving for other parts of our life.
Except… I was out of practice on taking risks. Not professionally — we did that every day at The Penny Hoarder, which was why I enjoyed working there so much. But becoming a mother made me crave stability and routine; I needed it to survive. The big risks I’d taken in life, ones that used to feel so tied to my identity, like leaving my first real job to travel, backpacking by myself through Africa, starting a company — they all happened before I became a mom. They were ancient history.
It was scary thinking about stretching that muscle again, especially with a family in tow. And so leaving my job and selling our house and — this was the biggie — moving to a town we’d only visited a couple of times felt like a massive leap of faith.
And yet somehow we managed to say our goodbyes and pack up our belongings and land in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. This beautiful, historic town is a stone’s throw away from Maryland and Virginia, at the intersection of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. It’s a mecca for hikers, at the midpoint of the Appalachian Trail.
And six weeks in, it already feels like home.
Ben and I never envisioned ourselves making one of those drastic lifestyle changes people dedicate blogs to, like living in a tiny house or homesteading or moving to Alaska.
But now that we are here, living in a house in the woods with trails on our doorstep, it feels like we’ve done just that.
We spend most evenings after the kids go to bed reading on the front porch, watching the moon rise over the mountain. In the mornings, the kids stand at the back door to say hi to the deer in our yard. Ben and I explore the trails, hiking or trail running, almost every day, bringing the kids with us on weekends.
The boys are getting adjusted to their new pre-school. Ben’s got his home office set up and is recording his next course. I found a coworking space one town over, where I’ll grow The Write Life and give myself the space and time to explore new professional projects. (It’s still early days, but here’s what I’m scheming on: offering the workcation I always wanted.)
While moving to the woods set the stage and scenery, the change that has had the biggest effect on our daily life is how I spend my time. Exiting my leadership role at a high-growth startup wasn’t an easy decision; it meant leaving behind colleagues who had become friends, letting go of a company I’d grown from the ground up, and being OK with a drastic slow-down of my personal and professional growth.
The result though, is less stress for me and my family. More sleep, more exercise, more time outside, more play, more smiles. My kids can have a 7-hour day at daycare instead of a 9-hour one. I can spend a few hours during the week on life admin, so we don’t have to dedicate every weekend to chores. Ben can move the needle on his business in a way he couldn’t when I was busy at work and he had to pick up the slack at home. I have the energy and time to read books again!
I still plan to bring in a six-figure income, but in a way that requires fewer hours and less energy. I’ll write more about that in the coming months.
(I have so many feelings about the messy intersection of work and motherhood: anger, gratitude, resentment, guilt. But I need to process more before writing about it, so it doesn’t come out as one big whine. I want to talk about this complex issue in a way that’s insightful and moves us all forward, and that feels more doable every day.)
This change hasn’t been all rainbows — the home we’re renting needs a lot of love, health insurance costs a fortune with both of us self-employed, and living in the woods means ants swarm the house when it rains. But Ben and I look at each other pretty much every day with such awe and joy that we LIVE here.
What if we hadn’t taken the chance?
What if the unknown had seemed too scary?
What if I hadn’t been willing to leave my job?
(And what if Ben hadn’t replied to my tweet seven years ago?!)
We are in such a different place than we were six months ago — literally and figuratively. And we are happy.