“Follow your dreams” they say. We are inundated with these types of inspirational messages everywhere we go. How many of us truly delve into this ideal with both feet and a come-what-may attitude of faith? I dare say not many. I suppose it depends on your personal definition of “dream” now doesn’t it?
What if your dream was to sell all your worldly possessions, buy a van and travel the country with your chicken? You are about to meet a woman who did, and is still doing exactly that. Meet Jessica, one of the most courageous and beautiful people I have ever had the honor of calling a friend.
I met Jessica many moons ago when she ran the office at NE Taylor Boatworks with whom I do quite a bit of contractor work for. She is a lovely vibrant young woman in her 30’s with a passion for nature and animals that you don’t see every day. I would sit in the office escaping the brutal summer heat and we would talk of travelling and adventures and commiserate about how unhappy we both were with the way life tends to keep us from pursuing such frivolities. We talked often of just taking off and living on the road or on a boat, and about how cool that unconventional lifestyle would be. A few years back I pulled a “mini” version of this dream, travelling solo for 8 weeks that summer sleeping in my converted Toyota 4runner that now had a sleeping area where the backseat had been and power inverter to run a coffee pot and a fan. While I was in Utah that summer I got a message from Jess: “So this happened today” accompanied by a picture of a used Sprinter van. I knew exactly what she meant and was ecstatic at the thought she was putting her grand plan into action, yet sad at the thought I would soon be saying goodbye to one of my favorite people as she took an amazing leap of faith into the unknown. A few years have passed since that day and though I miss her near-daily presence in my world, I could not be more proud of her courage to follow through and actually live her dream. And yes, part of me is jealous! I called her to talk about sharing what an inspiration to me she has been, and this is the conversation that followed when I asked her what the catalysts were that made her take the plunge, and what she has learned since she did.
“My Grandmother passed away at 100. She needed a heart valve replacement, but chose not to have the surgery. She would still be living if she had. She was in very good health, mind still sharp as a tack, still driving her car, and living on her own, but she was just ready to go. My mother worked as a teacher for 38 years, nursed her ailing parents until they passed, then began having some health problems of her own shortly after their deaths. By societal standards, she did everything by the book and should have good years ahead, but that remains unclear. One of my old teacher friends had a son who was diagnosed with a rare cancer at 8. Treatments put the cancer into remission, but it came back with a vengeance his senior year of high school. He died at 19. All of these things weighed heavily on me as I was spending my time working a job that wasn’t allowing me to grow in the ways that I wanted. I started to question why we wait until we retire to start living the lives we want. Life can be so short. Some of us will never make it to retirement, some of us will make it to retirement only to have our bodies fail us, and some of us will live a full, long, healthy retirement. The point is, some of us will have the opportunity to do all of the things we have been saving for retirement, and some of us will not. The problem is, we have no control over which life we will receive.
I really started to entertain the idea of a mid-life retirement, because of these three scenarios because this is the norm in our country. You work, you retire, then you relax, travel, and have fun. Why wait to do the things I wanted to do, when I was able to do them now? Why do we, as Americans, work so hard our whole lives and feel guilty for taking breaks when we need a reset in our lives? Would I rather have a newer vehicle, the latest phone, save for a home, or spend that money on a grand adventure? Each of these choices would make me financially poorer, but only one was going to make my life infinitely richer. Choosing a grand adventure, over material items, was an absolute no-brainer for me.
In theory, a mid-life retirement sounded great, but it was a really tough, really scary, transition. I hadn’t been without a paycheck since I was 16. How was I going to pull this off? Leaving my home of 7 years and a perfectly good job at 35 to start over was terrifying, but ultimately, I was far more terrified of what my life would look like in 10 years if I were to stay. I knew I would always wonder about what my life would look like had I taken that adventure. I couldn’t possibly imagine where it might lead me and that was so exciting. I decided to take a chance and jump into the unknown. Anything unknown is scary until you do it, then you wonder why you didn’t do it much earlier. I have never once questioned my decision to leave. It is one of the only decisions I’ve made in my adult life that I am 100% certain was the right one. I would encourage anyone who is thinking about making a big change or has something they’ve always wanted to learn or try, to listen to that voice in their head. The time is now and there’s a reason that you keep imagining yourself doing this “thing,” whatever it may be for you.
Living my dream of traveling the country mostly to explore our national parks and forests has been awesome, but not without mishaps. I will not sugar coat the adventure. Just because you are living your dream, doesn’t mean your bills go away or that illness doesn’t come up or that van troubles don’t throw you into unexpected debt. Those things still happen. The difference is that you are actively seeking your happiness, instead of sitting in an office watching others actively seek theirs. It is empowering and makes the low points easier to handle. You truly can do whatever you want in this life, you just have to take that first step to get the ball rolling. Once the universe sees that you are ready, the most lovely surprises start showing up in your life. You don’t even have to trust me, just take that first step and see for yourself.”
You can follow Jessica and Chicken Little’s adventures on Instagram- @Barhittle
Photo Credit Jessica Barhitte