We often hear both.
I don’t think a month goes by that we don’t hear the questions, the accusations or the innuendos. They come from the internet, they come from strangers and occasionally they even seep through from our friends.
People look at our lifestyle (at least the part they’re willing to take notice of) and assume we are entitled rich yuppies. They assume we have rich parents. They assume we have some sort of trust fund or financial backing. They assume we are lucky or that everything just naturally falls into place for us. They assume we are living off of everyone elses’ taxes or begging for money by starting a kickstarter campaign or by posting a “buy us a burrito” link on our website. In case you haven’t noticed, we haven’t even figured out how to email people when new posts go live, have never accepted a single request to put an ad on our site or even to have a paid “guest post” written. Whatever money we find a way to earn…it won’t be coming from our blog unless someone with more knowledge than me calls in and offers to fix it and make it actually marketable. For us the blog is still nothing more than a photo album and journal for ourselves that a few people stumble upon from time to time.
We also aren’t rich. Far from it. Never have been. We come from far from rich families. My parents have worked hard to make ends meet their whole life. My father taught high school and my mother was a stay at home mom…we’re barely talking middle class at best. Jen’s family about the same. We both had to take the maximum loans through college and started our adult lives in enormous debt despite scholarships, need grants and side jobs through college.
Simply put…If we fail, there is no safety net.
There is no uncle to bail us out and nobody to go beg for help. There’s no account waiting to be drawn against and no precious coin collection to sell. Our backup plan is and has always sounded something like “well… I’m pretty sure McDonalds is always hiring… and I’m pretty sure we can eventually make it into management”.
I would argue that most people who cast stones in our direction or assume we have some magic, some luck or some benefactor had about the same start to life that we had. Many had far better. If what they mean to say is that we are fortunate to be healthy, able-bodied and live in a first world country than I totally agree. We are all of those things. But so are most people we hear bashing comments from. The difference isn’t that we have something others don’t or even knew something others didn’t. The difference is we were simply not willing to accept the norm. We weren’t willing to look at others and wish we had their life or complain that we couldn’t have everything we wanted. Instead we simply worked to get there.
As long as we have been together (right up until the day we quit our jobs and walked away) we worked taxing, tireless, exhausting jobs and then still came home every evening to a construction zone. To our second job. One which required us to work another shift putting a house back together despite the fact we were already exhausted and mentally drained.
Instead of buying toys or boats or new vehicles we put whatever money we could save into materials and down payments. I remember selling the only new car I had ever owned in order to afford my first home. I remember having to wait every other week for the next paycheck to be able to afford a few more pieces of trim to finish out a room. I remember interviewing and getting bids from contractors only to realize we couldn’t afford them and would be doing every project ourselves (even though we didn’t yet know how), and I remember spending countless hours at night researching how to do a job before we tackled it the next night or the following weekend.
My entire working career, I always looked for or took side work and opportunities despite working 60-80 hours a week and renovating our house after in the dark. I tried again and again to start businesses, every one of which failed before even getting started. Looking back now at the websites I have owned with names of businesses that never made a single dollar is nothing short of laughable.
Our investments lost more money than they made. We timed the market poorly and attempts to flip houses meant we were stuck with more loans than we could afford. The investments that should have paid the biggest dividends are still to this day the biggest financial weights hanging around our neck.
A decade after that first house renovation we were still moving into, working on and sweating in those projects and our financial status was only better by whatever raises we had gotten at those grueling day jobs along the way. Our 401k had grown by whatever we could afford to put in it for an employer match, but our bank accounts still tallied to zero and passive income was still just a distant dream.
But…we didn’t care. We finally realized that we wanted something more.
We wanted to have some of the freedom that others had. We wanted an opportunity at a different lifestyle like the ones we read about. The difference is that when we started reading blogs of other people whose lifestyles we desired, or we saw people doing things that brought up even the slightest twinge of jealousy in us… we didn’t just read about them and wish for something different or something more. We didn’t just assume those people were blessed, or lucky or rich or privileged or special. We most certainly didn’t lash out at them and make accusations or wish bad things upon them.
We got busy.
We worked hard. We changed everything. We risked everything. We even contacted those we admired asking how to get there. We moved out of our house and sold almost all our belongings. We moved into the smallest, cheapest place we could find and started saving every dime to make sure we could run away.
Then we leapt.
Without enough savings to be confident and without a plan. We leapt uncertain of what would happen. One of us terrified at what could go wrong and the other without a scrap of logic as to why it would work. The universe threw warnings at us rapid fire. The month we left our accountant messed up and we lost 20k of our planned savings. 2 weeks later our house needed a new roof and had a rotten, failing foundation that cost us another 15k. Both HUGE hits to an already tight savings and budget. We were terrified and could have easily turned back. Gone back to the jobs and the security that we knew before and carried on like nothing was wrong… and that’s exactly what everyone told us to do.
The reaction from friends and family and strangers alike was that we were insane. Impulsive. Irresponsible. Erratic. Stupid. But we chose it nonetheless and when we grew tired of explaining and justifying our actions we simply stopped telling others or asking advice. Our most confident and supportive friends simply said nothing. Even they had nothing more positive than a hug and love (and have since told us that they too rather thought we were crazy).
But we haven’t looked back and regretted a single day since that decision. We couldn’t be happier that we took the chance. We now know what so many of those whose blogs and books and stories we read already knew. We know that change doesn’t come from hoping or dreaming and happiness doesn’t often come normalcy and maintaining the status quo.
Even now, moving toward 4 years later we are still working our asses off. We spent most of last year living in and working on a construction zone, we move sometimes a couple times a week from place to place or sleep in our van when we have nowhere to go. We take clients and spend countless nights solving their dilemmas on top of our own. We are constantly busier than we should possibly be. The difference is that now we choose it. We make the decisions when to work and for how long, and the checks we cash go directly to us rather than to a boss.
I would challenge any of the people who think we’re lucky or rich or had it easy to swap a few of our last years with us. Better yet, I challenge them to follow the same path and see if they don’t end up exactly where we are (or better). This may not be a life we scripted for ourselves, but we can finally see a light and a path to keeping this train going and to doing so on our terms… and that is far, far better than any simple, known and “normal” path we could have chosen back in the day.
I constantly now want to find a large enough stage to stand on and preach to the masses how important it is to take life in your own hands. To accept no substitute for whatever it is that drives you. To listen most intently to that little voice inside you that demands more and to hush the masses and their “norm”.
Find a group of other confident, determined and motivated people and make them your tribe. Spend all your time with them and pull away from others. If you can’t find a group than find one person and make that person your everything like we did. If you can’t find even one…then run, or drive, or fly far enough away until you can; because there is no surer sign that you are in the wrong place than realizing that everyone around you thinks you and everyone else should be right there, doing the same thing as they are and settling for what you and they have already got.
I used to get angry when we would get the emails or the letters or the condescending looks. Every time I would hear “I wish I could too” or “it must be nice” I simply wanted to shake them. Now I want to ask what they’re doing about it. What changes have they made to their life to get a new perspective? What business have they tried starting? What extra hours are they working to make the money they need to fund it? and if not…why not?
For every dream you have, there’s probably already someone out there chasing it or successfully living it. For every excuse why not to chase that dream, there is someone, somewhere out there making change despite that excuse. I don’t have the right vehicle, or the right skillset, or enough money. I have too much debt, too many obligations, too little time or too may children. I don’t have a significant other or I can’t do it because I do have a significant other…the list goes on and on. Each of these are things that have actually driven others toward success; just as they have scared so many others away from it.
Simply put, change is terrifying. It’s simply horrific. The idea of change and unknown is like a hollow sinking feeling in your gut that you just cant move past. It’s paralyzing and it keeps us doing the same thing every day despite knowing deep down that it isn’t right. Despite knowing that it’s not healthy for us and that it goes against everything we know could be possible for us and our lives. Mostly, it makes us sick because it’s unknown and we cant imagine what might lie on the other side. It’s because everyone around us is telling us that the accepted way is the right way (really, the only way) and we would have to stand up against all of them and fight all of them together to prove otherwise. It would be us against the entire strength of society and humanity.
Our world is no less accepting of any idea than that of change. It’s what we’ve all been taught as long as we can recall. It’s how our system runs and survives. We all move forward together in a single likeness because that’s how society tells us to work. We move ahead in the role we think we are supposed to fill and we think the worst thing we could do is question why we wouldn’t. Our entire being and identity is locked within our role, our status and our job. Within who we think we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do.
We would have to swim like a salmon upriver through the current simply to find out what’s possible, and we might never be able to go back. We might not have control of that new place and we might not know what to do when we get there even if we made it.
But here’s the thing that I didn’t know before. What I wasn’t confident enough to believe before and what only now am I beginning to fully trust. What I now wish I had the right words to convince the old me, and everyone else, of.
You can actually…always go back.
You’ve been there before, whatever that place is. The fact that you’ve been there, that you’ve been doing it so long and are so comfortable with it…is the exact reason why you can always go back to it. It means you already know how to get there and can find your way back if you need to or for some reason actually want to. But… in the world’s most selfish and ludicrous irony… you probably won’t want to and you probably wont have to.
I now realize that for us…it’s the knowledge that we’re in control that makes it all work. It’s the chaos and the newness that, at least for us allows us to continue chasing our dreams. That allows us to follow our passions and find our happiness. Plans are suddenly maddening and normal is suddenly a very, very dirty word. For the first time in my life I feel like I’m living for today rather than striving for something different in the future. We’re no longer working hard and saving for a day that we may never see. For the first time when I ponder my own deathbed I don’t see my face riddled with guilt, or wishes or regrets.
It’s not that I’m looking to get there any faster. I still have so much to learn. So much to give. So much to experience, and so much beauty to see… But for the first time I don’t feel like I’m wasting my life away. I don’t feel like my list of “should haves” or “want-to’s” is longer than my list of “I’m doings” or “I haves”.
I hope all of you can say the same. If you can’t say it today than I hope you’re already taking action to get to a place that will allow you to say it soon. If you aren’t already taking action than I hope tomorrow is the day you start. If there is something you have to tie up first, than I hope that’s what you do tomorrow. But what I hope you don’t do is look at others, who have anything you desire, or hope to be, or wish to have and simply pass by that tiny voice by assuming that those people have/had something or know/knew something or started from somewhere that you did not.
Each person starts their journey from wherever they are (some better and some worse, some with more and some with less), but there is no journey without movement.
The only way to ensure you won’t get to where you’re intended to be is by staying exactly where you are.