I have 3 friends going through the process of making a big life decision, in the interest of doing what doesn’t necessarily look like the “smart” choice, for the sake of being happy. Hearing stories like this inspires me and makes me remember to make choices about my life based on my gut, not what looks good on paper or what other people say.
Emily made the decision a while ago to move from San Diego, where her husband Kirby had a great job, to Santa Cruz, where we all grew up. She wanted to be closer to family, and that’s where they eventually wanted to settle down. They realized the only thing really keeping them in San Diego was Kirby’s fantastic dream job that he loved.
Everyone who heard about this idea immediately said “But Kirby’s job!”. But every time they went home to visit, they felt like Santa Cruz was just where they needed to be to be truly happy. I think even if their family wasn’t all there they would still want to move – it’s just their city.
So Kirby asked his company if he could work remotely from Santa Cruz, and they said yes. The only downside was something his management mentioned – working remotely doesn’t usually lead to promotions and moving up in the company.
So there was a sacrifice for this move, and some people might think it wasn’t the “smart” thing to do. But you know what? They seem immensely happy just after a few weeks. They are where they want to be, doing things they love, despite what others may have thought.
In my opinion, that’s bravery.
My other friend is happy where she lives and has amazing friends and relationships in town. However, her job is causing her an intolerable amount of anxiety. This was caused by things outside of her role and workload, and the company was not handling things as they should. She tried to stick it out – she looked for openings in other departments, she tried to work with management to make it work…but nothing changed – in fact, it got worse. She felt trapped. She was getting panic attacks. No one seemed to support her at the company, so she started looking elsewhere for another job.
A few weeks went by. She had a few great interviews, but nothing was moving forward. She tried to lean on her support system until she could get another job, and just tough it out. She needed a job, and she would just have to white-knuckle it and keep looking.
She finally realized this was too much to take. Was it worth feeling this way for who knows how long? So she put in her notice this week and already feels relieved. She told me she would rather struggle financially then stay somewhere that caused her so much stress. She was nervous to tell her parents that she was quitting a job without another plan lined up – but she knows it’s what she has to do. Whatever ends up happening, whether it’s unemployment for a few months with temp jobs to get her by, or a sudden amazing job that opens up, it’s better than what her life had become at her current job. I am so proud of her for putting her needs first and doing what feels right, even if it doesn’t look like the right thing to do on paper.
The last friend also has a job that makes her unhappy. Recently, a coworker and close friend got into grad school and planned to go to Europe for the summer to fulfill a language requirement before classes start. He told my friend to come with her.
Here was his proposal: You’re 22. This job sucks. You’re not making much money, you’re not not treated fairly, you have awful hours, and you are unhappy. Come travel, learn a second language, then come back and start over.
Her thoughts: I have health insurance, I work at a great company (even if my department is terrible), I have a car, rent, student loans… this would be irresponsible. Right?
Then she started thinking about it. I didn’t think she would go, but the other day she said she was seriously considering it – she had enough saved to afford the trip. I encouraged her to go – I have been encouraging her to get out of that job since day 1, however possible, and this sounded like the most badass way to do it.
I told her I would take this opportunity now, while you don’t have any roots. You’re renting, you are single, no kids, hardly any bills – when will this ever happen again? Once she thought about it more, she realized she didn’t have a lot tying her to the Bay Area, where she just ended up after graduating. Maybe when she gets back she can look for jobs closer to her family, while she lives at home to save. Not the worst thing in the world for a 22 year-old single woman who misses her mom and wants to spend time with her sister before she goes away to college.
Even I felt relieved once we talked about what her life would be like if she made the plunge. It sounds loads better than getting up at 5am to take 70 support calls a day with no sight of a better position in the next year.
Some would say: You have a car payment. You have student loans. You shouldn’t give up just because your job is hard. You are lucky to have a job.
I say: If you have the option, shoot for what will make you happy. This doesn’t mean you are “giving up” – you are prioritizing yourself which is not always easy. Just because this job is a job and it’s hard and the alternative sounds easier doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice. Change what you have control over now to live the life you love.
In 2012, I had graduated with my masters and moved in with my sister in Santa Maria, an hour outside of Santa Barbara. I took care of the kids and lived rent free while I tried to figure out what the hell I was gonna do. After a second round of PhD program applications and getting the exact same score on the GRE, despite studying my butt off and taking it a second time to improve it, I gave up. It seemed like a total failure. I was doing everything I could to try to be a professor of sociology – I even applied to teaching positions across the country at community colleges and heard NOTHING back. It just wasn’t happening. But my goals and dreams were just not in the cards.
So I had to make a new dream. I had a blank page in front of me and could do whatever I wanted. It didn’t feel glamorous in the moment, but I look back and it was such an amazing time in my life, to be able to have that choice to do whatever I wanted.
My sister sat me down and said, you can move anywhere. You’ve always wanted to live in Santa Barbara – why don’t you just… move there? Just get a job as a receptionist and live there. It will be amazing.
It was so exciting, and one of the bravest things I’ve done. I still had my sister super close by, but it was the first time I moved somewhere where I didn’t know anyone, and it was a big deal for me. Then I met Anthony within the first month or so of moving here. That still blows my mind.
I had other options that may have seemed “smarter”. I could have applied for non-teaching jobs and moved out of the state to work in a role that made sense with my background, like some of my friends did (now I am suddenly in the tech industry with a sociology degree). I could have stayed in San Diego, despite wanting to move back up north, and tried to get several part-time positions teaching at different community colleges across the county to make a meager living. But that wasn’t the life I wanted, even if that made the most sense.
It’s all about doing all you can to make sure you are happy. Sometimes we have no control over the things that make us unhappy – but sometimes we can make a change for ourselves that is within reach. It just takes some risk, tough choices, and bravery.
Have you ever made a choice that you knew in your gut was right, but didn’t exactly seem like the “smart” choice? Tell us about it!