Kim’s note: This is the third in a series of guest posts from fellow travel bloggers about the moment they decided to trade in their conventional life for long-term travel. The topic, specifically: describe the moment that you decided to change course. Today’s post comes from the wise Lily Leung of Explore for a Year.
My lesson: Look for what you want, don’t just accept what’s offered.
“Difficulties come when you don’t pay attention to life’s whisper. If you ignore the whisper, sooner or later you’ll get a scream. Whatever you resist persists. But, if you ask the right question—not why is this happening, but what is this here to teach me?—it puts you in the place and space to get the lesson you need.”
– Oprah Winfrey, Stanford commencement speech, 2008
I had a great job, a comfortable salary, a nice boss and impressive responsibilities.
From the outside, things looked good.
On the inside, something didn’t feel right. Deep inside, I knew I could be happier. But, I didn’t know what to do about this disconnect so I took the easy route and ignored it.
Over time, this disconnect grew until I spent mornings wishing I didn’t have to go to work. I spent weekdays counting down to the weekend, and the weekends dreading the inevitable Monday.
What was causing my unhappiness?
I thought if maybe I switched companies, found a different position, secured a higher salary, I’d be happier. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t find the motivation to initiate this change.
What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I have the willpower to take action even though I was miserable?
During this time, I had watched my classmates move from their first jobs to big roles like Vice Presidents at major financial institutions. They seemed to excel in their careers. Why didn’t I have the same drive to achieve more?
I started questioning my abilities, my intellect and my worth as a person. The questioning later extended to areas outside myself: the 9-5 lifestyle, the “normal” path of getting promotions, aiming for more responsibilities and a getting a higher salary to buy bigger and more impressive things.
Was this corporate lifestyle all there is for the next 40 years of my life?
Would I actually be happier if I had a new boss, a new position or a higher salary?
What would actually be different from how I’m feeling now?
Eventually, it became clear that nothing related to these upgrades would make me happier.
After this small epiphany, I took a month off work and traveled.
Being away from the regular pressures of how I was supposed to live, gave me clarity to finally realize that the typical corporate environment wasn’t for me.
By end of my month off I decided I couldn’t stay at my job any longer.
However, on the first day back from this vacation, the universe decided to test the strength of my resolution – I was approached about another opportunity in my company.
Distracted by the better title, higher salary and a better boss, I suddenly forgot I already decided this environment wasn’t for me. I ended up pursuing this shinier opportunity and started the new position a month later.
The new job, just like my past jobs, was great – at first. It was exciting and engaging to be learning skills, meeting new team members and learning a new discipline.
However, three months passed and the honeymoon period ended. Again, I found myself wishing every morning I didn’t have to go to work.
I was in the exact same spot I was in three months ago.
Then it hit me.
If I don’t make a change now, nothing is ever going to change.
I couldn’t continue just accepting what is offered to me, even if it comes with more money or prestige.
I have to look for what I want.
And even if I didn’t know what I wanted, at least I now knew what I didn’t want.
So last April, I quit my corporate job to pursue my interests in web design and to travel solo for the first time.
Following through on my choice to take a year off wasn’t easy. It took courage to face colleagues, friends and in particular my own internal critic.
That was over a year ago. Looking back, I can’t think of having made a different decision. At the fork of the road, I chose the less beaten path.
Lessons I’ve learned
Happiness is possible. Just because you’ve been doing something a certain way for years doesn’t mean you have to continue in that direction. Recognizing you have the power to make a change is empowering and scary at the same time, but it’s this shift in mind set that moves you from feeling like a victim to becoming the active director of your life.
Start saving. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does bring opportunities for life experiences like travel, education and personal growth.
Take a vacation. Traveling will not solve your problems, but being away gives you mental room from the day-to-day life you are trying to change and helps you to find clarity about what you need to do when you come back.
Start now. Whatever change you want to make, start today by doing something small to set the wheels in motion. If you want to quit in one year, start tallying your finances. If you want to travel, buy a Lonely Planet guide. If you want to turn a hobby into a full-time job, email someone who has done it.
About Lily Leung (Explore for a Year)
Lily is a banking professional who quit her corporate job a year ago to pursue her interests in web design and to travel around the world. She blogs about personal development and travel at Explore for a Year. You can also follow her on facebook and twitter.