An evening a few weeks ago began as an ordinary night in our world: I returned home from teaching a late afternoon class to my husband cooking dinner. Since it was late January, we’d both been slowly working on our taxes over the course of the week, and W broached the subject.
In the first few years of our marriage, the topic of taxes was pretty mundane, as it may be in many households. However, in the 18 months following our cross-country move, taxes are of new significance to us. They’re an annual reminder of the major life choices we’ve made, both professional and personal. Consequently, they’re also a reminder of what used to be, and that we are still wrestling with the career shoulds.
We should be making more money.
I should go back to work full time.
I should take on more consulting work.
I should be running less and publishing more so I can snag that next awesome job.
And so on.
Last night’s conversation was a little different from our periodic check-ins and freak-outs about our chosen path(s). We sat on the couch, reminiscing about how we slept in the middle of the living room floor on our last night in Indianapolis, the night before we left our first house for the last time. We looked at each other, and we both welled up. W grabbed my hand, and we both took ina huge breath and exhaled, as if letting go of the trauma of a cross-country move for the first time.
Neither of us realized we’d been carrying that stress, and I suppose we’d never talked about how initially traumatic our cross-country move really was. On top of the typical moving hassles–finding and selling homes, packing, saying hasta luego to friends and family–we layered on my dissertation defense, choosing among three jobs in three different cities, and my annual summer consulting travel. The physical act of moving–of packing up the van, loading up the animals, and driving cross-country to Utah–seemed like just another tick on the list.
We landed in Utah in early July, and took the rest of the month off. I remember lots of trips to the pool, some camping at Bryce Canyon, hiking with dogs, and sitting in our air-conditioned condo, drinking afternoon cocktails and binge watching Netflix. A few weeks later, I started my new job, and W began his business.
Eighteen months later, we finally realized that we’d just busy-ed ourselves right through this major life change.
You know what? We survived.
We’ve set up a life for ourselves that is affordable, balanced, enjoyable, and brought us closer together than we ever thought we’d be. We’re both in professional grooves, have new friends and new hobbies, and have a refreshed outlook on life. All of these healthy and positive changes–in geography, in perspective, in recreation, in relationship–softened the blow of uprooting all that was comfortable in favor of the unknown. This led to the bliss, the bliss that comes from a reclaimed sense of agency in the world, of feeling empowered to define our own values and consciously make our own choices.
Several of our friends have commented that they wouldn’t be brave enough to make these changes–to move away from their friends and family, from their comfort zones, or to deviate from external expectations of what life should look like. I don’t think there’s anything special about us that makes us more brave than others, aside from the fact that we realized our comfortable lifestyle was actually incongruent with what we valued and wanted for our futures. We’ve simply become more adept at ignoring the shoulds, and instead blazing new paths and living in the proverbial third space.
Moving the cairn, so to speak.