Today marks five years since I moved to the Catskill Mountains to work for a renowned non-profit.
Okay… to be more precise, I moved to an exceptionally remote and secluded location, which has no cell service in a town with a population fewer than 200 residents. Admittedly, after about three years of living in near isolation, I did opt to extend my daily commute by about an hour in exchange for life in civilization. However, in reflecting on my decision to move to such uncharted territory (at least by my urban standards at the time), I’ve recognized an important lesson both about career choices and life.
In these last five years, a lot has unfolded. I changed my professional field, received several promotions, survived a close brush with death, started my MBA, lost my dad, fell in love, and moved five times, all while remaining committed to the organization that attracted me here in the first place. I doubt I could have achieved these milestones or survived the obstacles I’ve endured without a workplace to return to each morning that challenges me, supports me, and in which I am honored to play a role.
However, when I first announced I’d be moving here, I was slightly hurt that not everyone had total faith in my ability to direct my own life. I bordered on resentful about the fact that people mistook what was really a very calculated career choice for a spontaneous, reckless decision to run away to the wilderness.
Today, when some of those same people ask if I ever imagined I’d be where I am today, I tell them yes (while trying my very best to stifle my indignation). I didn’t stumble upon my career – or my life for that matter – by luck or chance. Sure, I didn’t know I would be precisely where I am now, the CMO of that same renowned non-profit, and I owe a debt of gratitude to several supportive mentors and loved ones for guiding me along the way. And yes, luck certainly was on my side more than once – especially during that brush with death. But five years ago, I was positive I was heading in the direction I needed to. Rather than leaving on some impulsive whim, I heavily researched my options, and I accurately concluded that ample opportunities for growth were available where I was going. I knew that this organization was internationally reputable both in terms of the services it provides and in the manner with which it supports and develops its employees. This move was less a “spontaneous escape to the wilderness” and more a very well-researched life decision.
To prevent this post from becoming a cliché, I’ll explicitly say: I am not about to proselytize an overly simplistic “follow your dreams” philosophy of life. Rather, I’m reminding all of us (me included) to encourage those we love to pursue whatever destiny they know is right for their own lives. I still remember some of the less-than supportive comments people made about my decision to move to the mountains, some of which implied I was foolish but at least one implied I was selfish. If I were not in such a confident, determined state back then, I might have been stymied by those comments, and I’d now be in a job I dread.
Here’s what I’ve learned since: what is truly selfish is expecting someone to follow a path that might be “secure” and “predictable” but doesn’t allow for pursuing a fulfilling career.
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m promising anyone a rose garden if they decide to make a career change. Thus, I do acknowledge that the life we all project, especially on social media, is but a highlight reel, and mine is no exception. The photos I post of wildlife and mountain views, my cozy shots of being curled up in a blanket by the window with a good book all support that romantic notion that I simply absconded to the woods in a very Thoreau-like fashion and all my wildest dreams came true.
In reality, however, life is messy and at times downright ugly – regardless of where you are. Yet, to lead a rewarding career and to live a meaningful life, the broad strokes must be aligned with a lionhearted vision for what we want out of life. My day-to-day might be imperfect and at times fraught with mundanity, but I am grateful that five years ago, from somewhere I still cannot always access, I dug deep into my intuition and pulled out the ability to deliberately design one of the few aspects of life that I can – my career. Despite a lack of faith and support by some people around me, that decision was among the wisest, if not the wisest, I have ever made. And I realize now that it was the result of fully trusting my own judgement and wisdom.
My ability to take such a leap of faith (albeit a carefully measured leap) was not something I intentionally cultivated but rather, largely the result of being raised by two parents who designed their own lives and always encouraged me to do the same. I have been even further blessed with mentors and role models who I happen to call “friends.” So if I sound as if I’m implying I have some divine, clear-sighted vision of how to create a fulfilling life, I will fully disclose: I am improvising the vast majority of the time.
My hope for this longwinded, even turgid dissertation (which in truth was a Facebook status that became much too diffuse) is this:
In our careers and in life, we must recognize and honor our own innate ability to uniquely, creatively, and intelligently cultivate meaning and fulfillment, but more importantly, we must champion those around us to do the same.
Connect with me on LinkedIn
Follow me on Twitter