When I was sixteen years old I came up with a plan. I decided, after watching a black and white video of Pavlov and his dogs, that I wanted to be a psychology professor when I grew up. I pictured myself in a large, bookcase-lined office, spending most of my days philosophizing and contemplating, ultimately coming up with a grand theory of human behavior and/or the universe.
I worked hard during my undergraduate and graduate degrees to get good grades and build my CV. When my peers went home for the summer to wait tables or be lifeguards, I stayed on campus and spent my hours working as a research assistant. I pushed myself to win every scholarship that I could so that one day I’d have the chance to run my own research lab. In 2008 I graduated with my PhD in psychology.
And then I threw my whole plan down the toilet.
I’d been offered a fully-funded postdoctoral research position at a prestigious university. However I’d also been offered a full-time job in the corporate world doing IT research. In the end, I chose the corporate job and became a 9 to 5’er for a couple of years.
In 2010 I quit my corporate job to become an entrepreneur, essentially throwing my financial security down the toilet. On my own and with some savings in the bank, I wrote a book and developed a health and wellness business. Over time my audience grew, and people started looking to me for advice on anything and everything related to creating a life you love.
In 2013 I was offered a postdoctoral research position at Harvard Medical School to study the effects of yoga on adolescent well-being. Despite some hesitation about returning to academia, I accepted the position and moved 600 miles away from everything that made me feel safe and comfortable.
Why am I sharing my career history? Because I think it’s important for people to know that even though I write and teach about creating a life you love, I don’t have a magic formula figured out. I’m living what I’m teaching. Practicing what I’m preaching. As Gandhi said, I’m trying to “Be the change.”
But it’s not always easy. There’s a pattern to my life that I think is important to acknowledge. Notice that over the past six years, I’ve been continually jumping into the unknown. And sometimes it sucks. To be honest, I’m often scared shitless. I keep starting over and over again at ground zero, learning new skills, testing the waters, and seeing how each new path feels for me. Sometimes I’m overjoyed. Other times I cry harder than I’ve ever cried before. Sometimes I feel comfortable and free. Other times I feel homesick and lonely and want to crawl out of my skin.
Sometimes I wish I’d chosen a different path. A safer and more comfortable path. But I’m so deeply committed to being the change that I want to see in the world that I keep going. I keep trying. I’ve realized that if my life can serve as an example to even one person that settling is unnecessary, that dreams can be followed, and that change is possible, then it’s all worth it.
I recently met someone at a conference who said to me, “You’ve done it all! You’ve worked in academia and the corporate world, and you’ve been an entrepreneur. You have so much wisdom to share!” Her comment made me realize that now that I’ve done “everything,” I feel like I can do anything. I’ve left jobs, given up opportunities, accepted opportunities, and everything in between – to the point that now I almost feel like I’m experiencing choice overload. The world is my oyster, and I’m not sure what to do next.
My contract at Harvard Medical School ends in December 2015, and while this might sound like it’s far away, in the world of academia this is a tight timeline. I’m writing grants to try to extend my position, but there’s no guarantee that my grants will get funded. In many ways I’m facing another abyss that’s probably going to force me to leap somewhere.
Since moving to Boston, my husband and I sold our house and got rid of both of our cars. We rent an apartment and we don’t have children. My husband has Canadian and European Union citizenship and runs his own business, so in theory we could live almost anywhere in the world.
This unknown makes me uncomfortable. I want to know where I’m going to be and what I’m going to be doing in January 2016. But can any of us really plan our lives so far in advance? Even if I had a “safe” job, I could be laid off tomorrow.
So I’m trying to embrace the unknown, even when it hurts and sucks and feels unbearable. I’m trying to lead by example even when I feel weak and scared. I’m doing this so that you can see that it’s ok to take risks.
As is often said, “Leap, and the net will appear.”
Here’s to leaping together.
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.