The past six months have involved huge shifts in my life. I went from working at Harvard Medical School to living in a cabin in the woods to relocating to Europe. The two most common questions that people ask about this experience are “How” and “Why.” In other words, why did I make these changes in my life, and how did I do it?
I’ve touched on my answers to “how” and “why” in other blogs, but today I’d like to delve more deeply into how. How did I manage to create a life that honors what I value, particularly my health and well-being?
A related question that reporters, friends, and colleagues also inevitably ask is, “How were you able to make these changes within the context of your marriage?” In other words, what does my husband think of all this, and how has he been able to maintain a professional life while we move around the world?
Well I’ll start by saying that my life isn’t perfect. There are pros and cons to all of the decisions that I’ve made over the past few months, so let’s not get off track by assuming there’s a magic formula you can use to create a personal utopia.
In previous blogs I got into some of the nitty gritty behind the financial aspects of my recent transitions. But after reading a recent newsletter by Martha Beck, I realized there is a deeper “how” to my story.
In her newsletter, Martha mentioned that she has coached many people who want to make changes in their lives, but who are worried about the financial implications. Her clients often ask how they can easily manifest money in their bank accounts while pursuing their passion. After much contemplation, Martha realized that there are two factors that often combine to create financial success:
Freedom from fixed ideas and attention to inner guidance.
In reading Martha’s words I realized that these two factors are exactly what has brought me to where I am today. And the same is true for my husband.
Let’s start with me. When I was in grad school there was an underlying assumption in my department that the only job that was worth getting when you finished your PhD was a tenure-track faculty position at a top tier university. But tenure-track positions are hard to come by these days, so I had to start thinking outside of the box. In other words, I freed myself from the fixed idea of myself as a professor and started listening to what my inner guidance was asking me to do.
Through a combination of hard work, optimism, and willpower (plus a bit of fate – because the universe always intervenes when we follow our inner guidance) I ended up with a job at an IT research firm. I was the first person the company had hired who had a PhD in psychology (psychology wasn’t typically part of their job descriptions!). But they were an innovative organization and I learned a lot of crucial skills there.
However, as many of you know, I ended up feeling trapped in a cubicle for eight hours a day. So again, I freed myself from the fixed idea that I needed to have a stable 9 to 5 job in order to survive, and I listened to my inner guidance, which told me to quit. I started my own health and wellness business and then, two years later, re-entered academia as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School (even though many people had told me that once you leave academia, it’s really hard to get back in).
Another thing that most people will tell you is that if you have a job at Harvard, you should hold on to it for dear life. But I ignored that fixed idea, too. Instead, I listened to my inner guidance that told me I needed to spend some time in nature, which led to my summer sabbatical in the woods. During the months leading up to my sabbatical, I did a lot of soul-searching around what I value and what I want my life to look like. I realized that, among other things, I value freedom and flexibility in my schedule – freedom that allows me to explore the world while leading a healthy, satisfying life. This is why I ended up making the decision to move to Europe.
Now let’s bring my husband into the mix. David is a private guy, which is why I don’t often share details about his life, but he’s given me permission to let you in on how we navigated these transitions as individuals and as a couple.
Unlike me, David seems to have been born with a huge capacity to free himself from fixed ideas and follow his inner guidance. He’s almost always been an entrepreneur, and he’s a visual artist, so he’s a great example of how to blend the practical and the creative. When David and I first met he was co-running a business in the automotive industry, however the economic downturn of 2008 threw his employment for a loop. For the first time in a long time, he ended up taking a series of jobs where he was working for other people.
And he was miserable.
At one point he was working as a headhunter at a recruiting company, when he realized that he could easily start his own business doing the same type of work himself, with the freedom of being his own boss. So he quit his job and, yet again, ventured out on his own. He’s owned his recruiting firm for over five years now, and it’s a job that allows him to work virtually from anywhere in the world.
As a couple, David and I are doing our best to blend our professional passions into an innovative lifestyle that allows us the time and flexibility to be creative. We both have jobs that allow us to work from home – wherever home happens to be at the moment. We’ve also created schedules that give us time to cultivate our art. David paints, I write.
So when people ask what my husband thinks of all of these transitions, I reply that he has been one of my biggest inspirations and my key supporter. Throughout our relationship, David and I have been dancing with our careers and with each other. And it hasn’t always been easy. There has been professional stress, financial hardship, and personal difficulties. But together we are doing our best to co-create a life that reflects what we value.
When people ask “how,” I emphasize that it’s not luck that brought us here. It’s been a mix of hard work, optimism, and willpower. And sure, the universe has thrown in some sprinkles of fate, synchronicity, and magic. But I firmly believe that we experienced this magic because we were open to it. Because we were willing to free ourselves from fixed ideas and listen to our inner guidance.
This is our H.O.W.:
“The great mythologist Joseph Campbell once said in an interview that the great spiritual teaching could be summed up thusly: “A man stands on a whale fishing for minnows.” Must is that whale. It’s the mysterious force that flows through our lives and guides us towards that higher place. If you feel far from your calling, remember that your calling is with you because it *is* you. It can’t go anywhere. It can’t be lost. Once you understand this, the concept of “looking for our calling” no longer makes any sense. It’s impossible to be separate from that which you are.”
This is what I feel David and I are doing. Instead of listening to all of the “shoulds,” we are following our “must.” We are pursuing that which we must do, because it is who we are and it allows us to express our gifts fully in this world.
Author Tama Kieves put it this way:
“Listening to your inner voice requires honesty, integrity, and courage. There are no formulas. It’s all fresh chemistry every second. Many of my coaching clients only seem to trust their inner voice when it suggests something like studying for an MBA or saving the whales. That is to say, only “virtuous” things count, things you could tell your Austrian aunt Helga, and make her pat her dress in pride. But I tell them and I’ll tell you, you do not know what is most productive on this path. You have no idea of the progress you can make when you listen to instincts that are not conditioned by our society. Why would you attempt to create a life of unbounded freedom by listening to the advice of the bound one within you?”
If you haven’t guessed already, my advice to you is this:
You might not end up with instant success or a million dollars in the bank or a magic pill to cure all that ails you. But, day by day, you will find yourself inching closer and closer to a life of integrity and authenticity – which is worth more than all the money in the world.
HOW will you choose to live? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
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.
Image courtesy of Luis Llerena.