I’ll never forget the moment we decided that we’d had enough. My husband and I were on a cruise ship, walking along the very top deck, holding hands and gazing at the waves crashing up against our ship. We had just started our vacation, and had 6 days left in our 7-day cruise. From the outside, we would have seemed to have had it all. Both of us were gainfully employed. Our “dual income, no kids” life had us squarely in a comfortable lifestyle. We had newish cars, a luxury apartment, fine dining tastes, and we took as many trips as we could. But if you took a closer look, you could see the cracks in our shiny, happy, exterior. We were working all the time. While we didn’t hate our jobs, we absolutely hated our boss. We worked for the same company, which meant not only did we have to live through hell at work, we’d continue to rehash it once we got home, too.
These were dark times. We’d be annoyed driving into work. We’d be grouchy once we got there. We’d be exhausted driving home, and when we were together, we either didn’t talk, or just talked about how much our jobs sucked. We were tired and unhappy, but instead of making any real changes in our lives, we tried to buy our way out of the misery. I got regular massages because I “deserved it.” We went out to eat at high end restaurants because “we worked so hard.” We took expensive vacations because we “earned” them. Here’s a secret of adulthood - happiness doesn’t come from buying things.
Back to that fateful moment - so there we were. Holding hands. Walking and staring at the relaxing waves and talking about … how much we hated our bosses! Hated our commute. Hated our life. Doesn’t that sound like a great conversation to have on vacation? We decided we were ready for a change. The thing is, it all seemed so overwhelming. As much as we wanted, we couldn’t just quit. We had rent to pay. Car payments each month. A student loan. We considered finding new jobs, but again, it seemed overwhelming. We already felt overworked and exhausted - fixing up our resume, sneaking around and going to interviews, faking excitement at the prospect of working for another potential jerk boss - it was just too much to think about. We felt paralyzed and trapped. And we hated it. We needed a reset. As soon as we said it out loud, we felt a glimmer of hope. And we ran with it. The rest of the trip we talked endlessly about our “reset.” We began to hatch our plan. We would save up some money. We would quit our jobs. And then, we would head out on a trip of lifetime. Traveling was our thing. It was what we loved most. It was on the road that we felt most alive. We figured once we were traveling around, we’d get our epiphany and would figure out what we wanted to do next. It was almost exactly 7 months later that we found ourselves, debt-free, happily unemployed, and holding one-way tickets to Asia. Here’s what we did:
We found our tribe.
We knew we couldn’t be the only ones who felt stuck and trapped in a life that didn’t make us happy. We knew others had to be out there figuring it out as they went. So we started searching for them. For about a week, instead of coming home from work, exhausted and unhappy, and turning on the TV to zone out, we fired up our laptops and zoned in. We knew we needed help in three specific areas:
- Figuring out our finances
- Getting Inspiration
- Putting our fears behind us
We skimmed dozens of blogs until we found others that we could connect with and learn from. For our finances - we came across Adam Baker’s blog, manvsdebt.com and then listened to his amazing TedTalk. He was just starting the process of paying off his 30k debt so he could travel the world with his wife and newborn daughter. He wrote about how there were two ways to accomplish paying off your debt - spending less and earning more. We immediately resolved to do both.
Cold turkey, we stopped going out to expensive meals. We stopped paying for pricey gym memberships. We gave ourselves a tight budget and stuck to it. While we cut down our expenses, we also raised our income. We began looking around our apartment for things to sell. We started with my husband’s MTG card collection. Then we moved on to my kitchen appliances - my Kitchenaid mixer and Vitamix blender. A few friends, concerned at all the changes we started making, asked us how we could make such enormous sacrifices.
Truth be told, selling these things that we had loved dearly in a previous life to make way for our new life never felt like a sacrifice. The true sacrifice was every minute that we sat in our cars, commuting to work. Every time we had to fake a smile to the boss we hated. Every Monday morning that started with a sense of dread.
It wasn’t all easy - and whenever we felt like we couldn’t sell another item or cut another expense - we again turned to our tribe. We found Francine Jay, of missminimalist.com. We found Joshua Fields Millbourne of theminimalists.com. Here were two, wildly different personalities, both giving away almost everything they owned and becoming happier for it. We sold our furniture. We sold our clothing. We sold extra computer equipment. We sold our dishes. Glasses. Plates. Our $700 vacuum.
We also knew that pretty soon, we’d run out of things to sell. We needed an additional way of bringing in extra income. We scoured the internet for ideas. We rented out our spare bedroom on Airbnb. We found surveys online that paid us for our thoughts. We clipped coupons. Every bit of unexpected cash (bonus, birthday money…) went straight to paying off our debt. It wasn’t easy, or always fun, but it didn’t matter. We had a dream and we were fighting for it. Every day, we made sure we got our head right. Some people wake up and meditate or pray - but we would wake up and look at all the places we wanted to travel. We would write lists of all the foods we would eat across the globe. We pictured what it would feel like to stand in front of a temple in Thailand. What it would feel like to dip our toes into the Andaman Sea.
I remember after some particularly grueling day at work, I would drive home blasting “I made it” by Kevin Rudolf. And I would sing along to the chorus while trying to imagine what it really felt to truthfully be able to say “I used to dream about the life I’m living now, but now I know, there’s no doubt - I made it.”
Along the way, we discovered Chris Guillebeau, of ChrisGuillebeau.com. In the beginning of our journey, he was our hero. Then he became our mentor. And now, we’re delighted to call him our friend. His message is simple, but powerful. “You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect, and if you don’t decide for yourself what you want to get out of life, someone else will decide for you.”
Whenever the fear of failure would creep in, we’d remind ourselves that our current path made us unhappy. If our life reset didn’t change our lives and bring us joy, we would be no worse off.
Already the practices we had put into place had started to give us freedom and bring us peace. It had only been a few months, and we could already see the grip of debt breaking loose. We had managed to bring back a sense of pure anticipation into our lives. Excitement. Instead of coming home exhausted and complaining about our jobs, we raced home and checked off our calendar. One more day closer to quitting. When work seemed hard or frustrating, we didn’t let it get under our skin - after all, we had a way out. We were taking tangible steps to leaving the mess behind.
Approximately 7 months later, we were there. We had just boarded a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong. We had no return tickets, no expectation, and no debt. Because we no longer had to pay car loans or student loans or chip away at a high credit card balance, we had managed to get our cost of living spectacularly low. Low enough that after our trip, we could live very easily off one salary, even if that one salary was from waiting tables. It would be a Spartan existence for sure, but possible. Anything above that base salary could be socked away for whatever business idea or goal that came next.
As I found my seat, and clicked in my seat belt, I looked at my husband, and we both just smiled. We had done it together. There is something powerful about setting a bold goal and accomplishing it together that really cements a relationship. We were empowered. We were happy. We were in love.
I put my headphones in, and I listened to Kevin Rudolf sing “I Made It” as the plane took off.
Here’s the thing we didn’t realize until much later. The steps we took to pay off our debt and chase madly after our dream of long term travel are easy to teach and easy to learn. And they apply no matter what your dream may be. Perhaps traveling isn’t your thing. Maybe you just want to be able to afford to stay home with your baby. Or take a lower stress, lower paying job. Maybe you want to start building that dream house, or figure out a way to raise some money to start that business you’ve been thinking about. I just know, whatever the dream the may be, the bonds of debt are keeping you from it. When you’ve decided that you’ve had enough - here are some tips to help you go get after it.
- Give yourself a hard deadline. If you don’t have an end date in mind, you’re never going to push yourself as hard as you need to. It’s why brides manage to lose so much weight just in time for their weddings. It’s why some of your best ideas at work come right before you meet with your boss
- Take the red pill. Make sure you know exactly what you are missing. Find others who are living the dream you are chasing. Want to start your own business? Get to know successful entrepreneurs. Want to build your dream house? Follow architectural blogs. Will it be painful and make you a bit jealous to see others living the life you want? Good. Take those painful feelings and use them to light a fire in your soul.
- BE OBSESSED. Your dream needs to be worth fighting for. You need to think about it every day. Focus on what you are moving toward - and don’t let others dissuade you. Your friends and family mean well - they love and care about you, but they don’t always understand. The best piece of advice I received during that time is to surround yourself with others who believe in your dream. Find your tribe. Lean on them when you need and inspire them when you can.
If our story of misery and overspending sounds familiar, don’t despair. We were nothing special, and if we could hit a reset, so can you. My goal in sharing our story is to inspire you to do the same thing.
About the Author: Malini is a Columbus, OH native. She’s a wife, mom, full time employee and part time business owner. She’s a die-hard saver but is slowly learning the (often intimidating) world of investing. Malini’s an adventurer at heart, and loves all things food and travel. You can follow along with her adventures on her blog, www.lakesandlattes.com. Her favorite thing to do is inspire others to take bold steps to chase after their dreams.