A World of Possibilities (Musings from Taormina, Sicily)

Jan 16, 2017    /    philosophy

My New Year’s Day dawned bright and blue-skied in Taormina, Sicily.

Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, smoked merrily in the distance. The quiet castle ruins stood stoically above us. And just outside the town center, I slipped down the spiral staircase from loft to living room, brewed a cup of tea, and stood at the window, watching the day unfold.

Chad told me he doesn’t like New Year resolutions because if there’s something you want to do, why wait until January first to start it? If you’re really committed, start today. Declare today the first step, your independence day, your fresh start, whatever it is you need. There’s no magic to the first of the year; it’s just an excuse to put things off.

In some ways, I agree. There’s no reason you can’t quit smoking or start taking weekly hikes or work toward treating people more kindly or figuring out what you want to do with your life or doing more of the things you love the very second you decide that that is the thing you want to do.

But I told him I like the New Year because it reminds us to stop and take a look at our lives. To slow down. To ask the very questions that bring us to the conclusion that we want to change something.

And so every December, as one year draws to a close and another begins to unfold, I spend some time evaluating—enjoying the mental wrapping-up of the old year, the contemplation of hopes and resolutions for the new. Every year I try to spend a little time asking myself if I am doing what I want to do and, more importantly, being who I want to be. Every year I find that in some way, be it personal, business, or travel-related, I’m ready to pivot and shift into something fresh and new as the calendar rolls over.

This year, I’m shifting my business, circling back to copywriting and content strategy for travel companies. I’m also back on the search for a European home base. And I’ll be continuing last year’s commitment to prioritize my health and work part-time hours.

But…how can you work part-time and still make ends meet? Can you keep changing careers like this and still move forward? Is it really possible to make your home in Europe?

When I mention these goals, this lifestyle I’ve been building, these are the questions I get over and over again. How is it possible to build a life so different from the norm?

And so this is a post about challenging our assumptions.

Before I started traveling full-time, I was sitting in my therapist’s office talking about the idea. I told her I was thinking about taking four months—the summer—to live and work remotely in the Pacific Northwest. I needed to shake things up. I wanted to travel. I wanted to see if I could work remotely.

Wise as ever, she asked me if the Pacific Northwest was really what I wanted. If you could go live and work from anywhere next summer, not worried about timezones and clients and cultural differences, where would you go?

The immediate and clear response from the depths of my heart was Europe.

The simple act of asking the question had freed me up to dream bigger, to remove the self-imposed limits I’d put on my unconventional idea. And so I started working to make it happen, to address the road blocks and fears, until, in the end, I made that trip to Europe happen, boarding a plane in May 2012 for Edinburgh, Scotland.

And so I ask you: what are your limits? What assumptions are holding you back?

So, you want to find a new city to live in: does it actually have to be in the US? Or could you spend six months, a year, a whole lifetime in another country?

So, you want a new job: does it have to be in your industry? Does it have to be something you already know how to do? Or could you take, say, a six-month online coding course and become a programmer? Could you start your own business? Could you try something new?

So, you want less stress and more relaxation: do you have to work full-time? Could you ask for a raise? Could you change careers? Could you reduce your living expenses? Is there a part-time job that would give you more joy, even if you had to live a simpler lifestyle?

So, you’re unhappy in your city: do you really have to stay? Why? Are there other places where you might have job opportunities, more connections, a better quality of life? What is it about that place that doesn’t jive with you? And how can you find somewhere that better fits your needs?

So, you want more time off: do you have to work a traditional schedule? Or could you work two weeks on, two weeks off, like my best friend in Arizona does? Or eight months out of the year in a seasonal job like my friend who leads Grand Canyon hikes? Or take a whole month off every year like I do? Or take on project work for three months or six months at a time and then take lengthy sabbaticals in between projects?

Whatever it is you’re thinking about changing, the thing is to challenge your built-in assumptions, ask the hard questions. So many of what we think of as “givens” in life are actually optional. For example:

::Is it really true that you have to be in the same time zone as your employer?

:: Is it really true that you must make enough money to have cable TV, a cell phone, a dog, and a two-bedroom apartment?

:: Is it really true that you need a college degree to pursue the career you want?

:: Is it really true that travel is too expensive?

:: Is it really true that you need to own a home?

For some people, the answers to these questions will be yes. A nurse or an orthodontist, for example, will need to be in the same time zone as their clients. Someone with an on-call job probably needs a cell phone more than the average Joe. Doctors obviously need degrees. But the point is that if we assume that all of us fall into the same categories, if we don’t ever ask the questions, we won’t ever know if there’s a simpler, happier, richer way to live.

It’s not necessary to be a homeowner or a dog-mom or a parent. It’s not essential to live somewhere your whole life just because you were born on that square of dirt. It’s not failure to change your mind, backtrack, try something new, start a business, start another business, move to a new city, move to another new city, give up your lease and live out of an RV or a tent or a sailboat.

While there are certainly exceptions to this, for many, many of us, the limits we think we’re up against are mostly make-believe. 

So in 2017, the new year, the fresh start, what if we started challenging them?


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7 Comments
  • Ali
    January 16, 2017

    Exactly!! Just because something seems normal, doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it. It’s tough, but it’s so worth it to push those boundaries and figure out what really works for you, and to live the live you really want. I love that you keep reevaluating your life goals and what you’re doing to see what’s working and where you want to go. Almost any decision can be changed later or you can switch gears and take a different path if the one you’re on isn’t working out. And there’s no reason to follow the path society deems to be the acceptable one if it isn’t what your heart truly wants.
    Ali recently posted…How Much Money I Make Online: Income Report December 2016My Profile

    • gigigriffis
      January 16, 2017

      Yes, truth!

  • Emily
    January 16, 2017

    YES!

    Thanks for the shout out to those of us in healthcare. It absolutely has different limitations than digital work, but I am always encouraging my colleagues to think outside the box about our schooling and careers. :D

    Okay mini-rant (you’ve been warned): I get a lot – and I do mean a LOT – of the “how are you working part-time?!” – and I read between the lines that most people are really asking how I can work part-time so soon out of school (3 years out) with the average educational debt in our field being 400k, falling compensation nationally in our field, my family’s love for travel, us having a child, etc.

    What most of my peers incorrectly assume is that after years of education and debt accumulation, the minute you get a large salary, you must buy a big house and a Lexus and season tickets to all of the things. Then you must locate someone to marry and plan a wedding and spend the equivalent of your entire graduate school tuition on that one event. Have some kids, act as put-upon as you can by parenthood, and get a housekeeper/nanny/chef/grocery delivery person while complaining for several years that you’re too busy to do any menial chores of any sort. Also complain that you can’t travel because of kids. Get annoyed with people who do travel with kids. Then enroll your kids in every paid activity you can find – bonus if you can spend all your free time driving them to these activities in an SUV that gets 8mpg. Meanwhile you must be sure to buy a house with more rooms that you have people in your family for only 5% down and pay the bare minimum on your loans every month. And wear your stress like a badge of honor.

    I’m not saying that all the above lifestyle choices are inherently bad. But I am seeing them more and more in a subset of the population that should be thinking WAY more creatively about what is possible with their careers and income level. They are disempowering themselves and burning through their own resources and sanity like it’s some sort of race to the bottom.

    And I know from experience that these are the people that look right past my 2004 Camry and our 1400 square-foot house and our kid who mostly plays outdoors for entertainment and ask me with no irony whatsoever how I work part-time. End rant. ;)

    • gigigriffis
      January 17, 2017

      Haha, YES. This is the best comment.

  • Kristy K
    January 18, 2017

    “Or could you take, say, a six-month online coding course and become a programmer?” A six month online coding course does not make you an employable programmer unless you are some sort of genius. By employable I mean people would actually pay you to program.

    Programming Concepts:
    Emacs/VIM + Python + Data Structures + Algorithms + GIT
    HTML/CSS/Twitter Bootstrap
    JavaScript/JQuery
    MySQL or PostgreSQL
    Web Framework: Django or Node.JS
    Learning from sample Web applications and building practices.

    The above are the minimum set of skills needed to be a full-stack developer. Emphasizing minimum. Assuming each component needs averagely 3 months study time of 40h/week, the total study time is about 18 months again of 40h/week.

    Ok…if you you just want to learn some HTML/CSS to create your own basic website then a 6 month online course is enough. But that does not make for an employable programmer. I currently work in Europe in software development and the expectations of what even a junior programmer can do are high. Maybe in other parts of the world this might differ…

    • gigigriffis
      January 18, 2017

      I totally agree for the more in-depth languages, but you can definitely learn HTML, CSS, and maybe some PHP in that kind of timeframe and be employable. Like anything, finding work will be the trick, but front-end dev work tends to pay well and HTML and CSS are pretty quick to learn. It’s not a prescription for everyone by any means, but is it a possibility? Something someone who wanted to be location independent or more financially independent or about to work from home might want to look into? I think so. :)

      • Kristy K
        January 18, 2017

        Yes, it’s definitely a possibility, I agree with that! It’s just that because I work in the field of software development I know what the expectations are even for a junior. But a great post as always!!! :) ;)

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