I recently visited some dear friends who just relocated from Wisconsin to Seattle. They left the Bay Area a year ago with a sound, grownup, well-reasoned plan – they would move to the Midwest to be closer to family and actually afford a house [#bayareaproblems] with a yard for their two young kids.
They transferred jobs and packed up belongings and said their goodbyes and carried out this well-reasoned, grown up, thought-out plan. I visited them in Wisconsin last year and there they were, the same furniture and books and kiddo toys I had gotten used to seeing in their Menlo Park rental sitting in a new apartment in Wisconsin. The had found a church and a preschool, a local grocery store and favorite frozen yogurt shop, and they were slowly building a life in the Midwest.
There was just one, unforeseen problem though: this new life they were building, that they had planned for so carefully – they hated it. They couldn’t find a house they actually wanted to buy, the Wisconsin winter was more brutal than they expected, and being close to family was still over an hour drive – not close enough to drop the kids off for a few hours so they could sneak in a date night or run to Target.
A few months ago, out of the blue, I got an update email blast they sent to friends and family – they were leaving Wisconsin and moving to Seattle. My friend had been staying home with her kids and decided she missed working, so she got a job – and her husband hated his job and decided he’d rather stay home with the kids, so they switched roles. They packed up their belongings again, they said their goodbyes again, and they moved to a place they had dreamed of retiring, but never imagined they’d live in this soon.
As I read their update email, I felt stunned, then refreshed, like someone had opened the door of a stuffy room and let in a cool ocean breeze. “Wow,” I thought, “it’s never too late to change your mind. It’s never too late to go off script.”
I thought their story was written, done – “Young couple leaves Bay Area and buys a home in the Midwest, settles down and is closer to family.” Period. End of sentence.
Turns out the period was actually those three dots that indicate there’s more to the story, that there’s more to come. Young family moves to the Midwest…then moves to Seattle….then??
I was deeply impressed with the courage it took them to be honest and say “this isn’t working.” As someone who struggles with caring way too much about what other people think, I was deeply aware of the courage it took to say “We made a decision, we told all y’all about it…but it’s not working for us, and we’re making a new one.” The courage it took to go off script, to stay true to what they knew was best for themselves, their marriage and their family.
How many of us set down a path and get to a point of inertia, of saying “Well, I’m not really happy, but I already made this move/took this job/got into this relationship/bought this house so I guess I just need to keep going.” How incredibly courageous to be honest – with yourself and with those you love – and say “This story isn’t working for me – it’s time to go off script.”
It takes courage to acknowledge that other people may be disappointed or judge you or call you irresponsible or flaky or insert-judgemental-verb-here, yet hold fast to the precious truth that is this is your life – and the only way to fail at it is to stop being true to yourself.
A few weeks ago I was in a boutique and stumbled across a necklace with a small gold arrow dangling from it. It instantly made me think of a song I love by Kacey Musgraves called “Follow Your Arrow” and I bought it on the spot. I’ve been wearing it as a daily reminder that the world has lots of things to say about the direction I should go – geographically, career-wise, life-wise – but that there is a still, small voice inside me that is the most important one to pay attention to, the only voice that really matters.
I’m trying to remember every day to follow that voice, and stay true to what matters deeply to me, even – especially – if it means changing things up in the middle of the story. Because I’m finding that those unexpected plot twists are actually where some of the the most beautiful stuff in life is found.
Just follow your arrow
Wherever it points, yeah
Follow your arrow
Wherever it points
Say what you think
Love who you love
‘Cause you just get
So many trips ’round the sun
Yeah, you only
Only live once