“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Once upon a time, I thought I had it all.
I was in my seventh year of climbing the corporate ladder. My husband, my daughter and I lived in a comfortable, suburban four-bedroom home in a safe neighborhood. Life was secure, predictable, and routine. We planned to fix up the house, and we figured that I’d likely keep working the same job until I retired.
But two things served to derail those plans.
First, I felt a constant sense of unrest. My job progressively became more stressful. I resented the increasing amount of time I was putting in at the office because it felt like it wasn’t appreciated.
Second, I came home every night to a house that demanded constant attention. Yardwork and cleaning brought me no more joy than the hours I spent shuffling papers at work. This led to procrastination in both places, which only increased my levels of dissatisfaction and stress.
Then we went camping. The day we started traveling in our 30-foot Airstream camper through the Northwoods, everything changed. We loved traveling. We loved the camping community. Above all, we loved the freedom.
We loved it so much that we camped nearly three months the following year. I physically continued working at the same job, but mentally and spiritually, I was still miles away, out in the woods.
That’s when we decided that it was time for a change. My eighth year in the corporate world was my last. It was also the last year we lived in a house.
We sold our home and quit our conventional jobs, trading it all for the freedom of life on the road. We packed everything into the Airstream and headed out. We drove 2,100 miles to Oregon, where we started a new life.
We’ve left behind the script that everyone else seems to think they need to follow to be successful. We don’t own property. We shower in a bathhouse. We don’t own an oven. Our daughter is homeschooled (or, more aptly, “camper-schooled!”) as my husband and I take turns tending to the matters of our new business.
And we couldn’t be happier. Instead of mowing the lawn or painting the window frames, we hike the trails. Instead of spending entire days inside of an office, we collect bird sightings in our journals and make new friends at each campground along our way. We keep extra s’mores fixings in the camper, in case our daughter brings over a new playmate.
You may not dream of leaving it all behind to live in a camper. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the creature comforts of a house. But it’s possible that the conventional way our culture expects things to be done is holding you back from living your dream life. Are there things you do only because society expects you to?
Here are some things I’ve learned from living my life without the traditional script:
- Rethink what “success” means.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned during our travels is to question everything we assume we must do to achieve success.
“Success” is a subjective term. It doesn’t have fundamental meaning standing on its own. There’s no point to “success” if you’re unhappy. Spending less time working and focusing on material gain frees up your energy to focus on what really matters to you.
- Don’t become enslaved to security.
I’ve met too many people who aren’t living their best lives because they perceive their situation as “secure.” But it’s just an illusion. Anybody can lose their job at any time. Limiting your experiences in life simply to attempt to avoid job loss doesn’t make sense.
Don’t let fear prevent you from taking risks. Trust in your abilities to solve problems.
- Invest your energy in what matters to you.
Do you love to maintain your yard? Is it important to you to own a home? Do large paychecks really matter to you?
It’s your life. There’s nothing you must do. Everything you do involves a choice, even when you feel like it doesn’t.
Figure out what you truly value. Stop doing things just because you feel like you’re supposed to do them.
- Don’t fear change.
I loved my job when I first started working. That made the decision to leave it more difficult. So many of us perceive our current situation as permanent. But changes are the only things that are guaranteed in life.
We left our house behind. I know we’ll probably not live in a camper for the rest of our lives. Stop resisting. Go with the flow of life, and be ready to move on when it’s time to do so.
- See judgment for what it is.
When you do things differently than others do, you’ll likely face criticism. But other people’s words don’t define you.
When somebody judges you or criticizes your choices, they’re only exhibiting their own misunderstandings. Only an insecure person would judge another person’s choices.
- Don’t be afraid to fail.
“Failure” is another subjective word with no meaning on its own. We instinctively learn by trial and error, so mistakes are inevitable.
When we label our mistakes with the word “failure” and all its baggage, we cheat ourselves out of the chance to learn from them. Things won’t always go as planned. But you can alter your course as you go. It’s all part of the process. Failure is not something to worry about.
In our travels, we’ve experienced a lot through trial and error. We interviewed for jobs and didn’t receive offers. We made lots of mistakes in launching our business. We’ve had to make repairs to the camper that didn’t go quite as well as we’d hoped they would.
But still, every mistake has led to learning. We’re living a life that we’d only been able to dream of in the past, and we spend our time with other people who share our passion. I don’t think there’s a better way for us to live. So, find your passion, and live it!