This is a guest post by M.P. MacDougall
I’ve always wanted to be a writer.
But for my entire adult life, that goal eluded me.
Rather than pursue my dream first, I gave in to practicality and accepted the mainstream idea of a ‘responsible’ career path. I served in the Air Force, learned a trade, and followed that trade to wherever promotions and pay raises beckoned me.
For more than twenty-three years, I’ve had a ‘real’ job to do, a career that has always, somehow, prevented me from taking my own dream seriously. Caught up in pursuing my ‘real’ job, I repressed my dream so far that I almost forgot it altogether.
Then I realized how unhappy I was.
Eleven years ago, I followed my day job to a place I hated, in exchange for higher pay and the illusion of better working conditions. As the years passed, I continued working and moving up, but the job became less satisfying with every passing day. I felt out of place and adrift, and all I could think about most days was how much time I had left until I could retire and get the heck out of there.
On top of all that, my creativity was drowning in the fatigue and time demands that come from constantly running a race with millions of other unhappy rats. I was slowly trading my dream of being a writer for the false security of a steady paycheck.
I desperately wanted out, but over the years I had somehow managed to get promoted to a point that I could no longer walk away without taking a huge financial hit, both to my current paycheck and to my future retirement. The only place I could maintain my income was the absolute last place I wanted to be.
I was addicted to my salary – even though obtaining that salary was sucking my will to live.
In desperation, my wife and I started actively planning for the earliest possible retirement. We took a trip to the city we wanted to retire in, getting the lay of the land and starting long-term plans for a move we thought was years away.
Then, a month later, a job opportunity opened up – in that same city.
It was within my career field, but because it would be at a much smaller facility, it would require a significant pay cut. We’re talking 15% right off the top, continuing down to a total cut of about 25% in three years.
I didn’t think twice.
We sold our too-expensive, too-large house; got rid of a bunch of junk we didn’t need, cut our spending to the bone, and accepted the job.
We moved into a house that’s a thousand square feet smaller than our old one, in a much smaller town – and we couldn’t be happier.
My commute used to be 45 minutes each way on good days.
Now it takes me 15.
I don’t hate my day job anymore, and I’m a much nicer person to be around.
And the most unexpected bonus?
Less than two months after the move, I published my first book.
Strangely enough, I found that once my day job no longer dominated every minute and every thought, I was able to pursue my creative dream with much more energy and focus.
Cutting out endless wasted hours of commuting translated to many more hours of productivity and creative energy.
Removing the stress of constantly worrying about upward mobility allowed me to focus on living my life – instead of focusing on the job that supported my life.
In other words, I finally got my priorities straight.
If you’re unhappy with your present career path, consider this: Where is your focus?
Do you live your life just to further your career?
Or does your career exist – so that you can live your life?
It’s a pretty important distinction.
Taking a major pay cut and a ‘backward’ career step seemed, initially, like career suicide.
But in reality, it wasn’t that at all.
It was emergency lifestyle surgery.
And I’m happy to report, the patient is doing just fine.