I have always tried to live my life by one mantra: make life choices that I won’t regret in my final days. It sounds simple enough, but has led me down some interesting paths, for better or worse. I lived in Japan for several years (great choice), married my first boyfriend (bad choice), and have done a bunch of seemingly non-related jobs: IT technician, university professor, stay-at-home mom and game producer.
With few exceptions, I’m happy with how my life has turned out so far. My experiences have filled me with joy and humility. It has taught me to appreciate life beyond money or status. On the flip side, leading a less structured life can wreak havoc on your professional career. Those non-related jobs I referenced look like lack of focus on a resume. When you live life on the road less traveled, you’re making it hard to compare your experience to others who are following a more traditional path.
But take heart. For those of you either on the road less traveled with me or thinking about taking your first steps, there’s a few things I’ve learned:
There will always be opportunities for you.
Every time I’ve taken the plunge to do something different, it has terrified me. When I had my first child, I quit a lucrative video game producing job that had a lot of career potential. I knew that I wanted to spend more time with my children, but I had no idea how that would translate when I wanted to return to the workforce. Yet, I’ve been able to find relevant part-time work as a “stay-at-home mom.” I’ve taught at a local university. I’ve consulted for small businesses. I will soon commit several hours to a start-up company that has an upside for equity in the far distant future. Just because I ended one career didn’t mean my professional life ended. It meant many other doors opened for me that I never thought possible.
You increase your odds of being satisfied with your life.
While there is no guarantee that you will be satisfied with your life, if you’re living it on your terms, you’re more likely to be happy. While living in Japan, I met so many people who felt stuck with their lot in life that I never wanted to be in that position. Working a job just for the money or out of obligation never seems to bear out for anyone. I’ve learned instead to live on less and take jobs that give me more personal life satisfaction. I’ve rarely regretted decisions that I’ve made, and when I do, I try my best to find new solutions to get out of that rut as quickly as possible.
You aren’t as unique as you think you are.
You might think that forging your own path makes you unique, but the longer you’re on this road, the more people you meet taking it. This can make you feel insignificant, especially if you compare yourselves to people who have achieved far greater success than you in the same amount of time. I’ve been bitten by the jealousy bug more than a few times when I meet wildly successful people. If you can push past that feeling, though, you can network with many like-minded individuals who can further living your own life. They will give advice and support you. And, almost without exception, the other individuals off the beaten path have reminded me just why I try to live life by my own terms (rather than just “get a job” and be done with it).
You will wish that you’d taken the more common road, now and again.
It’s okay and even advisable to yearn for a more predictable life. I’ve worked several government jobs in my career that I would consider more along “the beaten path.” I’ve met many wonderful people and learned lots of things there. I could have continued on with a full-time career in these jobs. But staying in one job, or even just in one set of circumstances, just isn’t for me. Whenever I get too settled in somewhere, I get the urge to be challenged and try something new. So off I go.
And that’s really what being on the road less traveled is all about. Moving on. Growing and changing. Never stop learning. If you’re here with me on the road less traveled, I hope you feel as happy as I do. The future may never turn out as you expected it would, but that’s half of the fun. And so far, even with a few pitfalls and sorrow in my life, I can honestly say I have very few regrets.