Monday, June 29, 2015

At the Risk Of Happiness

What is that sweet spot between being safe and responsible and allowing, or even embracing, risk and change? What helps us out of our comfort zone?  If what we are currently doing doesn't make us feel happy or fulfilled then maybe we need to alter our mindset or our situation. It sounds simple but what holds us back?

I grew up making (mostly) safe decisions. For example, I probably spent more time on the green runs while skiing than I needed to. These "safe decisions" included finding a job and sticking with it. My parents taught me that working hard was important. My mom dropped me off at the mall with 50 resumes when I was in grade 10 and I wasn't allowed back in the van until I had distributed them all.   I got a job. We were taught to work hard and make wise choices. Don't get me wrong – our lives were full of adventure.  We hiked, fished, and camped. We drove all the way across Canada (to the tip of Newfoundland) in a camper with our family of 7. Work hard. Play hard.

I knew that my parents did not want us to risk our job security. They each had the same job for over 30 years. Crazy, right?  I remember hearing that most people change careers seven times in their life and I thought that was wild.  Don't you just pick something and stick with it? I’m learning that maybe, you don’t. Maybe, if something becomes too stressful or boring or all-consuming then it might be time to re-evaluate what you are doing.

There are several times that I have taken a risk in regards to work. When I first started teaching, I was very happy with my job.  I was single and had the energy to invest into my science classes. I had a long-term goal of going to Africa one day but realized that this was quite unlikely; why would I ever go?  How could I leave my job? Well, fast-forward three years and I had an awkward break up with a fellow teacher from the same school. I decided to take a huge risk: I resigned from my job at the end of the school year and volunteered to teach in a remote village in Kenya. Do you realize what a life-changing experience it is to travel internationally and fully engage in another culture? Among the multitude of lessons, I learned the value of education, how much I had been taking  granted, and the beauty of relationships. I also learned that I love chapatis and mandazis.

I was in Kenya for 6 months. When I returned home, I started teaching at a different school. I married that "fellow teacher"' who had broken up with me just a year before (hey – that counts as a risk, too, right?)  We got married and after having our oldest son, I continued working part-time. Gary always loved photography and really wanted to start a photography business. I knew very little about photography or business. He convinced me that by taking this risk, the worst-case scenario was that we would have nice photos of our kids. We took a small financial risk, as well as one to our pride (what if we failed?) and opened GC Photography. Little did I know how important this would be down the road.

After the arrival of our second son, I was set to return to work part time. I got very sick with an autoimmune disease called Graves'. There were nights that I fell asleep with such great chest pains that I wondered if I would die in my sleep. I wore sunglasses inside the house because my eyes were so sensitive to light. I lost a lot of weight and had a resting heart rate over 100 beats per minute. I struggled with insomnia. I knew that there was no way I could return to teaching; the stress and fatigue would be too great. Instead, I could invest more time into our photography business that we had started just 2 years prior. Could I make the equivalent of teaching part-time by doing photography? Could I say good-bye to a safe and stable income? The choice was made and the flexibility of this new job was key.

The decision to volunteer in another country and to later start a photography business was not what I had ever expected for myself. I think sometimes things happen in our lives to help guide us in a new direction. Whether you just keep plowing through in the same direction, or take that turn, is up to you. Changing course can be scary but it can be so good – fueling us mentally, physically and emotionally. What I have learned from Kenyan culture, becoming a photographer, and even running a business, has changed who I am. This would not have happened if I allowed my fear to guide my decisions.

 Now that I’ve seen the value of taking risks in my career, I try to apply risk-taking to other areas of my life while keeping balance between safety and change in mind.

 Last summer I had the opportunity to fly with Redline Aerobatics and I had to decide whether I would embrace this opportunity despite my great fear of heights.  I asked myself over and over "Will I regret not doing this? Will I ever have this chance again?"  I did it and it was the highlight of my year.

Another risk we took was to take our young family to the Philippines and Thailand, which was not the easiest summer vacation we could have planned. Usually we do family trips within our own province so this was definitely outside of our comfort zone. Were we exhausted? Yes. Did we get sick? Yes. Did the kids learn about the world and try new food/words/activities? Yes. Did we spend ample time together as a family? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes.

As a person who is apprehensive of change, I am excited about the future. What will happen next? I don't know. What I do know is that I have learned so much by veering in new directions and I look forward to seeing what is ahead.

 Do you love what you are doing?  Is there something you've always wanted to do?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and I'd encourage you to embrace the possibility of change.

"It's good to do uncomfortable things. It's weight training for life." –Anne Lamott

Louise (the high-flying photographer who can speak a little Swahili)

What helps us out of comfort zone? Anne Lamott says "It's good to do uncomfortable things. It's weight training for life."

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  1. I am totally afraid of change so this is good for me to hear with a giant change coming up in a couple months!

    1. I totally get it! I'm excited to follow your journey from afar...I think you will grow so much as a little family (and probably much closer with your sis and bro-in-law)!

  2. As you already know, you are one of the people who inspired me to "take a risk and just believe that everything would work out!"

    1. Go, Terri, Go! So glad that you have your dream job!

  3. Wow! I love this article. Refreshing! I feel challenged. :)
    I'm kind of in the middle, I'm not super adventurous, but I'm ok with some change.
    On a side note...I too suffer from thyroid disease...Hashimotos and am currently wearing my sunglasses inside and have had weird chest pain all month. :(
    And aerobatics?!? Cool!

    1. So sad to hear about your thyroid--you must be hypo right now? So hard!! I think I'm in the middle too (in regards to desire for change).

    2. Yes, hypo. I'm usually pretty stable, but I notice I feel yucky with seasonal changes (weird?). I should get my blood work done.

    3. Yes--I was going to recommend that! Chest pains indicated mine being super hypo.

  4. Changes are stressful for me... and yet I crave them at the same time. I find myself telling my thoughts the same story of we only live once so make sure you actually live.

    1. Yes--we only live once!! I always ask myself "If anything happened to me, would I be happy with how I lived my last days?" Maybe dramatic but works for me :)