This is an essay I wrote for an essay contest back in 2013. Entrants were to write a story about the bravest thing they had ever done. Since I didn’t win, I guess I am free to share it here now. : ) That’s bittersweet. Enjoy…
Tiny. In a City Known for Big.
Are you familiar with the quote, “Once you make a decision, the Universe conspires to make it happen?”
Bumping up against 50, I decided to take a leap and change everything in my life and try something totally new – banking on outrageous happiness. And when I say “change everything,” I mean everything: Sell my material possessions. Sell the house that I had worked so hard to buy. End a 13 year relationship that had fallen cold. Ditch my 25 year career. Put it “out there” that I am willing to relocate to another part of the country. I am resourceful. I’d either be a huge success or an epic failure – and either way I would have a great story to tell.
In February 2012 I signed up for a career transition workshop. I embarked upon the hard work of months of peeling off those layers to get down to what really makes me tick, and identifying my natural talents. I dived in with a voracious appetite. Two questions I had to answer were, “What did you do as a child that made you happy and why did you quit doing those things?” The result? Validation. Empowerment. Confidence. I have unique talents, skills and passions. I am bold enough to step out and follow my heart to overhaul and rebuild my life – not from a fail, but with a new focus: What will make me happy in the second half of my life?
I grew up in northern Minnesota, the youngest of five daughters. Up until a year ago, I was your typical girl from the Midwest. In my 20s and 30s I did what was expected of me: I graduated high school, got a college degree and got married. I landed the downtown 9-5 job, and we bought a house. And then, like so many others, I just kept going to work. It felt a bit… circular… But isn’t that what success is? We are conditioned that more is better. Bigger is better. We buy, we work to pay for what we bought, and we buy some more. I don’t buy that anymore.
I have been blessed with enjoying the job for which I went to college, and having a successful career path. I’ve worked for the same lawyer as a litigation paralegal for twenty years. My career path kept me on my feet during a divorce, brought me amazing learning experiences in and out of the court room, built spectacular friendships, got me involved in Habitat for Humanity, and ultimately enabled me to buy a 1929 Tudor home in a coveted historical neighborhood near downtown. I was a princess in my own castle. It was a great feeling of accomplishment and I was insanely happy.
I had to start filling up the house before it dawned on me that it wasn’t for me. It was an idyllic street – we were a community. But I felt tied down. Trapped. And I could see change coming at work; my boss is retirement age, and I am not. I was at a crossroads. I didn’t want to start over with another attorney. And, the legal arena has changed; most cases don’t go to trial anymore, they settle. Jury trials are what I really love. I needed a pro-active plan of action.
One workshop assignment was to contact someone in the career field in which I was interested. I wrote to Jay, who started the tiny house movement in the U.S. But I didn’t just write him a letter; I bought an old wrought iron door knocker. I affixed it to a piece of 150 year-old Cypress wood. I hand wrote my note on a piece of parchment paper, tied it up with a piece of twine, tucked it under the door knocker, and walked it across the street to FedEx. My heart was pounding. I knew it was the start of a new life. I was so sure about it that I had the guy behind the counter pose for a photo holding the box. I could tell he thought I was a little nutty, but he held up the box and smiled.
When Jay called me, I assured him that when he had his first workshop at his new company that I would be the first to register. When I learned it was scheduled for February, 2013 I immediately signed up. Jay called me and congratulated me as the first registrant for his first workshop!
It was fall. I vowed, amongst criticism from those closest to me, that I would be downsized by Christmas. I am nothing without a deadline – and this one was ambitious – but I was formulating a plan and I wanted the new year to be a spring board for my new life.
In October I had an estate sale. I sold everything I owned except for my tools and my camping gear. Letting go of possessions was oddly surreal – as though I was standing across the street, watching someone else empty their house. Odd things tugged at my heart – my tool bench. My rototiller. Total strangers listened to my story and became my groupies.
Thanksgiving week I headed out of town. The “for sale” sign was going up after my departure. When I awakened the next morning, I had a text from my realtor: “We have a full list price cash offer for your house.” One person looked at my house – and she wrote me a check. I didn’t paint, we didn’t have it appraised – it just sold. I leased an apartment and moved in three days before I flew to my parents’ for Christmas. I’d done it.
The workshop was eye opening – the more I learned the more excited I became. We toured Jay’s tiny house. It was the first time I had ever stood in a tiny house and I was giddy that I liked it, since having sold my house and my possessions I was already committed… I bought the construction plans for The Gifford (112 square feet on wheels) on day two of the workshop. I was going tiny. In a city known for big.
I was fortunate that my particular California workshop included a 3 day build. We helped a family frame their tiny house. During the build, Daniel, the second instructor and a high school construction teacher, mentioned that he was looking for someone who was ready to start construction on their tiny house, who would buy the materials and be willing to let his students build it. Without hesitation I said, “That’s me.” Soon after, Daniel and I reached an agreement, and I researched and chose a custom trailer company and ordered my trailer. As I sat in my local bank doing the wire transfer, my head swam. I am really doing this!
I had a small set back while the trailer was being fabricated; the high school’s risk management department vetoed the project due to liability. But my path was meant to be, and I took it as a twist, not a roadblock. An alternative plan emerged: Daniel lead a summer day camp called MAGIC Camp (“Mentor A Girl In Construction”) and this year sixteen girls from eight area high schools came together to frame my house! The project changed the girls and their mentors; I wish you could have seen them. The first day or two we were just screwing boards together – but on the third day? When the walls went up? Those girls changed. They were builders. I saw a few of them at the end of the day when their families came to pick them up, jumping up and down and screaming and pointing, “Look what we did! Look. What. We. Did.” And their construction professional mentors? Beaming. It changed everyone there.
On September 15th my house will be moved from California to Dallas where I will personally complete the construction. My apartment lease expires December 12th – my move in deadline.
Once I made the decision to radically alter every aspect of my life, my journey began to unfold in front of me. It’s been an emotional journey, the way things have gone, and the people whose lives my path is crossing. I know myself better now than I ever have, and I love who I am becoming. I’m single, I’m debt free, and I’m ready to launch the second half of my life. I am so excited!