I’m not an asshole. But somehow I fear I’ve turned into one of those obnoxious, “everything is better in Mexico people.” And I’m so sorry. But at least I know I’m “one of those obnoxious people” and I’m working hard to keep a lid on it. Unfortunately, being back in the Bay Area for the past two weeks made me realize that I’ve morphed. The traffic, the parking lots, the rat race, the price of cold-brewed coffee, $7 for a pint of beer? See what I mean? I’m hella obnoxious.
Thankfully, I’m smart enough to realize that I’m dangerously close to total a–hole territory, so I’ve decided to focus this blog on another topic … how we got the courage to follow our dreams, and how you can follow yours, too.
This blog isn’t about Mexico. It’s about something bigger. It doesn’t matter if you want to change jobs or dramatically change your life. We all have the ability and the capacity to rock this change thing. Recently I’ve seen many close friends and a beloved family member make major life changes, and I’m so impressed. Without naming names, here’s what these rock stars did.
- One left a high-paying job at a high-profile Silicon Valley high-tech company to go to culinary school and become a chef. She was a good cook before culinary school, now she’s a kitchen goddess.
- Another bought a commercial building because her lease was expiring on the tattoo shop she owns. She renovated an old building with her husband, and opened a new studio. She also decided to dedicate a portion of her business to serving women who have had a mastectomy — by helping them get beautiful tattoos to cover their chest scars. How inspiring is that?
- Another friend is seconds away from selling her Bay Area home and moving to the Midwest. She’s on the verge of opening a B&B in a lovely small town in a state that’s famous for corn. She’s leaving a high-paying job, as is her husband, to give their young son more open space and a better quality of life.
- Another chucked her job, went on the road for two years and lived in Airbnb’s for approximately 30 days at a time. She was a freelancer to make ends meet. Recently she bought a house in the Pacific Northwest, renovated it and started a brand-new business. All at the same time. Phew!
These are not small changes. These are major changes. I’m so proud to have these people in my life.
Many of you have commented that we’re your idols for changing our lives. I’m humbled by these remarks. Although we did make this major life change, I want you to know that I had to combat a tremendous amount of fear before I could do it. I had to combat some very serious questions, including: 1) How could we afford to move to Mexico if we both quit our jobs? 2) How would I get the health care I needed in Mexico? and 3) What if my ovarian cancer recurred while I was in Mexico? What would I do then?
For several weeks I was stuck in the “what if” mode. It immobilized me. I played out a lot of worst-case scenarios in my head. Then I had a light-bulb moment. I was talking to Andy and I said, “I’m terrified we won’t be able to pursue our dream of living abroad. It’s what we’ve talked about for our entire marriage, and I don’t want my life to end without doing this with you.” Then I broke down and started sobbing.
That’s when I realized just how badly I wanted to move abroad, to a tropical climate. I knew that I, that we, would have tremendous regrets if we didn’t at least try to make this lifelong dream come true. I knew if my cancer recurred and I was still working full-time, I would be extremely bummed, to say the least. Andy looked at me and said, “I get it. We’ve talked about this for years. It’s time to do it.”
Five months later, we boarded a plane with a kinda solid plan in place detailing how to make things work. By renting our house in a nice Oakland neighborhood for well above our mortgage (a fortuitous situation in a hot real estate market), and by Andy working 15 hours a week remotely (as a copy editor for the Jewish weekly that employed him for eight years), the financial pieces fell into place. Our savings for retirement and other “back-up” sources of cash wouldn’t have to be liquidated, and our financial adviser steered us away from what we intially thought might be a smart move: selling our home.
I know our situation is unique. I know we’re really lucky in this regard. One problem solved. Then, after a decent amount of searching, I found an oncologist in Morelia, Mexico, whom I really like and who knows his stuff. So another fear has been dealt with.
Fear is the ultimate brain-waster. It takes up space inside our heads and chips away at our dreams. From this blog, you probably don’t think I’m an anxious person, but really I am! I have a decent amount of anxiety and I’m pretty much afraid of a ton of stuff, including:
- Giant cockroaches (of which there are a lot in Mexico).
- Carnival rides.
- Not being able to fall asleep, or having Andy nod off before I do.
- Recurring cancer.
But the trick to moving forward with your dreams is to not let fear paralyze you or take up too much valuable brain space. Confronting your fears head-on does work. Experts agree. Repeated exposure allows our brains to not feel so scared.
Last week, while taking BART from Oakland to San Francisco, I met a woman and shared our story. She said that she was fascinated with what we had done because she wanted to do something similar, but she couldn’t fathom the idea of cleaning out her house because she was too attached to her stuff. She was daunted, unable to even think about getting rid of all of her treasures even though she wanted to live a different kind of life. I told her that getting rid of stuff was easier than I thought it would be.
Here’s what helped me deal with the purge necessary to rent our house:
The first thing that helped me was my sister-in-law, the great Tamara Altman. Tamara volunteered to come to the Bay Area for an entire week and help us pack up our house and get rid of tons of excess junk. She also brought her boyfriend, a builder/contractor who not only helped with the packing but also did some vital “handyman and beyond” jobs around the house. Tamara loves packing and organizing, finding it at once relaxing, challenging and energizing. She’s a genius at it. I’ve never seen anything like it. Within a week, we had packed up valuables and things I didn’t want to leave in the house for the renters. And Shaun worked with Andy (OK, mostly it was Shaun) to help get the garage area maxed-out for storage and the house ready for the renters. Anxiety quelled!
- I gave away most of my clothes to friends (a) because it made me feel really good and (b) because they graciously accepted them. I felt really good about helping them revitalize their wardrobes.
- I asked my sister-in-law to help me make decisions about clothes I was conflicted about; I allowed myself to keep one huge plastic tub filled with clothing I could not part with. The rest I took to Mexico. I like knowing I have a big bin of clothes in our garage in Oakland full of my best duds.
- I kept focusing on the big picture, visualizing one ultimate word, “regret.” As in not wanting to live in it. This helped push me forward as we bagged up, boxed up and de-cluttered our entire house.
With the exception of our Jacuzzi bathtub and comfortable couch in Oakland, I don’t really miss the house — which I find very surprising. I thought I would feel way more attached to it, but for some reason, this isn’t holding true. To me, as long as I have a nice roof over my head (any roof), I’m good to go.
Some final advice about making your dreams come true.
- Set a deadline and tell people about it. It will help you make it come true once you’ve said it out loud.
- Ask for help! I don’t think I could have packed up my house without the help of Tamara, Shaun and Andy. A teamwork approach made things less scary and I loved how organized we left things. I’m telling you: Everyone needs a Tamara to keep them motivated and organized!
- Do research. Don’t jump into something you know nothing about. I’d been visiting Zihuatanejo for a week or two every year for nearly 20 years; Andy came with me 10 or 12 times. Also, we’d been talking about retiring to a tropical climate for years. It wasn’t a new plan. Cancer just greatly speeded it up.
Now I wanna hear about your dreams. What’s holding you back? Are you looking to change jobs? Are you looking to go back to school? Are you thinking about making a relationship change? Are you thinking about joining us in Mexico? Write me. Share your story with me. Let’s see what we can do together to help make your dreams come true.