When even the unconventional life isn’t working out as you planned, how do you course correct to get on a more fulfilling track? Bethany Butzer broke out a spreadsheet and charted her way to a life more aligned with her values.
Here’s her story.
I’ve never really followed a linear path. I graduated with a Ph.D. in Psychology, turned down a job in academia to work in the corporate world, but very quickly realized that the 9-to-5 cubicle life wasn’t for me. After a year and a half, I quit.
Next, I started my own business blogging and coaching. I enjoyed the freedom and flexibility, and loved the work itself, but something was still missing. I felt like I was going through the motions, and the next step was supposed to involve having a child and living happily ever after.
Around that time, a job opened up at Harvard Medical School for someone to help research school-based yoga interventions. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to combine my passion for research with my interest in well-being, so my husband and I sold our house and we moved to Boston.
To my surprise, Harvard didn’t end up being what I’d hoped for. The work environment was extremely competitive and exhausting. The cost of living was through the roof. I spent most of my time at work or recovering from work. After two years of this lifestyle, I realized that something needed to change. The following four guidelines helped guide my husband and me through some major lifestyle changes to get us where we are today.
1. Get clear about what you value.
We realized that we needed to figure out what our core values were in the context of how we were living our lives. So we brainstormed and came up with several core values: meaningfulness, low cost of living, personal growth, friends and family, adventure, culture, and flexibility.
Once we had clear values in mind, the scientist in me took over and created an Excel spreadsheet to rate cities we had an interest in exploring in terms of how well they aligned with each value. We completed individual ratings and then discussed our results as a couple.
This systematic analysis revealed that Prague most clearly aligned with all of our values. My husband was born and raised in Canada, but his parents are Czech, so the move would also give us an opportunity to reconnect with his family. We’d be able to immerse ourselves in Czech culture, have quick access to many European countries which would feed our sense of adventure, plus the cost of living would be half of what it was in Boston (for a nicer apartment and a better quality of life).
Once again I quit a perfectly respectable job, we sold most of what we owned, and we spent a few weeks saying goodbye to friends and family before hopping a plane to Europe.
2. Get realistic about costs.
We didn’t buy the first flight to Prague the minute we finished our Excel analysis. First, we needed to get our financial ducks in a row. This took a few months of tightening our belts and considering thoughtful career moves.
My husband already owned his own recruiting business that he can manage from anywhere, so his income stream was simple enough. But my previous positions were more traditional and required me to think outside the box as to what I would do in the future. I started cold emailing universities in the Czech Republic to ask if they’d be interested in having me teach a course or two at their institution. Eventually, one invited me to teach on Positive Psychology, which was right in line with my values. I also started marketing myself as a research consultant and attracted clients that wanted their school-based yoga programs evaluated.
3. Be flexible.
I have a degree in Psychology, but I spent close to 2 years doing IT research. I’ve never held a full-time faculty position at a university, but I continue to do research on topics that interest me. My non-traditional career has given me the flexibility to make a reasonable income while working from anywhere, and also allowing me to honor my values.
4. Know when to say no.
For most of my life I’ve been a “yes woman.” I often agree with what people say, sometimes before I’ve even thought through what they said. The process of clarifying our values has allowed me to more consistently stand up for myself.
I was initially worried that people would be angry or disappointed when I switched away from my “yes” tendencies. But, oddly enough, this hasn’t been the case. Over time I’ve noticed that people respect the fact that I have the courage to make decisions that are right for me. I have yet to burn a bridge with a professional colleague. And people who have known me for awhile have gotten used to trusting my strange ideas because they’ve seen how decisions that are aligned with my values tend to work out in the end.
We’re still getting accustomed to life in the Czech Republic, but we’re planning to live in Prague for at least 2-3 years to get a feel for whether we want to stay here permanently. I fully expect my non-linear path to continue, whether I stay in Prague or not. Either way, I’ll continue to check in with my values to make lifestyle decisions that feel right for me, regardless of whether or not I’m following a traditional trajectory. Only time and my heart will tell!