The world-renowned scientist Carl Sagan famously said, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you have to first invent the universe.” He meant that you need the sun, for starters, plus air, soil, and water to grow the apple tree. Then you need the phenomenon of gravity to make the apples fall once they ripen.
When I first decided to break out of my corporate career, I felt like I had to invent my own universe, too. The challenge seemed daunting. How could I leave that familiar world—and my multiple loans and mortgages—and take an independent leap into the great unknown?
From where I sat—under fluorescent lights surrounded by beige walls—the pressure of credit card debt, a car loan, and two mortgages was becoming unbearable. Worse still was the feeling that I was stuck in a life that just wasn’t a good fit. I don’t mind making sacrifices or shouldering a burden if I know that it’s moving me forward to where I want to be. But I was miserable, and I couldn’t stand my job or my predicament.
At the same time, the thought of venturing into uncharted territory was absolutely terrifying. In retrospect, what I now know is you don’t have to accept the rules others try to impose on your life, your finances, and your liberties. All you need is a little support and a few techniques for hacking your way out of the system—plus some of the individual willpower and determination that we Americans are famous for throughout the world.
Tired of the stress and of leading two lives—one I dreamed of inside my mind and the other I dreaded in my waking life—I took a stand. I threw off my necktie, picked up a roadmap, and was soon sitting in a rocking chair under a clear, blue sky on 50 acres of gorgeous land. As I watched a hawk circle above and my garden grow (while debt-free and carefree), it dawned on me that I didn’t have everything I had ever dreamt of in life. Not by a long shot. But I had a whole lot more than I ever imagined I would achieve, and I was just getting started.
Although my cabin had electricity, I only used it to pump water. I was heating with a woodstove, lighting my home with oil lamps, and using a small spring house I built in the creek as a natural, off-the-grid refrigerator. My utility bill was so small, in fact, that I thought the company had made a clerical mistake the first time I read the invoice.
Even when I used the fridge, electric lights, and my laptop, the bill was still less than $15 a month. I was healthier, too. I was preparing delicious, nutritious meals over an open fire, and always had a pot of beans or a hearty stew cooking on my woodstove. I learned how to use herbs, like goldenseal, to heal cuts and bacterial infections, and how to use wet tobacco to instantly reduce the pain and swelling from a bee sting. I started developing a second career as a freelance writer—a portable profession that I can do from anywhere.
For additional income, I occasionally bought items, like antiques and handmade quilts, at rural auctions…then resold them to home decorators in big cities, who were glad to pay a premium price. Life was simple…and life was good.
A simplified life—with a strategically lower financial overhead—can be much more valuable than a package of corporate perks that keeps you confined to a life you don’t find satisfying.
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