4 tips for escaping normalcy and living a different life
You could say I have a habit of doing things differently. So does every journalist, writer, and digital influencer you’ll talk to.
A little over five years ago, I turned down my acceptance to MIT’s biomedical engineering program. Now, I’m quitting my full-time job.
Why, you ask?
To build something I can be proud of.
I’m sick of trading hours for dollars and watching my free days spiral away as I count the hours until my next shift.
Despite having a rewarding job as a nurse, I still want more. I want my hard work to go beyond the time clock. I want my effort to lead to freedom when it’s time to put the work away.
I've said no quite a few times in my life so I could do things differently. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way that will help you do the same.
Learn to Say No
As a freelancer, saying no can feel like a slap in the face. You spend countless hours looking for work in the beginning. Turning down jobs seems like the worst thing in the world.
Saying no is also the best way to grow your freelancing career.
Half a decade ago, I had a chance to attend one of the best universities in the country—if not the world. A few days later, I said no to MIT.
I knew I wanted to pursue a career that would be rewarding both personally and professionally. Designing prosthetics and biomedical equipment seemed like a great choice.
But something wasn’t sitting quite right.
Though I was thrilled and honored by the prospect, it didn’t satisfy the need for more. Instead, I turned to nursing for the flexibility it offered. I knew I could pursue several different specialties and still have a few days of the week for myself.
I spent the next four years getting a degree. I also felt my creativity draining away as I studied for countless hours and tried to write full-time on the side.
Four years and one pandemic later, I’m a registered nurse in what is arguably the most broken era the U.S. healthcare industry has ever seen.
This wasn’t what I signed up for. So, after giving it a year of my life, I said no.
I took a risk and stepped away from my safe nursing job to pursue the thing that had been lingering in my mind for years.
It was time to start building my own business.
Plenty of people warned me about saying no to these opportunities. Even more had reservations about me leaving behind my traditional job, health insurance, and schedule.
Yes, I had reservations too.
But I put them aside because I knew I wouldn’t be content if I didn’t take a chance on myself and pursue this opportunity.
Without saying no, I would never have found time to grow my freelance business to where it is today. I would still be stuck, wishing there was something better.
Find Your Why
Saying no just to say no isn’t a great idea. Doing it in favor of something better is essential.
That said, you have to find your why.
What drives you to get off the couch and start working every day? No, the answer can’t just be money.
It might be financial freedom from your relentless 9-5 (yes, that's different than money). Maybe it’s the pride of building a brand with your name attached to it. Or maybe your cup is filled by giving back to others.
Regardless of what it is, you need to find your why.
Once you do, saying no to normalcy gets a lot easier. Choosing a different path is simple when it's lit by the lantern of your why.
Writing that blog post is exhilarating. Turning down the job offer feels right. Staying in on Friday night to work on your brand lights a fire inside you.
When you’re busy chasing your why doing the hard work feels effortless. Putting in late nights and long hours is enjoyable. Saying no to opportunities most people would cherish is empowering.
Don’t Be Afraid of Looking Selfish
When you choose a different path, you’d better prepare for the chatter. Most people haven’t experienced anything other than the normal they’ve been taught to follow.
The idea of not having a boss terrifies people. Saying no to an opportunity is unimaginable for “normal” folk.
Depending on what you’re saying no to, some people will even think your choice to pursue “different” is selfish.
Take it from me. Stepping away from a pediatric nursing job to run my own business wasn’t always popular among family and friends. Many couldn’t fathom what could be more rewarding.
If no one else says it, don’t be afraid to ruffle some feathers when pursuing your why.
There is nothing more rewarding than doing something you’re passionate about. Those who haven’t learned this yet have a hard time seeing it.
This lack of perception can manifest itself in many ways. Some people see you pursuing your goals as selfish because doing so doesn’t contribute to an outside organization or purpose. Others wonder why you're okay with saying no to activities because you have work to do.
While many people find fulfillment in these ways, it’s okay if you don’t. It’s okay for you to focus on building something of your own–even if it doesn’t impact the world in some overly positive way.
If your “why” is building a content brand, then do it. If your “why” is being an author, do it.
Pursuing something that makes you happy will ultimately make you a better person. In turn, your impact on the world will be a positive one.
There’s nothing selfish about seeking fulfillment.
Take a Chance On Yourself
Finally, I want to touch on something I tend to experience while saying no: self-doubt.
Whether it’s turning down an invitation to MIT or leaving a steady job, a voice in the back of your mind always has something to say.
“But what if you regret not going there?”
“Are you really a good enough writer to make it on your own?”
“Can I make enough to support my family without this job?”
These thoughts are toxic to the pursuit of your why. No one is thinking such negative things on purpose.
But that doesn’t mean they aren't polluting your headspace.
When you say no to normalcy and start working towards something bigger, doubts are sure to follow.
It’s important to prune these thoughts early on.
My therapist once told me to sit my thoughts down on the couch next to me. Have a conversation with those doubts. Remind them that you are in control. Remind yourself why you’re doing the scary thing you’re doing.
In time, you’ll notice these doubts become quieter. You won’t hear them nearly as often.
The sound of your footsteps chasing after your why will drown them out.
Saying no is often the first step towards something great. But here’s something you should say yes to… my newsletter!
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