Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash
By Bridget Baker
I looked up at the black and white clock, hearing the subtle buzz of the second hand as it moved along. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…the bell rings and it’s officially summer vacation! I could now run wild and free, untethered by school lunches, teacher’s rules, and the limitations of the recess bell.
That memory from getting out of school each year always meant the possibility of swimming pools, summer dance camps, and the freedom of being able to sleep in. It was a defining moment. Not only is my birthday in the summer, but ending a school year meant I was another year older, another year wiser, and also that I was advancing to the next grade. I was growing up, which meant I was that much closer to a life of freedom. I never liked sitting in a classroom and preferred the wilds of choosing my own schedule, my own rules, my own adventures.
In a former life, I was a dancer. I had what most people thought was a “dream job.” While I loved to dance, I didn’t enjoy the lifestyle. I spent six days a week, ten hours a day or so inside in a dance studio, hanging out only with other dancers. While this offered a family and comradery like nothing else might, I longed to hang out with people with different interests, with different styles, and with different body types. I longed for a diversity of experience, and for a life where my day off was not spent just recuperating from a hard week of dancing and doing the laundry, but of hiking, camping, and playing! The physical rigors of a dance career simply did not allow for many adventures. I wanted to get wild!
When I left dancing, it wasn’t because I wasn’t passionate about it, or didn’t love moving an audience. I thought the adventure would be working in an office. As odd as that sounds, it felt crazy to imagine a life where I didn’t spend my days wearing tights and sweatpants at work all day. I wanted to get fancy and wear heels and suits. I wanted to get dressed up, and feel more like a “woman.” It’s funny now to think that approaching a more nine-to-five corporate environment felt like freedom, but to someone who had only known dance for twenty-something years, being able to wear whatever I wanted felt like an opportunity to me.
I also wanted to be known for more than just my physical body and what I could do with it. The pressures of maintaining a dancer’s physique were challenging, as I didn’t have the stereotypical perfect ballerina body at the time, and I was under constant scrutiny to lose weight, to be fit, and to look a certain way. I wanted to expand my mind, be known for my intellect, and I knew I had so much more to say and offer the world. By studying journalism in college, I was looking to give a voice to this dream of sharing what I had to think.
Lost in trying to reinvent myself in a new career, I realized I didn’t want a traditional office nine-to-five day job. I had tried it on, thinking that a day job would be more stable and offer me better financial security, but I just found myself uninspired and miserable. I wanted a more flexible work life so that I could travel or work on days that worked for me in case I needed to take a Friday or Monday off, on my terms. I dreamed of what that business would look like and started developing and honing my skills. My current lifestyle is not what I had imagined I would do or be when I “grew up,” but it matches the way I want to live my life now. I took the time to get clear about the kind of life I wanted, and then designed everything around that.
Fast forward to my lifestyle now. I don’t have school-aged children, so I have no awareness around milestones like middle-school graduation, and no way to delineate time off. I run a location non-specific digital nomad business as a web designer and branding consultant. I can take any day off I choose, as I make my schedule, and I often work on bank holidays because I get to. I can have a three-day weekend whenever I want, even if this means working later in the day, or on a Saturday some weeks. My husband and I have a motto as we design our lives: “My week ends when I say it does.”
When we’re kids, with every Labor Day—or even sooner nowadays—comes “back to school” time. No more running free. No more choose-your-own-adventure. Now you can only play at scheduled recess times and you have your subjects decided for you. This kind of discipline shapes young minds for being out in the world as grown-ups, but where do you still confine yourself in your adult life now? What if you could remove some of your limiting beliefs? What if you could say “no” when you feel overcommitted, and design your life exactly the way you want to?
Three years ago, my husband and I set out into the wilds of life on the road when we decided to purchase a travel trailer to leave Los Angeles and to live full-time in that trailer! I was scared, unsure, and mostly just confused about how things like jury duty worked on the road. As my husband talked me down off the ledge and assuaged my fears, I began to realize: this is what I had been preparing for. I mean, I didn’t design a business that I could do from virtually anywhere for no reason. I wanted a life where I was free of time constraints and where I’d be able to travel, not only for vacation but as my lifestyle.
Here I am now in the Great Wild Open, with no end in sight. Why not design your life like it’s summer break year-round?