By Maggie James
'You're so brave,' someone said to me recently. 'After all, you gave up financial security to follow your dreams.' For those of you who don't know my story, I used to be an accountant, in a secure and well-paid job. I ditched all that to pursue my ambition of becoming a novelist, a profession that many regard (wrongly, in my view) as being badly remunerated. That's a topic for another post! This time around I'd like to focus on the notion of comfortable ruts, and the insidious effect they have on people's lives.
Years ago I read something that's always stayed with me: how sad it must be to die with regrets. This notion was reinforced as I watched my mother descend into dementia and my elderly father express regret about things he'd not achieved. The lure of the comfortable rut is a powerful one, though. Despite the lessons unfolding before my eyes, I remained an accountant. Why? Because it was the easy option. I earned a decent salary, didn't work overtime and had congenial colleagues and clients. I owned my home, was debt-free and indulged my love of travel frequently. A good lifestyle, most people would say, and yes, it was. I wasn't unhappy, not at all. Underneath, though, the itch to write novels nagged away at me. Had I hated my job, perhaps I'd have jumped ship earlier. I was in a comfortable rut, though, coupled with a strong need for financial security. Once you slip into a rut, it grows deeper, the danger being that it can engulf you, given time.
Eventually, things turned sour at work. It wasn't bravery that led to my career as a novelist but the fire under my butt, sparking by the epiphany I had; the thought of staying put became unbearable. To my surprise, confronting my need for financial security proved far easier than I'd imagined. Once I ditched the regular salary, I found I managed fine without it, replacing the money from other sources. I've been a full-time writer for nearly eighteen months now, and everything's going great!
Why am I writing this post? To encourage anyone with unfulfilled dreams to pursue them. My friend who called me brave harbours some of her own, yet I'm not sure she'll ever achieve them. She could, though, if she chose. I suspect she's doing what many people do; they defer their lives. People tell themselves they'll travel the world, write a book, whatever, once they retire or the children leave home. Most don't, lulled into their comfortable ruts by the passing of time. None of us know how long we have on this planet, though. It makes sense to pursue dreams sooner rather than later, but for many, the thought becomes scarier the longer they fail to act.
Once you make the decision, though, it's not that frightening! What's more, the rewards are incredible. I shudder to think about my life had I not given up accountancy. More than likely, I'd be living in the same house, working with the same clients, travelling whenever I got the chance but otherwise no further forward in becoming a novelist. Since jumping ship, I've written six books, enjoyed an interim career as a dog walker, sold my house and bought my gorgeous, cosy flat, established a regular yoga practice, brushed up my Spanish and travelled for several months in Asia and South America. I doubt I'd have done any of that had I remained in my rut, except for some of the travelling. I have some huge ambitions yet to accomplish, but after having taken a leap of faith once, doing so again doesn't seem daunting. Quite the opposite!
Are you in a comfortable rut? Are there places you'd like to visit, books you'd like to write, relationships you'd like to forge? If so, I urge you to follow your dreams as soon as possible. If you want something badly enough, you'll find a way. Don't let fear rule your life, or be someone who dies with regrets. To me, that's incredibly sad.
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