When Robin and I first shared the idea behind Take Back Monday with friends, many of them expressed doubts about the book’s applicability for them. “I don’t want to start my own thing,” they told us. “I don’t want to be an entrepreneur.”
We understand completely. That’s the reason we didn’t write a book on entrepreneurship.
In fact, Take Back Monday isn’t about starting your own business at all. It is about digging deep and asking the fundamental question: What do I want my life to look like?
By clearly defining what you want your day-to-day to look like, you will be guided to work that aligns with your personal vision for an ideal life, rather than simply a job to pay the bills. Below are examples from five of the individuals profiled in the book about how answering this question played out for them. Only one of the five entered the world of entrepreneurship, but all of them built a life they love based on their own definition of success.
These are only extracts pulled from their stories. You can find their full profiles here.
1: Desire to Make an Impact
Transitioning from a graphic designer to an elementary school teacher is not a classic career trajectory, but for Sarah it was the right one. After several years at her design job, she began to feel she wasn’t contributing to the world in a way that was larger than herself. In her words, “I knew I needed to be doing more for the world.”
Based on the fulfillment she felt when tutoring adults in English, Sarah explored the option of teaching and ultimately returned to school at nearly 40 years old to get a Masters in elementary education. She speaks openly about conquering her fears when making this drastic mid-career change. Her courage to do so came from knowing she wanted her life’s work to have a deeper impact.
If you find yourself feeling called to work that makes a direct difference in the lives of others, it may be time to explore opportunities where you can apply your expertise—or develop a new skill—in order to contribute to a cause you really believe in. An excellent way to test the waters is through volunteering in a field that interests you.
2: Desire to Pursue Multiple Passions
After earning a graduate degree in international affairs, Meredith struggled to find the ideal job. She knew she didn’t want to follow a traditional path, but rather one that would allow her to combine both artistic and professional interests—she is a talented photographer with a commitment to advancing women’s rights.
During the year she spent looking for work, she also devoted time to studying a range of topics that interested her. As she explains, “I began to understand that creativity and new ideas can come from the fringe where very distinct and often isolated ideas are allowed to interact.” By opening her mind to new ways of thinking, Meredith developed the Vision Not Victim concept.
The project takes place in regions of crisis where women and girls are the most marginalized. Young women participate in a series of workshops to explore their aspirations for the future, meet mentors who shine a light on new possibilities, and build critical life and leadership skills needed to pursue their goals. The experience culminates in a photo shoot with the girls posing as their future selves, their own role models.
Meredith successfully launched the program nearly three years ago, and you can read more about its progress in the book. One lesson from her work is that it is possible to simultaneously pursue disparate passions. By taking time to explore the fringes, you may find that seemingly siloed areas of interest can come together in a unique approach to add value or solve a problem.
3: Desired to Live in a Specific Geography
Last year, one goal was front and center in Brendan’s mind—to move from Hong Kong to the United States by year’s end. He wasn’t looking to change jobs, but wanted a geographical shift. A transfer within his company was the ideal solution.
He met with management, who agreed it would be a strategic move for the company as well. Plans were set in motion, but just as Brendan was about to sign the new contract, unexpected news brought the plan to a halt. A competitor was buying his company. Those with the power to finish his transfer were no longer in charge. He became just another name and job title on the payroll. He knew he had to “custom build a reputation as quickly as possible.”
Through a careful strategy, which you can read about in Take Back Monday, he engaged with key players in the new company and set himself apart. Within months, he was offered a position in Boston. Brendan’s lesson is one of creativity and refusing to let unexpected disruption steer you away from your goals. If your overarching desire is to live in a new locale, stay true to the road that will take you there.
4: Desire for Autonomy
David has always had an entrepreneurial streak. In fact, his early interest in business ultimately led to his current venture—the first and only banana flour company in the United States. In 2008, David traveled to Kenya as part of a humanitarian mission to provide microloans for entrepreneurs. While there, he worked with a group of women who produced banana flour using a simple and streamlined process.
After returning home, David explored the market viability of bringing banana flour to the United States. The demand for gluten-free products and Paleo alternatives was on the rise, and banana flour was the perfect replacement for its wheat-based counterpart. He was driven to promote well-being at home and provide economic opportunities abroad.
The idea led him on a nearly five-year odyssey (detailed in the book) to successfully establish WEDO Gluten Free, which is thriving today. David is the first to recognize that entrepreneurship and small business ownership can be enormously challenging, but he says the autonomy is worth it. “I love the freedom to express myself. I don’t have to ask for permission or wait for someone to tell me the approach is right or wrong. That’s how I know I’m successful in spite of any outward measure of success—I’m able to explore my own creativity and bring it fully to life.”
Though entrepreneurship does offer one of the most challenging routes to pursuing a life you love, it is also one of the most direct paths to autonomy. If you desire to create something uniquely your own, David’s story teaches that pursuing and persisting will be well worth the prize.
5: Desire to Reconnect with Loved Ones
Now for a glimpse into my own journey—
Last year, however, I took a solid look at the velocity of my New York life and realized that, in the long term, it was not a sustainable living situation for me. Many have written about this subject before, so I won’t go into the details, but essentially I saw an eternal future of long commutes, skyrocketing rent, and strained work-life balance and knew it did not align with the life I wanted. Most importantly, I felt a keen distance from people I loved—even those who lived in New York.
Noelle Hancock, in her article “Why I Gave Up a $95,000 Job to Move to an Island and Scoop Ice Cream,” says “New York is a competitive city; you have to spend most of your time working to afford to live there. And a downside of living among so many ambitious people is they’re often overscheduled. Sometimes I didn’t see my closest friends for months at a time. Trying to negotiate a time to meet a friend for drinks was harder than getting into college (and the cocktails about as expensive).” I definitely found this to be true. Additionally, in the frenzy of New York life, I found it especially difficult to connect with friends and family living in other states and countries. In short, life in New York can have a solitary tone and I was ready for a change in tune.
It was enormously scary to leave a job of five years at a company I loved and say goodbye to the greatest city on Earth. Despite these fears, the pull of reconnecting with friends and family around the world felt undeniably right. For me, taking back Monday has been about finding freelance work that gives me time to travel and reconnect with loved ones the world over.
I’m still in the early stages of this new way of working and while it is a roller coaster ride compared to the normal 9 to 5, I know I’m on the right track because my levels of contentment are through the roof. During much of last year, I asked myself the question “What do I want my life to look like?” Now, I’m living out the answer.
No matter your answer, an unmissable step to living a well-loved life is to carefully consider the question: What do I want my life to look like? So often we follow other people’s maps or simply the well-traveled road to figure out where to go next in our working lives. Once you define your vision of an ideal life, it will be all the easier to recognize when you’re moving in the right direction.