The Story of My Career Change
I glanced over at the little green plant sitting to the left of my computer screen. It was the only living thing in view around me. The walls of my windowless cubicle all but shut out the rest of the world, save for the fluorescent lighting overhead.
I was three months away from leaving my eight-year career working as a researcher in the criminal justice system. That meant three months until the starting of not only a new career, but a new life.
How did I get to this decision? And why was I leaping from office life in the city to living on a farm? Well, it’s a somewhat complicated story. One that may involve a good cup of coffee or glass of wine.
So, grab a drink, sit back and let me tell you the story about how the farm life became my new life.
How Dreams Die
As a young kid, I was a tomboy who took pleasure in chasing down my guy friends and kicking them in the shins when they teased me with the nickname “Strong Girl”. (Totally not trying to promote violence here, people).
I was active and curious, with a ravenous hunger to learn. I would spend hours poring over encyclopedias (remember those relics?), learning about different animals and drawing them out in my sketch book.
I’d also marvel at the surreal images of other-worldly vistas on the pages of National Geographic magazines. I could only think how incredibly lucky the photographer behind the camera was to actually be standing in front of that scene to witness all of its glory in person.
Born and raised in downtown Toronto, I didn’t get a whole lot of chances to play in nature. But I did enjoy running around in the park with my family, and would curiously poke at potato bugs in our backyard garden.
I loved going away on school trips for overnight retreats where we’d get to learn more about nature. I became energetic and alive doing fun activities like making maple syrup or playing games in the snow. Those are some of my fondest childhood memories.
Despite all of that, I don’t know if my deep passion for nature was fully clear to me back then. At least not the way that my obsession with singing was. I loved to sing. I would sing my heart out to Mariah Carey tunes and hole away for hours alone in my bedroom listening to the radio.
But these passions and creative hobbies steadily disappeared from my life as the pressures of achieving good grades at school and working a lot to stay financially stable took over. Not to mention that I discovered partying and boys — but that’s neither here nor there.
Fast forward to the present: I recently read an article about rediscovering your passion. It asked: “What did you want to do as a child?”
The article also asked, “What makes you truly happy?” and “What would you do for free?”
The answer to all three questions? Being in nature and singing. Nothing has changed. They just got buried deep in the rubble of growing up for a while.
But wait, we’re skipping over an entire chapter of the story. Let me rewind just a bit to the year 2009 when the global economy was collapsing and I had just graduated with a $50,000 student debt and no job to my name.
Climbing Up the Ladder
I graduated from the Master’s of Criminology program at the University Toronto in 2009, when the global economy was tanking and jobs were scarce.
A few of my classmates chose to continue their studies during this precipitous time. Most of them were in their early 20s and perhaps felt that they had time to spare.
But for me, this was it.
I was 27 and had almost zero experience in my chosen field. Scared out of my pants, I almost considered going the “do-more-school” route, but I was done with the starving student life.
I needed to make money and pay off the ridiculous student loan I had accumulated. I wanted to get going with my career and finally arrive at the point where I could relax and enjoy life. I just wanted to be happy.
And so continued the grind, the life I had come to know since my teen years that centered around work. Except this time, I had a degree and some invaluable contacts that could help me in building an actual career.
I took anything and everything that came my way. I was usually working at least two jobs at once and volunteering to get experience that I could add to my resume. I was completely burnt out, constantly getting sick, and stressed out of my mind. But I had to keep going and make something of myself.
As I moved up the career ladder, I landed a job as a Project Coordinator on a study evaluating a diabetes education program. Exploring the world of health was a nice break from the criminal justice realm which always seemed full of bad news.
This job marked yet another turning point in my life for two reasons. One, it was the first time I only had to work one job. No second or third job. Weekends and evenings free. It was my first taste of the “good life” and it blew my mind.
To add to this glorious new work-life balance was the fact that my work hours and location were somewhat flexible. Not having to commute every day meant I had more energy and time to devote to the rest of my life, including bringing back one of my childhood passions: singing.
The second eye-opening aspect of this job was that I was given a lot of autonomy by my boss. This, in turn, gave me a ton of self-confidence given that I was managing a pretty complex study with lots of different players. It was a way of working that I wasn’t used to, but I loved it. And I decided that this level of autonomy was something I highly valued when it came to work.
But the problem was that working these short-term, contract jobs didn’t provide the security and stability we all learn to want. I received no benefits, paid sick time or vacation days. There was no possibility of a long-term, secure future with my employers.
And so I (somewhat sadly) left this job – and my newfound work-life balance – to take on a permanent management position at an non-profit organization.
At this point, I could look back and feel as though I had reached a milestone in this long journey of building my career. I had moved up the ladder from a Research Assistant to Researcher, to Project Coordinator to Research and Development Manager. This was called success, no?
And yet, I became completely miserable at my new job. My passion and drive became crushed by office politics, bureaucracy and a negative work environment. I was also constantly working overtime, bringing home my work phone and work stress with me.
I was back to commuting and waking up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 every morning. My evenings and weekends simply amounted to one thing: recovering from the work week.
I had experienced a similar situation at a previous office job and I started wondering if I just wasn’t the type of person suited to this kind of work environment and routine.
I remembered that autonomy and work-life balance that I had come to value, and started thinking a crazy new thought: Could I actually find a way to work for myself?
I contemplated how I could gradually transition to a new career — my initial choice being social media marketing — while working at my current full-time job. That way, I’d still have the security of a steady income until I was settled into something new.
But then, as fate would have it, I got laid off. It was the best thing that could have happened to me at that point. Because instead of dragging out the move to a new career, I was being kicked in the butt to go forth now.
So, go forth I did.
When the Stars Align … And They Always Do
In May 2015, I flew off to Cuba to immerse myself in sun, sand, and most importantly, radio silence for seven full and glorious days.
After my recent job lay-off, another unexpected, major life change happened. We don’t need to get into the details, but what you must know is that my brain quickly turned into a big ball of stress and it seemed that my CrackBerry wouldn’t cease notifying me with endless emails, texts and other things that pinged.
My impromptu solo escape to Cuba came and went, but that week-long trip changed everything.
During those seven days, I was on the internet for a mind-blowing total of one hour. On the resort, one might typically find me sitting alone at the beach bar with a strawberry slushy in hand, quietly staring off into the white sands with a peaceful twinkle in my eye.
I didn’t want parties and I didn’t want to gorge myself in all-you-can-eat-and-drink madness. Taking in the beautiful, concrete-less scenery or having a good conversation with one of the resort staff to learn more Spanish or about Cuban life were all that my heart desired.
Time inched by at the most insanely slow speed. It was magical.
When I returned home, I was thrown into the merciless clutches of The Evil That Is Bronchitis. I quarantined myself indoors for the next several days, slowly gaining energy but never enough to emerge into The Outside World.
It was honestly a blessing in disguise. Because I don’t think I was mentally prepared to jump back into what – after Cuba – felt like a dizzying, fast-paced lifestyle in the city. Instead, I putted around the house all day and started dreaming about traveling again.
This time though, it wasn’t just an itch to go on vacation. Something about traveling solo to Cuba had felt so liberating and comfortable. As though it was exactly what I was meant to do.
Of course, that trip involved me staying at an all-inclusive resort. What was now brewing in my mind was something much more out-of-the-box.
So, one day I started searching for information online about “traveling on a budget.” And then, that’s all I did.
After a few days, my researching had reached epically obsessive proportions. By the end of two weeks, I had a draft travel itinerary all sketched out for what I was plotting to be a year of exploring foreign lands on a shoe-string budget.
My chart had dates, cost estimates, countries and cities I wanted to explore, and major activities I knew I had to pursue. I was ready to pack up and roll out.
I also knew that I wanted to write about my travels along the way — maybe I’d discover whether pursuing a new career in travel writing was what I’d enjoy.
By this point, I had realized that doing social media marketing just for the sake of social media marketing wasn’t going to fulfill me. I needed to do something I was truly passionate about — and I had always enjoyed writing creatively (yet another other childhood hobby that had fallen to the wayside).
It felt like timing and the stars were all aligning.
But sometimes — as the song goes — you can’t always get what you want. At least not right away …
The Path is Crystal Clear in Hindsight
Despite my new gung-ho plot to become a professional wanderluster, reality swiftly and suddenly slapped the sobering senses into me.
I still had a debt to pay off and it was more than I had originally calculated. It appeared that I would have to stick around the city for possibly an entire year before I could galavant off into foreign sunsets.
Operation Nomadic Wanderer came to a standstill.
It’s so interesting when you’re able to look back and see how crushing moments like these set your life course in a direction that it might not have otherwise gone in — but for the better.
See, while I was waiting for a potential job opportunity to pan out, two pivotal things happened over the summer of 2016.
First, I started volunteering at the farm that my friends Antonio and Saqib (a.k.a. Chief) had been managing for the past three years.
Chief had warned me from the get-go to be careful – because once I started going to the farm, it would get harder and harder to leave.
And it did get harder. I wasn’t prepared for just how attached I would get to the place and the people. It was (well, it still is) a beautiful pocket of land with rolling hills, picturesque trees, and cute farm animals running around eating things.
Without even realizing I had dropped it in the first place, the ball started rolling. Quickly.
I began to learn about the importance of sustainable farming practices and the disastrous climate change problems the world was currently facing. I was inspired and, moreover, my skills and contributions were welcomed.
While my initial reason for being at the farm was simply to be closer to nature, I now started envisioning how I could play a bigger role in their community.
The second pivotal thing that happened during that summer was that I went on my first solo backcountry camping trips.
Getting to immerse myself in so much space and quiet — both physically and mentally — confirmed what had been crystallizing in my head for a while: That I needed to spend more of my life living in nature. And whatever new career path I’d be heading down would have to respect that need.
Well, the romantic days of frolicking in the farm fields (okay, it’s totally not like that) came to a pause as the job opportunity I had been waiting on finally came through — a maternity leave position in the government’s forensic mental health section.
Although I wasn’t the one having the baby, it felt like I was birthing something that at the end of nine months would give way to a brand new life.
Operation New Career: All Systems Go
And so, there I was, a few months later, sitting in front of my computer, staring at my little green plant. If any shadow of a doubt in pursuing a new career path had existed before this job, the windowless cubicle had demolished it — yes, crushed it vigorously into the concrete outside.
Well, despite the less-than-ideal work surroundings for this nature girl, I really believe that I was meant to do this one last job in my field — primarily to meet certain people I would not have otherwise known. That included my awesome boss and work colleagues who I now consider friends.
Although they wanted me to stay on after my contract was over, they could also tell that I was meant to be living a different life — a life of exploration, travelling and nature. And they instilled confidence and affirmation within me that I could thrive and succeed doing just that.
Indeed, I had developed the belief that my life could without a doubt be whatever I wanted it to be. I think many people can’t even fathom the possibility of that level of life change. And so, the dreams die – and they die fast – just as they had for me back when I was a youth.
Throughout this time, I have to admit that on more than one occasion I thought about sticking around for at least another year – save up more money, get my foot further into the government’s door just in case I later realized that I had made a big mistake and wanted to return.
But those moments didn’t last too long. I just had to think about the joy I felt simply imagining myself being at the farm and I knew that it wasn’t so much about whether I could find satisfaction in this job, but about the awareness that I would be infinitely happier doing something else.
I finished the last day of my job — and of my career as a researcher in the criminal justice system — on September 30, 2016. I walked out of the building feeling both teary and elated after having given so much of my sweat, conviction and hard work to this career.
Four days later, I was on a plane flying to Italy where I would be volunteering on a Tuscan vineyard for a month. After an incredible experience in the land of art, food and wine, I returned home and finally made the move to Cavaleiro Farm. It was time to find out if I could truly survive the Canadian winter.
While I had initially planned for my new career to involve non-stop traveling around the world, I had also learned that having a sense of community around me and being able to reconnect with my family was important. There will definitely be travels abroad in the future, but for now, you can call me Farmer Janice.
And so, that’s the story of how I walked away from the city and my career, and ended up living on a farm.
Hey, did you finish your coffee? Well, the adventures have just begun. As you’ll soon discover, farm life doesn’t wait for you to settle in to your new life. You’ve got to jump right in … So, let’s go!