Cassie and I sat out on her 11th floor balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. “Of all the travel I’ve done and all of the time I’ve spent in the Caribbean, I’ve only had sea-view once or twice,” I said as I sipped my coffee. She laughed and told me she hadn’t yet walked along the beach. She’d already been there for nearly two months.
Education and school-debt briefly entered our conversation, as she told me she’s grateful she left the world of graphic design. Jobs were too far and in between and, in her words, you can’t have a house and a family in a freelance art world.
I had to disagree. That’s exactly how we live. My husband’s a writer, predominately freelance. I’m a photographer who works freelance for a stock photo agency. Neither of us, by the books, have “grown-up” jobs. We do side projects and unpaid projects and fun projects. Our lives are anything but ordinary, but it works for us.
Over a decade ago, Cassie and I were in roughly the same place. We both grew up in the same small Wisconsin town and were both living in a marginally larger Wisconsin town. She even lived with us for a few months. We worked together at a call center and went to the same tech school. Fifteen years later, we find ourselves living only an hour apart, 1,000 miles from where we began.
Some people dream of the house and the car and the boat. As Jacob and I crept deeper into adulthood and our friends jumped into the world of real jobs and excitedly bought homes and had kids, I dreamed of cafes in Paris, snorkeling in the Caribbean and crowded streets in unknown countries. I wanted the freedom to travel. Those other things (kids aside) just seemed to tie people down.
We live in New Orleans part-time as our freelance lifestyle allows us to live where we choose. Cassie’s in Biloxi for required military training for her new job, away from her house, husband and young child. Still best friends, our lives started so similarly, yet have resulted in rather divergent paths.
Shortly after I left the call center job to go to school full-time, Jacob and I found it hard to fight our inner nomads and we left it all to backpack Europe. Cassie got her degree and became a graphic designer. She moved to a few different states and held steady employment in a small handful of jobs.
After Europe, I had a position lined up with Americorps in South Carolina. Shortly before we left Germany, Jacob was offered a job in Chicago, in his then-field of technology. At that time, we struggled with what we desired versus what we were told we should want. The job won. I was heartbroken.
We gave it a try for a year. Maybe the money will help us become the settled adults everyone wants us to be, I tried to reconcile with myself. It was a rough year for many reasons. There was a major ankle break, an apartment burglary and Jacob was more miserable working a high-stress corporate job than I’d ever seen him before. We’d committed to 18 months, but after 12, we packed up and I finally took the Americorps position. Jacob took another shot at a tech job, this time in a low-stress environment.
The year we spent there was one of the most fun years of our relationships. No child, free housing and three incomes (my stipend, my freelance work and Jacob’s job). We lived on the coast near Savannah and made some crazy memories in that city. We spent our free time camping, traveling as much as possible, and hitting up every restaurant/bar around. We were young, had tons of disposable income and our work stopped when we left the office. It was awesome.
My year of Americorps ended and Jacob still seemed discontent in a field of work he didn’t enjoy. I encouraged him to give it, to pursue writing instead. “We’ll give it five years. We’ll figure it out,” I told him. I’d rather be happy and poor and miserable and unfulfilled.
Jacob sprung his desire to get a four-year degree on me in the middle of winter as we were somehow living back in Wisconsin with a baby on the way. He was getting freelance gigs and even had a part-time telecommuting job. We’d only moved back to Wisconsin with the plan of traveling during the winter, but school was not conducive to that.
It was a game changer. I’d already had some regret about our decision to live where we lived and the idea of being “stuck” there full-time for four years was more than I’d bargained for. I told Jacob that if he went back to college, then we had to move to a city, Madison at least. We argued a lot. A lot.
But we both did compromise, as even though our immediate plans had changed, our long-term goals had not. Our mantra through that time was “it’s only four years.” And it was a great four years. We still traveled and had adventures with our bumbling baby turned toddler turned small child. We were committed to school (I decided to get a Master’s) but still figured out how to make it exciting.
Cassie moved back to Wisconsin near the end of our degrees and we finally lived within two hours of each other again. As Jacob and I began to really embrace our adult-nomadism, with child in tow, Cassie began to embrace her long-held desire to join the military and change careers. While Cassie was away at basic training, I took a job in New Orleans. We were separated once again.
But all that brought us to the balcony on the sea, once again living close, though temporarily and in two different lives now. Jacob and I have embraced the fact that we’re not like most people. We thrive on a mix of chaos and peace, we need to feed our adventurous souls, traveling and experiencing the world do not feel optional to us. To others, we don’t do it “right.” Our daughter has changed schools and homes, we don’t get to check the box on our taxes stating we’ve lived at the same address for 12 months and our income, which is now comprised of all freelance work, can occasionally be unsteady.
Our lifestyle wouldn’t fit most people. Most people don’t want to live the way we do, and I don’t blame them. It can be chaotic and stressful. It can be tiring. It certainly hasn’t been easy.
But for us it is the “right” thing. We’re happy parents who dote on our child and ensure her well-being throughout the chaos. We’re madly in love and rarely find anything to argue over (though when we do, you can bet it’s pretty damn petty!). I wouldn’t trade it all for any income, any home or any car in the world. And I think that’s really where the difference lies.