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  • Sara Johnson

Taking the Leap

When I left the life I knew in 2018 – home ownership, stable nonprofit job, established community – I did so because I felt an itchy sense that something else was calling to me. At the time I thought it was either something “more” or something “different.” The distinction is important but in those days I didn’t have clarity; the itchy feeling was enough for me to move forward, to make changes.

How do we find the courage to leap into something new when we only have an inkling of why we are taking flight?

Rarely are we operating from a place of complete knowing. I’d even go so far to say that certainty is a fool’s dream. (I have been that fool for the record.) Lately I’ve been reminding myself that we do the best we can with the information, learning, experiences, intuition, etc – the tools – we have at the time. As we grow and as our tools expand, we can make decisions from more resourced places. Yet most of the time, we are leaping into our choices with incomplete information.

Since my 2018 decision to make significant-to-me changes, I have traveled great distances and embarked on various experiments to understand what was pulling me and where. Literally! I’ve traveled thousands of miles. First I explored over 10,000 miles around the country in my 2018 journey to choose a new homebase. (That road trip was the spark for Growing Home Coaching!) Then in 2020 I moved 2000+ miles to the PNW. In 2022, I packed up again, and moved 2000+ miles back to the Midwest.

My life has shifted yet again and taken a new shape: continual movement with an uncertain end. I’ve traveled 2000+ miles back west to a house and dogsit assignment on the coast of CA until early July. When this assignment is done, I’ll hop into the car and travel 2700+ miles east to North Carolina for another housesit. At the end of that I’ll drive a modest 250+ miles north to a housesit in D.C. After D.C., I’ll head back to Iowa (just under 1000 miles) for another season of caretaking the rural home, property, and animals there. These are not moves, yet they are movement. I am in motion. After Iowa…well, I honestly don’t know yet what happens then. I’ll have to decide if I keep this nomadic life going or if I am ready to shift into something else.

When I describe my last few years, it’s a little dizzying. I envision a map of the country with lines quickly appearing all over it: wild scribbles. It feels a bit chaotic. I – a human ever on the search for meaning – am trying to make sense of the lines I’ve been drawing all over this map.

In many ways I am challenging and surprising myself with this highly mobile and exploratory life. I didn’t exactly intend to spend nearly a year (and possibly more) living in other people's homes and caring for their pets.

After the initial road trip in 2018 I reaffirmed that some of my greatest motivators are time and freedom, and if I could radically change my life towards creating more of both that would increase my contentedness. When the opportunity to caretake emerged, I instantly saw how it could be a part of increasing my ownership over my time by reducing my expenses. (As an aside: I am quite vocal about how much I enjoy living rent/mortgage free! Housing is a human right and living without housing expenses has only reaffirmed that for me. That’s another story but needs to be said here.)

Reducing my expenses also allowed me to reduce my hours consulting and increase my hours dedicated to growing my coaching practice. Given the positive potential outcomes of taking care of other people’s homes and pets, I leapt at the opportunity to try it. I made the decision without complete confidence that this path would be a fit for me. Yet it felt like it would get me closer to living aligned with what I value most. It felt like a worthy experiment.

And I continue to do it, in many ways, because of how much it surprises me. I've always thought of myself as a rather planful person and fairly motivated by a certain level of security. I also love nesting and creating a home! My home in Minneapolis was lovingly curated with beautiful art and comfortable furniture and a bright red porch swing and a bountiful garden that I poured myself into with the goal of making it radically welcoming to all. (By the way, just to add to this tale, about 90% of those lovingly curated things have been sold, donated or given away and the rest are sitting in a basement in Iowa. Imagine that!)

I think surprising myself is good for me. It keeps me curious. It challenges and encourages me to not let fear run my life. And it helps me learn. Learn about what I am on this earth to learn: what it means to be human.

One thing I’m learning is that I need more time and flexibility with my big questions about being a person. The questions that drove me towards change in 2018 are still present. Questions like: How much stability do I need in my life? Could a more nomadic lifestyle be a good fit for me? What are the limits of being more mobile? Can I feel a sense of community if I am always moving? How can I balance my needs for both rootedness and freedom?

I still don't have all the answers, so I am allowing myself to live into the questions in new ways.

Ways like moving over seven times in four years after living in one home for nine years and the same community for fifteen. Ways like letting myself have a new relationship with "forever" – allowing more flexibility and a belief in the importance of all my choices, regardless of how long they last. Ways like letting myself do something because it feels fun: and living rent free with other people's adorable dogs is VERY fun for me!

If you had talked to me when I was living in my darling little house in Minneapolis, I doubt I would have envisioned this life of hopping between house and animal caretaking gigs. I don’t think I could have comprehended that I would have given myself permission to build a life where I was centering – nay – embracing such uncertainty! And prioritizing fun messy life experiments over stability? NOPE.

I am allowing myself to be a person who loves to be rooted and yet is symbolically dragging her roots around in a time of consistent change and movement. Or perhaps I am a potted plant in the arms of a beloved, still growing yet not quite ready to go into a permanent patch of earth. (Stay with me as I work out this imperfect metaphor.)

I am also allowing all of this exploration to not feel like a compromise of my core values, but rather a sign that I am staying open to the possibility that even the parts of me that I thought were unshakable have room to evolve.

My only certainty is that the life I’m living now will shift again. I’m guessing it will be sooner rather than later as the way I want to nourish community isn’t quite satisfied when I’m in perpetual motion. I’m willing to keep experimenting until my knowing is a little greater than my not knowing.

How do we take the leap when we aren't 100% confident? We receive help from the tools we have at the time. We trust the tools. We trust ourselves. And we acknowledge that all of it – the tools, the self, the shaky confidence – is shifting even as we leap.

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