Editors Note: This is a guest post by Jenny Lachs creator of Square Hippie.
When I approached Nick last week to offer to write a guest post for his awesome new blog, it felt like a great idea. He was looking for people to share their stories on Feature Fridays, people who’ve changed their lives in order to follow a passion. That definitely sounded like me, I thought. I can do this.
However, when I actually sat down to write the post, I started wondering. How could I help inspire people to take the plunge and follow their dreams, especially as I haven’t actually made my dream come true (yet)? My dreams have also changed over the years, so who am I to help people fulfil their dreams if I can’t even focus on one myself?
So, instead, I’ve decided to write about that. Most success stories we read start at the end, with people who have already “made it”. They often sound so straightforward, because we rarely hear about old dreams that fell out of favour and ended up crumpled in a rubbish bin. We usually hear about those lucky dreams that survived and came into fruition.
As Multipotentialites, with many dreams and passions, we especially run the risk of changing our minds along the way. People (and even ourselves) might stop taking us seriously because we change our minds. But what if it’s ok to change your dream? Maybe we have to get rid of some old dreams to make space for new ones?
Basically, that’s what happened to me about 5 years ago. I was in the first year of graduate school in London, studying and researching for my doctorate in chemistry. I had just moved to London from my hometown, Munich, and it was the first time I’d left home and my family, at 26.
I had finished Bachelors and Masters degrees in organic chemistry had been among the top in my class and was absolutely in love with my subject and research itself. I loved experimenting and discovering new things every day. That was the reason I decided to pursue a Ph.D.; that and the fact that I really, really wanted to move to London.
It all started swimmingly, I settled into the new lab, made new friends and enjoyed living in one of the most exciting cities in the world.
But slowly, something started to feel off. I noticed that I was less and less excited to go to work every day. I tried to brush it away; surely this was normal. I had studied chemistry for nearly 6 years at that point, after all. A dip was to be expected, right?
But it didn’t go away. I kept finding myself sitting at my fume hood daydreaming and messing up experiments because I couldn’t focus. Then, one day I was so bored, I actually started crying. I was literally bored to tears.
Why was I doing this? Why was I sitting here on a beautiful spring day in a smelly and stiflingly hot lab, filling hundreds of little test tubes with solvent? I didn’t want to do it anymore!
I immediately felt guilty. I should have been happy. I was studying for the highest university degree there is, at a prestigious university in London, under a well-known professor. This was my dream. Why was I feeling like this?
And so it went for another few months, I tried to ignore the feelings, and the guilt. I decided a holiday would cheer me up and get me back on track. So, off I went to Israel on my first-ever solo trip, something I’d been dreaming about for forever.
I met new friends, drank Arak on a hostel roof in Tel Aviv, floated in the Dead Sea and had an amazing time. It was the first time I met people who travelled long term and had left the 9 to 5 behind to pursue their dream to travel. Listening to the stories of these travellers, gypsies and hippies, I realised that was what I wanted as well – to make travel a priority in my life.
Suddenly it felt as if I had known this deep down, for a very long time. When I returned to London I wanted to quit my Ph.D. immediately. I applied for a volunteer opportunity in Israel and was almost on the way out when that familiar guilt stopped me.
I thought that I couldn’t throw away my dream of becoming a proper scientist for a “silly” new dream to travel the world. Suddenly it seemed ludicrous and nearly every single person in my life tried to talk me out of it, saying it’d be a waste of the 6 years I’d already invested in chemistry.
In the end, I chickened out and put my new dream on hold until after graduation. I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t regret the decision and wanted to “honour” my old dream and at least finish my degree.
However, I did start travelling as much as possible during the remainder of my Ph.D. I moved to South Africa for a 3-month placement at a small research institute, went on loads of weekend trips to Europe and spent the better part of two years planning a round-the-world trip with my boyfriend, Simon, which began a month after I graduated. This ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip was supposed to last 12 months but is somehow still going strong nearly two years later.
Looking back now, I can say that I haven’t regretted my decision to leave science behind in order to pursue travel. If anything, I regret not doing it sooner. I learned that changing your path doesn’t make you a quitter, it means you understand yourself, and what is important to you.
Just like every experiment, when I left my career and old dream behind, I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I had to take the risk. It’s resulted in freedom, adventure, new friends, many lessons learned along the way and a lot of happiness.
My “new dream” is still my dream, but it is starting to shift focus a little again, as I move towards a digital nomad lifestyle. But that’s fine. Now that I know that it’s ok to change your mind, and even your big dreams, I’m not so worried anymore. Deep down I will always be a scientist, and I have realized that experiments can be found everywhere, not only in a lab.
Jenny Lachs is a scientist turned world traveller. Together with her boyfriend Simon, she has travelled to over 15 countries in two years. Jenny writes about her adventures and about becoming a digital nomad on her blog Square Hippie. She set herself a challenge to work 10 online jobs in 10 months to become location independent and she recently published her first ebook “Oktoberfest on a Budget: More beer for your Buck” on Amazon.
Do you have a new dream that seems to be replacing your old dream?