Thursday, August 2, 2012

An Unconventional Life

When I started this blog, the theme was “I Sold My Pearls To Do It,” and it was my intention to write about the choices I’ve made and the goals I’ve set that defy convention. I liked this theme because it’s the unconventional choices I’ve made that I’m most proud of and that I find most interesting; they’re the ones that have shaped my life most singularly. I have made some poor unconventional choices, for sure, but for the most part, defying convention, for me, has been about having the courage to leave a defined path, to color outside the lines, to stand out more than to fit in, which is where I think the most interesting parts of life are lived.

But sometimes—in between making big life choices and actually attaining long sought after goals—there is a lot of doing dishes and vacuuming and procrastinating and completing work projects and going to physical therapy and surfing the internet and drinking coffee and sleeping and clipping toenails and washing clothes and reading and writing and having sex and taking walks and visiting with family and dining with friends and waiting in waiting rooms—you know, everyday life. And while there are a lot of good, honest, true, and even interesting stories in all of that general life stuff, it’s easy to loose the connection. It’s easy to forget how all of that everyday activity is related to the big choices and the big goals, which is why I’ve been sweating this blog lately—and by sweating it I mean ignoring it in all demonstrable ways while silently stewing over it in the shower and in bed before I fall asleep.

So, I’d like to refocus. There are a lot of choices I’ve made that have not been highly conventional. Selling the pearls I received from my now-deceased great uncle, pearls he gave as Christmas and birthday gifts over many, many years, and trading them to purchase a small boat when I was 14 was one of the early choices. But there have been many others including a nearly three-decade’s long career that includes all of the following titles: babysitter, surfing store shopkeeper, house painter, waitress, ski coach, ski instructor, ski patroller, whitewater raft guide, tractor driver, trail crew member, condominium check-in center manager, windjamming schooner cook and deckhand, magazine intern, magazine advertising coordinator, grad student, on-hold advertising writer, outdoor education coordinator, tutor, high-tech sales associate, IT business analyst, program manager, consultant, consulting manager, marketing manager, and writer. With my two degrees in English, I never went to law school or became a certified teacher, and the fact that I ended up working in the tech industry was more due to geography (living in Seattle) than any aptitude or proclivity. I was quite good at some of these roles, and I was awful at others. I was an excellent grad student, and I was the most forgetful waitress to ever carry a tray. I’ve also surely left out a few jobs, but most of the colorful ones are on the list.

Anyway, in the coming weeks and months, I’m going to try to explore—and refocus my writing—on some of my unconventional career history, unconventional life choices, and unconventional goals. I’m going to try to post shorter pieces a little more frequently. And if I’m lucky, I’ll also get better at not ignoring the everyday, precious little life activities—and will instead improve at making connections between the tiny little things of today and the big stuff out ahead. Things like my stellar partner and me building a big boat and sailing off to who knows where!

I’m also extremely, intensely, and passionately interested in your opinions, so I have two questions for all of you highly awesome and fascinating friends out there who haven’t yet lost all patience with me:

  • What’s the most unconventional life choice you’ve ever made?
  • What’s the oddest or most unconventional job you’ve ever had?

Feel free to answer one or both and to share as much as you’d like about the impact of any of your unconventional decisions.

To the unconventional life! Cheers!



  1. I am torn between my deciding to become an exchange student in Belgium and going to USC. I got it into my head to live abroad when I was a sophomore in high school. I found an organization, researched countries, and THEN presented the idea to my parent. Who first panicked and then agreed. Which is exactly how I pursued attending USC (both my parents had attended Cal Berkeley, and we lived in the bay area. So I guess what I learned early on, was that if I wanted something, conventional or no, I had to figure it out, and go after it myself.

    Can't wait to read the new stuff, my friend!

  2. Yay! Katherine, so good to hear from you! I know you are busy, busy, busy in Booktrope world, which is super exciting. BTW, is being an exchange student in Belgium how you learned to speak French? I hope all is well (in addition to busy)!

    Also, I don't have a book to market yet, but your book is on my list. Hopefully, with your help, I'll be ready when the time comes.

    All the best, Katherine!

  3. Great post! Probably the most unconventional life choice I've (we've) made was to move across the country without having a job in place... we've done that twice. From California to Colorado then from Colorado to Maine. Both times it worked out well. As for most unconventional job... I'd say when I was a squid cleaner at a small restaurant in Santa Cruz, CA.

  4. Hi Julia, thanks! Your moves across the country sound very much like some of the best things I've ever done--those things where you just take the leap and hope for the best when you land. They're the things that take guts--sometimes a little bit of craziness--but when things work out well, you look back and think "That was the best decision ever"! Hope all is well in ME. We're heading that way in a little over a week!

    All the best!

  5. Hi Lisa,

    Hmmm. This is a tough one for me. As you know I'm an electrical engineer by eduation and worked as one at Boeing for 8 years. I've made 3 unconventional life choices. 1. Take a year off from being an engineer at Boeing to backpack around the world. 2. Leave that comfortable job at Boeing to teach English at a Japanese high school for two years. 3. After getting an MBA at the age of 42, start my own travel company even though I didn't know anything about the travel industry.

    Love your blog and your writing Lisa!!!

  6. Hey Ambrose, you prove my point. Taking a year off to backpack around the world, teaching English at a Japanese high school, and starting your own travel company are all more interesting than simply staying in the same engineering job for your whole career. Obviously there is nothing wrong with being an engineer, but these other choices have clearly added additional spice to your life.

    Thank you so much for saying that you enjoy my blog and writing. You have no idea how much that means to me. When I sit here writing, I have no idea who out there (besides my Mom and Dad) is reading, but it is always wonderful to find out. Please leave feedback anytime. I want to write more about the stuff that readers like best, so please do tell me what you like and what you don't. This is a learning experience for me, and I just want to get better at it.

    All the best, and I hope Red Lantern Journeys is doing very, very well!


  7. I was fortunate enough to accept an invitation to tour all of SuidAfrika with another woman across three months and five thousand miles. Driving alone. Nervy. Daring. But we didn't think so at the time. Countless tales, life stories too many to count. My friend had learned her lore at Harry's Camp, and I was the beneficiary, so of course we managed to see the big five, and all without a guide.

    Five years later we did the same in Thailand. My friend's husband, a world class welding consultant, was assigned to both these places, so by the time I
    arrived, she was well versed in what should be seen and what could be
    skipped. Best days of my life.

    1. Oh, Barbarann, all I can say is WOW!!! Sounds like an experience of a lifetime. Amazing. What an incredible story; you should write more about it!

  8. Totally forgot the elephant trek in deep jungle high in the north of Thailand. All day after heavy floods and ellies right pissed that they were in mud up to their hocks. Every minute was exhilarating and challenging. At the end of the day while we waited to park the elephant, I looked above my head to see a giant spider big as a dinner platter staring down at me from his web, his thick black beak working in anticipation. Only time I was really scared.

    1. Wow again! That spider would have had me terrified. I don't mind little spiders, but big as a dinner platter??? I screamed just a few months ago when I had my first southern cockroach encounter with a roach who decided he wanted to jump into the shower with me.

      So glad you got to have these amazing travel and adventure experiences!!! Bet you don't regret for a second that you were brave enough to go!


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