Second Life: How a Workaholic Decided to Quit Everything and Move
You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series called Second Life. Each week, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
“I spent most of my 20s searching,” says Tracy Chait. After graduating college as an English major, Chait landed a teaching job not far from her hometown on Cape Cod. Part of her was still looking to fulfill creative desires, but she was scared that would never translate into a real job. After a short stint with law school, various jobs, and then having children, she needed a change. So in 2014, she embarked on a monthlong road trip with her two young daughters—the plan was to explore the West Coast and ultimately meet up with her husband Mike for a wedding. It was during this journey that Tracy made the unexpected choice to leave Los Angeles, a choice that has transformed her and her family’s lives.
MYDOMAINE: Tell us why you decided to go to law school and what came after.
TRACY CHAIT: As someone who loved literature, I had this idea that I would merge some kind of social justice or law with my love of words and writing. But law school was not at all what I expected. It didn’t come naturally to me. Legal writing was my worst subject! I withdrew after the first year and did a lot of different things. I was always working.
There were times when I nannied, I wrote copy, worked for a fashion designer. Most of the time, I taught. I worked with teenage girls teaching creative writing at a nonprofit in Compton and South Los Angeles. Then I had my first child, and I have now been a full-time mama to two girls since 2009, while trying to think about things I could start on my own and at the same time, be able to stay at home with the girls.
MD: What triggered your need for change?
TC: We had been in Los Angeles for 11 years, and for a few years, I had been feeling that I really wanted to be somewhere quieter and have a more sustainable lifestyle. We were growing food on our porch and were always hiking and at the beach, but I really wanted to live somewhere rural that would inspire us to try so much more.
I was hoping that something would sort of happen—that there would be a job offer or some compelling reason to move closer to someone's family. I’d be up at night and every few weeks, I’d say to Mike, “Have you ever been to Boise? What happens there?” Or “I really loved Alaska—we could do that.” Then it got to the point where I couldn’t go on being true to myself if I didn’t make some kind of leap.
MD: How did you finally move to Vashon Island, Washington?
TC: I really didn’t have a plan. We were going to this wedding on Orcas Island in a month. So I proposed to Mike, “I’ll take this road trip, you focus on work.” I was going to look at a school for my 5-year-old in Sonoma County, and maybe we'd rent a house for a little while in Northern California. Part of that was a feeling of just needing to get out of Dodge.
I have big feelings about that journey. We had crazy experiences all the way up the coast. There were times it was terrifying. We mostly camped, but I often hadn’t made reservations. My goal was to keep everything under $40 a night. I didn’t want it to end.
We had this glorious time on Orcas, and Mike, who’s from Seattle, said, “Why don’t you take a boat over to Vashon?”
It sounds really hokey, but I got off the ferry and said, “I think we’re going to live here.” Then it was all easy. We looked on Craigslist, and before I knew it, we’re writing a check to rent this tiny cottage. We have no sweaters or jackets. We just have sleeping bags and bathing suits. The dogs are still back home. Mike was still working in Los Angeles. It just all unfolded.
I never even went back to L.A. Mike packed everything up, threw it in a pod storage and it got driven up here a month later. We got rid of most of our things and put the rest into storage in Tacoma. It’s still there. He drove up in a straight shot with the dogs and whatever he could fit in his 10-year-old Prius. We sold our house over the phone.
MD: What were the biggest challenges and why?
TC: Losing my anonymity switching from city to country, that part was really hard. I was worried about the girls, like, What if this doesn’t work out and we have to move again and my husband doesn’t have a job? If I were 25 and by myself, I wouldn’t think twice about new adventures. It was scary to feel that heavy responsibility for the way other people’s lives were developing at this crucial time. But I just felt like if we sat around plotting and plotting, nothing would ever happen. It’s funny how the thing that scares you the most kind of winds up being the greatest personal victory.
MD: Did you ever feel like you had made a mistake?
TC: When I see the girls now, I just feel so lucky because they have so much freedom and wildness. They have more than I thought we were trying to give them. And they’re a boat ride away from their grandparents.
MD: When did you know you had made the right decision to leave L.A. behind?
TC: Pretty recently. I had moments of feeling really strongly about what we’d done. My kids love it—they can identify so many trees, and they’re really teaching me—and seeing that, then I really know it was the right decision. But I also had moments of real panic. I ended up homeschooling my daughters. There were times I felt really isolated. I had left behind friends, and this winter was the wettest winter on record in the Northwest. It just rained and rained and rained, and all of a sudden it was getting dark at 3:30 p.m. Mushrooms started growing in our bathroom. I thought, I’m batshit crazy, and my kids are going to need therapy. (“My mom just decided one day we're going to do things a different way.”) But now it feels like the right thing, and I couldn’t imagine going back to the past.
Also, even though everything was fine in our relationship [before the move], it was a great marriage boost. Mike got a job in Seattle, and he takes a ferry to work. He’s brewing beer again and doing a lot in the garden. I’m doing a lot with the animals and the kids, and it feels like we are working together in this new, inspiring way.
MD: Why is your current lifestyle suitable for your personality?
TC: It ended up being great for the girls, but having invigorated parents is also really important. I feel it’s crucial to follow your heart as a human being living with other human beings. That’s going to affect your children so much. I do really believe in nature as healer and getting to walk in the woods and be outside so much has been a huge gift. I get to milk goats once a week, and I love it. I adore our backyard chickens. We’re growing food we didn’t grow before. I worked at the farmer’s market last summer, too, and am buying sheep wool on the island for projects to sell at a couple of craft fairs. I just taught my first class last week for kids with fiber stuff and making wool into yarn. And there’s so much more to learn.
MD: What’s the most important thing you have learned in making a big change?
TC: Just having faith in your instincts. Also, what feels good about trying something new is that you make that first leap and then the depth of your decision is not revealed for a while. But it did reinforce the idea that it’s worth trying things.
MD: What’s your best advice for someone who wants to start over?
TC: Find the space to really listen to your gut and, I know it’s cliché, but life is short—go for it. I don’t want to sound like, Just do whatever, just move, no big deal, because it is a big deal. But if you feel strongly about making a change, you have to let go of some of that worry. I was always curious about people who said, “Our five-year plan is…” or “When we have our second child…” —how people would just plot those things out. And I had this suspicion as a proper adult that that was what I was supposed to be doing.
This whole experience helped me realize that we don’t have to conform to perceptions of what it means to be a responsible adult—which doesn’t mean I don’t take my kids to the pediatrician. Also, this is going to sound terrible, but forget the safety net. If we hadn’t sold our house, maybe we would’ve just gone back.
Inspired to start your second life? Pick up GRIT by Angela Duckworth below.