“Pig out. Decadently and elegantly. Espresso cheesecake. … focus forward. Cheesecake and freedom.” 

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Photo by Sebastian Coman Photography on Unsplash

These words came via text from a friend of mine, Daphne from {https://www.freeat50.blog/} as we were exchanging texts about my day. Discussing the court hearing that brought the end of my second marriage. Discussing the ever-increasing rates of being ghosted by corporate recruiters. And discussing a cruel passive-aggressive comment from an ancillary family member on one of my Instagram posts. 

The weekend before this conversation, I had treated myself to a piece of the most decadent espresso cheesecake I have ever experienced. And experienced is the word to be used here. Words cannot do this cheesecake justice. 

On this day as I described the latest flurry of crazy-making that was happening in my life, I was craving not so much the cheesecake itself, but the feeling that experience with that cheesecake had evoked in me. A feeling of opulence and abundance. The kind of deep satisfaction that comes from a specific type of freedom. The freedom we feel when we are taking a step into something new. 

It reminded me of the feeling I had when I walked out of my corporate job and into full-time self-employment. Into that space where I get to define what my days and nights are going to look like. 

I had worked as what I call a “grey area girl” in the staffing industry for 23 years. If it didn’t fit on someone else’s desk, it landed on mine. And – for almost eight years, I had worked at both this busy corporate job while running three businesses of my own. I loved working on all of these projects. I loved the challenge of the jigsaw puzzle that was my life. Work, business, family, volunteering, coursework to be continually improving myself. I reveled in the task of fitting the pieces together as cleanly as possible. I was invigorated. Until I wasn’t. 

By 2019, I was facing pretty serious seeming health challenges. Most days, I woke around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning in excruciating pain. If I was lucky, I’d drift back to sleep somewhere around 5:00 am only to be awakened by my alarm at 6:30.

My workdays were filled with conference calls that didn’t ever seem to resolve any of the issues at hand. And some days, my morning conference calls were to plan the afternoon conference calls. My employer’s client was struggling financially and everyone knew it, but we all had to pretend that we didn’t know that this client would be bankrupt by the end of the year. 

I had been traveling for work for twenty years and was beginning to feel like I had missed too much time with my family. My son had turned fifteen and the day when he would be going off to college seemed to be getting closer and closer. 

Sitting on conference calls all day listening to a client create needless extra work that they were never going to pay for felt like it wasn’t the best use of my time. The days felt wasted. If I was going to be seriously ill and in pain, I certainly did not want to waste what might be the last of my days sitting on these kinds of unproductive conference calls. 

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I gave my two weeks notice. Extended those two weeks to three weeks. And closed out all the work I had on my desk. As I ended my day that final Friday, I felt a kind of freedom that is indescribable. I felt free. I felt like I had the whole world in front of me. 

This cheesecake, eaten two years later, was an embodiment of that freedom. 

Fast forward to 2020. The lockdowns from the pandemic closed the businesses of many of my clients. Some will never reopen. I was forced to do like so many others – pivot. 

I created two new coaching offerings, an online course, and became a virtual business manager for a landscaper in Chicago. These are great, I love the work so much. But with a divorce looming, I allowed myself to be pressured into feeling like I needed a job. 

Nearly 200 applications later, I find myself pivoting again. Stepping back towards freedom. Stepping away from the prep for interviews with recruiters who can’t be bothered to show up for the appointments they’ve scheduled (65% of my scheduled interviews have been ghosted by the recruiter at the time of this writing). The frustration of applying for one position only to find out that the job is much different than advertised. Or that the pay rate is extremely low for the qualifications and work expectations. Or those not at all applicable personality tests. I don’t understand how choosing between a purple shirt or an orange shirt has anything to do with whether or not I can guide your project through the maze of an implementation. And that’s okay. I don’t need to understand. 

I do need to redirect my time, energy, and focus, however.

I need …. the cheesecake and freedom. I loved this phrase when Daphne wrote it to me. Cheesecake and Freedom. The release of expectations placed on me by others. The stepping into a life of my own design. 

But how? With so much instability and uncertainty looming overhead, and a desire to be in my current physical location for at least one more year, life was starting to feel heavy and scary. Unstable. 

While the health issue that initially caused me to leave corporate has been completely resolved, I do still have a chronic illness, a thyroid condition, and an autoimmune. The cost of the quarterly testing I need begins at $450 and having the lab results interpreted can cost as much as another $500. And that’s when I am healthy and well. But what if I get sick? 

My car is fifteen years old. Purchased with the intention of handing it off to my son when he turned sixteen and got his driver’s license. But without that piece of paper that says I can afford payments, the dealerships won’t sell me a new car. I could take cash from my investments and pay for it in full, but I hesitate to do that in the middle of a global pandemic when I may need those funds at another time. 

So how do I get to the Cheesecake and Freedom while worried about these things among the many other normal day to day concerns? 

What it comes down to is the need for a radical shift in the thought process. 

We have become so conditioned to believe that we need certain things. And that conditioning is so deep that if you deviate from this plan at all, you are considered “weird” or “crazy.” You might even be shunned by family and friends. It is a really strange thing to observe. 

We’ve been conditioned to a particular lifestyle without ever stopping to ask if we even want that lifestyle. If it is healthy for us. If it gets us to the goals we want. I had asked myself when I was younger, but then I also allowed the pressure of “loved ones” to push me into that box of conditioning. I had to return to asking myself what kind of life I want for myself. 

Granted, I am in the blessed position of having the ability to fully make this decision for myself. My son is about to graduate from high school and head off into his own life. I don’t have a life partner whose desires need to be taken into account. I have the luxury of designing for myself the life I want. 

But how to begin? 

Begin with the end in mind. 

Where do you want to be at the end of your life?
I think everyone has heard the story from palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware titled “Regrets of the Dying.” {https://bronnieware.com/blog/regrets-of-the-dying/} When I reach the end of my life, I want to have none of these regrets. We begin to remove these regrets by removing the things that make us unhappy. We remove what no longer serves us. 

Stop doing the things that make you unhappy. 

This seems like an easy process to move through. But it can be multi-layered and onion-like. It’s a process we must periodically review in our lives. For example, it used to give me great pride to be able to “own” a large house, but it made me unhappy to pay a mortgage. (Own in quotes because I did not own it, the bank did. Don’t forget that this is actually what a mortgage is – someone else’s ownership). I dreaded making that payment every month, no matter how much money I had in my bank account. I no longer do that. I rent instead. It gives me flexibility. I really can leave any time I want. 

I do not like maintaining a house. By this, I mean the regular maintenance that is necessary when you own a home. Painting, and power washing and weeding and mowing and and and. I do not enjoy these things. With a rental, I do not have to do them – unless I want to. The landlord handles these things for me. Or, I can do them if I want to get my hands in the dirt or feel compelled to do a household maintenance project. 

I like a spotless house, but I do not like having a house that takes me hours to clean. This house was chosen for a family of five and is now lived in by two. It’s far too much space for the two of us. But I am grateful that my landlord extended the lease because I really, really dislike moving – much more than I dislike unnecessary cleaning. And did not want to do that while getting a divorce and during a pandemic. 

I do, however, like to have a house for myself and my son. A home. So I will keep this house until he’s ready to leave for college. At that time, the happiness factor of that quotient will be removed. Hence a house will no longer be needed. 

As life changes, we change our assessment of what we like and do not like. 

Identifying what I need, what I want in my life, and most importantly what I do not want in my life is the most important first step in this process. 

If you too want to create your own version of a “Cheesecake and Freedom” lifestyle, identifying what you do not want in life is just a first step. Start small. As you move through your day, make notes of the things you do not like. Even those things you believe you “have to” do, things like laundry and preparing food. It’s really important to identify everything you do not like so you can begin to identify what you will remove from your to-do list. Everything can be delegated if you choose to do so. 

When you identify and begin to remove the things you do not like to do, you can begin to replace that time with things you do like to do. For me, one of those things is writing. And yet, I had allowed my “have to’s” to take all the time I used to devote to writing. I miss writing. A lot. I am returning to my daily writing practice. And I am going to utilize that time to create more articles describing what the path to Cheesecake and Freedom has been for me as well as tips to help you find your own path. Be sure to subscribe to be notified when these articles post. And get on the mailing list for exclusive content and resources available only to those who have opted in to having me appear in their email inbox.

Until next time ~ 

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