5 lessons I’ve learned living an off-the-path life

people walking in Portugal

When I’m home in Idaho, or anywhere in the U.S., most new people I meet see the same thing: typical American woman, business person, and mom. They imagine my golden retriever running around my suburban backyard, and picture me bingeing The Bachelor on the weekends.

Like you, like all of us, others try to define me using boxes that constrict.

But I have lived my life outside of those boxes since I was old enough to realize I had a choice. And I’ve defined my life for myself since I realized I had wasted so much of it trying to conform.

Over the four countries and nine years as a location independent entrepreneur, and the nearly eleven spent building my business, I’ve learned significant lessons about what it means to live outside of boxes. And while I recognize I have a lot to learn (so much!), I’m sharing the lessons I learned in the hope that maybe, just maybe, someone reading this—you, your friend, your parents, your child—will connect with what I’ve learned. And maybe, just maybe, you (or they) will make a choice to step outside that box you’ve been forced into most of your life, and break free.

Maybe you’ll make a choice to live on your own terms from here on out.

Here’s the truth: paving your own path isn’t the easiest way. It’s really hard sometimes. There are weeds to clear and roads to lay and all kinds of road closures and speed bumps that will try to keep you down. But if you stick with it, if you really stick with it, your own path will lead to worlds you never knew existed. To a life you hadn’t known was possible.

At least, that’s been my experience. And it’s been the experience of hundreds, even thousands, of people I’ve met over the years: expats, entrepreneurs, location independent solopreneurs. They’ve discovered a beautiful secret: When you define your life, when you create a vision that’s so strong you can’t ignore it, when you take the action steps to get there, and when you live each day in alignment with your vision and values (even if you screw up or misstep sometimes), life is fuller, deeper, richer, and just better.

I know, because I’ve experienced it. I went from hopeless and boxed-in to alive and free. You can too.

So without further ado, here are 5 things I’ve learned over the past eleven years along my location-independent journey, starting in the Dominican Republic and ending where I currently live, in Portugal.

#1 No one can make your vision happen for you.

Since I heard the song “No Regrets” by Aesop Rock, it’s been a mantra in my life.

You can dream a little dream
Or you can live a little dream
I’d rather live it
’cause dreamers always chase
But never get it

I don’t want to be a dreamer; I want to be a doer. Too many of us live life without vision and purpose—and I did too. That is, until I looked back and realized that I had spent my young adult life doing, well, nothing remarkable.

I had lived in Boise, Idaho, my entire life. I had traveled once to Mexico, once to Canada. I’d been to New York as a baby. Trips to the Oregon coast, one to Disneyland. Those were good and great and all, but they weren’t enough. I started to feel this constriction in my chest, this desire to get out and explore and see the big, wide world. I wanted to live a life untethered. I wanted to build a life on my own terms.

Here’s the critical difference between where I was and where I am: I let myself deeply feel a new vision for my life. And then I lived my dream. I couldn’t see an immediate path to having a business and exploring the world, so I took that first step and accepted a job in the Dominican Republic, teaching high school English to an incredible group of students (who I still feel fondly toward to this day!).

How about you? Do you want to dream a little dream or live a little dream? And are you allowing yourself to imagine a new reality, a new vision for your life? That’s step one.

#2 The world is wide—why settle?

Growing up in Boise, Idaho, I didn’t know many people who moved away. There was the family in New York who sent us gifts every Christmas—my parents’ friends from college—but other than that, nearly everyone I knew and loved was within an eight-hour drive.

But I read. And books transported me to other places and cultures, and helped me imagine varied possibilities for myself. Growing up, I was enamored by a character in The Baby-Sitters Club, Stacey. My namesake moved to New York at one point in the series, and I remember reading about her first days there, imagining myself on the subway.

The point is, I wandered through reading, and when I began to feel that ache for more, I’d already traveled other places in my mind. Still, it wasn’t until I set foot in the Dominican Republic in 2009 that I really believed in my ability to choose. And now, three countries later, I see it in action.

The world is wide and beautiful and full of wonder and possibility. I learned that I could choose where I live, and that proximity opens possibility. By living in different regions of the world, I’ve gotten the opportunity to explore the countries I’ve lived in, along with the surrounding areas because they were so close.

The more I see, the more I’m convinced life should be one big adventure.

#3 You’ve gotta put in the work.

Truth time. I have worked extraordinarily hard over the past eleven years. While my friends (and then-fiance, now-husband) were swimming in the ocean and tanning on the beach, I worked sixty to eighty hour workweeks, teaching full time and building my business on the side. I’ve worked many nights until ten or eleven at night. I said yes to things I had no clue how I was going to deliver on, but I trusted my ability to work and learn.

As the famous quote goes, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Vision is first, action is second. Continued action over time in alignment with your vision and values—that will get you to a life outside the box, a life you deeply love and wake up happy every day to get to live.

The fact is, many of us aren’t willing to work that hard. We are often limited by our own laziness. But if you’re willing to don those overalls, and meet opportunity that aligns with your vision with hard work, you can leap outside the box and into a life you love.

#4 You make a choice, and then you make another one.

When our family moved to Thailand in 2018, we couldn’t wait to have an incredible adventure together. And while we absolutely had many adventures, we also endured a lot of hard experiences.

About six months into living there, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “We chose this. We can choose something else.” And so we did.

My mentor and dear friend once said to me, “You make a choice, and then you make another one.” Wise, right? You make a choice, and then you make another one.

To some, moving to Thailand and then deciding six months later to move to Portugal might seem wild hearted. But I’ll own that label, because we are wild hearted. We want to see the world—experience its cracks and crevices, meet its people, explore its nature. When it became clear living in Thailand, and more specifically, living in a developing country with children, wasn’t going to work, we made another choice.

#5 Everyone is capable of living a life they love.

Yes, everyone. Yes, in spite of their life circumstance. Yes, even you.

We all have life circumstances that can cause us to believe there isn’t hope for a different life. Or that we need to wait five or ten years to have the life we love. I’ve heard so many times, “Well, I’m thinking I’ll work at this job I despise another ten years and then I’ll retire, and we can move abroad.”

Ten years? Really? A decade of one’s life, sacrifice in the name of living inside the box? No. No, no, no.

Look, the life you want starts with vision. It’s followed up with choice. And it’s achieved through hard work in alignment with that vision. Values keep you anchored along the way. But while, yes, it takes time to get there, to achieve the thing you really, truly, deeply desire for yourself, the truth is that you can start right now. This moment. Right here.

So I’ll ask you: what do you want? If you could create any life for yourself, what would it look like? What is one action step you could take today to get there? If you’re living a life you love, or working toward it, what lessons have you learned that could help others? Share with me in the comments. And if you’re ready to take a step toward building that vision, I’ve created a life visioning guide that will help (see form below).

Here’s to vision, purpose, and living an off-the-path life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

2 Comments

  • Abbey Louie Reply

    You are one of the best vision-setters I know, Stacy. Not just because you craft big visions, but because you diligently ‘put those overalls on’ and make them happen. It’s inspiring.

    For me, I’m making note of the elements of shelter-in-place that have been especially life-giving, and brainstorming ways to keep those things alive as we begin to shift back toward a new normal. For example: not rushing my children out of the house in the morning…it has been so nice! I’ve never been able to establish this norm for us in the past as a working parent, but now that I’ve tasted it’s goodness for several weeks, I’m committed to figuring out how to make it our new rhythm (on most days, at least).

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Abbey! *You* are one of the most values-driven people I know, and you inspire me by how you live in alignment with your values. I agree re: not rushing the kids in the morning. Getting out the door on time has always been a struggle, and a break from the hustle and bustle has been lovely. If you figure out the secret to keeping it up, I’m all ears! Thanks, as always, for reading and adding your insight.

Leave a Reply to Abbey Louie Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.